Take a trip to a pair of strange new realities in this week’s Marvel Rundown! First, the culmination of the weekly first Uncanny X-Men arc has seen Nate Grey seemingly recreate reality. Age of X-Man – Alpha #1 gives readers a look at Nate’s new world, but is it an enticing tease or a slog through another event lead-in? Then, we continue the celebration of Marvel’s 80th birthday with a look at the Journey Into Unknown Worlds one-shot. Does the anthology title deliver on its sci-fi premise? Answers to those questions and more in this week’s Marvel Rundown!
Age of X-Man Alpha #1
Written by Zac Thompson and Lonnie Nadler
Illustrated by Ramon Rosanas
Colored by Tríona Farrell
Lettered by VC’s Clayton Cowles
Cover by Phil Noto
Alexander Jones: Joe, Marvel has produced a really wild one-shot with Age of X-Man Alpha #1. How did you feel about the event ushering in the start of a new era for the X-Men, and showing Nate Grey’s ideal vision of the future?
Joe Grunenwald: I fell behind on Uncanny X-Men after a few issues, so I came into this kickoff issue somewhat blind. I knew it was essentially an alternate timeline, but beyond that, I knew nothing, and I was pleasantly surprised by how intriguing I found a lot of the story. What did you think of it?
Jones: I honestly feel largely the same way about it. Zac Thompson and Lonnie Nadler’s script came off as really optimistic and exciting. They were really excited to show the different facets of Grey’s new reality. The script was very clever and introduced readers to the new concepts in a fast-paced, interesting manner.
Grunenwald: This is a book that’s purpose is to set up six (SIX!) different miniseries spin-offs, and Thompson and Nadler’s script pulls that off almost seamlessly. It drops readers into this world and introduces new concepts without being a frustrating reading experience, and it raises intriguing questions that legitimately make me want to come back for some of those spin-offs. No one was more surprised than I was.
Jones: The most remarkable part of the story was how they established all the characters with relative ease and pulled back and showed you inverted versions of characters. In the core Uncanny X-Men title, the generic nature of Nate Grey has really brought the quality of the title to a halt. I felt he worked much better in this context and found him to be endearing within these pages now that the X-Men are working together with him.
Grunenwald: I don’t know much about Nate other than he’s apparently the architect of this mutant utopia, but I enjoyed seeing him in a team context with the other X-Men. I expected there to be a grand exposition dump at some point about where exactly Nate made his changes to the timeline, and the fact that no such exposition came really delighted me. This is a book you just have to roll with.
Jones: I agree with you. Hearing Grey’s side of the story would have been really dull. Thompson and Nadler did a great job establishing each cast member of the series. Do you have a favorite set of characters? It is also interesting to think of the concept as a ‘what if’ idea. We have seen lots of different X-Men alternate realities but this even feels different House of M for some confounding reason!
Grunenwald: House of M is the first place my mind went, but I agree, this feels different even from that world. We spend the most time with this timeline’s core team of X-Men, but I think the characters I’m most intrigued by are the X-Tremists. Their appearance is so abrupt, and their methods so final, that I really want to know more about what they’re all about and how they do what they do. How about you?
Jones: There are some weirdos in the Marvelous X-Men. I really like the status quo of Jean Grey in the issue. The little we saw of X-23 also caught my interest. I found the foreshadowing for Apocalypse and the X-Tracts to be really intriguing as well.
Grunenwald: I’m a sucker for X-23, so I’m also interested in finding out more about that version of Laura. The only tease/set-up that didn’t land for me was for Nextgen, but that could be because it felt really abrupt. I’m still curious to see what they’re teasing for Glob in that mini, though. Were there any that didn’t work for you?
Jones: The teacher cameos were all a standout moment for the issue. I also wanted to give a shoutout to the art from Ramon Rosanas. Rosanas crafted a rounded and unique look to the issue that made it feel as cerebral as the script itself. His pencils are great and I think he has gotten even better with this fascinating style.
Grunenwald: Absolutely. Rosanas and colorist Tríona Farrell have the huge task of taking a bunch of disparate story threads and holding them all together in a visually cohesive way, and they knock it out of the park. A book like this could’ve had three or four different artists on the different teases, and the fact that those two did the whole issue goes a long way towards making this a satisfying read.
Jones: I completely agree. The issue did a wonderful job ensuring that the full set of interiors retained the same quality and looked excellent from start-to-finish. For an event of this caliber, it is really interesting to see how successful this issue is. There seems to be a lot going against it as the discourse is so negative around Nate Grey’s character and the mass amount of tie-ins.
Grunenwald: I was somewhat staggered to see the ad at the end of the issue listing all six of the four-issue tie-in series. That’s…just…so many tie-ins. But at least it seems like this event will be relatively self-contained to just those series.
Jones: Are we ready to award a final verdict?
Grunenwald: I think so! I’m giving this book a STRONG BROWSE. For what is essentially an extended tease for six other, different series, the creative team does a really solid job making this an entertaining read.
Jones: I would give the issue a BUY for being so ambitious and endearing with the plot and concept. Marvel should be willing to experiment with established characters like this on a more consistent basis.
Final Verdict: Joe says STRONG BROWSE, Alexander says BUY!
Journey Into Unknown Worlds #1
Written by Cullen Bunn and Clay McLeod Chapman
Illustrated by Francesco Manna and Guillermo Sanna
Colored by Lee Loughridge
Lettered by VC’s Travis Lanham
Cover by Mike McKone
Alexander Jones: AJ, Joe, Marvel’s 80th birthday has been cause for celebration so far. The publisher has been celebrating older series by bringing them back for endearing one-shots. Titles like Marvel Comics Presents and Invaders have definitely brought the goods. Does Journey into Unknown Worlds bring the quality or fall short of the high standards established by issues from previous weeks?
AJ Frost: Hey all! Great to chat Marvel with ya again! And also great to talk about this most curious one-shot from The House of Ideas. I thought this was a good book, but also an insubstantial one. Sure, the stories had the creepies permeated through them, but once the issue was over with, there wasn’t much else to it. It really felt like a long-lost two-parter of Are You Afraid of the Dark? or something. Good stuff, but ultimately, not gonna stick around.
Joe Grunenwald: I’m not sure I’d even go so far as to say it was good stuff, to be honest. The two stories in this book are so slight and underdeveloped that I was really disappointed by both of them. And for a book that’s ostensibly a tribute to Marvel’s old sci-fi comics, this felt more like a horror title to me.
Jones: I was hinting at it with my introduction, but this was the lowest point I think Marvel’s birthday one-shots have hit so far. Each of the two stories in the collection felt like generic sci-fi stories with little ambition or direction. Previous writers have definitely had more fun building stories from the ground up, but these both came off as uninspired and emotionally cold. Was there one story either of you would slot above the other?
AJ Frost: The second story around the campfire was certainly the stronger of the two. I suppose those type of stories are a bit more relatable, even though the whole thing was pretty cheesy. I mean, the creative team was definitely playing up the kitsch, but in a way that was a little too on the nose, ya know?
Grunenwald: I actually really liked the tone of the first story, ‘Bones of the Earth.’ Cullen Bunn and Guillermo Sanna created some great tension in the opening pages, with the crew heading into the unknown and making some bizarre discoveries. Unfortunately, I thought the ending of that tale was extremely rushed. I think if the story had had a little more room to breathe that it could’ve been great.
Frost: The first story had some cool moments but was in some ways a slog as well. Once we got to the main part of the story (no spoilers), I thought the plot not only moved faster but was much more intriguing. And then it just ended with a thud.
Jones: The first story was so brief it really failed to strike any semblance of emotion or intrigue. I was disappointed by Bunn’s extremely simplistic script. My biggest issue with the entry was how poorly the comic was paced. Artist Guillermo Sanna also brought a downtrodden, pulpy vibe that made the story seem even more bland to me. The narration and prose were also really dull and listless.
Grunenwald: You’re dull and listless! I fully admit that part of why that first story may have struck a chord with me is that it reminded me of what may have been my favorite movie last year, Annihilation.
Frost: Maybe they were going for that Golden Age-style of prose which was always much more direct and way less subtle? That’s my only defense of that style of storytelling.
Grunenwald: There’s definitely no subtlety in the first story, to be sure. The second story is also lacking in that department, but it makes up for it by at least feeling like a complete story.
Jones: I thought Sanna’s art while not technically bad was colored in a dull manner by Lee Loughridge. It made the issue come across as really dull and traditional even at points where the writing was competent. It seems like out of the three of us, I’m the toughest on these one-shots but I thought this story, in particular, was hard to sit through.
Grunenwald: You’re hard to sit through!
Frost: Good points, Alexander and Joe. (And settle down!) Except for a few choice moments, this was a bit of a drag of an issue.
Grunenwald: After last week’s excellent Crypt of Shadows I expected more from this book, but at the end of the day it didn’t even seem like it knew what it was supposed to be.
Jones: I really admire the idea of telling stories in the same genre with all new characters but these one-shots have all followed a really similar format. There’s a sentiment I heard that comic book writers have a hard time telling short stories and after this installment, I can’t help but circle back to the idea. Writing one of these scripts is a lot different than telling a monthly Batman or Spider-Man story.
Grunenwald: It’s certainly easier to tell a compelling story with pre-established characters. I thought the second story, ‘Chrysalis,’ did a nice job using existing ideas and tropes about boy scouts to make the characters easier to get into than in the first story. Whether leaning on cliches is a good thing or a bad thing is another discussion, though.
Frost: Maybe the stories were just rushed, because I see these working better as some kind of multi-story arcs. Let’s face it, Marvel hasn’t really published a lot of substantial horror in a long time. They’re not known for it and while this issue was a fun diversion, they didn’t allow the concept to breathe. Thus, rushed stories that didn’t have much to them. Which, I guess, is a meta-way of looking at these one-shots in the first place!
Jones: ‘Chrysalis’ was a lot better. The main characters in the story were a lot more interesting than the rest of the cast members from the other story. However, the tale had a mean-spirited and dull resolution that made me less interested in the comic overall.
Grunenwald: ‘Dull’ is right. What should’ve been a satisfying comeuppance for certain characters instead completely missed its mark.
Jones: Francesco Manna’s pencils caught a couple really impressive expressions from the cast. I also enjoyed some of the aliens in the story. I found the colors a little too dull again but this was an improvement over the first story. I also think the colors have a really cohesive aura throughout the issue as well which is enjoyable.
Grunenwald: I found Manna’s art a little easier to follow than Sanna’s work on the first story, which I appreciated. It veered a little too close to the oft-discussed Marvel house style for my taste, though.
Frost: The art throughout was decent for the vibe that the book was going for, but it just didn’t break out of the ordinary. It sometimes crossed into the grotesque, but just not enough in my opinion. I wish Marvel had the license to go a bit farther with the ick factor.
Jones: That’s a good observation and a criticism I fell can be applied to the full issue!
Grunenwald: We’re talking about grotesqueness and horror, but this is supposed to be a sci-fi comic! I’m not saying there can’t be elements of horror in sci-fi (see the previously mentioned Annihilation), but I would’ve expected more sci-fi. In this comic, it felt like the sci-fi was window dressing for the horror.
Jones: I agree with that. I don’t think there’s anything left to do but deliver a verdict here!
Frost: I’m going to give this a SKIP. Just not enough there to justify this book unless you’re super into this kind of sci-fi/horror-ish stuff.
Grunenwald: It’s a SKIP For me as well. Save your money.
Jones: Marvel’s Birthday One-Shots (and Joe) have officially let me down. SKIP.
Grunenwald: You’re a letdown!
Final Verdict: It’s a unanimous SKIP from Alexander, AJ, and Joe!
Next week, the Rundown welcomes a new era for The Man Without Fear in Daredevil #1!