There are a lot of great comics out there, but let’s face it, there’s so many different versions of the same character, sometimes it’s hard to know where to look. Finding a series you like even when looking for something as popular as X-Men can lead you down a rabbit’s warren of continuities. In this feature we spotlight suitable jumping on points from a range of publishers and genres to try to help you find new stories that are worth your time and money.
Last time we looked at Sweet Tooth from Vertigo/DC, a coming of age story with an extraordinary backdrop. As we have looked at two road trip series back to back I thought it was time for a super hero story, but this one is by an indie favourite.
Ultimate X-Men – Vol. 9 (Tempest) – Marvel
Ultimate X-Men was an odd series. That’s why, as you may have noticed I’m recommending you start at volume 9, I’m also recommending you stop at volume 13. The soon to be deceased Ultimate Universe was created in 2000 with a simple goal, to retell the popular stories of Marvel’s most favourite characters with a modern twist. Unfortunately fifteen years later this “back to basics” universe has actually become more complicated than its original counter part. However there are some fantastic stories set in the Ultimate Universe. Brian Bendis’ Spider-Man, Mark Millar’s Ultimates and Warren Ellis’ Galactus trilogy to name a few. Ultimate X-Men always felt like the ugly duckling. Even though its writers were all top-tier talent, the afore-mentioned Bendis and Millar, plus the Walking Dead’s Robert Kirkman, the series was never able to gain the respect the other books received (well, not Fantastic Four, but that came late to the party). The five volumes I’m recommending sit on my book shelf, not as the best example of X-Men stories, but because they are the work of Brian K. Vaughan.
Mr. Vaughan is probably the reason I still read comics to this day. Y: The Last Man is one of my favourite stories in any media, and I continue to read comics on the hunt for a story that resonates with me as much as that story did. Mr. Vaughan is certainly the reason I started picking up non-superhero comic books (thank you)! In the early 2000’s Vaughan was a very popular comic writer, mostly known for his non super hero work. He took a hiatus from comics as he moved into Television. Though following the release of the very popular Saga series from Image comics he seems to be back in the comic business. If there is anyone out there who is enjoying his current books (Saga or We Stand on Guard) and is curious about Vaughan’s Marvel work this is a good run to try, it is the high point of the Ultimate X-Men experiment.
In this volume the teenage version of the X-Men leave Westchester and head into New York City. They are to investigate a number of recent murders, where the victims are all mutants. While the older students are playing detective, the younger students are forced by Xavier to remain home and practice their abilities, must to their dismay. This is a clever technique by Vaughan as it allows him to break the X-Men down and focus on them as two, more manageable, groups. Given that there are so many characters in the team by this point it could easily get confusing, by splitting them off he is able to introduce the reader to each X-Man and quickly establish their role in the team. This helps make his run a suitable jumping on point. No prior knowledge of the Ultimate universe is required. From there this is a simple but fun superhero story, and Vaughan is able to draw comparisons between being a mutant and being gay, to help give the story some modern themes.
The villain of the story is the classic X-Men character, Mr. Sinister. Though this being the Ultimate Universe he has been altered considerable from how fans know him. In this version he is not a genetic mad scientist with pale skin, he is a muscle-bound hitman for a mysterious unseen villain. Presenting Mr. Sinister as a possibly psychologically damaged individual is an interesting twist for the character, the sort the Ultimate line was famous for. In this story it adds an element of tension as readers are unsure if Apocalypse is really controlling Sinister, or if it is all his delusion. This being the more “grounded” universe, who can say…
Tempest is a strong start to Vaughan’s run, which also includes big changes for Ultimate Storm, the re-introduction of Ultimate Gambit and the X-Men caught in the middle of a reality show where mutants are hunted for sport (even back on the early 2000’s we hated reality TV). The series builds to a season-like finale that features Magneto and the Ultimates (aka The Avengers). This is a great jumping off point as it concludes many of Vaughan’s on going threads, though if you do decide to stay with the title you can see Robert Kirkman’s take on the Phoenix force.
I would be amiss to not point out that there are a number of fantastic X-Men stories out there, these are just the best ones written by Brian K Vaughan. Any one interested in a non-Ultimate X-men stories, I would point you towards Grant Morrison’s E is for Extinction, or Joss Whedon’s Gifted. I will likely talk about both of these at a later date, but on this occasion wanted to draw attention to some Vaughan stories people may be less familiar with.
The entire Vaughan run is told over five collected editions available from online retailers, or 21 single chapters available through Comixology. The whole series is also available to Marvel Unlimited users. If you’ve read this or any other Ultimate X-Men story and want to share your thoughts below please do so. If this article had encouraged you to pick up the series please let us know how you like it. If this series doesn’t sound like the right fit for you come back next time and we’ll find another jumping on point…maybe from Marvel’s Distinguished Competition.