Do you like alternate universes? Do you like the X-Men? Well let me tell you, reader, of a magical time called the 1990s – when you couldn’t swing a cat without hitting an alternate timeline, evil clone or elseworlds version of the Marvel’s favorite mutants. Yet while the era gave us all time highs like the Age of Apocalypse, it also gave us -at best- forgettable outings like X-Men 2099. As the decade (and millennia) came to an end, the House of X introduced a new series in which Alex Summers, fresh off an undercover heel run with the Brotherhood of Mutants, is launched into an alternate reality filled with dark and twisted versions of the X-Men we all now and love. This was Mutant X, but not that Mutant X. This was the edgy and brooding title that went perfectly with the “darker” sensibilities of elder millennials who were just discovering Korn and Linkin Park. Like those two bands, unfortunately, Mutant X is a relic of that era that many of us who remember enjoying the series in its initial run would probably feel a bit embarrassed about now.
This book, the second and final Omnibus-length outing of the series, collects 14 issues of the core book as well as two annuals, features 9 pencillers, 8 inkers and the words of one Howard Mackie. Now I don’t want to dump on Mackie, (I rather liked his Gambit series) nor do I want to call out a cadre of hard working artists who got paid to tell stories about some of their favorite characters…or a version of them at least. But it has to be said, that this is just not a very good book. The art on this is pretty typical of the era, but that’s hardly a compliment. With so many pencillers it’s hard to point out a single unifying flaw, but there is a lot of overlap. This is a book that struggles with perspective, oversimplifies images to the point that they lose almost all detail, and boasts an expansive cast of characters with only like 3 facial expressions between them. The writing is similarly slapdash, with many decisions in this volume reading more like fanfiction than purposeful editorial. Seriously, the 14 issues of this book feature reveals such as Captain America is a mutant, Elektra is Havok’s son’s nanny, appearances from Dracula, Galactus AND the Beyonder, and an evil Xavier in a centurion outfit murdering a whole swath of X-people.
Actually, let’s touch on that last bit for a second, because it has to be said that one of the biggest problems with the series is the character design. I mentioned Xavier’s Spartan attire, but Magneto’s not much better – what with this weird piping and color pattern cordoning off his crotch and making it look like he’s wearing a red women’s one-piece bathing suit that is cut like a bustier over a purple body stocking. When he takes off his helmet to reveal a buzzcut, it’s hard for true 90s kids not to think of a sexy Susan Powter costume. Worst of all is Captain America, whose look appears to change with each inker – reaching an absolute nadir when he dons thigh high boots, red thunder trunks and a sleeveless version of his Nomad top with the colors largely inverted in a look that screams “summer gimp.” The less we talk about Apocalypse, who looks less and less like Apocalypse with each appearance, the better. It all just feels rushed and sloppy.
The art issues and writing problems collide most egregiously in the book’s handling of the passage of time. Several times throughout this series, entire scenes or sequences are obscured, ignored or entirely skipped in favor of a small box saying something to the effect of “moments later.” Not only is this a lazy story choice, there are more than one instance where it breaks the scene in which it is being used. It would be one thing if we were missing needless exposition, but sometimes it’s actual action that is cut out by a small block of text. It feels like Mackie may have thought each issue was going to be his last, and so he attempted to cram everything he could into each issue. Nothing has room to breathe because everything has to happen within the same 20 pages.
In all this is a book for fans and completionists alone, as there isn’t a lot for new readers to sink their teeth into, and the real appeal of the central concept requires a familiarity with established X-canon. The story is not as engaging as other elseworlds titles, the art feels rushed and amateurish, and there’s little escaping that there are a number of “dark X-men” stories that have done this idea better. I like the idea of a book that attempts to subvert its own history and “zag when it should have zigged,” but Mutant X sort of shows that sometimes the road less traveled is less traveled for a reason.