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Stuart Immonen/Marvel Comics
Stuart Immonen/Marvel Comics

All You Need To Know To Get Caught Up On X-Men Comics

Stuart Immonen/Marvel Comics
Stuart Immonen/Marvel Comics

So, you want to start reading X-Men comics again but it's been years and you're feeling overwhelmed at the thought of everything you might have missed. That's understandable—X-Men consists of multiple ongoing series, a constantly expanding cast of characters, and decades of convoluted (and sometimes contradictory) continuity. Don't fret, here's all you need to know to get caught up.

Mutants became an endangered species.

First there was the Sentinel attack that wiped out 16 million mutants by destroying the island of Genosha in New X-Men #115. Then, in the mini-series House of M, Magneto's daughter, Scarlet Witch, decimated the mutant population with a simple three word spell: "No more mutants." This de-powered all but a few hundred of the mutants in the Marvel Universe, but don't worry, most of the A-list mutants were left untouched.

A few years later, in the three-part series of Messiah Complex, Messiah War and Second Coming, the first post-Decimation mutant was born and is aptly named Hope. After being brought to the far future to grow into an adult under the protection of the mutant Cable, a grown-up Hope is returned to present day and she happens to look very much like another red-headed mutant of great importance: Jean Grey.

Jean Grey died. Again.

Jean Grey and her symbiotic relationship with the Phoenix Force is one of the most epic ongoing plot threads in X-Men history. At the end of the "Planet X" storyline in New X-Men #150, Jean once again taps into the powers of the Phoenix only to be killed by an insane Magneto (who may not really have been Magneto, depending on whether you believe writer Grant Morrison's intentions or the subsequent writers who later contradicted him).

Before her death, Jean and her husband Scott (Cyclops) Summers found themselves growing apart. Scott began a telepathic affair with former villain-turned-X-Man Emma Frost, and with Jean gone, Scott and Emma became a couple.

Professor X died, too. Again.

The Phoenix Force returned to earth in the 2012 mini-series Avengers vs. X-Men, threatening all of existence. The assumption was that it was coming back to inhabit the so-called "Mutant Messiah" and Jean Grey look-alike Hope Summers. But everyone was wrong.

Instead, the Phoenix merged with five separate mutants: Cyclops, Emma Frost, Piotr (Colossus) Rasputin, his sister Illyana (Magik) Rasputin, and Namor, the Sub-Mariner. The "Phoenix 5" used their nearly omnipotent power to try to remake the world into a better place until its corruptive nature turned them on each other. In the end, Cyclops takes in the power of the entire Phoenix Force himself and, when confronted by Charles Xavier, lashes out and kills him.

New mutants are popping up everywhere.

Scarlet Witch and Hope Summers manage to wrest the Phoenix from Cyclops and, before casting it away, Hope uses its power to restore the mutant population, reversing the damage the Scarlet Witch had previously done. Now, people all over the world are suddenly manifesting mutant powers and the X-Men are divided in how they aim to help these new mutants.

Cyclops is the most wanted mutant in the world.

Cyclops has always been a bit of a boring character, but over the past 10 years he's gone through some dramatic changes. After killing Professor X, he has become Public Enemy No. 1 and hated by many of his fellow X-Men. He is also the poster boy for a more militant wing of mutantdom. Like a mutant Che Guevara, he sets up headquarters in the old, abandoned Weapon X facility and leads a new team of X-Men with Emma Frost and Magik.

Cyclops' radicalization had been building for a long time and manifested itself originally in a clash of ideals with Wolverine. Cyclops now stands for the idea that mutants need to militarize while Wolverine has taken up Xavier's mantle of peaceful coexistence and the need to protect and educate younger mutants.

Wolverine is the headmaster of the Jean Grey School for Higher Learning.

The idea of Xavier's school being an actual school full of actual students only became the status quo around the time of the first X-Men movie in 2000 and Grant Morrison's New X-Men series around the same time. With Xavier dead and the school destroyed by Magneto, Logan has built a new one called The Jean Grey School of Higher Learning and brought in Kitty Pryde, Iceman, Storm, and the Beast to teach the students.

(Edit: A reader in the comments below pointed out that the Xavier school was actually destroyed by Sentinels which happened during the Messiah Complex storyline).

The original X-Men have time-travelled to the present

(And Jean Grey is back)

The threat of a dark, dystopian future has been at the heart of many X-Men stories since Chris Claremont and John Byrne's classic 1981 "Days of Future Past" (the inspiration for the upcoming new film). In Brian Michael Bendis and Stuart Immonen's new series All New X-Men, they have brilliantly turned this idea on its head by making our present the dystopian future that needs to be avoided at all costs.

In a desperate plan to prevent Scott Summers from becoming the Professor X-killing mutant terrorist he is today, Hank (Beast) McCoy travels back in time to the early days of the X-Men and brings the original teenage versions of himself, Cyclops, Iceman, Angel, and Jean Grey to the future to show them how messed up things have gotten. Even though their very presence endangers the timeline, they decide to stick around, figuring Professor X will just wipe their memories when they go back (or something).

So, not only do we have Jean Grey back, but suddenly there are brand new relationship dynamics to be explored. The original X-Men now look up to Kitty Pryde as a mentor. Jean, Scott and Angel have to deal with the terror their future lives have become (did I mention that Angel died during Uncanny X-Force's "Dark Angel Saga" but came back with amnesia?). Even the love triangles have become more complicated (Do Jean and Scott really love each other? How do older Scott and Logan rectify their feelings for Jean with this teenage girl that's now before them? Does Jean have feelings for Hank? And what does Rachel Grey, Scott and Jean's grown daughter from the future, think of all this?).

There are a LOT of different X-Men books now

At some point in the 1990s, the X-Men became way too big to be contained by just one book. Here is a brief rundown of the major books and what they're ostensibly all about:

All New X-Men: This is a new title that began last year. Its main focus is on the introduction of the original young X-Men into the present day timeline, but it operates pretty close to the center of the X-Men universe and involves a large cast of characters including Wolverine, Kitty, Iceman, and Beast (in addition to the time-displaced young X-Men).

Uncanny X-Men: The original flagship title has gotten smaller in scope since its relaunch. It follows Cyclops and his renegade team of Magik and Emma Frost as they build a new school of students that have just manifested mutant abilities. It crosses over a bit with All New X-Men, especially in the beginning.

X-Men. This is sometimes referred to as "X-Women" since it follows a loose-knit team of female X-Men including Storm, Rogue, Psylocke, and Jubilee, among others. It aims to be a high-octane, non-stop action comic for fans of 1990's era X-Men.

Wolverine & The X-Men: This book focuses on the Jean Grey School of Higher Learning and its cast of students. This is the fun, light-hearted X-Men comic, mixing high school melodrama with ridiculous sci-fi concepts. There is a quirky mix of students, and part of the fun is seeing characters like Logan and Kitty stepping up into their new roles as teachers.

Amazing X-Men: This comic is only a couple of issues in and aims to be the one for fans of 1980s era X-Men. The plot (so far) involves the return of long-dead fan favorite Nightcrawler.

There are also a lot of books featuring related X-teams like Uncanny X-Force, Cable and X-Force, All New X-Factor and Uncanny Avengers (a hybrid team of X-Men and Avengers).

Where you should start

The biggest story being told right now is happening in All New X-Men and it's really the most enjoyable of the books at a time when, overall, the X-Men comics are the most interesting they've been in years. It's written by Brian Michael Bendis with art by Stuart Immonen. Start with #1 or the first collected volume titled "Yesterday's X-Men."

Buy the first volume on Amazon.com or ask your local comic book store retailer. You can also buy the collected volume or individual issues digitally on Comixology.

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Space Goat Publishing
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Comics
These Evil Dead 2 Comics Will Look Groovy on Your Bookshelf
Space Goat Publishing
Space Goat Publishing

Bruce Campbell has been quoted as saying the gallons of fake blood poured into his face during filming of the 1987 cult classic horror film Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn led to a week of red-tinged mucus leaking out of his nostrils. Fortunately, no Campbells were harmed in the making of two new comic collections from Space Goat Productions that are now being funded on Kickstarter. The Evil Dead 2 Omnibus features over 300 pages of stories set in the Necronomicon-plagued universe featured in numerous comic book miniseries; The Art of Evil Dead 2 reveals never-before-seen production art from both the comics and ancillary projects.

The campaign is the latest from Space Goat, the Bellingham, Washington-based company that’s made a cottage (or cabin) industry from products spinning out of the Sam Raimi-directed film, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. In addition to the new collections, the publisher has also issued an Evil Dead 2 coloring book; a comic where Campbell’s demon-fighting hero, Ash Williams, encounters Adolf Hitler; and a forthcoming board game where players can navigate Deadite threats while shaking their head at Ash’s questionable competency. (No matter the iteration, he seems ill-equipped to deal with the threat of his own possessed and lopped-off hand.)

According to Space Goat publisher Shon Bury, licensing the Evil Dead 2 property from rights holders StudioCanal in 2015 has been a buoy in navigating the difficult waters of comic book publishing. (Even Marvel, which rakes in billions through its film franchises, struggles to sell more than 60,000 to 70,000 copies of its most popular monthly titles.) One day into its Kickstarter launch, the Evil Dead titles had reached 50 percent of their $20,000 funding goal.

“It’s definitely our flagship on the publishing side,” Bury tells Mental Floss. “The board game is our top seller in the Evil Dead category, and the coloring book sells really well. They’re our evergreen products.”

The cover to 'The Art of Evil Dead 2' from Space Goat Publishing
Space Goat Publishing

Exploring Ash’s adventures in other media comes with a few caveats. While Space Goat is free to explore the characters and situations portrayed in Evil Dead 2, incorporating ideas from the rest of the series (including 1993’s Army of Darkness or the Starz series Ash vs. Evil Dead) is generally off-limits. And while the StudioCanal rights include a likeness of Campbell, the actor has veto power over how he’s depicted on the page. “For some reason, he doesn’t like the dimple on his chin to be drawn,” Bury says. “But he’s very insistent that the scar on his face from the movie is always there.”

Other actors featured in the film—like Richard Domeier, the future home-shopping host who portrayed “Evil Ed”—may not have granted their likeness rights, but his Deadite character design is part of the deal. “You want to inoculate the owner or licensor of the rights,” Bury says. “So we submit drawings and they might say, ‘No, too close to the actor.’”

That development process is part of what makes up The Art of Evil Dead 2, one-half of Space Goat’s current Kickstarter project that follows a successful Evil Dead 2 board game launch in 2016. The campaigns, Bury says, help target Ash fans with material that might not get enough attention if it were released directly to retailers. “Kickstarter is basically social media. It’s direct engagement, our way of saying to fans, ‘Hey, you’re really going to like this.’”

Bury expects fans to be just as enthused about Evil Dead 2: The Doppelganger Wars, a limited series due for release in 2018 that sees Ash and sidekick Annie Knowby enter the mirror dimension glimpsed at in Evil Dead 2 to discover the true origins of both the demon-summoning Necronomicon and the cult surrounding it. A meeting with H.P. Lovecraft may also be on deck, along with other narratives that would carry the license through the end of the publisher’s current agreement with StudioCanal in late 2019.

Still to be decided: whether Ash will ever encounter the werewolves of The Howling, Space Goat’s latest horror license. “Those conversations have occurred,” Bury says. “It would be a natural. But it’s also challenging because the royalties [for the licenses] double.” 

Digital versions of The Art of Evil Dead 2 and the Evil Dead Omnibus will be available to backers pledging $20 beginning in December. Softcover, hardcover, and Necronomicon slipcase editions ($30 and up) ship in May 2018. The Kickstarter runs through November 25.

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Hulton Archive (left), Bruno Vincent (right) // Getty Images
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History
How Superman Helped Foil the KKK
Hulton Archive (left), Bruno Vincent (right) // Getty Images
Hulton Archive (left), Bruno Vincent (right) // Getty Images

The Klansmen were furious.

Dozens of them had congregated in a nondescript room in Atlanta, shaking cloaked heads at the worrisome news that their sect leader had just shared: An act of gross subterfuge had transpired over the airwaves. Millions of Americans had now become privy to their policies, their rankings, their closely guarded methods of organized hatred.

All of it fodder for some comic book radio show. Their mission had been compromised, sacrificed at the altar of popular culture. Kids, one Klansman sighed. His kids were in the streets playing Superman vs. the Klan. Some of them tied red towels around their necks; others pranced around in white sheets. Their struggle for racial purity had been reduced to a recess role play.

Stetson Kennedy listened, doing his best to give off irate body language. He scowled. He nodded. He railed.

The covert activist waited patiently for the Klan to settle down. When they did, he would call radio journalists Walter Winchell and Drew Pearson, offering the results of his infiltration into the group for public consumption.

He’d also contact Robert Maxwell, producer of the Superman radio serial. Maxwell, eager to aid the humanitarian mission of the Anti-Defamation League, would promptly insert the leaked information into his show’s scripts. In between fisticuffs, his cast would mock the KKK’s infrastructure, and the group’s loathsome attitudes would be rendered impotent by the juvenilia.

The Klan roared, demanding revenge on their traitor. “Show me the rat,” their leader said, “and I’ll show you some action.”

Kennedy cheered, just as they all did.

And when he returned home, his Klan robe would be traded for a cape.

The cover to the first issue of Superman
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Kennedy, born in 1916, was an unlikely undercover operative. After a back injury kept him out of World War II, the Jacksonville, Florida native decided he wanted to combat anti-American forces on the home front. With Klan members alleged to have assaulted his family’s black maid when he was a child, the Klan—once again gathering steam in an era of segregation and racial divisiveness—was a favored target.

Having convinced a “Klavern” in Atlanta, Georgia that he shared their bigoted views, Kennedy donned the ominous attire of a Klansman, attended cross burnings, and covertly collected information about the group that he would then share with law enforcement and media. Radio journalist Drew Pearson would read the names and minutes of their meetings on air, exposing their guarded dialogues.

Revealing their closed-door sessions was a blow—one that Kennedy didn’t necessarily have to confine to nonfiction. In 1946, Maxwell, who produced the Superman radio serial broadcast around the country, embraced Kennedy’s idea to contribute to a narrative that had Superman scolding the racial divisiveness of the Klan and airing their dirty laundry to an enraptured audience.

“The law offices, state, county, FBI, House Un-American Activities Committee, they were all sympathetic with the Klan,” Kennedy said later. “The lawmen were, ideologically at least, close with the Klansmen. The court of public opinion was all that was left.”

Ostensibly aimed at children, Superman’s daily radio dramas were often broadcast to assembled nuclear families; one phone poll showed that 35 percent of its audience was composed of adults.

But regardless of whether parents listened, the activist believed the younger demographic was worth attending to. “Even back in the ’40s, they had kids in the Klan, little girls dressed up in Klan robes at the cross burnings," Kennedy said. "I have photos of an infant in a cradle with a complete Klan robe on. It seemed like a good place to do some educating.” 

In “Clan of the Fiery Cross,” a 16-part serial airing in June and July of 1946, Superman opposes an organized group of hatemongers who target one of Jimmy Olsen’s friends. Exploring their network, Clark Kent uncovers their secret meetings and policies before his alter ego socks the “Grand Scorpion” in the jaw. The idea, Kennedy wrote in his account of his work, The Klan Unmasked, was to made a mockery of their overblown vernacular.

When traveling, for example, Klansmen might identify one another by asking if they “knew Mr. Ayak,” an acronym for “Are You a Klansman?” Although Kennedy may not have actually shared their code words on air—a longstanding myth that was debunked in Rick Bowers’s 2012 book, Superman vs. the KKK—their histrionics were perfect for dramatization in the breathless structure of a radio drama. Given shape by actors and sound effects, all the clubhouse tropes of the Klan seemed exceedingly silly.

The cover to the first issue of Superman
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

As Kennedy continued to serve up Klan secrets to Superman, he watched as Klan morale dipped and membership enrollment ebbed. Desperate, the Klan tried calling for a boycott of Kellogg’s, a new sponsor of the show, but racial intolerance was no match for the appetites of post-World War II homes. Rice Krispies and Corn Flakes remained breakfast table staples, and Superman’s battles with the close-minded continued. Emboldened by his success against the Klan, Superman took aim at Communism, a favorite target of the show’s anti-Red star, Bud Collyer.

Kennedy would go on to burden the Klan using proof of uncollected tax liens, and eventually convinced the state of Georgia to revoke their national corporate charter.

Kennedy died in 2011 at the age of 94. While some of his accounts of subterfuge in the Klan later came under fire for being embellished, his bravery in swimming with the sharks of the organization is undeniable. So, too, was his wisdom in utilizing American iconography to suffocate prejudice. Fictional or not, Superman may have done more to stifle the Klan’s postwar momentum than many real people who merely stood by and watched.

Portions of this article were excerpted from Superman vs. Hollywood: How Fiendish Producers, Devious Directors, and Warring Writers Grounded an American Icon by Jake Rossen with permission from Chicago Review Press. Copyright (c) 2008. All Rights Reserved.

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