X-Men comics are weird, but rarely does one have readers wondering what in the world they just read quite like Age of X-Men Alpha #1.
The premise behind the story is pretty simple: What if everyone was a mutant? The tension between humans and those born with extraordinary abilities is obviously gone, because one of the belligerent parties in the conflict in no more. But the world isn't necessarily filled with peace; it's more filled with absolution.
If the title of this event wasn't already a solid indication, we're witnessing the yin to Age of Apocalypse's yang, for all intents and purposes. But while, in theory, that sounds like it should be a mutant utopia, all is not what it seems. But what, exactly, is going on is still up in the air. Seriously -- this book is kinda nuts.
After the events of the Uncanny X-Men arc "X-Men: Disassembled," the state of several major characters was left in question. During a confrontation with X-Man, who had bonded with Professor X's son Legion, the current team roster was blinked out of existence...or so we thought; Age of X-Man Alpha #1 would appear to be the new existence they were blinked into. In this new world, the stations of various X-Men members is all over the place. Magneto is a good guy (for now), there's an interesting love affair between two characters you didn't see coming (no spoilers), and everyone's favorite blue bearded German sex devil, Nightcrawler, is a massive celebrity.
Now I don't want to get into spoilers, because this comic is something special for X-Men fans. It's weird and wonderful and often hilarious. But there is a sense of dread bleeding through on the page, which makes the tone of this issue rather provocative. Also, if you're a fan of Lucas Bishop, you're in luck: this is very Bishop-centric story, which feels appropriate considering his role in both Age of Apocalypse and Messiah Complex (the dude is often the catalyst for upsetting the apple cart in sorts of stories).
I've been less-than-enthusiastic about the recent relaunch of Uncanny X-Men, and the promise of a massive crossover event centered on X-Man. But the first ten issues of Uncanny appears to have been nothing more than a primer for something weird and wonderful. We had to go through that rough patch to get here, and if the ideas put forth in Age of X-Man Alpha are any indication, we might have the start of another classic X-Men saga on our hands. Yes, it's still too early to tell and this thing could go horribly wrong, but can't a man hope?
The writing is solid; Zac Thompson and Lonnie Nadler provide a lot of information about this new world without making it read like a book report. It's tricky business, and sometimes they butt right up to the precipice of being over-reliant on exposition, but they are able to tamper it down enough to keep readers engaged. To be fair, this may not be the same for everyone, but I was hooked on this issue in a big way the entire time.
But as good as the writing is, the art might be more impressive. Ramon Rosanas and colorist Triona Farrell subvert expectations of what I often expect to see on an aesthetic level when I open an X-Men comic. The character designs are stripped down, often deliberately lacking detail, but are rendered in vibrant colors. The background are frantic, but often dulled through a filter of sorts to give the entire issue an ethereal feel, which I know sounds like it contradicts the whole bright colors thing, but you'll see what I mean.
Age of X-Man Alpha #1 doesn't completely scrub the bad taste those first ten issues of Uncanny X-Men left in my mouth, but it definitely offered me a breath mint. With this and the Uncanny annual recently released, it seems like Marvel is finally getting its ducks in a row when it comes to our favorite mutants.