Earth X was a 14-issue miniseries
published by Marvel Comics
. It had a fairly strange numbering system. There were issues #0-12, followed by an issue X. The story was by Jim Krueger and Alex Ross
, with scripting for the comics by Krueger. Alex Ross did the covers, which connected in a 7x2 configuration to make one large picture. John Paul Leon did the pencils, and Bill Reinhold did inks. The interior art is dark, with pools of black giving definition to the shapes. Thin lines are a rare sight. It was unlike anything I’d seen in a Marvel comic, except perhaps for John Romita Jr.
The story centers on a dystopian future in which the entire populace of Earth has been mutated. No specific date is given, but it takes place at least twenty years from "now" in the current Marvel Universe. Uatu has been blinded, so he calls Machine Man (aka X-51) to be Earth’s new Watcher. Uatu gives X-51 a brief summary of Earth’s history and the Celestials’ role in it. This history is basically a rehash of concepts covered in Jack Kirby’s The Eternals, a 1976 miniseries that revealed that the Celestials had come to Earth on four separate occasions, and it was through their tampering that humans began to manifest superpowers in the 20th century. (Think of the Celestials like the monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey, except instead of just intelligence, the Celestials threw in superpowers, too.) After hearing this history, X-51 begins his duties as the Watcher. Because Uatu has been blind for 20 years, X-51 observes not only the present, but also the past in order to explain what is happening on Earth. The story is told in such a way that the readers know little about past events on Earth until they need to. Krueger did an admirable job of keeping the frequent shifts in time frame from becoming confusing, and keeping the readers curious about what was going to happen as well as what had already happened. In my summary, however, I will keep events in chronological order (save one or two) in order to keep things from getting confusing. Also, I will talk about the whole series; so if you don’t want to know how it ends, don’t read that far. All right?
Earth’s troubles began after Uatu was blinded. Reed Richards had decided that he would solve the Earth’s energy crisis. To do this, he created a number of beacons stationed across the globe that energy would be transmitted through. The source of this energy was vibranium, a metal with strange properties. In myths, it was said to cause men to turn into demons. There was an explosion at one of the beacons, and the damage carried over to all the other beacons due to the nature of their connection. Shortly thereafter, Earth’s populace mutated. It seemed the myths were true.
When everybody got superpowers, chaos erupted around the world. Chief among the world’s concerns was a growing food shortage. A meeting of the United Nations was called to address the issue. Dr. Doom and the Sub-Mariner attacked the meeting. Sub-Mariner was angry, because he knew that people wanted to fish the oceans more heavily in order to provide food. Dr. Doom used this to his advantage, and prompted the attack. However, the Fantastic Four and Captain America were there to stop them. Things quickly got out of hand. Sub-Mariner killed Johnny Storm, the Human Torch. This upset Franklin Richards so much that he used his powers to set half of the Sub-Mariner perpetually on fire. The Invisible Woman was so upset over the death of her brother that she pursued a fleeing Dr. Doom in a murderous rage. There was an explosion, and both died. After this, Reed Richards became a recluse, wearing Doom’s armor and residing in Doom’s castle.
"A lot of people think that Stretch snapped after Suzy's death. I like ta think that what he did...what he became...wuz all ta find the cure ta the world's mutations. I wanna believe that Reed figured the only way ta be free ta move around Doom's castle in Latveria without settin' off any of them blamed Doombots or alarms...was ta put on Doom's armor an' move in.
"I don't think he'z feelin' like much of a hero anymore."
The Thing, Earth X #2
The food shortage was brought under control, with Russia providing grain and other crops to most of the world, and Norman Osborn’s Osborn Industries distributing food in America.
This brings us to the present. America is in shambles. In New York, Captain America fights Hydra. This is not the terrorist organization that it used to be. It is a group of people possessed by green, squid-like creatures. They are taking control of more and more people. While fighting Hydra, Cap finds evidence of a re-emergence of the Red Skull. He travels to Los Angeles and discovers that the new Red Skull is a boy who can control people’s minds. The Skull is marching on America, taking control of everybody his army comes into contact with. He passes up Cap, dismissing him as too old. He also sees that it is worse for Cap to be left out than to have his free will.
"I mean...It would be worse for him if I didn't do anything to him, wouldn't it? If every other person in the world did exactly what I told them to...except him."
The Skull, Earth X #4
Cap spends the much of the rest of the series marshalling a global army to try to stop the Skull.
At the same time, the Inhuman Royal Family has returned to Earth after a long space journey so Luna can be married to Black Bolt’s son, the prince of the Inhumans. They enlist the aid of Reed Richards to help find the prince. Richards finds Professor X’s mutant-detecting device, Cerebro, and adjusts it so that it detects Inhumans instead. You see, Inhumans are different from normal mutants, because their powers manifested only after exposure to the Terrigen Mists.
And now, the twists and surprises start to come, so be warned! Read no further if you don’t want to know them.
While using Cerebro, Richards discovers something strange: everyone on Earth is an Inhuman! This means that the Terrigen Mists were responsible for the mutation of humankind, not the explosion at the vibranium beacon. It seems that before leaving Earth, Black Bolt released the Terrigen Mists into the world’s atmosphere. The Mists neutralized air pollution, which was deadly to Inhumans. Because many Inhumans had left their domed city, Black Bolt was only ensuring their safety. Also, by giving everyone superpowers, Bolt made certain that his people would not be persecuted as mutants. Uatu had no knowledge of this, because Black Bolt blinded him before releasing the Mists.
By now, X-51 had discovered why the Celestials had tampered with humans. Early on, Uatu told him that it was how the Celestials reproduce. X-51 assumed that this meant that the ever-mutating populace of Earth would eventually become Celestials. But this assumption was wrong. When the Celestials first came to Earth, they implanted an embryo of sorts in the center of the earth. The populace was mutated so that they would be able to defend the planet (and therefore, the embryo) from extraterrestrial threats. They were antibodies. The Skull’s purpose was to unite the Earth under one will, and keep the planet’s inhabitants from destroying their world.
However, the Celestials were unhappy with the inhabitants of Earth. The creators of the Terrigen Mists (the Kree) hated the Celestials, and those mutated by the Mists were a danger to the Celestials. So the Celestials return to Earth to destroy the natives. Black Bolt sends a cry for help across the universe, using his ultra-powerful voice.
On Earth, Captain America is leading his charge against the Skull. It’s a miserable failure. Once the Skull realizes what is happening, he just takes control of the opposing army. Cap is left out again, having to live with the realization that he delivered most of the world’s forces to the Skull. Cap makes another, successful attempt to destroy the Skull and his army soon after. By using what he had learned about the nature of the Skull's powers in the first assault, he develops a clever strategy. The way Cap beats the Skull is one of the coolest things I'd seen in comics. But I can't spoil everything.
Almost immediately after the Skull is killed, the Celestials appear. Black Bolt’s cry for help reached its intended recipient, who arrives in time to stop the Celestials. Who is this mysterious saviour from the stars? Once again, I can't spoil everything.
Now, all the immediate crises are past, and the world focuses on the future. Reed Richards creates giant torches to neutralize the Terrigen Mists so that he might get rid of the Celestial modifications in people. He wants to do this so there could be true, pure humans, with no Celestial tampering. Captain Marvel reveals that he is returning to the mortal coil. All this sets the stage for the next series in the trilogy, Universe X.
The best part about this series was seeing what had happened to all the heroes you loved. Some of them run countries. Colossus leads Russia, Captain Britain is in charge of Britain (duh), and Black Panther is the King of Africa, with Storm as his Queen. Other heroes have fallen from grace somewhat. Captain America is a broken man, fighting for an ideal that even he believes no longer exists. Spider-Man’s identity was revealed, his wife was killed, and his daughter bonded with the Venom symbiote (she’s a hero, though). As a result, he gave up being a hero. Wolverine sits around watching TV and drinking beer all day, although his healing factor doesn’t allow him to become obese or drunk. There are plenty of others.
Earth X was followed by two more series: Universe X and Paradise X. Both serve to further expand Ross and Kreuger’s vision of the future, and follow up on storylines introduced in Earth X. Earth X is now available in a trade paperback form, so if you thought it sounded good, you can pick it up at a bookstore or comic store. So much more happens in the series than I talked about, so it's not like you'll be wasting your money. In fact, I recommend it.