Every title in the Marvel Comics universe has a massive catalog of stories and adventures, but—due respect given to everyone else—the X-Men have the biggest. Debuting in 1963, once Chris Claremont took over the title in 1970, the team of merry mutants has had some of wildest and most exciting serialized stories in all of comics. Naturally, several of these major storylines have made their way to film. But not all of them, not by a longshot. (This is a fun reference for ’80s-’90s fans.)
With Mutants now in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the X-Men destined to join in the near future (we’d bet Phase VII, VI at the earliest), it’s high time for more of the X-folks’ greatest stories to hit the big screen. We will leave out any storyline that has had even hints in the now-defunct Fox universe. Trust us, there are still plenty of good ones. Here they are in order of comics release.
Sauron and the Savage Land
The Savage Land had been part of the Marvel Comics universe since 1941. Jack Kirby himself came up with it, as a primeval tropical area nestled within Antarctica where dinosaurs and things continued to exist. In 1969, writer Roy Thomas and artist Neal Adams took our heroic band of mutants there to fight a new threat. The mad Dr. Karl Lykos wished to conquer the Savage Land and to do so mutated himself to a giant bipedal Pteranodon. He chose the name of Tolkien’s great villain, Sauron, as his new moniker.
Now, obviously, the MCU can’t—and mustn’t—make the Tolkien reference. He’s a dinosaur; he can just be Saur-on (rather than Sow-ron). The Savage Land has always been one of the more out-there ideas for places in the Marvel Universe. However, given how the MCU has gone very cosmic, exploring more of the unseen parts of the movie world’s Earth would be really fun. Plus it immediately would give an excuse for the X-Men to work as a team; dinosaurs are not to be taken lightly.
“The Phoenix Saga,” Starjammers, Shi’ar Empire
You may be about to yell at me and say “But Kyle, we’ve seen the Phoenix Saga a million times!” Not so, fool. While “The Dark Phoenix Saga” has been on screen (badly) in the movies before, the preamble never has. And it’s way more fun!
Even among comic book heroes, the X-Men universe has the room to go very sci-fi. “The Phoenix Saga” introduces the intergalactic Shi’ar Empire and the Civil War between the Imperial family, specifically the insane Emperor D’Ken and his younger sister, Lilandra, who becomes romantically entangled with Professor X. We also meet the Starjammers, a group of interstellar adventurers who take Lilandra’s side against her family. The dashing leader of the Starjammers, Corsair, we later find out, is Cyclops’ dad. It’s a whole weird thing, the Summers clan lineage.
A deadly amusement park? Why yes, sign me up! And it’s even franchised, something Disney knows a thing or two about. The mastermind behind these theme park-style death traps is Arcade, the flamboyant assassin who doesn’t care about much besides causing pain and havoc. Utilizing sophisticated robotic and holographic systems, Arcade frequently pitted various superheroes against Murderworld. Sometimes he does it for money and sometimes merely for the challenge.
Arcade is one of the best all-around Marvel villains who hasn’t appeared anywhere in the movies yet, and scant few TV shows. His penchant for lavish attraction-themed murder machines and conniving intellect make him a really fascinating choice to take on the X-Men. He’d have to devise specific death traps for each specific mutant, which could be represented in a really fun visual way onscreen.
The ’80s were a hell of a time in the X-Men comics. Whatever wild ideas the writers could come up with, they’d put the X-Men through it. Like putting them in another universe where they have to battle for their lives while people watch on TV. Mojo, one of the most revolting villains ever, first began in the pages of the Longshot book from creators Ann Nocenti and Arthur Adams. He’s like if Jabba the Hutt ran Videodrome. He has his own universe and plucks various warriors, like Longshot, to fight to the death for his and his captive public’s viewing pleasure.
The X-Men were unfortunate enough to be chosen for this horrifying exercise on the day the New Mutants graduated from Xavier’s School. Mojo would subsequently become a recurring thorn in the X-Men’s side. It’s rare for such a godlike entity to find so much glee in the relatively mundane act of making television, but that’s why Mojo’s so much fun!
Far and away the best X-Men villain who hasn’t made it to the big screen yet is Mister Sinister. In the comics, he was a Victorian scientist who predicted the coming of mutantkind, and feared what it could mean for humanity. He was then bestowed powers from Apocalypse, became nigh-immortal, and continued his genetic research, incorporating mutant DNA into his own. He even worked from the shadows, manipulating the lives of many X-Men, including Cyclops, Jean Grey, Havok, Gambit, and even Professor X.
His first appearance in the comics coincided with the first X-Men crossover event, “Mutant Massacre,” which introduced an evil team of mutants called the Marauders. Sinister, the leader of the Marauders, orders them to slaughter the Morlocks, a mostly peaceful group of subterranean mutants to remove “wild card” mutations from the gene pool. The combined efforts of the X-Men, X-Factor, New Mutants, Power Pack, Thor, and Daredevil attempt to thwart this scheme but the heroes sustained heavy losses.
Mister Sinister always thinks several steps ahead and killing off the Morlocks was part of a long game. He could easily be the MCU’s next big villain given this and we’d love to see it.
E Is for Extinction/New X-Men
Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s run on New X-Men in 2001 made a lot of big changes to the continuity. It narrowed the roster to only Cyclops, Jean, Wolverine, Beast, and former villain Emma Frost, and made the focus less on them saving humanity from evil mutants and more on saving mutants from humanity. It also introduced the mysterious Cassandra Nova, Xavier’s formerly unseen twin sister whose evil schemes are varied and nefarious.
Nova gains access to Sentinels and destroys the mutant population of the island of Genosha, seemingly to draw the X-Men and swap bodies with Charles. She then uses Charles’ body to tell the world the X-Men exist. This leads to the creation of the U-Men, a team of villains who seek to augment human bodies with mutant body parts. It’s a grisly and gnarly and very Grant Morrison.
Dawn of X
When Jonathan Hickman relaunched the X-universe with his “House of X/Powers of X” miniseries, it ushered in a brand new world for mutants. Utilizing Krakoa, the living island, and the latent Groundhog Day-style mutant powers of Moira MacTaggart, Charles Xavier and Magneto are able to bring every mutant back from the dead on the condition they all work to secure the future of their existence. They announce themselves as a sovereign nation.
This split off into several new titles and team-ups, but the core themes were radical and exciting. Mutant kind would no longer have to worry about being wiped out, least of all by each other. It would make for a really great way to bring mutants properly into the MCU, with all the best characters doing all sorts of things people haven’t already seen from the former Fox film franchise. It might be too heady for a new audience, but we have faith they’ll get it. If you aren’t currently reading this version of X-Men, you’re missing out.