X-COMMUNICATED: "Age of X: Alpha"

SPOILER WARNING: This article discusses major plot points in "Age of X: Alpha," in stores now

For the mutants of the Marvel Universe there's no time like the present -- especially if they're unlucky enough to be denizens of the reality established in the recently launched "Age of X" crossover. In the world of "Age of X," the present is a hellish nightmare for mutantkind. At some point in the world's history a violent anti-mutant coalition seized control of the US government and their collective power and influence prevented the X-Men from forming, leading to a government sponsored campaign of mutant genocide. Now, the word's last surviving mutants have assembled together in a massive fortress for one last shot at survival.

In our recently completed feature, THE AGE OF X COMMUNIQUES, writer Mike Carey gave fans a glimpse at the massive world he's building in "Age of X." Today, we continue our coverage of the crossover by kicking off a new feature, X-COMMUNICATED, where Carey joins us for commentary and inside info on each issue of the "Age of X" crossover.

We begin things by looking at last week's "Age of X: Alpha" one-shot, which kicked off the crossover and serves as a prologue to the story. In the issue, Carey and artists Mirco Pierfederici, Gabriel Hernandez Walta, Carlo Barberi, Paco Diaz, and Paul Davidson gave readers the decidedly different origins of several of the reality's major mutant players and the fortress they currently call home, Fortress X.

CBR News: Mike, we know that there are a number of mysterious elements in "Age of X," not the least is the question of what exactly happened to allow the anti-mutant coalition to take control and how that changed history. In this page, Magneto brings up another puzzling element when he addresses a character with the enigmatic name of X. Is X there in the panel with him?

Mike Carey: Nope. The other character in the panel with Magneto is Legacy, AKA Rogue. X is some place else, and at this point X is kind of a voice in the machine. We'll see various characters speaking to X. They're usually asking X to pass on messages or to assess a situation. There's sort of an obvious explanation as to what this voice is and how it functions, but given the title "Age of X" it's apparent there's probably a little bit more to it than what we're seeing.

So that yellow speech bubble in the panel is X talking?

Yes. And one of the great things about comics is that you can do that without revealing anything at all about the voice -- gender, age, whatever.

On this page we get our first glimpse of a number of the mutants living in Fortress X as they spend an evening telling tales around a camp fire. The issue flashes back and forth between these stories and the present day. What made you decide to structure this issue this way?

What we have here is soldiers telling campfire tales. It seemed to me to be a pretty cool thing to show that moment. In this world of unremitting struggle, you see the core characters getting a second of rest and relaxation. They use it to explore their own pasts and identities; their stories of what brought them to this place. They're telling the stories of their own lives -- which as Dazzler says to Kavita Rao, can help to remind you who you are.

We (we being Daniel Ketchum, the editor on Age of X, and I) had the idea of doing this issue as a series of flashbacks from early on in the process. We were a little worried at one stage that we might lose a certain amount of immediacy and dramatic tension if we started off in this way, because you can already see that all these characters have reached Fortress X alive. But I think it works really well in spite of that. There's kind of an emotional power in following them on a journey that has the same end point for all of them.

Here you've got an iconic shot of a Scott Summers AKA Basilisk, a dangerous man in a mask who's secured to an upright stretcher. Did you intend for this shot to have a "Silence of the Lambs" style feel?

I never made that link. There's nothing in the art direction that says, "Let's make him look like Hannibal Lecter," but when you've got a guy who's completely immobilized in that way, the echos are definitely there. I think I said in the art direction let's make him look like a cannon in a gun limber. They've turned him into a weapon that they can aim and fire.

The man aiming and firing that cannon is Arcade who is the warden of Alcatraz in the "Age of X" reality. Did you cast him in this role because of his history with the X-Men in the main Marvel Universe?

Yeah, exactly that. He gets very little panel time, really, but I needed somebody who we would immediately hate. We get why Scott Summers wants to kill him and get revenge on him. He's the right kind of whimsical psychopath to have done this to Scott. So when his comeuppance arrives, I think we're right there with Scott. I was initially going to call the prison Arcadia after him, but we decided to go with Alcatraz because it was more immediately recognizable.

With a sadistic and murderous psychopath in a position of authority like warden of Alcatraz, I'm guessing the people in power in the "Age of X" reality don't just fear mutants. It seems like they hate them with every ounce of their being.

Yes, and they have absolutely no scruples. The lunatics have taken over the asylum and there are no rules here. It really is that bad.

Here, Scott Summers gets his revenge on Arcade and addresses some of his fellow inmates as he escapes the prison. What Scott tells them seems to suggest that at this point in his history, he's given up all hope of survival and is just looking for a good way to die.

You can certainly read that into the scene. What he says is pretty bleak and hopeless -- but at the same time, he's not throwing in the towel. There's still a sense that he wants to make his death count.

Throughout all the stories in this issue, two things are constantly foreshadowed. There are lots of almost prophetic references about the construction of Fortress X. And there is also a lot about the imminent arrival of Magneto.

Magneto is this character who everybody has heard of. There are all these rumors circulating about him and all these stories, but nobody knows who or where he is, what he's really up to, or what his agenda really is. So Cyclops' words here, even if they sound hopeless, are kind of a foreshadowing of the building of the Fortress.

In this scene you give us an interesting look at how two members of the Guthrie clan, Sam (Cannonball) and his sister Page (Husk), deal with tragedy. Why do you think they handle things in such opposite ways?

They both experience -- I hope -- believable reactions to this appalling tragedy. The difference between them is that Page is purely reacting with her gut. She's letting that immediate pain dictate what she does. Sam though, even at a time like this, is able to stand a little way removed from his emotions. It's not that he's less distraught or suffers less pain than she does. It's just that he can see the big picture even when he's experiencing anguish.

He knows that the price of giving way to anger and vengeance at that point would just be too high. He knows that if they stop to kill these people and trash the convoy, then the Exonims will catch up with them. They might be able to escape, but all these other mutants would get rounded up. They wouldn't have a chance. So a price is going to be paid and it's not necessarily going to be paid by them. Sam is not the sort of person who can live with a deal like that. That's one of the things that makes him the leader that he is.

At the top of this page, you give longtime fans of your X-work a little Easter Egg because Doctor Rao is working alongside a character you created, Doctor Richard Palance who, in the 616 world, becomes the villain known as Pandemic.

He did indeed . [Laughs] There are a number of little nods like that throughout the crossover. We'll discover characters in slightly different guises. It seems like Palance, though, is always going to be drawn to mutants and always going to be without morals and ruthless in his methods.

At the bottom of the page, Wolverine comes crashing into Rao and Palance's laboratory. It looks like he's dressed in his garb from his Team X days.

He is. Again, we just thought it would be fun to put that reference in there.

Is the fact that he's wearing that outfit relevant at all to the mysterious history of this world?

Not directly. If there was a Team X in this world, it would have been a very different team put together under very different circumstances. There have been several short lived mutant factions, but they all tended to fall apart under pressure. So it's quite possible that Team X was one of those -- but not an officially constituted or sanctioned Team X.

In this scene it appears that Doctor Rao gives Wolverine an injection that allows him to live, but it's not entirely clear if she's doing him any favors by saving him.

Correct. He's not actually dead, but what happens here puts him on the sidelines. If there's damage to be handed out in an X-Men story, you usually hand it to Wolverine. It looks bad ass, but he gets better. Here, we remove that immunity and it's very, very cruel. There's a scene with him in "X-Men Legacy" #245, between him and Frenzy, which is really quite painful. That's because his character hasn't changed. He still wants to be in the thick of the action. He still wants to be doing harm to the enemy, but he can't. That scene will illustrate how completely tormented he is by the gap between what he was and what he is now.

I wanted to do something with Wolverine that would come out of left field -- that people wouldn't expect. He's front and center in so many X-Men related events. I thought, just for once, let's put him through some changes. Let's leave him in a place that's a million miles away from where we'd normally find him.

So Wolverine does have a part to play in "Age of X," it's just not a part you'd normally expect him to play.

That's right. We will see him, just not as a fighter or a front line soldier. We won't see him powerfully and directly influence events, but he still has impact in another way.

In this scene, you show another major difference between this reality and the reality of Earth 616 because Mystique addresses Magneto as "beloved."

Yes, in this world there is clearly an intense relationship between the two of them. I'm aware this is a huge departure for Mystique.

I imagine this relationship came about because Destiny, the love of Mystique's life, perished early on.

Yes, and now she's now involved with someone else. Her relationship with Magneto could conceivably be platonic of course, despite that loaded word. We don't explore it in enough detail to define it, and we don't see it in the other chapters of the story because Mystique isn't one of the mutants in Fortress X in our narrative present time.

I hope nobody thinks I'm trying to devalue the Mystique/Destiny relationship, here. I would never want to do that. But Mystique is a survivor: she bounces back from anything, reconstitutes herself, gets back into the game -- and her loyalties, though sometimes twisted, are always passionate.

You revealed in Legacy's AGE OF X COMMUNIQUE profile that she and Magneto may have had a romantic relationship. So her mother, Mystique, calling Magneto "beloved" is very interesting.

That would certainly be one word for it! [Laughs] But we only have Neophyte's word for that one, of course.

The question of Legacy's loyalties and attachments are definitely going to be explored in the story.

Also on this page, Magneto gives a speech to some soldiers that seems to suggest he's quite comfortable in the role of the mutant Moses.

That's a nice way to put it. In the seeming absence of Charles Xavier, it makes sense for Magneto to have taken up that role. It's not just Professor X that's missing, of course. There's no Apocalypse, no Mister Sinister, no Exodus. So there are a number of powerful mutant figures -- in terms of authority and charisma in the X-Men universe -- who are seemingly not present in this story. Magneto is really the only character who operates on that level. He's got all that weight resting on his shoulders, and he accepts it and even welcomes it.

There is that old cliche, "Comes the hour, comes the man." And Magneto is the man. He's the right person at this juncture for this crisis. We will see, though, in the later chapters of "Age of X" what kind of toll that takes on him.

Here, you give Magneto his "Moses parting the Red Sea" moment as he uses his mutant powers to abscond with many of Manhattan's skyscrapers. And it sounds like he used these buildings to construct Fortress X.

Yes. This is the climax we've been building to. It's the origin not of a person, but of a place.

Magneto didn't take all the buildings in Manhattan: just the ones with the most steel in their frameworks. As you've seen in some of the art work that's been released, Fortress X is more than just some buildings that have been plunked down and wielded together. There's a lot of extraneous metal that's also been added to the structure, which holds it together.

Using some of New York's more familiar landmarks as building material for a mutant fortress is an interesting concept. Where did that idea come from?

We wanted something that would be a really strong visual and would tell you right up front that this is a completely different reality and a completely different ball game. I'm not sure at what point I had the idea of making it be composed of familiar New York buildings. It seemed to make a lot of sense, and I think Clay [Mann] and Steve's [Kurth] design of the Fortress looks stupendous.

What we see here is just part of the history of Fortress X, correct? I seem to recall you saying that the construction of the Fortress would also play a large role in writer Simon Spurrier's "Age of X: Universe" miniseries.

Yes, very much so. Because it's not just the buildings. There's another very important aspect of the story which we don't cover in the Alpha issue and Simon covers in "Age of X Universe." In that series, you'll see another crucial step in the establishing of the Fortress.

CAREY'S FINAL THOUGHTS ON "AGE OF X: ALPHA"I got to work with a lot of great artists on this issue, which was basically like an overture in a symphony. I don't want to get too pretentious, but we wanted to hit the emotional beats, the character beats, and give a sense of what this world was like for some of the major players before we threw everything into the melting pot with Episode One. Because in Episode One we really just hit the ground running. We're three years into the battle. So I thought before we wade into the thick of things, let's take this time beforehand.

CAREY LOOKS AHEAD TO "X-MEN: LEGACY" #245, PART ONE OF "AGE OF X"Each issue has a chapter title -- in my head, at least -- and the chapter title of "Legacy" #245 is "Went the Day Well." It's kind of a day in the life of Fortress X, but not a day like any other. It's an important anniversary. And at one point, when Legacy starts to reflect on the events of the day, she tells us that this is the day where everything changed. The beginning of, well, among other things, the beginning of the end.

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