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Age of Apocalypse Revisited: X-Universe #2

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xuniverse002Dying Breath

Story by: Scott Lobdell
Script: Terry Kavanagh
Pencilers: Carlos Pacheco, Terry Dodson
Inkers: Cam Smith, Robin Riggs
Colorist: Kevin Tinsley
Color Separations: Electric Crayon
Lettering: Richard Starkings and Comicraft
Cover: Pacheco & Smith
Editors: Marie Javins, Bob Harras
Published by: Marvel Comics
Cover Date: June 1995
Cover Price: $3.50

We open on a new/arbitrary character–a father holding his child, as people are given over to Rasputin for upgrading, a last chance to stand with mutants without being eradicated. We then move to our Phenomenal Five (I saw THAT term in the monthly checklist on the X-Books This Month section) who have been captured and are helpless…at least until a contingency plan kicks in. Meanwhile, no one’s told the humans of the atrociously low survival rate of the upgrade process, that only one in a hundred-thousand survive any length of time and few of those survive indefinitely. Stark’s plan kicks in, and the humans begin breaking free, and the rebellion is on. After the battle, few humans are left, but they’ve acquired technology from Mikhail’s ship and make a last bid for permanent escape from Apocalypse’s rule.

This issue is all over the place. And when it ends…I only know it does because there are simply NO MORE STORY PAGES. There’s no particular icon or note or any indication the last page is the last page. It has all the makings of a second-to-last page, that you’d turn the page for some full-page image to finish out the series, but instead it turns to a double-page ad, then a double-page info/profile section, another couple ads, and that’s that.

The art’s so-so…not bad, not spectacular, and a bit minimalistic at points and just somehow looks a bit "off" from the rest of the Age of Apocalypse. Of course, multiple pencilers and inkers, suggesting (to me, with contemporary sensibilities) that this issue had run behind and needed to be caught up in a hurry to get it out on time. That’s also something that suggests further to me that this series was an afterthought of sorts, a late addition to the AoA stuff.

The story’s also only so-so. It could certainly be worse, but it doesn’t really feel like it has any real significance, given we’ve had no real reference, even, to these characters, nor any dealings with Rasputin elsewhere in the AoA, so this is just stuff going on "in the World of the Age of Apocalypse" and can be pretty safely ignored in the grand scheme.

Another element that lends the notion of this X-Universe series being set apart from the rest of the AoA is the covers. These are $3.50 cover price with cardstock covers and foil-ized logos. The chromium double-size bookend issues make sense as they’re "special," kicking off and concluding the entirety of the story. But the issues in-between have all been standard covers with no fancy enhancements or foiling or such. This mini just reeks of typical ’90s saturation.

Unless you’re–like me these last number of weeks–specifically determined to read the entirety of what was published as part of this original Age of Apocalypse series, this seems like a safe mini to skip. And I’m thankful to be through this because now I can jump into the #4s and the final parts of the story, as the various threads in the minis begin to–finally–pay off.

Age of Apocalypse Revisited: X-Universe #1

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xuniverse001Last Stand

Story by: Scott Lobdell
Script: Terry Kavanagh
Penciler: Carlos Pacheco
Inker: Cam Smith
Colorist: Kevin Somers
Color Separations: Electric Crayon
Lettering: Richard Starkings and Comicraft
Cover: Pacheco & Smith
Editors: Marie Javins, Bob Harras

We open on the familiar face of Gwen Stacy–dead in the regular Marvel universe but obviously alive in this altered reality of the Age of Apocalypse. She’s essentially a humanitarian worker here…saving those she can in Wakanda, though she quickly is reminded she can’t save everyone. Fisk and Osborne–Marauders–have arrived…though they’re almost immediately challenged by a Stark cargo ship carrying Tony Stark and Clint Barton. Once the Marauders are dispatched, there’s a reunion on the ground between Stark and Donald Blake. Shortly after, Mikhail Rasputin arrives on a peace mission from Apocalypse…though upon inviting Stacy, Stark, Blake, and others into his ship, his true colors stand revealed.

"Passable" is the first word that comes to mind on the art, though it’s not quite the word I’m grasping for. The art works here and I really don’t have a problem with it–but it’s nothing special or spectacular. Given the nature of this book, one probably shouldn’t expect too much of it as this is possibly the most "fringe" book of the Age of Apocalypse arc.

I could say the same for the story–I’m far less engaged by this than I’ve been with any of the other issues of AoA thus far. The story itself isn’t horrible or anything…it just fails to really draw me in or make me "care."

So far, we’ve been presented with a specifically X-centric take on this Earth–where mutants rose to power, crushing humanity beneath their collective heel. As an X-centric story overall, we’ve seen no appearance of nor any real reference to the likes of Iron Man, Captain America, the Avengers, the Hulk, the Fantastic Four–any of the "non-X" groups of characters or solo characters of the Marvel universe. This 2-issue series seems geared specifically to deal with that fact, by presenting us with a bunch of characters and references to off-panel prior deaths and such so as to not leave ’em out of continuity ENTIRELY.

While i’m quite glad for the addressing of continuity in this way, trying to answer the question of what happened to these various other characters–the execution leaves plenty to be desired, in my eyes. I’ve been quite content to consider that the Human High Council in Europe "speaks for" humanity, and to "assume" that the likes of Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, the Avengers, and any younger characters had the entirety of their origins derailed by Apocalypse’s rise to power and thus would be faceless humans on the whole.

Given that…this series’ existence makes sense, but is a definite step away from the rest of the AoA issues, involving non-X characters. This mini does not seem to tie into any of Magneto’s plans nor have anything to do with him or any of the other X-groups, and as such this is largely "filler"…worth a read if you want a take on the non-mutant characters, but (for me) not at all essential to the rest of the AoA-verse.

Age of Apocalypse Revisited: Generation Next #3

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generationnext003It Only Hurts When I Sing

Creators: Scott Lobdell & Chris Bachalo
Inks: Mark Buckingham
Colors: Steve Buccellato and Electric Crayon
Letters: Richard Starkings and Comicraft
Edits: Bob Harras
Cover: Bachalo
Published by: Marvel Comics
Cover Date: May 1995
Cover Price: $1.95

We continue to see the kids’ infiltration of the prison camp as they seek Colossus’ sister, Illyana. Their search quickly turns toward doom for the group…and we see the stark contrast in this Colossus by the way he regards the lives of his students in this situation. We’re also shown a lot more about the conditions in the facility as well as the sorts of individuals who keep the place running. Finally, we’re left with a decent cliffhanger as characters struggle for maximum survival, though perhaps purchased at a steep cost.

This issue gives us what I believe is the first on-page appearance of the Sugar Man…a rather gross little beast of a character. I didn’t like the character back in 1995, and I don’t now in 2015. The character seems a perfect fit for the art and story, though, showing the horrors and weirdness that populate the world of this story.

Visually I’m not impressed…and continue to attribute most of that to Bachalo‘s art, which just isn’t that appealing to me, outside of Colossus and Kitty. The story is pretty good on the whole, and I do enjoy that we get to see the characters "in action" and they way in which they infiltrate the place. Though this is by no means my favorite issue nor favorite TITLE, it’s still a solid issue with good story and distinctive art. I vaguely recall a key event for these characters, but truly cannot remember if it occurs in the pages of this mini or not until X-Men: Omega.

As a third issue of four, this works well enough and does leave me curious about the unfolding of the events in the next issue, even if I’m not singularly enamored with this issue. It gets the job done, and also has me further curious about some of these characters in the "regular" Marvel universe.

Nothing special, nothing horrible.

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: Generation Next #2

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generationnext002Hither Comes the Sugar Man!

Created by: Scott Lobdell & Chris Bachalo
Inks: Mark Buckingham
Colors: Steve Buccellato and Electric Crayon
Lettering: Starkings and Comicraft
Editor: Bob Harras
Cover: Chris Bachalo
Published by: Marvel Comics
Cover Date: April 1995
Cover Price: $1.95

Now that we know Illyana Rasputin is alive, we pick up on her, showing a newcomer the way of things in the realm of the Sugar Man. We then cut to her brother, initiating plans to get into the heavily-fortified facility with his team of young mutants. The bulk of the issue follows these young mutants as things get moved into place, despite their skepticism at the worth of one young girl simply on the word of a single individual only recently discovered. Part of this plan involves taking out Quietus, the foreman of the operation, to get in and figure out which mutant IS Illyana and where she can be located.

I’m still not much of a fan of Bachalo‘s art here…but despite that, it definitely sets a certain tone here–a bit dark, and fairly disturbing (and at some points, almost surreal). This certainly "works" for the issue, keeping this series visually distinct from the rest of the Age of Apocalypse stuff. I really can’t fault it too much there.

The story is interesting enough. Even in the "main" or "regular" X-Men/Marvel universe, I’m not nearly as familiar with these characters as I am many others…Generation X is a rather dim spot in my X-experience from the ’90s. So my emotional investment here, my interest in the characters is thus fairly limited. Things are easy enough to follow, but I find myself questioning more about Colossus and Kitty and how they met and so on, given the nature of this reality compared to the original.

It’s good to see the various characters and that they’re not just blindly on-board with stuff. There’s a certain authenticity there. It also seems quite reasonable to me for people to question stuff. As a reader, I know this isn’t the "true" reality and that OF COURSE things have to be "put right" but from the characters’ point of view, reality simply IS and anything else is what-if or "alternate reality."

This title continues to be a sort of "surprise" to me; that I’m actually enjoying it as much as I am. Despite the faults and such I point out above, and that I don’t actually enjoy seeing anyone suffer…this title in itself has been a much more enjoyable read than I’d anticipated. Even after realizing that with the first issue, I again found that I had to talk myself into NOT skipping the reading of this issue in favor of several of the other #2s.

As with a lot of the other issues so far and presumably to come, I recall the broad strokes and basic end results or strong key moments from these minis (perhaps blended/crossed with X-Men: Omega) but not much in the way of the nuanced details…which makes re-reading these similar to getting to read them for the first time.

Though it interrupts the "flow" of just flying through for the reading experience as a whole, there’s something to pausing between each issue to write up these thoughts on them, taking the time TO reflect before moving on to the next.

I’m sure the reading experience would also be different if I were to read these as individual series, but I’m also enjoying seeing the world unfold as it did originally, learning stuff in the "order of publication" and all that.

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.

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