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Age of Apocalypse Revisited: X-Universe #2

aoa_revisited_logo

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.

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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.

The ’90s Revisited: All New Exiles vs. X-Men #0

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allnewexilesvsxmen000X-Over

Writer: Terry Kavanagh
Penciller: Ken Lashley
Inker: Tom Wegrzyn
Letterer: Patrick Owsley
Color Design: Shannon Blanchard
Interior Color: Malibu
Cover: Dan Panosian
Editors: Chris Ulm, Jerald Devictoria, Bob Harras, Ben Raab
Published by: Malibut Comics
Cover Date: October 1995
Cover Price: n/a (promo/mail-away issue)

I’ve long sought this issue…based on the cover date, it’s safe to say I’ve had at least SOME level of interest in this for 19 years. From what I recall, this was a send-away promo issue. Mail in some bound-in coupon from an ad along with $10 or so, and receive the issue in the mail once it shipped. Simple…but very, very EXPENSIVE…especially for a then-14-year-old. As such, the offer passed me by and my life moved on none the worse for it.

This copy, that I’m covering this in mid-December 2014, came from finding the issue loose in a 25-cent bin this week, and in remarkably good condition for its age and rarity. Of course, I say rarity as I cannot recall ever before coming across this issue in any sort of bargain bin. While it’s not a particularly expensive issue, it’s been expensive enough–more than “just” a couple dollars–that I hadn’t acquired it before now.

Unfortunately, this issue’s had nearly two full decades to build my anticipation of the reading experience…which made this the obvious let-down that one really ought to EXPECT from the situation. This is a one-shot, in-continuity for the Exiles characters but not so much the X-Men side. It was published as a promo outside the regular numbering of the post-Black September All New Exiles series. And it’s no “key issue” of any sort that I can tell…a fact that adds to the sense of disappointment. So let’s leave all that aside.

The cover feels a bit odd to me with the two teams’ logos seeming strangely small on the cover. Granted, each logo individually would usually fill the top space of a cover and it’s not likely anyone wanted to crowd out the image with logos. But these logos being so small and the image being what it is, the logos kind of get lost in the viewing. The image itself, though–of X-Men Storm, Beast, Iceman, Rogue, and Gambit standing in front of some sort of poster of the Exiles–works quite well for me despite the visual style seeming vaguely manga-esque and cartooney to me (particularly compared against some of my favorite Age of Apocalypse-era X-books from early 1995).

The interior art is not bad, and carries a definite ’90s “feel” to me. I recognize Lashley‘s name from Excalibur (and the title’s Age of Apocalypse iteration X-Calibre), so there’s that air of “authenticity” on the X-Men angle for me, even if Excalibur was never a “core” X-book to me growing up. Characters look pretty good throughout this issue with only moments of difference to me where something doesn’t look quite “right.” I do attribute this to the art not being Kubert, Lee, or someone I’m more consciously (and nostalgically) familiar with far more than I do any particular artistic fault. I’m not unimpressed, and other than the conscious analyzing for this review, the art remained relatively unnoticed and simply “there” as I read the issue.

The story isn’t anything fancy…it has a lot of potential but seems rather rushed. Of course, that particular fault I’d attribute to contemporary comics and the drawn-out 4-6 issue story arcs and lack of done-in-one single issues…especially something with only 22 pages, that isns’t even an over-sized/extra-length issue.

We open on Charles Xavier–founder of the X-Men–frustrated at his inability to locate the Juggernaut (Cain Marko, his step-brother) anywhere on Earth. Having picked up on their mentor’s frustration, the X-Men join a physical search, enlisting the aid of Gateway to check other dimensions. Once in another dimension, they find themselves face to face with the Juggernaut and others, where a fight breaks out. The two groups are then distracted when a creature attempts to come through the portal Gateway had opened, and they’re forced to work together to stop it. Ultimately, the status quo is restored with the X-Men returning to their dimension and the Exiles left on theirs with no way to follow the X-Men without re-energizing the creature they’d just stopped.

There’s not a lot of room for any characters to have actual characterization given how many are here and how few pages, along with the story being set up and moved along. Again based on contemporary standards, something like this seems like it would be best served existing as a 3-4+ issue mini-series. Crammed into one issue, we pretty much need to be familiar with the characters to get anything out of this. Familiar or not, everyone’s pretty much to be taken at face-value, with limited dialogue to contextualize things.

I would expect more of this issue–as a singular, special thing. Given its length and publication, this feels more like I picked up a random issue of All New Exiles that happens to guest-star the X-Men…something rather akin to what I picture of random crossovers in “indy” comics…that is, one side or the other takes more out of the story and the other property seems to have no reference to it other than the character(s’)’s existed in the given issue.

Despite my expectations and relative disappointment…for the 25 cents I paid, this was a very good issue and well worth my having bought and taken the time to read. It does also lift my interest in delving into the All New Exiles…though that particular reading project is quite a ways off yet as I seek to complete my Ultraverse collection.

allnewexilesvsxmen0

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