Age of X-Man: Alpha #1
The Marvelous X-Men stand as the photogenic face of a totalitarian regime where every human was forcibly mutated, love (and possibly every strong emotion) is forbidden, and children are born in Huxlian hatcheries. Welcome to the world of X-Man!
Age of X-Man opens with a bang, thrusting the readers into a candy-coloured, deeply sinister dystopia (one which has been apparently orchestrated by X-Man) where everyone has plenty of hobbies but no time (or desire) for independent thought. For those of you who have hesitated over buying this series, rest assured it’s no ordinarily ‘event’. It’s no empty re-hash (or banal inversion) of Age of Apocalypse. It’s no House of M. This series is it’s own thing, deeply rooted in a firm understanding of modern philosophy, and crafted with careful, measured consideration for the characters. The world-building is complex, and vast, but from what we can see in this initial text, it fits together as well as a piece of 19th-century clockwork phantasmagoria.
Zac Thomson and Lonnie Nadler are excellent writers. They know their Huxley. They are familiar with Atwood. Jeremy Bentham would feel at home building his Panopticon in the world they have created. There’s some real Philosophical meat here, is what I’m saying, but it doesn’t read as an academic text. This is a story, leading into other stories, and (thankfully) it looks to be a hell of a lot of fun. I can’t wait to get my reviewer-claws into the other series I will be examining for Comic-Watch.
But let’s get to the real reason that you’ve read this far: the characters. Most of the fun of these alternate reality stories involves seeing who these fictional people (who we nonetheless love) have become in an altered context. Getting this right is a delicate balancing act because the writer must have a deep enough understanding of the characters (in this case, that amounts to over fifty years of comics) to change them in a believable, organic way. A few positive examples of this are Superman in Red Son, who maintained his desire for equality and order but spun off into totalitarianism, or AoA Nightcrawler who, raised by Mystique and absent the faith which prevents him from murder, became someone who was happy to teleport a person’s head from their shoulders.
In order for a world to work, not only must the writers know almost every detail of how the social structure functions, they must be able to see what such a world would do to someone like, say, Jean Grey — who has never died, or met the Phoenix, and therefore has gotten many years older without mentally growing beyond being a teenager. She’s Marvel Girl, as an adult, and her skills are so (purposefully?) truncated by the man who was her son (he’s much older here) that she has been mentally ‘reconditioned’ many times without her knowledge.
If I went into many more details, I would spoil the story, but here’s a brief list of the changes that the characters have gone through: Storm is a knitter who advocates for a total absence of self-reflection. Colossus is a one-armed painter (apparently he lost the limb when a baby developed the ability to generate black holes) with something rather resembling severe PTSD. Nightcrawler is the face of a cinematic propaganda office (finally, a film star — though one whose characters jail those who dare commit the act of seduction) with what is apparently a deeply unsatisfactory personal life. And Glob, poor, chicken-feeding Glob, looks like he remembers something pretty unspeakable.
One of my biggest questions, going in, revolved around the idea of justification. The changes that have been wrought in this world are so antithetical to the things that the X-Men believe that I couldn’t imagine most of them willingly going along with it, but it totally works. A steady diet of propaganda, unspoken fear, and mental reprogramming smooths over an awful lot of ethical quirks.
In terms of structure, this introductory issue did a great job of dropping us into the world through the eyes of a new, early-blooming mutant (allowing us to see the seldom-used X-Men in action) before presenting us with deeply satisfying glimpses into each character’s life, thereby hooking us into other, subsequent books, while still kicking off the plot of the whole story in a way that is so brilliant that I won’t dare spoil it.
As for the art, I admit that I was a bit dubious when I saw previews of the various books, but I will happily admit that my fears were unfounded. The clean, innocent lines of Ramon Rosanas art and Tríona Farrell’s candy coloring were deliciously insidious, presenting a world which is just unsettling enough, in its forced cheer, to be deeply creepy. It’s wonderfully effective work, and Clayton Cowles brings his A-game to letter it.
In short, gentlefolk, this book is a worthy successor to X-Men: Red. This series might just be the X-Men story that we’ve all been waiting for.
Check it out.
Reviewed by Bethany W Pope
This candy-coloured dystopia combines a strong philosophical background, profound understanding of the characters, and measured shots of dread and just-plain-fun to create an alternate-dimensional story like nothing we've seen the X-Men face before. This just might be the story we've been waiting for. — Reviewed by Bethany W Pope
Age of X-Man: Alpha #1: The View From The Panopticon
- Writing - 10/1010/10
- Storyline - 10/1010/10
- Art - 10/1010/10
- Color - 10/1010/10
- Cover Art - 9.5/109.5/10
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