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Aug 5

Age of X-Man: Prisoner X

Posted on Monday, August 5, 2019 by Paul in x-axis

Oh yes, I haven’t forgotten about these.

Looking back, we can see where the problems lie with a crossover like Age of X-Man: the various minis wind up falling into a pattern where the characters start off immersed in Nate’s world, and slowly recover their memories over the course of a series.  There’s only so many variations you can do on that theme, and not all of them make for minis that are ultimately satisfying in their own right.

But on that score, Vita Ayala and Germán Peralta’s Prisoner X is one of the most successful.  Sure, in a broad sense, it’s the same plot as the others.  Bishop starts off believing himself to be a prisoner in the “Danger Room” complex, where he’s been sent after his third-strike for unacceptable relationships and crimes against “autonomy”.  And over the course of the series, he and some of the other prisoners figure out who they really are.  Prisoner X has some advantages over the others, though.

Part of that is style.  This is an institutionalisation story, but with surrealism and dream logic creeping around the edges until it all explodes near the end.  And it does a great job of building that atmosphere.  The plot momentum comes largely from things getting ever weirder, with familiar characters acting hopelessly off, and weird characters who surely shouldn’t be there at all.  Story points become intentionally disjointed, and it works.

The institution itself is very well judged.  This could easily have been a visually boring book, at least in the scenes which have to establish the baseline of normalcy.  It’s a grey institution and everyone is wearing the same clothes.  But Peralta manages to make it interesting by making it all seem slightly off.  Given what we know about the world (and the characters don’t), there’s a nagging feeling right from the off that the anonymous, faceless guards aren’t just wearing masks.  And everything about the place seems weirdly dated.  There’s a wall of video screens, but they have the rounded corners of a 60s television.  Despite his powers being all about technology, warden Forge’s desk has no computer, just a rotary dial telephone and a filing cabinet.

On top of that, the plot is more focussed than in some of the other books, Bishop starts off with a much clearer idea that something is wrong, and duly sets off to figure it all out.  He’s a detective, and he’s here to solve the mystery.  He’s much more purposeful than his compatriots in the other books, except perhaps for the NextGen characters – but unlike them, he actually succeeds.  Perhaps most importantly, though, this book has a secondary villain for the X-Men to beat here and now.

Since the Age of X-Man is Nate’s hang-ups writ large, the Danger Room is not so much Nate’s attempt to solve a problem, as a dumping ground for things he would prefer not to think about.  Notionally, Forge is in charge of this prison, but while he does the job efficiently enough, he seems to think of the place more as a hospital, and he wants to reform and discharge.  Yet we know from the other books that nobody ever gets discharged, and the authorities (represented in a brief visit by Psylocke) don’t seem all that interested in it either.

In reality, the prison is under the control of Legion, who is one of the handful of characters in this world to know exactly what’s going on – presumably because he’s too powerful for Nate to override, though if so, that begs the question of how Nate got anywhere with Jean Grey.  Legion is ostensibly a prisoner, but can mess about with reality for his own amusement whenever he chooses; as long as he keeps everyone locked away, Legion is free to amuse himself by toying with the inmates.

There’s a lot going on in this series that calls for some outside context in order for it to fully make sense.  As already mentioned, if you aren’t reading the other titles, you may not realise that Forge isn’t actually getting anyone discharged.  (But then, who’s going to remember that?)  Bishop is regularly approached by someone appearing to be his sister Shard, who isn’t really identified, and hasn’t been seen in many years.  Dani Moonstar is here in a prominent role, but you’re unlikely to pick up on the significance of that unless you know (a) that Nate had a brief romance with her, and, more importantly, (b) that Dani isn’t in the Age of X-Man at all, because she’s in Uncanny X-Men.  She’s meant to be a suppressed side of Nate’s personality, but this is only hinted at in Prisoner X and doesn’t get confirmed until Age of X-Man Omega.  (And no, it’s not an error which they’ve tried to smooth over after the fact – Dani is partially immune to Legion, presumably because she’s an aspect of Nate.)

Some of this is quite clever, and the general dreaminess of it all is rather effective.  But there are bits which aren’t so satisfying.  The cast of X-Men selected for the prison seems rather random.  Bishop makes some sense – he’s the policeman in jail, fine.  But why Beast, Polaris or Honey Badger?  Honey Badger…. is maybe being kept away from Laura?  But if that’s it, why aren’t the Stepford Cuckoos here?  Beast and Polaris are seemingly being hobbled for some reason, but I don’t get why.  Maybe Beast is smart enough to figure it all out if he’s allowed to think straight, but Polaris?  She’s not exactly notorious for her resistance to mind control, you know.

And while Bishop makes sense as a lead in terms of the tropes, it’s not a story that has a tremendous amount to say about him.  Or Legion, for that matter.  Legion’s crazed meddling in this story isn’t particularly in character for anything he did in his solo title, or for the way he was acting in the Uncanny X-Men lead-in arc.  I’m left with a nagging feeling here that Legion is a bad guy here because the plot demands one, and for all the subtleties elsewhere in the series, his motivation boils down to “meh, multiple personalities, he can do whatever the story needs”.  He gets a weird little speech at the end telling people that surely they’re more free in the prison than they would be in the outside world… but if that’s his motivation, he ought to be in Forge‘s role, and trying to steer characters into accepting their place in the jail, instead of just messing with them.

Still, there’s a lot in here that works, and it’s one of the more successful Age of X-Man titles.  Worth a read.

Bring on the comments

  1. SanityOrMadness says:

    > But why Beast, Polaris or Honey Badger? Honey Badger…. is maybe being kept away from Laura? But if that’s it, why aren’t the Stepford Cuckoos here? Beast and Polaris are seemingly being hobbled for some reason, but I don’t get why. Maybe Beast is smart enough to figure it all out if he’s allowed to think straight, but Polaris? She’s not exactly notorious for her resistance to mind control, you know.

    Polaris has two things going against her – first, in recent years “Daughter of Magneto” has become a major part of her self-image (much more than the reverse), which obviously causes problems for the AOXM society. And secondly, Nate isn’t mind-controlling people, he’s brainwashing them, and “unstable” has been an on-and-off part of her since Austen (PAD also had her go crazy until Siryn magicked her better), and perhaps Nate wasn’t convinced that he could get more than two out of three from the set of “brainwashing, Polaris and an even keel”.

    The Cuckoos are interesting, I think the problem may have been that there were three of them, and only one prison – so either way, he still needed to keep at least two of them “together”

  2. Ben says:

    I really like the art in this one.

    That Beast design is fantastic!

  3. JD says:

    The GIFTED TV show started with a lengthy “Polaris in jail” subplot ; presumably they’re also riffing on that.

  4. Luis Dantas says:

    All things considered, and despite my frustration with all the Wolverine in Uncanny, this period of time seems remarkably ambitious. I can’t say that it suceeds as such, but it did try hard.

  5. Moo says:

    Polaris is in jail for being the earliest X-Man (next to the Mimic) deemed too crappy to appear in an X-Men feature film. Sunfire will be joining her shortly.

  6. CJ says:

    I thought Forge was in charge because, like Beast, he might have figured things out.

    This is a deep cut, but Forge was basically an adoptive father to Nate in his own timeline, even in the Counter-X series.

    And Bishop made total sense to me to be put there since both he and Nate spent a ton of time in Age of Apocalypse, and maybe Bishop time-traveling made brainwashing too difficult. I wouldn’t suggest any of this but for the fact that the AoX books occasionally reference Nate’s 2000 series once or twice…

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