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Sunday Slugfest - X-Men: Age of Apocalypse

Posted: Sunday, March 6, 2005
By: Keith Dallas

X-Men: Age of Apocalypse One-Shot
Writers: Scott Lobdell, Tony Bedard, Larry Hama, Akira Yoshida
Artists: Adam Kubert, Andy Kubert, Alvin Lee, Tony Daniel, Mark Brooks, Paco Medina, Talent Caldwell, Roger Cruz, Kia Asamiya

X-Men: Age of Apocalypse #1 (of 6)
Writer: Akira Yoshida
Artists: Chris Bachalo (p), Tim Townsend (i)

Publisher: Marvel Comics

Average Rating:

Shawn Hill:
Michael Lucinski:
Shaun Manning:
Michael Deeley:

Shawn Hill

The One-Shot is a pretty quick re-immersion course into the Age of Apocalypse universe, picking up where that crossover ended. The most interesting things about “Age of Apocalypse” were the changes it rang on some established characters. Wolverine and Jean could be together for real (and without her ever accessing the Phoenix force), Magneto and Sabretooth were the good guys, Cyclops and Havok were irrevocably corrupted by Sinister, and yet in this dark world Rogue at last found her soulmate. It was a very “mirror universe” case of looking at familiar faces but seeing them attached to complete strangers, and the reasons for the differences were mostly logical extrapolations from key points of difference.

“Age of Apocalypse” was organized rather like a mini-version of Grant Morrison’s ambitious Seven Soldiers project. Then we got an alpha and omega issue, bookends for 4 sets of 4 issues running in each of the major X-titles of the time (18 issues
compared to Morrison’s planned 30, by multiple creators). What worked best was the field of free play the concept allowed the creators; the “Age of Apocalypse” books were
in many cases better than the contemporary regular universe stuff, which is one of the reasons the series is still fondly remembered. It was an intriguing story efficiently told, with lots of cod-manga flash for the truly heinous villains, and when it was over all we had left to show for it was the inexplicable sensation Blink, Dark Beast, and some remnants in Generation X.

These three vignettes provide a look at a vulnerable moment in Sabretooth’s conversion from despot to freedom fighter; a hint of a new generation of mutants in the wake of Magneto’s victory; and show the immediate aftermath of the neutralization of the nuclear threat, including Jean’s death and the strong implication that Magneto received some unwelcome help. The depravity of the villains and the grace of the heroes are both recalled by the art of Alvin Lee, Paco Medina and Mark Brooks, who largely recapture
the manga-flash of the original story. I actually prefer some of these costumes to the “real” ones.

The first installment of the mini-series takes the next step in the story, with the characters who survived not having to deal with a nuclear holocaust. Not too long ago, I pulled out the “Age of Apocalypse” issues on my own just to review what I felt was a complete, satisfying story. And the problems Yoshida faces this crew with seem a bit odd, in that things were on a decidedly feudal level in Apocalypse’s world, with humans as serfs bred and dominated by mutant overlords. Yet now we have an extant president and well-coifed reporters in Magneto’s press conference about rounding up the remaining evil mutants. Such a goal seems questionable even to other mutants, who see the collaborators as living under the yoke of Apocalypse and his agents like everyone else. The humans, perhaps naturally, are having a hard time sorting out allies from enemies, fearing even the mutants who defeated Apocalypse. While not exactly contrived, this tone feels a bit off, too redolent of the regular Marvel state of things.

Where the book does succeed in capturing the feeling of the original series is in Bachalo’s art. He was involved in some chapters of the original event, and was significant in contributing character designs for the likes of “Age of Apocalypse” Kitty, the Sugarman and the general sense of a world turned sideways. He’s welcome back on the series, and decorates but doesn’t obscure the sequences (involving a Wolverine-like ranger tracking a wary mutant, the press conference, and a siege by the “Age of Apocalypse” X-men on the Hellions) too much. Sure, random bits of metal seem to litter the page whenever Magneto’s around, but that’s part of his uber-powerful concept in this world.

This chapter ends on a powerful dramatic note, as I think “Age of Apocalypse” X-23 is introduced, though it’s too early to be sure. I’m on board for this series, as I find myself still invested in a world where Rogue and Magneto married and had kids, because he was the one mutant who could keep her powers at bay.

Michael Lucinski

The Plot: The one-shot fills in various pieces of back story ranging from mildly interesting to trivial to plainly pointless. Witness how Colossus became the teacher of Generation Next, how Sabretooth became partners with Wild Child and Wolverine save some girl in “Neo Toyko.” The one-shot then shows how Europe’s nuclear bombs did not destroy the X-Men in New York at the end of X-Men: Omega

Over in the limited series, a mysterious triple claw-wielding stranger travels through the Canadian wilderness searching for somebody. Back in newly-rebuilt Washington D.C., Magneto – acting director of mutant affairs for the U.S. government – promises a pushy press corps that the X-Men will round up rogue mutants guilty of atrocities during Apocalypse’s reign. The mysterious stranger finds her target and surprises him with her identity.

Comment: Dystopian realities and alternate future storylines are usually weak in Marvel Comics because contriving the situation Peter Parker or Bruce Banner or Johnny Storm receive their powers is such a stretch removed from the traditional origin. “The Red Skull’s goons kidnapped me when they conquered New York and did terrible experiments with cosmic radiation,” said Johnny Storm as he flew around the room on fire, for example. But a mutant gains his or her powers whether George W. Bush or Victor Von Doom is president. Consequently, it becomes eminently plausible that after Apocalypse slaughters millions and destroys the United States (plus Japan, Russia, etc.), Gambit still becomes Gambit, Storm becomes Storm, etc.

That, plus tight editorial control and fantastic creative teams, made the “Age of Apocalypse” the best large-scale Marvel crossover event of the last 15 years, perhaps the best ever. No one could expect these offerings to equal the original product, but we certainly could expect better than what we receive. The one-shot in particular is an exercise in wasteful spending. The final story of the one shot – how the X-Men survived the nuclear bombs – could easily have been folded into issue one of the limited series as a prologue. The rest is useless. Of particular offense is the Wolverine story by Larry Hama and Talent Caldwell. Absolutely nothing distinguishes it as an “Age of Apocalypse” story. It’s Wolverine playing his usual “Gruff bad ass with a heart of gold” role. The layout made determining what happens in the issue extremely difficult. Four dollars (with tax) for the issue, four stories, one dollar per story. While the other stories are just bearable, I definitely want a dollar back from Marvel for the Hama story.

The weakest aspect of the limited series’ first issue is the art. No one can draw a befuddling battle in the industry quite like Bachalo. It’s impossible to distinguish when one character ends and another begins as they grapple. Key sequences in the opening fight – when one character is eaten and when other characters are decapitated – are obscured by tiny panel layout and awkward angles.

Things seem too fine in post-Apocalypse America. It’s only been a year and their recovery is continuing quite apace? I know they tried to explain this away saying mutants have helped with rebuilding, but this smacks of poor writing and editing. Apocalypse ruled for years, if not decades. He slaughtered tens of millions. The physical, social and human infrastructure of the nation was virtually destroyed. There is no way recovery could occur that fast or trust mutants so readily.

Does Marvel really need to be told the big surprise reveal at the end of the issue one is dramatically undercut when you put the mysterious character on the cover uncloaked? Yes, apparently so.

The Final Word: Since I’m too young to get all gooey between the legs for Chris Claremont’s ancient X-Men stories, the “Age of Apocalypse” stands as my favorite X-Men storyline. These two offerings do nothing to detract from that, but certainly do nothing to enhance them. I might have given the limited series , but the Age of Apocalypse one-shot is the most pointless book I’ve reviewed since I started writing for Silver Bullet Comic Books. That drags the average down a little.

Shaun Manning

Ten years ago, Marvel Comics cancelled the X-Men. They cancelled Uncanny, they cancelled Wolverine. The Apocalypse had come.

For four months, the regular X-Men comics were replaced with stories set in a much darker universe. The villain Apocalypse ruled the earth, and Magneto stood as the planet's only hope. All this because Charles Xavier did not live to create his School for Gifted Youngsters. The Age of Apocalypse epic featured a familiar but completely retooled cast, as heroes became villains, villains fought for justice, and forbidden romances flourished. It allowed a significantly richer "What If?" and, beginning in medias res, suggested long unexplored histories for its characters. Through the coordinated efforts of Earth’s mutant heroes, the global tyrant Apocalypse was eventually defeated, but not before raining a barrage of nuclear weapons on the United States of America. But those bombs never struck; the universe ended before they could hit the ground, as the Marvel Universe reality reasserted itself.

Marvel now celebrates one of its most popular X-Men stories with a new miniseries, a crossover with pseudo spin-off book Exiles, and expensive collections of the original saga. Sadly, this time they haven’t cancelled the regular X-titles for the duration, which could make this weekly limited series rather pricey for regular readers. Particularly since this week alone saw two issues released as a kick-off, the first issue of the miniseries and a one-shot that might easily be mistaken for the miniseries premiere with a variant cover. A reader who chooses to pick up the one-shot to the exclusion of the actual first issue will be rather confused when the next issue comes about, while one who reads #1 without the special will miss out on a refresher course on the characters involved and a hint at how this reality survived the return of the “true” universe.

Tackling the one-shot first, there is much to enjoy here, as several short tales explore the back stories of the most enigmatic re-imagined characters. Original “Age of Apocalypse” writer Scott Lobdell returns with UDON's Alvin Lee for a story starring a tragedy-numbed Colossus. Piotr Rasputin opts out of a battle in progress to meditate on the horror of unending war. Lee’s art is gorgeous and the story is compelling, but Magneto’s resolution to Colossus’s woes seems a bit... ill-advised. Reckless, even. But apparently it all ends well.

Next, Tony Bedard and Paco Medina detail Sabretooth’s betrayal of his evil masters and adoption of the feral Wild Child. While not a highlight of the issue, there is a suggestion that ‘Tooth pisses on a wall to mark his territory, which is amusing. The Weapon X story that follows it may well lead directly in to the Age of Apocalypse miniseries, but on its own is merely frustrating, as readers almost learn how Logan lost his left hand. Finally, in a story absolutely essential to anyone who remembers how the original “Age” ended and still wants to enjoy the miniseries, Magneto’s torment at being hailed as the Earth’s savior hides a truth that is much more sinister. This bit of magic produced by Akira Yoshida and Mark Brooks.

On to issue #1! Weapon X graces the cover, looking a bit like Slingblade in S&M gear. Chris Bachalo’s interior pencils aren’t much better, as Magneto’s head bears strong resemblance to a squished grape in what is meant to be a grand entrance. On the next page, it appears that reporters at a press conference are pelting the Master of Magnetism with grey french fries. It’s really quite difficult to make out what’s meant to be happening, but consensus has it that this is supposed to be Magneto’s hair. Anybody with long locks, answer this: do you ever find a few feet of your hair levitating above your shoulder or eagerly reaching out toward someone standing in front of you? Maybe I’ve just never let my hair get that long.

The story, though, is strong. One year after the bombs didn’t fall, a cloaked warrior with adamantium claws journeys across the frozen Canadian wasteland, while at the New White House the President ruminates on all the progress made rebuilding the country with the help of mutants. When the new Director of Mutant Affairs directs his first mission against an enclave of young followers of Apocalypse, human fears are set at ease while new concerns arise among Magneto’s X-Men.

While Marvel's presentation of this event has numerous problems, the excitement engendering the project is well-earned. The original “Age of Apocalypse” was one of the most dramatic episodes in the post-Claremont X-Men, a story undeniably fresh that no fan could ignore (since there was no X-Alternative!). In the intervening ten years, some developments that were originally shocking have been rendered less so–Magneto and Rogue’s marriage is less jarring now that she’s no longer so intimately associated with Gambit, and Scott Summers’s moral ambiguity has been explored in both the regular and Ultimate Marvel universes. The appeal, however, remains, and it is to be hoped that newer X-Men will receive the same freshening up that those lucky enough to exist ten years back experienced. There is some indication that they will: Beak has been mentioned, though as yet has not appeared in the flesh. So long as the new stable of creators can maintain the action and mystery of the original while bringing their own innovations and post-millennial sensibilities to this alternate-reality saga, Age of Apocalypse 2005 will be a worthy successor to the original epic.

Michael Deeley

The following is a partial transcript of a meeting that took place on January 13, 2005. It was found among the personal effects of Mr. Michael Deeley. Deeley, a longtime comic book reader and contributor of articles to the website, disappeared while visiting the Pittsburgh Comicon in April of 2005. Although he appeared to be a staunch supporter of changing public opinion towards comic books, recently discovered evidence shows he was part of a larger conspiracy to hinder the financial and artistic growth of the medium.

The voices of the other members are still being identified, though “Man 2” sounds suspiciously like Gareb Shamus.

Scene: Non-descript conference room. Several men and women are seated around a long table in the room’s center.

(I enter)

Me: Good day. Ladies and gentlemen, for those of you new to our group, welcome to our exclusive club. We have no name. We have no individual names, nor do we refer to our “club” by any name. We are what we do. It is our solemn task to keep the comic book industry and the medium itself mired in mediocrity and unpopularity. Should comics ever reach the heights of mass media as it did in the 1950’s and 1960’s, well, we all know what happened to this country then, don’t we?

Now, Mr. Buckley from Marvel Comics has sent us advance copies of two new comics Marvel is publishing: (Hands out copies around the table) the Age of Apocalypse One-Shot, and the first issue of the Age of Apocalypse mini-series. These comics are based on events featured in Marvel’s “Age of Apocalypse” crossover event originally published in 1995.

Man 1: You mean these are sequels to a story made 10 years ago?

Me: Correct.

Man 2: But who remembers the original story?

Me: No one who hasn’t been reading comics since 1995, nor those who haven’t invested the time, money, and effort to track down old comics.

Man 1: Both of which exclude children and recently converted readers.

Me: As per our policies on driving away children, non-readers, and anyone with a real life.

Lady 1: What was the “Age of Apocalypse” about, anyway?

Me: Briefly, the “Age of Apocalypse” took place in an alternate timeline, created when Professor Xavier was killed by his time-traveling son before Xavier formed the X-Men. Magneto, Xavier’s friend at the time, carried on Xavier’s dream of mutant/human coexistence and founded the X-Men himself.

Also in this timeline, the immortal mutant Apocalypse decided to begin conquering the world earlier than he had in the Marvel universe. Since he attacked before the creation of non-mutant Marvel heroes, he met with little opposition and great success. 20 years later, Apocalypse had absolute control over the Western hemisphere. He had exterminated billions of humans, and gathered thousands of mutants into his army.

Man 3: Man, Magento’s X-Men must’ve sucked balls to fail so badly!

(general laughter)

Me: Yes, which is why Magneto gambled everything on a chance to change history. He sent his world’s version of the mutant Bishop into the past to save Xavier’s life, thereby restoring history to its proper flow.

Man 2: But wouldn’t that have erased Magneto, his family, and his entire world from existence?

Me: Yes, but seeing as how the humans in Europe were launching a nuclear strike against Apocalypse, they were doomed anyway.

Lady 1: Does Marvel plan to collect and release the original story as a trade paperback?

Me: Yes. Beginning in March, Marvel will release the first in a series of books that collect all comics related to the “Age of Apocalypse.”

Man 1: So there’s a risk of recently converted readers buying the trades, learning the story, and buying these comics?

Me: That risk is reduced due to Marvel’s scheduling. You see, the first volume collects stories taking place in the history of the “Age of Apocalypse” timeline. But they were published after the core story concluded. This is like releasing Return of the Jedi into theaters, and only The Phantom Menace is on video. Future volumes will be released every 3 months.

Man 3: But what about those who only buy trade books? Couldn’t they just wait until these comics are colleted and read all the trades in order?

(long pause, followed by raucous laughter)

Me: (wipes tears away) You’re obviously new here, so let me clue you in: There is no such person as a reader who only “follows the trades.” Since the majority of trade paperbacks and graphic novels are found in comic shops, a person will be exposed to the monthly series. And the temptation of paying only $3 a month, rather than $20 or $30 all at once is too great to pass up.

Man 1: So these comics aren’t easily accessible to new readers? They don’t explain the premise of the alternate timeline?

Me: No, no they don’t. The mini-series takes place one year after the conclusion of “Age of Apocalypse.” All a new reader will know is that somehow, at sometime, a villain called Apocalypse (who died years ago in the Marvel U) conquered America. He was defeated by a team of X-men led by Magneto. The fact that Xavier is dead, and that this is even a different reality, is not made clear. Not even in a “The Story so Far” page at the beginning. The One-Shot does not explain this either.

Lady 1: Let’s talk about this One-Shot. What’s it about?

Me: The One-Shot is a collection of four short stories, three of which take place in “Age of Apocalypse”’s past. It shows how Colossus lost the will to fight, but agreed to train the next generation of mutants for Magneto.

Man 3: So a guy has to teach teenagers to follow a dream he no longer believes in? Ha! Talk about the blind leading the blind. Who wrote that?

Me: Scott Lobdell, author of Generation Next, an “Age of Apocalypse” mini-series about Colossus and his students. Mr. Lobdell was never the most capable of writers, as evidenced by his recent film, Man of the House.

Man 4: That reminds me: The Council on Pacification through Mass Media: Cinema Division would like to talk to you.

Me: Ah yes. Ben Edlund is trying to turn his comic book The Tick into a movie. Such a surreal, thought-provoking, not to mention funny satire of the superhero genre would force audiences to realize just how ridiculous superhero comics really are. And that would not be good for our plans.

Anyway, another story in this One-Shot shows Sabretooth bonding with Wild Child in prison.

Man 2: I’ve just read that story. You mean Apocalypse, who believes in “survival of the fittest,” who’s killed loyal servants for the slightest failure, actually keeps disobedient mutants alive in a prison?

Me: (In monotone) Yes. An absolute dictator kept dozens, perhaps hundreds, of powerful mutants, who refused to serve him, together in one place.

(Much laughter)

Man 3: Oh man! What idiot. . . ?

Me: Tony Bedard.

(Dead silence)

Man 1: It’s not like him to make a mistake like this.

Me: No, no it isn’t. He cannot be underestimated, ladies and gentlemen. I’m still convinced he suspects our involvement in the end of Crossgen. He might have written this story badly on purpose, just to make us think he’s dim.

Man 3: Maybe he’s not as smart as you think? Maybe this was just a stupid mistake?

Me: I have read his Exiles #60. It clearly and concisely explains the premise of “Age of Apocalypse.” He does not make mistakes sir; not like this.

Man 1: I’m concerned about this third story, the one by Larry Hama. Now, the girl here calls fast-food and video games, “the bread and circuses of our age. They must be challenged.” Could this reflect a sentiment that threatens our organization’s larger goals?

Me: Not likely. This is a Wolveirne story by Larry Hama, not Grant Morrison’s The Invisibles.

(Collective shudder around the room.)

Lady 2: Christ, if that was on television. . .

Me: It wasn’t. And it never will be. No, this is just another cranky old conservative complaining about popular consumer culture. Children will remain fat and bored, don’t you worry.

The final story picks up where “Age of Apocalypse” ended. Magneto appears to use his powers to stop the nuclear bombs from falling. He is later visited by evil geneticist, Mr. Sinister.

Man 3: But that doesn’t explain how the timeline survived history being changed. And if Magneto didn’t stop the bombs, who or what did? And what did Sinister want?

Me: None of that is explained, at least not yet. Perhaps later in the mini-series it will be.

Man 1: In your opinion, is there any reason someone should pay $4 American for this comic?

Me: No compelling reason. The art is nice, but the stories do nothing to expand nor deepen the “Age of Apocalypse” saga.

Man 2: What about the mini-series? What happens there?

Me: It takes place one year after “Age of Apocalypse”’s conclusion. Magneto’s X-Men have helped rebuild the country and capture mutants that served Apocalypse. But many people are still distrustful towards mutants in general. The Silver Samurai, a new recruit to the X-Men, questions Magneto about his judging between “good” and “evil” mutants. Meanwhile, someone with claws travels Canada to find Wolverine and bring him back to the team.

Lady 1: That would be the girl on the cover, right?

Me: Right. The “surprise ending” is ruined by the cover. It features Wolverine and a girl with claws; probably an alternate version of X-23. When the cloaked figure in the story uses claws, then finds Wolverine, the reader can guess who it is.

Man 2: How about the art of Bachalo and Townsend?

Me: Their style remains dark and disconcerting, which is appropriate for a post-Apocalyptic world. Fortunately, their exaggerations make some parts of the story difficult to see. The result is a style that’s generally pleasing, yet not easy to read.

The story establishes several interesting plot points and raises issues that could be explored in depth.

Man 3: So it could turn out to be a great story?

Me: That possibility exists. However, there’s still a chance the story could royally suck. And there are still plenty of strikes against this comic to discourage casual readers.

In short, ladies and gentlemen, these comics appeal only to the long-time readers who’ve been trained to purchase only mainstream comics, blindly following any trend that even remotely relates to the comics of their wasted youth. They appeal only to the shrinking number of current fandom. What’s more, these comics do not enlighten nor challenge these readers. They merely separate them from their money and distract them for several minutes. All according to our plans.

Man 1: Buckley’s done it again!

Man 3: Yeah, man. I was worried when Jemas was running Marvel. And Alessi?

Me: That was too close. Comics came dangerously close to being thought provoking, original, exciting, and worst of all, popular. But more projects like these should keep that from happening. I assume we can count on your support?

Man 2: The usual: phony price increases for the original “Age of Apocalypse” comics, interviews with the creators, plenty of hype about the writer Yoshida being the “next big thing.”

Lady 1: My team will get started on passionate, positive reviews from “readers” praising the comics.

Man 3: My people will flood the newsgroups with misspelled rants and raves about them before they’re released!

Me: Excellent. Meeting adjourned.

Other documents, regarding the revival of X-Force and the return of Hal Jordan as Green Lantern, were found in a folder marked “The Long Road Back,” with notes scribbled in the margins like “regression, not evolution.” Also found were the unpublished, final issues of Crossgen’s Negation War; a Howard the Duck revival by David Sedaris; and what appear to be plans for an armed attack against the offices of Tokypop and Viz Comics.

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