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Feb 3

Age of X-Man: Alpha

Posted on Sunday, February 3, 2019 by Paul in x-axis

So here we are again, at the start of another event.  This is the set-up one-shot which leads in to no fewer than six minis – Marvelous X-MenNextGenAmazing NightcrawlerX-TremistsPrisoner X, and Apocalypse & The X-Tracts.  You know how these things work: a basic story that serves as an introduction to the world, and scenes which lead in to all of the individual minis, complete (for once) with footnotes telling you precisely where to go for the follow-up.  Which is appreciated, by the way.

The build to this story, over ten issue of Uncanny X-Men, was decidedly underwhelming, and left me approaching this issue with a sense of grinding duty.  But this is night and day.  “Disassembled” felt like a protracted exercise in getting the right characters into the right place (and not very organically at that), but Age of X-Man turns out to be going somewhere less obvious.

Now, none of this detracts from the fact that it is indeed an issue of introduction and set-up, framed by the good old device of a mutant with newly-emerged powers being introduced to the X-Men’s world.  But there’s a clear sense of where this is going.  Writers Zac Thompson and Lonnie Nadler had a short run on Cable just before it ended, in an ambitious but confused storyline which I described as a “wildly unfocussed oddity”.  No such issues here.

The initial set-up is straightforward.  We’re in an alternate reality created by Nate Grey, who has apparently given up on trying to save the real world, and instead cut directly to making a better world from scratch.  The characters who were fighting him in Uncanny X-Men #10 have presumably been transformed into the characters we see here, but (with one possible exception) they don’t remember.  Everyone else – which means the background characters – is presumably created by Nate.

Nate’s world is the opposite of Age of Apocalypse.  At some unspecified point in the past (far enough back that Nature Girl doesn’t remember it), everyone got turned into a mutant.  There are no bad guys.  The X-Men still exist, but the only problems left to be dealt with are young mutants losing control of their powers, and presumably the odd natural disaster.  It’s not a mutant dictatorship either – this isn’t House of M.  It’s just a happy world where everything worked out just great for the mutants.

Ramon Rosanas’s art catches the white picket fences, Silver Age vibe of the place, but the revised character designs for the X-Men bring in some different influences.  Their costumes combine a trad superhero vibe with more regular clothing or robes.  And standing there as part of the team is Nate himself, still wearing something akin to his messiah robes from “Disassembled”, but back to talking about himself as a shaman.  He’s allowed to blend into the background when we all know that he’s clearly more important to the story than that – a nice touch.  He also seems to have inserted himself into X-Men history in place of the Beast, who is simply missing and unmentioned.

And also, Nate doesn’t like couples.

So this is a world of “individuals”, a word that keeps cropping up.  They come together as groups, or as a society, but not as couples.  Everyone new seems to be lab-grown, and everyone seems to believe that humanity has evolved “beyond romance … beyond coupling” – when they even talk about it at all, because it just doesn’t seem to be on most people’s radar any more.  And if you do attempt to start a relationship, the X-Tremists show up to cart you off to prison.  Nate, who was grown in a lab, seems to have some real hang-ups about conventional reproduction, and now everyone else seems to have them too.

This is very much not the direction I was expecting the story to go in.  And that’s before we even get to the reveal of what Apocalypse is up to.  It makes sense – his obsession with natural selection means he wouldn’t be keen on a lab-grown world – but the last page reveal of how he’s going about opposing it is completely left field.  It’s been a while since we’ve seen ideas quite this odd showing up in a core X-Men title.  It’s not what I was expecting at all, which is very welcome.

I still have my doubts that a crossover event is going to keep up this sort of focus – they tend not to.  But this issue really does win me back round after “Disassembled”.  They have my attention now.

Bring on the comments

  1. Moo says:

    The “X-Tracts”? Who’s on the team? Vanilla, Almond and Ginger?

  2. Keith Moriarty says:

    I’m not sure I’m on board for a buying a bunch of minis, or even the Disassembled trade, but I AM intrigued to see Paul say the X books have his attention.
    I may just have to buy this. Haven’t touched an X book since Gold’s first year. Decent comic, I just felt I’d read it all already. This review makes me think there’s life in the X-Men yet

  3. Dave White says:

    Moo, don’t forget that Vanilla was killed and replaced by Imitation Vanilla.

  4. Moo says:

    Oh, right. During the X-Tracts vs Spice Girls event. Forgot about that.

  5. Brendan says:

    It’s probably my ’90s nostalgia for the X-Men cartoon showing, but I have infinite patience for Apocalypse. This slightly off-kilter version seems right up my alley.

  6. Thomas says:

    Wow! I almost passed this up after disassembled but had a light week so I added it. Impressed by the start of this.

  7. Ben says:

    This was shockingly interesting.

    I’d rather just have it be the actual entire event series, and not have to chase random minis by different people.

  8. SanityOrMadness says:


    Well, they *could* do it all as one series, but it would probably end up much more closely focused on a core cast, for better or worse. The alternatives would be to spread each 20-page issue very thin across six groups of characters, or do an anthology where you effectively collect the miniseries under one title/numbering scheme.

  9. Jacob says:

    Was it just me or did Bishop look a lot like Sam Jackson? I get that an artist using a celebrity they see in the role gets done, but Sam Jackson is already a pretty major Marvel character. It reminds me of that time Greg Land drew Monica Rambeau as Hallie Berry.

  10. Taibak says:

    Prisoner X and Apocalypse & The X-Tracts are two of the worst titles I’ve ever heard.

  11. Voord 99 says:

    I don’t know. True, “Apocalypse & The X-Tracts” does have a distinct air of pulling words at random from the section of the dictionary devoted to words beginning with “ex.” (Why couldn’t we have had Apocalypse palling around with the X-Hibitionists? They sound fun.)

    But “Prisoner X” sounds OK to me for a miniseries. It has a sort of Man in the Iron Mask vibe to it. It might actually be the best title for me out of the list, because it immediately makes me think “OK, who is Prisoner X?” Which gives me one reason to open the comic, and that is, after all, one of the main purposes of a title.

    I can see it as the sort of title for an issue (not series) that one might have encountered in the Silver Age: “The Marvel Age of Comics brings to you a thrilling new tale of suspense, when the X-Men confront the mystery of… PRISONER X!!!”

  12. Krzysiek Ceran says:

    I was quite certain that was Xorn’s moniker, but quick googling reveals he (or the story?) was called ‘The Man from Room X’.

    He should’ve been ‘Prisoner X’.

    Anyway, I find it hard to believe we haven’t yet seen an ‘Exuberant X-Men’ title. Or ‘Exquisite’. An ‘Excelsior’ x-team practically writes itself.*

    It’s a good thing they never went with ‘Exotic’, though.

    * Or X-Uberant, X-Quisite, X-Celsior and X-Otic, as the case would probably be.

  13. Joe S. Walker says:

    “Marvelous X-Men” sounds as if it belongs with “Adorable X-Men” and “Simply Divine X-Men”.

  14. Moo says:

    “Weapon X-Crement”

    I’ll just leave that to your imagination…

  15. Chris V says:

    Wasn’t there a X-Men novel, written by Anne Nocenti, called Prisoner X?
    I read the Nocenti X-Men novel, but I’m not completely sure that I have the right title.
    I think it was Prisoner X.

    I read this one-shot. It wasn’t bad, no.
    I don’t really feel like following another sprawling X-event cross-over of varying levels of quality, at this point.
    I am tempted by the thought of Apocalypse as a hippie trying to spread love.
    I won’t be buying the different minis though.

  16. Luis Dantas says:

    The review makes it sound like Marvel just can’t help it, and keeps making an event out of everything and anything.

    This time we seem to be dealing with a deliberate mirror opposite of Age of Apocalypse. Which is probably a disastrous idea far as marketability is concerned. AoA was a fine example of the worst, most abusive marketing trends of the dreaded 1990s. The current market will not suffer such excesses again, nor should it.

    It is also an odd choice to have a new “regular” book debut just in order to have a 10-issue effective miniseries then give way to the new, explicitly temporary status quo. One has to wonder why even call it a regular title under such extreme circunstances.

    There is also the whiplash factor. Uncanny X-Men asked us to accept it as the new normal, the reference of what to expect. Then it suits itself to a largely chaotic storyline with little in the way of true status quo, and ends _that_ with a glorified, wallet-intensive alternate reality tale. That results in a very confused message, where we just don’t know whether there is even a status quo to be expected at all.

    We might as well just have a series of limited series with explicit disregard to shared continuity; that would probably result in less irritating distraction, less cash grab with dubious entertainment value, and overall clearer stories with better satisfaction.

    Oh, and more of a fighting chance at grabbing new readers who do not necessarily suffer from some inexplicable form of obsession.

  17. SanityOrMadness says:

    @Luis Dantas

    I don’t know I can agree with much of that. The general AoA event has, from everything I’ve seen, been pretty fondly remembered (the later revisits, from “Akira Yoshida”‘s disasterous 10th Anniversary miniseries on, not so). As for “predatory”, well, it added about one extra comic a month (including the Alpha & Omega one-shots) to the X-line for its duration – you say to compare it to the market of today… that’s incredibly restrained compared to any Marvel Event in the 2000s!

    Meanwhile, Marvel pulled a similar “cancel everything and replace with alternaverse miniseries” stunt – and with the whole line! – only three years ago with Secret Wars! (which did pretty well until the delays piled up. The MU #1s that followed were where the wheels really came off).

    And the Uncanny relaunch was “X-Men Disassembled”, a call back to the Avengers Disassembled arc that blew up the Avengers status quo, so you can hardly be surprised that it ended with the X-Men team gone. It was a strange decision to run it as the first arc, perhaps, but the book is continuing, and running it as the last arc of X-Men Gold and/or Red, or a standalone miniseries, would effectively mean launching the Cyclops/Wolverine “rebuild the X-Men without the lost characters” UXM at the same time as AOXMan, which would be confused at best, and lost in the shuffle at worst.

  18. PersonofCon says:

    @Chris V You are correct. While I don’t remember anything about the book’s plot, I’m probably going to remember the title and author forever. Somewhere on the internet, there’s a review of the book where I complain that the author “doesn’t get” Longshot or Mojo, because they’re nothing like the 90s cartoon version. Ah, the hubris of a teenager who just discovered comics.

  19. Nu-D says:

    Age of Apocalypse was the slats straw, that caused me to give up collecting comics altogether back in 1995. Admittedly, my interest had been waning since the end of the Claremont era, and I was at an age where the interest of girls was beginning to seem paramount and necessitated the abandonment of all things childish. But really, if they were going to cancel the entire continuity I was invested in, I didn’t have the interest to learn a whole new one.

    On the other hand, I read this issue and it seems promising. Though I’m not interested in another “all is not what it seems” utopian arc, or another “whovever would give up liberty in exchange for security deserves neither” utopian arc, the writers seem to give these themes a light touch in the opening issue.

    Ideally, this story can present an alternative reality that is arguably acceptably better than 616, so that its loss seems like a tragic ending when it reverts. Even better if the heroes get back to 616 and remember it all, and wish they could have kept it.

  20. Thom H. says:

    I still get a thrill from seeing familiar characters in alternate timelines and redesigned costumes. Given how often it happens anymore, it really shouldn’t be that exciting, but there you have it.

    It helps that the art on this book is really pretty. Where has Marvel been hiding this guy?

  21. SanityOrMadness says:

    @Nu-D> Ideally, this story can present an alternative reality that is arguably acceptably better than 616, so that its loss seems like a tragic ending when it reverts. Even better if the heroes get back to 616 and remember it all, and wish they could have kept it.

    Personally, I would put five shanix on “the X-Men go home (or at least most of them), but the AOXMan reality itself sticks around”. Remember that, for all the deliberate parallels to Age of Apocalypse, in some ways this mirrors Heroes Reborn more closely with a bunch of characters disappearing from the MU but the MU otherwise goes on – there’s no obvious “Watsonian” need for the AoXMan reality to go away.

    (Plus, it’s only a few months ago that they contrived a means for the “Infinity Warps” world to stick around even as the MU went back to normal.)

  22. Chris V says:

    Nu D has a decent idea, which I think I would like more than the direction they go in with Age of X-Man.

    I was wondering why they were going with a more typical dystopian sci-fi alternate world with this book.
    I thought that it might have been better to stick within the tropes of the X-mythos.

    Instead of an “utopian world with a dark secret” so beloved of sci-fi, why not just have it that this really is a totally utopian world?
    A world where there are only mutants.
    Then, the X-Men could begin to question this reality, because it isn’t Professor X’s dream of humans and mutants co-existing.
    It’s a cheat, and the victory isn’t worth anything if there is no struggle for justice and equality.

    Then, Nu D’s scenario could work great.
    The Age of X-Man could be ended by the X-Men fighting against X-Man’s vision.
    The X-Men would come to regret their decision, wondering if they made the right choice.
    They truly witnessed an utopian world for mutants, and they decided to fight against it, just because it didn’t fit their own ideals.

    In this case, I doubt the X-Men will end up regretting fighting against X-Man’s creation, because of the dystopian elements underlying everything.

  23. SanityOrMadness says:

    @Chris V:

    I’m not sure that would “prove” very much at all. This is a world made-to-order by Nate Grey. If it was an actual perfect world, it would be because it’s populated entirely by Nate’s pod people (figuratively as well as, in this case, literally), not because they were or weren’t mutants. There’s no crime because everyone is hardwired not to commit crime, not because of any aspect of human (or mutant) nature.

    (And, of course, even in this “perfect world”, we see in the Alpha issue that mutant powers still cause problems, especially amongst the newly-coming-into-their-powers. If things aren’t custom-designed to prevent it, a Sierra Blaze accidentally destroying the world could still easily happen – and its absence would bring us back to “pod people” again)

  24. Chris V says:

    Which reverts to the idea that any sort of truly utopian world is completely impossible.

    I realize it doesn’t “prove” anything. That wasn’t my intent. I was trying to make Nu D’s idea work.
    That the X-Men witness a world better than Earth-616, without having to resort to the creepiness factor which is obviously part of X-Man’s world in the actual comic.
    Because, I do think Nu D has an interesting premise. A world that the X-Men may feel it is tragic to have to fight against.

    Of course, there does have to be something to fight against.
    The X-Men do have to be in the right.
    However, a shades of grey, where the X-Men have to fight against this world, but question whether they are really doing the right thing, would be more interesting.

    I see this going in the typical sci-fi dystopian direction.
    I doubt Nu D’s scenario will be plausible, because the X-Men will end up with no regrets fighting against this dystopian world.

  25. Paul says:

    “There’s no crime because everyone is hardwired not to commit crime, not because of any aspect of human (or mutant) nature.”

    I’m not sure there’s no crime. Bishop seems to be breaking a law, for example, so evidently people *can* break Nate’s rules even if they’re inclined not to. We’re told there are no supervillains, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that there’s no generic low-level crime. We might only have seen the nice parts of town so far.

  26. Nu-D says:

    I would have the X-Men fight to preserve the new utopian world against a villain who prefers the old imperfect world, and then I would have the X-Men lose.

  27. Taibak says:

    Nu-D: A utopia where an imperfect world is considered preferable because people have to struggle to survive there?

    I’m a bit behind on the continuity, but sounds like a good story for Apocalypse, doesn’t it?

  28. Voord 99 says:

    That’s a very appealing idea. On the one hand, it’s a nice reversal of the original Age of Apocalypse story.

    On the other, I think you could do some interesting things with it that would be more than nostalgia. We’ve got that strain in contemporary politics on the right that’s about wanting a sort of heroic suffering. And there’s something in there about how adventure narratives like superheroes play into that and feed that impulse: some readers on some level would probably at least quasi-sympathize with Apocalypse’s desire to tear down a boringly safe utopian order in favor of thrilling chaos.

  29. Nu-D says:

    The Apocalype story you guys are pitching sounds good.

    I was also thinking of one where the utopia is sustained by a MacGuffin, like the M’kkan Crystal or something. It’s effect only extends to the Earth, so some off world aliens want to take it. It’s destroyed in the battle and we revert to 616.

    It could be used as an allegory for immigration. The moral question is the extent of our obligation to share our wealth with “outsiders”.

  30. Nu-D says:

    To expand on that further, it could be an allegory for climate change.

    In the prelude, the Marvel heroes discover on Earth a MacGuffin which represents a vast resource of Goodness. To tap that resource, they need to take some other MacGuffins from elsewhere in the galaxy. Since they’re not being used by the natives, the heroes think little of it. Besides, we’re going to share the wealth once it’s tapped right? They assemble the MacGuffins,and BAM, utopia on Earth. End prelude.

    It turns out the resource, while renewable, renews by natural processes more slowly than we’re consuming it. The result is there’s a shortage of Goodness in the far-flung corners of the galaxy. The effects are not extreme or acute, but they’re growing. On the very far horizon, there’s a potential time when there will be no more Goodness left.

    So we have Gambit and the Greenpeace X-Men, the radicals who have been to the far edge of the galaxy and seen the suffering. They recognize the Earth’s wealth of Goodness was partly stolen, and doesn’t belong exclusively to the Earth anyhow.They want to blow it all up and share the wealth across the galaxy by reverting to 616 reality.

    Then we have Establishment X-Men. They see the problem, and are willing to make sacrifices, but they won’t forgo the utopia they’ve built. They propose expanding the scope of the MacGuffin’s effect to nearby systems, and letting refugees settle there. They’re willing to cap the amount of MacGuffin used to try to slow the drain. They have an idea for improving the renewal rate, but it’s not yet a viable large scale solution.

    There’s a team loosely based on the Starjammers or the Guardians of the Galaxy who are fleeing the tragedy on the exploited planets and coming to Earth because they want a better life. Corsair has family in Minnesota and hopes they can reunite and build lives for themselves away from the gang violence in El Salvador. He’s traveling with other refugees.

    Then there are teams and adversaries of varying persuasions on the other side. Some don’t believe the resource exploitation is causing a problem. Some believe a technological solution is on the immediate horizon and no change needs to be made. Some are perfectly OK with just keeping it for Earth, arguing that the MacGuffin is ours and we don’t have an obligation to take on suffering to alleviate the suffering of others. Etc.

    As someone who falls somewhere between the Establishment X-Men and Gambit’s team, I’m not going to do a good job being fair to the adversarial points of view, but it would have to be done such that they don’t just come off as villainous. They’d have to be represented by at least some heroic characters. The techno-faithful could be Forge and Beast and Mr. Fantastic, who really believe they can fix the problem without making sacrifices. But you ought not just put in the High Evolutionary and Doctor Doom as representatives of GOP senators.

  31. Voord 99 says:

    That would be kind of unfair to Doctor Doom, I agree. 🙂

  32. mark coale says:

    If we could insert pictures, I would post the New Yorker cartoon from a couple years ago with the current White House occupant dressed in Doom’s armor.

  33. Moo says:

    “Marvelous” ought to be Monet St. Croix’s superhero name. I can see her calling herself that. Beats “M”.

  34. Joseph S says:

    Luis said “One has to wonder why even call it a regular title under such extreme circunstances.”

    I have a theory. Marvel is hitting the accelerator so they can get legacy numbering to 700.

    How many issues of Uncanny have been published since Bendis’s #600? 11 in the last 3 months, plus Bunn’s Run (19). What else? Maybe count X-Men: Blue (36)? That’s 660. If the book keeps double shipping that another 20 books this year. So they’ll be there in no time.

  35. Matt C. says:

    Uncanny X-Men #11 shipped this week with legacy number #630, so seems like they’re counting Bunn’s run but not Blue/Gold.

  36. Nu-D says:

    I just want to say, I’m very pleased with myself for coming up with the title “Establishment X-Men” and I hope Marvel picks it up.

  37. Moo says:

    Okay, since we’re applauding our own ideas, I’d like to say I’m very pleased with myself for coming up with Vanilla X-Tract but I hope Marvel doesn’t pick it up because I probably won’t get any money out of it.

  38. Michael says:

    Vanilla X-Tract sounds like a mutant rapper from the Morrison era.

  39. Thom H. says:

    Like Jumbo Carnation? Ugh. I love Morrison, but he certainly has some blind spots.

  40. Moo says:


    Morrison’s just really ahead of his time. Our grandkids will be going to Jumbo Carnation films (MCU phase 17) at the holocinemas.

  41. JD says:

    @Thom H : Rosanas has been working for Marvel for a good long while, with backup strips in the likes of Age of Sentry and Atlas, or drawing the whole of Spider-Man 1602. His lengthiest run was drawing nearly all of Spencer’s Ant-Man (which is where he first caught my attention).

    But these days, Marvel seem to want to use him mostly on one-shot “events”, rather than committing him to any one series. (And interestingly, at lot of those have been for the X-office : an issue in Soule’s rotating Astonishing, a back-up strip in X-terminated, Generations: Wolverine & All-New Wolverine, Hunt for Wolverine: Dead Ends, the last arc of All-New Wolverine…)

  42. Thom H. says:

    @Moo: Hopefully, they’ll roll him into the existing Marvel cinematic universe so we can all eventually see Avengers: Carnation.

    @JD: Thanks for the info! I haven’t read any of those books. I’m most inclined to pick up Ant-Man. Was the writing good enough to try it?

  43. Mikey says:

    Thom – Ant-Man is a fantastic book. Very funny, very consistent

  44. Voord 99 says:

    By the standards of what he is — a John Wagner 2000 AD character —, I think Jumbo Carnation is not so much a misfire as tame and uninventive.

  45. Drew says:

    “Wasn’t there a X-Men novel, written by Anne Nocenti, called Prisoner X?
    I read the Nocenti X-Men novel, but I’m not completely sure that I have the right title.
    I think it was Prisoner X.”

    Yep, you’re right. The plot was that a mysterious individual is running a prison on a satellite in Earth orbit, and footage from it was used for a popular reality show. An unknown prisoner (Prisoner X) was working to bring it down from the inside. To absolutely no one’s surprise, the mysterious individual was Mojo, and Prisoner X was Longshot.

    It wasn’t particularly good, as I recall. It’s most notable for Gambit being really jealous about how eager Rogue was to rush off and rescue her old crush. So Storm had a talk with him and made the subtext text: that she’s always seen Gambit as akin to Lancelot, and Longshot, as the perfect being, is Galahad; but when she (Storm) was reading the Arthurian legends, she always found Lancelot far more interesting.

    That part always stuck out at me because even though Longshot’s creator wrote the novel, he’s barely in it and the book basically goes out of its way to tell you that Gambit is more interesting.

  46. Anya says:

    Lol, I did not know that. I guess Ann must be a gambit fan…

  47. Jerry Ray says:

    I was on Usenet (as was Paul – it’s where I first read his reviews) back when Gambit first showed up with his mysterious backstory. There was a lot of speculation in the rec.arts.comics groups that Gambit was Longshot (post-Siege Perilous, or something), or was at least related somehow. Acrobatic, throws cards/blades, wears weird gloves that could have been a cover for Longshot’s 4-fingered hands, that sort of thing.

  48. Nu-D says:

    I was not on Usenet when Gambit first appeared. I was just starting to read X-Men comics. But basically everyone thought Gambit must be related to Longshot somehow. Longshot had only been written out less than a year before Gambit first appeared, and they had similarities in design, if not character.

  49. Moo says:

    I saw Gambit as a crap Nightcrawler substitute. Still see him that way.

  50. Krzysiek Ceran says:

    Huh. How come? What similarities did you see between them?

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