Astonishing X-Men # 1, X-Calibre # 1, Gambit and the Externals # 1, Generation Next # 1, Weapon X # 1, Amazing X-Men # 1, Factor X # 1, X-Man # 1
Picking up on the table setting done in X-Men Alpha, the Age of Apocalypse begins in earnest across the 8 ongoing X-Titles. You can just tell how much fun the creative team is having getting to change up costumes, re-shuffle team affiliations, and finding unique takes on character motivations. These issues are at their best when you can see the connections to the prime universe and while it's still plenty interesting, some characters are almost unrecognizable.
Astonishing X-Men # 1
Writer - Scott Lobdell
Pencils - Joe Madueriera
Astonishing X-Men # 1 is the first entry into the Age of Apocalypse following X-Men Alpha. It is the AoA version of Uncanny X-Men. When the issue begins, there are many characters featured, however it slowly reveals the 6 core key members who will make up this series. Let's begin by examining the 6 team members prior to jumping into the plot.
While Magneto oversees all of the various teams, he is not officially a member of any individual team (similar to Professor X). Between X-Men Alpha and this issue, he passes out individual missions to each team, which sets up their corresponding arcs.
Rogue is the clear team leader of this X-Men team, which I feel comfortable calling the "primary" X-Men team. As established in X-Men Alpha, Rogue is married to Magneto and has a son (Charles). I really enjoy the characterization of Rogue as she is still very much the strong, independent, fun loving character from the prime universe, but there is clearly more maturity and seriousness which I imagine comes from the joint pressures of both leadership and motherhood. Rogue has additional powers as it's mentioned that she absorbed the powers of Polaris (even though that's never explored), and she still has the flight and super strength from Ms. Marvel (even though that's definitely not mentioned).
I explored Blink a bunch in the last blog where I covered both X-Men Alpha and the Blink miniseries. She is essentially a blank slate for Lobdell to play with considering she only had a handful of appearances during the Phalanx Covenant. She is a young teleporter who was raised by Sabretooth.
Morph is a pretty interesting character. He is not meant to be taken seriously, continually using his shapeshifting powers to provide slapstick comic relief. I can guarantee that he is in this comic as a direct reaction to Morph's popularity in the X-Men Animated Series, however this is clearly a very different character. I'm not sure if he is supposed to be the same character as "Changeling," the shapeshifter who helped Xavier fake his death in the Silver Age run.
I was pretty happy to see Sunfire here. I never really understood why other authors never wanted to pull him into their comics. As if there is this belief that he is not leave Japan, we are given backstory that all of Japan was burned to the ground, causing him to flee and seek revenge. This also fuels his characterizations, which is a bit darker and more...murderous than his prime counterpart. Still a cocky asshole, though.
This iteration of Sabretooth is basically the realization of all Nicieza and Lobdell have been trying to set up in the prime universe. To be honest though, it seems like this version of Sabretooth is really just Wolverine. And Wolverine (Weapon X), still acts like Wolverine.
Wild Child, the villain (occasional hero) from Alpha Flight, is essentially a mindless animal that Sabretooth keeps on a leash. Lol, I'm really not sure what they are thinking with this character, but they sure are having fun.
The plot of this one is pretty light. It spends most of it's time putting the pieces into place for the other series (which I'll cover with those series below), and beginning to build the characterization for this roster. Overall, Magneto is convinced the world may be a mistake (due to Bishop's warning), and he puts the various teams into motion to act on saving the world.
X-Calibre # 1
Writer - Warren Ellis
Pencils - Ken Lashley
X-Calibre is the unimaginatively titled version of the prime universe's Excalibur. Magneto wants to fact check Bishop's claim that the world isn't right, so he sends Nightcrawler on a mission to find Destiny. Destiny is the leader of a safe haven for mutants and humans in Avalon (the Savage Land).
X-Calibre is almost entirely a solo Nightcrawler comic. I haven't created a team graphic yet because he's essentially alone until the last page of the 3rd issue. It's pretty weird, to be honest. Nightcrawler begins by going to Heaven (introduced in X-Men Alpha) to ask Angel (not Archangel) for help finding Destiny and Avalon. Angel suggests that Nightcrawler is going to need to find Mystique, who apparently works as a coyote smuggling mutants out of North America and bringing them to Avalon (The Savage Land). NC also goes to a church to get help from Thunderbird (who famously died in X-Men # 95) for help finding Mystique.
This is one of those characterizations that is truly fascinating. First, Nightcrawler and his mother Mystique have a super close relationship in this world. In fact, he goes by the name Kurt Darkholme. As discussed in my coverage of X-Men Unlimited # 4, I never really understood why Mystique is so against accepting Kurt as her son. She clearly has a heart and was open to being a mother to Rogue, so this just never made sense. Also, it's not clear (as clear as Marvel gets) if Mystique and Destiny are romantically involved, but they continue to have a close bond in this universe as well, which is a nice touch.
A brand new character named Switchback (who will eventually join "the team,") is introduced as a refugee heading to Avalon with Mystique. She is welcomed to the island by a giant monk named Cain (who is clearly Juggernaut). When Switchback meets with Destiny, Destiny sees a future vision of Apocalypse coming to Avalon.
The villains of this series is the Pale Riders which consists of a brand new villain named Damask (who starts out super evil and eventually breaks good in a dumb way), Deadpool (who is mostly unmasked, still scarred, chained up and tortured), and Dani Moonstar (hooray!)
Gambit and the Externals # 1
Writer - Fabian Nicieza
Pencils - Tony Daniel
Gambit and the Externals is the AoA version of X-Force. It's pretty crazy that this is X-Force considering the only hold over from the real X-Force is Sunspot, with the exception of Rictor who plays the villain working for Apocalypse in this series.
Gambit and the X-Ternals are essentially serving as Robin Hood as they work out of the Morlock sewers and steal from the wealthy mutants to give back to the rest of the disenfrachised population.
The characterization is a little weaker with this title. Gambit is essentially the same character but with different love interests (spurned by Rogue, hooking up with Lila), throws explosive knives instead of cards, and acts as more of a leader. We've already established that he's hung up on Rogue, who choose Magneto over him. However, he's currently dating Lila, who's madly in love with him, and it's clear that he isn't fully committed to their relationship. This is ramped up by Strong Guy being in love with Lila and a little peeved that she doesn't return the feelings. This is a nice call back to the prime universe, where I don't believe Strong Guy has feelings for Lila, but he did spend years with her as her bodyguard. Jubilee is the exact same Jubilee and I guess Sunspot is the same. Hard to say because A) he barely gets any screen time in this series and B) When we left the prime universe he had broken bad as Reignfire.
We learn a little bit of the past where it turns out that Holocaust (the "son of Apocalypse" who killed Scarlet Witch and was previously known as Nemesis) killed Candra (the former Herald of Apocalypse as highlighted in X-Men Chronicles # 1) to become one of his four Horseman. We also get hints of Gambit leaving the X-Men due to Rogue, which is something I actually covered previously in X-Men Chronicles # 2 (which was published after this issue).
As with most of these # 1's, the primary goal is table setting for the rest of the series. To that end, the main plot of this series surrounds Magneto swallowing his pride and asking Gambit to go on a space mission to find the M'Kraan crystal, which would be needed to undo this reality and restore the prime reality. After breaking into an impressive science chamber of Apoc's and being ambushed by the Madria (Copies of Jamie Madrox/The Multiple Man who are religious zealots in the emply of Apoc), Lila discovers her mutant power for the first time by teleporting the team to Shi'ar space.
Generation Next # 1
Writer - Scott Lobdell
Pencils - Chris Bachalo
Generation Next is about as creative as X-Calibre by being the AoA version of Generation X, even though that series was only 4 issues in before being catapulted into the AoA. Most of this issue involves table setting and we learn that Magneto is asking this team to save Illyana from slavery so that her nascent mutant powers (time travel) can be used to restore Bishop's version of reality.
In this series, Kitty and Colossus are married and serve as the team leaders of the teenage Generation Next team. Colossus is a bit arrogant and a little sus...something which will play out later on in the series and hints at his current "evilness" in the prime reality. Kitty is about the same, however she's slightly more confident (if that's possible), married, and fights with 3 Wolverine like claws attached to her arm.
Chamber is in this series, however here he doesn't have his face and chest blown up. He is pretty much the main character of the series (at least at first) and is dating Husk.
Speaking of Paige Guthrie (Husk), she is similar, however she's also more arrogant and at peace with her powers. Skin is about the same character, however he's willing to be more deadly (which goes for all characters in this reality). Mondo only had a brief appearance in the original series, but here he's personified as a simpleton who can absorb the shape of things he touches, kind of like the Absorbing Man...maybe. I wonder if he will also be presented as "simple" when he comes more of a mainstay in the prime reality. And then there is a brand new character named Vincent who is essentially the smoke monster from Lost and I still don't know much about him.
Weapon X # 1
Writer - Larry Hama
Pencils - Adam Kubert
Weapon X is the AoA version of Wolverine, however he does not go by that name at all and only goes by Weapon X. In this world, he is together with Jean Grey and as we saw in X-Men Chronicles, they broke off from the X-Men and work on solo missions together. More than any other character, Logan appears to be the exact same, with the exception of him living his dream by being in a relationship with Jean. These two aren't specifically given a mission by Magneto, but they will both be integrally involved with the major events that take place.
When everything begins, Logan and Jean are working for the Human High Council. We meet Brian Braddock and Mariko as members of the High Council. Brian is acting a bit sus himself, proposing that they kill all mutants. Mariko opposes this idea.
Wolverine and Jean are infiltrating an installation that would bring down power for Apocalypse's protective seawall. They are challenged by Prelate Havok (who I will talk more about during Factor X) and Magma, who is killed by Wolverine this issue. They are eventually able to break a hole in the seawall, allowing thousands of humans to be evacuated by the Human High Council. This story beat will be picked up in Amazing X-Men # 1.
Amazing X-Men # 1
Writer - Fabian Nicieza
Pencils - Andy Kubert
Amazing X-Men is the AoA counterpart for Adjectiveless X-Men. Once again, this X-Men team is another offshoot of Magneto's larger infrastructure where one team is led by his wife and the other his son. Nobody really gets any stellar characterization, but I'll go through them as best I can anyway.
Quicksilver has a close relationship with his father, Magneto. He's also intimately involved with Storm, which admittedly seems like an odd pairing to me. They have absolutely no connection in the prime universe, so this seems more like throwing darts than any sort of connection to the larger universe.
Other than dating Quicksilver, Storm is unfortunately an after thought in this series. I'm trying hard to think of something unique about her in this series, but I got nothing.
Dazzler is on the team as well. It's nice to see Nicieza make somewhat of a deep pull bringing her back onto the team. She's slightly more overconfident and in control of her powers, which appears like more of a rainbow in this series for some reason. Dazzler can never be without a guy, so in this series she is dating Exodus even though I don't think that is revealed until Issue #4, so hardly a compelling story.
Exodus being on the team is pretty interesting. He's not made to be an interesting character, at all, but the fact that we take a villain and make him a good guy is pretty interesting. Being a member of the X-Men keeps him connected to Magneto. They could have used this feature to set up some interesting details about Exodus that would lead into the prime reality, but nah they don't.
Iceman makes the cut as well. This version of Iceman is in complete control of his powers and can do things I never thought possible in the prime reality. This is a nice connection to the current continuity because he's currently struggling with why he doesn't have as much control over his powers (which I've posited is related to him being in the closet and therefore not fully unleashing who he is to the world, in many ways.
Banshee rounds out the team. To be honest, I'm surprised he's even on the team at all. In recent years (and especially in Gen X), he's been elevated to the one of the leaders of the X-Men, but here is kind of an afterthought.
Shit, I guess Nicieza just failed to really develop any of these characters, however I guess that's probably tougher when you are responsible for moving the plot of the overall event forward.
Picking up after Weapon X # 1, the team heads to Maine to help the human population escape. They are stopped by a group called the Brother of the Chaos who includes Copycat (Vanessa, the shape shifter who impersonated Domino in X-Force for the first 15 issues), Yeti, Madison Jeffries (who guys by Box in Alpha Flight), Spyne, and a new character named Arclight (not to be confused with Arclight from the Mutant Massacre).
Factor X # 1
Writer - John Francis Moore
Pencils - Steve Epting
Factor X is the AoA version of X-Factor (how did you guess!?). This is by far one of my favorite series as it actually focuses on "the bad guys" working for Apocalypse (even though most of them are heroes we know).
This entire series takes place in Mr. Sinister's (one of the Four Hourseman) mutant pens. Here mutants are kept in captivity and experimented on by Dark Beast (a twisted version of Hank McCoy). The pens are run by Prelate Cyclops (yep, he's a bad guy) and his brother Havok. Sam Guthrie and his sister (a new mutant Guthrie named Elizabeth who manipulate her mass, kind of like Ant-Man) work as enforcers for Cyclops. Twins Aurora and Northstar from Alpha Flight also work for Sinister. There are also two new characters, African-American brothers who go by "The Bedlam Brothers."
I love the characterization of Cyclops, which bodes well for John Francis Moore as the next X-Factor writer. He starts out as one of the bad guys, but it's because he was essentially raised by Mr. Sinister. This is one of those great nods to the prime reality because Sinister has always been obsessed with the Summers bloodline. He's also the same militaristic stick in the mud that he is in the prime reality.
Havok is a straight up nutcase. He spends most of this series plotting how he will attack his brother and take over as the new Prelate. On one hand, this rubs me the wrong way because Havok is the leader of an X-Men team (X-Factor, which is written by Moore) and it seems counter productive to introduce this concept that the guy is no good. On the other hand, it kind of matches up with his history. He was easily corrupted by Madelyn Pryor during Inferno, becoming the Goblin King. He's been manipulated by just about every female he's been involved with. One of the even re-surfaces in this comic. Scarlett, a red headed human, is hooking up with Havok at Angel's Heaven bar. Scarlett was one of the woman who corrupted him during Wolverine and Havok: Meltdown.
What little plot there is in this issue (other than excellent table setting), involves a group of escapees trying to get out of the pens. This shows Artemis (I think it's supposed to be Callisto even though she pops up as a different character in X-Calibre, Toad (who is also a member of Forge's group in X-Man so tsk tsk on the continuiting issue), Phantazia, Pyro, and Avalanche.
X-Man # 1
Writer - Jeph Loeb
Pencils - Steve Skroce
And finally, the last series is X-Man, which is the AoA version of the Cable series. Even though we don't learn it in this issue, Nate Grey is the son of Jean and Scott. So he's kind of like Cable, except his mom is the real Jean instead of Jean's clone, Madelyn.
Nate travels with a traveling troupe of mutants led by Forge (who serves as a father figure to Nate), Sauron, Toad, Brute (Sunder), and Mastermind (who has something wrong with his brain and doesn't talk...which seems like a missed opportunity.) This group saves a train of humans and a group of Apocalypse soldiers called Infinites (mutants created by Beast in the pens but only live for a year) fight them with one of them seemingly killing Sauron (but he doesn't die). At the end of the issue, they are joined by Sonique who is really Siryn (Theresa Cassidy).
We also seen Cyclops telling Apocalypse that Sinister has mysteriously disappeared. This prompts Apoc to dispatch Domino (cool that he is still connected to this universe's Cable) to kill the traveling troupe. The Shadow King (who is displayed as a brain/mist in a jar) tells Apoc that Nate Grey may be strong enough to kill him, similar to how Cable was the Askani'son in the far future and destined to beat Apocalypse. Naturally, Sinister is interested in Nate (he has Summers blood) and shows up under an alias (but still sporting that red diamond on his forehead) named Essex.
My Rating - 9/10
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