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10. Uncanny X-Men 160: “Chutes and Ladders”
Synopsis: In this issue the X-Men quite literally take a trip to Dante’s Inferno, and it’s one hell of an adventure. While trying to save Colossus’ kidnapped sister, Illyana, the X-Men wind up in Limbo, where they meet malevolent demons and future versions of themselves. These are versions of the X-Men that got lost in Limbo, and the results are quite frightening. Storm becomes a witch, Wolverine and Colossus are both dead, Shadowcat becomes a human/cat hybrid sex slave, and Nightcrawler loses his soul to become a demon (and a sex offender) both inside and out. Easily one of the most terrifying stories Claremont ever wrote, it’s also one of the most exciting and fun reads because of its stark change in pace.
Iconic Moment: Shadowcat sees the corpse of future Colossus crucified to the wall with a gaping hole in his chest.
9. Uncanny X-Men 232-234: “Broodfall”
Synopsis: The best storyline involving the sinister Brood, it’s a much more humane story than the original Brood Saga (which just missed the cut for this list). The Brood have come to Earth and are looking to infest the planet, only to run into the X-Men who are in their “take no shit from anyone” phase. What makes this story all the more riveting is the sub-plot involving the Conover Ministry, which has begun to openly embrace mutants. Being the opposite of William Stryker, Conover is a good and tolerant man whose life is irrevocably shattered by the Brood. The contrast between sci-fi battle royale and grounded religious contemplation is marvelously rendered and plotted by Claremont, who was at his creative height. The original Brood Saga is what made them evil, but “Broodfall” is what made them wicked.
Iconic Moment: The ambiguity as to whether or not William Conover, with Divine Intervention, helped to heal Wolverine after he becomes infected by the Brood.
8. Uncanny X-Men 235-238: “A Green and Pleasant Land”
Synopsis: The X-Men uncover the starling secret behind the economic and cultural success of the island nation Genosha, and it’s a secret with massive political and ethical repercussions. This arc introduces Genosha, a political allegory to apartheid-era South Africa. The X-Men work best when they’re grounded in realism and current events; it’s the most effective way to demonstrate the mutants as a marginalized population. With Magneto, there’s the heavy threat of extermination and persecution; with William Stryker, there’s the fear of irrational action and intolerance; and with Genosha, using race as a metaphor, we see mutants who are segregated and exploited. “A Green and Pleasant Land” brought a very real sense of politics, and by doing so really highlighted what the X-Men are all about.
Iconic Moment: Madelynn Prior goes ape-shit on a Genoshan torture squad and sows the seeds of her eventual self-destruction.
7. X-Men 1-3: “Mutant Genesis”
Synopsis: The last arc written by Claremont during his initial tenure, “Mutant Genesis” is a strong finish, a coda of sorts, to such a masterfully crafted run. After realizing that he is beyond redemption, Magneto is coaxed out of his world-weary ways by the Acolytes, a group of mutant terrorists who worship and revere the Master of Magnetism as if he were the messiah. At the same time, X-Factor and the remnants of the X-Men reform and reorganize the rosters into the iconic Blue and Gold teams. More than any other story, “Mutant Genesis” is most symbolic of the juggernaut that the franchise had become.
Iconic Moment: Magneto and his Acolytes sacrificing themselves to save the X-Men.
6. X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills
Synopsis: Once again, Claremont crafts a very real and cerebral story in a way that makes mutants part of the real world. There will always be religious fanatics out to hurt and kill anyone who doesn’t agree with them, and in this story, one particular man turns the spear towards mutants. William Stryker is a televangelist who plays upon peoples’ fears by openly condemning and covertly killing mutants. The threat of Stryker becomes so great once he kidnaps Charles Xavier, the X-Men are forced into working with Magneto to save the day. In God Loves, Man Kills, the X-Men aren’t superheroes, and Stryker isn’t a supervillain; he merely represents blind ignorance and intolerance, and the unsurprisingly seductive hold that they have on a mass audience. Stryker is only one man, but he has the power to fill an entire audience with fear, bigotry and hatred. He proves that not every battle can be won through a fight. His battle is for the hearts and minds, causing the X-Men to literally fight for a world that fears and hates them without their costumes or powers.
Iconic Moment: Magneto walks through a playground littered with the bodies of lynched mutant children.