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Age of Apocalypse Revisited: X-Men Chronicles #2

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xmenchronicles002Shattered Dreams

Writer: Howard Mackie
Penciler: Ian Churchill
Inks: Hanna/Vey/Moncuse/Wiacek
Colors: Matt Webb
Color Separations: Digital Chameleon
Lettering: Richard Starkings and Comicraft
Cover: Churchill
Editors: Kelly Corvese, Bob Harras
Published by: Marvel Comics
Cover Date: June 1995
Cover Price: $3.95

We open on Weapon X confronting Magneto. He and Jean are leaving, and Mags will NOT be convincing him otherwise. After the tense standoff, we shift to Wolverine–a huge mutant working for Holocaust. Holocaust, it seems, was once Nemesis–who killed Scarlet Witch in X-Men Chronicles #1, some time before this issue. Magneto doesn’t take Jean and Logan’s leaving all that well and throws himself AND his X-Men into training, none realizing the pending danger of the Wolverine. We also see the deterioration of Gambit’s pursuit of Rogue as we see the blossoming of the Magneto/Rogue relationship…which doesn’t begin to go over well with Gambit. Despite the huge wedge from a heart’s betrayal, Gambit stands with Magneto against Wolverine…though their broken friendship is one of the "key" events to come of the issue.

It may be that the issue is extra-sized and so a bigger single chunk of story, minus issue breaks and fitting into the larger, more complex continuity of multiple titles going on simultaneously, as well as "seeing" a key point in this version of the X-Men’s past (relative to the "present day" waning moments of the Age of Apocalypse unfolding in the main X-books cover dated June 1995). It might be the art, and certainly an enjoyable story. But reading this issue, the thoughts it provoked, and the feeling I had when I got to the end…this is definitely one of my TOP favorite issues of the entirety of the AoA storyline.

There’s only one page in particular (but several, flipping back through the issue) with Magneto specifically, where I feel like I noticed a change in the inking, transforming Churchill‘s work such that I actually paused and looked back to see if there were multiple artists/pencilers on the book, as it just looks quite different from the rest of the book. Otherwise, I really liked the art, and would have to really dig to find anything NOT to like about it. I’m not all that fond of Wolverine’s visual design…but as a generic "evil mutant" he works quite well. I imagine part of that is simply the use of the name in association with someone NOT Logan. (Yet, it makes sense in a world with countless "codenames" if most know "Weapon X" but he’s not using the name…"Wolverine" WOULD be up for grabs!)

Mackie gets a bad rap, I think…or at least, I’ve allowed my opinion to be clouded by his later work, particularly–I think–his Spider-Man stuff of the later ’90s. Here, I just simply enjoyed seeing these characters and the story that we get through the longer segment. Even knowing what was coming, I found it rather authentic seeing Gambit’s naiveté regarding Rogue’s falling for Magneto, and empathized with his hurt and frustration at the unintended "betrayal" of Magneto and Rogue’s developing relationship.

We get some details hinted at previously, and the actual "on-panel" stuff with Logan and Jean leaving and the Magneto/Rogue/Gambit triangle, as well as 44 pages of story plus 5 double-page "historical moments" (basically, "pinups") to round things out. I truly miss–and consider it a "lost art" of late–the inclusion of such "pinups" or quasi-arbitrary art pages in comics. In 2015, these would be an additional 10 variant covers as 5 sets of double-panel interlocking images. In 1995, these were fun bonus pages adding some visual context to the X-Men’s history. If only by labeling, these pages definitely lend credence to the notion of a picture being worth a thousand words.

Given this is essentially a one-shot, simply "a" story of this universe’s X-Men, the issue stands very strongly on its own. Knowing only that this is an alternate reality as well as the general convolutedness of the entirety of X-Men history…one doesn’t have to be following the rest of the Age of Apocalypse to follow this or to take this as "a story." For that matter, one doesn’t truly have to have read X-Men Chronicles #1, even.

For me, at least…the Age of Apocalypse doesn’t get much better than this; and perhaps for its immediate recency as of this typing, if I didn’t before I definitely now hold this as cream of the crop when it comes to Age of Apocalypse stuff.

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Age of Apocalypse Revisited: Factor X #4

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factorx004Reckonings

Writer: John Francis Moore
Pencilers: Steve Epting w/ Terry Dodson
Inker: Al Milgrom
Lettering: Richard Starkings, Comicraft
Colorist: Glynis Oliver
Cover: Steve Epting
Editors: Kelly Corvese, Bob Harras
Published by: Marvel Comics
Cover Date: June 1995
Cover Price: $1.95

The order has been given–the pens of humans are to be culled. The newly "promoted" Alex Summers lords it over the others to enforce the order. Meanwhile, Cyclops and Jean are trying to save the humans, help them escape. This leads to the two having to fight through multiple obstacles (though they find unexpected allies). Things ultimately come down to brother vs. brother, and a new leader of the would-be-culled humans. Also meanwhile, Angel’s club is shut down, while Worthington himself ditches the place, essentially laying aside his neutrality in things.

This issue really does not offer any true finality or closure to what’s been set up throughout…more, it’s the fourth chapter of this side-trip following Alex, Scott, and (Dark) Beast and whatnot–our glimpse into things going on within Apocalypse’s ranks with characters we’re familiar with from the "regular" universe. To get finality for these characters and their arc within AoA, one definitely needs to follow this with X-Men: Omega.

The story, though, is good, and AS a story I don’t really have much to say on it; the writing is solid and consistent and not unexpected. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but there’s also something to Cyclops as written here that made me think he’s portrayed as a lot more interesting than I recall his being at the time in the regular Marvel universe. Perhaps the notion of his having served with Sinister and Apocalypse at all, or a number of other potential angles of the character that could be explored to answer "Why is he where and how he is now?"

My surprise with the issue’s creative side is just how much I really like the art. My one actual "problem" with the visuals is Jean’s hair–I’d swear she’s had much shorter hair in prior appearances, where Jean in this issue has the longer hair of her 616-counterpart of the time. I could be annoyed at the inconsistency…but I prefer long-haired Jean as depicted here, so I like it.

I’m not nearly as familiar with Havok in general, and it’s been rather strange seeing him as so thorough a villain in the Age of Apocalypse (same for Beast). Still, there’s a lot more than could be explored between just Alex and Scott’s relationship, that it’s sort of regrettable this four-issue journey is over.

I’ve enjoyed the series, and enjoyed this issue. Were it a self-contained mini-series I’d almost certainly be quite disappointed at the ending. As-is, it leads into X-Men: Omega, and I recall a definite end-point for Jean, Scott, and Alex as well as the fate of the Beast; looking ahead to that, it occurs to me that Omega serves in many ways as a #5 for the various minis, with Alpha having served as a #0.

Age of Apocalypse Revisited: AoA: The Chosen

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ageofapocalypsethechosen001Cover: Ian Churchill, Scott Hanna
Cover Graphics: Ashley Underwood
Colorist: Ashley Underwood
Designer: Ronnie Lawler
Computer Imaging: Steve Alexandrov
Editors: Jaye Gardner, Kelly Corvese, Bob Harras
Published by: Marvel Comics
Cover Date: April 1995
Cover Price: $2.50

I had it in my head to include a review of this since I’m trying to cover everything else with the original Age of Apocalypse…but there’s really not much TO review. We have a 3-page framing sequence to shoehorn this issue into the AoA story, suggesting that we’re reading profiles through the eyes of one of the Madri and not just a random Marvel Comics publication offering some basic details on several key characters and titles involved with the AoA stuff.

The art and premise are passable and I appreciate what’s being attempted, though the execution falls pretty flat for me.

The profiles themselves provide a somewhat diverse mix of art and text–supposedly computer files Apocalypse has on major players in things and whether he deems them worthy or unworthy of survival ("Chosen" or "Forgotten").

Looking at this "in-continuity" as seems to be the intent, I have a lot of issues here, from how short and UNdetailed the entries are, to several spelling and punctuation gaffes I noticed (one that made me cringe before moving on), to the very notion of Apocalypse keeping such files and deeming anyone "Chosen" or "Forgotten" as if labeling toys on a shelf or some such.

This issue is really a primer, to give some basic information on a number of the main characters involved in the Age of Apocalypse, whether singularly or by title they appear in. I definitely have a problem with Mystique and Nightcrawler being labeled X-Calibre by Apocalypse…this is one of THE key elements that strikes me as entirely implausible given context of this book as well as those characters, that Mystique’s "X-calibre" bullets are the reference for the title and not a team name).

I believe this was supposed to be the Age of Apocalypse equivalent to the X-Cutioner’s Song issue Stryfe’s Strike File. In that regard, sure, it "works" and I can’t fault its existence entirely. The $2.50 cover price prices it as a premium issue, functionally an extra 50 cents over the price of the rest of the regular issues in the AoA…yet it seems like it was–as a unit–something much cheaper to have made, being primarily text over singular images rather than most of the "usual" that goes into the production of a comic…especially with only 3 "story pages."

Perhaps I should have covered this sooner…covering it now, in a gap between the #3s and #4s of the AoA arc, I’m already familiar with the characters and status quos so this seems all the more superfluous.

At the time, I suppose this issue would’ve been fascinating, coming out with the #2s and so possibly fleshing things out a bit more than had been done to that point in the overall arc. It’s more like a full-issue "bonus feature" to the arc, and neither truly adds nor detracts from the main arc. It exists if you’ve interest, but is not at all essential nor revelatory.

See below for the characters who got profiles, and the artists who did the visuals.

PAGES 1,2,31: Ian Churchill, Scott Hanna
MAGNETO/ROGUE: Salvador Larroca, Sergio Melia
X-MAN: Steve Skroce, Bob Wiacek
CYCLOPS: Slvador Larroca, Sergio Melia
HAVOK: Ian Churchill, Karl Kesel
MR. SINISTER: Ian Churchill, Karl Kesel
STORM: Salvador Larroca, Sergio Melia
QUICKSILVER: Ian Churchill, Terry Austin
NORTHSTAR/AURORA: Ian Churchill, James Pascoe
THE BEAST: Ian Churchill, Terry Austin
THE FOUR HORSEMEN: Val Semeiks, Bob Wiacek
X-CALIBRE: Tom Lyle, Dan Panosian
THE HUMAN HIGH COUNCIL: Salvador Larroca, Sergio Melia
WEAPON X: Ian Churchill, James Pascoe
X-TERNALS: Ian Churchill, Scott Hanna
COLOSSUS: Salvador Larroca, Sergio Melia
ANGEL: Salvador Larroca, Sergio Melia
SABRETOOTH/WILDCHILD: Tim Sale
BISHOP: Tim Sale
CHARLES XAVIER: Tom Lyle, Dan Panosian

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Age of Apocalypse Revisited: Factor X #3

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factorx003Open Wounds

Writer: John Francis Moore
Pencilers: Steve Epting with Terry Dodson
Inker: Al Milgrom
Lettering: Richard Starkings, Comicraft
Colorist: Glynis Oliver
Cover: Steve Epting
Editors: Kelly Corvese, Bob Harras
Published by: Marvel Comics
Cover Date: May 1995
Cover Price: $1.95

Hostility between Havok and Cyclops openly breaks out in this issue, as Havok makes his move to get his brother outta the way and take his place within Apocalypse’s hierarchy. Getting to that point follows the arrival of Jean Grey (who left her partner Weapon X in the most recent issue of that mini). Havok capturing and presenting her to Cyclops to further entrap him doesn’t go quite according to plan…and word quickly reaches Apocalypse on the transfer of power between the brothers.

Aside from a rather distractingly cartoony panel of Jean, I really dug the art for this issue…as I have the previous ones as well. Everything seems familiar and consistent overall–something I definitely like in issues of a single mini-series–and I can’t really complain. It’s cool seeing a couple "new" characters taken on by this creative team in flashing back to Weapon X #2.

Story-wise it’s very cool to see Jean’s arrival for a number of factors–but certainly at least for the notion of continuity and the shared universe of the X-books. I identified her so closely with Weapon X due to that series’ start and the cover to its first issue, and it’s interesting to see the crossing over as things build and develop, and get to see Jean interact with Cyclops…especially given what they were to each other in the "main" Marvel Universe prior to Legion screwing stuff up.

With this issue, we’re three-quarters through the series. Past the point of introduction, no treading water, and racing toward a conclusion…though I recall certain characters continuing into X-Men: Omega, so there’s a different sense of things for me looking back on this.

This would not be a singularly favorite issue for me, and the cover is a bit disingenuous–though in a very loose sense it could be seen as accurate given what goes down here. However, I definitely enjoyed reading the issue and seeing stuff progress in general as well as the feeling of things coming together. While the various X-titles sort of split apart coming out of X-Men: Alpha, the "universe" is shrinking a bit and I recall the minis all leading their set of characters back together into the pages of X-Men: Omega to conclude the entirety of the original Age of Apocalypse event/story.

Age of Apocalypse Revisited: Factor X #2

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factorx002Abandoned Children

Writer: John Francis Moore
Penciler: Steve Epting
Inker: Al Milgrom
Letters: Richard Starkings and Comicraft
Colors: Glynis Oliver
Cover: Steve Epting
Editors: Kelly Corvese, Bob Harras
Published by: Marvel Comics
Cover Date: March 1995
Cover Price: $1.95

Maybe it’s just the immediacy, but this issue–to me–is one of the better-looking interiors in awhile. I’m sure a large part of that is the faded, ghostly image of Magneto at the start of the issue…as well as the detail to Cyclops in the face and hair that somehow just works really well for me.

This issue opens with Lorna Dane seeing Magneto taking imprisoned mutants out, but leaving her behind…something she doesn’t understand (how her father could return but leave her seems beyond her comprehension). Alex Summers (Havok) investigates the escape and while the leader of the escape is not visible on surveillance video, the team realizes that the green-haired mutant saw everything, and so they approach her for interrogation. Her lack of cooperation gets her handed over to Dark Beast…though the beast’s functional torture is cut short by Cyclops, who orders the girl taken back to the pens without harm. Meanwhile we see Havok in compromising position as well as clues that things are getting ready to go seriously wrong for BOTH Summers brothers.

As said above, the art on this issue really stood out as top notch to me, which is definitely significant given my not being one with as much interest in the visuals as the story. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised given Epting‘s the penciler. Suffice it to say that the details work well and I quite enjoyed the visual styling and layouts and such to the issue.

Another contributing factor to my enjoyment of the issue is surely the fact that Cyclops and Beast are a couple of my favorite characters in the X-Men books, particularly Cyclops. Seeing that despite the obvious differences there’s plenty of similarity is encouraging, and retrospectively may have been part of why the character came to be one of my favorites so early on for this time period.

I’d noted with the previous issue that this title is our glimpse into the "other side," seeing into Apocalypse’s side of things, and I definitely like that since we have characters who "changed sides" between the "real" reality and this, we get to explore their dynamics as well as that of "the good guys."

While Factor X would not have been top of my list before, I’m realizing that this title is definitely up there for me, on a similar level with Amazing X-Men and Astonishing X-Men for me on the upper side of the books involved with Age of Apocalypse. As with many of these books, I do remember some key moments in broad strokes but not all the details; while I look forward to seeing those play out with Scott and Alex, I’m also simply looking forward to the next couple issues given my enjoyment of this one.

Age of Apocalypse Revisited: X-Men Chronicles #1

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xmenchronicles001Origins

Writer: Howard Mackie
Penciler: Terry Dodson
Inker: Klaus Janson
Colorist: Matt Webb
Lettering: Starkings/Comicraft
Cover: Carlos Pacheco, Cam Smith
Editor: Kelly Corvese
Published by: Marvel Comics
Cover Date: March 1995
Cover Price: $3.95

"Traditionally," this is one of my favorite Age of Apocalypse issues. As much as anything tied to the larger AoA epic really is, this is a self-contained issue, functionally a one-shot. And it’s double-sized, a larger chunk of story in one go than anything but X-Men: Alpha itself so far.

Everything else to this point has been set in the "present-day," the contemporary X-Universe of the time, 20 years after the death of Xavier. This issue is set some years earlier than that–at the dawn of the Age of Apocalypse itself, at Apocalypse’s "first strike" of sorts, against humanity at large.

We meet a young-ish Magneto training his band of X-Men in a secret location in the mountains. The group is introduced to a new teammate–the older and more dangerous man known as Logan…or Weapon X. As training draws to a close, a second new member is brought to their location–a young woman named Rogue. Amidst all this, Apocalypse strikes…forcing Magneto into action sooner than he’d expected. And while he and his young mutants fight off Apocalypse’s minions…another strike is carried out against their home.

Probably the most "glaring" thing about this issue–for me–was a narration box stating (after introducing the characters) "Together, they from the mutant team known as…the X-Men." They FROM the mutant team? Not form–eff oh are emm–they "from" it? A simple transposing of two letters, but for me it stands out in a huge way. Maybe it’s been corrected in digital reprints or other reprint editions, but I’m pointedly reading the single issues that were actually put out at the time.

But to be frank on it…if the worst I see in editing is a spelling glitch and I’m not grousing about huge giant plot-holes or character inconsistencies…I’d say things are going pretty well on that front. Being human, I can forgive the only spelling error I’ve noticed in however many issues so far.

The art has an interesting flavor to it, feeling at once "typical ’90s" to me and yet definitely conveys an "older" tone just from the look, even though the story is pointedly set in the past. As I often find myself saying: the visuals don’t blow me away, but they were quite well for the issue and I didn’t particularly notice anything worth grousing about.

Given the real-world quantity of comics chronicling the adventures of the X-Men through the years and the amount of time purported to have passed for these characters…there is still a huge body of stories that could be told of the characters in this Age of Apocalypse timeline. At the time this was published, everything was ‘face value’ and this issue was the sole, primary glimpse into "the past" of the characters, giving us one of THE key stories–that of Apocalypse’s first strike against humanity as well as the fate of the Scarlet Witch.

And this has that feel…sort of like having all these contemporary issues, but then picking up an old issue and reading a good story that "still matters" in current continuity. While I’m consciously aware of plenty of "Untold Tales from the Age of Apocalypse" stories that eventually came out, this is the first and one of the best. We see a version of the characters both familiar yet different…but not yet as "dark" as they are by "present day." This gives us–as readers–the chance to witness the introductions of Rogue and Weapon X to the team, Apocalypse striking out, without having to solely be "told" it happened.

It’s also rather nice to get "just" a story of these X-Men that does not directly tie to the premise of the main epic, of bringing pieces together for the final showdown at the end of the Age of Apocalypse. Knowing solely the basic premise–that Xavier was killed in the past and Magneto formed the X-Men instead–one can easily read and enjoy this issue in and of itself as a one-shot without even having to read any of the other Age of Apocalypse issues.

To me, this truly is Age of Apocalypse done right…unlike most everything done SINCE the 1990s involving the timeline.

Age of Apocalypse Revisited: Factor X #1

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factorx001Sinister Neglect

Writer: John Francis Moore
Penciler: Steve Epting
Inker: Al Milgrom
Lettering: Starkings/Comicraft
Colorist: Glynis Oliver
Cover: Steve Epting
Editor: Kelly Corvese
Published by: Marvel Comics
Cover Date: March 1995
Cover Price: $1.95

I’m beginning to consciously realize that some of my trepidation approaching these various Age of Apocalypse minis is that I apparently think of Astonishing X-Men, Amazing X-Men, and X-Men Chronicles as my favorites (along with the bookend Alpha/Omega issues). Any of these others are simply "other" and so part of me just isn’t as interested in the "idea" of them. Yet, that’s added to some relative surprise at enjoying these, thinking I’ve "forgotten" how much I enjoyed them…but if I didn’t enjoy them as a kid, there’d be no reason for Age of Apocalypse to reign as one of my all-time favorite X-stories.

The issue’s cover shows us Cyclops, Havok, (Dark) Beast, Northstar, and Aurora…Sinister’s "Elite" group of enforcers. Not a bad image, and certainly conveys the menace they exude…this definitely shows a group one would PROBABLY not want to mess with. Sort of generic, kinda iconic if forgettably so, but it works.

The story is a blend of Sinister’s narration as he prepares to fully set into motion his own plan against Apocalypse while we follow Cyclops, Havok, and the others about their business in the early days of Sinister’s disappearance. We’re shown the tense/adversarial relationship between Cyclops and Havok, and the latter’s jealousy/ambition; more of the atrocity from Beast, and that Angel’s "Heaven" is definitely neutral ground for anyone who can pay.

Showing the change in myself and the notion of picking up on new things each time through even a familiar story–there’s a snippet of conversation in the bar scene with reference to Lazlo and letters of transit that made me grin, picking up the obvious-to-me-now reference to Casablanca.

I rather liked the juxtaposition of Sinister’s narrative with the unfolding events–there’s something rather identifyable in the narration, in branching off on one’s own and wondering what others are doing without us after a period together.

The issue’s visuals are quite good, and aside from some slight weirdness to me in Cannonball’s appearance in a couple panels, everything else worked well and only stood out to me in appreciating how much I liked the way things looked.

In some ways, I want to judge this issue simply as another #1, but it (as the other titles also do) draws heavily on the events of X-Men: Alpha which in some ways makes this a #2 issue. We’re (re) introduced to several characters, others are furthered, and we’re introduced to still others, while things are set up for what’s to come: Beast and what he’s doing, Havok and his romance with a human, Cyclops being basically good despite currently working for Sinister and Apocalypse, and Sinister having something major up his sleeve in going against Apocalypse.

This title and the main group of characters it focuses on being "villains" adds another "side" to the overall story and rounds things out, giving some depth to even the "bad guys," rather than leaving them as two-dimensional strawmen to throw the X-Men against. I enjoyed this issue, and look forward to others…as well as the alluded-to reference to Havok’s incident in Weapon X #1.

That footnote reminded me that these issues don’t have an exact reading order printed in them…this is Factor X #1 with characters who appear in the general AoA continuity and thus other titles as well, and more is happening than is necessarily focused on for any given character in only one series…particularly high-ranking characters such as Havok and Cyclops. Which is part of the fun of continuity–for me–and the appreciation of footnotes in issues I read.

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