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Zero Hour Revisited – Superboy #8

90srevisited_zerohour

superboy_0008Big Trouble in Smallville!

Writer: Karl Kesel
Penciller: Tom Grummett
Inkers: Doug Hazlewood, Dan Davis
Colorist: Tom McCraw
Lettering: Starkings/Comicraft
Editor: Frank Pittarese
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Date: September 1994
Cover Price: $1.50

Now THIS is more like it. This was an issue I had read when it was originally released, and I enjoyed it now, and I enjoyed it back then. Of course, whatever checklist I was working from that listed this issue before Valor #23 did me a disservice…this one had a footnote to see that issue. But I already had my mind set on reading this next…and hey…wibbly-wobbly and all that.

This is just the eighth issue of the 1990s Superboy series…focusing on the Superboy that appeared in the whole Return of Superman shindig. This is well before his Kon-El days, even before he had an inkling, really, who the Kents were (He doesn’t even have a bit of recognition of them in this issue!). After Crisis on Infinite Earths, there was no longer a Superboy, who was "Superman when he was a boy." Of course, when you have a Crisis (in Time) and have other-timelines’ characters popping up and such…why NOT a timeline where Superman WAS SuperBOY first?

So we pick up on Superboy accompanying a plane across Kansas. His travel-buddy Dubbilex needs the plane, and has rescued Krypto (Bibbo’s dog that was gonna be named Krypton but wound up Krypto cuz of a jerk tag-maker…see the Funeral for a Friend/World Without a Superman story for that, if I’m recalling correctly). Superboy and the dog aren’t getting along, and Superboy’s riding on the wing of the plane…whether it’s BECAUSE of the dog I’m not sure, but I guess it doesn’t matter TOO much. When the plane’s hit by lightning and about to crash, it’s rescued–by Superboy…and Superboy! The second Superboy, wearing the classic Superman costume appeared with the lightning, apparently after some adventure in the future. He guides the plane to Smallville, recognizing the sign stating it’s the home of Superboy, and then seeks out familiar territory. While "our" Superboy gets some attention in town, the time-displaced Superboy changes to his guise as a young Clark Kent…and finds some unsettling surprises. And of course, eventually the two Superboys meet up (how neither realized the other assisted with the plane can be chalked up to "It’s comics!") and fight…before realizing there’s no need for fighting, and that there are forces at work beyond even the two of them. As the displaced Superboy fades out, Superman/Green Lantern/Metron’s message arrives, and Superboy springs into action.

I’ll say it again: this is more like it! While "the message" does not come until the end of the issue…within this issue we HAVE a Time Anomaly, a character whose only way of being capable of even appearing IS the weirdness with Time, as a result of what’s going on with Zero Hour…making this a great tie-in! And at a time when "elements" of the pre-Crisis era were seeping back into the Superman mythos, albeit with "modern" twists rooted within the new continuity, this Superboy was an interesting contrast…a sort of having the cake and eating it, too. I suppose in most modern ways of comparing, it’d be like Kon-El showing up in the New 52 for just one issue and that’d be that.

In a way, I wasn’t even paying attention to the story as I read this…I just thoroughly enjoyed the issue! Grummett‘s art is fantastic, and Hazlewood/Davis/McCraw do an excellent job enhancing that with inks and colors. After reading some of the other tie-in issues, this one was a very welcome one in both art and sheer enjoyment.

While there’s not a lot of context for the ongoing series, as a one-off, this is a fun issue…basically showing the "real" Superboy encountering one from a different timeline, providing some comparison/contrast between the two, and then setting things back before ending. Other than allowing "our" Superboy to be able to say that he encountered a Time Anomaly already (and as readers, we were thus along for the ride having read this issue), there doesn’t seem to be anything here to really move the SUPERBOY story along…and yet it fits then-current continuity and ties into Zero Hour and is one of the better examples thus far of something tying into the event.

Well worth it if you find it in a bargain bin!

Zero Hour Revisited – Showcase ’94 #9

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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

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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.

Age of Apocalypse Revisited: X-Men Chronicles #1

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xmenchronicles001Origins

Writer: Howard Mackie
Penciler: Terry Dodson
Inker: Klaus Janson
Colorist: Matt Webb
Lettering: Starkings/Comicraft
Cover: Carlos Pacheco, Cam Smith
Editor: Kelly Corvese
Published by: Marvel Comics
Cover Date: March 1995
Cover Price: $3.95

"Traditionally," this is one of my favorite Age of Apocalypse issues. As much as anything tied to the larger AoA epic really is, this is a self-contained issue, functionally a one-shot. And it’s double-sized, a larger chunk of story in one go than anything but X-Men: Alpha itself so far.

Everything else to this point has been set in the "present-day," the contemporary X-Universe of the time, 20 years after the death of Xavier. This issue is set some years earlier than that–at the dawn of the Age of Apocalypse itself, at Apocalypse’s "first strike" of sorts, against humanity at large.

We meet a young-ish Magneto training his band of X-Men in a secret location in the mountains. The group is introduced to a new teammate–the older and more dangerous man known as Logan…or Weapon X. As training draws to a close, a second new member is brought to their location–a young woman named Rogue. Amidst all this, Apocalypse strikes…forcing Magneto into action sooner than he’d expected. And while he and his young mutants fight off Apocalypse’s minions…another strike is carried out against their home.

Probably the most "glaring" thing about this issue–for me–was a narration box stating (after introducing the characters) "Together, they from the mutant team known as…the X-Men." They FROM the mutant team? Not form–eff oh are emm–they "from" it? A simple transposing of two letters, but for me it stands out in a huge way. Maybe it’s been corrected in digital reprints or other reprint editions, but I’m pointedly reading the single issues that were actually put out at the time.

But to be frank on it…if the worst I see in editing is a spelling glitch and I’m not grousing about huge giant plot-holes or character inconsistencies…I’d say things are going pretty well on that front. Being human, I can forgive the only spelling error I’ve noticed in however many issues so far.

The art has an interesting flavor to it, feeling at once "typical ’90s" to me and yet definitely conveys an "older" tone just from the look, even though the story is pointedly set in the past. As I often find myself saying: the visuals don’t blow me away, but they were quite well for the issue and I didn’t particularly notice anything worth grousing about.

Given the real-world quantity of comics chronicling the adventures of the X-Men through the years and the amount of time purported to have passed for these characters…there is still a huge body of stories that could be told of the characters in this Age of Apocalypse timeline. At the time this was published, everything was ‘face value’ and this issue was the sole, primary glimpse into "the past" of the characters, giving us one of THE key stories–that of Apocalypse’s first strike against humanity as well as the fate of the Scarlet Witch.

And this has that feel…sort of like having all these contemporary issues, but then picking up an old issue and reading a good story that "still matters" in current continuity. While I’m consciously aware of plenty of "Untold Tales from the Age of Apocalypse" stories that eventually came out, this is the first and one of the best. We see a version of the characters both familiar yet different…but not yet as "dark" as they are by "present day." This gives us–as readers–the chance to witness the introductions of Rogue and Weapon X to the team, Apocalypse striking out, without having to solely be "told" it happened.

It’s also rather nice to get "just" a story of these X-Men that does not directly tie to the premise of the main epic, of bringing pieces together for the final showdown at the end of the Age of Apocalypse. Knowing solely the basic premise–that Xavier was killed in the past and Magneto formed the X-Men instead–one can easily read and enjoy this issue in and of itself as a one-shot without even having to read any of the other Age of Apocalypse issues.

To me, this truly is Age of Apocalypse done right…unlike most everything done SINCE the 1990s involving the timeline.

Age of Apocalypse Revisited: X-Calibre #1

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xcalibre001The Infernal Gallop

Writer: Warren Ellis
Penciller: Ken Lashley
Colorist: Joe Rosas
Lettering: Starkings/Comicraft
Inkers: Wegrzyn, Moy, Larosa
Separations: Digital Chameleon
Cover: Ken Lashley
Editor: Suzanne Gaffney
Published by: Marvel Comics
Cover Date: March 1995
Cover Price: $1.95

I was eager to get to this issue for what I remembered as a focus on Nightcrawler. While it’s not quite AS focused on the character as I thought I remembered, there’s still enough, and I found it rather interesting to revisit the character and address some perceived issues with more contemporary takes on the character.

In a quasi-cinematic or television-like way, the issue opens with an extended scene of a mutant being ferried and guided to Avalon…a haven for mutants and humans, in the Antarctic (a tamed Savage Land, apparently). We then jump back to the U.S., to Manhattan, where we catch up with Nightcrawler who is securing transit from America TO the Antarctic by way of Warren Worthington–Angel–at Heaven. Angel claims to have gone "legit" and not want to deal with "terrorists" like Magneto and his X-Men, but Kurt has none of it and we see there’s no love between the two. Meanwhile, Magneto converses with Mystique, informing her of why she will welcome her son and take him to Avalon to extract Destiny. Back in Avalon, the young mutant arrives and is introduced to Destiny…who promptly has a horrifying vision of the Apocalypse.

Visually, I quite enjoyed this issue. I really liked several of the panels of Nightcrawler in particular, and generally found myself rather appreciative of the way characters were shown. Aside from the art in and of itself I certainly appreciate what appears to my issue-by-issue eye to be a consistency in costuming with characters–and in this case specifically, Magneto. Nothing about him stands out as contradictory to other appearances…such contradictions being something some part of me pretty much would "expect" based on contemporary comics where the import seems to lie on the individual vision and touches over a consistency and continuity.

I like the story…from the pacing with the opening, getting into the heart of things; learning details of what Kurt’s to do, foreshadowing of what he’ll be facing, character appearances, and so on. I’m a little more conscious now of the author–that this is a Warren Ellis story, and in the back of my mind that influenced my reading, though this doesn’t exactly have the "feel" of a Warren Ellis story (whatever that would actually be). Yet I suppose I attribute stuff like the opening to an Ellis-style. There’s a darkness I did not recall, especially to Nightcrawler…but that puts the character in line with the contemporary version, putting that into a different light than I anticipated going into this issue.

I didn’t and don’t remember much detail from this series from all those years ago when I first read it, but this time through was rather enjoyable. I think even having overall broad-stroke memories of the Age of Apocalypse books, I’m getting added enjoyment from this re-reading project from the fact that I apparently never have actually gone back through and re-read the entire thing…so the faded memories and lack of details retained make the reading similar to reading something for the first time.

Of course…I’m especially looking forward to Amazing X-Men and X-Men Chronicles to finish out the month. But I’m also looking forward to the next issue of this mini and further experience with Nightcrawler.

Age of Apocalypse Revisited: Amazing X-Men #1

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amazingxmen001The Crossing Guards

Writer: Fabian Nicieza
Penciler: Andy Kubert
Inker: Matt Ryan
Color Art: Kevin Somers
Separation: Digital Chameleon
Lettering: Starkings/Comicraft
Cover: Andy Kubert
Editor: Bob Harras
Published by: Marvel Comics
Cover Date:
March 1995
Cover Price: $1.95

With this issue, we’re back to the X-Men "proper," as Storm and Quicksilver lead a squad of X-Men to assist with getting humans out of North America. In order to do so, however, they have to "hack" the High Council’s sentinels’ programming so they can be seen as friendlies and not just more mutants to be attacked on detection. Though they seek to help, their help’s not asked for. As the group preps, the distrust for the man called Bishop runs high as Magneto seems to be the only one who trusts him and believes that he might truly represent a chance to change the world before it ever went wrong.

It’s not really evident to me with this issue why I’ve long held this title to be my favorite of the Age of Apocalypse books–it might be the later issues that brought that to the fore and the way they lead into the end of things…but that’s something to be gotten to when I get to ’em.

This issue is another solid read with plenty of forward development in things as a whole if not overly so with any individual characters. Of course, it’s a team book so I wouldn’t necessarily expect a lot of individual character development. I certainly appreciate the Magneto/Bishop stuff, and rereading all these first issues has reminded me of why I’m such a fan of Magneto, as it WAS this saga 20 years ago that fully introduced me to the character, my prior experience having almost exclusively been Fatal Attractions and the animated series (which itself in its second season gave plenty to like with the character).

The story here is good, as is the art. I can be quite repetitive in talking about art with comics as I’m more a story guy, but with that–this issue’s art didn’t blow me away but it definitely provided strong visuals that certainly had played a part in defining this era of X-Men comics for me.

All in all, this was another enjoyable issue in the dawn of the Age of Apocalypse…keeping the "train" rolling and my interest high in continuing to relearn and revisit the entirety of the AoA epic.

Age of Apocalypse Revisited: Generation Next #1

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generationnext001From the Top

Created by: Bachalo & Lobdell
Inker: Mark Buckingham
Colors: Steve Buccellato/Electric Crayon
Lettering: Starkings/Comicraft
Cover: Chris Bachalo, Mark Buckingham
Editor: Bob Harras
Published by: Marvel Comics
Cover Date: March 1995
Cover Price: $1.95

On a more pronounced scale than X-Man #1, I remember disliking this series and so kinda "dreaded" "having to" read it to progress through the Age of Apocalypse saga. I know present-day I tend to not care for Bachalo‘s visual style, finding it cluttered and often hard to follow in the flow of just reading the story. But I actually rather enjoyed this issue.

The bulk of the issue follows a "training exercise" in which the younger mutants fight–Danger Room style–as training in use of their powers. First against each other, and then against their teachers–Colossus and Shadowcat, who prove to be quite ruthless and deadly, and encourage the same in their students. "Training" gets cut short with the appearance of Magneto, who (in his first "live" appearance to the kids) has Bishop in tow and seeks discovery of a possible time traveler…who, as it turns out may well be the sister Colossus thought killed. It will be up to this team of mutants to retrieve her.

As said, I haven’t really cared for Bachalo‘s work in more contemporary comics, and as such really was not looking forward to this issue. But I actually forgot as I read that this was a Bachalo-drawn issue, as the problems I’ve had with more recent stuff he’s done does not seem to be apparent here. I don’t know if that’s the inks, colors, pencil styles, or what. Whatever it is, I’m thankful, as this issue thusly has a distinct grittier, darker tone than the other issues I’ve read so far of the Age of Apocalypse #1s…setting it apart but not distractingly so.

The story isn’t bad…it doesn’t blow me away and is actually fairly cliché in its own way…but it works here, setting tone and showing the harshness of things these kids are facing (though we don’t get much explanation for Kitty’s behavior/personality compared to her non-AoA self).

While I have YET to read the Phalanx Covenant in full and really much with all the Generation X characters, I always found the timing of this interesting: by the end of the Age of Apocalypse stuff, there’d been equal time spent with Generation X as a title as this Generation Next…4 issues and 4 issues.

Not a bad read, certainly much more enjoyable than I remembered or expected…we’ll see what the later issues do for me.

Age of Apocalypse Revisited: Factor X #1

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factorx001Sinister Neglect

Writer: John Francis Moore
Penciler: Steve Epting
Inker: Al Milgrom
Lettering: Starkings/Comicraft
Colorist: Glynis Oliver
Cover: Steve Epting
Editor: Kelly Corvese
Published by: Marvel Comics
Cover Date: March 1995
Cover Price: $1.95

I’m beginning to consciously realize that some of my trepidation approaching these various Age of Apocalypse minis is that I apparently think of Astonishing X-Men, Amazing X-Men, and X-Men Chronicles as my favorites (along with the bookend Alpha/Omega issues). Any of these others are simply "other" and so part of me just isn’t as interested in the "idea" of them. Yet, that’s added to some relative surprise at enjoying these, thinking I’ve "forgotten" how much I enjoyed them…but if I didn’t enjoy them as a kid, there’d be no reason for Age of Apocalypse to reign as one of my all-time favorite X-stories.

The issue’s cover shows us Cyclops, Havok, (Dark) Beast, Northstar, and Aurora…Sinister’s "Elite" group of enforcers. Not a bad image, and certainly conveys the menace they exude…this definitely shows a group one would PROBABLY not want to mess with. Sort of generic, kinda iconic if forgettably so, but it works.

The story is a blend of Sinister’s narration as he prepares to fully set into motion his own plan against Apocalypse while we follow Cyclops, Havok, and the others about their business in the early days of Sinister’s disappearance. We’re shown the tense/adversarial relationship between Cyclops and Havok, and the latter’s jealousy/ambition; more of the atrocity from Beast, and that Angel’s "Heaven" is definitely neutral ground for anyone who can pay.

Showing the change in myself and the notion of picking up on new things each time through even a familiar story–there’s a snippet of conversation in the bar scene with reference to Lazlo and letters of transit that made me grin, picking up the obvious-to-me-now reference to Casablanca.

I rather liked the juxtaposition of Sinister’s narrative with the unfolding events–there’s something rather identifyable in the narration, in branching off on one’s own and wondering what others are doing without us after a period together.

The issue’s visuals are quite good, and aside from some slight weirdness to me in Cannonball’s appearance in a couple panels, everything else worked well and only stood out to me in appreciating how much I liked the way things looked.

In some ways, I want to judge this issue simply as another #1, but it (as the other titles also do) draws heavily on the events of X-Men: Alpha which in some ways makes this a #2 issue. We’re (re) introduced to several characters, others are furthered, and we’re introduced to still others, while things are set up for what’s to come: Beast and what he’s doing, Havok and his romance with a human, Cyclops being basically good despite currently working for Sinister and Apocalypse, and Sinister having something major up his sleeve in going against Apocalypse.

This title and the main group of characters it focuses on being "villains" adds another "side" to the overall story and rounds things out, giving some depth to even the "bad guys," rather than leaving them as two-dimensional strawmen to throw the X-Men against. I enjoyed this issue, and look forward to others…as well as the alluded-to reference to Havok’s incident in Weapon X #1.

That footnote reminded me that these issues don’t have an exact reading order printed in them…this is Factor X #1 with characters who appear in the general AoA continuity and thus other titles as well, and more is happening than is necessarily focused on for any given character in only one series…particularly high-ranking characters such as Havok and Cyclops. Which is part of the fun of continuity–for me–and the appreciation of footnotes in issues I read.

Age of Apocalypse Revisited: X-Man #1

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xman001_thumb[5]Breaking Away

Writer: Jeph Loeb
Pencils: Steve Skroce
Inks: Sellers, Smith, Larosa, Conrad
Lettering: Starkings/Comicraft
Colors: Mike Thomas
Editor: Lisa Patrick
Cover: Steve Skroce, Cam Smith
Published by: Marvel Comics
Cover Date: March 1995
Cover Price: $1.95

Well. That was a surprisingly fun re-read. X-Man #1…an issue I knew was–for purposes of this Age of Apocalypse Revisited project–at the head of the list, something I’d have to read pretty much first thing…but was thankful Astonishing X-Men was in that first bit as well. Though the cover is distinctive, I had it in my head to somewhat dread reading this issue.

The cover is rather simple yet quite iconic. I like the bold red (plain as it is) of the background, with a powered-out Nate Grey (the X-Man) standing there over what is either simply rubble or rubble and an Infinite that he’s taken down. It’s bright, it grabs the attention, and is (based on the editions I have) the only one of these first issues to not carry the "badge" of ENTER NOW: THE AGE OF APOCALYPSE. This issue’s cover simply proclaims THE AGE OF APOCALYPSE BEGINS NOW! And as such, with no other fancy logo-ing, the typical (for the time) X-Men corner-box and such, this appears simply to be a premiere issue for something new and long-lasting…little did I know at the time I first read it 20 years ago.

The issue’s story picks up with what appears to be a flashback (turns out to be a memory) as we get a glimpse of Nate’s escape, as well as his "discovery" of the Xavier mansion as Magneto’s mission-setting wraps up. His walk on the astral plane or psychic projection or such is cut short by Forge, as we see Nate has unleashed an incredible amount of energy, causing plenty of destruction and possibly jeopardizing his friends. With apologies he resumes his usual role, and the group makes their way to another town for the night’s performance–they’re rather effectively masquerading as a simple traveling theater company. Of course, this being a first issue of the last days of the AoA, things are bound to "happen" and the group is attacked and Nate leaps into action to defend those he can…and as he does, a young mutant discovers she IS a mutant as she leaps to warn him of an attack from behind.

I really dug the art on this issue. Skroce‘s work really stood out to me. I particularly liked the look of Cyclops and Magneto…and all the other characters are quite well-done as well. There’s a look both familiar yet distinctive about them, and I consider myself quite impressed–to my surprise–at the visual feel of the issue.

As indicated above–this was quite a surprise to me as a whole, that I really enjoyed this issue. While I know what comes down the road, in and of itself this issue hooked me. As a start to the Age of Apocalypse proper–the "extended universe" of sorts, beyond Magneto’s group, I think this did a great job.

Age of Apocalypse Revisited: X-Men Alpha #1

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xmenalpha001Beginings…

Story: Scott Lobdell
Dialogue: Mark Waid
Pencils: Roger Cruz w/Steve Epting
Inks: Tim Townsend w/Dan Panosian
Letters: Starkings w/Comicraft
Colors: Steve Buccellato w/Electric Crayon
Editor: Bob Harras
Cover: Joe Madureira, Tim Townsend
Published by: Marvel Comics
Cover Date: February 1995
Cover Price: $3.95

The cover proclaims A NEW World! A NEW Beginning! This issue sports a fancy "chromium" cover, and is itself a rather iconic image–to me, at least–of the "new" X-Men, as brought together by Magneto. We see Weapon X (Wolverine) front ‘n center on the front panel of this wraparound cover. Blink, Sunfire, Bishop, Rogue, Magneto, Jean Grey, Quicksilver, Nightcrawler, and Gambit round out the bunch here. Open the issue up to see the back cover as well and we see Apocalypse in the background, with Sabretooth and Wild Child in the foreground, Jubilee and Colossus behind, and some flying stormtroopers (Infinites, I believe) filling out the sky-space of the image.

There are no ads in this issue. 48 pages of story, plus the cover–that’s it. For "only" $3.95. Sorta pricey "back in the day," but quite a bargain by today’s standards. I wouldn’t be surprised to see something like this priced around $9.99 by Marvel nowadays–and shocked to see it under $7.99.

Though this issue kicks off the Age of Apocalypse epic, it does not itself carry an Age of Apocalypse badge–this is a "bookend" issue that serves as a prologue to the entirety of the event encompassing ten or so titles across the four months.

We open on a wasteland, where we meet Bishop–whose mind was damaged by the energies that ripped Legion and the other X-Men away in X-Men #41. We find that he’s wandered for the 20 years since. Here, he’s become the focus of an attack from Unus and his troopers who were chasing a young human who found momentary hope in Bishop. The X-Men arrive–Magneto’s X-Men–and the battle is joined. Emerging victorious, the X-Men are then confronted by Bishop, who recognizes Magneto and levels some major accusations at him. Magneto sedates him and they take Bishop for questioning.

Meanwhile, we meet Beast–Henry McCoy–a mad scientist figure experimenting on mutants. Havok touches base, and the mutant (Blob) being experimented on attacks, and the pair are "rescued" by Cyclops–with long hair and only one eye, and see that he and Havok have a horrible relationship. The two are part of Apocalypse’s group, by way of Sinister–who arrives and chastises the two for fighting, and then speaks cryptically and leaves. The scene shifts to a bar maintained by Angel–Heaven–where he’s confronted by Gambit, who is looking for Magneto. We shift to the X-Men, questioning Bishop, then to Apocalypse and his upper ranks as he reveals plans to destroy the last of humanity.

The story shifts to Weapon X and Jean meeting up with the Human High Council, and then back to Magneto’s group. "Feedback" from Rogue touching him leads to Magneto seeing fragments of a universe that might have been, leaving the older mutant troubled. He immediately sends Nightcrawler to seek Destiny in order to get confirmation of his vision. Meanwhile, Sinister’s gone missing, and Apocalypse nudges things into motion. The X-Men know "something" is up, but not specifics. While off in space, a certain crystallization wave heads toward Earth.

I don’t usually like summarizing an issue so thoroughly–but there is a LOT going on here. And it all works, for me. There’s a lot of vagueness and toss-off references scattered throughout that don’t necessarily make a lot of sense now, in context of just this one issue–but having read this before and knowing the characters, I follow them quite well. This sets up the various books that make up the Age of Apocalypse saga, introducing us to core elements–the characters and places that will have significant roles in the story to come.

There’s a definite sense of "history" here, and it feels like this could easily BE just a random issue I picked up, amidst an ongoing continuity and not the first actual glimpse at the entirety of said continuity. This is–to the reader–a new world, a beginning of an "Event," but for the characters involved this is simply the present, 20 years after a key incident in Israel.

I remember being quite eager to get into the Age of Apocalypse as a whole and being fascinated by this new version of all the characters. Despite the dark setting of the story, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this, with a familiarity and warm sense of nostagia as I did so.

The art is slightly stylistic at points, and I’m not particularly familiar with Roger Cruz‘s name…but this issue being what it is, none of the art bothered me…I was simply a kid again, enjoying seeing all these characters and where they were, and trying to glean where the story was going from this single issue.

It’s refreshing to read this issue again, and getting a sense of pureness or "authenticity" from what I so enjoyed about this event…before everything that’s come in the past ten years or so as things were changed, pulled from, and generally mucked about with in attempt to get as much out of this story as possible beyond its relatively self-contained nature in 1995.

In short, this issue holds up extremely well to my memory, is still very enjoyable, and leaves me eager to get into the heart of the story.

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