Friday, January 15, 2016

Review # 180: "Age of Apocalypse" - Sidestories

These sidestories are collected in an unusual way sequentially. Most of these stories were included in "Age of Apocalypse: The Complete Epic Vol. 1" due to chronology as the majority take place before where AoA truly began, "X-Men Alpha." If the Complete Epic volumes are what you've come across, I recommend reading this after Vol. 2. Even then, I might avoid reading "X-Man '96" before you see Sugar Man for the first time in "Generation Next." That happens towards the end of volume 3. It's optimal to discover the AoA universe as originally presented, then dive into the background before story matters truly escalate.

It should also be noted that all of these are included in the AoA companion omnibus that was released far more recently.

So, let's get to it:


Released while the main series was ongoing, these stories are the cream of the AoA sidestory crop and may be the best issues I've ever seen from Howard Mackie. These touch on several crucial moments in the history of these X-Men including the recruitment of Logan and Rogue, the death of Scarlet Witch, the Horsemen betraying Sabretooth, Logan and Jean leaving, and Rogue making her team-splitting choice between Magneto and Gambit.

The art of the first issue is worth giving extra mention. I don't think I've seen better work from Terry Dodson, whose pencils are aided greatly by former "Daredevil" artist Klaus Janson. It makes me want to see that team again. From Magneto's stance on the opening page to the team's Danger Room drills on Wundagore to the Horsemen surveying the land before a strike, the images are striking and stay with you for some time. THUMBS UP


That's not a misprint; the books are just presented in this order due to chronology.

Both of these issues focus very much on AoA Cyclops, showing his higher morality despite his tutelage under Sinister. Issue two explains what happened to Scott and Alex's father and highlights yet another instance of the cosmic importance of the X-Men. Heck of a creative team on this one, as it reunites John Francis Moore and Steve Epting from the "Factor-X" issues with the addition of Brian K. Vaughan (!) as scripter. The story is compelling and at times quite disturbing. It's also a curious look at the relationship between Scott and Alex and their adoptive father Sinister. Despite his clear manipulation, his explanation of the entire situation at the end of the issue is convincing enough to make you take the often-deceitful evil mutant at his word. Now that's good writing!

The other issue - written by Scott Lobdell and Ralph Macchio (no, it's not THAT Ralph Macchio) - shows a past interaction between Scott and Magneto's X-Men as Cyclops helps to rescue Blink and the two work separately on the similar cause of overthrowing the then-Horseman of Death, the Inhuman Maximus the Mad. Maximus has never appeared more villainous, transforming his family - Black Bolt, Medusa, Karnac, etc. - into grotesque, distorted servants of Apocalypse. The fight between the evil Inhumans and the X-Men is epic, including some creative use of the show-stealing Morph. It's not as good as the "Factor-X" volume, but it stacks up well with any of the similar "Astonishing X-Men" issues from the original AoA story and that's good enough for me. THUMBS UP

X-MAN -1, X-MAN ANNUAL '96, X-MAN 53-54*

Let me get this out of the way: beyond the AoA crossover, Nate Grey stinks and is a completely useless "God-level character who 'hasn't realized his power potential'" stereotype. A Gen-X Cable who is far less interesting once the world he came from is no longer around.

With that, let me say that "X-Man -1" where a young Nate is plucked briefly from an age acceleration chamber is quite good. Then again, it's all because of the enigmatic Sinister who carries the book. Sinister as a distorted father figure is pure gold and really should be revisited in the main line.

The rest are a gigantic yawn. In "X-Man Annual '96," Nate returns to the AoA universe to a time before he was even born. The also-homecoming Sugar Man hatches a plan to destroy all life in the mainstream universe, and Nate, Magneto and Forge attempt to stop him. Despite great artwork by Alan Davis, the plot is a drag and it doesn't grab your intention. The continual hints of a predestined paradox don't help.

"X-Man" numbers 53 and 54 are even worse. Nate has united with his parental-equivalents Scott and Jean from the Mainstream U and the trio discovers AoA soldiers pouring into Scott and Jean's reality from a mountain. It's as generally forgettable as Cyclops and Phoenix themselves were at this point and is really not worth your time. THUMBS DOWN


This was written at the same time that Grant Morrison was turning the X-Universe on its ear, which is a bit eyebrow-raising. Still, Marvel was being experimental in general and giving a mini to an obscure character who was a cult hit is a move that was right up the company's alley at the turn of the century.

So Blink - under the direct pen of her creator Lobdell - is thrust into the Negative Zone before the events of AoA. It's an intriguing turn of events because - despite AoA originally being presented as a whitewash - this is the same Negative Zone as before, one that was visited by the Fantastic Four. AoA has been re-written as a separate alternate universe in the time since its original presentation, but it's still a head-turning moment.

Anyhow, Blink ends up in the Negative Zone with amnesia and falls in love with a freedom fighter opposing throne-usurper Blastaar. It's revealed (and spoiled by a cover) that the object of Clarice's affections is the also-amnesiac true ruler Annihilus. The romance is never particularly convincing to begin with and Annihilus' gradual return to his original form as he professes his love for Blink... BLINK, of all characters in the Marvel universe, is laughable. And not in the John Byrne FF "Annihilus bothers to answer a telephone" kind of way.

Also, I feel I must point out how dumb it is that - in the first issue - Blink refers to the AoA Hank McCoy as "Dark Beast." He wasn't "Dark Beast" in AoA: he was "BEAST!" There was no "Light Beast."

The ending of the Blink series, though, setting up "Exiles...." pretty darn cool.THUMBS DOWN


Speaking of those previously-mentioned predestined paradoxes, the Age of Apocalypse had far more of a lasting effect on the Mainstream Marvel U than you'd expect.

As we return to the X-Men we know and love, we're reminded that the state of the world where Charles Xavier lived isn't exactly peachy. Fear of the Legacy Virus leads to humans lashing out against mutants, including one who is brutally beaten by a gang of, well... everyday people. It's a chilling situation of escalation as - before they know it - a group of friends hanging out have murdered someone in a hate crime. It ramps up the desperation to find a cure, though the X-Men would soon have bigger problems to deal with.

Meanwhile, X-Man and Holocaust emerge in this reality, and Bishop is a bit out of his head because he's retained knowledge of both timelines. These are both tips of the iceberg, though, to a pair of major retcons involving AoA villains. First, Sugar Man has ended up on Genosha and we learn that HE was the man who developed the mutate bonding process. Second, Dark Beast is revealed to have played a major hidden role in the history of the Morlocks. While retconning isn't always a practice I agree with, these are both very creative and they make a lot of sense. It is a shame that this issue was removed for the "Age of Apocalypse" omnibus printing. This is as good of an epilogue as you will find for any major crossover. THUMBS UP

Rating: 6.5/10 (Age of Apocalypse: The Complete Epic Vol. 1)

*X-Man 53-54, X-Men Prime and the very end of Blink # 4 all appear in "Age of Apocalypse: The Complete Epic Vol. 4")

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