Welcome, X-Fans, to another uncanny edition of X-Men Monday at AIPT!
You know, in another reality almost identical to our own–save for the complete absence of the dreaded COVID-19–we’d be gearing up to read Children of the Atom #1 this Wednesday. Unfortunately, we’re not in another universe, no matter how badly we wish we were. And eventually, we will get to read Children of the Atom and X-Factor and so many other comics we’ve been waiting for… we just have some more work to do as inhabitants of this reality’s Earth.
We’ll get through this.
In the meantime, we still need entertainment. And all this thinking about what could have been made me realize there’s no better time to dig into one of the X-Men’s most reoccurring tropes: alternate universe stories. As X-Men Senior Editor Jordan D. White lorded over the Age of X-Man, he knows a thing or two about different realities and was happy to field some questions on this week’s topic.
AIPT: Welcome back, Jordan! Let’s start with an easy one: What’s your favorite alternate-universe X-Men story?
Jordan: My favorite is the (I believe) first one: Days of Future Past. Not sure if everyone thinks of it as an AU story, but since they avert the Days timeline by the end of the story but still revisit the world and characters, it is an AU. Although, as I think about it, the large bulk of the big X-Men AUs are like that–they start out as the future then get averted, or they are the present altered in some huge/cosmic/magical way, but there is always another universe where that world can continue to exist forever. Anyway, yeah, Days of Future Past! It’s up there on my list of best X-Men stories ever made, and it paints either one of or THE first terrible worlds of doom and destruction for the X-Men and then lets the characters find a new and better way forward with hope in their hearts. It’s a great story… and one that looms so large in X-Men lore that I think it’s at the root of AU stories being such a big part of X-Men since then.
AIPT: Well, speaking of those other AU stories, Scott Redmond (@ScottPRedmond) said the Age of Apocalypse seems to have the most staying power, as it’s been revisited many times. What do you think gives it that staying power?
Jordan: I do feel a little badly, not picking AOA as my favorite AU story, to be honest, because it’s a BIG deal in the X-Men history. It was so huge when it happened! It was a time when it was possible to pull off a huge surprise like canceling the entire line and replacing it and there was less cynicism out there saying it was all a trick. Which… I mean… it WAS a trick. Or, rather, a story with a beginning, middle and end. But still, readers at the time were knocked for a loop by the idea the books they’d been following for years were vanishing and being replaced with a weird, twisted version.
I read the series a bit after it was all out there, a friend lent me the entire run of all the minis and specials. I think it hit in just that sweet spot of freaking everyone out a little, but then painting a picture of an intriguing world that got people interested… just before snatching away that world seemingly forever. People had just enough time to get attached to these new versions of the characters. They wanted to know what happened next! They wanted to see them turn things around! Unfortunately, it seems like most of the stories continuing the world have things getting pretty terrible over there.
AIPT: The AOA provided so many great takes on the X-Men. Dominic (@Domixt) wanted to know if there are any cases where you prefer the alternate version of a character to their 616 version?
Jordan: Yeah–a few of the Exiles. Probably a good number of them, if I were to really look through their whole roster. But off the top of my head, Blink, Sabretooth and Morph, for sure. That was a series I really enjoyed, so… probably their Thunderbird as well. Oh, duh, Mimic. If you haven’t read Exiles and you’re a fan of AU stories… well, first of all, what are you waiting for? That book is literally exactly what you’re looking for. Check out the collected editions as soon as you can.
But yeah–I really loved that book right from its launch… and it has a very special place in my heart because Exiles #99 was the first book with my credit in it. I worked on it my first week as an assistant editor, with New Exiles and Exiles vol. 2 being big parts of my first few years at Marvel.
AIPT: One more AOA question… Cal Watts (@Cal_Watts) wanted to know how AOA Iceman eats with no mouth.
Jordan: Come on, he’s got a mouth, he just thinks it makes him look badass to ice over it. It’s like a Kylo Ren mask situation.
AIPT: In your opinion, what makes alternate universe stories so appealing–to both creators and fans?
Jordan: They are just fun. There is an excitement in seeing the things you are familiar with in a new way. Whether it be events going differently than you know, like in classic What If…? stories, or characters being completely different than the way we know them, or the super-elaborate versions that incorporate both, the huge butterfly effect type changes like Age of Apocalypse did, there is just a ton of joy to be had in doing that double-take of “Wait—what’s this now?”
For many comic fans, myself included, part of the fun of reading this huge ongoing story is curating a core of knowledge about the characters and stories, keeping that mental encyclopedia of them inside our minds. Good AU stories turn that on its head, and that moment of surprise and the unexpected and unknown, I think, is a thrill. It brings us back, for a moment, to where we began as readers, feeling our way out into this universe we have grown to love. For creators, it’s fun to turn the safety protocols off in the Danger Room, so to speak–to be able to do the things you could never do in the proper Marvel Universe, or turn people into things they would never be, etc. It’s a bit of wild freedom.
AIPT: BABYNUT (@ChangeoATX) was curious to lean how some characters make the jump from an alternate reality to the main universe. Is it popularity or story? Also–BABYNUT wanted to know if we can get Unveil from the Age of X-Man back?
Jordan: Uh-oh… here we are where I find myself about to give another of those answers I know fans are not gonna like. Generally, not universally, but generally… I don’t think characters should make that jump. Putting aside the problem of duplicate characters, you also end up with a character whose story is automatically convoluted and difficult to explain. Plus, their backstories are all part of the other universe, so they have no history with the people or world they are in, so their past cannot come back to them. Again, I am not saying it cannot be done… but it’s something that I am inclined not to like so there is a hurdle to me liking a story that does it. You really gotta make it worth doing or it feels kind of lame to me.
Regarding Unveil, there are some open questions from Age of X-Man, and one of them definitely is whether the people Nate created in that world are people in their own rights or if they are just a part of him. So… could Unveil come out to the real world? And if she did, would Monetta accidentally come through as well and tell everyone on Krakoa that they need to behave better? I suppose that remains to be seen if and when someone revisits that world.
AIPT: X-Men but Gay (@xmenbutgay) said we’ve been told every X-Character remembers the Age of X-Man. Who do you think emerged from that reality with the biggest shift in worldview?
AIPT: Bethany w. Pope (@BethanyWPope) said that DC Comics often makes out-of-continuity, alternate reality stories that sometimes evolve into their own thing–such as Batman: White Knight or Superman: Red Son–and always force readers to respond to or view characters in a new way. At Marvel, we’ve had far fewer, outside of stories like X-Men Forever. Why is this?
Jordan: You’re actually forgetting the BIGGEST example of them all, the Ultimate Universe. There’s also Marvel Zombies. Spider-Girl. Spider-Gwen. Mutant X. There have been quite a few. But I do think that, GENERALLY, DC has more of a tendency to set stories off to the side, out of continuity than we do. I think we at Marvel lean towards keeping as many stories in continuity as possible. Obviously, if you’re doing a story where the heroes all turn into zombies and devour their loved ones, then yeah–you kind of need that to be an alternate universe. If you’re just telling a big story about the characters… is there a way we can just make that part of their actual story? Where possible, we do.
AIPT: OK, so you have the chance to crossover two alternate X-Universes… which two do you smash together?
Jordan: The first answer that came to mind was the X-Men The Animated Series universe with the Fox X-Men Movie universe, but I guess that’s not really in the spirit of the question, is it? But it would be fun.
There are a lot of fun possibilities. Right this minute, I sort of feel like the idea of Age of X-Man vs. Age of Apocalypse could be fun. It’s a little obvious in some ways, but I think there are some really neat ideas that could come out of it.
OH WAIT–I actually just came up with the real answer, and I cannot put it in here because now I am determined to make this happen. Oh wow, do I like this idea. It definitely involves a serious clash of tones, which I am SO INTO. In all seriousness, I just leapt onto the X-Writer slack and wrote a bunch of ideas there.
AIPT: Wait… did an X-Men Monday question just inspire the next great AU X-Men story? No time to worry about that right now–focus, Chris! OK, here’s a question from Charlie Etheridge-Nunn (@charlie_en): What would “The Age of Jordan” be like?
Jordan: Probably a lot like Brave New World. I get that it’s meant to be a “dystopia” and all… but the people in it are happy and it functions pretty smoothly most of the time.
Not that I myself would necessarily like living there–I was born in this world, so I am a savage, not made for those times–but the idea of creating a society made up of people fully sculpted to enjoy living in it is pretty brilliant. I think this just got a little dark. Uh, moving on.
AIPT: Final question. Cover songs are kind of like if a song was sung by another artist in another reality… uh, right? Either way–could you share a cover song you think we’d all dig right now?
Jordan: You know what? I know just what to spotlight for exactly this question. I have become a big fan of Anthony Vincent and his YouTube channel Ten Second Songs. Every month, he does a video where he covers a song in 20 different styles–meaning he literally switches throughout the song into doing these incredible, pitch perfect impressions of other bands and musicians doing the songs. So every cover, you get 20 different “What If THIS person had done this song?” THEN, his Patreon followers get to vote on which version they liked best, and he will do the whole song in their style. And let me tell you–This guy is AMAZING at sounding like everyone, both in their musical production sound and in vocal performance. I am constantly blown away by him. So, I want to spotlight him–here are a couple of the full versions I am particularly fond of, but I HIGHLY recommend checking out all his videos and supporting him on Patreon. He rules.
What If… Queen perfomed Welcome to the Black Parade?
What If… Nickelback performed Old Town Road?
What If… Breaking Benjamin performed Bad Guy?
What If… Linkin Park performed Psychosocial?
AIPT: I don’t know about you all, but I definitely just went down an Anthony Vincent rabbit hole. Thanks for sharing, Jordan, and thanks for taking the time to answer these AU X-Men questions!
And, as always, thanks to all the X-Fans who submitted questions! Now, this is usually the part of X-Men Monday where I pivot toward eXclusive preview images from upcoming X-Books. Unfortunately, comics are temporarily on hold, and so too are the visual teases. But don’t worry, they’ll return before you know it–just like comics! In the meantime, I’m going to reshare this image from Cable #2 that debuted in the last edition of X-Men Monday… because it makes me happy to see Cyclops so happy with his sandwich.
Until next time, X-Fans, stay smart, be safe and find yourselves a sandwich that can bring you joy in these troubling times!