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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: Gambit and the X-Ternals #2

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gambitandthexternals002Where No eXternal Has Gone Before!

Writer: Fabian Nicieza
Penciler: Tony Daniel
Inkers: Conrad, Milgrom, Christian
Letterer: Chris Eliopoulos
Colorist: Marie Javins
Separations: Digital Chameleon
Cover: Tony Daniel
Editor: Bob Harras
Published by: Marvel Comics
Cover Date: April 1995
Cover Price: $1.95

Picking up immediately on the heels of the previous issue, our point of view is back with Gambit and his group, as they suddenly find themselves farther from home than they ever could have imagined being…and facing what they come to learn is the Shi’Ar Imperial Guard. The encounter is not encouraging, and Gambit has the group retreat. Rictor–who tagged along in their cross-galaxy space-hop–goes with the Imperial Guard. While he meets with a certain brutality interacting with the Guard, Gambit and co. meet a local who brings them up to speed on the situation they’ve found themselves in on this alien world. Rictor soon leads the Guard back to the X-Ternals, and the fight again does not go well, but this time the group is rescued by another group–calling themselves the Starjammers…who explain the danger facing all existence.

The art in this issue seems somehow "off" on this read-through…I’m sure it’s not all that different from the first issue, but as has plagued many of the #2s, there’s something to not being the opening chapter, nor penultimate or final chapter that leaves me a bit dissatisfied with the issue and more negatively critical of stuff that wouldn’t otherwise bother me. On the whole, the art works, the characters are familiar and mostly distinct…though just paging through the issue there’s a strange sort of blend to the visuals that–at least just for this issue–seems "off" to me.

The story itself is good, though a bit fast-paced and feeling quite a bit the opposite of "decompressed." This issue’s events could easily (by contemporary standards) be stretched to at least 2-3 issues–as we meet the Imperial Guard, see a fight and retreat, meet another new character and get exposition, see Rictor interrogated, another fight, meet another group, get further exposition, and finally a declaration to end the issue. That a lot is packed into the issue is good, and feels like a lot is going on, keeping things moving forward and giving a bit of that sense of hecticness the characters must be feeling, trying to find their bearings in this screwy new setting they’re thrust into.

With the Age of Apocalypse story exploring a number of different facets of the X-Universe, this series gets to do the "cosmic" side of things. It’s not entirely to my liking, nor is it necessarily a disliking. Though I’ve read some of the stuff with "X-Men in Space" I’m not really used to THESE X-characters "in space" so that throws me off a bit.

All in all, the issue’s rather average; neither landing as something crummy and distasteful nor anything of great significance or notice. It simply is what it is. We have plenty of action and story advancement and are moved into the heart of things away from the simple "premise" of this mini as spun out from X-Men: Alpha.

And like many other issues in the Age of Apocalypse stuff, I find this current re-reading to be almost new as it’s been so long since the last time I read through the entire story that I’ve forgotten details even if I’ve retained broad strokes.

Fatal Attractions Revisited: X-Force #25

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Writer: Fabian Nicieza
Art: Greg Capullo
Inkers: Wiacek, Green, Ryan, Palmiotti, Hanna, Conrad, Milgrom
Letterer: Chris Eliopoulos
Colorist: George Roussos
Editors: Bob Harras, Tom DeFalco
Published by: Marvel Comics
Cover Dated: August, 1993

Twenty-five issues…big number, huh? Well…maybe not. I’ve seen this title repurposed for awhile, then renamed X-Statix and that ran for a couple years. Then post-Messiah-CompleX another X-Force ran for a couple years, and the current Uncanny X-Force has run about 30 issues. But y’know, back in the day, this was a common anniversary–a whopping 25 issues.

As with X-Factor #92, I re-read this and much of it was like I was reading it for the first time…certainly the first time with much comprehension of who these characters were. This was even before Cable first got his own series, which ran for over 100 issues (followed by Cable & Deadpool that ran about 50 and the more recent Cable series with Hope than ran about 25).

This issue seems to be the introduction of Exodus. A sticker on the bag this copy of the issue was in when I bought it stated “Exodus 1st App.” Back in the day, I didn’t pick up on that, and just thought he was another one of these “Acolytes” and didn’t dig or think any deeper. It’s also the “return” of Cable, apparently the first he’d shown up since the X-Cutioner’s Song crossover few months earlier.

The new mutants–the X-Force–return home from a mission. However, someone else is there–and the battle is quickly joined…though it turns out their mentor–Cable–has returned. Some are glad to see the man, others not so happy–but all listen as Cable explains a bit of where he’s been and what he’s learned since the events that seperated him from his pupils. Exodus arrives, inviting Cannonball and Sunspot to Heaven, but pre-emptively attacks the group for thinking of attacking him. Cannonball eventually agrees, but the team follows, and all find themselves aboard what apparently used to be Cable’s base, known as Graymalkin, with a sentient computer program called “The Professor.” After more fighting, Cable gets his young charges off the ship, and seeks to “rescue” the computer program that’s apparently been a father figure to him–and finds himself confronting an enemy all thought dead. This fight is much shorter, all but disassembling Cable before he escapes (nearly as a corpse) to rejoin X-Force.

As said above, I didn’t really “get” this issue when I first read it, when it came out. I recall (with a bit of deja vu) the ending with Cable, but not much else. I certainly lacked the context of Cannonball and Sunspot being part of the New Mutants prior to Cable’s 1st appearance and that title ending to be replaced with this one. I had not yet read X-Cutioner’s Song–or at least, not more than maybe a couple chapters (it was only about 6 or 7 years ago that I finally tracked the story down and read it all the way through) so I didn’t even have that context of what had happened to Cable, though from what trading card or another or Marvel Handbook/profile special (Stryfe’s Strike Files?) or Wizard or some such, I knew of Stryfe as being Cable’s clone from the future.

I hadn’t realized either, at the time, that Magneto had “died,” though from in-story context I picked up on the characters having thought him dead…but his death/etc was more of a “meta” thing than I was aware of as a 12-year old at the time.

This issue’s story is another that stands alone well enough, though it continues to build foundation for what I consider the “heart” of Fatal Attractions in X-Men #25 and Wolverine #75. The art is good, and somehow extremely familiar to me. This visual rendition of X-Force just is what it is, and I like it.

I’m a bit less impressed with the overall cover of this issue than I was with the X-Factor issue; but in a way the fairly close-up image of Cable with one of those HUUUUGE guns he carried is rather iconic, which makes this a more full cover from the front for me than the X-Factor issue. Of course, this cover (and the hologram) also totally gives away from the get-go that Cable is back, but especially near 20 years later, I’m not bothered by that at all.

I’ve snagged this issue from bargain bins–turns out I actually wound up with 2 copies of this issue for roughly $.75 total in the past month. Well worth getting, if only for the hologram, particularly if you can snag it from a bargain bin. Cover price was $3.50, which again is 50 cents cheaper than cover price of a standard Marvel comic nowadays, and this has a cardstock cover, hologram, and 48-ish pages (some of them ads).

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