Heroes Never Rust #14 by Sean Ironman
Comics follow no rules. I spoke to a class of undergraduate students at the University of Central Florida this week about this very topic. Because there are no rules in terms of form, there are no rules in story. Comic creators are not confined by stunts and effects that may be too dangerous or too expensive. They are not confined by actors and actresses. They are not confined by the imagination of the reader. Comic creators are only confined by their own imaginations, which as it turns out is endless. Corporate comics have a few restraints in terms of the main universes. Characters must be protected in order for the characters to be viable in the future. Yet, because the comics’ form can do anything the creators want, there are ways around the rules for the main universes, comics on the fringe, comics that take place outside of any continuity in the main storylines.
Earth X was part of a trilogy about the future of the Marvel Universe. It’s the last truly epic Marvel comic. The story was crafted by Alex Ross (Marvels, Kingdom Come) and Jim Krueger (Foot Soldiers, Justice), with covers by Ross, script by Krueger, and pencils by John Paul Leon (The Further Adventures of Cyclops and Phoenix, Challengers of the Unknown). When Stan Lee first started creating the Marvel Universe as we know it now, the heroes and villains changed over time. The characters grew. At some point, probably once a lot of money started pouring in, the company got more careful. Characters began having a status quo. Ross and Krueger imagined a Marvel Universe that kept growing, kept changing. By taking the characters into a possible future, anything can happen, and anything does. The story isn’t confined to have to agree with a character’s solo adventures. Ross and Krueger take ahold of the Marvel Universe and they run with it. The story, which contains hundreds of Marvel characters, is incredibly complex and requires a careful read. Universe X follows Earth X, with the trilogy ending with Paradise X. I’ll just discuss Earth X today.
In the future Marvel Universe everyone has powers. I guess it was just a matter of time with all kinds of experiments and mutations occurring on Earth. While many characters are covered throughout the course of fourteen issues, Machine Man could be considered the main character. Through him, we are introduced to the story. Through him, we attempt to figure out the mystery of why everyone now has powers. Machine Man is brought to Uatu, The Watcher, to find out what’s going on with Earth. Uatu is one of the coolest characters in the Marvel canon. He is part of an alien species of Watchers and assigned to watch Earth and not take part in anything that occurs. A mystery attacker however as we find out in the first issue has blinded Uatu about ten years before the story begins. He needs Machine Man to be the new Watcher. Machine Man is given the task of cataloguing the everything on Earth. Oh, and he gets to do this from Uatu’s base on the moon.
Didn’t I say this was really cool?
Each issue begins with Uatu explaining the backstory of a certain group of Marvel characters—Captain America, the Fantastic Four, Black Panther, the Norse gods. Then Machine Man finds that group on Earth and sees what they are up to. Through each chapter, we get a little closer to solving the mystery of Earth’s population having superpowers and why and how Uatu was blinded. In this story we get street-level characters and battles and by the end huge planet-saving battles against extra-terrestrials. Plus, it has the coolest takedown of a super villain with the battle of Captain America versus the Red Skull.
There are two really awesome aspects to a work like this. First, when you really think about it, these characters can’t exist in the same world. How does Thor, a Norse God, exist alongside the Greek gods? How does the science-based characters sit next to the mystical? Well, I don’t want to ruin the fun, but Ross and Krueger use all of this and help explain how it’s possible. But the best part of their explanation is that it isn’t an explanation. It’s a deepening of Machine Man’s understanding of the world. It relates to the main plot and feels more like we’re uncovering more a mystery rather than getting an exposition dump.
Second, and what really takes this into great epic territory, is Ross and Krueger really go all out on the new versions of the characters. These are the same characters we know and love, just with ten years of history added to them. Not one feels completely out of left field, but they are all in a way. I can see how each character ended up here, even though where they are is so foreign from where they are in the current Marvel Universe (at least the current one of the time). This has the best version of Captain America ever. An old, bald, battle-weary soldier who has the American flag draped like a toga over one of his shoulders. He very quickly becomes the fan favorite of the series. The Red Skull is not the Red Skull we know, but a telepathic kid who wears a red Punisher skull and is hypnotizing new soldiers in his war. He refuses to do so to Captain America because he wants to see him give up. There’s a fat retired Spider-man, along with Wolverine. Cyclops is trying to find his way in a world that has no need for equality between humans and mutants. Dr. Doom is dead, and after the death of Susan Richards, Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four has lost his mind and wanders the halls of Dr. Doom’s castle dressed as his nemesis. Franklin Richards, after the death of the Human Torch at Namor’s hand, forever curses Namor for half his body to constantly be on fire, even underwater.
This is the Marvel Universe cut loose from any rules.
The story gets incredibly large, and even answers questions I didn’t know I needed answered. While there are two volumes that follow, the first one, Earth X, can stand alone. It’s not an event that leads to another event. Every story comes together for a touching finale that shows the hope the Marvel Universe has to offer.
Sean Ironman is an MFA candidate at the University of Central Florida, where he also serves as Managing Editor of The Florida Review and as President of the Graduate Writers’ Association. His art has appeared online at River Teeth. His writing can be read in Breakers: An Anthology of Comics and Redivider.