Reviewer: Jesse Baker
Story Title: A Beginning…
Written by: Scott Lobdell (story) and Mark Waid (dialogue)
Penciled by: Steve Epting and Roger Cruz
Inked by: Tim Townsend and Dan Panosian
Colored by: Steve Buccellato and the Electric Crayons
Lettered by: Starkings and the Comicraftsmen
Editor: Bob Harras
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Welcome to the first of several X-Men related reviews from the mid-1990s that I will be doing for 411Comics. From 1994 onward, the X-Men books began a slow and steady downward spiral into mediocrity that didn’t end until the hiring of Grant Morrison in 2001. Like most downward spirals, it began with greed, as most things do. With the “Phalanx Covenant” crossover, Marvel slapped gimmick covers on all of the X-Books and charged $3 and $4 (roughly three times the cover price) a pop for each issue. When the crossover was done, you would think that they would have stopped with the gouging. Nope, instead they implemented an even more ghoulish extortion of their readers. For the direct market (IE comic shops) all X-Books were impermanently raised to $2. Newstand copies remained at their normal price but to discourage readers, all newstand copies of the X-Books were purposely delayed from two-to-three weeks after they hit comic shops, forcing readers to buy the $2 version or else fall behind.
Further adding to the mix was the fact that immediately following the “Phalanx Covenant” crossover, the X-Books all collectively suffered a huge drop in quality. According to both Scott Lobdell and Fabian Nicieza, 1994 was the year that then X-Men editor Bob Harras began to micromanage both writers and literally straight-jacket them creatively and forced them to flesh out his own personal storyline ideas instead. The results were pretty clear as within a year Fabian Nicieza would be gone from both X-Force and X-Men while Scott Lobdell would have to carry the weight of manning both books and deal with having his creative vision rejected in favor of both Bob Harras and later Mark Power’s “creative vision”.
FOR WANT OF AN ALTERNATE REALITY ROMP
X-Men Alpha was the beginning of the much hyped and infamous “Age of Apocalypse” saga. For those who don’t know, the Age of Apocalypse was a four month “MEGA” event where every single X-Book stopped publication and were replaced with all new books set in an alternate reality where Professor Xavier died before founding the X-Men. In the wake of Xavier’s death, Magneto ends up founding the X-Men while longtime X-Factor villain Apocalypse goes on to achieve complete conquest over all of North America. The entire event revolved around two big major storylines as Magneto struggles to defeat Apocalypse once and for all before Apocalypse can incite a nuclear war with Europe (which has become the last remaining human refuge) while sending his agents on missions to find material to create a time portal to send Bishop (the sole survivor of the original timeline who avoided being negated from existence due to a major plothole of the whole X-Over) back in time prevent Xavier’s death.
The book opens in Seattle as an unknown man is scene in the shadows climbing a pile of dead bodies. We get the standard “This is not how things should be…” narration as the hooded sweatshirt and scarf wearing figure takes a moment to mourn one of the dead. The narration explains that the dead are humans, who were massacred by a group of beings known as the Infinities. The stranger then catches the sight of a child who is running for her life and who takes comfort in the black stranger’s arms as a patrol of Infinities appear. As Bishop tries to comfort the child in their last moments as we get Obscure X-Trivia moment #1, in the form of the appearance of Unus the Untouchable. Unus is the head of the Infinite patrol that is behind the massacre and yells at his faceless helmet wearing minions for letting two survivors life. We learn that the stranger is invisible to the Infinitie scanners for some reason for Obscure X-Trivia moment #2. Stranger absorbs and reflects an energy blast as Unus discovers the stranger is a mutant and declares the stranger will die for defending the little girl’s life. But then the calvary arrives in the form of…. The X-Men??
SIDENOTE: Age of Apocalypse X-Men roll call for this issue (for those who are curious): Sabretooth, Wildchild, Blink (?), an albino (?), Magneto, Storm, Quicksilver, Iceman, and Nightcrawler
Magneto gives us the trademark “sworn to protect those who are persecuted” speech as the X-Men make short work of the Infinities. Things of importance we learn is that Blink has a student/teacher relationship with Sabretooth, the albino is named Morph (Obscure X-Trivia moment #3) and these X-Men don’t mind killing. Unus sneaks up behind Magneto and threatens to kill Magneto but Iceman freezes Unus to the point that his body shatters into a million pieces. Magneto tells Iceman that he need not of killed Unus as Quicksilver would have stopped Unus’s shot from killing him. We get even more exposition theater as we learn that in this world, Magneto abandoned his isolationist views in the aftermath of the death of his best friend, Charles Xavier and that now he holds Xavier’s dream of co-existence between humans and mutants as his own. Magneto is summoned for the stranger’s unmasking as we find out that the stranger is the temporally-displaced Bishop. He’s bald now and has a metal implant sticking out of his skull right above his right eye. Upon being unmasked, Bishop goes apeshit on Magneto and attacks him while screaming “MURDERER!” at him. Magneto magnetically stops Bishop as Bishop rants and raves about how Legion killed Charles Xavier and warped time along with some rather false claims that Magneto let Xavier die (quiet the opposite, as young Xavier sacrificed his own life to save a fallen Magneto from Legion’s wrath). Magneto zaps Bishop asleep as he proclaims that he’s never seen Bishop before. Sabretooth seems to know that Magneto is lying through his teeth about this but says nothing as the X-Men leave.
We now cut back to another part of this brave new world as we meet the cast of “Factor X”. We see the evil Age of Apocalypse Beast (AKA Dark Beast) as he is experimenting on the Blob. As Blob breaks free from his restraints, it’s made pretty clear that Dark Beast is definitely evil and that he’s engaging in sadistic medical experiments upon innocent mutants, including poor Blob. As Blob tries to kill the evil Doctor McCoy, we meet Prelates Alex and Scott Summers, AKA Havok and Cyclops. Prelate Havok shows off and strikes a menacing pose while Prelate Cyclops puts Blob out of his misery with a well-timed optic blast. As we get our first look at Prelate Cyclops we see that the injury he sustained during his infamous and never shown encounter with the Age of Apocalypse Wolverine that ended with Cyclops with only one eye and Logan with one hand. To emphasis how different yet still familiar things are, Prelate Cyclops has long hair instead of the standard evil goatee and that he shows his moral fiber by way of immediately tearing Beast a new asshole for continuing his evil experiments despite the existence of a treaty between America and Europe banning them. Prelate Havok defends Dark Beast’s experiments and proclaims that Scott has no authority to impose his morality onto Dark Beast do to the fact that Scott spends most of his time longing around like a spoiled brat while his brother does all of the work. Scott responds by throwing the Blob situation into his face and the fact that Alex had to let Scott save his butt.
The brothers begin to fight when the Age of Apocalypse Mr. Sinister (AKA just plain Sinister) shows up. Like a perverted “Father Knows Best”, he mocks the feuding siblings before demanding Scott come with him for a walk so that they can discuss important business. As they leave, Sinister gives Dark Beast a warning to not let his experiments get out into the open like they just did and then casually orders Prelate Havok to clean up the mess Scott made when he killed Blob. As Havok gives the evil eye to the reader, Sinister tells Scott that he is going to be taking a leave of absence and that Scott will be given full authority over the city Sinister reigns over, This leads to a huge two-page look at the cities of the Ages of the Apocalypse, which will surprisingly come into play two years later during the Onslaught crossover. Scott, ever the neurotic thinks he’s to blame for Sinister’s departure but Sinister reassures Scott that it is not the case. Sinister tells him that it’s the growing march towards oblivion that the world is stuck on that is to blame for Sinister’s departure. Scott has no idea what Sinister is talking about when Sinister starts to walk away, proclaiming as he leaves that he’s purposely shielded Scott from the growing tension existing between America and the European High Council of Humans and implores Scott that he needs to discover the truth about his world on his own if he is to survive that which is coming. As Scott watches Sinister leave, he sees a cadre of flying robots heading towards one building and mutters “Sentinels”.
We cut now to “Heaven”, the nightclub owned by the Age of Apocalypse Angel. Angel BTW is completely normal looking, with his flesh colored skin and regular feathers. He introduces the Sentinels to his patrons and brags that they won’t hurt them, then turns around to introduce his nightclub’s star attraction (Obscure X-Trivia moment #4) Scarlett. Karma (Osbcure X-Trivia moment #5) pulls Angel away from his patrons and reveals that he’s got a private visitor, Gambit. Gambit and Angel exchange vague references to the “Louisianna Culling” and how Gambit has come to collect the favor Angel swore to him during that fateful encounter. We get some exposition on the Age of Apocalypse’s Angel personality in that Angel has connections with just about every major player in the global armageddon that is approaching. Gambit’s favor is for Angel to arrange for Gambit to get to Magneto’s headquarters, something Gambit isn’t too happy with having to do because of a past slight Gambit claims Magneto inflicted upon him. Angel reluctantly agrees but with a condition, that Gambit is permanently banned from his nightclub for life. As Angel agrees to make the arrangements, we see someone (possibly Sebastion Shaw?) starring out of a window as Angel states that he has to be careful do to one never knowing in the AOA Universe who’s watching you at any particular time.
We cut back to the X-Mansion as we get narration at how the place is protected by an electromagnetic cloak and of the fact that many X-Men are buried on the grounds. We cut to a nursery as we see Magneto’s Nanny-Bot (Obscure X-Trivia #6) telling a mutant version of “Little Red Riding Hood” to a baby as Rogue watches. As Magneto enters the room, we learn that the boy is named Charles and that he is Magneto and Rogue’s child. As Rogue puts her son to sleep we get our “moment of angst” from Rogue as she whines at being unable to touch her son. We quickly cut to Bishop, who is being interrogated by Nightcrawler and Sabretooth to no avail. When Magneto and Rogue arrive to help out, Bishop screams that Magneto tell the gang “the real truth” about what happened to Charles Xavier. Magneto, tired of being falsely accused of murdering his best friend, zaps Bishop unconscious again. Rogue and Magneto ponder what they will do when Bishop wakes up and Magneto notes that do to the lack of telepaths on the team, the X-Men have no option left but to have Rogue use her absorbsion powers on Bishop to truly understand who and what Bishop is.
Now we go to the moment where this issue falls apart and jumps the proverbial shark. We see Sinister arrive in a room with a skull-faced figure called Abyss and an armored brute who we learn is the deadly mutant Holocaust (Obscure X-Trivia moment #7). We learn that they are three of the Four Horsemen (Mihkail Rasputin is the fourth member and is playing hooky) and that they are awaiting the arrival of their lord and master. The man responsible for turning America into one big killing field and force taking the world to the brink of armageddon. In a full page panel, drawn by Roger Cruz, we meet this monster:
Ladies and Gentlemen, the ruler of North America, the man responsible for the near extinction of humankind in the United States, the man who is the most evil man in this God-Forsaken Reality…
Homer J Simpson…..
Seriously, Roger Cruz draws the “Age of Apocalypse” Apocalypse like a blue armor-clad Homer Simpson. It totally kills the entire mood of the issue and brings about snickering that the person who everyone fears, including the bad-asses Mr. Sinister and Magneto is Homer Simpson, This is made all the more clear by Steve Epting, who’s artwork makes up the next couple of pages. Epting’s Apocalype does fit the profile of evil incarnate, as Steve portrays Apocalypse as a true figure of fear and terror; part machine part human with tubes and cables running down the back of his neck and a mouth that looks like a robot’s mouth in regards to the mechanical parts shown when Apocalypse opens his mouth to speak.
Ranting aside, we get a TON of plot points here. Sinister is revealed to be a LONG TIME Apocalypse flunky (a plot point that would be carried over in the X-Books after AOA ends) and that Holocause is Apocalypse’s son. Oh yeah, and Apocalypse’s main goals is to egg Europe into declaring nuclear war on America in order to get rid of the slackers in his army by letting them be killed by the humans’ nuclear weapons. As Apocalypse plans this suicidal plan, Sinister’s blood boils with rage at his boss’s insanity and reveals via the omniscient narrator that he’s been secretly leaking key information to Apocalypse’s enemies in hopes to stop his master.
We now cut to the hard sell for the Weapon X (the Wolverine Age of Apocalypse book) series as Logan and Jean Grey beat up some human agents of the Council who take Logan and Jean to their bosses. We meet the head of the counsel, who include Moira Trask (Obscure X-Trivia moment #9) and her flunkies Brian Braddock and Emma Frost, who’s got lobotomy scars and the back of her hair shaved off. We get Logan and Jean’s arc for Age of Apocalypse as we learn that the two have gone AWOL from the X-Men and are now working reluctantly as go-betweens for Sinister and the human forces in Europe. Logan and Jean reiterate their terms for their courier service; that they get access to every single piece of information that Sinister and the Human Council are sending back and forth to each other. As Moira leaves to inspect the data given to her, Jean and Logan give exposition about their reluctant working relationship with Sinister, with them rationalizing working for him after what he has done to them, And what is there rational? It’s the fact that Sinister’s entire kingdom will fall if Apocalypse continues on his mad quest, As Jean gushes over Logan, she declares that no one can come between the two of them, as we see a mysterious woman lurking in the shadows and watching the two lovers embrace (Obscure X-Trivia moment #10).
We cut back to the mansion as Roger Cruz gives us a crappy page of Rogue making physical contact with Bishop in order to see what’s inside his head. Sadly Cruz doesn’t even show said contact as one page we have Rogue approaching Bishop and the next the two and Magneto rolling on the ground in pain do to some totally unexpected psychic backlash. This leads to us seeing Bishop’s memories through Magneto’s eyes in the form of various flashbacks: Magneto versus the original X-Men, Magneto and Xavier in Isreal, Magneto and Rogue in the Savage Land, Magneto in a suit and tie as the New Mutants headmaster, the original X-Men versus the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, Magneto versus some generic soldiers, Magneto and two of his Acolytes (one of which is Fabian Cortez), Magneto getting psi-blasted by Xavier, Magneto standing over the fallen all-new, all-different X-Men, and Magneto being turned into a baby (Obscure X-Trivia moment #11-20). Suddenly Gambit jumps from the shadows and severs the psychic backlash by way of shoving Rogue to the ground. While Bishop brags about showing Magneto “the truth”, Gambit tries to comfort Rogue before being manhandled by both Nightcrawler and Sabretooth. Magneto orders the two to stand down and then turns his attention to Kurt. Magneto orders Nightcrawler to locate his mother Mystique (which is the lead-in for “X-Calibre”) while Gambit yells at Magneto and Rogue and learns to his horror that Rogue has given birth to Magneto’s son. We then get a nonsensical plot twist as we learn Magneto has summoned Gambit to the mansion despite the fact that no mention has been made about it, leading up to this moment.
We then cut back to Holocaust and Homer Simpson, I mean Apocalypse as drawn by Roger Cruz, who have busted into one of Sinister’s homes. From their dialogue, we learn that Sinister has disappeared off the face of the earth after the Horsemen meeting earlier in the comic and that Sinister is put on Homer, I mean Apocalypse’s shit-list.
The issue comes to an end as Rogue approaches Magneto as he looks out at the night’s sky. We learn that Magneto has called a meeting for ALL of the X-Men and X-Men allies and that they are all waiting for him to address them as to what will be their next step in the fight against Apocalypse. Magneto expresses his doubts at his leadership skills as Rogue reassures him. She also reassures Magneto that Bishop’s ramblings are just ramblings and that what’s more important is the battle with Apocalypse. The final page of the book though gives the impression that Apocalypse is not the only threat towards the planet as a large wave of crystals that are consuming whole planets and stars that are in their way….
MY TWO CENTS
As mega-events go, X-Men “Age of Apocalypse” doesn’t hold up well with time. X-Men Alpha is a pretty lackluster opening chapter and Roger Cruz as it’s core artist doesn’t help matters very much. It can’t decide if it wants to be an outright introduction/promotional piece for the Age of Apocalypse universe or if it wants to actually kickstart an actual story. In terms of setting up the core books off this storyline, it does pretty good at setting up “Factor X” and “Weapon X” but fails miserably with the rest of the books.