Marvel's latest “Next Big Thing” comes in the form of a brand new X-Men crossover called Age of X which has been teased, but now we've got actual information from series architect and writer Mike Carey and X-editor Daniel Ketchum. The mysterious alternate universe story stars characters from across the X-Men's varied generations in a world without X-Men including Hellion, Gambit, Rogue, Magneto and even a brand new character only referred to as X coming together to fight for the very existence of mutant-kind. Kicking off with January's Age of X Alpha and continuing through X-Men Legacy #245-247, New Mutants #22-24 and potentially more books down the line, the project has been a long time coming from X-Men fan and writer Carey who originally thought of the story as a way to bring together all the various generations of X-teams in one project.
“I wanted to do a story that brought all those teams back into the field,” Carey said. “Daniel and I talked about various MacGuffins that would allow us to do that and the more we talked the more we realized we were actually more interested in some of the other story architecture we were creating to enable that situation. So we came up with a different idea and that became Age of X.”
The crossover takes place in a world that not only hates and fears mutants, but has a full-on war against them thanks to an anti-mutant coalition that rose to power and held onto it. This is a world where Professor X never formed the X-Men, which means they weren't around to stop threats like Phoenix destroying Albany or to build goodwill with humans.
“They're dealing with isolation, the fact they've never had a context for being a mutant,” Carey said. “It's a world where mutants have never assembled or been considered superheroes or a super team. From the get-go their enemies were organized and they were not. They were isolated, they were fighting just to survive. They've grown up in a very, very unfriendly world where being a mutant is effectively a death sentence and that shapes the way they behave, the way they think of themselves and the way they look.”
Not wasting any time jumping into the event, the first issue of the crossover literally shows the unified mutants building a fortress with their assembled human and Sentinel-enhanced human enemies attacking them from all sides.
“Basically, the whole world has become hostile territory, impossible territory but there's this one fortress which we actually see it being built in the Alpha issue and it's a place where all the surviving mutants are invited to come,” Carey said. “I guess there's a broad parallel between the role Utopia plays in the 616 universe except that this place is surrounded by an army of enemies. That's a very important setting in the story, around the fortress is effectively a battlefield in an environment that has been squashed flat by years of conflict.”
As you can tell by the promo images and covers, the X-Men featured in Age of X look somewhat familiar while some others are conspicuously absent.
“There are some significant people who are missing and there will be some significant surprises in terms of who does turn up, Carey said. “The explanations for who's there and who's not there will have a reason. We'll have some old time favorites who haven't been around for a long time.”
Carey and Ketchum made a point to let fans know that these characters will still retain some of the characteristics fans have come to expect from their heroes, but that they also have been put through a very different kind of ringer than in the usual 616 Marvel Universe.
“When you think of it kind of broadly speaking, it's an act structure with each act playing out across one issue of Legacy and one issue of New Mutants,” Carey said of the series as a whole. “Rogue is very much the protagonist and point-of-view character in the first act and then, as the situation accelerates out of control other characters come to be important in other ways, but she's our way into the story.”
Another one of those important characters is none other than the Master of Magnetism--and sometimes leader of the X-Men even in the 616 and other alternate universe—Magneto.
“Magneto has a pivotal role, in many ways THE pivotal role,” Carey emphasized. “He's the person who has created this situation and allowed this last stand to take place. Without him it's quite likely that the mutants would have been isolated and separately slaughtered. Magneto is, in a lot of ways, the figurehead and he's sometimes referred to as 'The General.'”
With so many enemies beating down their doors, it will be interesting to see how this newly assembled group of mostly familiar faces deals with the pressures, especially some of the more familiar names and faces we've all come to know and love.
“All bets are off in terms of the relationships because all those relationships were forged from out of nothing as they meet and strike sparks off each other,” Carey said. “Their personalities remain the same it's just that they're responding to a situation that is unlike anything that has happened to them in 616.”
While on the topic of the various characters appearing in the book, here's a few quick notes. Ketchum encouraged Carey and company to go full-on weather goddess when it came to Storm, Hellion can control his metal arm with his mental powers both as an appendage and a weapon, Gambit is just holding a piece of building material that was blacked-out in the promo image, Phoenix is not Hope and the character Basilisk is that reality's version of Cyclops. Speaking of familiar characters, Ketchum revealed that some familiar non-mutant faces might be showing up in this brand new universe.
“The main story is predominately mutants, but we are putting together a complimentary book,” Ketchum said. “I don't know if it's been titled as of yet, but one of the titles we're playing around with is Age of X: Universe or maybe even Age of X: Avengers? I'll leave you with that.”
Of course, the big question when it comes to alternate versions of reality is “What exactly is going on and what does this mean for my X-Men?” Carey claimed that the answers to that question and plenty of others will be answered in the series as it progresses.
“It does play out as an alternate world story, but there's a very good reason why we constructed it like this,” Carey said. “The important axis of the action is a thriller, it's a mystery and by the end all questions are answered, we will know why this situation arose and exactly how this world rose from our world. The explanation is far from obvious.”
“As it unfolds we'll see that it isn't an alternate reality in the sense that Age of Apocalypse was an alternate reality,” added Ketchum who compared the story to Minority Report which was a thriller set in a very completely visualized and developed world similar but not exactly like the one we know. “Just as this is a mystery to the characters in the story, the reader has their own mystery to unravel which is 'What exactly the deal is with this reality?' Mike has done a beautiful job of weaving subtle clues and hints, even from his first script, that might explain what exactly is going on. Nothing is wasted, everything is another clue and gives you a little piece of the puzzle.”
Carey and Ketchum also addressed exactly what the X in the title refers to. Carey noted that it does in fact stand for X-Men even though they haven't existed in this reality up to this point. Ketchum also said that it goes back to Stan Lee's idea that the X equals extraordinary individuals doing extraordinary things as well as going through interesting interactions.
“I'd like to think that with Age of X this isn't just about X-Men and going back to the roots and really thinking about something extra, spectacular where we get to the core of not what it means to be one of the X-Men, but to be a superhero or something really, really cool,” Ketchum said. “So, we see in this event people doing really cool things with their mutant powers.”
“There is also a character, kind of, called X and he plays a part in the story,” Carey revealed. “By the time we get to the end of the story, it will have stood for several things. We'd like you to just discover X. X is completely new. It might be stretching the point to call X a character, you'll see when you read the first issue.”
And there you have it, Age of X is a mystery wrapped in an alternate universe package that may have more to do with the future of the 616 than anyone's letting on at this point with some brand new designs by Clay Mann and Alpha artist Paul Davidson. Sounds like a fun way to kick off the New Year.