Set several decades in the future, Earth X told the story of a world where everyone has become an Inhuman and how a child named The Skull controls the masses of super powered beings for his own amusement. Unbeknownst to him, or anyone else save the watcher Uatu, this is all a part of a grand plan created by the Celestials to use the beings of Earth as protectors for the Celestial egg hidden deep beneath the surface.
Blinded several years ago by Black Bolt, Uatu chose Machine Man as a replacement for his eyes believing he could convince the robot to uphold his vow to never interfere with the residents of the planet. Machine Man rejects him and works with Reed Richards and a host of other heroes in the Marvel Universe to thwart the Celestial plan. Reed lights his newest invention at the close of the series, a Human Torch designed to burn away the Terrigen Mists present in Earth's atmosphere.
Universe X begins with Isaac Christians, the Gargoyle, chronicling the prophesies of Kyle Richmond, the former Nighthawk. Viewing the past, present, and future, the two work to record the events transpiring three years after the lighting of the first Human Torch which so far include the resurrection of the Invisible Woman and the journey of Captain America and the newly reborn Captain Mar-Vell.
Kyle begins by recounting the origin of Dr. Strange and questioning the roll he and Isaac played on Strange's Defenders. They also wonder what drove Clea to betray Strange, killing his astral form and stranding it in the land of the dead. As they speak, Kyle's latest prophesy is sent to the mysterious book binder who lives in the apartment below.
As the world's ecosystem spins out of control, Captain America and Mar-Vell find an aging Tandy Bowen (formerly Dagger) being attacked by some thugs who want her blanket. The blanket is actually Cloak's cloak and begins to swallow them into the world of the dead before Cap pulls them free. Mar-Vell convinces Tandy to give the cloak to him and she walks away, turning into a bright light. Cap notices that they're being followed by someone, but is unaware of who it may be.
Back at Doom's castle, Reed and his friends are interrupted by Immortus and Spiders Man. Immortus begins to preach of a destiny where mankind has taken to the stars in search of a new home. Reed dismisses this as merely a potential future and that there are greater threats posed to inhumanity with the current change in weather. A newly freed Loki listens in on the conversation.
Back in New York, officer Peter Parker confronts a gang of Inhumans who immigrated from the original Inhuman nation ruled by Black Bolt. The Inhumans are attempting to steal food that is to be rationed out for the citizens of New York. As things begin to get dicey and it looks like Peter is going to lay down some Spider-Justice, Spiders Man appears and traps the thugs in an illusion. It's not quite clear as to how he got there so quickly from Latveria, but he tells Peter that Immortus' church wishes to ensure that no one will go hungry. Peter soon after runs into Iron Maiden who once fought with Spiders Man in The Skull's army and is confounded by his newly found religion.
Cap and Mar-Vell reach Dr. Strange's house to find it overrun with Mindless Ones. Dr. Strange apparently sealed his house with a powerful magic spell to keep the darker forces from invading the regular world shortly before his death. As the Mindless Ones threaten to overwhelm Cap and Mar-Vell, Loki appears to aid them. Though he has acknowledged that he is actually an alien who became the Norse god Loki due to the influential superstitions of primitive humans, Cap still refuses to trust him. Loki reveals that when Clea killed Dr. Strange, it was not he who helped her, but he wonders aloud if Cap can really trust him?
The issue closes with Machine Man seeking Uatu once again for answers as to why the machines he uses to view the world occasionally shows him glimpses of alternate realities.
A heck of a lot is set up in this issue. Naturally if you haven't read the preceding the series, and in this case the one-shots that accompany the current series, you would be completely lost. Still, it's hard to fault a series with such a grand scale and scope for being too complex with the first issue of what is clearly the second chapter. The numbering could be clearer as there were two issues that came out before this one (#0 and 4), but with the prime means of obtaining the series currently being the trade paper back which arranges the story in chronological order, this is also less of an issue.
The switch in narrators from Uatu and Machine Man to Gargoyle and Nighthawk create a greater sympathy for the plight effecting the Earth. Considering how grating Uatu's frequent nihilism was quickly becoming, it's a nice change of pace. The Dr. Strange origin is a nice refresher, but it's also unnecessary for those who already know it and insufficient for those who don't. Still, the commentary garnered a little insight as to his role in the story itself.
The mysteries laid out are interesting enough to intrigue, and the new role of Loki might be the most compelling. Identity, as well as truth, are made ambiguous. The mysteries presented serve as a backdrop to a series that will challenge those issues by presenting various planes of existence and multiple realities. It's gearing up to continue one of the most ambitious stories the Marvel universe has ever seen.
The change in art from John Paul Leon to Doug Braithwaite creates a slightly more generic look to the series. The thick blacks have reverted to a cleaner look that serve a large event book like this slightly better. The mood is mostly lost, but the large scenes involving a multitude of characters are a little more thrilling when they're more than vague smudges.
One other nice change from the previous series is that Peter has gotten into shape. He was getting a little too close to Spider-Ham for my tastes in Earth X.
This was largely setup coupled with a few of the plots progressing. The rating feels a bit low, but there's still so much more to go and plenty of room to build or collapse. It usually is one or the other with stories this ambitious.