Age of X Universe #1

Just as the "Age of Apocalypse" crossover brought us a two issue miniseries which showed what the Marvel heroes were up to while mutants were tearing the planet in half, so "Age of X" is telling its own version of that story, asking the question of what, precisely, the heroes of the world were doing while mutants were being rounded up. As it turns out, most of them were in on it.

The title is split between two stories. Si Spurrier's "Avengers" sees a version of the team made up of dark, psychologically twisted incarnations of the Hulk, Invisible Woman, Captain America, Iron Man, Ghost Rider, and Spider-Woman. Spurrier maintains a clear Warren Ellis influence throughout, which is helpful in establishing the team as a thoroughly unlikeable bunch.

Unlike the mutants in the "Age of X" world, who are downtrodden and hunted, it's impossible to get on side with these incarnations of the Marvel Heroes, as they largely range from lunatic to fascist. Pham and Oback's artwork gives them the heroic sheen they require to be recognisable as heroes, but by our moral standards, it's hard to see them as the good guys (which, after all, is sort of the point.)

Jim McCann's backup strip is similarly strong, and features a rather more tempered version of a Marvel hero in the form of Spider-Man. As it turns out, Peter is far more tolerant of mutants than the Avengers, even in this violently anti-mutant society, and he's just as willing to put that on the line as the "real" Peter Parker would be. It's strange how after only a few years, the idea of Peter and Mary-Jane being married has become such an alien one, but fans of the Spider-marriage take note: it's in full swing here.

Paul Davidson's artwork in this short is decent enough, but there are some areas that could be worked on. Peter and MJ's parting embrace, in particular -- a splash page, no less -- seems stiff and perfunctory. The facial expressions aren't particularly subtle, but they have a cartoonish appeal. If only Peter looked liked Peter in every panel, they'd actually be quite enjoyable. Davidson's action sequences, on the other hand, are great, with dynamic and well-framed visuals.

Ultimately, the biggest problem with "Age of X Universe" isn't its execution, but its conception. Given the apparent premise of "Age of X" (which, admittedly, has yet to be revealed) I have a worrying feeling that this is a series dedicated to telling stories which didn't happen, based on false memories of characters who are trapped in a world that doesn't really exist. It's the kind of affliction that made the additional "House of M" prequel miniseries feel like pointless chaff. There are some fun moments, but nothing that particularly illuminates the characters or setting of "Age of X" - they're just a pair of What If stories set in the same universe. If that's what you enjoy, it's a fine example of it but, make no mistake, it's nothing we've not seen before.

Altered Carbon: Download Blues HC

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