This article contains spoilers for Exiles #1 by Saladin Ahmed and Javier Rodriguez, on sale now.
Fresh off his run on the critically acclaimed Black Bolt, writer Saladin Ahmed turns his attention to the Exiles, re-inventing Marvel's dimension-hopping X-Men for a new era. Artist Javier Rodriguez, inker Álvaro López, and colorist Jordie Bellaire set the tone with shifting styles and color palettes appropriate to each alternate reality, and Rodriguez's complex layouts strive to convey action coming at us from four dimensions and beyond.
With a fresh take on a classic X-Men concept, it's worth exploring how the new Exiles operates compared to what came before, checking in on what Ahmed and Rodriguez get right and what we might hope for in the coming issues.
A Brief History of Exiles
The first Exiles book to which Marvel can lay any claim would be the 1993 series published by Malibu's Ultraverse line, which the House of Ideas later acquired. This wasn't an alternate realities series, but the story of outcasts given superpowers in a tragic accident. It warrants a mention here for two reasons: First, it did something really fascinating in that it killed off the entire team in issue #4 and wrapped the series, even though Malibu had already solicited issues #5-7 -- by all indications, this wasn't an abrupt cancellation, but rather the plan from the start, with the extra solicited issues intended to keep the ending secret. Second, it served to create a trademark with an "X" in it, all but ensuring there would be an X-Men book called "Exiles" after Marvel bought the company.
And that's just what Marvel did. Exiles #1 launched in August 2001 from Judd Winick and Mike McKone, introducing a team of heroes "unstuck from time" and recruited by an entity called the Time Broker to repair damaged "What If?"-style realities. Hailing from the Age of Apocalypse timeline, Blink was the only hero from a reality readers had seen before, but due to the unique nature of that world, she also had fewer emotional attachments to the heroes most likely to save the world in other universes, making her the perfect leader -- she would be able to do what needed done. Guided by a gauntlet called the Tallus, the Exiles completed missions with the hope of one day returning to their home realities, which the Time Broker assured them would be fixed in a multiversal butterfly effect.
Winick wrote 37 issues of Exiles, a run that was defined as much by deeply personal stories as by adventures in time and space. He was succeeded by Chuck Austen, Tony Bedard, and finally Chris Claremont, who closed out the title with its 100th issue in 2008. A short-lived revival in 2009 by Jeff Parker and Salvador Espin ultimately failed to recapture the lightning in a bottle that fueled the original series.
What's New in the Fresh Start Exiles
Ahmed and Rodriguez's new Exiles takes as much inspiration from Crisis on Infinite Earths as it does from its previous series, perhaps more. This time around, Nick Fury Sr. -- now the cosmic being known as the Unseen -- watches helplessly from his home on the moon as countless realities are wiped from existence by a malevolent force called the Time-Eater. So Fury the Unseen is a bit like Pariah in Crisis, and Time-Eater operates rather like the Anti-Monitor. An alternate version of Fury arrives before him, only to blink out of reality as his world is destroyed, leaving behind the Tallus.
Summoned by "the multiverse itself," Blink can't really deny her new mission. And so it's off to recruit the team, without really knowing who's she's meant to recruit or how they're meant to tackle the threat. First up is a world where mutants and Inhumans alike have been driven almost to extinction, where Blink encounters an older, more grizzled Kamala Khan -- this character has been described as Old Woman Khan, after the immediate analogy to the famous Wolverine arc and universe, but from the tone and style of both the writing and art it's clear this episode is meant to evoke Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns. But when Khan's world is ripped away, the pair find themselves buddied up with the Insufferable Iron Lad. Then Kang attacks.
But don't worry!
Because then the Time-Eater attacks, devouring reality and leaving our heroes in a very precarious situation indeed.
Oh, and the Time-Eater is the dessicated, severed head of Galactus.