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Comic Books that Inspired the X-Men Movies
With seven X-Men movies, it's only natural for someone to be curious about where all these stories come from. However, while the source material is rich with history, the X-Men movies tend to borrow broadly from the comics, condensing rather than retelling.
But even the movies can't help but take key moments and events from the comics. Below is a summary of the issues and tales that brought the X-Men to the screen.
Giant Sized X-Men #1
The first X-Men movie is two things compared to the rest of the films; the smallest movie of the series and the one without a clear influence.
Perhaps the very first X-Men comic should be here, but I don't quiet see it. Considering the cast of characters the movie uses, I'd pick this as the clearer (in a not clear decision) choice. I should point out as well that it's what the X-Men become after this issue that truly inspires the first film. Following this issue, Chris Claremont takes the the series down a darker road full of character drama and prejudice, which is something the movies strive to make clear.
So, while the first movie's plot isn't necessarily inspired by any one story, the themes are taken directly from the comics of this time and that starts with Giant Sized X-Men!
God Loves, Man Kills
Inspired: X2: X-Men United
Where the first movie was a quick condensing of everything that makes the X-Men the X-Men, the second movie is where the films start pulling stories directly from the source material. After having the heroes go up against Magneto the first time around makes sense, but it's those they've sworn to protect who are coming up for round two.
God Loves, Man Kills was one of the first direct graphic novels that Marvel and the X-Men produced. It didn't have true place in continuity and William Striker didn't show up again for almost twenty years. But the tone of this comic captured everything someone might need to know about the series if they've never read an issue before.
This comic has Striker using Xavier as a weapon, Magneto team up with our heroes, Nightcrawler is an essential element, as is his faith. Interestingly, Striker is a reverend in the comic, where he's a general in the film. If you want to see where the first, amazing X-Men movie got it's idea, check out this graphic novel. It's dated but still worth the read.
Astonishing X-Men: Gifted
Inspired: X-Men: The Last Stand
Truth be told, I didn't love Joss Whedon's run on the X-Men, though I think I'm in the minority. His opening run, these first six issues, however, had a huge impact on the third X-Men movie.
This story came out shortly after Grant Morrison's already legendary run and it was a little too back-to-the-basics. Featuring aliens, spandex and a Cyclops without Morrison's zen, it was like coming home for some readers. Oh, and someone discovers a cure for mutants.
The rest of the story is big, action packed adventure but not much comes out of this story in the long run. For the movie, this story was still fresh, so the film was doing something that was still seen as brand new to the X-Verse. I think the movie did a better job handling the concept, and it would have done an even better job if it had focused on this, but the past is past.
Or is the future past? Now I'm all turned around.
The Dark Phoenix Saga
Inspired: X-Men: The Last Stand
Often considered the greatest X-Men story ever told (or a close second to Days of Future Past), this comic might be slightly overrated. It's reputation tells that it's a life changing experience, but in the end it's a solid piece of comic history, with a few flaws.
Telling the story of how Jean Grey's powers become to overwhelming for her, this is the transformation of Phoenix into Dark Phoenix. The first half of the story is the best part, it's moody and full of secret societies and reality manipulators. Watching Wolverine sneak into the Hellfire Club is classic and Mastermind is a creepy villain trying to control Jean's growing power. This is all good for an X-Men tale, including the epic battle of the mind between Dark Phoenix and Professor X. The second half, the part that's in space, is less interesting and is one of the first examples for me on why the X-Men shouldn't do space and alien stories. Still, in the end, this comic is a foundational block in the building of X-history.
The movie, not so much. The comic book Jean struggling with her powers is replaced with a silent actor who doesn't fit with the rest of the movie. You never care about Jean's struggles because she gives us so little. The movie really does mess with this classic to the point where you wish they'd hadn't bothered at all. In the end, The Dark Phoenix Saga is one of the many victims of X-Men: The Last Stand.
Inspired: X2: X-Men United, X-Men Origins: Wolverine
Barry Windsor-Smith's is a trippy comic book, but it's one of the best looks into Wolverine's past that's been written. Published before the cartoons, movies, and retcons, Weapon X gave us the first glimpses into a possible origin story for Logan, all while refusing to provide any solid answers.
For a long time, this was as close to canon as it came to Wolverine. He was captured, experiments on, given his adamantium, and brainwashed with false memories. In fact, as the story ends, it seems less and less likely that this story is the real one and that most of what we've read is implanted into Wolverine. Amnesia would be preferable to what Logan has.
This looked like it was the basis of what Brian Singer was doing with the second X-Men movies and Wolverine's flashbacks. When the solo film came out, it harvested some from Origin and some from Weapon X, but very little of what made the comic cool and mind-bending found its way onto the big screen. In the end, the 90's animated series did the best work adapting this story, but you can see how it affected the movies fairly easily.
Inspired: X-Men: First Class
These first issues, written by Stan Lee and drawn by Jack Kirby, are weird artifacts of pop culture. The X-Men were written in ways that made them very different from other superheroes, but Stan had trouble finding why they were different. For the first few issues, this series could have been seen as a Fantastic Four or Avengers knockoff. It wasn't until they started focusing on the prejiduce and fear that mutants would face that this book started feeling unique.
These comics are still hard to read. Stan's writing doesn't work for these characters the way it does for Spider-Man and a lot of the early dialog feels like a joke. Magneto is almost too ridicoulous to be taken seriously, which seems completely out of place when considering where's he'd end up. In the end, these comics are silver age weirdness, with toad men and robots and not a lot of direction.
X-Men: First Class is another example, like the first film, of a movie being inspired by an era of comics over a specific story. Rather than taking one tale, the movie borrows tone and time. Setting the film in the sixties allows for the X-Men to interact with the era they were born in, while also bringing some groove and weirdness with them.
Wolverine by Claremont and Miller
Inspired: The Wolverine
This was the first solo Wolverine comic, before the character would get his own ongoing series and spinoffs. Until this story, Wolverine was a quick tempered berserker without a lot of background. He wasn't completely one dimensional, but he wasn't the rounded character he is today.
Chris Claremont and Frank Miller teamed together to create one of the defining Wolverine stories. Taking place in Japan, fighting against a local crime family and falling in love with Mariko Yashida, this is a classic for the character. It's also what defines Logan as a ronin, a masterless samurai.
The Wolverine borrows the complete story from this comic, so much so that it might be the most faithfully translated X-tale. Sure, characters switch places or have different powers, but the core story stays intact and Wolverine takes a journey from ronin to a warrior with a mission. He's not perfect at the end, but he's a more confident Wolverine.
Days of Future Past
Inspired: X-Men: Days of Future Past
While I might think the Dark Phoenix Saga gets a bigger reputation than it deserves, I'll never argue how good Days of Future Past is, especially as an X-Men story. It's the kind of tale that could only work for the X-Men, giving us allegory and depressingly cool future versions of certain characters.
When Kitty Pride goes back in time to stop the assassination of Senator Kelly, the X-Men's world is complete jeopardy. In the future, where the Sentinels are in complete control, we watch Storm, Colossus and Wolverine get taken down by robots that we never took too seriously. This future is scary.
The movie borrows heavily, while still changing quite a bit. It's the actually invention of the Sentinels the X-Men need to stop, though Mystique is still involved. Wolverine is the one sent back in time and Magneto is a big obstetrical. The future isn't as 80's rundown in the comic and the surviving X-Men are a different crew. But, the power of the story is still there, still intense and still worth fighting for, it's still an X-Men story.