Apocalypse is upon us, but at least we made it most of the way through Book Month before it happened.
X-Men: Apocalypse has unleashed the Four Horsemen upon theaters all over the world, and, in an effort to appease these agents of the end times, I’ve compiled this Book Month list looking back at some of the oddest times the X-Men have prowled the prose page. Marvel’s characters began appearing in prose as early as 1967, and at first through Bantam Books, but the X-Men themselves didn’t appear until 1979 in a short story by Jo Duffy in an anthology titled The Marvel Superheroes, and they didn’t get their own book until 1995. But since then, there has been a fairly steady stream of books, with the most recent being an adaptation of Joss Whedon and John Cassaday’s Astonishing X-Men, by Peter David in 2012.
Just like X-Men comic books the books have varied wildly in quality and content. They sometimes delivered stories worthy of the “uncanny” name, and occasionally they took the uncanny to whole new levels. Here are 10 of the weirdest times Marvel’s merry mutants got wordy.
Have a favorite X-Novel moment? As always, let us know in the comments below!
X-MEN: DARK MIRROR
(By Marjorie M. Liu. Pocket Star, 2005)
This book is a fun foreshadowing of things to come, as writer Marjorie M. Liu — who was recently nominated for an Eisner Award — would go on to write a number of X-Men comics for Marvel, including X-23, Dark Wolverine, and Astonishing X-Men. It is also odd because of its plot, which sees Jean Grey, Wolverine, Rogue, Nightcrawler, and Cyclops psychically swapped with the prisoners of a mental institution. Worth reading if only to experience Wolverine trapped inside the body of a woman.
X-MEN: CYCLOPS AND PHOENIX
(By Paul Mantell. Random House, 1995)
The first of the X-Men books was an adaptation of a storyline originally written by Scott Lobdell and illustrated by Gene Ha in the pages of The Adventures of Cyclops and Phoenix comic books. This is a young adult book that tells the story of the couple’s time-travelling honeymoon, their clashes with Apocalypse, and their discovery of their son, Cable. This storyline is one of the X-Men’s more bizarre and convoluted time travel stories, so it’s fun to see another medium tackle that head on.
X-MEN: SMOKE AND MIRRORS
(By Eluki bes Shahar. Berkley Boulevard, 1997)
You may have flashbacks of X-Men: The Last Stand while reading this book, due to its plot revolving around a government-mandated “cure” for mutants, and Rogue struggling over whether to take it. But this is a fairly different tale beyond those two details, as Sinister is involved, and so are the members of the “Ohio Mutant Conspiracy.” They include such oddball muties as Slapshot (who can alter inertia and trajectories), Rewind (who can reverse time, but just for 45 seconds), Red Rover (who had generic heightened strength, speed and senses), Pipedream (who could cause dreamlike-trances, and memory loss), and Charade (who was a walking lie detector and power dampener).
STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION/X-MEN: PLANET X
(By Michael Jan Friedman. Pocket Books, 1998)
A lot of fans probably don’t need any further convincing to read this book other than its title, but I’ll humor the holdouts. Sadly, the teams don’t run into Duck Dodgers on Planet X, but the book does make a rather prophetic remark about how similar Captain Jean-Luc Picard and Professor Charles Xavier looked, and did so before Patrick Stewart had been cast to play the latter. However, they put aside the bald competition to help the divided people of the planet Xhaldia, where the X-Men find themselves after crossing into the Trek reality.
X-MEN: EMPIRE’S END
(By Diane Duane. Berkley Boulevard, 1998)
You may know Diane Duane from her fantasy novels like So You Want to Be a Wizard, but she also did a number of licensed novels, for franchises like Star Trek, Spider-Man, and yes, even an X-Men book. In her novel, the Shi’ar’s Empress Lilandra calls in her boy toy Professor X’s X-Men to help in the fight against a world- and star-eating monster the Shi’ar have unleashed. The only way to do it? By using a vague and mysterious device to exponentially increase their mutant powers, of course. How do you multiply powers of “claws and healing?” Read and find out.
X-MEN AND THE AVENGERS: GAMMA QUEST TRILOGY
(By Greg Cox. Berkley Boulevard, 1999-2000)
Over the course of its three books — Lost and Found, Search and Rescue and Friend or Foe? — The Gamma Quest Trilogy has a little bit of everything. Sure it’s a classic fight-then-team-up scenario between Marvel’s merry mutants and Earth’s mightiest heroes, but it also features robot doppelgangers, mind control antics courtesy of the Leader, misunderstanding-fueled fights with the Hulk, moon bases, and Rogue and the Scarlet Witch being subdued by haunted sweaters. How are you not already running to the bookstore?
X-MEN: LAW OF THE JUNGLE
(By Dave Smeds. Berkley Boulevard, 1998)
To be honest, this story isn't terribly weird by X-Men standards. But by every other standard it is. In this novel, the X-Men travel to the Savage Land — a lost prehistoric jungle in the middle of Antarctica — to team-up with proto-Tarzan Ka-Zar, his wife Shanna the She-Devil and his sabretooth tiger Zabu in an effort stop the hypnotic mutant pterodactyl man known as Sauron from taking the Savage Land for his own nefarious purposes. When X-Men books get weird on purpose and the way they're supposed to, this is what you get.
X-MEN & SPIDER-MAN: TIME’S ARROW TRILOGY
(By Tom DeFalco, Jason Henderson, Adam-Troy Castro, and Eluki Bes Shahar. Berkley Boulevard, 1998)
Another team-up trilogy, the Time’s Arrow books — aptly named The Past, The Present, and The Future — feature the X-Men teaming up with Spider-Man after Peter Parker finds a defunct spider-tracer on a museum exhibiting artifacts from the Civil War, along with a picture of him an Bishop. This sets off a series of time-travelling shenanigans with guest-appearances galore, such as Two-Gun Kid, Moon Boy and Devil Dinosaur, the Black Knight, the original Human Torch, original Guardians of the Galaxy, Iron Man 2020, and more as they attempt to foil the plans of Kang the Conqueror.
X-MEN: SOUL KILLER
(By Richard Lee Byers. Berkley Boulevard, 1999)
In this horror-tinged X-thriller, the X-Men team up with Dracula, Lord of the Vampires, to prevent the demon Belasco from sacrificing Rogue to the Elder Gods. The British mutant team Excalibur also join the battle for Rogue’s fate, giving Nightcrawler in particular some time to shine, given his role on both teams, and unique relationship to the demonic elements of the Marvel U. Entertainingly off-the-wall choice of subject matter for an X-Men book.
X-MEN: THE CHAOS ENGINE TRILOGY
(By Steven A. Roman. BP Books, 2000-2002)
Some days you just can’t get rid of a Cosmic Cube. That’s pretty much the moral of the story for this trilogy, where in each book a different supervillain manages to get their hands on the reality-warping power of the Cosmic Cube. Book one subjects the world to the tyranny of Doctor Doom, book two allows Magneto to create the Mutant utopia he’s always wanted, and book three sees the Red Skull granted the deepest desires of his little Nazi heart. This is an interesting series because you don’t normally see the X-Men go up against Doom or the Red Skull on their own, and certainly not at this scale.