Sunday, November 15, 2015

Comic Book review: Age of Apocalypse, Volume One

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)

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