Today I bring you a list of the best collections of new X-Men material released in 2011, which collect stories originally published over the last 18 months of comics.
Occasionally I wonder if comic collecting as an adult is merely a shameless attempt at recapturing our youth now that we have the budget to appreciate it properly – especially as I and many other fans (let’s be honest) fetishize premiere format reprints of the comics we coveted as a kids. (Last week’s post covered the best of those from 2011.)
Is there anything to this hobby other than rewarding our inner teenage geeks?
If there’s an answer to be found in X-Men comics, it must be on this list. These are the twelve new X-Men stories that captured my imagination like those old issues I still obsess over, and I categorize “the wonder of feeling like a kid again” separately from “trying to recapture youthful feelings with a dose of well-preserved nostalgia.”
12. X-Men: First to Last
Collects X-Men Giant-Size #1 and X-Men #12-15.
If retconning new tales into the spaces between old stories ticks you off, this book is one to avoid. If, instead, you would enjoy a tale that plays out in parallel on present day Utopia and in the classic days at the X-Mansion – with both settings exploring the power dynamic between Xavier, Cyclops, and Magneto – then buy this book!
I will admit there is a particular twist in this comic that really rubs me the wrong way, but it’s otherwise a kinetic and engaging story. Dalibor Talijic’s flashback art is gorgeous, Paco Medina’s present day is a refined cartoon, and writer Christopher Yost is a master of reminding us of overlooked details in the storied history of the team. (Read my original review.)
11. X-Men: To Serve and Protect
Collects the four-issue limited series.
Why is a slim anthology of toss-away short stories on the list? Because it’s really good. It is like a lightning round of character-focused X-stories – mostly featuring just one or two characters and a handful of pages to give them a defining moment. It never fails, and is fronted by the much-loved “X-Dudes” series starring two of the younger X-Men you absolutely won’t recognize but will soon love dearly. A totally fun read, and relatively free of confusing continuity issues.
If you like this, try X-Men: Manifest Destiny (not the pink one that says “Uncanny”).
10. Uncanny X-Men: Quarantine
Collects Uncanny X-Men #530-534
Uncanny X-Men’s new helmer Kieron Gillen hits the ground running with a story that spreads the on-panel love to a big array of recognizable X-Men cast members. While fans don’t adore artist Greg Land, his glossy photo-reference artwork makes this urban battle against a Lex Luthor-esque pharmaceutical-wielding villain really pop. For a casual fan, this is likely one of the most fun reads of the past year. (Read my original review.)
9. Wolverine and Jubilee: Cursed
Collects the four-issue limited series and Jubilee’s first appearance from Uncanny X-Men #244.
It’s hard to explain the draw of this strange, somber tale of a newly vampirized Jubilee and Wolverine feeling like he has failed in his role as her protector. The duo’s changed dynamic will fascinate you if you were reading X-Men around the time of Jubilee’s late-80s debut. Phil Noto’s artwork looks like perfect single cels of classic Disney animation, and once you follow the story down the rabbit hole of vampiritic double-crosses magical artifacts you’ll be completely engrossed. (Read my original review.)
It’s no secret that I am in love with both of Wolverine’s errant progeny (actually, X-23 is a clone, but who’s counting?), but it’s Daken who I obsessed over throughout 2011. I’ve written about both volumes already, but the upshot is that Daken is intent on ruling the world of crime one city at a time by both planning their downfalls and saving their days. That he happens to be Wolverine sans the rage and morals and with twice the sex drive just makes things more intriguing. Collision, particularly, includes some sumptuous art and an intense (and vaguely hot?) Daken vs. Gambit squareoff. (Read my original Collision and Big Break reviews.)
6. X-Factor: Happenings in Vegas
Collects X-Factor #207-212
Las Vegas is the most dangerous place you could possibly take a team of squabbling B-list mutants that includes in its roster a girl who knows the future and a promiscuous alien with the power of luck. And, that’s only half the trouble this ragtag band of mutant detectives get into, considering that the cover of this collection bears the visage of The Mighty Thor – a hero far outside of their league, as is any villain that would compel him to pay a visit to Vegas. This book made me absolutely gleeful while I first read it. (Read my original review.)
5. Uncanny X-Force: Apocalypse Solution
Collects Uncanny X-Force #1-4 & material from Wolverine: The Road to Hell
A team of 90s-popular hyper-killers plus a parody of a 90s hyper-killer sounds very … 90s. Right?
Wrong, when they are in the hands of breakout star writer of 2011, Rick Remender. Wolverine is deadly and deadpan, Psylocke and Archangel are both believably in love and reluctant to pull a trigger, Deadpool is simultaneously hilarious and murderous, and Fantomex is like Robert Downey Jr. playing James Bond playing Deadpool as a Frenchman. This opening arc fires on all cylinders and Jerome Opena’s art is beyond gorgeous. (Read my original review.)
4. Astonishing Spider-Man & Wolverine
Collects the six-issue limited series.
Even more Wolverine? And how did this book get on here when I claim to dislike Jason Aaron?
As it turns out, Aaron is at his best when he’s at his most zany, which is maybe why I don’t enjoy him on straight Wolverine books. With Peter Parker as his narrator, a nonsensical cross-time caper as his backdrop, and the best-ever take on a classic scenery-chewing X-villain from artist Adam Kubert, he finds sure success. This book is madcap, requires little or no prior knowledge, and is repeatedly worthy of an actual LOL.
Early previews of Age of X left fans a little cold – another alternate reality with twisted versions of our heroes? Leave it to Mike Carey, departing this month after a 70+ issue run on X-Men Legacy, to surprise us all by turning in a subtle, slow-burning alternate reality tale. Age of X is a quality mystery story that gets deep into the psychology of all of our favorite X-Men, plus features delectable art from rising star Clay Mann.
To fully appreciate the deft, self-contained world of Age of X, you also need the strong Aftermath, which bookends Age of X with a pair of significant stories that both benefit from and add depth to to the mysteriously twisted alternative world. Throughout, Rogue (and, to a lesser extent, Magneto) is star of the show. (Read my original AOX and Aftermath reviews.)
Both Age of X and Aftermath are available for pre-order in paperback. If you like the actual-reality of Aftermath, try X-Men Legacy: Emplate (HC or TPB). If you like the alternate-reality of Age of X, pre-order the massive forthcoming Age of Apocalypse Omnibus.
2. New Mutants: Fall of the New Mutants
Collects New Mutants #15-21.
Since it’s 2009 debut New Mutants has been a fun read, but its first year of issues read like an overflow pan for plots too periphery for Uncanny X-Men to deal with. Here the book not only gets its own unique story, but it is a gripping, daunting action-adventure with high stakes that stretch all the way back the Inferno saga of the 1980s!
Spider-Man writer Zeb Wells nails the characterization of the entire team (even oft-ignored Karma!) and Leonard Kirk draws engaging comic art without the fussy overly-detailed photo-reference of his peers. Together, they plunge the team into one of their most desperate positions (and that is saying a lot for this group of characters!), which makes the shocking resolution even more satisfying! (Read my original review.)
This directly precedes Age of X (above), and should absolutely be read beforehand if you plan to pick up both. Also available in paperback. If you like this, try X-Infernus (HC or TPB) or New Mutants: The Return of Legion (HC or TPB) – both of which are key setup for this arc.
1. Uncanny X-Force: The Dark Angel Saga: Book 1 (& 2!)
Collects Uncanny X-Force #8-13 (& 14-18 or 19)
Do not be surprised when every year-end X-Men list names this as the storyline of the year. Or decade. Or “ever, since Dark Phoenix.” Writer Rick Remender finds layers in his kill-squad of Deadpool, Psylocke, and Fantomex that never existed before and somehow finds a way to make Wolverine not the main character, all while crafting Angel into the best villain the X-Men have faced in years (decades?) (since Dark Phoenix?).
Yet, this Saga isn’t all endless piles of over-dramatic continuity porn – it starts off with two killer one-shot issues before beginning its sickening ascent up a rollercoaster of plot that pays off with insane loop-to-loops in the forthcoming Book 2. Together they form the story named by a vast majority of X-Men fans – including your author – as the best of 2011.
Plus: the original Dark X-Man, Jean Grey … but not how you might have expected.
Whew! That’s a lot of X-Men comics! For my fellow fans – do you agree? What 2011 new releases have I left off that no true X-Fan should be without? Leave a comment with your reasoning!
I’ll get back to my collections-of-the-week series soon, but first I’ll be back next week with a preview of the best upcoming collections announced for 2012 in both new and reprinted material.