Amazon for $16.66, but, as always, I urge you to get it form your LCS.
Carey suddenly delves into a world immediately following X-Men Legacy 244. In it, we see alternative lives of our favorite mutants in a world where the X-Men were never brought together by Xavier and mutants are all hunted down for being a threat. Xavier never existed in this reality, so there were never liaisons or mediums between humans and mutants.
An imagined predecessor to the core books takes place in Age of X:
Universe, where the Avengers are formed to kill all mutants. Captain
America leads the group comprised of Iron Man, Ghost Rider,
Spider-Woman, Hulk, and Invisible Woman. As the team kills mutants, Sue
Storm begins to have reservations and feels sorry for the mutants.
With the Alpha issue, which comes before the actual event, Carey provides background stories for our main characters to help build a rich world. Cyclops, or Basilisk, was used a forced executioner of mutants by Arcade. The Guthries, Sam and Paige, learn their family has been slaughtered in a widespread mutant holocaust. The story focuses on how they grieve. Wolverine injects the mutant virus created by Dr. Pandemic, guest starring Dr. Rao. Magneto, or The General secludes mutants in a skyscraper and relocates it.
In uniting under the Magneto-created Fortress X, the mutants fend off humans' attacks with squadrons of mutants, known by their leader's "cadre" (Moonstar's cadre, Tempo's cadre, etc.). Rogue, or Legacy, discovers some inconsistencies within the world, but it soon chased for being a traitor and learns more each issue about their world. This is not your Age of Apocalypse; it's still in continuity with Earth 616 with heavy repercussions for characters post-Age of X.
Clay Mann's redesigns for costumes are outrageously perfect and beautiful. He's given them a rough, uncivilized edge with cloth torn and tattered and men without shirts and both sexes with more armor than usual. Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. Some, like Jubilee, have similar looks to some costume they've worn. Some, like Cyclops and Husk, are completely different. Storm, still worshiped as a goddess in Africa, wears clothing similar to what she wore when found by Professor when recruiting for the X-Men. Dazzler's costume gives her a punk-rock look that works so much better than any costume she's had.
Age of X: Universe may not in continuity with 616, as it takes place before Age of X, like false memories; however, the two-issue mini is a good read and very bloody. Mutants that died here have either already died in the normal timeline or don't count, as their deaths precede the actual event. The same goes with Alpha. None of the Guthries, aside from Josh and Thomas, have died. The only real death we know of is Tempo, which happens during the pages of the real event, and it takes a great toll on Joanna Cargill.
Many criticize Age of X: Alpha for its flashes of memories that don't do much for the core story, but I think it gives us a better core story. It gives us the reasons why those who are in lead are in lead. The Basilisk story is haunting and heart-breaking, providing him a reason to save mutants, rather than kill them. After discovering their family is dead, Sam wants to lead the survivors to safety and head to the legendary
Fortress X; Paige wants revenge on the humans, forming a terrorist
group, much like that of the more contemporary IRA. Wolverine's risk for mutantkind was a great one, likened to Colossus' risk of injecting the Legacy Virus in himself. The General's story is one that's much like Magneto's own. After public arrests of mutants and clear hatred towards them, the General is a mass savior, earning his right to be leader of mutantkind's war against humanity, nearly worshiped among those who witness the building of Fortress X.
Each issue of the core story builds momentum. The first half builds the complexity and mystery, and the second half unravels it, as we follow Legacy. Danger is at a constant high; no one is safe; and everyone is stressed. The plot is well thought-out and suspenseful, and the art, especially by Mann is gorgeous, telling a story in its own right. Moira being a sort of antibody that embodies itself in the form that Legion loves most is powerful, as she creates the entire Age of X for Legion, digging into his psyche, which reveals how badly he wants to be a hero and celebrity. Pivotal roles are played by Rogue, Kitty, Magneto, Gambit, Wolverine, Moonstar, Basilisk, Psylocke, Cannonball, and Frenzy. There are heavy consequences on the characters after the Age of X is ended. I'm curious to know how long the effects of it will last. Some opted to get their minds erased. Some opted to keep the memories. This could prove disastrous in dividing between the realities.