With Marvel’s popular and successful foray into films with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I’ve finally decided to get back into comics. I grew up a big fan of X-Men and other superheroes but haven’t really kept up since the 90s. Thus begins my grand catching-up of the last ten years of Marvel comics, events and stories.
Thanks in large part to trade paperbacks and the digital convenience of Marvel Unlimited I can make relatively quick progress, and I’ll write down my Final Thoughts for each collection here on my blog. Like my gaming Final Thoughts, this will be full of spoilers. You’ve been warned!
Artists: Clay Mann, Mirco Pierfederici, Steve Kurth
Issues: Age of X Alpha, X-Men Legacy #245-247, New Mutants (2009) #22-24, Age of X Universe #1-2
The mini X-Men event called “Age of X” has all the markings of yet another dystopian future-verse or alternate reality. This is a well-traveled road by our favorite mutants, whether in the massive 90s event “Age of Apocalypse” (which I’m currently re-rereading – final thoughts coming soon!) or “House of M.”
I was pleasantly surprised to discover that it’s actually much more than that. “Age of X” focuses on a world that’s just not quite right as Magneto leads the last stronghold of mutant-kind against an overwhelming human coalition out to destroy them. I wish this weird world’s mystery had been a bit more expanded, but given the relatively quick pace the action and story lead to a satisfying and unique conclusion.
Like the X-Men events before it, “Age of X” is told in chapters through different X-books. It briefly takes over two ongoing series, X-Men Legacy and New Mutants. While I’ve lamented the overuse of so many mutant-focused titles, I’ve been really impressed with both series. X-Men Legacy focused on Professor X, then Rogue in some really fun, satisfying ways, while New Mutants brings together the original second generation team with some dysfunctional drama.
The one-off Age of X: Alpha helps introduce us to this insanely twisted world with four different character stories. Cyclops is called Basilisk. He’s had his eyelids removed and wears a special gargoyle mask. He’s restrained and his mask is remote controlled by Arcade, now a prison warden, to execute prisoners. That’s extremely dark, and sets the stage for the bleak world world we find ourselves in.
In an interesting twist Wolverine is a non-factor in this story, as his set-up story is to use his own healing factor to try and destroy an anti-mutant cure. It works, but also pretty much zaps him of his abilities. He’s left despondent and sullen and while he pops up occasionally, he’s mostly regulated to the sidelines. Magneto rules the mutant population as their savior – he lifts off the empire state building and together with the most powerful energy manipulators, creates an impenetrable force-field. A never-ending war occurs at the borders.
The never-ending war gets a bit curious when Basilisk discovers the same dog-tags with the same name on a different combatant. The plot twists and turns into some intriguing Identity territory as we learn that this entire world isn’t real at all, but an elaborate construct by one of Legion’s personalities. We follow the mystery through Rogue, now called Legacy, but most of her fellow mutants refer to her as Reaper.
In “Age of X” her job is to perform Last Rites on slain mutants, absorbing their powers and memories as they die, turning Rogue/Legacy into a bubbling pot of emotional drama. She’s an incredibly compelling character and the main reason why “Age of X” works so well. It also helps that the art is just fantastic throughout, emphasizing character close-ups and perfectly timed A and B story panels.
Legacy eventually follows the trail left by Kitty Pryde taking pictures outside the force-field – they’re blank! She discovers Professer X in a coma deep within their fortress and discovers the startling truth. It quickly becomes a race as Legacy is hunted by many of the alt-New Mutants, even as she enlists the help of Gambit (wielding a shotgun!) and Magneto. In the end she reaches Legion, one of the force-field protectors, and convinces him to reign in his errant personality, X, under control.
Legion is an extremely powerful and dangerous mutant. He’s often used as the focal point for mind-fuck story arcs but I was really blown away by the twists and revelations here. Even when Legion reabsorbs X there are consequences. Emma Frost offers to mind-wipe anyone that wants to forget the atrocities they faced, and most accept.
Among those that don’t are Frenzy, formerly an X-Men villain turned X-Men during the Utopia era. She had been married to Basilisk/Cyclops and the two had a very…physical relationship. He immediately turns his back on her to go back to Emma, and she’s understandably upset.
Cannonball is also pretty messed up from his experience as field team leader during this awful war, and back in the real world he checks himself in for psych evaluation and relinquishes command of the New Mutants to Dani Moonstar. I love that this years-long constructed world in their minds has such profound effects on them.
Compared to full-on alternate world stories like “House of M” or “Age of Apocalypse,” “Age of X” will come up short. Instead I was impressed that it delivers its unique world and tells a complete story in only a handful of comics. I loved the mind-twist plot and the thriller surrounding Rogue’s race for the truth. The art is great and it’s always fun seeing our favorite characters in different outfits and personalities. Pretty much the only thing that didn’t work were the two Age of X: Universe titles, which attempted to explain what the Avengers are doing in this universe, and ultimately doesn’t matter at all. Highly recommended as a self-contained X-Men event.