Mike Carey, the ongoing author of X-Men: Legacy, presented an idea to the editorial staff of a story arc that was set in a present day alternate universe. As Zeb Wells' run on the new New Mutants series had concluded, Carey was given the chance to turn his story arc into a cross-over.
The story itself was originally pitched as a story to bring together the various generations of X-Men from over the years. It is often compared to the largely popular Age of Apocalypse in that the current day reality has been warped due to an event in mainstream continuity. In the Age of X, the X-Men do not exist as mutants were never educated in Xavier's School For The Gifted to fight to protect a world that hates and fears them. Without a group of mutants fighting for acceptance, characters have therefore developed differently. Yet events that have happened strike a parallel to that of normal continuity, such as the destruction of Albany, New York at the hands of Phoenix instead of the galaxy that was destroyed in the Dark Phoenix Saga. Also, instead of uniting all the world's mutants on the island of Utopia, they have barricaded themselves inside Fortress X.
It was decided that the Age of X would be a cross-over between X-Men: Legacy and the New Mutants for a three-month period. The story runs in a linear fashion, but slowly drops hints that point to what happened in the past. The promotional material features familiar characters with unfamiliar codenames and drastically different looks. A great example of which is Cyclops who is known as Basilisk (a mythological creature who killed it's prey with it's stare) and wears a faceplate covering the upper half of his face instead of his trademark mono-lens visor.
Unexpectedly, the first signs of the Age of X appeared at the end of X-Men: Legacy #244 yet the story didn't officially commence until January 2011 with a one-shot issue called Age of X: Alpha. This was followed up in February, March and April 2011 with two chapters each month. Each Chapter being an issue of X-Men: Legacy and New Mutants.
In addition, there was a two-part mini series called the Age of X: Universe covering what happened to the other super heroes from the Marvel Universe, particularly the Avengers, Spider-Man & Doctor Strange.
A full breakdown of the reading Checklist can be found here.
As with many comic book universes, the characters in the Age of X use their own form of slang. Here are a few of the unusual words that are exclusive to this storyline.
A Worm or Comms Worm is a method of communication that the mutants use when out on the battlefield. It allows mutants to feed critical information back to their Commander in an observation room. Upon request, the being known as X will patch the Worm between individuals. It was originally unclear whether this is technological or psychic in origin. However, upon the revelation of X's true identity as it was connected to her powers of reality manipulation.
There are two types of force Wall; technological and psionic. The humans can construct technological Force Walls as an energy barrier between walls, which can entrap mutants with physical based powers. Mutants with psionic telekinetic abilities such as the Force Warriors can create a more organic form of Force Walls that prevents entrance to Fortress X and slows down human attacks.
The first Force Wall was inspired by the Invisible Woman's self-sacrifice, as her invisible force field temporarily halted the Hulk's murderous rampage. Telekinetic mutants who witnessed her sacrifice were inspired and repeated the technique just in time to contain a nuclear blast
In mainstream continuity, a mutant is a 'Mutie' while a non-powered human could be referred to as 'Flatscan'. In this reality the mutants use the word 'Preak' (or 'Preaks' in the plural form) as an insulting derogatory term for the human forces instead of 'Flascan'. It is a colloquial abbreviated version of "precursor", meaning that the humans were what came before the mutants.
During mainstream continuity, Blindfold had confided in Rogue that she'd had visions of an entity. A mysterious force wanted to change everything, and once it started it would not stop until everything had been destroyed. However, she couldn't identify whatever it was as it kept hiding around the peripheral of her visions. Rogue thought she'd solved the problem after she'd fought a squid-like spider-monster that had escaped from Emplate's dimension. However, Blindfold was left reeling in horror as only she could see the looming shadow of Fortress X crashing into reality. The Age of X quickly took over.
History was different, with greater anti-mutant sentiments than that of mainstream continuity. The Human Coalition had been building anti-mutant support over the years. Various States had installed Department of Corrections. The major cities weren't effected at first, but the smaller towns and more dispersed populations were targeted early on. Exonims were sent to collect mutants and deliver them to the Gulags. Innocent people such as the Guthrie family were killed, but no-one was prosecuted as it was public knowledge that two mutants had been born into the family. Regular citizens went on "Marches For Purity". On one such occasion, the Marchers turned into an angry mob who savagely beat Dr Henry McCoy to death. Yet the protesters weren't prosecuted.
The political climate was finally set in stone when the mutant known as the Phoenix raged out of control and destroyed the American town of Albany. Laws were passed, outlawing the X-Gene. It made it easier for the Sapien League to win the election, which in turn created a precedent across the world. Laws were passed in most countries against mutants. Therefore mutants like Chamber, Psylocke & Pixie were exiled on a small British island, and all emigrated to Canada which was still neutral. From there they dispersed around North America.
Sentinels & Incarceration
After that, the Exonims were given more freedom to kill on sight. Parents who had produced mutant children were expected to hand themselves over for sterilization. They were arrested if they didn't. A well as the Exonims, Sentinels were sanctioned and dispatched. They killed many mutants without discrimination, including the children of Magneto; Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch who were specifically targeted and killed during Operation: Red Hot. Families who harbored known mutants were arrested as traitors to humankind. No-one escaped from the law, including the Fantastic Four who were taken into custody. The Invisible Woman handed her family over to the authorities after an accident involving her son Franklin and the illegal Scottish immigrant mutant, Wolfsbane.
Mutants did fight back, and other mutants betrayed their own kind. Copycat infiltrated Cannonball's strike-unit X-Force, providing the Exonims with inside information of the upcoming attacks. However, mutants had grown just as severe with their own kind as with humans, and Copycat was killed when her cover was blown.
Meanwhile, mutants who had been captured alive by the Exonims were taken to Alcatraz and were treated inhumanely. Scott Summers had his eyelids surgically removed. This meant that he couldn't stop the force of his optic blast if it weren't for his mechanised face-plate. Therefore he was transformed into the Basilisk; a monster that kills by looking at it's prey. Arcade used Basilisk as his executioner; unwillingly strapped facing a line-up of other mutants, the faceplate would open leaving Basilisk unable to look away as he was forced to kill.
Some mutants volunteered to be test subjects for Dr Bruce Banner. However, as Dr Banner was about to begin his experiment, Banshee panicked and screamed. Her sonic scream disrupted the safety features of the equipment. The resulting gamma radiation obliterated the mutant test subjects who were absorbed by Dr Banner as he transformed into the Hulk.
Spearheading the mutant cause, Magneto encouraged others to fight back. He'd already been responsible for the Brotherhood and Acolytes and had taken an active role in aiding the Mutant Liberation Front. He became a primary target and various minimum-metal technologies were developed. Yet he continued to survive, despite rumours of his demise at Baton Rouge. He used those rumours to give him the element of surprise, so when he made his next public appearance the Exonims were armed with metallic weapons. Although still severely wounded, he saved dozens of mutants and stole the Chrysler Building and several of New York City's skyscrapers, which he then used as raw material to construct Fortress X; a place for all mutantkind to gather. Magneto observes everything from Fortress X, orchestrating his forces against the daily human attacks. The mutants see him as their Commander.
Wolverine was sent in to stop the production of a 'cure' that would eliminate the X-Gene in all mutant. It was being manufactured by Dr Richard Palance and Dr Kavita Rao, the latter of whom wa in fact a mole who leaked information of the cure to Magneto. Trapped inside the laboratory by man made force walls, Wolverine was convinced to ingest the Cure as the only method of destroying it without any means to replicate it at a later date. The Cure severely weakened Wolverine's healing factor, and therefore he began to suffer Adamantium poisoning in his blood stream. although Dr Rao managed to save his life returned with Wolverine to Fortress X, he was left unable to battle for fear that any additional pressure on his heart would kill him.
Avengers, Spider-Man & Doctor Strange
Captain America led a rag-tag group of super-powered beings who weren't mutants. Aside from the Invisible Woman, he struggled to control his group of mercenaries & assassins; Iron Man had been infected with a virus which made him part machine, Redback was a silent assassin who had previously slaughtered Mister Sinister, the Hulk was fuelled for a hatred of mutants whom he blamed for his condition. Under orders from General Castle, they used Weapon-S to hunt down his own kind & locate Fortress X. However, during their infiltration of the Fortress half the team realised how morally wrong their mission was when Mystique was killed protecting the mutant children. Betraying their government, they were forced to turn on the Hulk in order to save the mutants. Iron Man was installed with a programme that turned him into an assassin, forcing Captain America to execute him. Invisible Woman & Captain America died when the non-metllic nuclear bomb strapped to the Hulk's back exploded. However, the Force Warriors had learned how to create Force Walls by watching the Invisible Woman, and managed to save the Fortress. Legacy was left to absorb the memories of the dying Avengers.
Meanwhile, political powers were beginning to turn on non-mutant powered beings. New York City was flooded with Sentinels who were hunting Spider-Man. They eventually tracked him down to his apartment. There he eventually handed himself over to the authorities after a battle long enough to distract them from the fact that MJ was fleeing the country. Heavily pregnant, she was compelled to fly to Paris by her husband who was worried that their unborn child would be the Exonims' next target.
As the years went on, Doctor Strange established himself as a ferocious mutant hunters. He would track mutants through any terrain, and selfishly refused to let any of his accompanying Exonims shoot any of his mutant prey. However, all appearance were in fact deceiving. Doctor Strange was really using his powers to teleport the mutants to the safety of Fortress X.
Life Inside Fortress X
For 1,000 days the mutants who flocked to Fortress X experienced the same routine of violence and tense relaxation. Each day they would fight to defend their home, slaughtering hundreds of armored humans, Exonims, Battle Tanks & Gun Ships. Each night they would return to Wolverine's bar the Rat Run to unwind with drinks & cards. They would return to their own individual living quarters.
The mutants were organised into different fighting units called a Cadre. Each Cadre took orders from a leader, and they all took orders from Cannonball as their over-riding field leader. Watching everything from his Observation Room, Magneto was the Commander of all their forces. He provided commands and information from within the Fortress via telepathic Comms Worms established by the enigmatic X. It was extremely rare for Magneto to join the battle without exceptional circumstances.
While the Cadre teams acted as a strike force, there were others who weren't allowed out on the battle field:
- The Force Warriors wanted to take a more active role in the battle for their lives. However, they were only allowed onto the field after the humans had retreated, in order to re-establish the Force Walls.
- Legacy had earned the unwanted nickname Reaper since her powers were used as a means to absorb the memories of dying mutants. She was never allowed to fight, as it was deemed more important to protect the memories of those who had fallen in battle.
- There was also a strange array of figures in the background. They were an eclectic mixture of beings such as a small flying blue baby, a large grotesque male with snakes for hair, a smartly dressed gentleman in a top hat and a pointy-headed creature with three sets of slanted eyes.
- Doctors Moira MacTaggert & Kavita Rao weren't released on to the battlefield. As humans they wouldn't have been able to offer any additional help in battle. Instead Dr Rao helped to heal the wounded mutants, while Dr MacTaggert acted as a surrogate mother for Legion.
There was one area of Fortress X which was out of bounds to all of the mutants. It was widely believed that the Brig contained mutants whose powers were too wild & uncontrollable that they would be dangerous to themselves & others. The Brig was constantly monitored by X, and permanently guarded by Danger and her many drones. Danger only answered to Magneto, thereby keeping total security and the contents of the Brig a secret from the other mutant residents of Fortress X.
However, the true nature of the Brig was to keep a select few individuals captive for fear that they would reveal the truth about Fortress X. Among the incarcerated were Katherine Pryde, Blindfold (who was still dressed in her Young X-Men uniform), various mechanically-neutralized telepaths such as No-Girl, The Stepford Cuckoos, Emma Frost and the unconscious body of Professor X who was kept in a mechanically-induced coma.
Having lived different lives to the X-Men of mainstream continuity, many of the mutants within Fortress X had started new & different relationships. Legacy was reported to of possibly had a romantic history with Magneto, but they never acted upon their desires. Instead of dating Angel, Psylocke was in a long-term relationship with Iceman. Namor had fallen in love with Storm, whom he gave up the freedom of the oceans to live with. Without any telepaths such as Jean Grey or Emma Frost, Basilisk gravitated into a physical relationship with Frenzy.
As with the drastically different relationships, many mutants had different codenames. Keeping with the continuity of the story, all characters referred to on this page using those new names. Here are the notable changes:
On the 1,000th day since Fortress X had been founded, Tempo was killed in battle. With the human forces pushed back, Legacy is called to absorb Tempo's memories. Adjusting to the new flood of memories, Legacy strolls around the Fortress instead of returning inside. There she observes a mysterious figure lurking around the up-turned vehicles. The figure is swiftly dispatched by a Cadre, and Magneto arrives identifying her as Katherine Pryde. As he returns Pryde to the Brig, Legacy investigates what Pryde had dropped & discovers a digital camera.
While the other mutants relax over games of cards & drinks, Legacy pays Madison Jeffries a visit. He had been studying the light from the stars which never seemed to change. Presented with Pryde's camera, Jeffries reveals that it contains hundreds of blank pictures. In exchange for a kiss, he lets Legacy borrow his powers. Using his ability to communicate with technology, Legacy sneaks into the Brig. As she passes through the corridors she encounters Blindfold who addresses her as "Rogue". Although Legacy sympathises for Blindfold who is clearly distressed, it wasn't Blindfold who she came to see. However, Pryde is reticent and doesn't reveal who it was that freed her & provided her with a camera. Just as they were about to discuss what they knew, Danger's drones appeared. Borrowing Pryde's ability to phase, Legacy flees.
She unexpectedly runs into the cell containing Professor X, and begins to question how she recognises a man she's never met before. Coming into physical contact with the Professor, Legacy absorbs his powers and accidentally unleashes a powerful telepathic wave across the whole of Fortress X. Getting back to her feet, she is forced to flee as X proclaims that Legacy is a traitor.
With the Moonstar Cadre hot on her trail, Legacy was forced to steal powers from Anole & Domino to avoid capture. She found friendly refuge in Wolverine's bar where she explained what had happened to her. Initially disbelieving, claiming that there weren't any mutants who could alter someone's mind (aside from Karma's 'possession' style powers & Vertigo's dizzying psionics), Wolverine gave Legacy aid & later stalled the Moonstar Cadre when they arrived.
Meanwhile, Basilisk confides in Frenzy during a post coital conversation. He has been collecting the dog-tags from soldiers killed in battle. However, he is concerned as he has discovered an identical pair of tags;the first pair had been from a Black male, but the second identical pair was from a Caucasian woman.
Using her connection to the Force Warrior Legion, Moira MacTaggert demands greater action from Magneto. He gratefully rejects the offer of the Force Warriors aid to locate Legacy, bringing himself in to the hunt instead. He interrogates Madison Jeffries, before moving out on to the battlefield.
There the Moonstar Cadre are still finding it difficult to catch Legacy who is using Domino's luck & Anole's camouflage. Sooraya was the only one able to catch Legacy, but she detonates in a sandy explosion as Gambit intervenes. Unsure of his own reasons, he takes Legacy's hand and they flee together. However, Magneto descends from the sky and buries the couple under tonnes of debris. Standing upon the metallic mound he gives a rallying speech about the "Brotherhood of X".
The next day all the mutants were shaken that two of their own had been executed. Moonstar's interest is peaked as X convinces her to send the Moonstar Cadre after Magneto. Journeying down into the foundations of Fortress X, Magneto descends to a point where X can no longer communicate with him. In the subterranean levels, he frees Legacy & Gambit. They quickly & aggressively exchange information. Magneto reveals that there's a chamber ins the centre of the Fortress that he created, which he didn't know about and asks them to investigate. They all part ways, and Magneto returns to the Brig. There he liberates Katherine Pryde (revealing that he was the one who originally freed her) and Professor X. As they try to leave, the Moonstar Cadre appear. Just as Magneto convinces them not to attack the room flies apart & Magneto is telekinetically assaulted. The Force Warriors descend into the room and announce that they are taking command of Fortress X. The Moonstar Cadre hold of the Force Warriors long enough for Professor X to regain consciousness. He telepathically restores one of Legion's memories of when they first embraced as father & son. Although Legion is reticient to listen to the Professor, the others are convinced enough to follow him.
Gambit & Legacy exchange a kiss to impart his thief's skills into her. The move swiftly & silently and climb up to the centre of the Fortress. In the hidden room, they discover the two-dimensional frozen image of Dr Nemesis who looked like he was running towards his computers. Yet Legacy is so shocked when she opens an otherwise ordinary looking wooden box that she drops to the floor. The box contains the whole universe.
Basilisk holds a secret meeting with Wolverine in the Rat Run. The two disclose what little information they know & realise that there are dark & deadly secrets being kept from everyone inside Fortress X.
Who Is X?
X appears to Gambit & Rogue. The mysterious disembodied voice was really Moira MacTaggert. They try to stop Moira, but she has the power of a God and therefore easily defeats them & takes the box.
Outside the rest of the mutants waited for the daily arrival of the humans, but were surprised when no-one appeared. Cannonball fails to keep control over the mutants as Basilisk leads them back inside the Fortress to search for some answers. Inside the Observation Room they meet up with Professor X who is accompanied by Katherine Pryde. There he telepathically shows them the events that molded this strange world:
Back on Utopia, Professor X and Dr Nemesis debated the best way to treat Legion. Nemesis insisted that the culling of the personalities is like popping soap bubbles in the bath tub; that the water is still left in tact. However, the Professor showed Nemesis the psychic destruction in Legion's mind as many of the remaining personalities were left as rotting corpses. While inside Legion's mind, the Professor was attacked by a new personality. The giant monster that constantly reshaped the landscape inside Legion's mind. As an experienced telepath, the Professor over-confidently battled the monster. Yet it telepathically scanned his mind and therefore took on the form of a loved one; Moira MacTaggert. Seeing Moira gave the creature the upper-hand. It defeated Professor X and used it's power to reshape reality around them. Therefore Utopia was transformed into Fortress X, and all it's residents were given new memories of a different life.
With the truth unmasked, Moira appears and appeals to Legion not to listen to the Professor. However the pressure grows too much for him & his cries out in agony. To stop the mutants from over-throwing her, Moira summons the human forces to attack the Fortress. However, this time she creates unlimited numbers with self-reparing technology & stronger weapons. The mutants are forced out on to the battlefield to fight for their lives. Cannonball is seriously injured in battle but Legacy finally joins the fight in time to absorb his powers, thereby protecting him from his attackers. Tired of watching the action from above, Wolverine leaps down into the fray. He & Basilisk fight back-to-back on top of a growing mountain of human bodies.
Inside the Fortress Moira easily brushes aside the attacks of Magneto & Professor X. However, her attempt to destroy the box containing the universe is thwarted by Katherine Pryde. They manage to stall Moira long enough for Legion to decide to take action; he embraces Moira & re-absorbs her into his body. Flying out on to the battlefield with the box, Legion makes the human forces disappear in time to save everyone. Turning to the box, he begins to glow and transforms reality back to normal.
The battlefields outside Fortress X are replaced in a blinding light, and Utopia is restored to normal. The X-Men and Utopia's residents stagger to cope with the mixture of fake implanted memories & their slowly returning real memories. This gives Emma Frost & the Stepford Cuckoos the chance to re-introduce themselves to everyone, offering their telepathic services to help everyone come to terms with what has happened. Finally freed from the the nightmarish experience & from Danger's Brig, Blindfold mourns for the human lives who thought they were alive & died for no reason. She tells Professor X that this is the second time that Legion has been responsible for distorting reality & that there must be some sort of retribution.
Not all of the X-Men were restored to their former physical status. Before 'Moira' had warped reality, Jonothon Starsmore was a blue-skinned man with the markings of Apocalypse when the Clan Akkaba had reconstructed his body. However, Legion's one & only attempt to restore reality had missed Starsmore, leaving him without any physical traces of his chest & lower jaw. Permanently restored with his mutant powers, he has remained as the X-Man known as Chamber. Although regaining more of his arms, Hellion retains the finer control over his telekinetic powers that he had during the Age Of X and the mechanical hands that he controls remotely with his powers.
Revanent whom everyone believed to be Phoenix (the being who was thought to have destroyed Albany) was in fact the psychic presence of Rachel Summers. She had sent her consciousness psychically across the universe when reality on Utopia had been warped. Therefore she was also warped into believing she was someone else. After conversing with Rogue, the X-Men are finally able to locate where she, Havok & Polaris are stranded in space.
Many of the X-Men take up Emma Frost's offer for the telepathic removal of their false memories. Cannonball has them all removed, while Pixie retains select few memories from Nightmare's least sadistic moments. Frenzy was ready to submit to the telepathic surgery, but changes her mind at the last minute. She had lost Cyclops to Emma Frost, but chooses not to remove the memories of her sexual relationship with him. Instead she dwells on those memories of him & when she was treated as a hero. After struggling with the reality that the Tempo Cadre no longer exists, she gives herself a make-over to resemble the woman she'd been in Fortress X, and declares that she wishes to be an X-Man. Although she fails to convince Cyclops that they should still be together, she tells him that she will wait.
Likewise, Gambit approaches Rogue about their relationship. He tells her that she needs to experience more of the world & that he will wait for her no matter how long it takes. Meanwhile, Rogue has decided to honour the promise that Legacy made to hold on to the memories of the dead. She turns to Magneto for his advice. He takes her to the museum Auschwitz & recounts the story of August Hirt, a war criminal he killed in the years following the war. The epilogue to his story is that he is a dangerous & dark man, and that Rogue should go back to Gambit. Instead, that evening she goes to Magneto's room where they embrace & kiss.
Having seen the dire ramifications of their previous drastic treatment of Legion's personalities, Dr Rao & Dr Nemesis come up with a more practical means for Legion to access the thousands of powers stored inside his mind. They present him with a wristband that can access a different personality for 60 seconds at a time. Legion is no longer reduced to the mentality of a young boy. Instead he can converse & think as he did when he was a Force Warrior. With the wristband he retains control over his body, but has temporary access to a different power. However, when testing the new wristband they discover that some of the personalities aren't willing to co-operate. With Rogue's help siphoning through the different personalities in Legion's mind (much in the same way she used to when she couldn't control her own powers), they discover that six of the personalities remained in the physical world.
As such, a new team of X-Men is assembled. Rogue, Gambit, Frenzy, Magneto & Professor X are sent to Europe to locate, disable & aid Legion in re-absorbing the missing personalities before they do any more damage.
A hard-cover collected edition was published in June 2011. The Age Of X contains the prologue issue Age Of X: Alpha, all six Chapters from X-Men: Legacy & New Mutants, and the two Age Of X: Universe issues.
A soft-cover trade paperback edition has yet to be released.