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Age of Apocalypse Revisited: Astonishing X-Men #4

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astonishingxmen004Plot/Dialogue: Scott Lobdell
Pencils: Joe Madureira
Inks: Townsend/Milgrom
Colors: Steve Buccellato
Separations: Digital Chameleon
Letters: Richard Starkings, Comicraft
Cover: Madureira, Townsend, Buccellato
Editor: Bob Harras
Published by: Marvel Comics
Cover Date: June 1995
Cover Price: $1.95

Doing what comics did well BEFORE they were commonly written-for-the-trade, this issue picks up a bit after the previous issue’s cliffhanger. Where there we saw Blink horrified at finding the eviscerated body of Sabretooth, here we find that she’s gotten over that shock and is now confronting Holocaust over the issue. The "Infinite factory" has been taken apart, and she’s soon joined by the rest of Rogue’s group of X-Men, and together they face Holocaust, each with plenty of reason to take the Horseman apart. The monster holds an ace in the sleeve, though, and escapes…but not before revealing to Rogue that her husband, son, and the stranger Bishop have been taken by Apocalypse…and setting her on a determined course.

Yet again, I found myself enjoying Madureira‘s art in this issue. By name, I’m inclined to want to avoid it in contemporary comics…but here, it’s very good and I enjoyed it. Twenty years ago, it just WAS…and with no name recognition I was–and still am–good with it. There’s a definite "feel" of it being ’90s art–particularly Holocaust’s appearance with the shoulder armor and such–but I’m definitely ok with that.

The story itself moves things along a bit and ties some things up–Sabretooth’s fate, the team’s handling of it, the immediate threat of Holocaust himself, the team dealing with the Infinites, etc. I nearly chuckled at the "smart-arse" back and forth between Rogue and Holocaust, and remember truly laughing out loud in the past when I’d read the scene. "From where I’m standing…" and Holocaust simply punching Rogue away "Then stand over there!" Childish perhaps, but a nice bit of levity within the already dark story.

While functionally a 4-issue mini-series and this is the "finale," the story doesn’t actually end here…just the chapter. The issue ends with a note to follow things into Amazing X-Men #4 and then X-Men: Omega…and that’s what all the AoA series do. We started with X-Men: Alpha with a singular whole, splintered off to the 8 (or 10) minis, and everything re-converges for the true finale in X-Men: Omega.

Were this a contemporary issue/contemporary end-of-a-miniseries, I’d be very annoyed, I think. As-is, seeing this as simply a part of the larger whole and having ZERO expectation of Astonishing X-Men wrapping up as a full self-contained thing, I’m perfectly fine with this, and suspect that (as with this issue) the rest of the #4s will be similar: each leaving me all the more eager to get to the grand finale, having journeyed through the separate sub-stories that make up the overall Age of Apocalypse story.

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Age of Apocalypse Revisited: Astonishing X-Men #3

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astonishingxmen003In Excess

Plot: Scott Lobdell
Dialogue: Jeph Loeb
Pencils: Joe Madureira
Inks: Townsend/Milgrom
Colors: Steve Buccellato
Separations: Digital Chameleon
Letters: Richard Starkings and Comicraft
Cover: Joe Madureira
Editor: Bob Harras
Published by: Marvel Comics
Cover Date: May 1995
Cover Price: $1.95

With this issue, we head into the final half of the Age of Apocalypse story. We pick up on Wild Child being pursued and brought down…and when about to be killed, realize that Rogue and her group of X-Men have arrived to rescue him. On figuring out that something’s happened to Sabretooth, they mount yet another rescue mission. We also find out about Blink and Sabretooth’s past–what has so bonded the two; and we get a moment with Magneto and Bishop discussing Bishop’s ability to take a life, should it be possible to actually send him back in time–as it’s likely he would have to kill Legion to stop him.

This issue is definitely one where Morph stands out–and while I initially suspected this might’ve been where I started to REALLY notice the character, I recall that this series came a couple years AFTER the Fox animated X-Men tv series where we’d had a Morph, and this AoA character is actually the ‘derivative’ of sorts, at least by name.

I enjoyed this one quite a bit (with the USUAL caveat of that being in spite of the dystopian environment and dark situations the characters are actually in). At the time (in general) Rogue was one of my favorite characters…and this version of the character is rather "classic" to me…and in some ways even more interesting to me than the regular version at the time, and certainly moreso than recent years in the contemporary X-books. It’s also kind of odd to see Bishop struggling with the notion of taking a life, given the way he’s portrayed years later and most of the last decade.

I also continue to be amazed at how much a part of the X-universe Jeph Loeb was, prior to having real "name recognition" for me with comics…and sad to notice the contrast in how much of his ’90s work I enjoyed and how little I’ve enjoyed his contemporary stuff, myself.

This begins the third quarter of the Age of Apocalypse story as originally presented, and this 3rd of 4 issues hits a high gear. Given this is a mini-series, and a "temporary universe" as far as we’re (as readers) concerned…given so much is already "different" from the "regular" universe…there’s a heightened sense of "anything can happen" and that it’s pretty certain not everyone’s going to survive the series–they don’t need to, as the ongoing/perpetual nature of the X-Men property in general doesn’t apply to this. Even if major, core characters die, if we’re back to the "regular" books in a month or two, they’ll be "back" and none the worse for wear.

While I haven’t cared much for Madureira‘s contemporary work–looking "too stylized" for my personal tastes–the art works really well on this issue and I definitely enjoyed it. Though the cover isn’t nearly as "iconic" as the first issue, looking at it sitting here while I type, I like this one…both the focus on Rogue (despite some wonky perspective with her legs) and the coloring of the logo, playing off the foreground and the generic-ish background.

Definitely a good issue, enjoyable to read and look at, with a nice balance of characters, and keeping the story moving forward while giving a dark cliffhanger that promises an interesting 4th issue.

Age of Apocalypse Revisited: Astonishing X-Men #2

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astonishingxmen002No Exit

Writer: Scott Lobdell
Penciler: Joe Madureira
Inkers:
Dan Green & Tim Townsend
Color Art: Steve Buccellato & Digital Chameleon
Letterer: Chris Eliopoulos
Cover: Joe Madureira, Tim Townsend
Editor: Bob Harras
Published by: Marvel Comics
Cover Date: April 1995
Cover Price: $1.95

Rogue’s team finds themselves in the remnants of Chicago about to be trampled by its fleeing human population. Sunfire lashes out, determining that he MUST take the fight to Holocaust…but Rogue winds up stopping him, keeping her team together to help the humans here, now…not fly off half-cocked to be slaughtered. Meanwhile, Bishop finds Magneto sitting quietly alone while his young charges race around the globe, and chastises him…before realizing he is functionally saying goodbye to the infant son whose very existence will be sacrificed by "remaking" the world to what it should have been. Further meanwhile, Sabretooth enlists Blinks help to take the fight to Holocaust, eluding Rogue where Sunfire did not…and battling the monstrous son of Apocalypse…a battle that goes roughly as he planned, but not before sending Wild Child away with valuable information to survive the encounter.

Re-reading the Age of Apocalypse epic issue-by-issue in single-issue format for the first time in nearly two decades has been a true delight, taking me back at once to my all-time favorite X-Men story, period…as well as a nostalgic, simpler time when I found the X-Men comics to BE fun and enjoyable and a real treat to read…a time before the Internet and daily spoilers and the Next Big Event being hyped hardly halfway into the Current Big Event…when the Current Big Event mattered, was huge, was all-encompassing, was…THERE.

This issue embodies all that. We have favorite characters–Rogue, Magneto, this version of Sabretooth, Blink, Bishop…we have the latest chapter of an epic adventure, the last adventure, the One That Will Change Everything…as we witness the twilight of the Age of Apocalypse, the last-ditch effort of all those involved to make a difference in this darker world. And while the darkness and death is by no means a fun thing, a fun setting…the story itself, reading this…is.

Madureira’s art works really well for me with this issue…the entirety of the issue just looks very good, affirms my (perhaps altered-by-recently-re-read-issues) memory of how much I loved the look of the book at the time as I quite enjoy it here. The characters are all familiar, successfully distinct where I’d expect and any similarities or indistinctness is minimal and only noticed by looking back through for such things and never took me out of the "reading experience."

The writing–the story–simply "is" for me. And that’s a good thing. I read the issue, and was sucked in and maintained page after page, knowing I’ve read this, vague memories creeping up and ever so slightly reminding me that something happens to this character, or that character actually does survive, etc. But by and large the "details" have been forgotten and so are read here anew as a fresh story that is quite enjoyable. This issue fits the ongoing narrative of the epic, gives a number of characters some significant facetime, and unfolds details that add further depth to them…from Rogue’s reluctance to use her powers on a teammate or see any of ’em throw their lives away; to Magneto struggling with the reality he knows versus the knowledge that everything he’s known for two decades can be (MUST be) somehow undone; to Sabretooth and what he means to Blink as well as seeking to atone for his past.

The reading of this issue "kicks off" Month #2 for me in this journeying back through the Age of Apocalypse…and leaves me extremely eager–moreso than I’ve been so far–to get through the entirety, wishing I had the time to just sit and devour the saga…and yet all the more curious (just for myself) at what the overall experience will be and how my own reading is impacted by taking the time between the reading of each issue to write these reviews, forcing myself to think and self-analyze, at least–on what I’ve read.

Age of Apocalypse Revisited: Astonishing X-Men #1

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astonishingxmen001Once More With Feeling

Writer: Scott Lobdell
Penciler: Joe Madureira
Inkers: Dan Green, Tim Townsend
Letters: chris Eliopoulos
Colors: Steve Buccellato
Separations: Digital Chameleon
Cover: Joe Madureira, Tim Townsend
Editing: Bob Harras
Published by: Marvel Comics
Cover Date: March 1995
Cover Price: $1.95

This is another “iconic cover” to me, with Magneto front ‘n center and the rest of his group of X-Men there as well–Blink, Sabretooth with Wildchild, Morph, Sunfire, Rogue, Banshee, Iceman, and Storm. The AoA Magneto is probably my all-time favorite version of the character, and I quite like Rogue with the cape. This is also my favorite Sabretooth design.

While Magneto ponders how to proceed in light of what he’s learned from Bishop (see X-Men: Alpha), Blink and Sunfire return via one of her portals, barely escaping one of Apocalypse’s minions. The X-Men are “victorious,” and Sunfire reveals that Apocalypse not only lied but has sent his son Holocaust to personally carry out a new round of cullings. Meanwhile, Apocalypse is briefed, that it’s only a matter of time until the X-Men are located. Gambit gets a few moments with Rogue to catch up before he takes off with his X-Ternals. Nightcrawler converses with Magneto about the implications of Bishop’s presence. Morph adds a bright spot to things as Rogue readies her team to leave, and Bishop has a moment with Quicksilver over what he’s set in motion.

While this is a first issue, it’s clearly part of something larger. For one thing, it draws heavily from the introductory stuff in X-Men: Alpha–from Bishop and his presence, to Magneto having set other stuff in motion. However, I’m a bit surprised at Nightcrawler’s presence here, having thought he actually took off immediately on Magneto’s order to go find Destiny. Even having so recently re-read Alpha, I can’t recall for sure what Blink was up to, so the fact she and Sunfire were off and about is a slight surprise to me, at least in their discovering the resumation of the cullings being either off-panel or in another issue I’ve not gotten back to yet.

Somehow through the years, I’ve gotten it into my head that I was not particularly a fan of Madureira‘s work…but by and large I really enjoyed his work in this issue. As mentioned regarding the cover, I particularly enjoyed the character designs on Magneto, Rogue, and Sabretooth here. Blink also looks quite distinct, familiar, and “normal” to me. The visuals brought back a definite sense of nostalgia here–as I expect most (if not all) of these Age of Apocalypse issues are going to do.

I don’t recall much in the way of thoughts I had back in the day beyond the cover still standing out to me. I noticed on this read-through that Rogue has a collar much like Magneto’s holding her cape in place, and it’s interesting re-adjusting to the notion of a romance between the two. She’s certainly a rather young mother figure to Magneto’s relative age…and yet, that works quite well for me here. Events in my personal life as I’ve aged myself make Gambit’s situation a lot more understandable and identifiable for me…where the character wasn’t nearly so sympathetic 20 years ago.

Though this has the aforementioned feeling of being something larger, it also feels like a solid first issue, introducing the reader to the basic situation at hand and identifying the main characters. References are made to the larger story, accompanied by the Lost Art Of The Footnote directing readers to consider Amazing X-Men, X-Calibre, and Generation Next in an offhanded way that doesn’t require it but shamelessly “plugs” those series. This issue is clearly moving pieces around the board a bit and starting to situated stuff, while bridging the events of X-Men: Alpha and the series that make up the Age of Apocalypse saga itself.

Age of Apocalypse Revisited: X-Men Alpha #1

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xmenalpha001Beginings…

Story: Scott Lobdell
Dialogue: Mark Waid
Pencils: Roger Cruz w/Steve Epting
Inks: Tim Townsend w/Dan Panosian
Letters: Starkings w/Comicraft
Colors: Steve Buccellato w/Electric Crayon
Editor: Bob Harras
Cover: Joe Madureira, Tim Townsend
Published by: Marvel Comics
Cover Date: February 1995
Cover Price: $3.95

The cover proclaims A NEW World! A NEW Beginning! This issue sports a fancy "chromium" cover, and is itself a rather iconic image–to me, at least–of the "new" X-Men, as brought together by Magneto. We see Weapon X (Wolverine) front ‘n center on the front panel of this wraparound cover. Blink, Sunfire, Bishop, Rogue, Magneto, Jean Grey, Quicksilver, Nightcrawler, and Gambit round out the bunch here. Open the issue up to see the back cover as well and we see Apocalypse in the background, with Sabretooth and Wild Child in the foreground, Jubilee and Colossus behind, and some flying stormtroopers (Infinites, I believe) filling out the sky-space of the image.

There are no ads in this issue. 48 pages of story, plus the cover–that’s it. For "only" $3.95. Sorta pricey "back in the day," but quite a bargain by today’s standards. I wouldn’t be surprised to see something like this priced around $9.99 by Marvel nowadays–and shocked to see it under $7.99.

Though this issue kicks off the Age of Apocalypse epic, it does not itself carry an Age of Apocalypse badge–this is a "bookend" issue that serves as a prologue to the entirety of the event encompassing ten or so titles across the four months.

We open on a wasteland, where we meet Bishop–whose mind was damaged by the energies that ripped Legion and the other X-Men away in X-Men #41. We find that he’s wandered for the 20 years since. Here, he’s become the focus of an attack from Unus and his troopers who were chasing a young human who found momentary hope in Bishop. The X-Men arrive–Magneto’s X-Men–and the battle is joined. Emerging victorious, the X-Men are then confronted by Bishop, who recognizes Magneto and levels some major accusations at him. Magneto sedates him and they take Bishop for questioning.

Meanwhile, we meet Beast–Henry McCoy–a mad scientist figure experimenting on mutants. Havok touches base, and the mutant (Blob) being experimented on attacks, and the pair are "rescued" by Cyclops–with long hair and only one eye, and see that he and Havok have a horrible relationship. The two are part of Apocalypse’s group, by way of Sinister–who arrives and chastises the two for fighting, and then speaks cryptically and leaves. The scene shifts to a bar maintained by Angel–Heaven–where he’s confronted by Gambit, who is looking for Magneto. We shift to the X-Men, questioning Bishop, then to Apocalypse and his upper ranks as he reveals plans to destroy the last of humanity.

The story shifts to Weapon X and Jean meeting up with the Human High Council, and then back to Magneto’s group. "Feedback" from Rogue touching him leads to Magneto seeing fragments of a universe that might have been, leaving the older mutant troubled. He immediately sends Nightcrawler to seek Destiny in order to get confirmation of his vision. Meanwhile, Sinister’s gone missing, and Apocalypse nudges things into motion. The X-Men know "something" is up, but not specifics. While off in space, a certain crystallization wave heads toward Earth.

I don’t usually like summarizing an issue so thoroughly–but there is a LOT going on here. And it all works, for me. There’s a lot of vagueness and toss-off references scattered throughout that don’t necessarily make a lot of sense now, in context of just this one issue–but having read this before and knowing the characters, I follow them quite well. This sets up the various books that make up the Age of Apocalypse saga, introducing us to core elements–the characters and places that will have significant roles in the story to come.

There’s a definite sense of "history" here, and it feels like this could easily BE just a random issue I picked up, amidst an ongoing continuity and not the first actual glimpse at the entirety of said continuity. This is–to the reader–a new world, a beginning of an "Event," but for the characters involved this is simply the present, 20 years after a key incident in Israel.

I remember being quite eager to get into the Age of Apocalypse as a whole and being fascinated by this new version of all the characters. Despite the dark setting of the story, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this, with a familiarity and warm sense of nostagia as I did so.

The art is slightly stylistic at points, and I’m not particularly familiar with Roger Cruz‘s name…but this issue being what it is, none of the art bothered me…I was simply a kid again, enjoying seeing all these characters and where they were, and trying to glean where the story was going from this single issue.

It’s refreshing to read this issue again, and getting a sense of pureness or "authenticity" from what I so enjoyed about this event…before everything that’s come in the past ten years or so as things were changed, pulled from, and generally mucked about with in attempt to get as much out of this story as possible beyond its relatively self-contained nature in 1995.

In short, this issue holds up extremely well to my memory, is still very enjoyable, and leaves me eager to get into the heart of the story.

The ’90s Revisited: Uncanny X-Men #325

uncannyxmen325Generation of Evil

Writer: Scott Lobdell
Penciler: Joe Madureira
Inkers: Townsend & Ryan
Colors: Steve Buccellato & Electric Crayon
Leters: Richard Starkings and Comicraft
Editor and Chief: Bob Harras
Published by: Marvel Comics
Cover Price: $2.95
Cover Date: October, 1995

This issue always throws me, just from the cover. This is from that period of time when Marvel apparently thought the covers’ numbers didn’t matter and would have the issue’s number in tiny print somewhere in the UPC box, at the bottom of the cover, rather than somewhere near the upper part with the cover logo. For this cover, they actually hide all of that–the title logo folded to the inside, and the UPC to the back cover, so all you have is Storm, Colossus, and Wolverine attacking someone off-panel, and a tiny banner at the top specifying this as a Special X-Men Anniversary Issue. (20th anniversary of the “All-New” X-Men from Giant-Size X-Men #1)

While the issue opens on the X-Men playing baseball, the bulk of the issue features a “return” of Morlocks, apparently in the wake of some of their number taking on the name “Gene Nation” or such and executing terrorist acts around the city. Leader of the Morlocks Callisto shows up and explains it’s the “younger generation” that feels the older has failed them, failed to act–and seeks to rectify the issue. This also brings up Storm’s “history” as a former leader of the Morlocks (having once challenged and beaten Callisto FOR said leadership), and what that means for her in the face of the current situation.

Story-wise this is a solid issue; nothing horrible about it to me; but nothing fantastic, either. However, having the baseball game is a great moment…the sort I recall truly enjoying in the X-books…just seeing the characters relax and not have to be fighting the villain of the month/issue…I’d probably thoroughly enjoy a full issue that’s nothing but the characters just being who they are, interacting with each other; no villains or any particular antagonist, period. I like that the issue is definitely set in continuity, dealing with the history of the Morlocks, as well as keeping several subplots moving (Gambit, and Rogue/Iceman).

Visually this is a mixed thing for me: the style is a bit cartoony at points and feels a bit “off” to my sensibilities with these characters, and yet it totally brings back (good) memories OF this era of X-Men comics, and works in that regard.

For an issue fished out of a 25-cent bin, certainly well worth the purchase and reading. There’s no funky foiling on this copy, so I think this is the “newsstand” edition where the original copy I bought when it came out new I’m pretty sure was the “direct edition” or otherwise had shiny-ness about it. (Which works for my interest in “converting” FROM shiny covers to standard/newsstand editions for my various “runs” of series). It’s also worth noting that these days, this would probably be at least 2-3 variant covers, rather than the 4-panel wrap-around/fold-out this actually carries.

Given the lengthy role Marrow (I believe) went on to play in the X-Books, this is a good jumping-on point to see where she comes from and (presumably) changes. All in all quite a high-quality bargain-bin purchase!

Fatal Attractions Revisited: Excalibur #71

Crossing Swords

Writer: Scott Lobdell
Pencilers: Ken Lashley, Darick Robertson, Matthew Ryan
Inkers: Cam Smith, Randy Elliot, Randy Emberlin, Mark Nelson
Letterers: Bill Oakley, Pat Brosseau, Dave Sharpe
Colorist: Joe Rosas
Editor: Suzanne Gaffney
Group Editor: Bob Harras
Cover: Joe Madureira and Joe Bennett
Published by: Marvel Comics
Cover Date: November, 1993
Cover Price: 3.95

After Nightcrawler confronts one of the Acolytes and–thanks to Kitty–narrowly avoids killing him, the X-Men burst into things, “recruiting” the remanants of Excalibur’s help in a particular task: they want to “fix” Colossus. After an injury he’d suffered, he was unable to revert to human form, and they figure that’s the cause of his ‘defecting’ to Magneto’s camp. If they can heal him, surely that’ll fix him and any brain issue, and he’ll return to them.

The various characters react to stuff–some for, some against. While they do, Cable shows up for Colossus, and winds up confronting Phoenix (Rachel Grey) in a less than pleasant battle. Once Colossus arrives (thinking Kitty wants to return to Avalon with him), the “trap” is sprung and the plan revealed. Though Colossus declares he does not want the help of the X-Men, they “help” anyway, and his ability to shift back and forth between human and metal forms is restored. Though he has a touching moment with Kitty, he still opts to return to Avalon with the Acolytes.

Finally, as all of this has been going on, an idea has been building for Nightcrawler, and he decides that with the “old team” basically no more, he’ll have a “new team,” a new Excalibur, that will operate at Muir Isle with Moira.

After rereading X-Men 25 and Wolverine 75, this issue was a bit of a letdown. I’m probably least-aware of ’90s Excalibur of all the X-teams of the time, at least prior to Age of Apocalypse. Reading this, I had a vague sense of deja vu, that I’d read this before. Yet I can’t honestly say with certainty that I’d read the issue any time before reading it for this posting. I know t was at least a few years after the fact that I even acquired the issue for the first time (whether before or after college I don’t even know at this point). For quite awhile, Fatal Attractions (for me) ended with Wolverine 75.

Story-wise, this is a transition issue–we go from whatever recent stuff’s gone down with Excalibur to the end of the issue setting the stage for a whole new team. And in the middle of it we have Cyclops, Jean, and Professor X thrown in–familiar faces that made this issue seem much more an X-Men issue than it would have otherwise, which also ties it into the events of Fatal Attractions in general. It’s also kind of odd having the sense of continuity that there is here–but then, this was back when such things were important to stories and “families” of titles and not some loose option seen as detrimental to the nature of “the story.”

Visually, the issue is a bit uneven with multiple artists–though it’s not terribly detrimental to the issue. It seems like the various scenes had an artist, so there’s some internal consistency that way. I really like the look of Colossus costume in this issue–one page has a nearly full image of him, and it’s one of the best depictions of the character I can recall ever seeing.

It seems the two main things to come out of this issue are the “new” Excalibur team and Colossus is no longer confined to his metallic form. If you didn’t know he’d been injured, that’s probably not a huge plot point (before this read-through, I never would’ve been able to tell you where or when that little problem was dealt with–I’d once been aware that he was so injured, but never really thought about it much or cared to find out its resolution). That this is the beginning of a new Excalibur team has me interested in seeing that team; if this were a new issue, I’d definitely be back for the next. As-is looking at this nearly twenty years after it came out…I could simply track down the next few issues to read.

This is probably the “simplest” of the covers…it’s bright and colorful, but somehow not exactly my cup of tea, so to speak. The hologram of Nightcrawler is–like the others in this series–not bad, though at least on the copy I read, felt like I have to look at it somewhat from an angle to really get the best 3D effect.

So ended the official 30th Anniversary “event” for the X-Men. I loosely followed the X-books here and there over the next year-plus; it wasn’t until the end of 1994 with Legion Quest and then the Age of Apocalypse that I began a run of following the entire X-Universe.

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