Sunday, November 15, 2015
Considered by some to be one of the best Marvel event series of the 1990s, X-Men: Age of Apocalypse tells the story of an alternate history where Charles Xavier was killed by his psychotic son Legion decades before his school for gifted children could provide a safe haven for troubled youth, and before the legendary X-Men could become a fighting force for good among mutant and humans alike. Instead, Xavier’s death provides Apocalypse and his loyal horsemen a clear path to launch a campaign against humankind, keeping with the all-powerful mutant’s beliefs in ‘survival of the fittest’. Born of Apocalypse’s conquest is a dire future, where humans are corralled into pens like cattle, where mutants are hunted to either be hired into Apocalypse’s ranks or killed for opposing him, and where one Erik Lensherr champions the causes of his old friend Xavier and forms his own team of X-Men.
What is so captivating about the Age of Apocalypse story is the manner in which it takes familiar characters, partnerships, and rivalries, and turns them on their heads. Magneto is now a hero, an icon among those mutants who would dare to stand against Apocalypse and strike back at his dystopian regime. Rogue is Magneto’s wife, and together they have a child whom they name after the late Charles Xavier. Logan is still survivor of the Weapon X program, but is never referred to as Wolverine, and loses one of his hands in a battle with Cyclops, the latter of whom works for Apocalypse under Sinister as one of their most trusted officers. Nate Grey, the X-Man, is a highly powered telekinetic who travels with a band of misfit performers including Toad, Sauron, and Forge, while Sabretooth, Wild Child, Blink, Iceman, and Morph round out Magento’s team of X-Men.
It’s a dark, gritty vision of the X-Men, but rarely feels like it is pushing an ‘edginess’ simply for the sake of selling to older teenage audience. The dialogue is appropriate to the setting, while remaining overall friendly to readers of a broad age range. Character and environment artwork maintain a consistent direction throughout, though each artist does add their own slight spins on these faces and places with which readers will spend many hours.
What is unusual about this first numbered volume in the Age of Apocalypse series is that it gathers a strangely disjointed collection of issues together. Unlike the later volumes, the span of time that is passing across the issues collected in this first trade paperback is hard to pin down. Likewise, it would appear that certain events from issues placed toward the back of this volume actually occur simultaneous or even before issues that are placed near the front. Some of the storylines in this first volume lend a significant amount to establishing the characters and state of the world in Age of Apocalypse. Others, like Blink’s solo romp through the Negative Zone wherein she loses her memories and is caught up in a power struggle between Blastaar and Annihilus’ loyalists, add very little to the core plot, acting as largely uninteresting (sometimes annoying) distractions.
Still, Age of Apocalypse is a wildly engrossing story, and even with its shortcomings, this first collected volume offers some genuinely enjoyable subplots. Its disorganized nature simply falls a bit short of the quality of the later volumes. For those who enjoyed the Prelude or random issues of the later Age of Apocalypse tale, I can assure you that the series only gets better from here.
My rating: 7.5 (out of 10)
Technopolis, as its name implies, is a sprawling hyper-futuristic metro, where all citizens are forces to wear variants of the Iron Man armor to prevent themselves from contracting a lethal virus that was unleashed on the region many years prior. Tony Stark is resident baron, and often clashes with his brother Arno. James Rhodes is Tecnopolis’ designated Thor, wielding a giant hammer and shiny Asgardian-inspired mechanical suit. And young Kiri Oshiro and Lila Rhodes, both resourceful teens who know a thing or two about tinkering with and repurposing the tech of these armored suits, begin unraveling the mysteries surrounding the death of Kiri’s boyfriend Peter Urich, aka Spyder-Man.
James Rhodes, meanwhile, begins his own investigation into the death of Spyder-Man, suspecting that Kingpin Wilson Fisk might have some involvement. Meanwhile, Arno Stark begins sending reconnaissance troops like Stingray to scope out just what his brother Tony, Kiri, Lila, or anyone else who may have interacted with Spyder-Man are up to. These interwoven plot threads make for a decently compelling narrative, while also preventing the story from becoming too convoluted.
Armor Wars is a standout entry among the Secret Wars spinoffs for the manner in which it handles its processes of world-building. The constant threat of being exposed to the natural world paints an eerie world where humans grow to accept rocket-powered machinery as an extension of themselves. Armor Wars also offers a few really strong plot twists, while simultaneously avoiding playing on a scale too grandiose for its own coherence.
The theme of where man ends and machine begins is certainly common to Iron Man-centric tales, but it is fresh to see a large portion of the story through the eyes of youth Kiri and Lila. There are a couple of points where the story slows down more than is perhaps ideal for Armor Wars' overarching plot, pacing which would be better-suited for a series that is not limited to a five issue run. Overall, however, Armor Wars is an enjoyable read, a dark mystery driving toward an action-packed climax. Of all the Secret Wars spinoffs, Armor Wars performs as one of the best at keeping itself within manageable boundaries of narrative pacing and character development.
My rating: 8.25 (out of 10)
Sunday, November 8, 2015
The island of Arcadia is nothing short of a paradise, a peaceful city that has largely managed to avoid the chaos of other Battleworld realms like those seen in Age of Apocalypse or Age of Ultron vs. Marvel Zombies. Thanks to the watchful protectors of the all-female A-Force team, the residents of Arcadia have long felt safe, as any threats to their home have quickly been subdued by Medusa, Dazzler, Loki, Captain Marvel, America, Nico, and Baroness She-Hulk.
When a giant shark appears in the waters of Arcadia’s bay and threatens the populous, the A-Force springs into action, but the overly energetic America throws the beast too far beyond the borders of Arcadia, and past the giant wall that divides the monstrosities of the Deadlands from the rest of Battleworld. This act is a direct violation of Doom’s laws, and the Thors descend upon Arcadia to take America away, to have her answer for this crime. She-Hulk attempts to plea with the Thors, but they warn her that any attempt to interfere will be viewed as a movement against Doom. She-Hulk tells America to be strong, but as America is taken away by the Thors, the other members of the A-Force are clearly shaken, and some begin to question She-Hulk’s right to lead as baroness of Arcadia.
A-Force provides a wonderful blend of a few different genres. Of course there is plenty of action from this troupe of butt-kicking ladies, but there is also a vivid sense of adventure and self-exploration for Nico, who has lost her friend America to the technicalities of Doom’s laws, yet just as soon gains a friend in the form a mysterious visitor from the stars. This newcomer to Arcadia will leave a significant impact on all of the A-Force members, and is as much a curious, endearing character as she is pivotal plot device, despite only having a few lines of dialogue for the entirety of this limited series.
The older A-Force members, on the other hand, have vastly differing outlooks on the situation at hand, and some suspect that America’s forcible removal from Arcadia may be the result of foul play from somewhere within Arcadia. She-Hulk may be baroness of the realm, but her comrades are not afraid to challenge her authority if they believe she is not appropriately grasping the situation at hand. The blend of personalities within the A-Force is fresh and makes for some very compelling interactions – Dazzler always has some pep in her step, She-Hulk is the tough-as-nails leader, and though she may butt heads with Medusa on occasion, both present reasonable arguments for their actions, and are equally strong-willed individuals.
The single major setback in A-Force is one that seems to be a common hindrance among many of the other Secret Wars tie-ins, in that it is merely a five-issue run. One particular subplot feels like its endgame is somewhat rushed in the final chapter. That said, the handful of conflicts that the A-Force does face are paced quite well, and the series’ length does allow for the rest of its story to be resolved with reasonable satisfaction by the time the last pages are reached. If anything, A-Force is one such limited series that I wanted to see carry on, as there is plenty of opportunity for more fun, exciting adventures to be had with this female fighting force. And as luck would have it, A-Force is now among the series Marvel has announced will be continuing as part of the post-Secret Wars relaunch.
My rating: 8.5 (out of 10)
Saturday, November 7, 2015
Within Battleworld, there exists the Killiseum, an arena where all manner of deadly sporting events are held. Notable among them are the lethal, high-speed free-for-alls that pit a half-dozen Ghost Racers against one another. Classic Ghost Rider characters like Johnny Blaze and Danny Ketch take to their flaming bikes, dodging environmental hazards that stand between them and the finish line. But the main character, and hero of the day, is Robbie Reyes, the most recent host to have taken up the mantle of the Ghost Rider before the collapse of the multiverse resulted in the formation of Battleworld.
Much like his introduction in the Marvel NOW! series, Robbie Reyes is a caring older sibling to his brother Gabe, their parents absent, and their home located in a neighborhood that is anything but glamorous. Robbie takes to the race in his sporty muscle car, with the spirit Eli guiding him, and is currently the favored racer. But those who lose are subjected to a number of torture devices below the Killiseum. The Ghost Racers are also – to a certain degree – under the control of the sadistic Arcade, and should one of them get out of line, he can easily sick the others on them. All of this makes for a considerable threat when Robbie and Eli hatch a plan to escape Arcade’s perverse sport once and for all.
The art direction and dialogue in this limited series wonderfully match the grungy atmosphere that has often been associated with the Ghost Rider comics, as well as other Marvel tales aimed at teen audiences on up. Character designs do well to present a variety of Ghost Rider styles, while also paying homage to the series’ long history. Ghost Racers is not an overly-complicated story, but it does present a sufficient number of hurdles for Robbie to overcome. As lead protagonist, Robbie is just as likeable a character as in his Marvel NOW! debut. Ghost Racers proves an entertaining read – one that is surprisingly well-paced, given its smaller scope when compared to many of the other Secret Wars tie-ins.
My rating: 8 (out of 10)
Set in a similar dystopian future realm as the original 1990s comic run of the same name, the Battleworld warzone of Age of Apocalypse sees the titular mutant overlord attempting to quash any rebels that might rise up against his new world order. Apocalypse’s ideology is that of ‘survival of the fittest’ and believes mutants superior to homo-sapiens in every possible way. Apocalypse relies on his loyal horsemen, as well as twisted and villainous versions of otherwise-iconic heroes like Beast to carry out his will.
The 1990s run of Age of Apocalypse spanned practically every conceivable X-Men series of the era, and to this day remains an epic undertaking of the Marvel brand. Therefore, it was inevitable that this 2015 Secret Wars tie-in was destined to fall short of the original’s magnificence. With only five issues to deliver its own spin on the Age of Apocalypse narrative, this 2015 story does more ‘telling’ than it does ‘showing’, expecting that readers are already familiar with the themes of survival, alliances of necessity, the path of anti-heroes, and fighting for what little hope remains in a bleak future despite overwhelming odds, that were at play in the 1990s run.
Age of Apocalypse significantly shakes up a familiar cast. Iceman, Rogue, Sinister, and Weapon X (aka Wolverine) are all present, but play significantly smaller roles than before. Instead of having a child with Rogue, Magneto is married to Emma Frost, while Captain Marvel, Namor, and other non-mutants are worked into the narrative, but not necessarily in ways that benefit the story. While this new Age of Apocalypse limited series does throw a couple of major curve balls into the mix, the final chapter feels like an afterthought, tacked on as an idea that sounds better in theory than in actual application.
The art style is solid throughout, while the environments are appropriately dark and dreary. However, given that the X-Men and the readers alike are fully aware that Apocalypse’s domain is but one of many that make up Battlworld, the dire atmosphere that permeated throughout the 1990s original is almost entirely lost. Age of Apocalypse is a quick read that serves to deliver its own self-contained narrative well enough, but similarly is a tad generic, and lacks the spark of imagination and intrigue sported by some of the other Secret Wars tie-ins.
My rating: 6.5 (out of 10)