With Marvel’s popular and successful foray into films with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I’ve finally decided to get back into comics. I grew up a big fan of X-Men and other superheroes but haven’t really kept up since the 90s. Thus begins my grand catching-up of the last ten years of Marvel comics, events and stories.
Thanks in large part to trade paperbacks and the digital convenience of Marvel Unlimited I can make relatively quick progress, and I’ll write down my Final Thoughts for each collection here on my blog. Like my gaming Final Thoughts, this will be full of spoilers. You’ve been warned!
Issues: X-Men: Alpha, Age of Apocalypse: The Chosen, Generation Next #1-4, Astonishing X-Men (Vol. 1) #1-4, X-Calibre #1-4, Gambit and the X-Ternals #1–4, Weapon X (Vol. 1) #1–4, Amazing X-Men #1–4, Factor X #1–4, X-Man #1-4, X-Universe #1-2, X-Men: Omega
Let me begin by apologizing for the recent dearth of my Comics Final Thoughts series. It’s one of the most popular things I do on this blog, but between moving to a new house and churning out news stories for E3, I’ve been incredibly busy.
But the other reason is because I was tackling a gigantic project – rereading the massive 1995 X-Men event, “Age of Apocalypse!” I was hoping to get it done in time for the X-Men: Apocalypse film, but hey – better late than never.
“Age of Apocalypse” was the insane X-Men event take-over that occurred in the mid 90s. It was also pretty much the only good Marvel comic to come out of the 90s.
“Age of Apocalypse” was incredibly extensive, with dozens of comics, limited series, and an awesome alternate universe playground. We got to see familiar heroes and villains in all-new roles, and a few new characters rose to the occasion to eventually escape the dark reality and enter the regular rotation.
Re-visiting “Age of Apocalypse” always starts with the jarring re-acclimation to another art style era. Many Marvel comics of the 90s started becoming far more cartoon-y, almost Saturday Morning Cartoon level in their zany depictions. Thankfully this only affects some of AoA, but the lengthy Alpha and Omega one-shots that begin and end the event are unfortunately the most egregious.
But “Age of Apocalypse” still works incredibly well because of how thorough Marvel committed to it. The entire then-current run of X-Men and mutant-related comics were suspended. New series based in this alternate dystopian world were created, and smartly followed different teams of mutants as they attempted to fight back against Apocalypse.
The entire event has been collected within four Age of Apocalypse: The Complete Epic trade paper back volumes. I actually completed skipped the first one. It’s mostly full of prequel and lead-in stories that set the stage for why we ended up in this world in the first place.
Most of it can be summed up in a sentence or two: Xavier’s troubled son Legion goes back in time to kill Magneto, but Xavier himself sacrifices himself to stop it. No Xavier = bad times for all, which leads to Apocalypse taking control of most of the world, killing humans and putting mutants in breeding pens.
It’s a nasty world where many of our heroes (and villains) have become freedom fighters. A few actually work for Apocalypse, and much of the fun is seeing where familiar faces ended up.
X-Men Alpha (which kicks off Book 2) introduces us to this nightmare world that’s divided up between Apocalypse’s henchman. But Bishop, a man all-too familiar with future dystopias and time-travel, has just arrived in this world. He has knowledge of how the world is supposed to be, and soon plants those seeds within the X-Men’s current leader, Magneto.
It’s a shame that Bishop is side-lined for most of the story (and soon captured, along with Magneto). He would’ve made a great protagonist as the man out of time. Instead we’re introduced to the series real hero, X-Man.
He’s essentially AoA’s version of Cable, except also a bit of a young punk. His story is about as cliché as it gets. His mentor Forge gets killed by Mr. Sinister at a crucial time. He holds back his abilities until the plot finally decides it’s time for him to unleash everything. Then he does, going directly after Ol’ Pocky Lips during the climax in X-Men Omega.
If you can’t tell I’m not a huge fan of Nate Grey nor his X-Man series, though it does provide some great scenes of Sinister. It’s also quite crucial to the overall plot.
Other characters and comics fare better. Cyclops looks utterly ridiculous with his Fabio-hair, but he goes through a nice little character arc as he opposes Apocalypse from the inside. The gradual war between he and brother Havok (who’s deliciously jealous and evil) was also entertaining. Their story is told in Factor-X and it bridges many of the necessary scenes between our various villains. Angel also has an underrated role as a neutral club owner that finally takes up arms at the end.
Many of our beloved mutants are divided up into several different teams after they learn of Bishop’s story in X-Men Alpha. Magneto dictates everyone split up and perform different tasks, which is a great way to create a big event that lasts for months and create many new limited-run comics.
Rogue is married to Magneto in this crazy world, and the two share a young son named Charles. Magneto sends her team to stop the human culling by Holocaust, one of the horseman, in Astonishing X-Men. The team includes a very Logan-like Sabretooth, a badass and suicidal Sunfire, and newcomer Blink.
It’s a great series that really nails that Marvel balance of action and drama. There’s great inter-team banter and the team has a good balance – even the wise-cracking idiot by virtue of Morph. Holocaust is also a fantastic villain, cool design, powerful, and keeps coming back. In fact it takes a pissed off X-Man to take him down during the finale.
Amazing X-Men is very similar in tone and fun-factor. Quicksilver leads a team of Storm, Banshee, Ice-Man (looking crazy monstrous and cool), Dazzler (definitely her most impressive incarnation), and Exodus.
Like Astonishing X-Men the team is sent to help save people and end up tangling with another horseman, Abyss, who’s also a fantastic design. Most stories are only as good as their villains, and villains are one of “Age of Apocalypse’s” biggest strengths.
Confusingly Quicksilver further splits up his own team later in the series. Some go to help Rogue’s team, while others move to rescue their captured allies. It all leads to an awesome climax in X-Men Omega. But these series definitely expect you to be reading all of them or you’ll quickly get lost. Hell I nearly got lost just taking my time reading all of them.
Oddly Wolverine gets the shaft in Weapon X. He’s given a cool backstory of a battle between him and Cyclops – he lost a hand while Cyke lost an eye. He’s on the run with Jean Grey, but Jean eventually joins up with Cyclops, while Logan is left with the task of recruiting Gateway and the Human High Council to mount a final attack.
It’s one of the weaker stories and ends up working against them, as the bombs that drop represent yet another giant threat during the climax. Logan just isn’t given a whole lot to do, and Pierce is a weak villain.
Gambit and the X-Ternals goes in some crazy places. Namely space. Gambit is sent to retrieve a piece of the M’Kran Crystal – that somewhat annoying Deus Ex Machina device that pops up in various X-Men stories. They travel all the way to the Shi’Ar Empire and fight the likes of Gladiator and company. It all feels very disconnected from the main plot.
Rictor is the primary villain here, which I found funny since he’s such a complex, emotional character in the very well written X-Factor series. Here he’s just a really dumb, one-dimensional henchman. Gambit’s crew, including Sunspot, Jubilee, and Strong Guy, are also kinda weak.
Things get much more interesting when they return to Earth and Strong Guy betrays them, stealing both the crystal and young Charles. Strong Guy is another character I love in X-Factor so this whole story-line threw me for a loop.
Nightcrawler is given the task of verifying Bishop’s story with Destiny in X-Calibre. Destiny lives in a mutant refuge called Avalon, but it seems like it takes forever for Nightcrawler to get there. He’s soon joined by his mom Mystique, and they eventually have to tangle with the Shadow King as well as the Pale Riders, a trio of villains that include Deadpool. It’s surprisingly boring and Nightcrawler’s violent intensity is mostly off-putting – though he has a particularly memorable kill against Dead Man Wade.
Finally there’s Generation Next, which is easily the worst of the bunch. The art is atrocious. It looks more like a newspaper comic strip, just incredibly messy. It stars Colossus, wife Shadowcat, and a team of young mutants. They go to rescue Illyana (Colossus’ sister) from Sugar Man, who’s a really goofy villain in every way.
Colossus comes off partially as a coward, and partially dangerously obsessed with his sister. He ends up sacrificing his entire team, then later actually tries to kill some of the X-Men to stop his sister from completing their plan to save their entire reality. If you’re a fan of Colossus at all, his portrayal here will leave you mortified.
All these stories and comics come together at the end. Destiny, Illyana, and Bishop use the M’Kraan to get Bishop back in time to stop Legion – thus stopping this dark world from ever happening. Of course it’s later retconned that this is an alternate timeline but hey, let’s not worry about that.
X-Man and the rest of the team comes together to free Magneto, and he and Apocalypse have a satisfying rematch. Magneto is an utter badass throughout, even if he is captured for half the story.
The beginning and ending of “Age of Apocalypse” are so strong that its few missteps are quickly forgiven. If you’re looking to re-read it, I’d recommend starting with X-Men Alpha, skipping Generation Next and probably X-Calibre, and reading all the rest. With its sheer volume of content and fantastic world-building, “Age of Apocalypse” remains one of the best X-Men stories ever told.