It’s been a few years now, but it’s hard to imagine a world without the X-Men and their fellow, now significantly merrier mutants, living their lives on the sentient island Krakoa. The Dawn of X has been very kind to mutant and reader alike, thrusting the X-Men into a level of prominence in the comics they’d not seen in years. But with the Destiny of X on the way, and big changes afoot, we’ve got your back if you want to know where to start.
What’s the Premise, and Where Do You Start?
Let’s answer the second part of that first, because it helps establish the premise and is also pretty easy: you start at the beginning, with the twin series House of X and Powers of X. Each series is six issues long, and was originally released in tandem, with House first, and Powers every other week, and they’ve both since been collected together in trade releases. These two series, both penned by the now-outgoing head architect of the Krakoan era, Jonathan Hickman, are arguably still the most required reading of the last few years of X-Men comics.
Why? Because this is where everything is laid out for the current status quo of mutantkind. The duology established that Charles Xavier and Magneto, working together in secret with Moira McTaggart, a long time ally of the X-Men revealed here to herself actually be a mutant with the power to reincarnate with the knowledge of her past lives, have established a new nation state open to all mutants on the living island Krakoa (which once abducted the classic X-Men team and tried to eat them, but has now clearly gotten over it). Moira, now in her 10th existence after many failed attempts, has helped usher in from the shadows of Charles and Erik’s control a new, peaceful utopia where every mutant, regardless of previous conflicts or crimes, is invited to live. In exchange for international recognition and trade, Krakoa trades magical plant-based miracle cures with the nations of humankind, extending lifespans and curing terminal diseases. Why don’t they keep them for themselves? Well, that’s the big secret Krakoa is keeping from the rest of the world: mutants no longer die.
Well, they do, but they come back. Five powerful mutants now run the Resurrection Protocols, a ritual known only to the new mutant society, that can rebirth a new mutant, their memories restored in a new body, upon their death. Old friends and older enemies are now returned, old rivalries among mutantkind put aside, as they all work toward a bright new future with a peace that the X-Men and their allies have sought for generations… even as Charles, Erik, and Moira look to safeguard that future from familiar threats.
Phase 1: The Dawn of X
What’s it about? A new dawn begins! With Krakoa well and truly established, mutantkind enters a brave new world — but just because everything’s looking up for the island nation doesn’t mean that everyone who hated mutants before they suddenly became one of the most powerful forces on Earth just stopped. As Krakoa’s ruling Quiet Council looks to find new solutions to maintain peace with the outside world, mutant heroes and former villains alike all have to remember that their enemies still want them dead, even if they don’t realise that such a thing is temporary.
Any recommended books? The current era of X-books is a lot less about keeping up with a singular ongoing narrative, and more about seeking out what sounds neat to you. Want Kitty Pryde fun? Check out Marauders, which sees Kate form a team of swashbuckling adventurers to set sail from Krakoa and help monitor the trade of Krakoan medicine and save stranded mutants who can’t get to the island nation. Always interested in the more cosmic side of X-stories? New Mutants opens with a big interstellar arc, weaving in stories of the young mutants associated with that team over the years finding their own place in a society where they’re no longer the new kids on the block.
Fans of Betsy Braddock — now back in her own body and split from Kwannon, whose body Betsy was forced into as the hero Psylocke for decades — and magical fantasy should take a look at Excalibur, which sees Betsy inherit the mystical mantle of Captain Britain from her brother. If you’d prefer the darker side of things, both X-Force and Hellions deal with mutants making some tough ethical choices — the former dealing with the re-establishment of the titular spec ops team as Krakoa’s own intelligence agency and black ops squad, the latter seeing Mister Sinister work with a team of former villains and misfits looking to find a way to achieve redemption in the new mutant society… often very badly. And if you just want traditional X-Men action? Check out X-Men, silly! Even if, technically, there is no team with that name in the book, as it deals with big hitters like Cyclops, Wolverine, Jean Grey, and Storm tussling with mutantkind’s human foes in the scientific organisation Orchis.
What are the big events? The Dawn of X culminates in X of Swords, a massive 22-chapter event. Picking up on threads established in Excalibur as Apocalypse seeks to understand the magical powers of the fantastical pocket reality Otherworld, a tournament-arc-with-a-twist breaks out between the mutants of Krakoa and the ancient mutants of its separated sister-island Arakko, with the threat of invasion and destruction of everything mutantkind has worked hard to build in the process. If you liked what you read in Excalibur, this amps it all up to 11 — and is a must read for fans of Apocalypse in general.
Phase 2: The Reign of X
What’s it about? Shaken but not broken by the events in Otherworld, mutantkind continues in its quest to safeguard its new home. Exterior threats still poke and prod at Krakoa’s safe haven, our heroes continue to build on the new purposes they’ve found in rebirth and in coming to call Krakoa home, and some big changes to the very foundations of this new society lay the stage for an uncertain new era. Oh, and they throw one hell of a party, to boot. And maybe set up a second home on Mars. You know, as you do.
Any recommended books? A lot of the books that started in the Dawn of X continue here, so if you liked them there, they’re still good here (personally, Marauders and Excalibur are very fun books, and Hellions, in particular, becomes even very darkly humorous). One book I didn’t mention in the Dawn section that really comes into its own in Reign is X-Factor, which sees queer mutant Northstar — he of the famous gay wedding — reform the investigative team as something of a detective agency for the Five and their resurrections, hunting down missing mutants to either save them or find enough evidence of their death to get them added to the resurrection queue.
For new additions, highlights include Children of the Atom, a miniseries that follows a group of young vigilantes who idolize the X-Men and has a very intriguing twist, and Way of X, a Nightcrawler-focused series that examines the theological spirit of Krakoan society through Kurt’s own religious background, as he tries to seek spiritual meaning in a society that’s already forgetting what permanent death feels like.
What are the big events?
There are several major events that take place in this era. The first is the Hellfire Gala, the aforementioned big party bash. Woven throughout the ongoing series, the event sees mutantkind open the gates to representatives and heroes from across the world for a celebratory and diplomatic display of mutant power. These are superhero comics however, so it’s not all quiet chats and party drinks: it spins out into a separate miniseries, The Trial of Magneto, which largely focuses on Magneto’s relationship with the Scarlet Witch — herself no longer a mutant after some corporate shenanigans, and largely unpopular on Krakoa for that whole “No More Mutants” deal.
More recently are two larger storylines. Jonathan Hickman bowed out of writing for the X-Books with the recently wrapped Inferno, a short but very important event that sets the stage for an uneasy new status quo between Professor X, Magneto, and the rest of the Quiet Council. Meanwhile currently ongoing is X Lives of Wolverine and X Deaths of Wolverine, a duology that is focused upon Wolverine’s past and the current state of Krakoa after the events of Inferno. We don’t know the full scope of it just yet, as the series are both only just beginning, but we do know they’re setting the stage for a major overhaul of the line called…
Phase 3: The Destiny of X
What’s it about? The events of Inferno have quietly torn apart the fabric that kept Krakoa woven together from the shadows. As the Quiet Council reels from the burden of powerful new knowledge, mutantkind soldiers on, unaware of the secrets beneath Krakoa’s surface… and how some of its most deadly foes now have the chance to uncover those secrets too.
Any recommended reading? Destiny of X is set to launch this spring, so we can’t definitively say what’s worth checking out yet — especially as, unlike with the Reign of X, Destiny will see the X-book line largely overhauled with multiple new titles. Just five familiar series are returning: Wolverine, Marauders, X-Force, X-Men, and New Mutants. They’ll be joined by four new series including Knights of X, a continuation of Excalibur that sees Betsy’s latest iteration of the team trapped in Otherworld; Legion of X, the spiritual successor to Way of X that sees Nightcrawler establish a new Krakoan peacekeepers; X-Men Red, which focuses on Storm’s rule of the mutant’s new Martian colony; and lastly Immortal X-Men, a series that follows the Quiet Council as it rebuilds in the wake of Inferno.
What are the big events?
We don’t know what X-book-specific crossovers are yet to come here, of course, but we do know at least one major dust-up is brewing on the horizon. This week Marvel announced Judgment Day, the first major event that the X-Men will truly participate in since the beginning of the Krakoan Age. Pitting mutantkind against the Eternals — who claim to have uncovered a deadly secret about Homo Superior’s ascendance and now want to go to war with Krakoa over it — with the Avengers caught in the crossfire, it’s set to begin in 2022.
How Do I Read All This?
Now you know what’s up with the past few years of X-comics, it’s time to start actually reading them. The easiest way, if you don’t mind digital comics, is signing up to Marvel Unlimited and devouring your way through the titles mentioned above. The subscription service — which costs just under $US70 ($97) a year — now operates on a three-month wait time between a comic hitting retail shelves and it entering the Unlimited library, so won’t exactly be 100% up to date with current goings-on, but you can still catch up with nearly three years of comics pretty easily.
If you prefer to read your comics in trade, House of X/Powers of X, the Dawn of X titles, and event series X of Swords and the Hellfire Gala have now all been collected in trade paperback collections. Most interestingly for the Dawn of X comics, there are actually two ways to collect them in trade: each series has its own trade collection, but there is also a 16-volume Dawn of X collection series that gathers individual issues of the series as they released, giving you a mix of all of the ongoing stories as they happened. Marvel is currently doing the same with the Reign of X collection, but as of writing, just eight volumes have released — with at least seven more to come, releasing up to late summer 2022.