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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.

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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: 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.

Age of Apocalypse Revisited: X-Men Alpha #1

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xmenalpha001Beginings…

Story: Scott Lobdell
Dialogue: Mark Waid
Pencils: Roger Cruz w/Steve Epting
Inks: Tim Townsend w/Dan Panosian
Letters: Starkings w/Comicraft
Colors: Steve Buccellato w/Electric Crayon
Editor: Bob Harras
Cover: Joe Madureira, Tim Townsend
Published by: Marvel Comics
Cover Date: February 1995
Cover Price: $3.95

The cover proclaims A NEW World! A NEW Beginning! This issue sports a fancy "chromium" cover, and is itself a rather iconic image–to me, at least–of the "new" X-Men, as brought together by Magneto. We see Weapon X (Wolverine) front ‘n center on the front panel of this wraparound cover. Blink, Sunfire, Bishop, Rogue, Magneto, Jean Grey, Quicksilver, Nightcrawler, and Gambit round out the bunch here. Open the issue up to see the back cover as well and we see Apocalypse in the background, with Sabretooth and Wild Child in the foreground, Jubilee and Colossus behind, and some flying stormtroopers (Infinites, I believe) filling out the sky-space of the image.

There are no ads in this issue. 48 pages of story, plus the cover–that’s it. For "only" $3.95. Sorta pricey "back in the day," but quite a bargain by today’s standards. I wouldn’t be surprised to see something like this priced around $9.99 by Marvel nowadays–and shocked to see it under $7.99.

Though this issue kicks off the Age of Apocalypse epic, it does not itself carry an Age of Apocalypse badge–this is a "bookend" issue that serves as a prologue to the entirety of the event encompassing ten or so titles across the four months.

We open on a wasteland, where we meet Bishop–whose mind was damaged by the energies that ripped Legion and the other X-Men away in X-Men #41. We find that he’s wandered for the 20 years since. Here, he’s become the focus of an attack from Unus and his troopers who were chasing a young human who found momentary hope in Bishop. The X-Men arrive–Magneto’s X-Men–and the battle is joined. Emerging victorious, the X-Men are then confronted by Bishop, who recognizes Magneto and levels some major accusations at him. Magneto sedates him and they take Bishop for questioning.

Meanwhile, we meet Beast–Henry McCoy–a mad scientist figure experimenting on mutants. Havok touches base, and the mutant (Blob) being experimented on attacks, and the pair are "rescued" by Cyclops–with long hair and only one eye, and see that he and Havok have a horrible relationship. The two are part of Apocalypse’s group, by way of Sinister–who arrives and chastises the two for fighting, and then speaks cryptically and leaves. The scene shifts to a bar maintained by Angel–Heaven–where he’s confronted by Gambit, who is looking for Magneto. We shift to the X-Men, questioning Bishop, then to Apocalypse and his upper ranks as he reveals plans to destroy the last of humanity.

The story shifts to Weapon X and Jean meeting up with the Human High Council, and then back to Magneto’s group. "Feedback" from Rogue touching him leads to Magneto seeing fragments of a universe that might have been, leaving the older mutant troubled. He immediately sends Nightcrawler to seek Destiny in order to get confirmation of his vision. Meanwhile, Sinister’s gone missing, and Apocalypse nudges things into motion. The X-Men know "something" is up, but not specifics. While off in space, a certain crystallization wave heads toward Earth.

I don’t usually like summarizing an issue so thoroughly–but there is a LOT going on here. And it all works, for me. There’s a lot of vagueness and toss-off references scattered throughout that don’t necessarily make a lot of sense now, in context of just this one issue–but having read this before and knowing the characters, I follow them quite well. This sets up the various books that make up the Age of Apocalypse saga, introducing us to core elements–the characters and places that will have significant roles in the story to come.

There’s a definite sense of "history" here, and it feels like this could easily BE just a random issue I picked up, amidst an ongoing continuity and not the first actual glimpse at the entirety of said continuity. This is–to the reader–a new world, a beginning of an "Event," but for the characters involved this is simply the present, 20 years after a key incident in Israel.

I remember being quite eager to get into the Age of Apocalypse as a whole and being fascinated by this new version of all the characters. Despite the dark setting of the story, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this, with a familiarity and warm sense of nostagia as I did so.

The art is slightly stylistic at points, and I’m not particularly familiar with Roger Cruz‘s name…but this issue being what it is, none of the art bothered me…I was simply a kid again, enjoying seeing all these characters and where they were, and trying to glean where the story was going from this single issue.

It’s refreshing to read this issue again, and getting a sense of pureness or "authenticity" from what I so enjoyed about this event…before everything that’s come in the past ten years or so as things were changed, pulled from, and generally mucked about with in attempt to get as much out of this story as possible beyond its relatively self-contained nature in 1995.

In short, this issue holds up extremely well to my memory, is still very enjoyable, and leaves me eager to get into the heart of the story.

The ’90s Revisited: Uncanny X-Men #319

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uncannyxmen319Untapped Potential

Words: Scott Lobdell
Guest Penciler: Steve Epting
Inkers: Dan Green & Tim Townsend
Colorists: Buccellato, Becton, Hicks
Editor: Bob Harras
Published by: Marvel Comics
Cover Date: December 1994
Cover Price: $1.95

There’s something simply “familiar” about sitting and reading this issue, that brought back a lot of memories, and a certain feeling. This came out in late 1994–I was 13 at the time. (I’m 33 now). To that barely-a-teenager me, this was just another issue of an X-Men series I’d been following for over a year even as other X-books had lapsed.

Now looking back, this was a key issue on a number of fronts–primarily being a pre-prologue lead-in to Legion Quest, which itself was a prologue to the four-month Age of Apocalypse saga. This was–at least as I recall from having just re-read this issue but nothing earlier, recently–the issue Archangel and Psylocke officially became “a thing,” a relationship that carried across the next 16 or so years til The Dark Angel Saga in Uncanny X-Force a few years ago.

We have three main plots running through this issue: Rogue and Iceman are traveling to Bobby’s parents’ house for a visit. Bobby obviously has stuff eating at him, and Rogue tries to be a friend and get him to open up on the issues. She doesn’t get the greatest welcome from Bobby’s dad, though his mom tries to be a lot more hospitable. The visit overall does not go well, and Bobby storms out on some angry words. Rogue leaves as well with a calmer (but no less sharp) sharing of words.

Meanwhile, Warren (Archangel) and Betsy (Psylocke) are on a date that goes quite well, and leads to the two going back to Warren’s place and (verbally) officializing their relationship.

Finally, we follow Xavier in a dream in which he speaks to Magneto, reminiscing on their time in Israel some 20 years earlier. As the discussion progresses, Xavier begins to realize something isn’t quite right, as the dream moves from reminiscence to nightmare, resulting in Beast jolting Xavier awake–and Xavier explains that he fears his son Legion has recovered and is now more dangerous than ever before.

The art team presents a strong issue. The look was familiar, I had no problem recognizing any of the characters…and really, I quite enjoyed the way they looked. While I could not have said off the top of my head that Epting did the art for this issue, had done art (guest penciler or otherwise) on X-Men stuff from ’94, I recall the look of the issue, and as I re-read it this latest time, the only problem I had at all was disliking the shift from upright pages to “widescreen” pages where I had to physically turn the book in order to read a page. (Of course, I’ll take that over umpteen pointless double-page splashes).

Story-wise, this kept things moving, and while three simultaneous plots only allow a few pages for each, they were woven together well, and I didn’t feel any of them were particularly shorted or such–they and the issue as a whole just “worked.”

Back in the day, I was not familiar with Legion, so reading this the first time I doubt gave me any particular cause to think something big was up just from story context. I imagine I knew a bit about Legion and such, though, from other issues that flashed back, or at the very least from stuff about the then-upcoming “death” of Xavier and all that.

As noted above, I simply ENJOYED rereading this issue. It was cool to see Rogue and Bobby hanging out, and I recognized/identified with the two as they interacted, in a way I never did before. I’d forgotten about their time here, remembering only their “roadtrip” after continuity returned from the Age of Apocalypse stuff. And it was the characterizing of Xavier/Magneto’s relationship heading into the Age of Apocalypse that is certainly my favorite, and was at the time instrumental in DEFINING their relationship to me.

Though this issue works well enough just on its own–perhaps aided by my own memories–it’s also helped by my diving in here just before Legion Quest and remembering the impact that story had on me and looking forward to key moments and then the Age of Apocalypse saga itself.

Velvet #1 [Review]

velvet001Writer: Ed Brubaker
Artist: Steve Epting
Colors: Elizabeth Breitweiser
Letters: Chris Eliopoulos
Published by: Image
Cover Price: $3.50

I’m not sure what caught my eye about this–perhaps the Brubaker/Epting combo, maybe some ad, maybe just something when I was on the Comixology site recently…but this was in my Comixology pull-list that gets emailed Tuesday nights, and since I often check my stack against that, I was able to snag a copy. I don’t usually buy Image #1s as I tend to wait for the collected volumes, but given this was only $3.50 (beats the $3.99 Marvel standard), I got and read it.

We’re introduced to a group of black op spies. When one is killed, it kicks off a bit of a chain reaction as we follow a character that in most other stories would be minor, and learn that she–Velvet–is actually a Pretty Big Deal. She looks into the death herself, and quickly finds herself caught up in a bigger mess than expected, that kickstarts the foremost conflict of this first arc, if not the series in general.

Visually, this is quite good. I had a good ‘taste’ of Epting‘s work during the Captain America run a few years back, and this has a similar look. In and of itself it works well with the story, and as a new property like this, it DEFINES the characters and story. No complaints here.

Story-wise, I enjoyed this issue. It does what I feel a first issue should, introducing the world, the protagonist(s), the conflict(s), gives us some “in” on the characters, and leaves the reader interested in the story and where things will go from here. As with the art, no complaints from me.

As an issue, this is one where it’s the creative team rather than the title or concept that “sold” me. I wouldn’t particularly care for arbitrarily trying some new series about a “female spy” or any “spy story” for that matter, in and of itself. But on strength of their Captain America run, I’m interested in “anything” by Brubaker and Epting (particularly having been reminded OF their Captain America run).

Knowing most such series read better in collected volume, I can’t help but liken this single issue to the pilot of a tv show; yet as a pilot, I’m interested, and will probably check out the next issue. Given Image using the $9.99 first-arc TPB trick, for the price of the singles, I can probably expect to be able to buy the first two issues, opt for the collected volume, and still not exceed the individual issues’ cost…which is also a ‘selling point’ for me.

Definitely a recommended read if you’re looking for a quality spy thriller/adventure by Brubaker and Epting, particularly with an absolute lack of “superheroes.”

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