When a mutant reaches maturity in the Marvel Universe, their super abilities manifest in fantastic and sometimes frightening ways. Because of this, they often have to deal with discrimination and outright hatred from a human population that fears them. To help alleviate some of this anxiety and prove mankind and mutantkind can co-exist, Professor Charles Xavier assembled the X-Men - a team of super powered mutants tasked with protecting a world that fears and hates them. But what if the world never gave Xavier the chance to form his group? Writer Mike Carey answers those questions and more in "Age of X," a seven-part story line that begins in January with "Age of X Alpha" #1 featuring art work by Paul Davidson, Gabriel Hernandez Walta, Harvey Tolibao, Mirco Pierfederici and Carlo Barberi. It then continues as a crossover which runs through "X-Men: Legacy" 245-247 featuring art by Clay Mann and "New Mutants" 22-24 by artist Steve Kurth. CBR News spoke with Carey about his plans for the alternate reality based storyline.
Like the protagonists at the heart of its story, "Age of X" is a concept that has mutated and evolved over time. "This is a story that just grew and grew, as my editor Daniel Ketchum and I batted it back and forth and as Daniel discussed it with the other X-book editors," Carey told CBR News. "Initially, I just wanted a story that would put all of the different generations of the X-Men into the field, ideally against each other. I was trying to think of a set-up where you could have these different teams in their pure and classic forms squaring off against each other. Daniel and I got to talking about mechanisms that could allow for that to happen and we hit on an idea that we both thought was really, really exciting. The more we developed it, the less it was about the generations and the more it was about this world; this situation and what it would mean for the X-Men and how the X-Men would react to it.
"At a certain point, Nick Lowe pointed out that it might be cool to have a larger canvas to tell the story on," Carey continued. "With Zeb Wells leaving 'New Mutants,' there was a possible gap before the new creative team could take over. So we ended up having six issues - three issues of 'X-Men: Legacy' and three issues of 'New Mutants' - plus an 'Alpha' issue, and now we have an 'Age of X: Universe' spin-off. So the story keeps on snowballing. And believe me, it's a big enough story that it needs that room to play out."
In "Age of X Alpha", readers will get some background info about the world, discovering it's very much like main Earth of the Marvel Universe, Earth 616. At some point, though, history seems to have taken the world of "Age of X" down a different path.
"What happened at those divergent points is in some ways a mystery to be solved as you work through the story. There are a lot of aspects to the story that are different from what they initially appear to be. What I can definitely say is that this is a world where there have never been any X-Men. There have never been any mutant super teams," Carey said. "The X-Men's enemies were much more organized and were in the position to take the initiative and unleash a radical anti-mutant agenda before there ever were any organizations for mutants. Now we have a situation where all sorts of anti-mutant coalitions more or less rule the world. Then at the eleventh hour, somebody has united the surviving mutants. There aren't very many of them and they're fighting a desperate rear guard action for their very survival. So in some ways it's a mirror of the events in the 616 universe post 'House of M' in that once again, we have a small number of mutants fighting to stay alive, but here they're in very different circumstances."
One of the more shocking aspects of the world in "Age of X" is the fact that the anti-mutant coalitions didn't have to take over the world by force. Instead, society simply let them have control. "There are a few very high profile events, which created strong anti-mutant sentiment. For example, in this world the Phoenix manifests on Earth and destroys a whole city. So initially, the anti-mutant coalition gets a lot of public sympathy. It's not clear how far people have now moved away from that position, whether the public goes along with what's being done in their name today. A number of appalling things have been done in pursuit of an agenda of 'peace and security'. You'd have to imagine there would have been a backlash against some of these measures, but now the U.S. and many other countries are effectively no longer democracies."
The dystopian political landscape will allow Carey to invest "Age of X" with a healthy amount of political subtext. "Just like 'Civil War,' it asks the question of how many things will you trade for security, and whether or not that's a bargain that every pays off," Carey remarked. "Like all X-Men stories, it's also about the tension between groups and within groups. It's about finding your identity in a very traumatic and challenging situation."
"Age of X: Alpha" also details how the last remaining mutants come together to form an army in order to protect themselves from the ruling anti-mutant powers. "In the 'Alpha' issue, you get these chaotic, desperate individual responses to a situation that's rapidly escalating out of control," Carey said. "By the time we meet the characters in 'Age of X' proper, there's an enormous solidarity that's developed. It's because they're under siege. Every day is a battle for life and death. Nobody questions things or steps out of line, which has its upside. They all love each other and trust each other and they've totally identified with the cause. Of course, there's a downside. If anybody steps out of line or comes up with a different way of approaching a situation, there's kind of a zero tolerance for dissent. That's a problem that Rogue has to face during the first and second issues."
Rogue is just one member of a large core cast of characters that includes new versions of classic mutants like Magneto, Cyclops and Gambit as well as alternate reality takes on newer X-characters, as seen in a series of teaser ads. "The characters who were revealed in the teasers are all very important to the story. The core cast develops and grows. In Act One, Rogue is very much our way into the story. We see things from her point of view and the decisions she makes are crucial in setting the narrative into motion," Carey explained. "Once it does start moving, though, other people get swept up into it; some because they're directly connected to her, and some for other reasons. So in Act Two, we change our point of view character and have a larger core cast. Act Three is an exponential increase in scale. Everyone is involved and there's probably a dozen characters at the center of it."
In Carey's story there are few remaining mutants, so characters who were arch-enemies in the 616 world may be the best of friends in "Age of X." "There are some surprising omissions in the story. There are some powerhouse characters that you may expect to be part of this line up who are not present. Sinister is not there. Apocalypse is not there. Some of the most powerful 'evil' mutants in the 616 are notably absent in this story. There is a reason for who is and who isn't there. Absolutely everything makes sense," Carey revealed. "This will also result in some unlikely character pairings. For example, Cyclops – or Basilisk, as he's known in the world of 'Age of X' – is in an intense and slightly messed up relationship with someone who is a villain in 616, or at least has a dramatically different agenda than the X-Men."
In order to survive in the world of "Age of X," many mutants have developed different code names, methods of operations and interpersonal relationships. One thing that hasn't changed about these characters, however, is their basic personalities. "These characters' lives have all been about surviving; staying one step ahead of the opposition. The world will not allow them the latitude to act as heroes or be seen as heroes," Carey explained. "Having said that, these characters have the same personalities as their 616 counterparts. There's a sense that the personalities of these characters will shine through regardless of what the world throws at them. That's part of what we're doing in this story. It's one of the most enjoyable aspects of it; seeing how the people we know define themselves against these very, very different crises."
February's "X-Men: Legacy" #245 is the second chapter of "Age of X," picking up some time after the "Alpha" issue. The set up of the issue is almost like something out of a zombie movie, with a horde of faceless enemies surrounding the mutants' last remaining stronghold, Fortress X, trapping them inside. As a result, tensions are understandably high.
"It's hard to see these soldiers that they're up against as human because there's absolutely no human interaction," Carey said. "You get this scene in the third issue where you discover that Cyclops/Basilisk is collecting the insignia from soldiers who die on the battle field because he feels what's happening here is terrible. There have been an appalling number of casualties which are not being marked or recognized in any way. Each side has ceased to see the other as human. There's a loss of innocence and a loss of humanity as a consequence of that."
Fortress X is the alternate world counterpart to the X-Men's current island home of Utopia, and much of the action in "Age of X" unfolds there. "It's a crucially important locale," Carey said. "Part of the story in the 'Alpha' issue shows how the fortress came to exist. We get to see why it takes the crazy form it does. So the setting is crucial to everything. If you read the story closely, there are things about the setting that are intriguing and not explained. Those are the most important things. The things that we don't explain are at the heart of the mystery surrounding this world."
As Carey stated earlier, the plot of "Age of X" unfolds in three acts, with the stakes and scale of the story growing dramatically from one to the next. "The story moves very, very fast after the 'Alpha issue.' In some ways, the three act structure is like a snowball rolling downhill; a very rapid escalation takes place from act to act," the writer revealed. "There's a mystery-thriller aspect to the story in that we present a situation that makes sense on its own terms, but there are unexplained holes in terms of who is responsible for some of the thing that we're seeing. This person - or persons - have their own agenda, and the mystery becomes more and more crucial as things go on. So in terms of genres the set up is an alternate history, but the resolution is part mystery thriller, part all-out action."
While Carey will chronicle the main "Age of X" story himself, the overall storyline is a mini-event complete with its own tie-in, the two issue "Age of X: Universe," which will be written and drawn by a currently unrevealed creative team. "The 'Universe' tie-in actually fills in some missing pieces of the story," Carey revealed. "We'll see how Fortress X is created in the 'Alpha' issue, but there is another side to that story that will be shown in this two issue tie-in."
These days, many Marvel fans are hungry for stories that matter to the larger shared universe, but it would be a mistake for readers to dismiss 'Age of X' as a simple "What If?" style story done on a grand scale. Carey's story is full of mysteries, though, and some of the secrets that are going to be revealed will have an impact on the main Marvel 616 Earth. "That is the plan. Alternate world or not, this is ultimately not a self-contained tale," Carey hinted. "It's far from it."
"Age of X" is Carey's biggest Marvel storyline to date, and the writer hopes that fans will have as much fun reading it as he's had writing it. "It's astonishing how this project all came together and grew to its current size," the writer said. "And now that I'm writing the actual issues, I'm having the time of my life."
"Age of X: Alpha" begins in January