My response to a fan of the classic X-Men who hasn’t kept up with comics recently and is wondering if Ultimate X-Men is worthwhile. He’s skeptical of what he’s heard about the modernized characters but hasn’t read any of the actual issues:
I got into the Ultimate universe from the beginning, with Ult. Spider-Man, so when Ult. X-Men debuted soon after — written by Mark Millar and illlustrated by Adam Kubert — I picked it up from the beginning and really enjoyed the first couple story arcs (6 issues each, which is usually standard nowdays because of TPBs).
It was probably ideal for me because I had never been an X-fan and I always felt daunted by the years of regular X-Men contunity, so Ultimate X-Men gave me an opportunity to read the characters yet be in on it from the beginning. I remember enjoying Millar’s storytelling and Kubert’s art was perfect for the series. I kept collecting the issues for a while but I admit I didn’t read them all because I was busy with college. (About a year and a half ago I quit collecting monthly issues across the board so now I’m a notorious “waiting for the trade” man, but it’s more fun to read full stories straight through without month-long interruptions every 22 pages.)
In your case especially, Trade Paperbacks are your friends. Don’t start collecting new issues until you’ve read what’s come before to see if you like it or not. Marvel has done a good job regularly collecting the entire Ultimate line.
For example, next month Ultimate X-Men #67 will be released as well as Volume 13 of the TPB series, collecting #61-65. They’ve also been releasing hardcover versions that include the contents of two or three of the original paperback volumes in a slightly larger format (which might be a slightly better value depending on how many issues are included but you’d have to compare them yourself).
So you could go out and buy an uninterrupted run of the first 65 issues in 13 softcover volumes, and be up-to-date within two months of the current issue. Or visit Borders and read as much as you want without buying.
Unfortunately, Marvel’s website is an absolute nightmare of inconsistent updates and unnavigable web design. There is some info here, but when it comes to Marvel, often Wikipedia is a better resource for sorting out comics series and figuring out what collections are in print.
(The nice thing about DC history is you can learn a lot just by browsing their very organized back catalogue, and the schedules and descriptions of current issues is very easy to navigate. God bless the DC website!)
As for the regular universe X-Men, I can’t think of anything I’ve read in the normal Marvel Universe (admittedly my first love) for a few years EXCEPT the recent Astonishing X-Men by Joss Whedon (yes, the Buffy guy) and artist John Cassaday. The second trade just came out a month or two ago as well. So if you want to read some good adventures of the modern X-team check out the “Gifted” (vol. 1) and “Dangerous” (vol. 2) TPBs, collected six issues each. (And all 12 will be included in a single hardcover in April for $30.)
I didn’t read it at the time but the most highly acclaimed X-Men stories of the past few years have been Grant Morrison’s run (#114-154) on “New X-Men” (not to be confused with the current series of that name) with various artists like Frank Quitely, Chris Bachalo, and even Mark Silvestri. They’ve been collected into 7 paperback volumes, but they might not be the classic style X-Men you’re used to. I think he was into exploring the continuing evolution of mutant-kind and the advancement of humanity, so there were a lot of new characters and big ideas, I think.
There are a lot of Morrison fans (who isn’t?) who would better be able to direct you regarding his run. One of the fun things in comics is following writers and artists rather than just characters. I used to be just an artists guy but recently I’ve been discovering a lot of new characters and series by checking out certain writers’ other stuff. Comics.org is good database for checklists of creators’ work.
Anyway, hope some of that might help. Over the past five years I’ve drifited from Marvel and become an almost exclusively DC guy, but I have to credit the Ultimate universe for at least keeping me interested. Ultimate Fantastic Four has been fun too. And in many ways Ultimate Spider-Man is more classic than the “real” one in the Marvel U. I mean, what’s up with Spidey now? Can someone please tell me what Straczynski’s weird animism stuff is all about? Totems? Huh?