The Age of X-Man is a paradise on earth, but even paradise needs to be maintained. Department X, nicknamed the X-Tremists by the populace, are the secret police of Nate Grey’s utopia, enforcing his guiding principles — most notably the prohibition of love. This miniseries focuses on the members of Department X as a routine arrest turns into something nobody was ready for. Leah Williams and Georges Jeanty use this plot setup to explore a world where love is not permitted, and what that means for everyone living in it.
Each issue of the miniseries focuses on one of the main characters, resulting in five excellent explorations of how a lack of love affects different people. The first issue focuses on Iceman, as he jokes around and does his best to lighten up the work they do. Even while Department X is apprehending two people who violated the guiding principles, Bobby is cracking jokes and talking about the difference between a cookie sheet and a baking pan. Yet at the same time, he repeatedly calls Moneta, his teammate, out on her use of slurs to refer to the people they arrest. The issue clearly shows that Bobby is the heart of the team, and while he does his best to alleviate everyone’s spirits, he takes what he does very seriously.
The second issue focuses on Blob, and digs into how the prohibition of emotional attachment changes everyone’s lives. Blob’s description of what it’s like to choose to feel a negative emotion over feeling nothing is incredibly poignant, and it’s a heartbreaking depiction of just how damaging a lack of love can be to a person. This evolves further in Betsy’s chapter, as she discusses her own feelings of self-loathing and her poor self-image. Not being able to love someone else is painful, but not being able to love oneself can be even more damaging. Williams’ dissection of these characters speaks to truths about how love affects people on an everyday level, and while it’s painful and sad to read, it’s genuine and earnest and provides some level of catharsis in commiseration.
The last two issues are potentially the most emotionally resonant. Issue #4 focuses on Northstar as he longs for a love he cannot remember. This dynamic is perhaps the most real and most tragic of all in the Age of X-Man, as Northstar is incapable of exploring his love for his husband, just as gay people around the world find themselves unable to express their feelings out of fear. The forcible removal of love and romance makes for a compelling story, in large part because it was reality for a lot of people for quite some time, and Williams is able to tap into the complex feelings around gay erasure to deliver a melancholy, heartwrenching tale before plunging into anger and rage for the final issue of the miniseries. Jubilee’s issue has a twofold focus — first on the theft of Jubilee’s son, and second on the entire world’s realization of what they have lost. This explosive finale hits both beats extremely well, perfectly capturing and channeling the anger and despair that the erasure of one’s love creates.
The art on the series works well enough, but there are a few moments throughout that do not land as strongly as they should, due to some awkward panel layouts and lettering. However, these moments are few and far between, and are not nearly enough to detract from how emotionally resonant this series is. Georges Jeanty’s facial expressions for the characters in the book are excellent, capturing the despair hidden behind the veneer of happiness that pervades the Age of X-Man. The art as a whole serves as a competent vehicle for the writing, which is what stands out throughout the series.
Age of X-Man: X-Tremists is one of the strongest titles to come out of the Age of X-Man event, channeling all the various ways that love affects people’s lives from start to finish. Each character goes through a heartwrenching journey as the series goes on, and by the end they are all given an arc that feels complete and purely additive. Williams explores themes that feel natural to whichever character drives the exploration. As a character study, this series would be fantastic, but as an exploration of what love is and what it adds to life, it is a must-read.
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