Synopsis: Magneto – the X-Men’s oldest, deadliest foe – has taken over a top-secret government installation that houses the Sentinels, powerful mutant-hunting robots. The X-Men must fight to keep this deadly technology out of Magneto’s hands and stop him from carrying out his grand plan: establishing a global Mutant Empire. The X-Men must join forces with old enemies to stop him – but in Magneto’s brave new world, who can they trust?
Originally published in the late 90s, the Mutant Empire trilogy of books are deeply entrenched in the continuity of early 90s Marvel Comics, referencing story-lines such as Operation: Galactic Storm and the iconic status-quo of the X-Men franchise at this time, which had seen Jim Lee launch X-Men # 1, the greatest-selling comic of all-time. Despite this commitment to reflecting the continuity at the time, author Christopher Golden ensures that his trilogy is accessible to casual reader (or someone reading this book twenty years later) and often makes use of the significant page count to carefully explain character motivations and backstories. With a sizable cast of heroes and villains populating the omnibus, this attention to detail is greatly appreciated and gives the trilogy a suitably epic feel.
Spread across three books, Mutant Empire is a love-letter to 1990s X-Men which resonates even more with this re-release, taking everything that was awesome about this era and squeezing it into one epic-sized omnibus. The focus is split between two adventures which separates two groups of X-Men into a mismatch of the traditional Blue and Gold teams. First, we have an intergalactic jaunt to rescue Scott Summers’ father from Deathbird and the Imperial Guard, then secondly, the novel focuses on Magneto and his Acolytes as they use the Sentinels to take over Manhattan. Both of these adventures typify this era’s X-Men stories, and Golden’s writing frequently evokes memories of the legendary 1992 X-Men: The Animated Series.
While it may have been contemporary at the time of writing, the novels have an entirely new feel reading them twenty years later and it feels like a period piece – something that is particularly evident when the author makes casual mention of the World Trade Center, years before the events of 9/11. In fact, the series feels very prescient given the current political climate and one cannot help but make comparisons between Magneto’s brand of mutant terrorism and the fundamentalism that currently makes the headlines. While I’d always viewed the X-Men as a parable to race relations, particularly when it was initially developed in the 1960s, this novel made me consider Magneto more as a terrorist than a super-villain – with his acolytes following his idealism towards violence. This was one of the more fascinating elements of the novel, and it is interesting to read Magneto’s plans for a Mutant Empire knowing that modern X-Men series have done something very similar, both with Utopia and now with Krakoa.
Despite the massive page count, Christopher Golden’s epic X-Men tale is extremely engaging and the way he switches perspectives between his army of characters allows the reader to get under the skin of each of the main players. Rather than focusing purely on the X-Men, Golden gives secondary characters such Trish Tilby and Amelia Voght an opportunity to take a more lead role with passages exploring their inner thoughts. With the benefit of hindsight, Golden is also able to set up foreshadowing for the “Fatal Attractions” story-arc, which takes place after this one. One notable example of this is when Magneto deals with Wolverine and considers punishing the feral mutant by ripping his adamantium out of his body – a threat he would later follow up on in the comics. These little nods to the comic series are fantastic and really entrenches the novel in the main continuity – something I personally love as tie-in novels can sometimes be viewed as non-canon and difficult to reconcile with the comics.
At almost 700 pages in length, there is no denying that this omnibus offers extraordinary value for money and it certainly kept me engaged for a number of weeks. Unfortunately, there were moments where the plot felt stretched out in order to fill three books – for example, the period where the X-Men are left adrift in space in a powerless ship. While this sequence was actually quite tense and exciting, it felt like an obstacle put in place to ‘pad out’ the story and keep the two X-Men teams separated. I think if the omnibus had been written as a single book originally, it would have had some of these sequences and POV chapters trimmed down to streamline the narrative. That said, I did find the book immensely enjoyable throughout and Golden’s focus on character development was always a joy to read.
A blockbuster epic that celebrates everything X-Men, Mutant Empire is a trilogy of novels that deserve a place on every fan’s bookshelf. Titan Books’ collected edition is a thing of beauty, and offers readers incredible value, especially since the original novels are long out of print. Now viewed through a nostalgic prism, these novels are a brilliant representation of the merry mutants’ trials and tribulations in the mid-90s – a period which is arguably the franchise’s heyday. Reading through this omnibus, I couldn’t help but imagine the brightly coloured uniforms of the X-Men as rendered by the unparalleled Jim Lee, and hear the dialogue delivered by the spectacular voice cast from the animated series. Overflowing with nostalgia and drowning in nods to the original comics, Mutant Empire is easily one of the best Marvel prose novels that I’ve ever read, and made me eager to dig out my back issues to relive the era in full Technicolor!