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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.

Age of Apocalypse Revisited: X-Man #3

aoa_revisited_logo

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: Weapon X #1

aoa_revisited_logo

weaponx001Unforgiven Trespasses

Script: Larry Hama
Breakdowns: Adam Kubert
Finishes: Karl Kesel, Dan Green, Chris Warner
Lettering: Pat Brosseau
Coloring: Mike Thomas
Cover: Adam Kubert
Editor: Bob Harras
Published by: Marvel Comics
Cover Date: March 1995
Cover Price: $1.95

After seeing Logan and Jean arrive at the Human High Council in X-Men Alpha, we now find them on a mission while the council decides what to do with the information they’ve been provided. Their mission: to cause trouble for Apocalypse by taking out a structure and allowing a wave of Sentinels in to evacuate what humans can be. Their ride (a sentinel) takes damage, but remains operational; while Logan and Jean fight their way in and ultimately out, even through Havok’s arrival. Once back with the council, the duo learn some shocking news about the humans’ intent moving forward in the face of Apocalypse’s deceit with the Kelly Pact.

This was a good issue, overall. Plenty of action, even if I didn’t comPLETEly follow everything. While I’m sure there are some subtleties I missed in my reading, I take it mostly at surface value. I struggle to see how this Weapon X can be the "villain" I recall from a couple years ago in a more contemporary issue. This seems quite a bit like the Wolverine of the time, but with adamantium (since Magneto never went down his dark path that led to Fatal Attractions and all that entailed). There’s a hint to Logan and Jean’s past, though it’s quick and not something dwelled on by the story. It’ll be interesting to get to the next several issues, and being reminded of the "cool" factor of this title and the character(s).

The visuals were good on the whole…no real complaint. I’m actually a fan of the "big hair" Wolverine rather than the tamed-down Hugh Jackman version of the last decade-plus in contemporary comics. Plenty to "appreciate" here and even as the issue may not be a favorite I still enjoyed it. The only let-down may have come from higher expectations for this than several other recently-read issues.

I do think the cover is one of my favorites–certainly one of the more memorable–of the AoA #1 issues, probably the entire saga. It shows all we really need, with Weapon X front and center and Jean right nearby…two mutants not to be messed with.

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: December ’94 X-Books

As the events of Legion Quest were reshaping the ENTIRE line of X-books for the start of 1995, even the titles not directly involved in Legion Quest itself reflected the fact that story was going on, with each title ending with the reality-ending crystallization wave washing over things, most of the books being left on a cliffhanger. While I wasn’t originally going to cover these other titles due to not being direct tie-ins/chapters of Legion Quest, I figured I’d touch briefly on them after all. Here are the resultant five “mini-reviews” of the rest of the December 1994-shipping X-Books.

WOLVERINE #90

wolverine090The Dying Game

Script: Larry Hama
Pencils: Adam Kubert
Inks: Mark Farmer & Dan Green
Lettering: Pat Brosseau
Coloring: Marie Javins
Cover: Adam Kubert, Greg Hildebrandt, Tim Hildebrandt
Editor: Bob Harras

This is one of the more "iconic" issues of this series for me–and certainly harnesses the "feel" of this "era" of the comic for me. The cover is the first thing that stands out, with a hybrid Kubert/Hildebrandt Bros. image–the distinctive Hildebrandts image that would be great on its own, with Kubert‘s art overlaid to the side, and the series logo is almost an afterthought or a formality.

The issue’s story is fairly simplistic, with Wolverine returning to the X-Mansion to keep an eye on the imprisoned Sabretooth while everyone else is away. Wolverine starts out refusing to fight, but pieces things together about the time Sabretooth pulls an escape, and the two brawl. Ultimately they wind up with Wolverine on top, having popped two claws, one to either side of Sabretooth’s head. The villain taunts Wolverine, threatening everyone he loves and cares about, and right as Wolverine pops the third claw–into Sabretooth’s brain–the crystallization wave hits and this never happened, as this universe ends.

While not on the same level as X-Men #s 25 or 41 or Wolverine #75, this is an issue that’s long stood out to me. The ending plays very well with the pre-Age of Apocalypse cliffhanger thing, leaving us hanging a bit on the supposed fate of Sabretooth, what it means for Wolverine to have at long last apparently killed his old foe, etc. (However, the popularity of the characters renders this cliffhanger moot, where some of the "lesser" characters/titles have faded over the years and hold far less memory).

X-FACTOR #111

xfactor111Explosive Performance

Plot: John Francis Moore
Script: Todd Dezago
Pencils: Jan Duursema
Inks: Al Milgrom
Colors: Glynis Oliver
Letters: Starkings/Comicraft
Cover: Tom Grummett, Al Milgrom
Editor: Kelly Corvese
Group Editor: Bob Harras

This issue is one of the more memorable cliffhanger-issues for the month’s X-books, with Guido (Strong Guy) falling to a heart attack, and Reality ends before we learn if he’s actually dead or not.

I remember THAT I’d read a handful of issues of the title from #92-onward thanks to my introduction via the Fatal Attractions crossover the year before. However, other than apparently having read the END, I don’t recall THIS issue’s story prior to reading it this time around.

On the whole, this was a solid enough jumping-in issue…helped perhaps by having read #109 (the Legion Quest Prelude). As I read this issue, I kept mixing up Lila Cheney with Dazzler…two characters I’m familiar enough with name-wise but not so much story-wise. And though I didn’t totally follow–there’s a definite sense I missed plenty with skipping #110–I didn’t feel "lost" or have any particular problem with reading this issue.

That’s probably primarily helped by the fact I read this solely for its "tie-in" to Legion Quest and specifically TO get to the cliffhanger, to have the sense of where the title left off immediately preceding the shift into the Age of Apocalypse itself.

GENERATION X #4

generationx004Between the Cracks

Story: Scott Lobdell and Chris Bachalo
Inks: Mark Buckingham
Colors by: Steve Buccellato
Lettering: Richard Starkings/Comicraft
Cover: Chris Bachalo
Editing: Tom DeFalco, Bob Harras

I’ve yet to *really* ever read any issues of this title–I couldn’t say for sure if I’ve ever actually read an issue, including this one. I remember getting this when it came out, though, so I probably did read it…just without knowing much about the characters. I’d only partially followed the Phalanx Covenant stuff that led to Generation X, and didn’t yet know (m)any of the new characters. This issue’s very stylistic, which I’m not all that enamored with. The story itself isn’t bad, though I don’t much care for the page borders or the little character wandering said borders and holding up page-number signs. It’s an interesting thing to do, and I can appreciate it setting this title apart, as well as the "meta" nature of it. Perhaps it was even "fun" at the time. It just doesn’t do much for me.

Reading this issue for its "lead-in" to Age of Apocalypse was quite disappointing, as it also "bucked the trend" of the other X-books in doing its own thing and then a tacked-on bit to account for the ending of the universe. Not bad in and of itself–a good way to get around being totally formulaic, but my appreciation does not equal enjoyment–and this was the least-enjoyable of the non-Legion Quest X-issues heading into the big event.

X-FORCE #43

xforce043Teapot in a Tempest

Writer: Fabian Nicieza
Penciler: Tony Daniel
Inker: Kevin Conrad
Coloring: Mike Thomas
Cover: Tony Daniel, Kevin Conrad
Editor: Bob Harras

I definitely don’t remember this issue’s story as something I’d read before. I’m familiar with a number of the characters–perhaps from stuff I’ve read in the last 20 years, where I can’t say for sure I’d’ve been familiar with them at the time. I liked the art for this issue, and it’s interesting to see that it’s Tony Daniel, whose work I enjoyed on Batman a few years back. In addition to appreciating the art, I enjoyed this snippet of story–it was cool seeing a number of different characters/situations without them all having to be together in one space; with these multiple ongoing subplots weaving about. The Reignfire reveal seems like it was rather huge at the time, though not recalling anything of the character tells me that’s not something that’s particularly carried to this day.

That the issue involved communication with Cable and was affected by his absence due to things going on in Legion Quest was a definite treat, showing how the various characters tie together and that this issue is not something "on the fringe" of the X-universe of the time but was still closely affected.

EXCALIBUR #86

excalibur086Back to Life

Writer: Warren Ellis
Pencil Artist: Ken Lashley
Ink Artist: Tom Wegrzyn
Letterer: J. Babcock
Colorist: J. Rosas
Cover: Ken Lashley, Tom Wegrzyn
Editor: Suzanne Gaffney
Group Editor: Bob Harras

While I certainly did not pick up on the significance of things at the time, rereading this issue brought back snippets of memory–particularly Kitty’s threat to put Wisdom’s cigarette out, and the issue’s end with the jet crashing.

I do not recall consciously noting before now that this was a Warren Ellis-written issue, though somewhere along the way I became aware of his having been the writer in this general time, and being the one behind the Pete Wisdom character. That this seems to be Wisdom’s first appearance is rather cool.

This issue was a welcome glimpse back to the then-status-quo, and a reminder that Kitty and Nightcrawler had a period of time where they were NOT part of the X-Men themselves. I’d also forgotten about other characters, as well as how much I "miss" Moira’s presence in the X-books. Of course, given contemporary things, that’s practically a generational factor.

The cliffhanger of the characters facing a crash-landing that they weren’t certain of surviving was compelling even back in the day, and has me curious about how the point was resolved when everything returned after the Age of Apocalypse…I’m partially torn on digging that issue out to find out versus allowing myself the wondering until after covering the event itself.

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.

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