When you look back at the history of the X-Men, certain writers stand out. These are writers who settled down into the book, who produced definitive works that shaped and transformed the X-Men mythos, and who developed much of the continuity fans love. Top of the list is the legendary Chris Claremont, who – between 1975 and 1991 – penned no less than 186 consecutive issues. But in second place is Mike Carey, who took over the helm of ‘X-Men’ in 2006, and left in 2011, having penned a 73-issue series.
Mike Carey’s run began in ‘X-Men #188’, in which he picked up the ball from Peter Milligan’s controversial run. Carey immediately showed his creativity, assembling an unusual team under Rogue’s leadership, one that included popular villains such as Mystique and Sabretooth. Carey showed great skill with characters, mixing things up in ways that startled the fans (prominent among these being the romance between Mystique and Iceman). From the outset, though, Carey was setting up the long-running arcs of betrayal, and Rogue’s team would splinter and fall around her.
In the aftermath of ‘Messiah CompleX’, editorial decisions mandated that every X-Men book needed to have a unique hook. It wouldn’t be enough to have ‘just another team book’, and so ‘X-Men: Legacy’ was relaunched as of #208. Viewing Xavier as the catalyst for so much of the X-Men’s world, Carey went to great trouble to pen a book that chronicled Xavier’s quest of self-discovery as he recovered from his wounds. This was the point at which Carey’s run really began to attract fan attention, as he showed both tremendous skill at intense characterisation, and a masterful knowledge of X-Men continuity. For a character like Professor Charles Xavier – whose history had included idealist and Onslaught, and whose lies had been revealed in comparatively recent arcs such as ‘Deadly Genesis’ – this was a must-have.
In an interview with Comicsverse, Carey explained how he reconciled all these different portrayals:
“With apologies to Walt Whitman – we all contain multitudes. Our actions in real life aren’t always consistent, so we shouldn’t expect fictional characters to have one fixed, definable, unchanging identity either.
The long answer is about idealism as opposed to sainthood. Cyclops makes the point in Legacy #215 that the X-Men have met a whole lot of idealists who’ve basically used their ideals to justify atrocities. Magneto is the most obvious example, but you can draw up the list yourself. Professor X has done great and noble things in pursuit of his vision, but he’s done questionable things, too. I don’t have any problem in reconciling those two aspects of his character.”
In a strange way, given that Xavier has been so central to the X-Men narrative for so long, there had never been a time when an X-Men run focused so intensely upon him. Still, it surprised no fans when Carey soon returned to his personal favourite…
Carey wrapped up that period in #225, penning a coda to Xavier’s tale and setting up his role in ‘Utopia’. From there, he moved his attention back to his favourite character, Rogue, and began to present a very different version of the Southern Belle. He gave Rogue control over her powers for the first time in her life, and transitioned her from ‘loose cannon’ to ‘mentor’. That, again, made ‘X-Men: Legacy’ a unique book; Rogue’s relationship with the younger students meant that Carey was able to pick up a lot of loose threads and unused characters, particularly from the ‘New X-Men’ book. While Carey’s decision to leave Rogue stripped of her old Carol Danvers powerset was controversial, for many other fans his was the definitive Rogue.
Carey was involved in a number of major events, including ‘Messiah CompleX’, ‘Second Coming’, and ‘X-Necrosha’; he used the latter to launch an entertaining side-story involving the villain Proteus. ‘X-Men: Legacy’ also acted as the initiator of the X-Men event ‘Original Sin’, which revealed the secret backstory between Wolverine and Professor Xavier, and ‘Age of X’, in which Carey played alternate-realities and drew a fascinating parallel to ‘Age of Apocalypse’. He returned to the fold of the X-Men in 2014 to pen the Original Graphic Novel ‘No More Humans‘.
Mike Carey’s run is collected in a range of graphic novels:
- ‘Wolverine: Firebreak’
- ‘X-Men: Divided We Stand’
- ‘X-Men: Manifest Destiny’
- ‘X-Men: Secret Invasion’
- ‘X-Men: No More Humans‘
- ‘Divided He Stands’
- ‘Sins of the Father’
- ‘Original Sin’
- ‘Second Coming’
- ‘Age of X’
- ‘Lost Legions’
- ‘Five Miles South of the Universe’
Carey’s run is perhaps the richest in continuity since Chris Claremont left the X-Men in the early 1990s. The relaunch as ‘X-Men: Legacy’ enabled him to really hone in on aspects of Professor Xavier’s history, drawing on sometimes very obscure references – such as the mystery of Alamagordo, which was crucial to ‘Sins of the Father’. When you count his ‘X-Men: Origins’ issues into the mix, there is pretty much no aspect of X-Men continuity that Carey doesn’t acknowledge.
And yet, his speciality was to draw upon the characters, and often the continuity was worked in so very subtly – for example, the history between Xavier and Amelia Voght, while never explored directly, was hinted at brilliantly. In truth, Carey’s abiding legacy was to take two characters who had pretty much been played out – Xavier and Rogue – and to bring them to a place where they were dynamic and interesting again. It is unfortunate that later writers struggled to pick up on his threads, with Matt Fraction admitting he struggled with Xavier (and only using him in a single post-‘Utopia’ issue), and with Rick Remender undoing much of Rogue’s character development.
Perhaps most notably, though, Carey cast his net wide; no villain was too obscure for him to use them (he brought a starving Emplate to Utopia, he considered Exodus his favourite villain, and he brought Legion into focus). And, while he kept some key X-Men in the scene – including Rogue, Magneto, Xavier, and Gambit – he also worked carefully to give younger mutants such as Surge, Hellion and Indra their moments, however fleeting.
One of the most controversial aspects of Carey’s run was his rekindling of the relationship between Rogue and Magneto, a deliberate twist on the ‘Gambit and Rogue’ trope that fans had expected when she got control of her powers. This was most effectively played upon in Carey’s creative ‘Age of X’ portrayal.
Mike Carey’s lengthy run is one of the highlights of the last twenty years, a true homage to the X-Men. For fans of Charles Xavier and Rogue in particular, he presents what many readers view as a masterclass. He is a fan of the X-Men, and it shows with the care and commitment with which he writes them.