Mike Carey’s time writing the X-Men from 2006 to 2012 is the second longest consecutive run by any creator in Marvel history (trailing Chris Claremont), and despite a goldmine of concepts and character studies, the run is frequently overlooked in broader discussion of the best X-Men comics. Certainly, Carey’s work is referenced nowhere near as often as Grant Morrison’s time on New X-Men, or even the later run by Brian Michael Bendis.
Today I’ll answer:
- What’s the legacy of Carey’s work on X-Men
- What concepts and ideas influence Hickman’s X-Men and the Dawn of X
- Theories and predictions for Hickman’s X-Men
Spoilers for discussed comics may follow!
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Following well regarded comics runs on Lucifer and Hellblazer (among plenty of other work), Carey took on adjectiveless X-Men in 2006 with issue #188. The title takes place post House of M, post Scarlet Witch’s declaration of “No More Mutants,” during the Decimation era.
Carey’s entire run on X-Men and the X-Men: Legacy title it would evolve into is very much integrated into the X-Men continuity of the time, progressing from “Decimation” to “Messiah CompleX” to “Dark Reign” to Necrosha to Second Coming to Age of X to “Regenesis.” Considering only one of those event is Mike Carey’s own event, it’s an impressive feat collaborating and rolling with broader storylines and shifts in status quo for mutantkind.
Carey’s work is also very much a “fan favorite” and according to current X-Men mastermind Jonathan Hickman in interview with AIPT “criminally underrated.”
The underrated nature of the run can probably be attributed to operating in the shadows of larger X-Men franchises (for example, Carey’s “X-Men” launched alongside Ed Brubaker taking over “Uncanny X-Men” after his work on Captain America: The Winter Soldier), and the absence of a central, go-to story highlight that stands out individually (the “Age of X” event was likely the greatest opportunity here, and although it’s fascinating for our purposes, I wouldn’t call it a great, highly recommended read for all X-Fans).
In many ways, the run’s greatest strengths – complex integration of long-running and developing X-Men continuity, deep slow builds of the characters Professor X, Rogue, Gambit, and occasionally Magneto – are what keep it a mild secret for casual comics readers.
Nonetheless aside from Claremont’s 16 years with the X-verse from 1975 to 1991, and arguably the Scott Lobdell and Chris Bachalo era of Generation X, no X-Men comics have a greater influence on the 2019 and 2020 Dawn of X. Regular artistic contributions from Chris Bachalo, Clay Mann, Scot Eaton, and Steve Kurth should be highlighted as well.
Era 1: X-Men and the Children
The clearest influence, and the one I’ve already discussed the most, is right there in Carey’s first story arc with artist Chris Bachalo, with the introduction of the Children of the Vault in the “Supernovas” story.
The Children of the Vault are a post-human species that spent an estimated centuries in accelerated, sealed time developing beyond advanced technologies that more or less manifest as superpowers. As I’ve identified in Krakin’ Krakoa previously, the Children are very much in line with the human threats of Moira’s 6th life, “human adaptation along technological lines.” In X-Men #5, Professor X goes so far as to say “the Children of the Vault represent the single greatest existential threat to mutantdom… and we know nothing about them. Not really.”
The Children consider themselves Earth’s superior inheritors, and plan to wipe the planet clean so their enhanced kind can ascend. As written by Carey, the Children are consistently more powerful than mutantkind, and it’s generally through some sort of Deus Ex Machina and unexpected turn of events (in “Supernovas” it’s the X-Men more or less encouraging Mystique and Lady Mastermind to trick and kill a number of the Children) that the X-Men survive.
With the Children emerging as early as Hickman and Leinil Francis Yu’s X-Men #1, they remain the most direct connection from Mike Carey’s X-Men to the Krakoa era. It’s a story well worth reading, and not at all difficult to see why Hickman drew inspiration from it.
It’s the influences beyond what’s already been heavily utilized that strike me the most in 2020 though, such as Carey’s clear interest in Exodus, Bennett Du Paris, as this tremendously powerful mutant follower of Magneto now branching out on his own path of mutant dominance.
In X-Men, Exodus and his new acolytes also have a genuinely intriguing plan, seeking to combine Cable’s knowledge of the future and the Destiny Diaries in order to predict when mutants will begin repopulating the planet. Not for nothing, the story’s revelation that mutantkind is a truly “Endangered Species” (also the title of a series of backups Carey writes about Beast trying to solve for Decimation!), Exodus turns to Mister Sinister and his master plan for the species’ survival.
Exodus spans both the early X-Men days and the Professor X focus of X-Men Legacy, and the Omega Level telekinetic is now a part of Jonathan Hickman’s Quiet Council of Krakoa (as well as his go to campfire storyteller for the kids!).
Apart from his 90’s origins (and that wild Black Knight one-shot that connects Exodus, Black Knight, Sersi of the Eternals and the everlovin’ Apocalypse), Carey’s work is without question what I think of first when I think of Exodus, and a clear fountain that Hickman is drawing from in his own evolution of the character.
There’s also the selective reemergence of Destiny’s Diaries, a loaded concept from Chris Claremont’s early 2000’s return to X-Treme X-Men, and a reflection of the supporting, but obviously relevant role Destiny will play in the run. In the Carey run, Destiny’s Diaries are hunted as the key to unlocking the survival of mutantkind.
The Destiny Diaries are a superfun artifact in X-Men lore, the recorded futures written by Irene Adler as her powers manifested for the first time. As Claremont writes in X-Treme X-Men #1, “Much of the entries in her diaries was written in languages unknown to her, in code and in pictograms…” If that doesn’t set the stage for a Krakoan revival, I don’t know what does!
Adjectiveless ends with both a build and tie-in to Messiah CompleX, marking a break point in Carey’s run from X-Men #188 to #207, as the title would become “X-Men Legacy” after this point in time.
Crucially, the rush to “Messiah CompleX” affords Carey a focus on Mister Sinister and his reassembled Marauders. The exploration of Mister Sinister would continue successfully into “Legacy.” I really don’t think it can be overstated how well Carey bounces off larger linewide events and crossovers without missing a beat, and often using the occasion to add exciting ideas that simply wouldn’t have been possible previously.
ERA 2: Professor X & Sinister Secrets
Following Messiah CompleX – an X-Men crossover about the birth of the first mutant since Decimation – Carey picks up the pieces of Professor X, literally gunned down by Bishop of all people (it was an accident!) and thought dead at the event’s conclusion. X-Men Legacy #208 to #225 is a remarkable character study of Charles Xavier, something I celebrated in my very first episode of Krakin’ Krakoa with the history of Professor X! Here I’ll go into greater detail about some of the best parts of this era.
Big picture, Carey really captures the complexity and contradictions of Professor X, riding into X-Men Legacy in the wake of X-Men: Deadly Genesis and New Avengers: Illuminati, amidst the confrontation of some his greatest failures and ethical compromises.
For those House of X readers missing the kindly 90’s Animated/Patrick Stewart Professor, Legacy captures a more introspective version, trying to make his many wrongs right, but essentially, acknowledging that his methods have been far from the purest. It’s a needed quest for atonement that allows the character attempted heroism without erasing the shadows of his past.
Speaking of shadows and impurities, after his resuscitation by Exodus, the new Acolytes, and kinda Magneto, Professor X uncovers a sinister secret lurking in the back of his consciousness.
The coolest trick Carey pulls here is that Sinister’s presence is part of a decades long plan to make himself immortal (or, ya know, more immortal), all deeply integrated into the fabric of Professor X’s childhood.
Cooler still, Carey revises Professor X’s past so that his father, his step-father Kurt Marko, Sinister masquerading as Dr. Milbury, and – get this – Irene Adler, aka Destiny were all part of a collective of geneticists working in Alamogordo.
Sinister’s ultimate plan is to write his own genes into Charles Xavier as a child – among others including Sebastian Shaw – so that if his person was threatened, he could back himself up in an extraordinarily powerful mutant body. As Sinister puts it “I can write myself – my mind, my physical matrix, even my memories – onto the mind and body of someone else.” Honestly, in a lot of ways, Sinister’s own resurrection protocols kind of dwarf Krakoa’s, although of course Sinister is only securing these methods for himself (not all of mutantkind).
It’s a very in character plot for Mister Sinister, here in a pre-“Everything is Sinister” phase, as we’ve seen him execute similar background operations on the lives of various X-Men, most memorably Scott Summers. Xavier confronts Scott with this unsettling reality, reminding him that Sinister clones and proxies constituted the majority of people Scott grew up with in the orphanage, and raising the possibility that like himself, Scott could be infected with Sinister’s DNA without knowing. This continues to be something to look for as the Hellions series gets rolling.
The entire plot leaves a lot of wiggle room for House of X and Hickman era X-Men theories, and frankly adds plenty of credence to those HoX/PoX readers still wondering if this is actually Professor X plotting Krakoa!
Even if the story is not quite so literal as to feature Sinister actually masquerading as Professor X, there’s a question of Sinister’s influence on the Professor over this entire timeline. Sinister is certainly hinting that the Professor’s actions could never fully be his own, but lies, deceit and manipulation are the name of Sinister’s game. For my money, I think a “The Professor Was Sinister The Whole Time” twist is too obvious for everyone involved, but I’m never ruling out Sinister lying in wait where we least expect him.
I’m not sure of the broader implications, but I also can’t help but call out X-Men Legacy #219 as one of my absolute favorite single issues of the Carey years, focusing on a diner confrontation between Professor X and Juggernaut. If you’ve ever wanted the rival step-brothers dynamic in miniature, this is the issue for you.
ERA 3: Rogue, Gambit, Magneto
Beginning with X-Men Legacy #220, Carey shifts the character study back to a favorite from his start on the run, Rogue. The book is still very much an X-Men title at heart – we spend plenty of time on Utopia with Cyclops, Emma Frost, Dr. Nemesis, and the whole essential crew (such as Nightcrawler gloriously sassing Magneto in the field) – but more often than not it’s through the lens of Rogue, with supporting focus on Gambit and Magneto (two historical romantic pairings for Rogue).
I actually like to think of this period as one where Rogue takes on a role similar to The Doctor in Doctor Who, or even Dream of the Endless in Sandman. The story can run in a million directions, but she’ll always make an appearance and play a role.
Within that framework, Carey consistently makes very interesting choices when plucking characters and elements from X-Men history and weaving them into something new. Again, it’s easy to identify a large swath of choices that connect to the Hickman era.
The first and most obvious is the return of the Children of the Vault. The children’s return via their floating atemporal city of Quitado is not quite as exciting as the team’s debut, although even here, we get more insight into the function and formation of the Children (their rulers, their society, their plans for a new world), and we see them explicitly identifying as “post-human,” which snaps my mind forward to Moira’s 6th life.
I also love the potential of a detail the Children tell Rogue during their inevitable fall at the hands of the X-Men, mentioning their new plans: “We’ll make our own world, here in the void between dimensions.” This has a lot of potential for the Hickman era, either tying to interstellar travel via blackholes, or possibly with the Vault inhabiting the limbo like space where Apocalypse’s first horsemen (and seemingly Old Man Cable) are trapped.
One of my favorite developments elsewhere is a fondness of Carey’s for playing with Precogs, as Blindfold becomes a recurring player, and Destiny is notably utilized during the Necrosha event (i.e. she’s brought back from the dead as part of Selene’s grand schemes). Blindfold, aka Ruth Aldine, has the mutant ability of clairvoyance, although her messages usually arrive jumbled and difficult to piece together.
Given Moira’s fear of precognitive mutants on Krakoa – and her particular enmity towards Destiny – there are many fascinating moments. I was especially struck by a revived Destiny stating ‘I see timelines, past and future,” which rings true in an entirely new light given the revelations of House of X #2. It’s not intentional, but the sequence could now be read as Destiny’s admission of her knowledge of Moira’s abilities.
It’s unfortunately also worth calling out that Blindfold commits suicide in the volume of Uncanny X-Men immediately preceding House of X, and as far as I know, has not been revived (presumably by Moira’s edict, she would not be allowed to resurrect).
The same arc includes some additional nuggets through the return of Proteus, and Destiny’s admission that his presence and powersets clouds her reads of the future.
While this is obviously just meant in regards to the particular Necrosha story Mike Carey and company were telling, it also really fuels my ongoing theory that Proteus is a targeted part of Moira’s life 10 plan.
Proteus is engineered by Moira as a means of giving birth to a mutant with reality warping abilities. This plays a role in making the dream of The 5 and mutant resurrection on Krakoa possible. That *could* be enough on its own, but what if Proteus’ abilities also offered Moira a way to escape the predictive powers of Destiny? This offers some textual evidence that Proteus can uniquely impact Destiny, which is perhaps not at random.
Speaking of major House of X / Powers of X connections, Carey’s role throughout the entire Second Coming crossover event brings in Nimrods, Cypher traveling to the future to take on Master Molds, and evolving Omega Sentinels in the event’s wake.
While Second Coming is all a part of the larger crossover, Carey uses the aftermath to explore the impact on Karima Shapandar, the Omega Sentinel, and a character House of X fans will recognize from project Orchis. The fallout means that Karima’s “Nimrod CPU” was attacked by a virus Cypher created to stop time-traveling Nimrods, and that Karima more or less devolves into the out of control Omega Sentinel.
On a final note from this time, there’s also a continuation of the Gambit / Death / Apocalypse development that occurred in “Blood of Apocalypse,” the issues of X-Men immediately preceding Carey’s own run, when Gambit became Apocalypse’s horsemen of death.
I truly do not remember if this ever saw resolution, but given Gambit and Apocalypse’s reluctant alliance in the pages of Dawn of X’s Excalibur, it certainly makes that relationship more interesting.
ERA 4: Age of X & Legion
I’m generally a sucker for “Age Of” and alternate realities in the Marvel Universe, but Carey’s Age of X crossover never quite won me over. The sudden alternate reality – spread across some event issues, Legacy, and New Mutants issues also written by Carey – features a world without X-Men, just mutants hunkered down in a fortress defending wave after wave of humanity’s hate. There are some memorable alt-reality interpretations of known characters – Carey and Gabriel Hernandez Walta’s origin for ‘Basilisk,’ the psychologically decimated soldier version of Scott Summers is a stand out – but I’d actually argue the aftermath of the Age (in which character’s retain their memories of the alternate universe and have to decide whether or not to keep them) is the best part.
Age of X is also the point where Carey very earnestly leans in to the various connotations of “Legacy” in the book’s title. There’s the legacy that Professor X has left behind for mutantkind, as he reevaluates his decisions with the X-Men, but there’s also Rogues’ ability to absorb dissipating mutant memories into a walking database of mutantkind’s history. Amazingly, she develops in ways not entirely dissimilar from the use of Cerebra backing up all mutants in House of X. In the Age of X she is quite literally codenamed “Legacy,” although Cannonball and others refer to her as “Reaper” due to her position absorbing powers when a soldier has fallen on the battlefield.
Likewise, Legion is a genetic part of Professor X’s legacy, and ultimately it’s revealed that the Age of X is all a creation of one of Legion’s powerful personas. This would all be well and good in the grand scheme of Legion (after all, he also basically starts the Age of Apocalypse through his actions), but the specifics of Legion’s accidental alternate reality are so fascinating in the wake of House of X.
In the Age of X, Legion operates as one of the 5 force warriors, with his mother Moira MacTaggert awaiting him in the fortress. As the cracks in the false reality begin to show, it’s revealed that Moira is really the one behind this reality, just wanting to create a space where Legion can be free from the sorts of medical experiments and “fixes” that the likes of Dr. Nemesis have in store for him on Utopia.
Now, as the story is told, “Moira” in the Age of X is just the persona chosen for the rogue Legion personality that sets off the warped reality. There’s no “real” Moira in this story, and as far as everyone reading X-Men comics in 2011 was concerned, she was very much dead.
Nonetheless, I find it impossible not to consider the possibility: What if that was Moira? Or what if that foreshadows actions Moira might consider taking? A separate reality that she can control in order to ensure mutant victory? Why not? It’s something she hasn’t tried.
Again, Moira’s hiding plans. She refuses the existence of precognitive mutants on Krakoa because she doesn’t want them to know here plans. Something like a warped reality, bent by Legion to her whims is not out of the question. That said, I will admit here that I’ve been thinking more about Moira’s secrets, and as fun as they are to theorize, it’s also very, very plausible that she and the leading mutant triumvirate simply don’t want their people to know Moira’s story. The details that Moira has lived through 9 lives of this, and lost every time, could be absolutely devastating to morale. We’re in on the secret to create dramatic irony, but the likes of Cyclops, Wolverine, Storm… they don’t know (or at least, we don’t know if they know!) How different might everyone behave with the added weight that this is Moira’s last ditch effort to find a victory for mutants?
I wasn’t planning on going into his 80’s origins, but the inclusion of the Chris Claremont and Bill Sienkiewicz New Mutants #27 as a backup in X-Men Legacy #250 reminded me that Professor X seems entirely unaware that Legion is his son until that adventure in Legion’s fractured psyche.
If this holds true, this is actually quite important, because it means that Moira somehow nudged Charles directly into the relationship with Gabrielle Haller that led to the birth of the powerful mutant Legion. Remember, Moira finds genetic matches for herself and Charles to reproduce a reality altering mutant. Until reading this I had generally imagined that both of them were in on this plot, but the Professor’s complete surprise at fatherhood makes me wonder.
Following the Age of X, Professor X and Dr. Nemesis create new tech for Legion to control his various personalities and abilities, which reveals the need to capture several escaped personalities. I don’t have any broader connections here other than to say these are some very good Legion and X-Men comics!
ERA 5: Shi’ar Space & Regenesis
The Carey era of X-Men concludes with a trip to Shi’ar space, and Rogue, Gambit and Magneto’s decisions following the great Wolverine vs Cyclops Schism of 2011.
It’s almost a throwaway detail in one of my least favorite arcs in the run, but it is worth calling out that Rogue and company travel via wormhole from Shi’ar space back to terran proximity.
This of course calls to mind the likely reemergence of Moira’s 9th life stalwarts, Omega, Rasputin and Xorn. Again, the means of travel have been used, it’s really just down to specifics and timings on when they’ll pop back into the Krakoa era of X-Men.
Carey would return to the world of X-Men in 2014 with the original graphic novel X-Men: No More Humans, and it’s characteristically full of really cool seed ideas (what if humans disappeared over night?), and beyond smooth adaptation to the shared universe throughlines (Dude’s out here even weaving in Battle of the Atom like it’s nothing!).
Even here, in this generally overlooked and tepidly reviewed graphic novel, there are outstanding ideas. I’m particularly obsessed now with the idea of alternate reality mutants from “hopeless” Earths – would Krakoa be open to these alternate realities? How might they play a role in the stories to come?
Whether or not the Children of the Vault remain the most direct connection between Hickman’s X-Men and the Mike Carey run remains to be seen, but even if so, there are so many concepts and good stories in the second longest X-run ever that it’s well worth exploring for any X-Men comic book fan.
Next Time – What would you like to see covered? I have the following topics queued up for coverage:
- Omega Level Mutants explored
- The Indie Titles of Jonathan Hickman
- Zeb Wells’ run on New Mutants
- The insane X-Men / Cthulhu theory I can’t shake
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