For this list I focused on writers for the main X-Men team books, but I'm still including writers of some of the more mainstream spin-offs (sorry X-Statix). Solo books have never had the same weight of the main series (although Sina Grace's recent work on the Iceman solo has become one of my favorite series). I'm sure a lot of 90s readers will notice the lack of Fabian Nicieza and Scott Lobdell who wrote much of that decade's stories. For me I can't point to a perfect story or lasting change from either of them, as loved as some of their work may be.
Mike Carey is the writer who just missed the cut. Personally I love certain stories from Ed Brubaker, Peter Milligan, Marc Guggenheim and Marjorie Liu. Craig Kyle & Chris Yost definitely earn mention for their mass of work, as do their New X-Men predecessors Nunzio DeFillipis & Christina Weir. There are good alternate reality stories from the likes of Brian K. Vaughn and Jeff Parker, but there are so many X-Books that I really just focused on accomplishments within the 616.
Of course any X-Writer will be able to identify writers that will not be mentioned or take issue with certain rankings, but that is why this list is worth doing. So many creators have touched these characters and each fan has their own relationship with the books. So for me: the ten best X-Men writers:
10. Joss Whedon
Notable Work: Astonishing X-Men vol. 2 #1-24, Giant Size Astonishing (2004-2008)
Astonishing X-Men took its time to come out, didn’t reinvent the wheel and probably only needed to be 12 issues. That said, Whedon still earns a place on this list for delivering well-written characters in an accessible prestige book. Whedon gifted the X-Mythos with plenty of memorable lines, new characters and concepts that would continue in other books and possibly the best Kitty Pryde ever. When all is said and done Whedon did not leave as large of a stamp on the X-Men and some would have you think. But what he did was well loved and continues to be an easy starting point for new readers.
9. Stan Lee
Notable Work: X-Men vol. 1 #1-19 (1963-1966)
It took the X-Men a long time to gain popularity. Those early issues really pale to Lee and Kirby’s work on Spider-Man, Fantastic Four and others. The original X-Men are kind of a generic superhero team with a simpler origin. But Lee laid the groundwork and writers have gone back to the original five student set-up many times. Lee introduced enduring concepts like the Danger Room, Cerebro, Magneto, the Brotherhood, Juggernaut and Sentinels. Not a fully fleshed out franchise, but an important foundation that new writers really ran with.
8. Brian Michael Bendis
Notable Work: Ultimate X-Men #35-45 (2003-2004), All-New X-Men vol. 1 #1-41,
Uncanny X-Men vol. 4 #1-35 (2012-2015)
Bendis wrote some of the best stories for Ultimate X-Men, but he made this list for his two year run of dual double shipped books. Following his successful tenure as Avengers architect, where he made them Marvel’s number one team, BMB really changed the status for the Merry Mutants. In All-New X-Men he brought the original, unconvoluted team to the present time. Giving an interesting perspective for the franchise’s current state and rescuing many broken characters by bringing them back to basics. In Uncanny he made excellent use of Cyclops and introduced many memorable new members. Bendis’ run was a bit divisive and not everything left a large impact, but he had a clear, valid direction that did new things with the franchise and kept it exciting.
7. Kieron Gillen
Notable Work: S.W.O.R.D. #1-5 (2010), Generation Hope #1-12 (2011-2012), Uncanny X-Men vol. 1 #531-544 & vol 2 #1-20 (2011-2012), Avengers vs. X-Men: Consequences #1-5 (2012)
Gillen started gaining notice with X-Men spin-offs S.W.O.R.D. and Generation Hope, which were both well received. His early issues of Uncanny marked an improvement in the series with bold choices like turning Colossus into the Juggernaut and satisfyingly ending the original volume before relaunching the title in a clear direction. While readers were clearly supposed to sympathize with Wolverine’s side of the Schism, Gillen did amazing things with Cyclops band of former villains. The Extinction Team was an understandable development for Utopia and Gillen played with the morality of the survivalist mentality. With AvX Consequences Gillen regained some sympathy towards the disgraced Cyclops. It is a shame his run ended so soon, his often overlooked side of things was very worthwhile.
6. Rick Remender
Notable Work: Uncanny X-Force vol. 1 #1-37 (2010-2012), Uncanny Avengers vol. 1 #1-25 & 2 #1-5 (2012-2015)
Uncanny X-Force was a shot in the arm for an X-Men spin-off that never earned much prestige. Wolverine’s black ops squad had excellent characterization and fascinating moral dilemmas. It was not a book of cheap violence, but a book about dealing with violence. Remender found depths for the mutant concept that few writers have without devolving into misery and pretention. His follow-up, Uncanny Avengers, did not maintain as satisfying of a run. But the heights of Uncanny X-Force have more than earned Remender a top ten status.
5. Peter David
Notable Work: X-Factor vol. 1 #70-89 (1991-1993), Madrox #1-5 (2004-2005), X-Factor vol. 3 #1-50, #200-249 (2005-2013), All-New X-Factor #1-20 (2014-2015)
A veteran Marvel writer known for creativity and success on characters nobody wants has been a great fit for the X-Universe. His three X-Factor teams (government agents, private investigators and corporate heroes) all had such a unique flavor and grew personalities for countless characters on the fringe of the franchise. The X-Men have a bad habit of introducing characters and abandoning them. David excelled at finding them purpose. His teams have some of the best chemistry of any X-Team. While never top sellers and he had not touched a main X-Men title, his work on the fringe is some of the best and was vital to the maintenance of countless mutants.
4. Louise Simonson
Notable Work: X-Factor vol.1 #6-64 (1986-1991), New Mutants vol. 1 #55-97 (1987-1991),
X-Terminators #1-4 (1988-1989), Havok & Wolverine: Meltdown #1-4 (1989) X-Factor Forever
During Claremont’s run nobody could successfully touch the X-Men. The few writers he did left little impact, until Weezie. She was an editor that Claremont and Ann Nocenti championed to take over X-Factor. She then took over the New Mutants. Simonson set the example for all future X-Writers, she used her own personality and added new developments while adhering to the Claremont establishment. Simonson was vital to the stewardship of the original five, development of the new characters and expansion of the entire line.
3. Jason Aaron
Notable Work: Wolverine: Weapon X #1-16 (2009-2010), Wolverine vol. 4 #1-20, 300-304 (2010-2012) X-Men Schism #1-5 (2011), Wolverine and the X-Men #1-42 (2011-2014), Amazing X-Men
Made his mark at Marvel as one of the best Wolverine writers, whom he focused on in several series. Made his way to the X-Men proper with one of the best X-Events and created an exciting new title. Wolverine and the X-Men brought fun into that is rarely found in a main title. It was a book where anything could happen and often did. Aaron’s book was not overly reverent to previous runs (although Morrison’s influence is clear), it showed you could do new things with the X-Men and kept it from continuing to jog in place.
2. Grant Morrison
Notable Work: New X-Men #1-41 (2001-2004)
Morrison was the first X-Writer to just do something new. All previous writers either kept things in place or harkened back to Claremont. After a decade of massive team books, Morrison had a set line-up with all-new characters. He had a new direction, new villains and did some truly challenging things. He may have shook things up too much for many fan’s liking, but the importance of his work for the growth of the franchise cannot be overstated.
1. Chris Claremont
Notable Work: Uncanny X-Men #94-473 (1975-1991), New Mutants #1-54 (1982-1987), Excalibur #1-34 (1987-1991), Wolverine, X-Men vol. 2 1-3 (1991), X-Treme X-Men #1-46 (2001-2004), etc.
Was there any question? 17 years straight where he brought the All-New All-Different X-Men to prominence with classic stories of Phoenix, Proteus, Days of Future Past, God Loves Man Kills and LifeDeath. Claremont defined Cyclops, Jean Grey, Xavier, Storm, Nightcrawler, Wolverine, Colossus and Magneto. He created Shadowcat, Rogue, Mystique, and so many other important characters and concepts. Claremont expanded the line and wrote much of The New Mutants, Excalibur and Wolverine’s early solo exploits. It was Claremont that made this story feel huge while also making you care about the small, personal moments of these people. He is the writer that others cannot escape. Although he various returns to the franchise have not been as fruitful, he has never left the X-Men and they have clearly never left him. Claremont and the X-Men are forever tied to one another. For better or worse, he made this franchise and nobody will ever leave as much of a mark as he has.