Today’s new guide for Patrons of Crushing Krisis covers an unusual X-Men character, a copy of another character who went one to helm one of the longest-running X-Men solo series before disappearing into the aether (literally) for nearly a decade…
Let’s get one thing out of the way first: yes, this is really a guide for one 80-issue ongoing and fewer than 50 additional appearances by a character who went forgotten for a decade, and then for another half decade after a brief return.
That’s it! And, yet, X-Man AKA Nate Grey is about to make a major comeback to the world of X-Men, so it was time he got his own guide.
He debuted as part of “Age of Apocalypse” in 1995, and it’s important to remember that this event was quite specifically not an alternate reality at the time. It was the only version of Marvel’s reality that existed in the present day thanks to Legion going back in time to murder his father, Charles Xavier, rather than his target Magneto. (Oops!)
Nate Grey was a critical figure in the Age of Apocalypse – a version of Cable unravaged by time and the TO virus. While our Cable relied on his tactical skill and his leverage over the timestream to thwart his enemies, Nate Grey only needed Cable’s heritage of raw, uninhibited mutant power – the kind that Mr. Sinister had spent years trying to realize in our original timeline.
Age of Apocalypse was well-received and marvelous fun to read at the time. The idea of four of its characters and one of its titles persisting into Marvel-616 continuity was thrill! Of course, it made the most sense for that title to be X-Man, the most unique and singular of all the converted books.
However, there was the question of what to do with Nate Grey. In the Age of Apocalypse he was the most-powerful rebel, but in 616 Marvel he had nothing to rebel against. There was no narrative to welcome Nate Grey to the main Marvel timeline.
His counterpart Cable was himself a mysterious figure on the outskirts of X-Men continuity with a nebulous connection to his parents Scott and Jean. X-Man became that, but moreso. At least with Cable writers could lean into his military nature to make him a mutant fixer of sorts.
Nate Grey had no such centering narrative device. Writers increasingly leaned into his messianic tendencies, but also his naiveté and lack of allies (except Spider-Man!) leaving him vulnerable. His series was a meandering read then and it remains one today. At the time, I’d spend each month waiting for the big reveal – the plot thread that made bringing Nate back all worthwhile.
In retrospect, I know that it never existed and would never come. Despite the impressive name, X-Man became one of the most tertiary X-titles. Nate had no part in the X-Men, save for his brief intersections with “Operation Zero Tolerance” and a later appearance in Astonshing X-Men (no, not the Whedon one, the “X-Men vs. Apocalypse” lead-in).
It all culminated with Nate Grey abandoning his physical form to disperse himself into the cells of every living being on Earth in issue #75, to the utter non-reaction of the rest of the world.
Of course, that’s an easy death from which a Marvel character can return. It just took a decade to happen, in the pages of Dark X-Men. Nate Grey made a terrific and mysterious loaded gun in the hands of Norman Osborn, but that was quickly defused in the pages of Abnett & Lanning’s New Mutants into just another fish-out-of-water team member.
And then, once again, in 2013 Nate Grey disappeared without a trace – though this time his body was presumably still intact.
Now, in the final months of 2018, Nate Grey appears to be primed to make his return in the pages of the relaunched Uncanny X-Men, as messianic as ever … to be followed by his own event! Will The Age of X-Man mark a permanent closing parenthesis to Nate’s birth in the Age of Apocalypse? Or, will it be a springboard to place him in the position of power in the Marvel Universe it’s always been implied that he deserves?
Tune in to X-Men comics over the next three months to find out!
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DC Guides: Animal Man, Aquaman, Books of Magic, Catwoman, Batman – Index Ongoing Titles, Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight, Flash, Justice League, Lucifer, Mister Miracle, Nightwing, Outsiders, Sandman Universe, Suicide Squad, Teen Titans & Young Justice
Marvel Guides: Alpha Flight, Ant-Man & Giant-Man, Champions, Darkhawk, Dazzler, Domino, Falcon, Gwenpool, Legion, Marvel Era: Marvel Legacy, Moon Boy / Moon Girl & Devil Dinosaur, Ms. Marvel: Kamala Khan, Power Pack, Scarlet Witch, Sentry, Silk, Spider-Gwen, Spider-Man: Miles Morales, Venom, Vision, X-Man – Nate Grey