Top of page

five x-men comic book covers arrayed in a V-shape on a blue background
Celebrating 60 years of X-Men comics.

X-Men: 60 Uncanny Years

Share this post:

Up until 1963, most comic book superheroes acquired their powers by accidental exposure to radiation (Incredible Hulk), cosmic rays (Fantastic Four), or chemical spills (The Flash/Barry Allen, Showcase no. 4, 1956). Well, what if they were born with their powers instead? Created by Marvel Comics editor-in-chief Stan Lee and legendary artist Jack Kirby, the X-Men are mutants, humans born “with something extra” (Wells, 2015). X-Men no. 1 hit newsstands in September 1963 and has been in print ever since, spawning many spin-off series and cross-overs.

The Library of Congress has hundreds of X-Men comics and spin-off series (e.g. X-Force, New Mutants and more) among its collection of over 160,000 comic books, most of them original issues, that you can read in the Newspaper and Current Periodical Reading Room. In celebration of 60 years of mutant-kind, I thought I’d share a few of my favorite X-Men issues and series. By the way, titles cited in parentheses denote the first appearance of that character. They are listed in chronological order, but you can read X-Men comics in any order you like. I like to read issues based on who wrote them or drew them or both. There is no wrong way to read comic books.  Here we go!

Comic book cover featuring X-Men, Beast, Cyclops, Angel, Marvel Girl, and Iceman battling supervillain Magneto
X-Men no. 1 (1963)

X-Men no. 1 (1963)

In Westchester County, New York, there’s a very special school run by Professor X, Charles Xavier, to teach teenage mutants how to control their powers to protect humans from evil mutants who feel they are the superior race. Mutant powers usually manifest during adolescence. Professor X himself is one of the most powerful mutants on earth with the ability to control minds and communicate telepathically across great distances.

Interior: Professor X is seating while his students (X-Men) report for training by swooping in around him from every direction. Beast comes through the window.
X-Men reporting to Professor X for training. (X-Men no. 1, 1963)

His five students look like ordinary teenagers but are anything but. Slim “Scott” Summers, Cyclops, can project energy blasts whenever he opens his eyes. Only a special pair of ruby quartz glasses and his visor can harness it. Marvel Girl, Jean Grey, is telekinetic and has the ability to move objects with her mind. Henry “Hank” McCoy is Beast who possesses super-strength and the agility of a primate whether on his hands or feet (And no, he has not adopted his werewolf-like features or blue fur, yet. Amazing Adventures no. 11, 1972). Warren Worthington III is Angel who just happens to have a set of wings growing out of his back. Iceman is Bobby Drake, though, in early issues, he looks more like Frosty the Snowman with boots but minus the carrot for a nose. He has the mutant power to create ice and he gets around by surfing on a sheet of ice he sprays in front of himself. 

Interior: supervillain Magneto watching a computer-like machine and exhorting that the first phase of his plan to tale over the earth for the benefit of mutants is underway.
Magneto monitoring a rocket launch at Cape Citadel which he is about to sabotage. (X-Men no. 1, 1963)


In this first issue, they battle their arch-nemesis, Magneto, master of magnetism. His mutant power allows him to control all ferrous metals and Earth’s magnetism which gives him the ability to fly. Magneto believes that mutants are homo superior, the next stage in human evolution and therefore should rule over ordinary humans.

Cover: Group shot of all new all different X-Men in foreground with original members appearing in shadow in background
Giant-Size X-Men no. 1 (1976)

Giant-Size X-Men no. 1 (1975)

Meet the all new, all different X-Men! Professor X recruits an international group of mutants to save the original X-Men from Krakoa, the “island that walks like a man.” They are led by original member Cyclops and later by Storm.

Interior: Krakoa, island that take on humanoid form attacking the X-Men, a giant green mossy being with large red eyes and giant fangs
Chapter IV: Krakoa: The Island that Walks Like a Man! (Giant-Size X-Men no. 1, 1976)

This issue features the first appearance of Ororo Munroe (Storm), a Kenyan woman with the mutant ability to control the weather and Russian Peter Rasputin (Colossus) whose mutation allows him to transform his skin and other body tissue into practically indestructible organic metal armor.  From north of the border in Canada, Wolverine (Weapon X/Logan/James Howlett, first appearance Incredible Hulk no. 181, 1974) joins the X-Men for the first time just to, as he puts it, “get out from under the red tape and rigmarole.”

Ororo (Storm) standing beneath and altar performing her storm goddess act
Ororo, storm goddess. (Giant-Size X-Men no. 1, 1975)
Wolverine in full costume shaking hands with Professor X after accepting his invitation to join the X-Men. A military officer is watching them
No more “red tape and rigmarole, eh?” (Giant-Size X-Men no. 1, 1975)

Persecution of mutants by ordinary humans takes center stage in Giant-Size X-Men with the first appearance of German mutant Kurt Wagner. We witness Wagner being attacked by a mob in a village in Germany. Unlike most mutants who can pass for ordinary humans, Kurt resembles a blue demon complete with forked tail, pointy ears, and fangs as well as hands and feet with just three digits. Known as Nightcrawler, he emits a “bamf!” sound along with a purple cloud whenever he uses his mutant power to teleport. Professor X rescues Wagner from the angry villagers and convinces him to join the X-Men. The conflict between humans and mutants continues to be a major theme of many X-Men stories to this day.

Interior: Nightcrawler lunging in a three-point stance to avoid being caught by angry villagers. Comments that "it is they who are the monsters...they with their mindless prejudices!"
Nightcrawler escaping the angry mob of villagers. (Giant-Size X-Men no. 1, 1975)

Giant-Size X-Men no. 1 was written by Len Wein and inked by Dave Cockrum and is essentially a relaunch of the X-Men comics book series. Stories start to be geared toward older audiences, not just children.

Cover: Jean Grey (Marvel Girl) shooting of the water transformed into Phoenix while her fellow X-Men react in surprise
X-Men no. 101 (1976)

Dark Phoenix Saga (X-Men nos. 101-108, 1976-77; Uncanny X-Men nos.129-137, 1980)

My introduction to X-Men and the world of mutants began with the Phoenix Saga, specifically X-Men no. 101 (1976). Yeah, yeah, I know the Dark Phoenix story arc really begins with X-Men no. 129 (1980), but it helps if you know how Jean Grey became Phoenix in the first place.

Written by Chris Claremont and penciled primarily by Dave Cockrum and John Byrne, Jean Grey (Marvel Girl) is exposed to cosmic rays when she shields a space shuttle carrying her fellow X-Men with her telekinetic and telepathic powers during its re-entry to Earth. After crashing into Jamaica Bay in New York, Jean reemerges from the water as Phoenix. As the series progresses, Jean slowly loses control of her powers that now far exceed those of Professor X who is considered very powerful in his own right. Technically, she’s been possessed by the “phoenix force”, but we’re just going to leave that little complication for a future blog post.

Jean Grey as Dark Phoenix in flight with a giant pink flaming bird clutching a planet in its talons superimposed behind her
Child of Light and Darkness. (X-Men no. 136, 1980)

If you enjoy this series, there are plenty more Chris Claremont comics out there. For sixteen years (1975-1991), he wrote almost every issue of X-Men and created spin-off series like New Mutants, Excalibur, and X-Factor. Some of his stories have been adapted into movies.

Cover: Group of X-Men characters mid-attack. Wolverine and Lucas Bishop are prominently featured.
X-Men: Alpha (1995)

X-Men: Alpha (1995)

The Age of Apocalypse begins! X-Men: Alpha kicks off the event* introducing us to an alternate world ruled by the super-powerful, nearly invulnerable mutant Apocalypse (X-Factor no. 6, 1986). Professor X is dead due to a time-travel incident that occurred twenty years in the past. Now, it’s survival of the fittest and humans are at the bottom of the food chain. Lord Unus (X-Men no. 8, 1964) and his Infinites are the stormtroopers that maintain order by exterminating any human they encounter or placing them in “pens.” The X-Men and time-traveler Lucas Bishop (Uncanny X-Men no. 282, 1991)  are the only mutants willing to protect what’s left of the human race. 

Interior: triptych of magneto and Bishop reacting to see one another and Bishop launching himself at Magneto yelling, "You Murderer!"
Bishop attacks Magneto. (X-Men: Alpha, 1995)

What’s really cool, though, is that the story flips the familiar roles of many characters in the X-Men universe. Magneto leads the X-Men, a mashup of original members and the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. His wife is Rogue (Avengers Annual no. 10, 1981) and they have a son named Charles (not going there, way too weird, man!). They are joined by original members Iceman and Nightcrawler along with Sabretooth (Ironfist no. 14, 1977), Quicksilver (X-Men no. 4, 1964) and others.

Interior: X-Men members standing together trying identify a mysterious stranger who just saved a human (not pictured).
Age of Apocalypse X-Men members. (X-Men: Alpha, 1995)

Others have gone over to the “darkside” and become villains. Beast is a scary blue furry incarnation of Dr. Josef Mengele who delights in experimenting on mutants. Cyclops and his brother Havok (X-Men no. 54, 1969) are responsible for keeping him from going too far.

Interior: Cyclops berates Beast for conducting illegal experiments on mutants while Havok watches them
Cyclops reprimands Beast for indulging in illegal mutant experiments. (X-Men: Alpha, 1995)


Interior: Apocalpyse pictured clad in blue armor with red accents from the waist up.
Apocalypse. (X-Men: Alpha, 1995)

All three answer directly to Sinister who serves as one of Apocalypse’s “Horsemen” or lieutenants. Artists Steve Epting and Roger Cruz even altered every character’s appearance, giving all them a completely different look. This issue was co-written by Scott Lobdell, famous for Alpha Flight no. 106 (1992) featuring the coming out of the first gay major comic book character, Northstar, and Mark Waid, who writes comics for both Marvel and DC Comics. For full reading order, including prelude issues, check out Age of Apocalypse: The Complete Event.

Cover: Group picture depicting Magnus, his royal family, Luke Cage, and several other characters
House of M no. 1 (2015)

House of M (v. 2, nos. 1-4, 2015)

All Hail King Magnus! Magneto’s (a.k.a. Magnus) dream of a world where mutants subjugate humans in the name of superior genetics is a reality. Written by Dennis “Hopeless” Hallum, House of M is a limited series that is part of the Secret Wars (2015) event. This is not to be confused with the House of M (2005) or Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars (1984) events.

House of Magnus, the royal family, rules Genosha, an autonomous region of a “patchwork of fragments of worlds” that form the planet Battleworld. Quicksilver, Polaris (X-Men no. 49, 1968), and the Scarlet Witch (X-Men no. 4, 1964) engage in palace intrigue while their father Magneto settles into his role as a despotic dictator who, in turn, answers to Doctor Victor von Doom (Fantastic Four no. 5, 1962), the supreme ruler of the entire planet. Order is maintained with the assistance of manned sentinel robots and Magneto’s elite royal guard led by Wolverine and Sabastian Shaw (X-Men no. 129, 1980). 

Interior: Wolverine his Red Guard in mid-air after jumping out of a sentinel robot.
Wolverine and the Red Guard on patrol. (House of M no. 1, 2015)

Meanwhile, a human resistance plans an assassination attempt on Magneto. Notable guest stars include Luke Cage (Hero for Hire no. 1, 1972) , Hawkeye (Clint Barton – Tales of Suspense no. 57, 1964), Death Locket (Avengers Arena no. 1, 2013), and Namor the Submariner (Marvel Comics no. 1, 1939; first Silver Age comics appearance: Fantastic Four no. 4, 1962). 

Interior: Luke Cage waggling his finger while inciting a revolution. Wearing a with tank top and his hair is braided in "cornrows"
Luke Cage inciting revolution. (House of M no. 1, 2015)

A rather odd addition to the cast is Magnus’ pet dragon and chess opponent Fin Fang Foom (Strange Tales no. 89, 1961) who appears in issue no. 2. The complete story is told across four issues. 

Interior: Green dragon attacking X-Men and Avengers in King Magnus' study.
Fin Fang Foom goes on a rampage. (House of M no. 1, 2015)

I’ll admit that Magneto taking orders from Doom, let alone anyone else, is a little far-fetched. His huge ego would never allow it. However, artist Marco Failla’s rendering of Magnus’ sentinels and the Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz Joseph I inspired (in my opinion) attire of the royal family and guards is really top-notch. 

These issues represent a tiny fraction of X-Men comics that you can explore here at the Library of Congress. The Marvel universe of which the X-Men are a part can get really complicated, so here is a Beginner’s Guide to the Marvel Universe and Guide to the Many Marvel Multiverses (Earths) that provide you with a roadmap of sorts. For more information about additional X-Men series and reading order, I recommend checking out Crushing Krisis’ Become an Instant X-Men Expert. Enjoy!

*Event vs. Series

In the simplest terms, an event is a story arc that involves comic book characters across multiple series or the entire franchise (e.g. Marvel). The Age of Apocalypse (1995) event, for example, unfolds across multiple series like Amazing X-Men, Weapon X, and X-Man (just to name a few). The Secret Wars (2015) event involves the entire Marvel Universe and is a vehicle used to make large scale changes, such as dismantling the Marvel multiverse by effectively destroying it. For a better explanation, I recommend checking out What Are Comic Book Events?

Discover more:

Crushing Krisis: The Newest Oldest Blog in New Zealand (last updated 2016?). The Definitive X-Men Reading Order Guide. 

DeFalco, T., Sanderson, P. et al. (2022). Marvel Year by Year : A Visual History.

Hill. J. and Jones, N. (2021). Marvel Universe Map by Map.

Thomas, R. (2017). The Marvel Age of Comics 1961-1978.

Wells, J. (2012). American Comic Book Chronicles: The 1960s, 1960-1964.




Add a Comment

This blog is governed by the general rules of respectful civil discourse. You are fully responsible for everything that you post. The content of all comments is released into the public domain unless clearly stated otherwise. The Library of Congress does not control the content posted. Nevertheless, the Library of Congress may monitor any user-generated content as it chooses and reserves the right to remove content for any reason whatever, without consent. Gratuitous links to sites are viewed as spam and may result in removed comments. We further reserve the right, in our sole discretion, to remove a user's privilege to post content on the Library site. Read our Comment and Posting Policy.

Required fields are indicated with an * asterisk.