Sep 11, 2014

Age of Apocalypse, Part 2

Age of Apocalypse Pt II
Travis Hedge Coke

Part two of our fantastic visit to the old Age of Apocalypse, a good year or two before the movie’ll be out and everyone will be doing this.

Factor X starts to redeem itself, for me, with a series of thematically resonant moral issues and some good old familial anxiety. The four books with X-Men in the title are mostly repetitive or unnecessary. Weapon X continues to be fiercely romantic and a robust action comic. X-Man and Generation Next take dissimilar looks at low-wrung mutants sabotaging the horrible death works of Apocalypse. X-Calibre is cynically optimistic and full of sadism, schadenfreude, and straight up heroism. Gambit and the X-Ternals is off in its own corner of the galaxy and better for it.

In addition to the main titles, this time, we have two double-length Chronicles issues, neither of which makes use of its position as a prequel to change how we perceive the stories it’s filling in the backstory for. There are no real surprises or twists, no telling reflections, just perfunctory reiteration of what we were otherwise given in summary. So, Holocaust used to be called Nemesis and he killed Magneto’s daughter before Mags jacked him up. Alright. A summary of that, in passing, has the same gravitas as the events do when played out in scenes. Giving us the scenes did nothing to heighten the impact of the events, nor did it tell us anything new about anyone’s motivations or history. The story, being told, gives us nothing and robs us of the ambiguity that could let a reader imagine a far grander or horrifying reality than we do see.

X-Men Chronicles #1

The first mission of this world’s X-Men is a very pretty affair, fighting an elite cadre of Apocalypse’s agents, with Terry Dodson riffing on a lot of scenes and body language from earlier normal-world X-Men comics.

I Like: Dodson, Janson, and Webb make those red and gold uniforms beautiful. Awesome triptych is awesome. Storm’s heels retain their height and style the entire comic.

I Dislike: Storm’s still so short she needs massive heels to be as tall as Jean or Wanda.

I Don’t Understand: What are the lens flares on the opening page about? Why are all the women in this constantly bent forward whether talking or fighting? How does Sabertooth rest with those spikes jutting out of his back?

Astonishing X-Men #2

The X-Men have internal dramas, save some humans, and have a fight with Nemesis. Simultaneously, Apocalypse gloats.

I Like: Sunfire’s white and black fiery redesign. The half page of Apocalypse self-congratulating by throwing his chest out, facing the ceiling, mouth wide, arms wide, big smile.

I Dislike: Calling genocide a “cull,” repeatedly. Even if that’s the language of the enemy, you’d think the goodies would just say “mass #*@^ing murder” or “genocide.”

I Don’t Understand: Why is Sabertooth so super strong? When’d he get Thing-like strength? And, I still don’t get why he’s such a mensch in this.

X-Calibre #2

Nightcrawler takes the wrong boat to paradise. John Proudstar kicks some ass against a rival church. And, the villains spend the issue hurting each other, while they near the heroes.

I Like: The first two pages, one mostly text, one a splash, are so effective together and beautifully open the comic. The cover is excellent: Callisto opening fire on Nightcrawler, bodies all around on the deck of boat. Dani is so damaged and mean! Mystique is total badass on the final page and her jacket is 90s fierce!

I Dislike: For a comic with some awesome Native American portrayals, background Indians are all hokey and barechested savagey. Nearly three quarters of the comic is laid out in ways that belie the pacing seemingly inherent to the script and scenes.

I Don’t Understand: Why does John Proudstar have both an action figure crotch and action figure articulation marks on his thighs? Why does no one look at the person they’re talking to instead of looking at the reader?

Gambit and the X-Ternals #2

Gambit’s plucky group fight the Shi'ar Imperial Guard, make some friends, run around.

I Like: Chris Eliopoulos and Marie Javins rock the lettering and colors hardcore. B’Nee and C’Cil make me laugh. Jubilee’s costume is pretty cool.

I Dislike: The dialects are all over the place. Deathbird is in the badass group shot standing with one foot raised to accent her butt, but on the toes of the other foot for added ridiculousness. Raza has a four and a half foot wide chest.

I Don’t Understand: Why every dude put on massive muscle living in this post-Apocalypse world, but the women are all practically bone.

Generation Next #2

The kids infiltrate the work camp. The people in the work camp work and get tortured. Their slavers indulge in baths, booze, and rape.

I Like: This is a dark, dark comic. Paige and Vincente straight up assassinate a rapey, slave-driving villain.

I Dislike: Nobody in the comic seems to understand that it’s dark and heavy. Nothing’s as witty as it seems intended to be. Paige is like fourteen and she’s fairly on display while pretending to be a bath attendant about to be raped. Not graphic, but even teenage-me was squicked out by this back then.

I Don’t Understand: Why everyone’s so glib all the time? Why is hard woman Kitty Pryde all tartan skirts and striped scarves and ill-fitting layers, but ever other X-Man gets designer clothes?

Weapon X #2

Logan and Jean are torn apart as Logan and an old love spend some time on an airship amongst a fleet of humans that, of course, gets attacked by Apocalypse’s zealous horrors.

I Like: Logan leaping from a crashing dirigible while on fire, to fight his way through deranged cyborgs, grab a motorcycle, and hightail it over to Jean as she leaves and asks him to kill her. All, while healing from this significant burns and entirely without hesitation or self-pity.

I Dislike: Logan’s drawn a bit wonky on the title page.

I Don’t Understand: Why I love this miniseries so much.

Amazing X-Men #2

The X-Men, essentially, have a pointless fight with characters who’ll be dispatched in other comics.

I Like: The cover is cool. Rex is showing a bit of a personality and a brain.

I Dislike: It’s a prologue to better comics that don’t need a prologue. People shout, make declarations, ask questions that allow plot to be reiterated, but none of it seems contextually apt. Quicksilver follows Storm, yelling for her to stop, then when he reaches her, he asks, “Storm?” in big red letters with a yellow question mark between two exclamation marks.

I Don’t Understand: How the actual X-Men teams can be the most useless books in the AoA.

Factor X #2

With Sinister nowhere to be found, his charges and agents struggle with their duties and ethics in the most Father Issues issue of the AoA. Mutant slaves, mutant soldiers, mutant club managers, and mutant revolutionaries all reassess their loyalties and their fathers’ and father-figures’ interests in them. Lorna sees her father abandon her once more. Cyclops and Beast wrestle with the absurdities of reconciliation after familial schisms on a personal and global level.

I Like: Delusional and desperate Lorna hallucinating her supposed father perpetually leaving her behind is tragic and the body language is suitably melodramatic. This is probably the most thematically strong issue of Factor X.

I Dislike: The art highlights that Magneto is a hallucination. I think it would be much stronger if we were to believe what Lorna is seeing, even for a couple pages.

I Don’t Understand: How is Cyclops orchestrating his betrayal of Sinister, Apocalypse, and everything he’s stood and worked for? I understand why, but the mechanics of his betrayal, the spontaneous development of a network between him and human counteragents is oddly unaddressed.

X-Man #2

Nate and his allies are lead by the nose by a disguised Sinister and mess up buildings and foot soldiers.

I Like: The fights are quick, usually one blow affairs. The art is dynamic, the characterizations simple but not simplistic.

I Dislike: For all the issue is decompressed and given over to character moments and large imagery, there’s little in the way of serious depth or more than surface potency.

I Don’t Understand: Why does Nate talk like he does, without experience? Why do any of them trust the poorly-disguised Sinister and why is his identity being treated, in the story, as a mystery to the readers?

X-Men Chronicles #2

The untold tale of how Rogue hooked up with Magneto and Gambit kept trying anyway.

I Like: Ian Churchill Eighties up the designs, since this takes place a few years in the relative past. Headbands, mullets, big hair, it’s all there and about to turn into Flashdance.

I Dislike: Many of the scenes in this comic are extrapolations of hints in the main miniseries, subtext or functionary history. It would have been better, had it remained undetailed.

I Don’t Understand: Is it intentional that the X-Men teams are constantly self-absorbed, churning along in the mess of their own soap operas, while the world around them goes to hell?

Depending on which title I’m focusing on, it’s either disappointing or amazing that for all many titles lagged, the overall AoA did have a throughline of growth, change, thematic resonance and emotional verity. The titles with X-Men in them are the ones which are most perfunctory. Larry Hama and Adam Kubert present, even in this single issue, the second of four, a comic that allows us to see the normal-universe versions in a different light than otherwise. We learn things via the changes enacted, we understand the characters of the normal-universe better, by seeing how they differ here, where they are either pressed to, or permitted to. The same is true of X-Calibre, a comic that also motivates and expands the plot of its normal-timeline twin, Excalibur, the comic which stopped to be replaced by X-Calibre and which will, in turn, replace this four issue mini.

Is it too much to expect better planning? Too much to anticipate today’s story and characterizations will reflect the following month’s issues or plotlines and character’s actions way down the line? That any given comic have more to it than simply reintroducing a mildly-different or opposite-for-no-reason version of a preexisting character? The comics here that don’t accomplish these things are still, by and large, inoffensive. There’s no truly terrible comics in the mix. But, I know Fabien Nicieza can do better, as can Scott Lobdell and Andy Kubert. X-Man’s writer and artist are clearly aiming for a specific feel, which they accomplish whether I one hundred percent enjoy it or not. Astonishing X-Men has no such defense. I don’t think there was any cohesive agreement on what the comic should be or feel like to the reader, except that it needed to set up pieces for other stories.

Not to play favorites, but only Weapon X and X-Calibre surprised me at all, in terms of where a scene went or what actions a character took. You can look at the first issue of Gambit and the X-Ternals and more or less figure out where the plot will be by the end. Astonishing and Amazing are exceptionally safe comics. X-Calibre didn’t flip Cain Marko around like a mirror universe bwahahaha take. With the same wit and consideration Warren Ellis will later show in the alternate reality stories, The Bleed, Aetheric Mechanics, and Ruins, X-Calibre extrapolated what the loss of his brother to violence might do to a younger Marko, what the sudden razing of the world might do to him. X-Calibre uses these new, alternate takes on familiar characters to remind us what is awesome about their normative portrayals. While a selfish, rampaging, brother-hating Cain Marko may seem played out and boring when repeated forever, by changing it up for just a moment, we see the shine of the old version brighter, by the eclipsing shadow of the new take.

Similarly, Jean Grey in Weapon X is still the Jean of the normal universe, but she’s had different experiences for ten plus years. Her life has been remarkably and painfully different. While X-Man is full of characterizations being flopped one eighty, Weapon X and X-Calibre, and to a large extent, Factor X, are more carefully redirecting their characterizations. No reversal, no retreads, but new branching caused by the changes in history and difference in all experience past those initial, violent changes. That, perhaps, is the AoA’s best accomplishment, its strongest justification. We know it can’t last, that it is unsustainable, but we want it and the “real” versions to both exist, we want what, ultimately, the X-Men decide their world should have, which is as unlikely for them as it is implausible for us: For the old world to be resurrected and for this new world to live bright and full.

Next time: Brother versus brother! An aneurism! A hero shot in the back and then stepped on by an a friend! What Gwen Stacy and Tony Stark have been up to! Snow! Fire! The best version of Gateway ever!

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