For comic book fans, Wednesdays are basically our weekly holy days. It’s the day when we take a moment to stop obsessing over the latest casting rumors for the MCU and just enjoy a stack of new comics. After all, superhero movies wouldn’t be the multi-billion dollar draw they are without these comics.
The over-arching narrative of superhero comics is powerful. They embody the best parts of the classic hero’s journey that often finds their way into our most iconic stories. They can inspire, as well as guide people down a particular path. In “Age Of X-Man: Marvelous X-Men #5,” however, someone finds a way to weaponize that narrative.
For the past several months, the X-Men comics have undergone a strange, yet colorful upheaval. Nate Grey, an overpowered mutant capable of warping reality on a level that makes “The Matrix” look lazy, basically lost his mind and decided to go out with a bang. That bang involved taking nearly every major X-Men character with him and putting them in an entirely new reality with an entirely different history.
On the surface, it’s a utopia. Granted, love and intimacy are outlawed, but there are no mutant internment camps so that counts as an upgrade for the X-men. Everyone lives in peace and the X-Men aren’t just celebrated. They’re basically real-life holy figures. There are no more killer robots to fight or extinctions to avoid. They basically won.
However, that’s just the primary narrative of this world. That finally starts to unravel in “Age Of X-Man: Marvelous X-Men #5.”
Since the whole Age of X-Man story began, Nate Grey has basically been the architect of his own world. He’s built the society, crafted its history, and completely changed the life story of every individual. This isn’t just another case of wiping someone’s mind to think they once dated Taylor Swift. This is an entirely new world, but to the X-Men, it’s the only world they’ve always known.
This huge gut-punch to reality isn’t something Nate did out of malice. Writers Zac Thompson and Lonnie Nadler establish from the beginning that Nate’s intentions are good, albeit tragic. There’s never a sense that he created this world for selfish reasons. He genuinely believes that this world is one in which mutants can live in peace and everyone he loves can be happy.
Even his power and the narratives he weaves around them have limits, though. While investigating the murder of Moneta, the X-Men finally uncover unambiguous clues as to just how much Nate has been manipulating things. The signs have been there throughout the Age of X-Man story, but now there’s no avoiding the truth. They know the story he’s trying to tell and the lies he’s using to tell it.
When Nate wrote the history of this world, he did so knowing that it wasn’t enough to make everyone happy. Even in a world without killer robots or convoluted movie rights, people need something to strive for. That means it’s not enough to give the heroes a good story. He has to give the villains a story, as well.
That means that even Apocalypse, Nate’s biggest enemy, has to be part of this narrative. His role is very different from the murder-happy social Darwinist he’s always been, but he still acts as this powerful threat to this utopian world. He makes the X-Men necessary and creates discord that requires more than just fighting.
Even as Thompson and Nadler finally peel back the curtain, Nate’s efforts to maintain this narrative never waiver. In some parts of the issue, Nate acts as the narrator, trying to justify the story of this world. There’s still no mustache-twirling evil in his story, but it’s clear there are a few plot holes that he just can’t plug.
“Age Of X-Man: Marvelous X-Men #5” isn’t entirely built around the X-Men uncovering the truth. There’s no existential crisis or mental breakdown upon learning the truth. Instead, there’s a sense of anger and betrayal. Nate isn’t just some unhinged, overpowered mutant. He’s their friend. He’s family. To them, he was a hero before he tried telling this bigger story.
In many respects, that’s what has made Age of X-Man such an engaging story. “Age Of X-Man: Marvelous X-Men #5” effectively doubles down on the tragic elements of that story. This is very different from the Scarlet Witch going crazy and committing mass genocide. Nate comes off as disturbingly sane as he tries to protect and maintain this world that he’s created.
In any superhero narrative, intentions matter. Villains, by definition, tend to have selfish and destructive motives. By that standard, Nate is not a villain. He is certainly misguided, though. The extend of just how misguided he is finally plays out in “Age Of X-Man: Marvelous X-Men #5.”
For many of the characters involved, especially characters like Jean Grey, Storm, and Nightcrawler, it’s devastating in ways that go beyond having their lives manipulated. Nate Grey is their friend. He’s helped them in the past. Hell, he goes by the code-name, X-Man. He’s supposed to embody the best aspects of who they are.
Now, they have to take him down. After learning about what he did and how much he warped their lives, the X-Men have to be the ones to end Nate’s story. It’s tragic, but fitting. In terms of ending a story, though, that can be a potent combination.