Writers: Jim Krueger, Alex Ross
Artist: Doug Braithwaite
Bill Jemas became heavily involved with Marvel while Universe X was originally in full swing. One of Jemas’ criticisms of the Marvel comics of the time was that there was too much adherence to continuity, too many comics that merely told stories about what happened in other comics. While this was a heavily controversial and largely unpopular statement, I don’t think it held more true for any comic of that era than for Universe X.
The first collection of this sequel series to Earth X was overly concerned with visiting the less significant denizens of the Marvel universe while on a menial treasure hunt. In this second volume, events are very much in motion but seem largely ignored. Much of the action seems to take place off-panel or is simply referred to being significant without being shown in a significant way. There are snippets of Peter Parker and Iceman fighting mutants in New York, but their personal perspectives are hardly explored, nor are these faceless mutant masses given motivation other than “Mephisto told them to fight.” Heavy hitters like Thor, Namor, Hulk and the X-Men are relegated to a cluster of followers trailing on Mar-Vell’s coattails (or cloaktails, so to speak). Even a scene with the Supreme Intelligence from the first volume is squeezed into a flashback here, as if it wasn’t important enough to merit a present tense narrative.
There are simply way too many flashbacks, especially for undeserving characters. An entire four pages are devoting to recapping the history of Adam Warlock, who is nothing more than a bit player. At Wundagore Mountain, there’s a flashback to Franklin Richards’ transformation, a scene that may have had more significance in Earth X but absolutely none here. There is also a detailed examination of the events of Avengers Forever, a series that was in fact still being released when Universe X began. But none of this is overly important to the central plot, especially when armies of the dead have been massing for twelve or so issues only to begin fighting in the last.
Most of the subplots and characters, while somewhat interesting, are largely inconsequential. The quest to keep the torches lit seems absurd given how long they’d have to stay lit in order to restore humanity. The Monster Generation, Xen, Ant Men, Ani-Men, and most of the legions of the dead simply stand silent in the background to fill out a superficial appearance of a greater roster, but lack any real purpose to the story. Even some of the more interesting featured characters, like Cable, the Reject and the 3-D man, are only given setup for what will come in the next sequel, Paradise X. As such, Universe X remains pretty unsatisfying unto itself.
The biggest weakness in Universe X is the antagonist, or rather the explanation and stakes of the antagonist’s plans. Mephisto is the bad guy, and he’s bad because . . . well, he’s the devil. But he has to be stopped because he likes manipulating people. Why he manipulates the characters like Immortus and Gargoyle is unclear, since they’re pretty much inconsequential to the outcome of the series. The readers are told, through flashback, that Mephisto’s plan involves using time travel to somehow create alternate realities that branch out from the linear flow of time and somehow stop time from coming to an end so the foretold “Judgment” never comes – as if this is supposed to make any sense. Oh, and Mephisto himself can’t time travel or else he’d gain a greater perspective of things and might want to stop being evil. It’s really silly.
There are still a few notable good points, if relatively few. The Beasts one-shot story contains a lot of material that, while somewhat tangential, is complete in itself and very entertaining. The dead heroes and the nature of Death’s realm are intriguing and provide sharp visuals for the character designs as well as radiant power effects. The end chapter, while capping off most of the above silliness, does do a good job of putting it to an end, and though many threads are left open for Paradise X, they are indeed interesting threads, especially the last panel of Thor. And while the character dissections and revelations were much too tangential, most were still pretty interesting, especially that of Thanos.
Universe X is a frustratingly interesting mishmash of unconnected ideas. I respect the effort the creators made to further change the face of the future Marvel U and tie together even more characters’ histories with mythological references, but it just doesn’t work due to the glut of information with no cohesive plot. If it were simply a story about Captain Marvel’s return, it might have had merit, but no one wants to read about Adam Warlock saving Eve and Reed Richards planning to abandon the earth and Belasco moping in a tree. Universe X is simply what happens when you try to have too much of a good thing.
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