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Age of Apocalypse Revisited: Gambit and the X-Ternals #2

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gambitandthexternals002Where No eXternal Has Gone Before!

Writer: Fabian Nicieza
Penciler: Tony Daniel
Inkers: Conrad, Milgrom, Christian
Letterer: Chris Eliopoulos
Colorist: Marie Javins
Separations: Digital Chameleon
Cover: Tony Daniel
Editor: Bob Harras
Published by: Marvel Comics
Cover Date: April 1995
Cover Price: $1.95

Picking up immediately on the heels of the previous issue, our point of view is back with Gambit and his group, as they suddenly find themselves farther from home than they ever could have imagined being…and facing what they come to learn is the Shi’Ar Imperial Guard. The encounter is not encouraging, and Gambit has the group retreat. Rictor–who tagged along in their cross-galaxy space-hop–goes with the Imperial Guard. While he meets with a certain brutality interacting with the Guard, Gambit and co. meet a local who brings them up to speed on the situation they’ve found themselves in on this alien world. Rictor soon leads the Guard back to the X-Ternals, and the fight again does not go well, but this time the group is rescued by another group–calling themselves the Starjammers…who explain the danger facing all existence.

The art in this issue seems somehow "off" on this read-through…I’m sure it’s not all that different from the first issue, but as has plagued many of the #2s, there’s something to not being the opening chapter, nor penultimate or final chapter that leaves me a bit dissatisfied with the issue and more negatively critical of stuff that wouldn’t otherwise bother me. On the whole, the art works, the characters are familiar and mostly distinct…though just paging through the issue there’s a strange sort of blend to the visuals that–at least just for this issue–seems "off" to me.

The story itself is good, though a bit fast-paced and feeling quite a bit the opposite of "decompressed." This issue’s events could easily (by contemporary standards) be stretched to at least 2-3 issues–as we meet the Imperial Guard, see a fight and retreat, meet another new character and get exposition, see Rictor interrogated, another fight, meet another group, get further exposition, and finally a declaration to end the issue. That a lot is packed into the issue is good, and feels like a lot is going on, keeping things moving forward and giving a bit of that sense of hecticness the characters must be feeling, trying to find their bearings in this screwy new setting they’re thrust into.

With the Age of Apocalypse story exploring a number of different facets of the X-Universe, this series gets to do the "cosmic" side of things. It’s not entirely to my liking, nor is it necessarily a disliking. Though I’ve read some of the stuff with "X-Men in Space" I’m not really used to THESE X-characters "in space" so that throws me off a bit.

All in all, the issue’s rather average; neither landing as something crummy and distasteful nor anything of great significance or notice. It simply is what it is. We have plenty of action and story advancement and are moved into the heart of things away from the simple "premise" of this mini as spun out from X-Men: Alpha.

And like many other issues in the Age of Apocalypse stuff, I find this current re-reading to be almost new as it’s been so long since the last time I read through the entire story that I’ve forgotten details even if I’ve retained broad strokes.

Age of Apocalypse Revisited: X-Man #2

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xman002Choosing Sides

Writer: Jeph Loeb
Pencils: Steve Skroce
Inkers: Mike Sellers, LaRosa, Conrad, Hanna
Colors: Mike Thomas, Digital Chameleon
Letters: Richard Starkings and Comicraft
Cover: Steve Skroce
Edits: Lisa Patrick, Bob Harras
Published by: Marvel Comics
Cover Date: April 1995
Cover Price: $1.95

We pick up a bit after the last issue–Forge’s group has continued their usual, but there’s a growing rift where Nate is gravitating toward the newcomer–Essex. Essex is pushing Nate to use his powers to their fullest, while Forge wants him to keep restrained and not draw attention. Theresa with her newfound powers has adopted the name Sonique and is closer to Nate than the others. Essex leads the group to a factory–if they take it out, they’ll be hitting Apocalypse where it hurts. On seeing the facility, Nate leaps into action, seeing too much of his own past here and refusing to allow it to happen to anyone else. Though the group emerges intact, things seem to be getting out of hand. Meanwhile, Nate takes Sonique with him on a psychic journey to investigate the mansion he’d seen, and she recognizes the figure as Magneto…just before their presence is detected and she breaks their psi-link. Brute pieces things together and finally recognizes Essex, and things kick into gear for the back half of this 4-part arc.

Story-wise, this is a fairly "compressed" issue without being dense. I like that there’s been some passage of time since the first issue–that’s allowed for more development and we get to skip nuanced details and such (like Nate actually meeting Essex and whatever awkwardness may have been there). It allows us to get further into the story and what’s going on, bypassing that and seeing contextually that much has transpired. Yet we still get reference back to the previous issue, tying things together and keeping this from being adrift in a limbo of continuity.

The art’s not bad, though doesn’t really do much for me positive or negative here: it just "is," and keeps the look/feel I associate with the characters here FOR this title. It may not be my favorite, but it definitely does its job, and a good one at that, overall. And though there are multiple inkers…I only notice that specifically from looking at the credits; I don’t think I even picked up on that otherwise.

I find myself considering that this title carried over beyond the Age of Apocalypse, which in a "meta" sense affects my (re)reading of this chapter of what is essentially just an opening arc for the character, introducing him and setting up motivation/context that would be fleshed out later.

While this is paced well for a 4-issue arc, it’s still "interesting" to consider that "only" two chapters in, this series is already HALF done…given the contemporary state of things where a 6-issue arc is the norm/expectation.

Despite the cliffhanger, I don’t feel all that "eager" to get to the next issue…though I’m not dissuaded, either. As a second issue, this lacks the newness of a first issue, the anticipation brought by a third/penultimate issue, as well as being far from a finale. That’s sort of a tough spot for all second issues of four-issue arcs/series.

But for all it may not be structurally, it’s a strong issue in and of itself and an enjoyable read within the ongoing whole of the Age of Apocalypse.

Age of Apocalypse Revisited: X-Man #1

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xman001_thumb[5]Breaking Away

Writer: Jeph Loeb
Pencils: Steve Skroce
Inks: Sellers, Smith, Larosa, Conrad
Lettering: Starkings/Comicraft
Colors: Mike Thomas
Editor: Lisa Patrick
Cover: Steve Skroce, Cam Smith
Published by: Marvel Comics
Cover Date: March 1995
Cover Price: $1.95

Well. That was a surprisingly fun re-read. X-Man #1…an issue I knew was–for purposes of this Age of Apocalypse Revisited project–at the head of the list, something I’d have to read pretty much first thing…but was thankful Astonishing X-Men was in that first bit as well. Though the cover is distinctive, I had it in my head to somewhat dread reading this issue.

The cover is rather simple yet quite iconic. I like the bold red (plain as it is) of the background, with a powered-out Nate Grey (the X-Man) standing there over what is either simply rubble or rubble and an Infinite that he’s taken down. It’s bright, it grabs the attention, and is (based on the editions I have) the only one of these first issues to not carry the "badge" of ENTER NOW: THE AGE OF APOCALYPSE. This issue’s cover simply proclaims THE AGE OF APOCALYPSE BEGINS NOW! And as such, with no other fancy logo-ing, the typical (for the time) X-Men corner-box and such, this appears simply to be a premiere issue for something new and long-lasting…little did I know at the time I first read it 20 years ago.

The issue’s story picks up with what appears to be a flashback (turns out to be a memory) as we get a glimpse of Nate’s escape, as well as his "discovery" of the Xavier mansion as Magneto’s mission-setting wraps up. His walk on the astral plane or psychic projection or such is cut short by Forge, as we see Nate has unleashed an incredible amount of energy, causing plenty of destruction and possibly jeopardizing his friends. With apologies he resumes his usual role, and the group makes their way to another town for the night’s performance–they’re rather effectively masquerading as a simple traveling theater company. Of course, this being a first issue of the last days of the AoA, things are bound to "happen" and the group is attacked and Nate leaps into action to defend those he can…and as he does, a young mutant discovers she IS a mutant as she leaps to warn him of an attack from behind.

I really dug the art on this issue. Skroce‘s work really stood out to me. I particularly liked the look of Cyclops and Magneto…and all the other characters are quite well-done as well. There’s a look both familiar yet distinctive about them, and I consider myself quite impressed–to my surprise–at the visual feel of the issue.

As indicated above–this was quite a surprise to me as a whole, that I really enjoyed this issue. While I know what comes down the road, in and of itself this issue hooked me. As a start to the Age of Apocalypse proper–the "extended universe" of sorts, beyond Magneto’s group, I think this did a great job.

Fatal Attractions Revisited: X-Force #25

Back to Front

Writer: Fabian Nicieza
Art: Greg Capullo
Inkers: Wiacek, Green, Ryan, Palmiotti, Hanna, Conrad, Milgrom
Letterer: Chris Eliopoulos
Colorist: George Roussos
Editors: Bob Harras, Tom DeFalco
Published by: Marvel Comics
Cover Dated: August, 1993

Twenty-five issues…big number, huh? Well…maybe not. I’ve seen this title repurposed for awhile, then renamed X-Statix and that ran for a couple years. Then post-Messiah-CompleX another X-Force ran for a couple years, and the current Uncanny X-Force has run about 30 issues. But y’know, back in the day, this was a common anniversary–a whopping 25 issues.

As with X-Factor #92, I re-read this and much of it was like I was reading it for the first time…certainly the first time with much comprehension of who these characters were. This was even before Cable first got his own series, which ran for over 100 issues (followed by Cable & Deadpool that ran about 50 and the more recent Cable series with Hope than ran about 25).

This issue seems to be the introduction of Exodus. A sticker on the bag this copy of the issue was in when I bought it stated “Exodus 1st App.” Back in the day, I didn’t pick up on that, and just thought he was another one of these “Acolytes” and didn’t dig or think any deeper. It’s also the “return” of Cable, apparently the first he’d shown up since the X-Cutioner’s Song crossover few months earlier.

The new mutants–the X-Force–return home from a mission. However, someone else is there–and the battle is quickly joined…though it turns out their mentor–Cable–has returned. Some are glad to see the man, others not so happy–but all listen as Cable explains a bit of where he’s been and what he’s learned since the events that seperated him from his pupils. Exodus arrives, inviting Cannonball and Sunspot to Heaven, but pre-emptively attacks the group for thinking of attacking him. Cannonball eventually agrees, but the team follows, and all find themselves aboard what apparently used to be Cable’s base, known as Graymalkin, with a sentient computer program called “The Professor.” After more fighting, Cable gets his young charges off the ship, and seeks to “rescue” the computer program that’s apparently been a father figure to him–and finds himself confronting an enemy all thought dead. This fight is much shorter, all but disassembling Cable before he escapes (nearly as a corpse) to rejoin X-Force.

As said above, I didn’t really “get” this issue when I first read it, when it came out. I recall (with a bit of deja vu) the ending with Cable, but not much else. I certainly lacked the context of Cannonball and Sunspot being part of the New Mutants prior to Cable’s 1st appearance and that title ending to be replaced with this one. I had not yet read X-Cutioner’s Song–or at least, not more than maybe a couple chapters (it was only about 6 or 7 years ago that I finally tracked the story down and read it all the way through) so I didn’t even have that context of what had happened to Cable, though from what trading card or another or Marvel Handbook/profile special (Stryfe’s Strike Files?) or Wizard or some such, I knew of Stryfe as being Cable’s clone from the future.

I hadn’t realized either, at the time, that Magneto had “died,” though from in-story context I picked up on the characters having thought him dead…but his death/etc was more of a “meta” thing than I was aware of as a 12-year old at the time.

This issue’s story is another that stands alone well enough, though it continues to build foundation for what I consider the “heart” of Fatal Attractions in X-Men #25 and Wolverine #75. The art is good, and somehow extremely familiar to me. This visual rendition of X-Force just is what it is, and I like it.

I’m a bit less impressed with the overall cover of this issue than I was with the X-Factor issue; but in a way the fairly close-up image of Cable with one of those HUUUUGE guns he carried is rather iconic, which makes this a more full cover from the front for me than the X-Factor issue. Of course, this cover (and the hologram) also totally gives away from the get-go that Cable is back, but especially near 20 years later, I’m not bothered by that at all.

I’ve snagged this issue from bargain bins–turns out I actually wound up with 2 copies of this issue for roughly $.75 total in the past month. Well worth getting, if only for the hologram, particularly if you can snag it from a bargain bin. Cover price was $3.50, which again is 50 cents cheaper than cover price of a standard Marvel comic nowadays, and this has a cardstock cover, hologram, and 48-ish pages (some of them ads).

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