When Marvel announced Jonathan Hickman’s relaunch of the X-Men line, they hyped it as being as significant as seminal moments in the line’s history. Claremont and Morrison were noted, but one of the X-Men’s most important recent writers was left off that list: Mike Carey. While lacking the star power and cultural prominence of those aforementioned authors, his nearly decade long work on the X-Men stands as a single, realized vision that we rarely get in modern mainstream comics.
The newest installment in Marvel’s collected X-Men Milestones pieces together Mike Carey’s interpretation of the line’s multitude of dystopian futures, Age of X. Like Age of Apocalypse, the run takes place in an alternate reality where the X-Men never existed, with the remaining mutants taking their last stand at Fortress X in an attempt to keep anti-mutant forces at bay.
Overall, it is a middling arc in Carey’s long run on the book. When reading through these issues published in 2008/2009, you get the sense that these are characters Mike justly loves and getting the opportunity to write his own alternative-universe narrative provides ample opportunities to explore different elements of these merry mutants. Unfortunately, this story falls into many of the traps “What If?” arcs often do, with the cheerlessness and gloom ratcheted up considerably.
The artwork by Gabriel Hernandez Walta, Paul Davidson, Clay Mann, Steve Kurth and Khoi Pham is fitting for the work at hand and is generally consistent in its realism and grit, something to be commended when considering the number of cooks in the kitchen. Unfortunately, the art mimics the narrative, and just isn’t very defined or noteworthy. Every single one of these creators has done better work elsewhere, with Mike Carey’s X-Men run largely being an unsung gem worthy of exploration. Much like Morrison’s future “Here Comes Tomorrow” storyline, Age of X is the weaker link in the Carey run, even though it is done with competency.
As noted, every contributor to this trade is capable, and the fact that it is an alternate reality story does make this a nice self-contained book. If you have a basic understanding of the X-Men mythos, you can pick this up and enjoy it; I would just like to see a more comprehensive collection containing the Carey years. His run is just begging for a well-curated Omnibus edition, and here’s hoping we see more of those issues collected in the future.
I greatly appreciated the trade’s addition of letters from the creative team, describing their thought process when devising these issues. These primary sources, when combined with the concept art and variant covers, does give this book a definitive status for the Age of X.
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