By Mike Carey, Simon Spurrier, Clay Mann, Steve Kurth, Paul Davidson & various (Marvel/Panini UK)
Most people who read comics have a passing familiarity with Marvel’s ever-changing X-Men franchise and most of us have seen alternate world stories so this intriguing and highly entertaining package seems pretty easy to pigeonhole… but appearances can be deceiving.
With a property as valuable as these massed mutants, change is a necessarily good thing, even if you sometimes need a scorecard to keep up. This utterly engrossing tome (collecting Age of X Alpha, X-Men Legacy #245-247, New Mutants volume 3 #22-24 and Age of X Universe #1 and 2) keeps the backstory baggage to the barest minimum for newbies and non-addicts; concentrating instead on building an “end-of-days” tension in a brutally harsh last stand scenario – although the pacing is a little hard to grasp in places.
This Marvel publishing event, which ran from January to April 2011, is a tribute to the Age of Apocalypse mega-crossover of 1995, with an introductory Alpha issue, dedicated stories in X-men core titles and a pair of “Universe” compilations focusing on the non-mutant heroes of the altered continuity.
Written by Mike Carey and illustrated by Mirco Pierfederici, Gabriel Hernandez Walta, Carlo Barberi, Walden Wong, Paco Diaz and Paul Davidson, the initial instalment describes a very different world where all-out species war is being waged between humans and homo superior. Anti-mutant statutes by the Human Coalition have all but eradicated mutantkind and any ordinary mortal who might carry the hated genes to make them.
Three years of inspired atrocity later, the stories of those last remnants of the variant species are examined in telling vignettes: Scott Summers was forced to execute his fellow inmates at a mutant Alcatraz before spectacularly escaping, Sam Guthrie survived the extermination of his entire family, super-powered or not, and Wolverine lost all his abilities destroying a pathogen designed to wipe out all genetic aberrations.
During the darkest moment of this man-made Extinction Event Magneto rescued the last remnants of meta-humanity and created a monumental Fortress X from the ruins of a devastated city. Here the remaining mutants hold out in a desperate all-or-nothing holding action…
After 1000 days of dire and valiant resistance a kind of last ditch détente persists. The humans keep attacking and the mutants perpetually narrowly beat them off. In this world where there are no telepaths and there has never been a Professor X, every day is one more precious moment of defiant unity in the face of imminent doom.
The stalemate continues in X-Men Legacy #245 (Carey, Clay Mann & Jay Leisten) as the resistors continue to defy the human world’s technology and soldiery. Especially vital are the contributions of the Force Warriors: energy-casting mutants whose powers maintain an impenetrable energy-shield around Fortress X. They are led by the charismatic Legion – son of Dr. Moira MacTaggert and an unknown father…
The most tragic hero is Legacy, whose touch can steal memories and abilities. She is not allowed to fight but is tasked with preserving forever the dying memories of mutants who fall in battle.
A few resisters are troubled by more than just the state of the world: something is imperceptibly wrong with reality itself. Metal-morph Madison Jeffries discovers there is something amiss with the stars in the sky; Summers, dubbed the Basilisk, realises that he’s killed some humans more than once and some defenders question why so many mutants are mysteriously imprisoned in the citadel’s dungeons.
Moreover, the enigmatic “X” who runs the fortress seems more concerned with containing them than defeating the human attackers. Even Magneto feels something is being kept from him – and he’s in charge…
When immaterial internee Kitty Pryde escapes the Brig and penetrates the forcefield she discovers something fantastic and X orders her silenced at all costs, precipitating traitorous action from Legacy, Cajun thief Gambit and even Magneto himself…
The New Mutants chapters are illustrated by Steve Kurth & Alex Martinez and follow Basilisk, Legacy and the liberated Pryde as they begin unpicking the darkly credible but ferociously flawed universe they inhabit. A turning point comes when the fugitive fighters free an imposing bald man named Xavier who claims to be a telepath…
Cunningly tapping into the brooding pressure and extreme vivacity of life during wartime and wonderfully reminiscent of William Hope Hodgson’s macabre 1912 classic The Night Land (an absolute “must-read” for all fantasy fans) this is an effective thriller and just a little different from your standard “unite and save the universe” crossover-events with a superb and spectacular surprise climax that will delight regulars and visiting readers alike.
And that’s the only real problem here: because after that satisfactory ending the Age of X Universe stories (written by Simon Spurrier, Jim McCann & Chuck Kim, illustrated by Khoi Pham, Tom Palmer, Paul Davidson & Gabriel Hernandez Walta) follow, totally killing the mood and the flow despite all being extremely well-produced revelatory side-bars and effective character-pieces.
Viewed on their own merits the stories of Spider-Man’s ultimate sacrifice, the brutal and tragic career of Humanity’s Avengers (Captain America, Invisible Woman, Iron Man, Ghost Rider, the arachnoid Redback plus the most disturbing Hulk ever) and hidden secrets of the Mutant-hunting Dr. Strange are extremely impressive. If they’d been disclosed before the big reveal, surprise ending they would have been valuable elements in the greater narrative but chucked in after the fact they just detract from a really impressive story-ending.
This action-packed, compulsive and otherwise excellent volume also includes variant covers by Olivier Coipel and Clayton Mann.
If you want fast, furious and fulfilling Fights ‘n’ Tights magic this is a nearly perfect one-shop stop for your edification and delectation – just make sure you read the last bit after the first bit and before the middle bit…
™ and © 2010 & 2011 Marvel Entertainment LCC and its subsidiaries. All rights reserved. A British edition released by Panini UK Ltd.