Thursday, February 12, 2009

Earth X

This magnum opus by Alex Ross (who provided ideas and notes), Jim Krueger (writer) and John Paul Leon (art) is, essentially, Marvel's version of Kingdom Come. The weighty tome of 14 issues (Earth X #1 to #12 plus #0 and #X) describes a possible future of the Marvel universe, where everyone now has superpowers, and - in the usual Marvel manner - explores the ramifications.

Surprisingly, this mini-series often gets overlooked. Kingdom Come is generally celebrated as an insightful, sometimes dark but eventually heroic, depiction of a future DC universe, whereas Earth X doesn't get much of a mention. Which is a pity because Earth X is a fascinating piece of work that somehow manages to knit the history of the Marvel universe together, provide a decent story and cosmic threat whilst containing most of Marvel's characters in one form or another.

Through the eyes and narration of Aaron Stack - also known as Machine Man - we learn about this alternate future and about the older, familiar yet changed characters such as Captain America, Reed Richards and Peter Parker. We also discover how they are under threat from Hydra, a collection of squid-like parasites that control their human hosts and the Skull, a boy who can mind-control anyone he meets. Eventually, Captain America and the others defeat the Skull and drive back Hydra but learn of a greater threat from both above and below them. Machine Man warns them that the Celestials genetically altered humans eons ago so that they would develop superpowers in order to protect the planet - which happens to contain a Celestial egg that will soon 'hatch'. The Celestials arrive and, in desperation, the heroes call on a new Galactus to help save them.

To be honest, there's way too much to describe here - see the Wikipedia entry for more details or, better yet, read the TPB. And its size and scope are perhaps part of the problem with Earth X. Kingdom Come managed to tell its story in 4 (larger) issues whereas this story is 3 times as big. So there's more going on and more threads weaving within the fabric of the narrative. Also, Jim Krueger tends to tell the reader what's going on rather than showing them. There's a lot of exposition, and hence a lot of words, to describe what's happened, how characters have developed and how they fit into the plot.

It also doesn't help that the art on Earth X isn't by Ross, although Ross does provide some character designs and sketches that appear along with the text pieces at the end of each issue. Leon's art looks dark and murky and, at first, I didn't like it. Now though it's grown on me and I actually think he does a very good job. The art matches the mood and is consistent throughout the book - unlike the following Universe X series. But Leon is no Alex Ross and the art does not have Ross' wonderful painted realism.

The mention of Universe X also raises another potential problem. Earth X is mostly a stand-alone story but a few threads are left dangling. These could have been tied up, or removed, in this volume. Instead, Krueger, Ross and a host of artists carried on telling tales in this alternate reality with Universe X and Paradise X. One wonders whether they should have stopped at the end of Earth X.

Still, this is an engaging story line with decent art and an interesting alternative future for the Marvel universe. And the book itself has a gratifying weight to it. Even in soft back, it's a nice volume, with a painted cover by Ross and quality, glossy pages throughout. It's a pity Marvel hasn't tried to echo some of this universe into the Earth-666 timeline. Recommended to those who love grand, comprehensible tales covering the whole of the Marvel universe.

Grade: Very Fine.

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