Even though I had read it before, in the last 24 hours I started, finished reading and all but devoured Earth X. I must admit that when I first went through the book it was a fast, superficial read and I knew much less about the Marvel Universe than nowadays. Today, even when I realised I remembered at least a good part of what was about to happen in the story, I found myself unable to stop until I had read and laughed at Jim Krueger's afterword.
Earth X is an alternate universe where the reader can get a different look at the characters he might have gotten used to while reading classic or mainstream Marvel comics. The book starts as Uatu, the Watcher, has Machine Man aka Aaron Stack aka X-51 fly to the Moon to be his eyes to world, as he has been blinded by an yet unknown attacker. What begins as a struggle between the Watcher and X-51's human personality turns out to be a whole review on the origins of some of Marvel's best known characters, and the reconstruction of what happened in this Earth during the 20 years Uatu couldn't watch.
In Earth X's present, all of humanity is mutated, Johnny and Sue Storm are dead, Reed Richards is a man broke with guilt, posing as Dr. Doom in Latveria, Tony Stark is locked from the world fearing mutation, the Avengers are Stark's robots, Bruce Banner is a kid riding on Hulk's back, Clea is Sorceress Supreme while Stephen Strange's spiritual form is dead, the Thing has kids and Thor is a woman. As if this wasn't enough for a shock, all the psychics in the world are dead, Wolverine is a fat lazy guy married to Jean's clone Madeline Prior (although he only finds out later in the book), Spider-man is forsaken while his daughter dangles around "wearing" Venom, Norman Osborn rules the US and Captain America looks much more old, tired and psychologically overwhelmed than even his century-wide age would predict. It is Caps' finding that the Skull is alive that starts the adventure happening on Earth as the reader watches as Uatu talks with X-51 and tries to stripe him of his humanity that he seemly sees as a flaw. The authors even found a good explanation for the Gods, Olympians and Asgardians alike, and through it a purpose even for Loki to be useful and for Ragnarok to be logical.
PLOT REVEALING SPOILERS
As X-51 tricks Uatu into letting him know of the Celestials' intentions towards Earth, he finds that the planet is hatching a Celestial, that it would be destroyed by it and that humans were enhanced by them to be its protectors. Aaron goes back to reveal the plan leading to the story's climax. The heroes come to the conclusion that mutations were caused by terrigen mists turning everyone into Inhumans and accelerating a process that was due to happen 200 years later. Because of this, the Celestials are coming to Earth to wipe its population. Captain America manages to be the hero and kill the Skull, the last mind-controlling entity in the World, a Celestial fail-safe to keep the mutated super-powered humans from killing each other and threatening the planet. Black Bolt sacrifices himself before the arriving host of Celestials sending a last call for the one being that has been known to counter them - Galactus, and although the true Galactus has been turned to a star, an unknowing Franklin Richards, having achieved the utmost evolution has been turned to what the Celestials believed him to be - Galactus himself. Tony Stark sacrifices himself to buy him time. In the end, Reed Richards burns the terrigen mists in the atmosphere, probably allowing for the mutations to revert. But as if all this wasn't enough, Mar-Vell appears and hints at the future, leaving a cliff-hanger of sorts that saddens me for not having the next books.
The whole idea of the Celestials being the "bad guys", of an evolution that links mutation with them but also explains how the gods came to be, as survivors of planets already destroyed and of aged, tired and depressed heroes appeals to me a lot, as a believable plot that doesn't hang on to what the usual reader expects or believes untouchable.
NO MORE SPOILERS
I must compare Earth-X with Watchmen for it is also set in a dark mood, a broken society and has an apocalyptic plot showing people's reactions and struggles, but also because it was, much as the later, able to keep me reading straight to the end, always exciting while keeping enough suspense right to the last page (a character even asks to be called Watchman so the reference was unavoidable). In spite of these similarities in the way they stand out from the regular comic books, these two novels are still very different in both the plot and the final message they convey. Going back and concentrating on Earth X, Ross and Krueger achieved an almost perfect plot development, the building of the character's personalities and their interference in the whole story was amazing and although I'm not a big fan of the illustrations, I admit they are adequate for the storytelling tone. This might very well have been the best Marvel novel I've read to this point and I instantly went and added Universe X and Paradise X (Earth X #2-5) to my wish list and hope to pick them up as soon as I can.
I would recommend this graphic novel to readers that enjoy dystopias, reflections on the nature of humanity or even on the existence of good and evil and still like to see how depressing people can turn out to be while still able to rise to a life-threatening challenge, though with different motivations. But I mostly recommend it to people that are used to Marvel's characters, that know their origins and their personalities because the shock of seeing them all in this situation adds a lot to the novel.