The Movie to Comic Problem Again — What X-Men Do I Read?

I enjoyed watching X-Men: First Class, so I wanted to read comics that would give me the same feeling. Only… what are they?

It’s a typical problem when it comes to superhero movies. Projects like 300 or Watchmen have strong tie-in sales, because there’s one book to buy. Single-creator movies (such as Sin City or Hellboy) similarly do well — especially when publishers bring out clearly labeled reprints of the corresponding series, so interested readers know where to start. (The problem then becomes one of meeting demand.)

When there’s only a handful of well-designed collections, these new customers also aren’t intimidated by having too much material available. That’s the problem with trying to start reading comics after enjoying something like Iron Man or Spider-Man or Thor — in order to attempt to rid the movie’s coattails, Marvel pumps out so many comics that the interested new customer has no idea where to start, or why it takes so many publications to capture the appeal of one simple film. (Don’t get me wrong, DC does it too — but their recent movies haven’t been as appealing, so the problem is less apparent in their case.)

Add in the 50-year-old setting of First Class, an aspect I enjoyed, and the problem becomes even more complicated. I searched Amazon for the film title, and I got back seven X-Men: First Class collections, which look promising, until I realized that the descriptions were too confusing.

X-Men: First Class : Tomorrow’s Brightest collects #1-8, per the description, while Volume 1 has #1, #2, #4, #5, #7, and part of the 2007 Special and Volume 2 lists #1, #5, #6, #7, #10. I’m lost; I can only hope that someone in my situation who’s not as familiar with comics can find a good retailer to guide them. But it’s ok, I have too many comics to read now, anyway, and I suspect there really isn’t a comic that feels like this particular movie. I should probably watch Austin Powers again instead.

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16 Responses to “The Movie to Comic Problem Again — What X-Men Do I Read?”

  1. Kris Says:

    Er, one of the main problems with this particular film is that it isn’t in any continuity of the comics. It’s movie continuity. They’re tied down by decisions they made in the previous films, so it can’t even be a true “first class,” because Jean Grey, Cyclops, Iceman, and Angel are all too young to be in the film. (Or, at the very least, they used a younger Jean and Cyclops already, so they won’t really fit in here.)

    At least with Iron Man, Spider-Man, and Thor there was really only one option (at the time). And Marvel fiddled around with the story and continuity of the respective comics to fit with the films. Spider-Man got an overhaul in Spider-Man: The Other (which gave him organic webshooters like in the Toby Maguire films). Iron Man amped up Pepper’s presence in the comics, Black Widow got her own series, etc.

    It’s really only in the X-Men world that the movie/comic cross has been fairly botched.

  2. Eric Rupe Says:

    Amazon’s issue listings for trade collections isn’t always accurate. Comic Book DB has the mini series, Tomorrow’s Brightest, collected in one trade and the ongoing is collected with issues #1-5 in the first volume (http://comicbookdb.com/issue.php?ID=123995), #6-10 in the second (http://comicbookdb.com/issue.php?ID=162679) and #11-16 in the third volume (http://comicbookdb.com/issue.php?ID=165208).

    I never read the series but I remember it being described as a retro book and Black Widow is in her original 60′s costume on the cover of issue #9 (http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2322/2294499648_9a33a78461.jpg) so I wouldn’t be surprised if it took place in the 60′s.

  3. Johanna Says:

    Thanks for that, Eric. And yes, the series was set during the early X-Men days — but that means the team members were the classic Marvel Girl, Iceman, etc., not the kids from the movie.

    I know I’m asking for the impossible here, in a way, since the movie team was assembled from across comic eras. It just disappoints me a bit that I have to wait years for a followup (if a movie sequel happens at all), instead of feeding the want for more now.

  4. Matthew Jeske Says:

    My understanding of the X-Men First Class series is that its not exactly set in the sixties, but that its an update of stories with the original team. I think cell phone are used within the series. Maybe “X-Men Children of the Atom” by Joe Casey and others would fit what you were looking for?

  5. Paul O'Brien Says:

    Jeff Parker’s X-Men: First Class series is new stories, aimed at an all-ages audience, using the original X-Men line-up. In line with modern continuity, it’s set in the recent past. It has no connection whatsoever to the film which simply re-uses its name.

    There was an earlier series which consisted mostly of updated re-telling of Lee and Kirby stories – Professor Xavier and the X-Men – which lasted about a year and was largely awful, as you might expect from journeyman creators doing Lee/Kirby cover versions.

    There is no obvious way into the X-Men comics at the moment, and to be honest, I wouldn’t advise new readers to even try. If somebody told me they were adamant that they wanted to get into the X-Men, I’d suggest they started with the Essential collections of the Chris Claremont run – which is nothing like the films either.

  6. Johanna Says:

    I tried to reread the original Claremont/Byrne issues a few years ago, and I ran into snags. I didn’t realize, at the time, that they were published two months apart — which meant read one after another, there was an awful lot of recap and telling us things we knew. I think some of it was also “you had to be there at the time”. But I appreciate the suggestions, Paul and Matthew, thank you.

  7. Joshua Says:

    Even though it’s got nothing in common with the movie except the title, I recommend the X-Men: First Class comics. If nothing else, you should read them for the adorable Colleen Coover illustrated stories (often focusing on Marvel Girl) in all the volumes except Tomorrow’s Brightest.

  8. Jim Kosmicki Says:

    for someone just wanting to get into the X-men, there’s always the ultimate x-men books, especially the first couple volumes. After all, the Ultimate line was intended to be a new starting point for new readers, but told with more modern sensibilities.

    I have checked out a couple of the x-men volumes from the local library and don’t really know who the characters or situations are. Even worse, the tpbs are almost never complete stories, and the library almost never has the companion volumes. The books themselves are well-read, so somebody’s enjoying them, but it’s not me.

    i was a die-hard X-men fan – I had an old battered copy of #14 that I picked up at some garage sale when I was younger, and then I bought the reprint issues when they were on the newsstand. So when Giant-Size #1 came out, I was there. But I dropped the original series when the Brood came in (I dropped most comics then). I came back a couple times, but found myself dropping the X-men pretty regularly when the stories just got too convoluted and began to spread to too many titles. I would come back for stand-alone books like X-Statix, but haven’t even done that in a long time.

    I tried buying the First Class book in trade, but ended up buying the same volume twice because it wasn’t clear which was which (I think one was digest and one was regular size). I figured if Marvel didn’t care enough to number the volumes or make it clear which content was which, they were making it easy for me to stop reading.

  9. David Oakes Says:

    There have been a number of “When Erik met Chuck” stories over the years, notably when they met Gabrielle Haller (mother of Legion) and Moria McTaggert (mother of Proteus). This might be a good time for them to collect the stories.

    I think there was a “Hellfire Club: the Origin” mini at one point as well. (And if not, why not?)

    But to be honest, for the feel of this movie, “X-Men before there were X-Men”, it sounds more like Johnathan Hickman’s SHIELD, where he focuses on Nathaniel Richards and Howard Stark. 60s retro is back again, I guess.

  10. Marc-Oliver Frisch Says:

    I second the recommendation of X-MEN: CHILDREN OF THE ATOM, by Joe Casey, Steve Rude and Paul Smith, for stories about the X-Men’s “early days,” although it probably won’t be much like FIRST CLASS, either.

    For what it’s worth, I’m a longtime X-Men fan and find the concept and characters tremendously appealing, and I still haven’t found a fun, inspired X-Men comic since Morrison left the series. (Whedon was entertaining enough, but lacked a more substantial direction.)

    X-MEN: FIRST CLASS is the first X-Men story in ages that I’m genuinely looking forward to. (The film launches tomorrow in Germany.)

  11. Marc-Oliver Frisch Says:

    (Come to think of it, Marvel should do a collection of pre-X-Men Xavier/Magneto stories. Between UNCANNY X-MEN #166, 309 and 389, X-MEN #-1 [the "Flashback Month" issue], the vignette from CLASSIC X-MEN #12 and probably some other ones I’m forgetting about, Chris Claremont and Scott Lobdell in particular have done some memorable work in that area. If that’s what you’re looking for and are in the mood for back-issue browsing, those mostly stand-alone issues are worth seeking out.)

  12. Marvel Movie Mags: X-Men First Class and Thor Movie Special » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    [...] a known problem — what comics should a fan, attracted by a superhero movie, start with? There are two Marvel [...]

  13. D. Peace Says:

    Can I just take a minute to advocate the intelligence of the average movie-goer? Possibly folly on my part but hear me out.

    I know plenty of people who go see comic book movies and they like them and they’re not absolute, die-hard nerd-fighter types but they are open to the possibility of reading more comics that deal with the same subject matter as the film. They will go into a comics shop and seek out X-Men comics based on their love of the films. And they’re not stupid. They don’t NEED the movie to match the comics exactly.

    It’s true that Parker’s FIRST CLASS is not the same as the movie FIRST CLASS but so what? The comics were supposed to be like a Stan Lee revival and the movies were supposed to be set in another continuity entirely. A friend of mine said “this is actually a different continuity than the other X-Men movies” so, WOW, movie-goers are actual capable of understanding the difference between films directed by Director A and Director B even though both feature the same set of characters.

    It’s not that the transitioning from comics to movies requires some sort of mental gymnastics that Joe Average movie buff isn’t capable of. You don’t need the comics to be precisely like the movies because, if you did, you’d just have a bunch of movies that mirrored the comics panel-for-panel or comics that acted as “graphic novelizations” of the movies and that would be crap, obviously.

    The problem is that there is no venue for casually buying comics. There is the comic book specialty store but those are fucking dungeons half the time and just way to cliquey and boutiquey the rest of the time. Normal people want normal methods of buying product and, increasingly, the internet is that method. This is why digital comics are so important. For ten years now, everyone has sat around and said “Gee, that’s funny… Joe Average movie-goer doesn’t seem to read Spider-Man/X-Men/whatever comics despite loving the movie. Is the problem the movie or the comics or both?” The truth is that it’s not always about content as much as it is about delivery system.

    I think, to a certain extent, this article is misguided. FIRST CLASS the movie was good… FIRST CLASS the comic is also good. Both are different but that doesn’t matter unless the reader/viewer has the comprehension skills of a baboon. The problem with the transition is medium.

  14. Johanna Says:

    My point was simply this: I liked the movie. I liked the retro setting and the group of characters and the personalities shown. I wanted more, so I thought I’d try some comics. I’m not asking for a repeat in comic form — but in this case, trying to find comics with similar points of appeal is even more difficult than usual when it comes to superhero movies precisely because of the factors I liked about it.

    I’m not calling movie fans stupid or putting down Jeff Parker’s comics (which I have previously praised).

  15. Jim Perreault Says:

    I saw the movie yesterday, so now I feel I can comment on this.

    The comics that are the most similar to the movie are:

    The Claremont X-men issue that dealt with Magneto and Xavier’s past. (X-men 161)
    Early issues of the New Mutants have a very similar feel. Their earlier encounters with the Hellfire Club has at least a couple of characters in common with the movie.

    I don’t know of the availability of either.

  16. What Do You Show to a New Reader? » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    [...] comic book store clerk and a fan of superhero movies who wants to try comics. (You may recall we discussed something similar here last month.) Find out what KC recommends starting with at the link. [...]

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