Uncanny X-Men: © Marvel Comics
Tom Russo
May 16, 2003 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Spider-Man and the Hulk notwithstanding, the X-Men have been Marvel Comics’ big attraction for more than two decades. Trouble is, the X universe’s continuity has grown so convoluted, moviegoers turned on by the first film were then turned off by the comics. Marvel has since made its numerous ”X-Men” titles more accessible. So, if ”X2: X-Men United” has you looking for a comic-book fix, here’s where you’ll find the goods.

”NEW X-MEN” Although no stranger to superheroes, postmod Scottish scribe Grant Morrison is cast somewhat against type here — with impressive results. A recent issue has telepath Jean Grey learning that her man Cyclops has been psychically shtupping another woman — hardly heroic, but page-turningly bitchy stuff.

”ULTIMATE X-MEN” Launched after the first X-movie, ”Ultimate” offers a streamlined, screen-influenced version. Writer Mark Millar will take advantage of this freedom by, say, recasting Cyclops and Wolverine as bitter rivals; with none of their usual ties binding them, Wolverine gets jealous, and hapless Cyke winds up with multiple compound fractures.

”UNCANNY X-MEN” The title that started it all has been around since 1963 — and at times reads like it. But it sure doesn’t look like it lately, thanks to newly imported Japanese artist Kia Asamiya, until now a virtual unknown Stateside. Asamiya’s manga-honed style is ”eXotic” with a capital…well, you know.

X-CETERA One of the earliest graphic novels, 1982’s ”X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills” introduced ”X2”’s antimutant crusader, William Stryker (a somewhat altered version of the character is played by Brian Cox in the new film). Recently reprinted, seminal ”X-Men” writer Chris Claremont’s story is a look at an evolving medium; quaint thought bubbles mix with images of executed mutant children.

Upcoming issues of the ongoing monthly ”X-Treme X-Men” will feature a sequel, which is a slicker, quicker-paced tale than its predecessor, but clearly still Claremont, who’s always written the X-Men as both pulp heroes and high-minded metaphors for the evils of intolerance.

To catch him at his best, check out a paperback collection of his ”Dark Phoenix Saga,” with the X-Men’s signature artist John Byrne. You’ll finally understand those cryptic ”X2” references to Jean Grey’s slow-boiling dark side — and get a clue as to what was floating underwater in the film’s finale.

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