The Earth X Trilogy—composed of Earth X, Universe X, and Paradise X—is a project best remembered as interesting, as opposed to coherent or amusing. For the uninitiated, the three miniseries delivered an epic about the dystopian future of the Marvel universe, one filled with twists on classic characters and apocalyptic conditions on Earth all wonderfully illustrated by Jean Paul Leon. Leon does not return for the trilogy's prequel that begins this week with Marvels X #1, however, although the new story is similarly scripted by Jim Krueger based on notes from Alex Ross with artist Well-Bee finishing the team. While this debut is more easily accessed and understood than later stories in the teamline, it still doesn't quite deliver on the interesting nature of its premise.
Marvels X centers on David, a young man growing up in a nondescript town likely in the Midwest when a strange plague sweeps the globe providing humanity with superpowers which lead to the downfall of civilization. This is a pivotal event in the history of the Earth X trilogy, but its sweeping scope is captured from an everyman's perspective causing it to play out in a fashion more akin to The Walking Dead than Avengers. The first issue plays out like a horror comic with a long string of bad turns visited upon the protagonist and a constant tone of dread and tension. Even the mutates are coded as zombies marching towards the one fully human thing they encounter.
It's that genre-coding that makes Marvels X #1 an entertaining read in spite of some notable flaws. Readers follow David on his descent from suburban life into post-apocalypse. The earliest sequences invest heavily in the character of David, including lovely touches such as shared word balloons as he plays with superhero figures. Yet there is always an element of the building horror present, rarely offered in a subtle fashion. Television announcers, David's grandmother, and even a kindly shopkeeper all deliver exposition to the reader with David essentially just sharing the panel. The knowledge of what horrors lie awaiting the quickly orphaned young man makes the slow revelation of how these mutations appear all the more appealing, with carefully hidden figures and close encounters deployed to great effect.
However, even when the issue has built to a chase sequence with as many as a dozen mutants involved, it fails to deliver a big reveal, instead still choosing to dot them in the background or cloak them with inks in close-up panels. These choices make the issue's climax less than effective and provide so little sense of place that the big ending moment literally comes from nowhere in a moment as likely to induce laughter as any shock or awe. It's a disappointing conclusion based on the excellent, tension-inducing build, and one that delivers a groan inducing wink to the reader in place of a cliffhanger.
While the blunt exposition on the plague and its effects are easily forgivable as genre artifacts that add to a very fun read through the horror lens, the similarly blunt revelation of theme is simply shocking. There are moments dotted throughout the comic in which adults tell David exactly who he is and what his story is about, but one page in which his Grandmother essentially explains why superhero stories matter (a clear focus of Marvels X and its shared universe) almost impresses in its brazenness.
Despite possessing the subtlety of a sledgehammer regarding a big idea that reads primarily as bland and self-indulgent, Marvels X delivers an enjoyable dystopian tale set in the world's most familiar superhero universe. It's a very enjoyable zombie comic for the first 80% of the issue and plays with certain icons and superhero visual tropes in a fashion that feels fresh. This is enough to make Marvels X #1 interesting. If it can moderate the inclination to tell instead of show and refine its action sequences, then this series might even rise to the level of polished.
Published by Marvel Comics
On January 8, 2020
Written by Alex Ross and Jim Krueger
Art by Well-Bee
Letters by Cory Petit
Cover by Alex Ross