Maybe Calling This an ‘X-Rated’ List Wasn’t the Best Plan…

15 Comics Beginning With the Letter “X” That Have Nothing To Do with Marvel’s Mutant Franchise

1. X (Dark Horse, 1993)
Between X-Men, X-Factor, X-Force, X-Calibre, Earth X, X-Treme X-Men, XSE, and the like, Marvel Comics has such a lock on the letter “X” it’s a wonder they haven’t sued Merriam-Webster for copyright infringement. It’s even more surprising that Marvel let the opportunity to publish a book titled simply X just slip away from them — but slip away it did, and I’m pretty sure more than one confused Marvel fan in 1994 picked this series up as a result. Debuting in Dark Horse Comics Presents #8 and graduating to his own self-titled series in late 1993, X was the type of mysterious anti-hero very popular with the comic-collecting masses of the day; the gangsters and corrupt officials he targeted would get just one warning (his signature “X”) before he came back to take their lives. Without superpowers as such (aside from a vaguely defined rapid healing factor), the vigilante was kind of like a Batman figure — lacking only the moral compass, cool headquarters, colorful villains, invaluable aides-de-camp, interesting back story, and panache of the original.

2. Xombi (DC/Milestone, 1994)
David Kim was a brilliant scientist who developed a nanotechnological virus capable of extensive tissue regeneration. But before he could test his invention, a villain broke into his lab and tried to steal the virus. Kim was critically injured in the fight, and his assistant injected him with the virus in an attempt to save his life. However, since the nanites used the closest available material to restore him, his assistant — who had laid his body on her lap — was partially, er, devoured by the nanites. (That’s going to make things awkward at his next performance review.) Technically immortal because of the nanites in his body preventing aging or disease, Kim called himself a “xombi” and allied himself with (swear to God) a clairvoyant nun named Nun of the Above and a flying Catholic girl codenamed, um, Catholic Girl to track down the villain. As should be obvious, Xombi became a “weirdness magnet” of the highest degree, with readers never knowing from one issue to the next what kind of adventures this decidedly un-superherolike character would get into next, making this one of the most singularly unique (and compelling) titles in the Milestone line-up. Rest assured, once Xombi was brought into DC’s “proper” universe, that was promptly dealt with.

3. Xenobrood (DC, 1994)
Zapatak! Blip! Thrasher! Astra! Together, they are… probably nobody you’ve ever heard of. An update on the old genie-in-a-lamp idea, these four super-beings were accidentally released from an ancient artifact by an archaeologist digging through Sumerian ruins (located in modern-day Iraq). Created by longtime Batman writer Doug Moench during (one assumes) one of his off days, this series, which only lasted seven issues, had several knocks against it, namely: (1) it came out just in time to witness the mid-’90s speculator crash that saw a drastic drop in the number of fans willing to buy anything and everything that came out; (2) their “we-are-innocents-in-a-strange-world” routine got old awfully quick; (3) despite their otherworldly origins, they seemed to cotton on to the usual superhero clichés awfully quickly; and (4) seriously now, a teleporter named Blip? A super-strong guy named Thrasher? Thanks for coming out, gang.

4. The X-Files (Topps, 1996)
Wow, this TV show really took over the pop-culture landscape for a while there, didn’t it? Between the gross-out monsters of the week and the ongoing alien/government conspiracy that FBI agents Dana Scully and Fox Mulder were always trying to unravel, there was barely a soul in the ’90s who hadn’t heard of Cigarette-Smoking Man or the Lone Gunmen or “The Truth is Out There.” Fans of the FOX-TV show were well-served by this adaptation, which Topps published between 1995 and 1998 (DC/Wildstorm picked up the ball and published several issues of a new X-Files book in 2008 and 2009). Like the show it was based on, the comic alternated between stories about the typical monsters and freaks that Mulder and Scully investigated (it’s Bigfoot and the Chupacabra! Run!) and the duo’s ongoing attempts to find out what the big conspiracy was all about. And that’s about all I can tell you for now because … shh, they’re watching us.

5. Xenozoic Tales (Kitchen Sink, 1987)
Hey, look — it’s another book about a dire dystopian future! But at least they get to drive cool cars in this one. Though only lasting 14 issues in the late ’80s, Mark Schultz’s post-apocalyptic tale had a pretty decent run, spawning a cartoon series (Cadillacs and Dinosaurs), an arcade game, and the usual nerd-oriented paraphernalia (trading cards, a role-playing game, etc.). The story: after polluting the Earth to the brink of destruction, humanity retreats to underground cities. Emerging nearly 600 years later, they find (Darwin be damned) the surface world has been reclaimed by previously extinct animals, mainly dinosaurs. In this new “Xenozoic” era, humans live in tribes and technology is limited, so those with mechanical skills, like our protagonist Jack Tenrec, are greatly respected. Jack spends most of his time tuning up cars (which now run on dinosaur guano due to the lack of oil refineries) and chasing, or being chased by, dinosaurs, all the while flirting with love interest and scientist Hannah Dundee. Cars, dinosaurs, girls, adventure — think of the awesomest idea for a comic you ever came up with when you were 12, and you get the general idea.

6. X-51 (Marvel, 1999)
This is a bit of a cheat, since this is a Marvel book and almost by definition has some connection to the mutant subset of the Marvel universe. In fact, at one point X-51, known as Machine Man in simpler times, is aghast to discover he is part Sentinel (the giant mutant-hunting robots in the X-books), and his first few tussles involve longtime X-foes the Hellfire Club and the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants (and say what you like about their track record, you have to admire any group that puts “evil” right there on its letterhead). Aside from those elements, though, this 12-issue series steers pretty clear of the rest of the Marvel universe, instead focusing on our hero coming to terms with his Sentinel “heritage” and discovering his place among man and machinekind. And, if this cover is any indication, also wondering when the hell he started ripping off Robocop.

7. Xero (DC, 1997)
Now, there’s something you don’t see every day. Coltrane “Trane” Walker is an African-American professional basketball player who operates secretly as a technologically enhanced “closer” — that is, he’s an agent who can be counted to tie up loose ends in espionage operations, including the elimination of witnesses. Codenamed Xero (pronounced “Zero,” as in zero evidence), he performs his clandestine duties while disguised as a masked white man. One of the more unusual DC titles from the late ’90s, the main trust of the Xero narrative concerned Walker’s development of a conscience as he went from one mission to the next. If creator Christopher Priest ever addressed the question of why Walker disguised himself as a white man (aside from the obvious reason of it being a really good way to throw people off his trail), then I must have missed it; in any case, the book’s weak sales led to cancellation after just 12 issues, and Priest closed the book (so to speak) on Walker in a most definitive way.

8. X-O Manowar (Valiant, 1993)
X-O is the armored hero in the Valiant Comics universe, but what separates him from the Iron Men and Steels of the world is the fact that he’s Aric, a Goth barbarian who comes forward in time and inherits both the suit and a 20th-century corporation. Nutty enough for you? Early issues had him adjusting to his new existence with the help of his  friends and employees, but his new life is complicated by other factions trying to get their hands on the armor, including the aliens who made it in the first place. Aric was a sympathetic character in an interesting situation, and the interplay between him and his supporting cast made for an interesting read… but when Aric got shipped off into space around the 50-issue mark the book turned into a dull slog, with the big panels and extended fight sequences that were all too typical of an early-’90s comic. There were hints of a promising return to better times just before the book was canceled, right around the time an X-O/Iron Man crossover came out to promote a video game starring both.

9. X-Wing Rogue Squadron (Dark Horse, 1995)
Speaking as someone whose last meaningful encounter with the Star Wars universe was Return of the Jedi (and yeah, George, we’re still pissed about Phantom Menace, thanks for asking), I have to admit I was a little surprised to learn about the many ways in which Star Wars fans can still indulge in their shared passion for Wookiees and droids. After Marvel canceled its long-running Star Wars comic series in 1986, Dark Horse Comics leapt at the chance to ride the Lucasfilm cash cow, publishing dozens of series, mini-series, and oneshots over the years starring all your favorite characters (and I mean all of them, cf. Star Wars: General Grievous and Star Wars: Jango Fett). Rogue Squadron, as any fan knows, was the X-wing fighter squadron that Luke joined in the first movie to destroy the Death Star, and its members include Wedge Antilles and… a lot of other really good pilots, I’m sure. Look, it’s been a while, all right? And I’m pretty sure someone at Wikipedia is pulling my leg with this “Piggy Porkins” reference…

10. XXX Triple X (Dark Horse, 1994)
Well, that should push the page count up a bit. In truth, the title had little to do with the story inside, and the book was relatively tame in terms of naughty content. Forty years from now, multinational industries control countries (yeah, far-fetched, I know) and the U.S. is under martial law. Hans Nobel escapes to Amsterdam and somehow becomes a prime suspect in a series of assassinations targeting leading corporate figures. Arnold and Jacob Pander accomplish the damn near impossible, creating a tightly plotted thriller involving a dozen major characters that, in only seven issues, managed to surpass pretty much anything else that came along in the mid-’90s. Definitely recommended, though with a title like that you might want to think twice about reading it in public.

11. Xanadu (Thoughts & Images/Eclipse, 1988)
Not to be confused with the Olivia Newton-John film or the mansion from Citizen Kane, this 1980s title was one of the more unusual anthropomorphic fantasy series of the time, and certainly one of the most ambitious. Artist Vicki Wyman told the story of Princess Alicia, who is trying desperately to keep together the empire of Xanadu established by her father. Of course, palace intrigue plays a huge role throughout the series with one court noble in particular keeping things interesting, but Alicia often finds help in unexpected places and from unexpected allies, including (don’t act surprised) an adventure-seeking thief and his sometime partner. And that’s about all I know about this particular series, other than I’m almost positive that no one in it sings disco.

12. Xenon (Eclipse, 1987)
Of course! A comic chronicling the adventures of the noble gas that sits at No. 54 on the periodic table. The kids will love it! Actually, no — this comic is an American reprint of Masaomi Kanzaki’s manga, which translated into English means “Heavy Metal Warrior Xenon.” First published in Japan in 1986, Xenon was licensed by Eclipse Comics in 1987 and by Viz Communications in 1992. Asuka is a boy who can’t remember about his past, so he wonders through the city alone and confused before he discovers he was turned into a super-cyborg in a corporate weapon research program. So of course he goes on a mission of revenge, because that’s the sort of thing one is expected to do in these kinds of situations. Critics noted the story was a good example of the action-oriented shounen manga  (literally, “young person’s comic”) the kids seemed to dig in those early days of manga-mania in North America… but the series abruptly ended when the Japanese magazine in which it originally appeared dropped the feature, so fans of closure should take heed.

13. X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes (Gold Key, 1963)
So do you think that Wilhelm Röntgen had this comic in mind when he first discovered and named X-rays back in the late 1800s? Probably not. This Gold Key one-shot is based on a 1963 film in which a brilliant scientists develops eyedrops that allow him to see beyond the visible light spectrum. As they often do in these kinds of situations, things go horribly awry (though he gets in a good run at the casino before the fit really hits the shan), all the better to show us the downfall of placing too much of our faith in science (because if we play scientist too much we end up seeing things that… you know what? You’re a smart audience; you’ve already figured this out on your own) . FUN FACT (OR MAYBE NOT): Apparently, comic artist Alex Ross used Man with the X-Ray Eyes star Ray Milland (that’s him in the top right corner) as his model for Kyle Richmond (a.k.a. the superhero known as Nighthawk) for the Marvel mini-series Earth X. Believe it… or don’t!

14. X Isle (BOOM! Studios, 2006)
In 2005, Los Angeles-based BOOM! Studios became the latest independent comic publisher to take a shot at the market share of the bigger comic companies, and its game plan involved hiring big names and offering readers something a little different from the usual superhero acrobatics. Humor, horror and licensed titles were all high on the agenda; so far, it seems to be working for them. X Isle was one of their early horror/sci-fi features, combining elements of The X-Files with Jurassic Park (and a side order of  Alien just for spice). Direct from the BOOM! site: “A team of researchers drift on the ocean, lost, in their quest for an enigmatic island that’s never been explored. Washing up on its shores, they find a dense, terrifying jungle populated with animal and plant life that has evolved along a completely different path. What secret does this isle hold?” What, indeed. The series only lasted five issues, but it got good reviews for establishing a spooky premise and delivering on thrills. And how can you not love a series where someone says, “That’s one angry little plant monkey”…?

15. XYZ Comics (Kitchen Sink, 1972)
Never let it be said that fame ever went to Robert Crumb’s head. Considered by many to be the godfather of the underground comix movement in the 1960s and ’70s, Crumb was certainly the most famous name to come out of the scene, with his Fritz the Cat and Mr. Natural characters (not to mention “Keep on Truckin'”) virtually defining the era. In XYZ Comics, the “last word in comics,” Crumb and Co. return to lampoon American life in the ’70s, satirizing the culture that made him into an underground pop idol and mocking his own celebrity status while getting in plenty of practice drawing his signature big-butted women. Self-loathing, thy name is Crumb.

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