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The ’90s Revisited: X-Men Prime

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xmenprime001Racing the Night

Writers: Scott Lobdell & Fabian Nicieza
Pencilers: Bryan Hitch, Jeff Matsuda, Gary Frank, Mike McKone, Terry Dodson, Ben Herrerr, Paul Pelletier
Inkers: Al Milgrom, P. Craig Russell, Cam Smith, Mark Farmer, Mark McKenna, Tom Palmer, Tim Townsend, Hector Collazo
Letttering: Richard Starkings and Comicraft
Coloring: Steve Buccellato and Electric Crayon
Cover: Bryan Hitch
Editor: Bob Harras
Published by: Marvel Comics
Cover Date: July 1995
Cover Price: $4.95

With this issue, we’re back to the “real” reality/universe/timeline/whatever. The 616 Marvel Universe. Bishop and his mission was a success, and by stopping Legion from killing Xavier…the Age of Apocalypse never happened, things have been set right. Or have they?

We have a bunch of plot points sharing this issue…while the various Age of Apocalypse mini-series led into X-Men: Omega, this issue now serves as the focal point for the return of the “regular” X-Men titles…as a “regular universe” Alpha issue to introduce readers to the current status quo of the characters and teams that make up the X-side of the Marvel Universe and send the readers into the mix of titles having had this bit of setup for where things are moving forward.

I do think that if Free Comic Book Day had been around in 1995, this would certainly have been a Marvel offering…an in-continuity quasi-anthology to get readers to jump aboard the entire line of X-comics.

I can’t say I’m honestly all that thrilled with this issue on this re-read. I certainly appreciate that there are “only” two writers credited, offering a bit of consistency to the story side of things. The issue is quite a mix visually due to the numerous pencilers and inkers getting their chance to work on pages presumably germane to the individual titles. Reading through this time, I noticed a bit of wonky art at points, but somehow was not particularly jarred by the shifts…perhaps for familiarity with the Age of Apocalypse stuff as a whole.

After the shiny “chromium” covers for X-Men: Alpha and X-Men: Omega, seems Marvel felt the need to give this a special cover as well–a clear plastic-ish thing with an inner orangey background. We also get the “alternate” X-Men logo, with the Prime part next to it…and the whole thing is a wrap-around (which I very much appreciate 20 years later in an age of VARIANT “interlocking” covers).

The story introduces or re-introduces some characters–and I even see hints of Onslaught in this reading. We find out that several characters–Nate Grey, Dark Beast, Sugarman, and Holocaust–escaped the Age of Apocalypse and wound up in the real timeline. Nate first appears in the “present,” while Magneto’s Acolytes only now in the present discover what will be revealed to be Holocaust…but Beast and Sugarman arrived 20 years ago, and were responsible for the Morlocks and Genosha’s Mutates, respectively. Marrow is reintroduced, aged twenty years from a prior appearance…Rogue and Iceman are on a roadtrip, the former haunted by whatever she saw in Gambit’s memories (Gambit’s in a coma). Trish Tilby reveals the Legacy Virus to the public along with the knowledge that it’s affecting humans as well as Mutants. X-Factor chases Mystique and Havok’s powers act up on him; X-Force’s base is destroyed. Wolverine is living in the woods outside Xavier’s mansion (refusing to reside under the same roof as Sabretooth) and Bishop is having unconscious outbursts as a result of the visions he’s having as a result of his temporal status in relation to the Age of Apocalypse. Amidst all this a mutant seeks the X-Men but winds up victim of humans lashing out against something they fear and do not understand.

This certainly sets up the various X-titles moving forward, so for that alone is pretty much an “essential read.” Yet, unless one intends to pursue those issues from mid-1995 that this is immediately germane to, there’s not much to really dig into singularly with this issue. Outside of characters involved and how they now will interact in the 616 universe, there’s no actual story-content directly tied to the story of the Age of Apocalypse timeline.

Given that, my covering of this issue is much like why I covered the non-Legion Quest X-books that preceded Age of Apocalypse: this is stuff coming out on the “other end”, the border, “bleed,” or whatever butting up against the Age of Apocalypse without actually BEING an issue of that..

While rarer than the Alpha or Omega issues in bargain bins, I certainly would not pay much more than cover price for this (and that would be a grudgingly-paid price). I’d seek this out to use as a starting point diving into any or all of the X-books of the time but certainly not if you’re only interested in the Age of Apocalypse.

Unlike contemporary Marvel, this does not kick off “the next” EVENT but rather gives the individual titles time to flex and explore their own things for awhile before everything heats up again with the following year’s Onslaught stuff.

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Age of Apocalypse Revisited: X-Men Omega

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xmenomega001_front…Endings

Story: Scott Lobdell
Dialogue: Mark Waid
Pencils: Roger Cruz
Inks: LaRosa, Townsend, Kesel, Candelario, Hanna, Milgrom
Letters: Richard Starkings and Comicraft
Colors: Steve Buccellato, Electric Crayon
Cover: John Romita Jr., Klaus Janson
Editor: Bob Harras
Published by: Marvel Comics
Cover Date: June 1995
Cover Price: $3.95

While not nearly as "iconic" as the Alpha issue to me…this issue is still one of THE most iconic comic issues of my youth. Though the majority of the context comes from the various individual titles that make up the Age of Apocalypse, this is THE issue they all led into, after spinning out of X-Men: Alpha. As such, while I didn’t remember details of most of the individual series, I remembered where things wound up because of this issue.

We open on a full-page of Magneto, bloodied and energy crackling around him, standing defiantly against an off-page foe, who we find is Holocaust, battering the leader of the X-Men for Apocalypse’s amusement before the villain reveals his final plans. Meanwhile, Angel finds Karma, while in the pens, the X-Men arrive via Blink’s portals. As they contemplate the lack of opposition and come across Beast, we move to see Cyclops and Jean leading freed humans across the bridge away from Apocalypse’s stronghold. Apocalypse’s forcefield is taken down by Angel’s suicide bomb…his sacrifice allows Nate (X-Man) access to Apocalypse…where he finds and is recognized by Magneto as The One that Forge had long ago promised to deliver.

while Nate takes on Holocaust, the X-Men have found the M’Kraan crystal, and Destiny confirms Bishop’s claims and everything comes down to Illyana choosing to help restore broken reality. The three enter the crystal, leaving the X-Men to fight Apocalypse’s forces. On the bridge, Jean realizes the bombs have been launched and throws up a psi-shield…holding them back as long as she can. In the crystal, Destiny guides Illyana in unlocking her powers, getting Bishop back to the moment things went wrong. Back on the bridge, Havok reveals himself, unleashing his powers to take out Jean and Scott before being taken out himself by Weapon X. The X-Men rescue baby Charles, mess up Beast’s escape attempt, while others have fallen in battle and misunderstanding.

In the past, Bishop confronts his past self and Legion, preventing Legion from killing anyone…and closing a loop that sees the X-Men ripped back to their own time and the chronal energies erasing their presence and Legion’s from the memories of all left behind…that events would unfold as they had with no taint from Legion’s obtrusive presence.

Nate finally gets to Apocalypse before being attacked again by Holocaust…using a shard of the M’Kraan crystal he and Holocaust are unexpectedly removed from the equation. The distraction is enough for Magneto to summon the power to rip Apocalypse apart, finally killing the evil mutant and ending his reign. In the last few moments left to him, he rejoins Rogue and his son, while reflecting on the importance of one man to the world itself…as the nuclear blast is about to engulf them. Hope is left behind, in Bishop accomplishing his mission…and preventing any of this from ever having happened.

This issue being what it is, as mentioned above…there’s little separating its nostalgic and emotional, lasting impact on me from the technicalities of the issue itself.

At this typing, I don’t particularly recognize Cruz‘ name or art…and would have sworn there was someone else on the art. Looking back, Cruz contributed to a couple previous X-issues, and was the penciler on the Alpha issue as well…so while the art isn’t ENTIRELY consistent with the individual series, it provides a definite consistency to the other bookend issue of this entire mega-arc. In and of itself, I really don’t have any complaints on the art…everyone is recognizeable and obvious for who they are…and though many of the characters don’t look quite as well-done as they were in the individual books, given this issue involves so many without being a "jam book," that’s hardly an issue for me. We have numerous inkers and a full roster of Letterers and Colorists…whether that was to get the book out "on time" or to allow more hands to touch the project, be a part of it, I don’t know. It’s really something I mostly notice for specifically scoping out the credits to write this up.

Story-wise, I see Mark Waid on dialogue, as with X-Men: Alpha…which is interesting again as before given I wasn’t consciously aware of him 20 years ago but know him as a writer whose work I like present-day…and realize how much I like his dialogue through this issue, hokey and cheesey as parts are. Magneto’s final moments in the issue resonate particularly for me.

Given the specific issues that things unfolded in, this is the first we’ve "seen" of the "regular" X-Men in the entirety of the labeled Age of Apocalypse issues. The brief bit we get with them–specifically of Storm realizing the true battle was fought elsewhere–is something that has stuck with me since originally reading the issue, and worked its way into my head over the years as a concept that truly influences my understanding and conception of time travel and alternate reality stories…really in a way I can’t quite put to typed words.

The Age of Apocalypse ends, the "true reality" is restored…but this story left lasting repercussions (and characters) on the X-universe and the Marvel universe in general. Fitting in a way, perhaps, that present-day 2015 we’re about to get major changes to the very fabric of the Marvel universe, as I’ve just finished re-reading this tale.

xmenomega001_full

Age of Apocalypse Revisited: Generation Next #4

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generationnext004"Bye"

Created by: Scott Lobdell and Chris Bachalo
Inks by: Mark Buckingham
Lettering by: Richard Starkings and Comicraft
Colors by: Steve Buccellato and Electric Crayon
Cover: Bachalo
Edited by: Bob Harras
Published by: Marvel Comics
Cover Date: June 1995
Cover Price: $1.95

This is certainly the darkest end to any of these minis yet, for the Age of Apocalypse.

Illyana’s been found…but her rescuers are not unscathed from their trials. Even with the arrival of Colossus, the kiddos aren’t quite able to make it, and the students find themselves left behind as Colossus INSISTS she be carried to safety, the mission Magneto set. Only then does he "go back" to save his students…and the result is where lies the aforementioned darkness.

As with the rest of the series, I’m not a big fan of the art on this book. In many places it’s just too "busy" for my tastes, with too many lines, and this title definitely has some of the weirdest-looking characters. It remains distinctive and carries a darker tone, so the uncomfortable weirdness is appropriate…it’s just not something I particularly enjoy.

While the characters and situation are believable, I don’t much like seeing this side of Colossus, or Kitty…it’s uncomfortable to see them in these roles. Still, the story is rather believable, especially given what we’ve seen of them before–students AND teachers…and we’ve been set up to see this as a "suicide mission," just that we don’t normally see the sorts of character deaths that we do here.

Of course, that’s something that "can" be done in this case–the final issue of a four-issue glimpse into the twilight of the Age of Apocalypse. Consciously, as readers, it was clear by this point that the "regular" X-Men universe would return and that the Age of Apocalypse–if only in terms of publishing–was racing to its conclusion. Unless characters would cross over, or get a scene in X-Men: Omega…this would be "it" for them, and the story already being a divergent status quo, stuff can be done that simply would not fly in the regular books.

Though I’ve not been a fan of the art in particular on this series, the story’s been good, and it’s been a lot more interesting than I’d expected going in. Generation Next #4 now balances to Generation X–four issues of each, with Generation X only "taking the lead" by the return of the regular books and cessation of Generation Next…an interesting "meta" dynamic I’ve always noticed.

Age of Apocalypse Revisited: X-Universe #2

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xuniverse002Dying Breath

Story by: Scott Lobdell
Script: Terry Kavanagh
Pencilers: Carlos Pacheco, Terry Dodson
Inkers: Cam Smith, Robin Riggs
Colorist: Kevin Tinsley
Color Separations: Electric Crayon
Lettering: Richard Starkings and Comicraft
Cover: Pacheco & Smith
Editors: Marie Javins, Bob Harras
Published by: Marvel Comics
Cover Date: June 1995
Cover Price: $3.50

We open on a new/arbitrary character–a father holding his child, as people are given over to Rasputin for upgrading, a last chance to stand with mutants without being eradicated. We then move to our Phenomenal Five (I saw THAT term in the monthly checklist on the X-Books This Month section) who have been captured and are helpless…at least until a contingency plan kicks in. Meanwhile, no one’s told the humans of the atrociously low survival rate of the upgrade process, that only one in a hundred-thousand survive any length of time and few of those survive indefinitely. Stark’s plan kicks in, and the humans begin breaking free, and the rebellion is on. After the battle, few humans are left, but they’ve acquired technology from Mikhail’s ship and make a last bid for permanent escape from Apocalypse’s rule.

This issue is all over the place. And when it ends…I only know it does because there are simply NO MORE STORY PAGES. There’s no particular icon or note or any indication the last page is the last page. It has all the makings of a second-to-last page, that you’d turn the page for some full-page image to finish out the series, but instead it turns to a double-page ad, then a double-page info/profile section, another couple ads, and that’s that.

The art’s so-so…not bad, not spectacular, and a bit minimalistic at points and just somehow looks a bit "off" from the rest of the Age of Apocalypse. Of course, multiple pencilers and inkers, suggesting (to me, with contemporary sensibilities) that this issue had run behind and needed to be caught up in a hurry to get it out on time. That’s also something that suggests further to me that this series was an afterthought of sorts, a late addition to the AoA stuff.

The story’s also only so-so. It could certainly be worse, but it doesn’t really feel like it has any real significance, given we’ve had no real reference, even, to these characters, nor any dealings with Rasputin elsewhere in the AoA, so this is just stuff going on "in the World of the Age of Apocalypse" and can be pretty safely ignored in the grand scheme.

Another element that lends the notion of this X-Universe series being set apart from the rest of the AoA is the covers. These are $3.50 cover price with cardstock covers and foil-ized logos. The chromium double-size bookend issues make sense as they’re "special," kicking off and concluding the entirety of the story. But the issues in-between have all been standard covers with no fancy enhancements or foiling or such. This mini just reeks of typical ’90s saturation.

Unless you’re–like me these last number of weeks–specifically determined to read the entirety of what was published as part of this original Age of Apocalypse series, this seems like a safe mini to skip. And I’m thankful to be through this because now I can jump into the #4s and the final parts of the story, as the various threads in the minis begin to–finally–pay off.

Age of Apocalypse Revisited: X-Universe #1

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xuniverse001Last Stand

Story by: Scott Lobdell
Script: Terry Kavanagh
Penciler: Carlos Pacheco
Inker: Cam Smith
Colorist: Kevin Somers
Color Separations: Electric Crayon
Lettering: Richard Starkings and Comicraft
Cover: Pacheco & Smith
Editors: Marie Javins, Bob Harras

We open on the familiar face of Gwen Stacy–dead in the regular Marvel universe but obviously alive in this altered reality of the Age of Apocalypse. She’s essentially a humanitarian worker here…saving those she can in Wakanda, though she quickly is reminded she can’t save everyone. Fisk and Osborne–Marauders–have arrived…though they’re almost immediately challenged by a Stark cargo ship carrying Tony Stark and Clint Barton. Once the Marauders are dispatched, there’s a reunion on the ground between Stark and Donald Blake. Shortly after, Mikhail Rasputin arrives on a peace mission from Apocalypse…though upon inviting Stacy, Stark, Blake, and others into his ship, his true colors stand revealed.

"Passable" is the first word that comes to mind on the art, though it’s not quite the word I’m grasping for. The art works here and I really don’t have a problem with it–but it’s nothing special or spectacular. Given the nature of this book, one probably shouldn’t expect too much of it as this is possibly the most "fringe" book of the Age of Apocalypse arc.

I could say the same for the story–I’m far less engaged by this than I’ve been with any of the other issues of AoA thus far. The story itself isn’t horrible or anything…it just fails to really draw me in or make me "care."

So far, we’ve been presented with a specifically X-centric take on this Earth–where mutants rose to power, crushing humanity beneath their collective heel. As an X-centric story overall, we’ve seen no appearance of nor any real reference to the likes of Iron Man, Captain America, the Avengers, the Hulk, the Fantastic Four–any of the "non-X" groups of characters or solo characters of the Marvel universe. This 2-issue series seems geared specifically to deal with that fact, by presenting us with a bunch of characters and references to off-panel prior deaths and such so as to not leave ’em out of continuity ENTIRELY.

While i’m quite glad for the addressing of continuity in this way, trying to answer the question of what happened to these various other characters–the execution leaves plenty to be desired, in my eyes. I’ve been quite content to consider that the Human High Council in Europe "speaks for" humanity, and to "assume" that the likes of Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, the Avengers, and any younger characters had the entirety of their origins derailed by Apocalypse’s rise to power and thus would be faceless humans on the whole.

Given that…this series’ existence makes sense, but is a definite step away from the rest of the AoA issues, involving non-X characters. This mini does not seem to tie into any of Magneto’s plans nor have anything to do with him or any of the other X-groups, and as such this is largely "filler"…worth a read if you want a take on the non-mutant characters, but (for me) not at all essential to the rest of the AoA-verse.

Age of Apocalypse Revisited: Gambit and the X-Ternals #3

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gambitandthexternals003To The Limits of Infinity

Writer: Fabian Nicieza
Penciler: Salvador Larrocca
Inker: Al Milgrom
Letterer: Chris Eliopoulos
Color Art: Javins, Rosas, Webb, Thomas
Separations: Electric Crayon
Cover: Salvador Larrocca, Al Milgrom
Editor: Bob Harras
Published by: Marvel Comics
Cover Date: May 1995
Cover Price: $1.95

Gambit’s crew has located the M’Kraan crystal…but realize the task before them–to actually steal it and return with it to Earth–may well be impossible. Still, they get beamed down to the planet, where their immediate welcome is quite hostile. As the group splits, Gambit and Deathbird follow Lila into the crystal itself after she was pulled in…where they meet a creature who explains to them what the crystal is, what it can do, and how important this mission truly is. Outside the crystal, the rest of the group faces an additional welcome party of Gladiator and Rictor as the situation goes south in a hurry…leading them to enter the crystal as a final, desperate attempt at survival. Once in the crystal, they’re just in time to see the crystal accept something of Gambit, and finally with Sunspot’s sacrifice, the group attempts to return home.

This issue seems to be the core of the series…we have the introductory stuff and setup in the first issue, the characters regrouping and dealing with being tossed across the universe in the second…here we actually see them get what they came for and presumably wrap up. Of course, there’s one issue to go, and we end on Lila’s declaration that she will not fail (to get them home)…but we don’t actually see them get home.

The art continues its consistent good quality as with the previous issues…really no particular complaint or gripe from me. I liked it, and sped through the issue without being "taken out of the story"  by anything weird in the art itself…I simply saw the characters and situations and that’s what the art is supposed to do.

Gambit’s internal conflict here is easy for me to empathize with–the feelings he’s continued to hold onto for Rogue, challenged by his presently being with Lila. That he’s forced to deal with his own feelings in order to save the universe itself is a rather deep thing to ponder. I’m also not familiar with Jahf, if he’s appeared before or not…there’s just enough ambiguity that I could see either option equally likely. Other than Bishop himself, I think this is the first we’ve seen any "confirmation" in-story that this reality is not the "real" one, and for the first time (maybe ever) I feel like there’s a reasonable hint of how the AoA reality has "continued to exist" to present-day.

The issue’s end is lofty–a declaration that failure will not happen. It nicely caps the last couple issues, but leaves things open for the next issue and conclusion of this particular mini. There’s no doubt the characters will face further hurdles before any of them make it to X-Men: Omega, and it’ll be interesting to see the "bridge" between this issue and that.

Age of Apocalypse Revisited: Generation Next #3

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generationnext003It Only Hurts When I Sing

Creators: Scott Lobdell & Chris Bachalo
Inks: Mark Buckingham
Colors: Steve Buccellato and Electric Crayon
Letters: Richard Starkings and Comicraft
Edits: Bob Harras
Cover: Bachalo
Published by: Marvel Comics
Cover Date: May 1995
Cover Price: $1.95

We continue to see the kids’ infiltration of the prison camp as they seek Colossus’ sister, Illyana. Their search quickly turns toward doom for the group…and we see the stark contrast in this Colossus by the way he regards the lives of his students in this situation. We’re also shown a lot more about the conditions in the facility as well as the sorts of individuals who keep the place running. Finally, we’re left with a decent cliffhanger as characters struggle for maximum survival, though perhaps purchased at a steep cost.

This issue gives us what I believe is the first on-page appearance of the Sugar Man…a rather gross little beast of a character. I didn’t like the character back in 1995, and I don’t now in 2015. The character seems a perfect fit for the art and story, though, showing the horrors and weirdness that populate the world of this story.

Visually I’m not impressed…and continue to attribute most of that to Bachalo‘s art, which just isn’t that appealing to me, outside of Colossus and Kitty. The story is pretty good on the whole, and I do enjoy that we get to see the characters "in action" and they way in which they infiltrate the place. Though this is by no means my favorite issue nor favorite TITLE, it’s still a solid issue with good story and distinctive art. I vaguely recall a key event for these characters, but truly cannot remember if it occurs in the pages of this mini or not until X-Men: Omega.

As a third issue of four, this works well enough and does leave me curious about the unfolding of the events in the next issue, even if I’m not singularly enamored with this issue. It gets the job done, and also has me further curious about some of these characters in the "regular" Marvel universe.

Nothing special, nothing horrible.

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