The Age of X Dialogues Part One -- Age of X Alpha #1

What happens when two of your favourite Comics Should be Good bloggers geek out at the prospect of alternate reality X-Men fun? "The Age of X Dialogues" where Kelly Thompson and I will discuss every issue of the "Age of X" storyline that began this week with Age of X Alpha #1.

Chad Nevett: Welcome everyone to the first edition of “The Age of X Dialogues” between myself and Kelly Thompson. They came about when we mentioned to one another on Twitter that we were both excited for the “Age of X” story that kicked off this week and will carry on through April in X-Men Legacy and New Mutants as well as Age of X: Universe, a two-issue mini-series. But, the whole story began this week with Age of X Alpha #1.

Before we get to the actual comic, I was wondering what had you so excited for the story, Kelly? Are you a regular reader of the X-books or is this story bringing you to them for the first time in a while?

Kelly Thompson: Well, you may have heard - since I feel like I repeat this story constantly - that I actually got into comics when I was about 16 after seeing the first episode of X-Men The Animated Series one random Saturday morning. A couple weeks later my brother brought home X-Men #290 from the mall and that was it...I was hooked...even though that’s not a particularly good comic...it was still something I’d never seen before and it blew me away. So yeah, the X-books were my entry point, and really continue even today to be a touchstone for me. As a teenager I loved all the crossovers, both the ones I encountered naturally like "EXecutioner’s Song" and the ones I hunted down like "Xtinction Agenda" and "Fall Of The Mutants," but "Age of Apocalypse" was (and maybe still is?) my favorite crossover of all time. I love alternate reality story lines - it’s such a chance to explore roads not taken. My love of alternate reality extends well beyond the X-Men and comics in general (Buffy The Vampire Slayer - the tv show - has some of my favorite alternate reality stories ever) but I do think that the X-Men started it all with "AoA"...so I always have a kind of kid-like excitement at the idea of getting to explore all that.

Although I have not been reading X-Men comics regularly for years I have over the last six months been slowly toe-dipping back in...first with Legacy and Astonishing, then X-Factor and Uncanny...I even picked up the new Uncanny X-Force...so I guess you could say I’ve officially been drawn back in of late. What about you? Is your interest in this a love of X-Men or alternate reality stories? Or just the curiosity that will probably kill us both?

CN: I’m a big fan of alternate reality stories and, as you point out, the X-titles have a history of delivering some good ones. “Age of Apocalypse” is the big one, one that I still have fond memories of. Oddly, not as much for the actual comics. The thing I spent the most time with was this one-shot behind-the-scenes look at the event that Marvel put out. Lots of designs and maps and back-stories. All of the material that went into creating that other world, that’s what caught my attention the most. The actual stories that happen in the alternate realities seem almost secondary to me sometimes after simply finding out what the status quo is. How have the characters changed? Who’s alive? Who’s dead? That’s what I can’t get enough of. Everything is kind of like what you know, but completely different. Imagination completely without limits! So, yeah, that’s what brings me to “Age of X.” I’ve read the odd X-book in the past few years, but usually for reviewing purposes, to give Matt Fraction a chance to wow me, or because there was a crossover with Dark Avengers. I’m here for the alternate reality stuff.

What struck me about Age of X Alpha is that this is more a prologue than anything else. A quick glimpse into the status quo of this world, showing us a few vignettes of how things are different, but no actual plot yet. All of the promo material said that the first chapter of the story is X-Men Legacy #245, but it’s kind of surprising how little this issue does besides showing how Scott Summers, the Guthries, Wolverine, and Magneto are different with some other characters hinted at/seen, and a general sense of the world provided. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, but it did surprise me a little. Did you have a similar reaction?

KT: Yeah, it did surprise me and I gotta be honest, it didn’t do much for me. I mean, short stories are a very tricky art form as far as I’m concerned and most of these were a little weak. I think if you’d taken out the “alternate reality” aspect of them I wouldn’t have enjoyed them much at all based on the strength of the stories alone. I tried to give them a bit of a pass because what Carey (and company) are taking on is so massive and in reality (hah! pun!) they’re not being given much time to get all this running (and finished) but the stories here left me kind of cold. You’re right that Age of X Alpha is definitely functioning as a prologue...so maybe that’s even more reason to give more leeway, but I don’t think this was a strong way to start. I would have rather seen some of this stuff maybe in a massive book of stories that are all behind the scenes character stuff...it’s not exactly the running start I was hoping for...

One of the first things any writing workshop or writing group will ask you when you walk in with a prologue attached to your novel is “Why do you need it?”...and when you fight them (I’m speaking as someone who has fought and fought hard!) they will press “What does it tell your reader that they cannot learn in a stronger and different way later within the text.” There are definitely reasons for a prologue - and there are great prologues out there - but usually - you don’t need it. I think this is an unfortunate example of not needing it. We learn nothing except some world building. World building that I think could probably be done better and more interestingly by diving right in.

Also, and maybe you don’t agree, but one of the strengths going into AoA all those years ago was that you knew exactly what you were dealing with...Professor Xavier has accidentaly been killed by his son in the past, everything is jacked up (although arguably some of the characters have better lives in certain ways), and one X-man has the memories of the original time and is stuck in the new time. So our heroes goals are very clear - they are basically surviving and doing whatever they were before and now they have the added challenge of trying to fix the timestream and risk all that they do have for some “better” life. So I knew exactly what was at stake and what our goals were. With this...and maybe it’s deliberate...or maybe I missed something?...but I have no idea why or how this happened. And it leaves me feeling...unclear about what the point is. I mean if we were going to just have this world the way we have something like Ultimate X-Men then fine...but it’s limited and will be going back to “status quo” at some point over the course of 9 books...so I don’t like book 1 of those 9 to be over and I really know nothing more than I did going in. Also, Paige/Husk’s boobs etc.,? BLECH.

CN: HAHAHAHA! Yeah, some of the art was definitely mediocre dreck. I enjoyed the issue more than you did, but do agree that not every story was necessary. As I mentioned in my review for CBR, the middle two stories didn’t feel all that different from regular X-Men stories. Sure, in the Cannonball/Husk one, she was more violent, but I could see a writer taking Paige down that path if her family were killed. The Wolverine story could easily have just been a short story in whatever X-Men-related anthology title Marvel is publishing now. Neither story felt essential. The other two, at least, gave us something different. The Basilisk story told us right away how different this world is, because THIS is Scott Summers. He’s not the tough tactician and leader of the X-Men, he’s a guy whose eyelids were cut off so he could be used as a means of capital punishment for mutants by Arcade, a man that’s the governor! That’s how screwy this world is! And the final story set up how important Magneto is and how crucial the idea of Fortress X is to mutants.

But, you’re right, we don’t know why this story is happening. Mike Carey has said that that’s purposeful and will be revealed as the story goes on. That’s one of the mysteries for readers. And I’m fine with that. Since that’s the case, I do wonder if a prologue/anthology setting up the world is the wisest move. If this is meant to be a jarring change, one that makes us wonder what’s going on, why not jump right in and release Alpha as a one-shot partway through? A supplemental book that fills in the gaps seems like a wiser choice than kicking things off with this sort of book.

What do we know about this world? Mutants are, by default, criminals, so they all live in Fortress X, a safe haven built by Magneto that they must constantly defend against the forces of humanity. That’s the status quo of this world. Do we know anything else besides some character relationships?

KT: You know...you make a really good point about the Wolverine and Cannonball/Husk stories, they could easily take place in our “regular reality”. That makes me like them even less actually. Damn. I did like the Basilisk story, though the entry into it was very clunky and forced I thought. But it had the most distance from “our world” and also the most emotional resonance...it was also the most well drawn by far. The Magneto story had a lot of potential but ultimately was not the “OMG” I was looking for.

But it sounds like we’re in agreement regardless of how much we liked or didn’t like this issue that it was a weak starting point for a big alternate reality crossover kickoff. So that’s a bummer.

I still hold that I would prefer to know what the stakes are here and what we’re gunning for, but I agree that if this had jumped right in and just been really exciting from page one and just plunged me into the story I could have been convinced that I didn’t need to know the stakes from go.

Yeah, I don’t think we know much beyond what you summed up. And really, other than the “who’s alive and sitting around the fire” we still know little about actual character relationships - except it looks like Magneto and Mystique are an item which honestly surprised me. I figured Carey would go with the traditional Magneto/Rogue/Gambit thing that’s all the rage since he’s such a big Rogue advocate - but I hope he doesn’t go there if Mystique is part of that triangle...considering...yeah, yuck.

CN: I’m glad he doesn’t seem to be heading there, too, but for the reason that that idea was touched upon in "Age of Apocalypse" to a degree. Ever since I saw that Magneto was going to be the central mutant figure/leader in "Age of X" and Rogue was playing a big part, I couldn’t help but flash back to "Age of Apocalypse" and wonder if Carey isn’t just repeating that. While the circumstances are a little different with mutants on the run from humanity instead of Apocalypse ruling North America, it’s still Magneto leading a band of mutants against the Powers That Be and I’m wondering how different it will be. Are the X-books so locked into that Xavier/Magneto binary that any reality where Xavier isn’t the mutant savior, Magneto must be? I don’t know, the idea just seemed a little boring to me. Actually, the first time I saw the "Age of X" Magneto, I thought it was Cable and that had me excited since he would be a very interesting mutant savior figure, especially in a war-like situation.

The comparison to the "Age of Apocalypse" is impossible to avoid and, obviously, the title ‘Age of X’ is meant to evoke that other story. However, looking at what we know, how different does this story seem to you? There isn’t the clear purpose and it’s much more focused, but it’s still a darker, harsher world where the characters we know are meaner if they were good guys and nicer if they were bad. Magneto leads mutantkind against its enemies... Is there enough of a difference here to set this story apart or does it seem like it will be the weaker, sad ‘remake’ of "Age of Apocalypse?"

KT: Well, I think you’ve kind of hit the nail on the head for me...and I know a lot of people dislike the "AoA" crossover, but as I said, I was (and am) a big fan...and I’m just not sure this is different enough. We of course don’t know yet for sure because it’s just one issue and bunch of images and promo art, but as you said, the placement of Magneto as the leader, the apparent absence of Xavier, Rogue looking to play a big/bigger role than usual, even the way in which Scott has been used, is all very similar to what we saw in "AoA"...and then the title...which quite honestly when I first saw it, I thought it WAS "AoA" and that we were going back to that universe somehow. And there was a part of me - albeit a stupid 17 year-old part of me - that was super excited. I guess the questions are three-fold. 1. Is it that much different than "AoA?" 2. Does it matter if it isn’t that different? and 3. If it does turn out as similar as it seems right now...is that a bad thing?

I ALSO thought that the character that turned out to be Magneto was Cable...I guess the white costume threw us off? And I also thought that was a more interesting idea than seemingly re-hashing the Magneto role of "AoA." I guess creators fixate on Magneto because they like seeing a massively A-list villain go in a different direction and be just as powerful on a slightly different team. But I guess it’s less interesting to me especially because he IS a “good guy” right now in the regular continuity anyway. But here’s the thing that I kind of think is a mistake with the - “goodification” if you will - of Magneto, who I’ll give you is a good and compelling character regardless of what team he plays for. In both "AoA" and "Age of X" I’m not really sure how different he is from “regular continuity Mags”. In "AoA" and "Age of X" he is given a very literal war between humans and mutants - and if you gave that more literal war to Magneto in regular continuity, I think you would get the same character - super powerful charismatic leader stepping up to lead “his people” to victory, or rebellion, or survival, etc.

I mean, we obviously can’t judge from one book, and Carey has said that the why of all this will tie in, but to be honest, I’m going to need that to tie in pretty quickly judging from this first book I think...or it runs the risk of being exactly what you said - the weaker, sad ‘remake’ of "AoA."

I will say that from what I’ve seen (mostly in preview images and not in this issue) I prefer much of the costume design here to "AoA," it all looks pretty good for this reality whereas could Rogue’s "AoA" costume have BEEN any uglier? I posit that it could not have.

CN: Yeah, but "AoA" Logan was pretty badass and I still think the sheer obviousness of the name ‘X-Man’ is brilliant.

What concerns me is that the story doesn’t begin until February 23 when both the first and second parts come out on the same day. That seems like awful scheduling to me. Wouldn’t two weeks until the first part and then two more weeks until the second make more sense? The space between Alpha and X-Men Legacy #245 doesn’t seem like it will help anyone’s enthusiasm for the story. Normally, I don’t care about the business decisions, but that scheduling decision just bugs me. It doesn’t seem like the release of Alpha was thought out in a way to lead into the story proper in a way that will get people excited. Taking that into account and your reaction to Alpha, are you less enthused for "Age of X?" Are you regretting getting locked into the whole story?

KT: Logan’s hand WAS a good touch, although I remember not loving the way it was rendered usually...too cartoony maybe? I can’t remember.

Anyway, yes, I agree. The planning does seem really terrible (I’m having the whole Return of Bruce Wayne flashback here...). I suppose if this first issue had been some amazing jaw-dropping stuff, I might not have minded too much and would have just been excited for the next installment, but since it was a huge let down, it seems like they’re giving me a chance to change my mind or forget that I was originally excited about it. I am definitely less enthused by "Age of X" after the first book. I’m going to stick with it though for a few reasons - most obviously because we’re doing this little project, but also because it’s not THAT many extra books for me (6 over four months I guess since I usually read Legacy anyway) and mostly because I WANT to believe it will be awesome - because I want to be transported back to how much I loved comics when I was younger - how much something like "AoA," full of flaws though it may have been made me love comics SO much.

And it’s still possible that Carey could turn it all around for me...but he’s going to have to hurry!

What about you...regrets?

CN: None. This was a good read for me even with the various problems. The Basilisk and Magneto stories were effective, and I loved the art on the Basilisk one. There are a lot of scheduling and release problems that I would have liked to see fixed like starting things with the story proper and maybe having this come partway through to provide some background, but I can see why they would begin with a book that sets the groundwork a little. I’m in it for the whole thing and hope that the actual story is a good one. While the month-long break before the story begins is annoying, that it does begin with the first two parts will probably get me excited when February 23 comes around.

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