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Age of Apocalypse Revisited: X-Man #4

aoa_revisited_logo

xman004The Art of War

Writer: Jeph Loeb
Pencils: Steve Skroce
Inks: Bud LaRosa
Colors: Mike Thomas, Digital Chameleon
Letters: Richard Starkings, Comicraft
Cover: Skroce, LaRosa
Editors: Lisa Patrick, Bob Harras
Published by: Marvel Comics
Cover Date: June 1995
Cover Price: $1.95

Clearly, Apocalypse has no problem "shooting the messenger," and thus–it’s safe to say no one should look forward to being the bearer of bad news. Fortunately, the Shadow King is capable of surviving this particular wrath of the mutant master, who delivers the news that Domino has failed to remove the telepath she was sent to deal with. We then cut back to Nate battling Sinister over the death of Forge. Sinister killed Forge to remove what he saw as a detrimental attachment, and now faces the rage of his most powerful creation. Talking Nate down, Sinister reveals the young mutant’s origins, though still finds himself subject to Nate’s wrath. After bidding his remaining friends farewell, Nate heads to Apocalypse’s stronghold, where he bumps into would-be allies…faces from Sinister’s revelation. However, he keeps to himself, determined to chart his own course, to take out Apocalypse himself.

The cover is rather generic yet spoiler-y…showing an enraged Nate victorious over Sinister. It’s also relatively patriotic (to the US) with a general white background, red 3-D to the white and blue-ish logo, as well as the blues of Nate’s getup and Sinister’s blue and red. Generic as the image is, I do like it…enough that I’m talking about it here where I’ve not made a point of discussing EVERY cover of this Age of Apocalypse event.

The interiors work quite well, also. There’s something that seems a bit simplistic about the way Nate looks in certain panels, but aside from simply noticing and thinking that, the art team does a very good job with this issue. Nothing jumped out at me as atrocious or distractingly weird, and I never had to pause to ask myself what exactly just happened or try to piece it together contextually. As such, the art certainly did its job at the minimum, and since I enjoyed it overall, I must say that the art exceeded expectations.

This is a good "next chapter" to Nate’s story, following the events of #3…but there’s not much sense of things being tied up here outside of Sinister’s apparent fate. The wording there was a bit awkward…obviously going for the dramatic effect. But, being a nitpicker in wording, I found myself a bit distracted by the phrasing on Sinister’s final page. While the other Age of Apocalypse series are functionally mini-series…Nate’s four issues are more functionally a single arc. The X-Man title actually carried on after the Age of Apocalypse business, and ran about 75 issues if I recall correctly. So this "final issue" within the event is fairly well suited as simply a "next chapter" rather than having a conclusion…just that from issue 4 to 5 one pretty much has to read X-Men: Omega.

All in all, this is another good issue that gets Nate to where his story can converge with the others into a single, epic issue in X-Men: Omega.

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Age of Apocalypse Revisited: X-Man #3

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xman003Turning Point

Writer: Jeph Loeb
Pencils: Steve Skroce
Inks: Bud LaRosa and Mike Sellers
Colors: Mike Thomas
Separations: Digital Chameleon
Letters: Richard Starkings and Comicraft
Cover: Steve Skroce
Editors: Lisa Patrick, Bob Harras
Published by: Marvel Comics
Cover Date: May 1995
Cover Price: $1.95

I miss the single-issue titles and creative presentations of credits…maybe it’s reading so many of these 20-year-old comics lately and barely touching contemporary Marvel books, but it really seems that these aren’t done like this anymore. I appreciate the "Previously…" Pages that catch you up, and avoid disrupting the story or filling it with exposition that (in the inevitable collected volumes) can seem rather silly at points. But that’s part of the fun of revisiting the Age of Apocalypse and pointedly doing so on an issue-by-issue basis rather than via any of the collected editions or digitally.

This issue’s cover is relatively generic…yet, I like it. There’s no real background to it (though the title’s logo takes up most of the space where there otherwise WOULD be background, so there’s not much point to it), and we see Forge with Nate, both men standing together, eyes gleaming, ready for battle. Not terribly dynamic or iconic or stand-out, but works for the issue…and as said, I like it.

The art for the issue continues–as with previous issues–to work well for me, getting things across and not distracting me from the story.

The story itself is solid, and does well as a third issue of a four-part story, building on the previous chapters and leaving things at a tipping point for the fourth issue to wrap up.

Forge and the group find themselves facing Domino, Grizzly ,and Caliban–agents of Apocalypse–and fight. The trio is dealt with, Nate "tasting blood" (so to speak) as he dispatches Domino rather harshly. As the group deals with what they just went through, Forge discovers Brute’s fate as well as the truth behind his suspicions of Essex. Forge’s fate, in turn, is felt by Nate due to their psychic link…and despite Forge’s dying words, Nate faces the killer and discovers the cold truth of Essex himself.

Knowing what comes next honestly "taints" my enjoyment of this issue. It’s a good issue, with plenty of forward movement and development for the characters. But important as the issue’s events are for Nate, I get a different feel from this third issue than I have others–and I’m reminded that just as these minis "spun out" from X-Men: Alpha…so, too, do they dovetail back into it, and thus while there may be endings to the 4th issues, the characters’ stories all go on to an overall conclusion apart from the individual minis.

All that aside…I enjoyed the issue and do look forward to the continuation of this story and the Age of Apocalypse in general.

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.

The ’90s Revisited: Cable #20

90srevisited

cable020An Hour of Last Things

Writer: Jeph Loeb
Guest Artist: Ian Churchill
Guest Inkers: Bud Larosa w/Barta & Carani
Lettering: Richard Starkings/Comicraft
Colorist: Mike Thomas
Editor: Lisa Patrick
Group Editor: Bob Harras
Published by: Marvel Comics
Cover Price: $1.95
Cover Date: February 1995

This issue takes place during and after Uncanny X-Men 321. That issue had noted this as a must-read; this returns the favor. This issue definitely requires the context of the Legion Quest story so far, but those issues don’t require this.

We get a bit of exposition while seeing the present-day group facing the apparent dangers Cable, Xavier, and Jean face with their psionic time-communication thing. We then pick up with Cable’s "return" to the present, and realizing that despite his having made contact, it apparently didn’t do any good–nothing in the present has changed, and the universe is still coming to an end…which forces everyone to face the fact that this IS their final hour. Much of the issue is the reactions the characters have, who they turn to and how, in this "hour of last things."

Despite some panels where the art seems a bit minimalistic or at least not as detailed in linework as I’m used to and would expect…I really enjoy the visuals in this issue. As with all the previous chapters of Legion Quest, this is extremely "familiar" to me, bringing back memories…something that surely colors my views on the art–where I might complain a bit with a contemporary issue, this one sits perfectly fine with me, being simply another part of a whole, a piece of a larger positive memory, and the general good feelings I have revisiting a favorite, favored period in comics.
I did notice, however, that Archangel’s costume seems to have a lot of red to it here, where I’d noticed blue previously. I’m not sure if there was something I’ve forgotten in-story for the varied colors, but it was a bit of distraction. I like the LOOK overall, just not sure why the red instead of blue.

The cover is one of those distinctive "iconic" ones for me. And yet, somehow looking at it for this review now MIGHT be the first time I consciously realized it’s showing the crystallization wave taking the characters, and not just a generic shot of them facing something else.

The story itself is by Jeph Loeb–who at the time I didn’t know from any other writer–but whose name I know quite well at present and have not been overly thrilled with despite quite enjoying Superman: For All Seasons and such in particular. While this IS part of a larger story, I love the "moments" between the various characters, as well as the overall feeling OF this being a final issue, an actual final chapter.

I’m pretty sure I knew better at the time, back in 1994 than to think these titles were going away PERMANENTLY, and was certainly geared up for the Age of Apocalypse as a large but temporary story. The "official" revelation in-story of Scott and Jean’s part in Cable’s life was particularly key, as is Cable’s "moment" with Domino. Despite this issue covering some of the same ground as Uncanny X-Men 321 and X-Men #41, it leaves certain particularly beats and "moments" to those issues…but what we see here builds on the overall feeling of continuity, that this is truly taking place in the same world and time as other issues rather than just being "related" to each other.
Perhaps it’s the issue’s ending, or the interaction of Cable, Cyclops, and Jean, but this is easily one of my favorite issues of the entire Cable series…and reminds me why the Cable of this period is my favorite take on the character (especially in the face of the last few years of the character).

Only one issue directly involved with Legion Quest remains, as the X-Universe comes to an end…if only for a time.

Fatal Attractions Revisited: Uncanny X-Men #304

…For What I Have Done

Writer: Scott Lobdell
Pencilers: John Romita Jr., Jae Lee, Chris Sprouse, Brandon Peterson, Paul Smith
Inkers: Dan Green, Dan Panosian, Terry Austin, Tom Palmer, Keith Williams
Colorist: Mike Thomas
Letterer: Chris Eliopoulos
Cover: John Romita Jr., Dan Panosian
Assistant Editor: Lisa Patrick
Editor: Bob Harras
Published by: Marvel Comics
Cover Dated: September, 1993

After a couple of the X-Books that were not the actual X-Men themselves, this issue finally pulls the X-Men I was familiar with into this story. Granted, I wasn’t extremely familiar with them–but I knew who most of them were thanks to the cartoon series. Wolverine, Bishop, Cyclops, Storm, Jean Grey, Beast, Professor Xavier, even Colossus…and of course, Magneto.

I recall reading the death of Illyana–Colossus’ sister–in the previous issue (sucked in by the image of Jean Grey and Jubilee with the blurb “If you read only ONE X-title this month–this issue MUST be it!”). This issue has the funeral as we see the various characters reacting to the death of the young girl. We also get some backstory on Magneto and the losses he’s suffered, which have been driving factors in his methods of trying to “save” the “mutant race.” There are some quieter moments between various characters; I especially like the Kitty Pryde/Storm and Banshee/Bishop scenes. I’m still amazed in retrospect at how very new some of these characters were in the summer of 1993 (particularly Bishop), and how much more all the characters have grown, changed, or otherwise [been] developed in the decades since this story.

As Illyana’s funeral draws to a close, Magneto crashes the party, which is almost immediately further crashed by Exodus and the rest of the Acolytes, who have come to grips with the revelation of Cortez’ part in Magneto’s near-death. The X-Men and Magneto and his Acolytes clash, as the ship Avalon is brought into Earth’s atmosphere above them, causing world-wide issues and fear. The battle quickly becomes one with catastrophic consequences should the X-Men fail, but ultimately it falls to Xavier to pull a new trick out of his figurative hat to save the day, using his power in a way I don’t recall seeing him do prior to this (though it wouldn’t seem all that out of place nowadays).

This issue felt a bit more like being dropped into the middle of a story, the way it opened–the Acolytes already trying to tear Cortez apart for his deception. I honestly don’t recall if this continues directly from Uncanny X-Men #303 or from some other issue of the X-books. While I vaguely remembered that it was shortly after Illyana’s funeral that Colossus left the X-Men, I’d forgotten that the funeral itself was in this issue, and the way Magneto and Co. crashed the funeral. I’d also completely forgotten the way Xavier ended this particular battle, which seemed both absurd and epic at the same time, to me.

The issue’s art is a bit fractured–there are five pencilers on the issue, and I noticed it while reading–particularly with Magneto’s flashback. Fortunately, other than Jae Lee‘s art, the rest fits relatively well together and isn’t glaring. Of course, that’s something I notice now but if I noticed back in ’93, I don’t recall it being a conscious thing of recognizing different artists’ work, or knowing about “fill in artists” or any such stuff. All that said…this is another issue that I don’t mind the art on the whole, and which seems to fit the story.

Including a few ads, this issue has 62 pages for only a $3.95 cover price. I like the cover–most of the characters shown on the front are the ones I would have been most familiar with, though in this sense are rather generic. But once opened up, we see that there are a lot more characters involved in the image, all angrily looking toward a huge foreground closeup of Magneto. And yet again, I like the hologram on this cover. While the hologram itself is pretty cool, its image strikes me as rather iconic for the time–I’m sure I’ve seen that several image of Magneto with the swirl of debris outside the context of this story. I wouldn’t be surprised if I’ve snagged a copy of this from a bargain bin since buying my original copy at full cover price in 1993, but the copy I have onhand right now for this rereading and such was part of a 3/$10 deal, which while not as satisfying on principle as getting the issue for under or around $1, is still quite worthwhile for being less than cover price.

This issue seems to set the stage for the next couple chapters, which to me are the heart of this story, and what I MOST think of with the title Fatal Attractions.

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