O, America! There you go again sneaking another holiday in! Did it involve turkeys? You and your turkeys, America! Well, there’s no holiday from me going on about something I read. Much as both of us might wish otherwise. Was it a turkey though? Eh? Eh? Some clever word play there. Force your own face under the break to find out!
Anyway, this… EARTH X Story, character designs, epilogue & covers by Alex Ross Pencils by John Paul Leon Inks by Bill Rheinhold Story & Script by Jim Kreuger Coloured by Matt Hollingsworth, Melissa Edwards & James Sinclair Lettered by Todd Klein Marvel, $29.99 (2010) Collects Earth X issues 0, 1-12 & X
Featuring characters created by a veritable multitude of minds in tandem with a host of hands the naming of all of whom it shames me to say I am not up to. However, the bulk of the stuff herein must surely have come from some of these: Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Gil Kane, Carl Burgos, Don Heck, Gene Colan, Joe Simon, Neal Adams, Dave Cockrum, Herb Trimpe, Bill Everett, Wallace Wood, Dick Ayers, Marie Severin, John Romita Snr, John Romita Jnr, Jim Starlin, Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, Len Wein, Chris Claremont, Gerry Conway, Arnold Drake, Steve Gerber and one more time…Jack Kirby
I picked this up from the remaindered book store despite it looking like someone had beaten four generations of spiders to death with it. It was a bit shop worn is what I’m getting at there. (1) I’d not read Earth X before this and I didn’t really know anything about it. From the Alex Ross covers I’d lumped it in with Marvels and Kingdom Come; books that hit readers younger than me harder than they hit me. Because to be honest both those admittedly well-crafted series just sort of glanced off my burly shanks; that’s nice, I thought and thought no further. But at £8.99 I was willing to have a pop at this unknown quantity. My pecuniary impetuosity was spurred mostly because of the presence of John Paul Leon’s art because, c’mon, John Paul Leon is a pretty great comic book artist. (2) The words and such in Earth X are by Jim Kreuger and his name didn’t tempt me much. (3) So when I opened the book I thought I’d just end up flipping through it and making cheeky monkey faces at Leon’s sweet art (4) but when I shut the book I had actually read it all and had a surprisingly good time.
I know! Considering the whole thing is mired in Marvel continuity up to its nuts and has its origin in some sketches (artistic not comedic) Alex Ross came up with for Wizard or something Earth X turned out to be a decent enough read indeed. Basically then Earth X seems to be set on an Earth (Earth X, I guess?) where all the Marvel characters exist but in the time since their inception they have aged and things have happened to them that have actually not been undone five minutes later. (5) This means a lot of characters are dead when the book opens and a lot of characters aren’t who their name would lead you to believe. (6) This is fun stuff and arrests the attention early on but the real advantage of the set-up is that this is a story where there are actual consequences. If there’s a threat of such magnitude that the world might end then, in this book at least, there is actually a possibility that the worst might happen. (7) The book also attempts to tie all of Marvel’s continuity up in a neat bow (8) and it does a credible job too. Of course I’m not all that invested in the minutiae of the Marvel Universe so it’s possible some of the fudging and bodging necessary to make the book work might curl some readers’ hair. Those readers are duly warned although let’s be honest I probably lost those particular readers at the first footnote where I gently intimated Marvel’s treatment of Jack Kirby’s legacy was somewhat less than ideal. I’ll find the strength to soldier on though.
Given the scope (wide) and the scale (big) of the story it would be quite understandable if characterisation received short shrift, particularly as two of the major story strands initially seem to revolve around how You Can’t Trust The Smart Folk and how Captain America Can’t Make The Hard Decisions. (9) However, Kreuger & Co. slowly layer their portrayals and while not everyone (there’s a lot of them so fair enough) is nuanced those who are nuanced are revealed as being surprisingly so. By the close of play things have become quite emotional indeed.(10) The writing and the art play the whole thing on the dour side but, crucially, Earth X is never as dour as I feared and it is always more entertaining than I hoped. This is largely because the creative team remember that you can have the biggest stakes in the world but it matters not one jot unless the reader cares. (11) They also remember that there is always humour in life even when things are looking pretty grim (especially then? Yes, especially then) so there is also some humour; I liked the Vision joke and that whole domesticated Ben Grimm dressing like an elderly Jack Kirby shtick but there’s a sparse smattering of other comedic offerings; offerings which seem to rise naturally out of the situations presented and temper the dourness somewhat.
Be in no doubt though that given the reverential treatment of all things Marvel for some folk Earth X will be the interminable continuity wank I feared. Luckily for all our souls John Paul Leon’s presence swung it for me. Assisted here by Bill Rheinhold's sturdy inks he’s got this high contrast thing going on. A lot of detail is bleached out but all the detail you need is there. This approach is super rough on the colourists but Hollingsworth, Sinclair & Edwards do a mighty fine job. John Paul Leon’s got the magic happening in pretty much every aspect of his art on the pages of Earth X. His staging’s great and a lot of the impact comes from this and his thin vertical panels which suddenly burst on a page turn into double spread splendour. Because be in no doubt that there are images in here that need to have some impact; if some of this stuff doesn’t work the book won’t work and I think John Paul Leon makes it work. But he also makes the small stuff sing. This is a book which starts with a man in a room and ends with another man in another room but in-between there are swarms of humanity and creatures so gargantuan humanity is less than a swarm and John Paul Leon sells all that tricky shit like Ricky Roma on a roll. Only a truly talented artist could make comics with so many vertical panels work so well, and only a few of that select bunch could successfully lend humanity to a robot exoskeleton. John Paul Leon’s chunky lines and slabs of black give everything the necessary gravitas but he builds in sufficient space for the crucial emotions to sit. (12)
While John Paul Leon’s mostly to blame for my enjoyment of this book there’s no way everyone else’s contributions can be discounted. I wasn’t expecting much when I cracked the covers so maybe that made me value what I found all the more. But I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. Almost as surprised at how influential Earth X has proven to be. (13) I can’t deny Earth X was VERY GOOD! What a revoltin’ development!
(1) Initially I was going to pick up a Rick Remender X-Force book and make a joke about Rick Remaindered but I think he’s suffered enough recently, so I’m glad I didn’t make that joke. There was also a whole bunch of Brian Bendis books but, I’m sorry, even at remaindered prices…not with your money even. Truthfully I was tempted by his tiny wee digest Oral History of the Avengers but I read a bit and I don’t know what happened but when I came to I was crying in a library surrounded by burning televisions. Yes, the selection of trade paperbacks on offer was just Marvel books by the way. Which is probably due to some distribution deals or other rather than any intrinsic lack within Marvel’s trade program per se. Heaven forefend anyone should think I’m being petty just because Marvel refuse to acknowledge the contribution of Jack Kirby to their multi-billion dollar revenue streams. I don’t need a reason to be petty.
(2) John Paul Leon’s work on Winter Men is pretty much reason enough for someone to put that beauty back into print (and Brett Lewis’ writing on it is none too shabby neither).
(3) The only place I recall his name from is his and Alex Ross & Doug Braithwaite’s Justice (DC Comics, 2005-2007) and if I can tell you one thing about that comic seven years on then I’d be guessing. The JLA all turned into robot toys or something? I should dig that out for a re-read. Right after I sort my life out.
(4) Ook! Ook!
(5) The quicker studies will have gathered I’m not one for recounting plots; I’d rather let you know if I liked something and why that was or wasn’t. I will also throw in some heroically terrible jokes and probably lose my mind for several sentences over something or other like a goddamn crazy man. That’s why this shit’s free.
(6) Thankfully they even keep the High Evolutionary and the fact that he created an exact duplicate of earth, but without bologna or something. Every time that High Evolutionary guy shows up I want to know where he got his funding. He must pitch like nobody’s business.
(7) This is slightly undermined by the fact that I now know that Earth X was followed up by Universe X (2000 - 2001) and Paradise X (2002 – 2003). N.B. There is no truth to the rumour of plans to pave over Paradise X and call it Parking Lot X. A little early Christmas present for Brian Hibbs there; more of a Joni Mitchell man than a Cher man, I’m guessing.
(8) People are always pulling this “Everything’s Connected!” shtick and it always irritates me how we are supposed to be impressed. Of course everything’s connected if you write something where everything’s connected. Nuh!
(9) It is possible these were still original approaches back then but after a decade of writers continually going at them like a dog with a bag of chips it’s hard to tell. I think Jonathan Hickman is the one currently sucking the marrow out of these conceptual bones but we won’t know for another fifty years when he finally finishes his story.
(10) Although since I am the kind of man who blubs at the “That’s no salesman…that’s your Daddy!” scene in Armageddon YMMV. (Yes, Michael Bay’s made some shit but it is in the nature of shit that sometimes it sticks).
(11) Or if “caring” is a bit Dad then feel free to use “gives a shit”.
(12) Or: I like John Paul Leon’s work and I think the book succeeds as well as it does largely because of him. Why can’t I just say that? Write about the art, my arse. Do I come out there and tell you how to read? Well, do I?
(13) Truly, it’s like everybody at one of these Marvel Writer’s Retreats (Let’s whiteboard this one! We’re ordering burgers IN, how valued thou art! I’ve arrived, I’m a cog!) has a post-it note studded copy of Earth-X under the table or something. To say Earth-X has been influential is to put it mildly. Anyway, here are all the similarities I could remember. There may be more!
ITEM! Uatu the Watcher is blind. In 2014 he would lose his eyes and be killed which is about as blind as blind can be. In Earth-X he’s still alive mind, just blind. In both Earth X and the normal Marvel U something a bit more unpleasant than Pink Eye happens to his eyes anyway.
ITEM! The Terrigen Mists are changing everybody into special magic people. This is basically the same as that Inhuman series no one cares about. Even Matt Fraction, a man who cares so hard about everything veins pop out of his head like pulsing blue worms, doesn’t care about this series. If he cared he wouldn’t have left! Like my Dad! (N.B. this is a joke, my Dad didn’t go anywhere.)
ITEM! Black Panther has made Storm the queen of Wakanda. I think this happened a couple of years back. I’m not sure, I was busy and couldn’t make it but I sent a telegram and told them to let me know Wakanda present they’d like but they never got back to me. Brian Azzarello gets paid for puns like that and people still take him seriously.
ITEM! Johnny Storm is dead. I know he came back but he was dead for a bit back there in the Marvel U, or maybe he wasn’t; I haven’t read Fantastic Four since Wieringo & Waid’s (Very Good!) run, looking at the FF sales figures I’m not the only one.
ITEM! Norman Osborne has a position of political influence. In Earth X he’s President and in those post Secret Invasive comics he was whatever he was (Secretary of the Tommy Lee Jones Fan Club). I don’t really know about Sensual Invadement because there is actually a level of drivel I won’t sink below; yes, I’m as surprised as you are. In Earth X it’s believable that he’d be President because no one actually cares about being President on Earth X, they are all busy with their new powers and stuff. In the normal Marvel U it is not believable in the slightest but, hey, whatever, as The Kids are wont to emote.
ITEM! Beast’s appearance has changed. But then when has Beast’s appearance not changed. There are even comics where Beast’s appearance changes from panel to panel. But those comics are drawn by Greg Land, so there you go.
ITEM! Cyclops’ dad is alive. He’s that space guy who dresses like a pirate who is very comfortable in his sexuality, right? Nice sash, buddy! I’m sure he was dead in normal continuity but now he’s alive in some X-Men comics? I expect the explanation given for this sudden turn of events will be profoundly satisfactory.
ITEM! Professor X is dead. He died during Avengers vs. X-Men when things got out of hand at a rest stop in Phoenix. I don’t know; I have neither the money nor the patience for such Events. That’s what Wikipedia’s for. Do I look like Wikipedia? No, sir or madam, I do not.
ITEM! Thor is a lady. In the current comics this is shortly to occur due to the natural progression of a story Jason Aaron was compelled to write with a forcefulness non writers will never know, and they will always secretly hate themselves for the not knowing. Really. Ah-huh. In Earth X this is the result of Loki tricking Thor which is quite funny. Unfortunately in Earth X Lady Thor has a costume with these raised studs running down each side of the torso giving her the appearance of having being bestowed with many brass teats with which she can suckle her strange barnyard animal kids or something. It’s not a good look, honey.
ITEM! Cyclops leads a team of X-Men on Earth X. I understand that he now does this in normal continuity while also pursuing Revolution as effectively as anyone can while being written by someone who thinks it is a ride at Alton towers.
ITEM! In Earth X Captain America isn’t black but he is bald which is different but they do both begin with “b”. There’s a lot of prejudice against the bald even today. In many ways the bald are the invisible victims of our culture. Which is heart-breaking but they’ll just have to wait until we cut all that hateful racist, sexist, homophobic shit out first. (I see you, Internet. I see you!) Anyway, they should make Wyatt Wingfoot Captain America. Yeah, that’s right. Don’t you walk away from me, America. You heard; Wyatt Wingfoot. There’s nothing wrong with your ears, America!
Oh, I'm just mucking you about but I'm deadly serious about my love of - COMICS!!!