Fast-forward to 1999 and Marvel decides to expand Alex Ross's concept art into a full limited mini-series. And while Ross's involvement seemed to be more along the lines of the original concept and the cover art, the title was certainly intriguing enough for me to want to read it.
I was honestly worried that Earth X would feel like a sad Kingdom Come knockoff since it was another far future story of heroes no longer being their best. And this is probably why it took so long before I actually got around to reading the books. But it seems me fears were all for naught and I really should have given the creative more credit.
Synopsis: Earth X is a 12-issue comic book mini-series written by Jim Kreuger with art by John Paul Leon. The story was still inspired by Alex Ross' original concepts for a dystopian Marvel future.
The story begins with a now-blind Uatu the Watcher enlisting the Machine Man, whom he only refers to as X-51, to become the new Watcher - or at least his eyes so that he may witness events indirectly. Thus it is through their perspective that we explore this new Marvel future where everyone has abilities because of an experiment gone wrong. Thus it's hard to be a hero when everyone is super-powered to some extent.
So we have weird new futures for folks such as Tony Stark being the last human contained in a sealed environment from where he controls robot versions of his old Avengers allies to continue to keep the peace. Peter Parker has retired from being Spider-Man however his daughter has now bonded with the Venom symbiote to become a new spider hero. Captain America has long since retired from the Avengers because of a past crime but he still tries to fight in his own way. Reed Richards now lives in Latveria dressed as Doctor Doom as he tries to atone for his involvement in the mutation of humanity. And there are other stories that are explored as things come to a head.
What I Liked: While the story takes a while to build up, the end result is something pretty special indeed. I kind of expected some sort of Kingdom Come style confrontation at the end but instead we got something much more that felt more distinctly Marvel. And I really appreciate how Kreuger worked with Ross's original idea and came up with a story that touched on so many aspects that are somewhat essential to what makes Marvel Comics distinct from its competitors and celebrated those traits in a grand fashion.
We start with small encounters of a more street level nature but in the end things go to a pretty much cosmic scale, thus touching on the same scale of storytelling we've seen across the history of Marvel stories. And call me an old school geek for feeling a little nostalgic about things but I really enjoyed the direction they took with the main arc. It was pretty glorious at the end of things.
What Could Have Been Better: Of course not everything was great. Some of the concepts were great as one-off items but didn't get expanded into anything significant in the comic book series. A story that stands out in this manner is that of the Daredevil and even Peter Parker's arc felt a little thing. The core story was naturally tied to X-51 on the moon and pretty much our former Avengers figures as they tried to deal with things.
The concept behind the new Skull villain was another piece that was great as back story for concept art but didn't quite expand into something really relevant. For one reason or another it didn't quite feel like it made sense in that sense that if he were that powerful, why hadn't he taken over the world already? Why was it taking so long given that sheer proximity was enough to draw people in? Questions like that just gnaw at me.
TL;DR: Earth X is much more than some sort of a copy of DC's Kingdom Come. Yes it's also a dystopian vision of the future for our heroes, but it's also a somewhat indirect celebration of Marvel comics as a whole and for that I am glad to have read this story. And thus the series gets a good 4.5 secrets beneath the Earth's surface out of a possible 5.