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Zero Hour Revisited – Showcase ’94 #9

90srevisited_zerohour

showcase_94_0009The Secret Origin of Scarface part Two – Call Me Scarface

Script: Alan Grant & John Wagner
Art & Colors: Teddy Kristiansen
Lettering: Ken Bruzenak
Consulting Editor: Dennis O’Neil
Editor: Neal Pozner
Cover: Shawn McManus
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Date: August 1994
Cover Price: $1.95

Much as with the first chapter of this Scarface story, the art’s rather simplistic…but expecting it this time and looking past it not being ‘great’ and just taking it as it is, it works very well here getting everything across that needs to be, at least in not taking me out of the story AS I read, and leaving me satisfied with the story at the end.

Wesker and Woody make good on their escape–though it involves a brick-to-the-face and then hanging of Donnegan, and the murder of a couple of guards. We see Wesker falling prey to whatever madness Donnegan had–as the dummy seems to be the lead and the Ventriloquist following. We also get a sort of explanation for Scarface’s speech thing–his “B” having a “G” sound–as Wesker isn’t that great a ventriloquist.

The story is fitting, and I’m definitely quite satisfied with this “origin” of Wesker as The Ventriloquist, and Scarface, how they came together and all that. I can certainly visualize this being summarized in a one or two page origin–perhaps that’s been done elsewhere already (in Countdown, perhaps?) but that’s mostly irrelevant for now. As a lead feature in an anthology title, it works, was an enjoyable read, and after the first chapter in the previous issue I was actually looking forward to this and trusting that it was to be a 2-part story and nothing longer.

A Story

Writer: Terrance Griep, Jr.
Penciller: Kyle Hotz
Inker: Pav Kovacic
Colorist: Mike Danza
Letterer: Albert DeGuzman
Editor: Neal Pozner

This “middle story” is a brief one, but interesting. Like the Wildcat piece in the previous issue, it’s singular and self-contained; a slice of life sorta thing. We meet Pax, a man bent on revenge against the alien parasites that slaughtered his people–the entire population of his world except he himself. As he narrates his story, it comes to light that the parasites can look like anyone, and we see him take on a group of them, killing them…and moving on. When he’s picked up by a group of “police,” he begins his narration again as we see that his hunt-and-kill mission continues.

I had absolutely no idea what to think of this story at first. At the first page, I thought MAYBE this was Vandal Savage or someone of that nature, given the name “Pax,” but obviously I was quickly proven wrong in my assumption. The parasites appear to be the sort that we saw in Bloodlines–the Annuals event from 1993, which would make sense given this story would have been out just a few months after the end of that event in Bloodbath. And for a one-off story, seeing someone hunting the parasites would kinda show them to be a bigger deal than just the few that made it to Earth and caused the trouble they did.

The lack of expectation going in, of even knowing what the segment was to be about, worked in its favor. The art fits, gets stuff across quite effectively; and has little to be compared to on this read-through. The story itself is ultimately forgettable, but still worth having read it. Reading this in 2016, though, it puts me in mind of 2014’s Armor Hunters from Valiant…as the lone survivor of a planet hunting down parasites like those that destroyed his planet, with singular vision and little regard for the consequences beyond killing the parasites.

Thinking of it as the likes of Armor Hunters actually makes me like it all the more. While I wouldn’t care for any sort of dedicated mini-series or ongoing series like this…as a “random” thing in an issue I’m reading anyway, it’s well worth the several minutes of reading and realization!

Sum: Zero part two

Story: Dan Jurgens
Pencils: Frank Fosco
Inks: Ken Branch
Lettering: Starkings/Comicraft
Colors: Stuart Chaifetz
Editor: Neal Pozner

Once more, the final part of the issue is the selling point, the story I read the issue for.

We pick up on Monarch holding Waverider and Hunter in a stasis field. Though he’s able to get them into the timestream, he lacks the control to direct himself, and hopes to have Waverider use his power to do that–and in the doing he’ll learn it for himself. Things don’t go as planned, and Monarch–Hank Hall–learns a new “truth” of his past and what happened at the end of Armageddon 2001, and since he’s more powerful than he’d realized, and his future self had realized, as Time’s been altered, he decides instead of being Monarch, he’ll be Extant! And stealing Waverider’s Linear Men arm-control, disappears into the timestream. Hunter is suitably cheesed-off that the villain now has the ability to time-travel at will, and Waverider suggests that if this villain can uphold his potential, they stand at the edge of a true CRISIS.

Yep, 9-ish years after “THE” Crisis (on Infinite Earths), a new one is about to unfold.

As with the previous issue’s segment of this story, the art works well, if not being completely to my liking. The story also works, feeding us directly into Zero Hour, and revealing that this story was primarily about transforming Monarch (Hank Hall) into Extant, a sleeker and cooler-looking guy than the clunky Monarch was, but without having to “corrupt” any other characters. This also allows the character to come with built-in, already-established “street cred” AS a villain, extremely powerful and a true threat beyond any single hero’s ability to take him down.

Despite this, I originally read Zero Hour withOUT having read this prelude, and had no problem following along (that I recall), and it wasn’t until I read the collected edition that I got to read this…so Sum: Zero is not absolutely essential…but it’s satisfying as a piece of my completist mentality for this reading project.

OVERALL THOUGHTS

I’m glad I didn’t pay full price for this back in the day, as I would certainly NOT have appreciated the lead story nor the Pax segment…and probably, honestly, wouldn’t even have appreciated the Zero Hour piece. Reading it in 2016 having paid a dollar or less for both chapters, it’s a very satisfying read and well worth the expense and the time. And for reading the entire issue for both of these Showcase comics, I now have a better idea of the “origin” of the Bat-villain The Ventriloquist/Scarface.

It’s an anthology book, with a mix of creators both known and not, and characters that didn’t headline their own series, and all that, and it feels like one. This two-issue “taste” is much more satisfying than I recall the Batman segments of the two issues that tied into Knightfall, though that could be the more than two decades’ additional life lived and my ability to appreciate stuff as a mid-thirties adult than when I was just barely a teenager. I don’t know exactly when, but I look forward at least to the idea of binge-reading the several years’ worth of Showcase ’90s.

Zero Hour Revisited – Showcase ’94 #8

90srevisited_zerohour

showcase_94_0008The Secret Origin of Scarface part One – The Gallows Doll

Script: Alan Grant & John Wagner
Art & Colors: Teddy Kristiansen
Lettering: Ken Bruzenak
Consulting Editor: Dennis O’Neil
Editor: Neal Pozner
Cover: Ted McKeever
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Date: July 1994
Cover Price: $1.95

I know I’ve read the Zero Hour portion of this issue in the collected edition of the event…but until now, I’ve never actually read Showcase ’94 #8 itself as a standalone comic! I was surprised by it, and rather enjoyed the experience overall.

This first story focuses on a prisoner in Blackgate–Donnegan–and how he gets a book on ventriloquism as a “joke” but ends up taking it fairly seriously. He even makes himself a dummy–carved from the wooden remains of the prison’s gallows. He and the dummy form an interesting relationship over the years…which leads to some conflict when a new prisoner, Arnold Wesker is assigned to Donnegan as a cellmate. Wesker is interested in the dummy and appreciates the “show” of ventriloquism. However, Donnegan is quite non-plussed at the perceived intrusion on his space, and commands Wesker to leave his dummy–“Woody”–alone. Wesker’s fascination leads him to investigate, which earns him a beating. Not long after, he seems to be hearing the dummy…even though Donnegan’s sound asleep.

The visuals for this story are rather simplistic, and don’t really do much for me. I recognize the dummy, and Wesker, by prior knowledge of them, and the “iconic” look of the dummy, and Wesker’s glasses. Beyond that, the art’s rather generic and unappealing. Still, it works for the story overall, and doesn’t exactly disappoint me, as I had zero expectation going in. It’s certainly not a “selling point” for me, but since the point of my reading the issue isn’t even this “main feature,” it can have a pass.

Story-wise, I liked this. All these years later and I’ve never consciously known–or at least retained–the origin of “The Ventriloquist” and “Scarface” (Woody). And this being (in part) an Alan Grant story (I don’t recall if he created the character to begin with, but I recognize him as one of the major writers on Batman stuff in the late-’80s/early-’90s) so that predisposed me to enjoy the story, and not write it off as just some throw-away story of a lesser-known Bat-villain. This is part one, and the fact that Wesker isn’t the original “Ventriloquist” (or there’s something a bit more messed up going on) is interesting, and I actually look forward to reading the next chapter.

Wildcat – Brujas y Gatos

Writer: Eddie Berganza
Penciller: Nick Gnazzo
Inker: Ray Kryssing
Colorist: Suzanne Bourdages
Letterer: Bill Oakley
Editor: Neal Pozner

I’m not overly familiar with Wildcat. I know the name Ted Grant, and recognize the character from Geoff JohnsJSA stuff (assuming I’m not mixing THIS Wildcat with someone else). Since I’ve never read anything in particular focusing on the character, I have no real preconceived notions to bring into the reading experience.

This is a short piece that finds Wildcat infiltrating a resurrection ceremony that seems to be–purportedly–to raise someone from the dead. Contextually we learn that the body to be raised is that of Ted’s friend Yolanda–who had attempted to become a new Wildcat…but she was apparently killed by Eclipso recently. (I have yet to read but was aware OF the short-lived Eclipso series that spun out of the Eclipso: The Darkness Within and recall hearing about there being several character deaths in short order toward the latter part of the series–I always remembered The Creeper being killed, but apparently Yolanda/Wildcat was also one). Wildcat observes, and only intervenes when a “fake” Yolanda shows up. He busts the ceremony and the fake Wildcat, revealing the truth and bringing some closure (albeit uber-convenient and quick) to the family of the dead woman.

This is a throw-away story, but recognizing it as a bit of follow-up to what I presume to be a virtually un-noticed otherwise death in a minor, now-forgotten book from the early-’90s, I can definitely appreciate its existence and purpose. At the least, it reminded me that that Eclipso series is out there and I’ve not yet acquired it, though I’ve had an interest in it for a couple decades now.

The art’s slightly over the top in a way, but not bad. I don’t recognize the art team’s names, but it’s not a bad piece. That this short “slice of life” episode IS so short but actually ends without a cliffhanger suggests to me that it’s a one-off piece in this anthology series…so it’s not even long enough for me to develop much opinion one way or the other.

The primary drawback to the piece at all is that it stood between me and the Zero Hour story.

Sum: Zero

Story: Dan Jurgens
Pencils: Frank Fosco
Inks: Ken Branch
Lettering: Starkings/Comicraft
Colors: Stuart Chaifetz
Consulting Editors: Mike Carlin & K.C. Carlson
Editor: Neal Pozner

Vanishing Point–a place beyond Time itself, headquarters of the Linear Men. Hunter finds Waverider reminiscing, and confronts him over the fact that he–Waverider–may have stopped Monarch, but himself wiped out an entire timeline in the doing, making him worse than Monarch ever was. Waverider, though, doesn’t share the sentiment–though he does realize perhaps he should check into things with Hank Hall a bit more…though what he sees disturbs him. When he (and tag-along Hunter) journey to the late 20th century to investigate an anomaly that could be Monarch’s doing, they find him waiting, and themselves quite unprepared for this.

This piece is the “selling point” of the issue for me; the entire reason I picked the issue up to read. I’m pretty familiar with it already from having read the Zero Hour collected volume at least a couple times over the years, but this might be the first time actually reading it as part of this Showcase issue, in this exact format.

Trying to evaluate the art as a standalone thing, I realize it feels just a bit “off” somehow…probably because of not being Jurgens‘ art, or some such. It’s not bad by any means–and both Waverider and Hunter are familiar and distinct, and the imagery we get of Monarch and other elements that ought to be familiar from Armageddon 2001 fit, and convey the story.

The writing is Jurgens, and as a prologue to the Zero Hour event, this fits perfectly into stuff, giving us a bit of story involving these characters just prior to their stepping into that event.

OVERALL THOUGHTS

I thought about “just” touching on the Zero Hour story and “ignoring” the rest of the issue, but figured why not just read the whole thing? And I was pleasantly surprised. I got a chapter of a story fleshing out the background of a Bat-villain that isn’t the bore I might’ve thought it’d be. The Wildcat story wasn’t bad and its primary drawback was that I finished the Scarface story and was a bit surprised to not turn right into the Zero Hour story.

While the issue’s page numbering INCLUDES ad pages, it goes to page 46…which is much longer than “just” 20-22 pages, so even with ads, it’s roughly a double-sized issue for not much more than a standard-length issue would have been at the time. Considering I paid fifty cents or less for the issue, the time it took to read vs. the amount spent makes it an excellent value; I enjoyed the reading experience, and when adding the time spent writing up this post, means that it’s by far one of the highest-value comics I’ve read in quite awhile, holding/being the focus of my attention for so long.

The Infinity Gauntlet (2015) #1 [Review]

secretwars_infinitygauntlet001Story: Gerry Duggan & Dustin Weaver
Artist: Dustin Weaver
Script: Gerry DUggan
Letterer: Comicraft’s Albert Deschesne
Cover Artist: Dustin Weaver
Production Designer: Idette Winecoor
Assistant Editor: Devin Lewis
Editor: Nick Lowe
Published by: Marvel Comics
Cover Date: July 2015
Cover Price: $3.99

Particularly given my "Thanos kick" this year, and the nostalgia for me of the original The Infinity Gauntlet series from 1991 (and its followups and the evolution/devolution of Thanos across the 24 years since), this one–as a first issue, at least–was a no-brainer for me on picking up.

I was put off a bit by the Novas on the cover, which I mistakenly saw as a couple generic Novas and the new "Kid Nova" character that replaced the one I knew growing up. Turns out from the interior that I actually would like to see these Novas. I’m also rather put off by what has become an extremely nitpicky sticking-point: the Infinity Gauntlet itself, as I’m most familiar with it, as it was in the ’90s was a left-handed device. Not a right-handed piece, despite recent (the last few years and the Marvel Cinematic Universe) having it as a right-hand thing. I’m not passionate enough on the point to research when the chance actually happened or if it was intentional…I just don’t like it and it bugs me.

The interior, the story of the issue follows a young girl and her family surviving in a dystopian environment. The matriarch of the family disappeared ages earlier, choosing to attempt to protect the world and thus her family by fighting an alien threat before it could hit home. The fact it did leads most of the family to assume the woman’s death, and it’s a point of contention between several characters. While a bit of "hope" is found despite horrific developments, the end of the issue indicates things are about to get much worse.

That this is titled The Infinity Gauntlet and does not "star" Thanos is a huge disappointment for me. I also don’t like that the comics are now following the cinematic universe in referring to Infinity STONES rather than Infinity GEMS. I appreciate this is a different take on stuff, and that we’ll likely HAVE a quest to assemble the Gauntlet by series’ end, but as a first issue I am not overly thrilled.

Visually, this is a solid enough issue, though something about it–for something I went into expecting superheroics and such–seems just a bit "off" for a super-hero comic, and thus my reading experience. There is a slight Runaways vibe for me flipping back through the issue, though, so it’s not entirely out of place for me.

While I am not a fan of losing content in favor of huge one or two page "splash" sequences, this issue’s double-paged title sequence worked very well for me, generic as it is. Basically just the title, credits, and representations of the six Infinity objects (Stones/Gems/whatever) on a starfield. But having that amidst the story itself, as actual story pages instead of a textual title page opening the issue, and being two pages instead of one…reminds me of the title pages of the original 1991 series, and I just enjoy its presence.

I’m not entirely certain what to make of this, but I’m interested in seeing where things go. Rather than just a reimagining of Thanos or the Infinity Gauntlet conflict, this seems like it actually could be the start of something new and truly ongoing, and well worth my having checked this out. I do expect to pick up the next issue, and really hope to enjoy this series in general.

The ’90s Revisited: X-Men Prime

90s_revisited

xmenprime001Racing the Night

Writers: Scott Lobdell & Fabian Nicieza
Pencilers: Bryan Hitch, Jeff Matsuda, Gary Frank, Mike McKone, Terry Dodson, Ben Herrerr, Paul Pelletier
Inkers: Al Milgrom, P. Craig Russell, Cam Smith, Mark Farmer, Mark McKenna, Tom Palmer, Tim Townsend, Hector Collazo
Letttering: Richard Starkings and Comicraft
Coloring: Steve Buccellato and Electric Crayon
Cover: Bryan Hitch
Editor: Bob Harras
Published by: Marvel Comics
Cover Date: July 1995
Cover Price: $4.95

With this issue, we’re back to the “real” reality/universe/timeline/whatever. The 616 Marvel Universe. Bishop and his mission was a success, and by stopping Legion from killing Xavier…the Age of Apocalypse never happened, things have been set right. Or have they?

We have a bunch of plot points sharing this issue…while the various Age of Apocalypse mini-series led into X-Men: Omega, this issue now serves as the focal point for the return of the “regular” X-Men titles…as a “regular universe” Alpha issue to introduce readers to the current status quo of the characters and teams that make up the X-side of the Marvel Universe and send the readers into the mix of titles having had this bit of setup for where things are moving forward.

I do think that if Free Comic Book Day had been around in 1995, this would certainly have been a Marvel offering…an in-continuity quasi-anthology to get readers to jump aboard the entire line of X-comics.

I can’t say I’m honestly all that thrilled with this issue on this re-read. I certainly appreciate that there are “only” two writers credited, offering a bit of consistency to the story side of things. The issue is quite a mix visually due to the numerous pencilers and inkers getting their chance to work on pages presumably germane to the individual titles. Reading through this time, I noticed a bit of wonky art at points, but somehow was not particularly jarred by the shifts…perhaps for familiarity with the Age of Apocalypse stuff as a whole.

After the shiny “chromium” covers for X-Men: Alpha and X-Men: Omega, seems Marvel felt the need to give this a special cover as well–a clear plastic-ish thing with an inner orangey background. We also get the “alternate” X-Men logo, with the Prime part next to it…and the whole thing is a wrap-around (which I very much appreciate 20 years later in an age of VARIANT “interlocking” covers).

The story introduces or re-introduces some characters–and I even see hints of Onslaught in this reading. We find out that several characters–Nate Grey, Dark Beast, Sugarman, and Holocaust–escaped the Age of Apocalypse and wound up in the real timeline. Nate first appears in the “present,” while Magneto’s Acolytes only now in the present discover what will be revealed to be Holocaust…but Beast and Sugarman arrived 20 years ago, and were responsible for the Morlocks and Genosha’s Mutates, respectively. Marrow is reintroduced, aged twenty years from a prior appearance…Rogue and Iceman are on a roadtrip, the former haunted by whatever she saw in Gambit’s memories (Gambit’s in a coma). Trish Tilby reveals the Legacy Virus to the public along with the knowledge that it’s affecting humans as well as Mutants. X-Factor chases Mystique and Havok’s powers act up on him; X-Force’s base is destroyed. Wolverine is living in the woods outside Xavier’s mansion (refusing to reside under the same roof as Sabretooth) and Bishop is having unconscious outbursts as a result of the visions he’s having as a result of his temporal status in relation to the Age of Apocalypse. Amidst all this a mutant seeks the X-Men but winds up victim of humans lashing out against something they fear and do not understand.

This certainly sets up the various X-titles moving forward, so for that alone is pretty much an “essential read.” Yet, unless one intends to pursue those issues from mid-1995 that this is immediately germane to, there’s not much to really dig into singularly with this issue. Outside of characters involved and how they now will interact in the 616 universe, there’s no actual story-content directly tied to the story of the Age of Apocalypse timeline.

Given that, my covering of this issue is much like why I covered the non-Legion Quest X-books that preceded Age of Apocalypse: this is stuff coming out on the “other end”, the border, “bleed,” or whatever butting up against the Age of Apocalypse without actually BEING an issue of that..

While rarer than the Alpha or Omega issues in bargain bins, I certainly would not pay much more than cover price for this (and that would be a grudgingly-paid price). I’d seek this out to use as a starting point diving into any or all of the X-books of the time but certainly not if you’re only interested in the Age of Apocalypse.

Unlike contemporary Marvel, this does not kick off “the next” EVENT but rather gives the individual titles time to flex and explore their own things for awhile before everything heats up again with the following year’s Onslaught stuff.

xmenprime_wraparound

Age of Apocalypse Revisited: X-Men Omega

aoa_revisited_logo

xmenomega001_front…Endings

Story: Scott Lobdell
Dialogue: Mark Waid
Pencils: Roger Cruz
Inks: LaRosa, Townsend, Kesel, Candelario, Hanna, Milgrom
Letters: Richard Starkings and Comicraft
Colors: Steve Buccellato, Electric Crayon
Cover: John Romita Jr., Klaus Janson
Editor: Bob Harras
Published by: Marvel Comics
Cover Date: June 1995
Cover Price: $3.95

While not nearly as "iconic" as the Alpha issue to me…this issue is still one of THE most iconic comic issues of my youth. Though the majority of the context comes from the various individual titles that make up the Age of Apocalypse, this is THE issue they all led into, after spinning out of X-Men: Alpha. As such, while I didn’t remember details of most of the individual series, I remembered where things wound up because of this issue.

We open on a full-page of Magneto, bloodied and energy crackling around him, standing defiantly against an off-page foe, who we find is Holocaust, battering the leader of the X-Men for Apocalypse’s amusement before the villain reveals his final plans. Meanwhile, Angel finds Karma, while in the pens, the X-Men arrive via Blink’s portals. As they contemplate the lack of opposition and come across Beast, we move to see Cyclops and Jean leading freed humans across the bridge away from Apocalypse’s stronghold. Apocalypse’s forcefield is taken down by Angel’s suicide bomb…his sacrifice allows Nate (X-Man) access to Apocalypse…where he finds and is recognized by Magneto as The One that Forge had long ago promised to deliver.

while Nate takes on Holocaust, the X-Men have found the M’Kraan crystal, and Destiny confirms Bishop’s claims and everything comes down to Illyana choosing to help restore broken reality. The three enter the crystal, leaving the X-Men to fight Apocalypse’s forces. On the bridge, Jean realizes the bombs have been launched and throws up a psi-shield…holding them back as long as she can. In the crystal, Destiny guides Illyana in unlocking her powers, getting Bishop back to the moment things went wrong. Back on the bridge, Havok reveals himself, unleashing his powers to take out Jean and Scott before being taken out himself by Weapon X. The X-Men rescue baby Charles, mess up Beast’s escape attempt, while others have fallen in battle and misunderstanding.

In the past, Bishop confronts his past self and Legion, preventing Legion from killing anyone…and closing a loop that sees the X-Men ripped back to their own time and the chronal energies erasing their presence and Legion’s from the memories of all left behind…that events would unfold as they had with no taint from Legion’s obtrusive presence.

Nate finally gets to Apocalypse before being attacked again by Holocaust…using a shard of the M’Kraan crystal he and Holocaust are unexpectedly removed from the equation. The distraction is enough for Magneto to summon the power to rip Apocalypse apart, finally killing the evil mutant and ending his reign. In the last few moments left to him, he rejoins Rogue and his son, while reflecting on the importance of one man to the world itself…as the nuclear blast is about to engulf them. Hope is left behind, in Bishop accomplishing his mission…and preventing any of this from ever having happened.

This issue being what it is, as mentioned above…there’s little separating its nostalgic and emotional, lasting impact on me from the technicalities of the issue itself.

At this typing, I don’t particularly recognize Cruz‘ name or art…and would have sworn there was someone else on the art. Looking back, Cruz contributed to a couple previous X-issues, and was the penciler on the Alpha issue as well…so while the art isn’t ENTIRELY consistent with the individual series, it provides a definite consistency to the other bookend issue of this entire mega-arc. In and of itself, I really don’t have any complaints on the art…everyone is recognizeable and obvious for who they are…and though many of the characters don’t look quite as well-done as they were in the individual books, given this issue involves so many without being a "jam book," that’s hardly an issue for me. We have numerous inkers and a full roster of Letterers and Colorists…whether that was to get the book out "on time" or to allow more hands to touch the project, be a part of it, I don’t know. It’s really something I mostly notice for specifically scoping out the credits to write this up.

Story-wise, I see Mark Waid on dialogue, as with X-Men: Alpha…which is interesting again as before given I wasn’t consciously aware of him 20 years ago but know him as a writer whose work I like present-day…and realize how much I like his dialogue through this issue, hokey and cheesey as parts are. Magneto’s final moments in the issue resonate particularly for me.

Given the specific issues that things unfolded in, this is the first we’ve "seen" of the "regular" X-Men in the entirety of the labeled Age of Apocalypse issues. The brief bit we get with them–specifically of Storm realizing the true battle was fought elsewhere–is something that has stuck with me since originally reading the issue, and worked its way into my head over the years as a concept that truly influences my understanding and conception of time travel and alternate reality stories…really in a way I can’t quite put to typed words.

The Age of Apocalypse ends, the "true reality" is restored…but this story left lasting repercussions (and characters) on the X-universe and the Marvel universe in general. Fitting in a way, perhaps, that present-day 2015 we’re about to get major changes to the very fabric of the Marvel universe, as I’ve just finished re-reading this tale.

xmenomega001_full

Age of Apocalypse Revisited: Amazing X-Men #4

aoa_revisited_logo

amazingxmen004On Consecrated Ground

Plot: Fabian Nicieza
Penciler: Andy Kubert
Inker: Matt Ryan
Lettering: Richard Starkings and Comicraft
Color Art: Kevin Somers and Digital Chameleon
Cover: Andy Kubert, Matt Ryan
Editor: Bob Harras
Published by: Marvel Comics
Cover Date: June 1995
Cover Price: $1.95

Here we are…the second-to-last issue of the entirety of this (as we’re in 2015 I have to use the word "original" to specify) Age of Apocalypse story.

The issue opens with Bishop in the hands of the Madri as they prepare to "sacrifice" him so that his knowledge does not pass further and inspire others to consider a world in which Apocalypse does not presently rule. Storm bursts onto the scene and frees him, though the doing drains her considerably. While this is going on, Quicksilver and Banshee locate the source of the Madri–Jamie Madrox–as we learn that the Madri are all "just" dupes of Jamie. Meanwhile, Rogue and her group arrive back at the mansion to learn Magneto has been taken and her son Charles is missing. Nightcrawler bamfs in with Destiny; Colossus and Kitty had also arrived with Illyana and now deliver the news that their students died in freeing the girl. Dazzler and Exodus return as well, Gambit and Lila Cheney in tow…but no sign of Charles. Rogue lashes out at Gambit for not returning with her child; while Banshee sacrifices himself to put an end to Abyss, and Madrox gives his own life to shut down the Madri and thus save Storm and Bishop. The various pieces of Magneto’s planning have come together, borne fruit…and the X-Men stand ready to end the age of Apocalypse.

Though this issue does technically continue threads from the previous issue, in many ways it feels more like a filler issue, not belonging to its own series, but rather, tying things together to funnel/filter several things into X-Men: Omega and the end of the overall AoA story arc. There’s a lot going on, though nothing really gets much focus.

The story as such doesn’t work as a solo issue, and even as a final issue, too much "space" is given to converging plotlines for this to really fit the standard expectation of a final issue. I suppose I’d say that this issue lacks much of its own identity as a chapter of an individual thread about to be woven back into a larger whole. Yet, this certainly sets things up and if one reads this issue, it certainly does not make much sense not to continue on to X-Men: Omega.

The art is good. Nothing really stands out positive or negative, though if anything it might be the portrayal of Abyss. I can’t quite figure out if I like or dislike the character’s appearance…though it’s a credit to the visual team that I can "hear" the sound of the character’s movements in my head.

This issue is a sort of bridge between the other minis and X-Men: Omega; particularly Generation Next, X-Calibre, Astonishing X-Men, and Gambit and the X-Ternals…really only leaving out Weapon X, X-Man, and Factor-X, as those series’ finales I believe are more directly connected to the pages of the bookend special.

The end of this issue points out the continuation into X-Men: Omega…which apparently was on sale the same week, so there would have been the double-dose of story, and making this one functionally an extension if one bought both. X-Men: Alpha, 8 4-issue series, two 2-issue series and a profile book…this is–if my math’s correct–the 39th part of AoA, with everything wrapping up in a 40th issue, capping things off.

Age of Apocalypse Revisited: X-Men Chronicles #2

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xmenchronicles002Shattered Dreams

Writer: Howard Mackie
Penciler: Ian Churchill
Inks: Hanna/Vey/Moncuse/Wiacek
Colors: Matt Webb
Color Separations: Digital Chameleon
Lettering: Richard Starkings and Comicraft
Cover: Churchill
Editors: Kelly Corvese, Bob Harras
Published by: Marvel Comics
Cover Date: June 1995
Cover Price: $3.95

We open on Weapon X confronting Magneto. He and Jean are leaving, and Mags will NOT be convincing him otherwise. After the tense standoff, we shift to Wolverine–a huge mutant working for Holocaust. Holocaust, it seems, was once Nemesis–who killed Scarlet Witch in X-Men Chronicles #1, some time before this issue. Magneto doesn’t take Jean and Logan’s leaving all that well and throws himself AND his X-Men into training, none realizing the pending danger of the Wolverine. We also see the deterioration of Gambit’s pursuit of Rogue as we see the blossoming of the Magneto/Rogue relationship…which doesn’t begin to go over well with Gambit. Despite the huge wedge from a heart’s betrayal, Gambit stands with Magneto against Wolverine…though their broken friendship is one of the "key" events to come of the issue.

It may be that the issue is extra-sized and so a bigger single chunk of story, minus issue breaks and fitting into the larger, more complex continuity of multiple titles going on simultaneously, as well as "seeing" a key point in this version of the X-Men’s past (relative to the "present day" waning moments of the Age of Apocalypse unfolding in the main X-books cover dated June 1995). It might be the art, and certainly an enjoyable story. But reading this issue, the thoughts it provoked, and the feeling I had when I got to the end…this is definitely one of my TOP favorite issues of the entirety of the AoA storyline.

There’s only one page in particular (but several, flipping back through the issue) with Magneto specifically, where I feel like I noticed a change in the inking, transforming Churchill‘s work such that I actually paused and looked back to see if there were multiple artists/pencilers on the book, as it just looks quite different from the rest of the book. Otherwise, I really liked the art, and would have to really dig to find anything NOT to like about it. I’m not all that fond of Wolverine’s visual design…but as a generic "evil mutant" he works quite well. I imagine part of that is simply the use of the name in association with someone NOT Logan. (Yet, it makes sense in a world with countless "codenames" if most know "Weapon X" but he’s not using the name…"Wolverine" WOULD be up for grabs!)

Mackie gets a bad rap, I think…or at least, I’ve allowed my opinion to be clouded by his later work, particularly–I think–his Spider-Man stuff of the later ’90s. Here, I just simply enjoyed seeing these characters and the story that we get through the longer segment. Even knowing what was coming, I found it rather authentic seeing Gambit’s naiveté regarding Rogue’s falling for Magneto, and empathized with his hurt and frustration at the unintended "betrayal" of Magneto and Rogue’s developing relationship.

We get some details hinted at previously, and the actual "on-panel" stuff with Logan and Jean leaving and the Magneto/Rogue/Gambit triangle, as well as 44 pages of story plus 5 double-page "historical moments" (basically, "pinups") to round things out. I truly miss–and consider it a "lost art" of late–the inclusion of such "pinups" or quasi-arbitrary art pages in comics. In 2015, these would be an additional 10 variant covers as 5 sets of double-panel interlocking images. In 1995, these were fun bonus pages adding some visual context to the X-Men’s history. If only by labeling, these pages definitely lend credence to the notion of a picture being worth a thousand words.

Given this is essentially a one-shot, simply "a" story of this universe’s X-Men, the issue stands very strongly on its own. Knowing only that this is an alternate reality as well as the general convolutedness of the entirety of X-Men history…one doesn’t have to be following the rest of the Age of Apocalypse to follow this or to take this as "a story." For that matter, one doesn’t truly have to have read X-Men Chronicles #1, even.

For me, at least…the Age of Apocalypse doesn’t get much better than this; and perhaps for its immediate recency as of this typing, if I didn’t before I definitely now hold this as cream of the crop when it comes to Age of Apocalypse stuff.

Age of Apocalypse Revisited: X-Calibre #4

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xcalibre004On Fire

Writer: Warren Ellis
Pencils: Ken Lashley
Inks: Tom Wegrzyn with Philip Moy
Colors: Joe Rosas
Letters: Richard Starkings and Comicraft
Separations: Digital Chameleon
Cover:
Editors: Suzanne Gaffney, Bob Harras
Published by: Marvel Comics
Cover Date: June 1995
Cover Price: $1.95

Damask, Switchback, Mystique, and Nightcrawler pause for a moment before heading back to Avalon to try again to convince Destiny to return with Kurt to Magneto. Before long, a new presence is discovered…the Shadow King has arrived, and causes all sorts of death and destruction. He’s able to possess others, trigger parts of their mind…yet by possessing he can cause physical danger for others while he himself–as a psionic entity–continues on if a host body is destroyed. Eventually he possesses Mystique, triggering a desperate idea for Kurt. Utilizing teamwork, a combination of his own powers and those of Switchback and Damask, Kurt leads his "X-Calibre" team to take on the Shadow King, despite the dream that was Avalon now being so much ash and remnants of destruction.

Here we are with another "final issue" of "a four issue series," and again we don’t have a true ending so much as a turning point or point of continuity, where a fleshed-out adventure moves characters as pieces around a board to get them where they need to be for X-Men: Omega.

Unlike the previous issues, I read this in eagerness to get THROUGH it…the end of the Age of Apocalypse is in sight and I am very much looking forward to getting to X-Men Omega. Like previous issues, I didn’t recall any details of this series, so it reads like a "new" issue, though I knew if not its endpoint, at least its end result. Given my mindset reading this, I didn’t notice much of anything distinctly Ellis in the story. I simply saw the characters, watched the story unfold, and got to the end of the issue sooner than expected, not realizing how much ground is yet to be covered between this final page and where Kurt and Destiny go in X-Men: Omega.

The art holds to a consistent quality; characters look familiar to my memory of prior issues, and the art itself never distracts. The layouts, however, prove distracting much as in Weapon X, as there are multiple double-page spreads where I have to physically rotate the entire issue 90 degrees to read the sideways double-page top to bottom. Forcing such movement proved quite distracting.

All in all…not a bad issue, not a great issue. Characters picked up with the term "X-Calibre" and used it as a team-name to describe the group, which is sort of disappointing to me after thinking for awhile since the previous issue how cool it was to have the title referenced as it was on a "meta" level without actually being otherwise referenced within the story. Granted, it FITS in this way, it just changes things a bit. And we again get an ending of "intent" though we have to see actual action to get the characters from here (point A) to X-Men: Omega (point B) or trust that it’ll be explained as having happened off-panel.

The end is in sight, and I think I’d’ve enjoyed this issue more in and of itself if I weren’t so eager to get to the end of everything.

Age of Apocalypse Revisited: Generation Next #4

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generationnext004"Bye"

Created by: Scott Lobdell and Chris Bachalo
Inks by: Mark Buckingham
Lettering by: Richard Starkings and Comicraft
Colors by: Steve Buccellato and Electric Crayon
Cover: Bachalo
Edited by: Bob Harras
Published by: Marvel Comics
Cover Date: June 1995
Cover Price: $1.95

This is certainly the darkest end to any of these minis yet, for the Age of Apocalypse.

Illyana’s been found…but her rescuers are not unscathed from their trials. Even with the arrival of Colossus, the kiddos aren’t quite able to make it, and the students find themselves left behind as Colossus INSISTS she be carried to safety, the mission Magneto set. Only then does he "go back" to save his students…and the result is where lies the aforementioned darkness.

As with the rest of the series, I’m not a big fan of the art on this book. In many places it’s just too "busy" for my tastes, with too many lines, and this title definitely has some of the weirdest-looking characters. It remains distinctive and carries a darker tone, so the uncomfortable weirdness is appropriate…it’s just not something I particularly enjoy.

While the characters and situation are believable, I don’t much like seeing this side of Colossus, or Kitty…it’s uncomfortable to see them in these roles. Still, the story is rather believable, especially given what we’ve seen of them before–students AND teachers…and we’ve been set up to see this as a "suicide mission," just that we don’t normally see the sorts of character deaths that we do here.

Of course, that’s something that "can" be done in this case–the final issue of a four-issue glimpse into the twilight of the Age of Apocalypse. Consciously, as readers, it was clear by this point that the "regular" X-Men universe would return and that the Age of Apocalypse–if only in terms of publishing–was racing to its conclusion. Unless characters would cross over, or get a scene in X-Men: Omega…this would be "it" for them, and the story already being a divergent status quo, stuff can be done that simply would not fly in the regular books.

Though I’ve not been a fan of the art in particular on this series, the story’s been good, and it’s been a lot more interesting than I’d expected going in. Generation Next #4 now balances to Generation X–four issues of each, with Generation X only "taking the lead" by the return of the regular books and cessation of Generation Next…an interesting "meta" dynamic I’ve always noticed.

Age of Apocalypse Revisited: Factor X #4

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factorx004Reckonings

Writer: John Francis Moore
Pencilers: Steve Epting w/ Terry Dodson
Inker: Al Milgrom
Lettering: Richard Starkings, Comicraft
Colorist: Glynis Oliver
Cover: Steve Epting
Editors: Kelly Corvese, Bob Harras
Published by: Marvel Comics
Cover Date: June 1995
Cover Price: $1.95

The order has been given–the pens of humans are to be culled. The newly "promoted" Alex Summers lords it over the others to enforce the order. Meanwhile, Cyclops and Jean are trying to save the humans, help them escape. This leads to the two having to fight through multiple obstacles (though they find unexpected allies). Things ultimately come down to brother vs. brother, and a new leader of the would-be-culled humans. Also meanwhile, Angel’s club is shut down, while Worthington himself ditches the place, essentially laying aside his neutrality in things.

This issue really does not offer any true finality or closure to what’s been set up throughout…more, it’s the fourth chapter of this side-trip following Alex, Scott, and (Dark) Beast and whatnot–our glimpse into things going on within Apocalypse’s ranks with characters we’re familiar with from the "regular" universe. To get finality for these characters and their arc within AoA, one definitely needs to follow this with X-Men: Omega.

The story, though, is good, and AS a story I don’t really have much to say on it; the writing is solid and consistent and not unexpected. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but there’s also something to Cyclops as written here that made me think he’s portrayed as a lot more interesting than I recall his being at the time in the regular Marvel universe. Perhaps the notion of his having served with Sinister and Apocalypse at all, or a number of other potential angles of the character that could be explored to answer "Why is he where and how he is now?"

My surprise with the issue’s creative side is just how much I really like the art. My one actual "problem" with the visuals is Jean’s hair–I’d swear she’s had much shorter hair in prior appearances, where Jean in this issue has the longer hair of her 616-counterpart of the time. I could be annoyed at the inconsistency…but I prefer long-haired Jean as depicted here, so I like it.

I’m not nearly as familiar with Havok in general, and it’s been rather strange seeing him as so thorough a villain in the Age of Apocalypse (same for Beast). Still, there’s a lot more than could be explored between just Alex and Scott’s relationship, that it’s sort of regrettable this four-issue journey is over.

I’ve enjoyed the series, and enjoyed this issue. Were it a self-contained mini-series I’d almost certainly be quite disappointed at the ending. As-is, it leads into X-Men: Omega, and I recall a definite end-point for Jean, Scott, and Alex as well as the fate of the Beast; looking ahead to that, it occurs to me that Omega serves in many ways as a #5 for the various minis, with Alpha having served as a #0.

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