5. X-Force vol.1, #116
by Peter Milligan and Michael Allred
Growing up reading 90’s X-Men comics I came to expect a certain aesthetic with my superhero comics. So imagine my surprise when I first began picking up comics regularly in early 2002 and X-Force looked unrecognizable. This was not my X-Force, and I never picked up a single issue–until I took a chance on the complete Omnibus. What makes this series a worthwhile X-Men series though, is that it is unlike any X-book ever. The book begins as the X-Force team is looking for a new recruit for their brand which is effectively a reality television show. The team is made up of a band of screw-ups barely functioning as a team. They are sent on a mission and only two of the team survives. Welcome to X-Force, Tike Alicar.
4. Generation Next #4
by Scott Lobdell and Chris Bachalo
Marvel successfully pulled off an unprecedented line wide event in their X-Men books. At the height of the 90’s X-Men craze, because of a time travel story gone wrong, Professor Xavier was accidentally killed by his son before he could form the X-Men which in turn set the stage for The Age of Apocalypse. Every X-title was cancelled for 4 months and replaced with an alternate reality in which Apocalypse rose to power. There were several subplots spread across all the titles, but all of them were in effect a plan to usurp Apocalypse’s rule. Generation Next was a team of young mutant led by husband and wife Colossus and Kitty Pryde. The team is tasked with rescuing Colossus’ sister Illyana to help with Magneto and the X-Men’s cause. This issue is the culmination of the rescue attempt, and for me it stands as a shining beacon of the dystopia it is set in. Without spoiling the story, success is not without consequences, and this issue’s resolution embodies the kind of weight that falls on a leader’s shoulders. Also, the strength of this alternate universe was reaffirmed with several successive visits to the Age of Apocalypse in the years following, one such visit 10 years later, X-Men: Age of Apocalypse in 2005, follows up on the fallout from this specific issue.
3. What If? featuring Thor
by Robert Kirkman and Michael Avon Oeming
This might possibly be the only What If story I’ve ever read, and it boils down to two names: Kirkman and Oeming. Yes, that is Kirkman of The Walking Dead fame and Oeming who has written several books of his own. Oeming is first and foremost known for his skills as an artist on Powers with Brian Michael Bendis and co-creating books like Sinergy and Rapture with his wife Taki Soma. These two creators are synonymous with Creator Owned work these days, but for one brief one-off story the two bottled lightning in the form of a perfect Thor story. Essentially, Asgard is being consumed by Galactus and in a last ditch effort Thor joins him as his herald in exchange for sparing Asgard. This story has it all: two creators hitting on all cylinders, Thor, Loki, Sif, all of Asgard, Galactus, and a prototypical tale of self sacrifice.
2. Uncanny X-Men vol.1, #275
by Chris Claremont and Jim Lee
As previously stated, the X-Men were a large part of my comic book upbringing in the late 80’s and early 90’s. This issue takes place just before the famous Blue/Gold Team split which launched the “adjectiveless” X-Men book. This double sized issue has it all: all of your favorite X-Men in a space faring epic, the Starjammers and the Imperial Guard with Gladiator, the Shi’ar, Deathbird, ….plus, Magneto and Rogue in the Savage Land with Ka-Zar and Nick Fury, and a last minute masked mystery double cross. All of these X-Men touchstones presented by legendary Chris Claremont with career making Jim Lee art (with Scott Williams). If I had to give someone one issue of X-Men this would be it.
1. Spider-Man: Blue #6
by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale
The age-old debate to define which side you are on is “Beatles or Stones,” “dogs or cats,” and “Spider-Man or Batman.” If the list hasn’t made this crystal clear by now, I grew up a Marvel comics kid. I dabbled in DC a bit, but the muddled gravity of their continuity made it virtually inaccessible as a kid. My local library even had hardback bound editions of the origin issues of The Hulk, Captain America, and Spider-Man. So, some of my first exposure to Peter Parker was actually the original Lee and Ditko stories. So, in the early 2000’s when I was rediscovering comics that I had missed and friend of mine suggested I check out Spider-Man: Blue. The story is essentially Peter pouring his heart out to his first love Gwen Stacy over the course of six “cassettes” on a tape recorder. The entire story takes place around Valentines Day as Peter recounts the events that led to their first holiday together. The series brilliantly captures the difficulty of Peter juggling his normal college life with his secret life as Spider-Man battling the likes of the Green Goblin, the Rhyno, the Lizard, the Vulture, and ultimately (in this issue) Kraven the Hunter. And it this is a “superhero” book in all the best ways it can be, but this is not why it stacks up as my all-time favorite issue. Every Spider-Man fan knows that “with great power comes great responsibility” is the mantra of our hero, but it is in the final 3 pages of this issue that we really cut to the heart and get to see who Peter is. He is a man, damaged but stronger for knowing someone who was and is such a big part of who he is, in death as she was in life. Bruce Wayne/Batman is a person fighting every day to shed his humanity like a skin. Peter Parker embraces his humanity through the people, past and present, who make him who he is.