Sunday, October 30, 2016

X-MEN: AGE OF APOCALYPSE OMNIBUS

Hardcover, 2012. Collects 1995-96's UNCANNY X-MEN #320 - 321, X-MEN #40 - 41, CABLE #20, X-MEN ALPHA, AMAZING X-MEN #1 - 4, ASTONISHING X-MEN #1 - 4, FACTOR X #1 - 4, GAMBIT & THE X-TERNALS #1 - 4, GENERATION NEXT #1 - 4, WEAPON X #1 - 4, X-CALIBRE #1 - 4, X-MAN #1 - 4, X-MEN OMEGA, AGE OF APOCALYPSE: THE CHOSEN and X-MEN ASHCAN #2.

"Age of Apocalypse" is probably the one X-crossover from the nineties which is held in some esteem by most all fans. It's a legitimately creative and well-coordinated enterprise which dares to ask the question, "What would the world look like if Professor X had been killed twenty years earlier by his time-traveling son?"

This is one of the few classic X-events collected as an Omnibus rather than a simple oversize hardcover. I'm not sure why Marvel bothers with one distinction over the other, but it seems worth noting. Other than the branding and trade dress, however, this volume is essentially done in the exact same style as any of the prior books I've covered here in recent months.

"But wait!" you say, your spider-sense tingling. "Didn't you skip the AGE OF APOCALYPSE PRELUDE trade paperback listed on your X-MEN COLLECTED EDITIONS page? The book that contains UNCANNY X-MEN 319 and X-MEN 38 and 39, bridging the gap between PHALANX COVENANT and this very Omnibus?" The answer is yes, I did. That book, which also includes X-FACTOR 108 and 109, UNCANNY 320 and 321, X-MEN 40 and 41, and CABLE 20, was released in 2011 but I've never bothered to pick it up for a couple reasons: One, some of the reprint contents are identical to this Omnibus, covering the "Legion Quest" crossover which kicks things off. But I've never been afraid of double-dipping -- within reason -- in the past, so the other reason is that the PRELUDE volume is notorious for having been printed on extremely cheap newsprint-style paper. So between those two issues, I just haven't been able to bring myself to purchase it without a really steep discount (like, say 75% off at minimum). Thus, for now, that small hole in my ongoing X-chronology remains regrettably unfilled.

Now, with that disclaimer out of the way, our Omnibus opens up with the afore-mentioned "Legion Quest" storyline, running through UNCANNY X-MEN 320, X-MEN 40, UNCANNY 321, X-MEN 41, and CABLE 20. In this short crossover, Storm, Psylocke, Iceman, and Bishop travel back in time in an attempt to stop Professor X's son, Legion, from killing Magneto. They succeed, but Legion accidentally slays his own father instead, altering the timeline in numerous ways.


We then enter the "Age of Apocalypse" with the X-MEN ALPHA one-shot, a story by Scott Lobdell, Mark Waid, Roger Cruz, and Steve Epting which sets up the "AoA" world; a place where the tyrannical Apocalypse rules Earth with an iron fist, resisted by the X-Men under the command of Magneto.

I've gotta say, though it's not really here nor there, that I've never quite been sure why Mark Waid is involved in this book; he scripts both the "AoA" bookends over Lobdell's plots but is involved nowhere else in the event, and his assignment as regular X-MEN scripter is still about a year away at this point. This seems an odd job for him.

From there it's on with the monthly series, organized in something resembling a decent reading order: GENERATION NEXT #1 by Lobdell and Chris Bachalo, ASTONISHING X-MEN #1 by Lobdell and Joe Madureira, GAMBIT AND THE XTERNALS #1 by Fabian Nicieza and Tony Daniel, WEAPON X #1 by Larry Hama and Adam Kubert, FACTOR X #1 by John Francis Moore and Steve Epting, X-MAN #1 by Jeph Loeb and Steve Skroce, X-CALIBRE #1 by Warren Ellis and Ken Lashley, and AMAZING X-MEN #1 by Nicieza and Andy Kubert.


This same order then repeats again for the round of issue number 2s, save for X-CALIBRE moving up in the order ahead of FACTOR-X and X-MAN. Then we have X-CALIBRE 3, FACTOR X 3, ASTONISHING X-MEN 3, AMAZING X-MEN 3, X-MAN 3, WEAPON X 3, GENERATION NEXT 3, and GAMBIT AND THE X-TERNALS 3. Finally, the saga concludes with the fourth installment of each title: ASTONISHING X-MEN 4, GENERATION NEXT 4, X-MAN 4, X-CALIBRE 4, FACTOR X 4, WEAPON X 4, AMAZING X-MEN 4. After this, last up is X-MEN: OMEGA by Lobdell, Waid, and Cruz.

AGE OF APOCALYPSE: THE CHOSEN, a text-and-pin-up sourcebook, and the AGE OF APOCALYPSE ASHCAN preview book round things out as we enter the bonus section. Beyond those two issues, there are nineteen pages of special features, beginning with house ads, posters, and an introduction to a prior collection with nothing identifying who wrote it.


(And for the umpteenth time, if you have an introduction handy -- even if it's an old one -- why would you not put it at the beginning of the book??? They did this with X-CUTIONER'S SONG, using Fabian Nicieza's intro from the 1994 trade, but no X-collection, either published before or after that one, has followed suit with this painfully obvious concept. Every last book with a perfectly usable intro shuffles it to the end like some bonus artifact rather than a proper foreword. Introductions don't have expiration dates, Marvel. They're viable pretty much forever.)

There are also monthly "X-Facts" pages from the duration of the event (these were the X-books' specific versions of "Bullpen Bulletins" during the period where Marvel had broken apart into multiple "fiefdoms", each ruled by its own editor-in-chief). Lastly we have covers of prior trades, and the new cover for this edition by Billy Tan, free of logos and trade dress.


The AGE OF APOCALYPSE OMNIBUS is a nice, thick book, as are many of these X-centric hardcovers. Its binding is sewn, though in the four years since I bought it, some of the threads have come loose on my copy. Some of the reproduction is sloppy, which is unfortunate and seems to have happened more than once with these mid-nineties collections. Is it just that hard to restore early computer coloring? It should be noted, however, that my copy of the Omnibus is the first printing and the book received a second print earlier this year -- hopefully the shoddy reproduction has been fixed in the later edition.

I'm also not sure about the reading order presented here. Mind you, I'm certain it makes sense; Marvel is usually pretty good about these things, but there are a few cliffhangers left unresolved for many pages due to what appears to be an attempt to keep things as close to publication order as possible. Some of the issues are shuffled around in each "round", but none are printed completely out of order (i.e., we have all the number 1s in a row, all the number 2s in a row, etc.). Personally, I would've preferred the best possible reading order, even if it meant, say, three consecutive issues of one title lumped together or something.


But then I could be wrong there; it's been a very long time since I last read this crossover -- even longer than since the last time I re-read all my other nineties X-titles. This may come as a shock, given how much time I've spent in the past few months raving about the various X-Men events, but -- I'm not a big fan of "Age of Apocalypse".

Yes, the one nineties X-crossover which is generally liked and respected is the one in which I have the least interest. Am I an auto-contrarian? Well, maybe sometimes. But not in this case. For whatever reason, the crossover has never resonated with me, not even when it was first published. It's always felt like a waste of time; a diversion "stealing" four issues from all the regular ongoing X-titles. But then, I've never been a fan of parallel universes or alternate futures in general. Outside of Spock's goatee and Uhura's midriff, for example, STAR TREK's "Mirror Universe" has never impressed me. DEEP SPACE NINE's annual excursions there were often my least favorite episodes each season.


Looking at more familiar source material, I've never been wowed by "Days of Future Past", either. I like the present day stuff well enough -- the X-Men vs. Mystique's Brotherhood of Evil Mutants -- but the parts in the future do nothing for me, and every time the X-titles revisit that world, my interest level drops like a stone.

So when we're talking about a massive thirty-ish-part parallel universe event, my excitement isn't exactly piqued. I do recognize "Age of Apocalypse" as a fine idea and a very well-coordinated crossover (good work, Bob Harras!), and I like that Bishop, one of my favorite X-Men, is utilized in a creative way as the lynchpin for restoring the timeline to normal, but my overall opinion of the event is: "Meh."

Nonetheless, I'm glad Marvel gave it the Omnibus treatment. "AoA" is a seminal saga in X-history and, as noted above, it's pretty much the only X-crossover from the nineties regarded with any level of critical approval. Someday I'll give it another read, and perhaps it'll finally click into place for me. But for now, it remains the classic X-event for which I have the least amount of rose-tinted affection.

Available on Amazon: Original Printing (reviewed above; out of print) | 2016 printing

5 comments:

  1. Am I an auto-contrarian? Well, maybe sometimes.

    Sometimes I think you're an auto-contrarian just to *me*. :)

    I love AoA. So much so that I made the second printing of this omnibus one of my few X-related omnibus purchases, just to have the whole thing collected in one spot. This came out right in the sweet spot of my reading, when I was old enough to know what was coming and get really hyped up about stuff, but still young enough to think everything that was happening was all part of some big editorial plan.

    I remember hearing about the "cancellation" of the X-books in the run-up and being legit horrified that my favorite comics were being cancelled despite being some of the best selling books out there (how naive I was). I remember my jaw dropping at the way the imminent end of reality in "Legion Quest" led to stuff like Gambit & Rogue kissing for the first time or Wolverine seemingly killing Sabretooth, of rushing home from the store with the Alpha and tearing through it twice in succession, soaking up the details of the new reality.

    The tone, the style, from the dystopia to the altered costumes, even just little things like the altered map of the US with the Horsemen zones detailed, absolutely captivated me and had a huge influence on me. It wasn't just the idea of a dark alternate reality - the X-books had done that plenty - it was the scale and level of commitment that impressed me. This wasn't just a two issue story like DoFP, this was taking over the entire franchise for four months. It was a completely immersive experience, and I ate it all up.

    In hindsight, it probably represents the high water mark of my initial fandom, the last point at which I fully took in whatever Marvel was selling me without reservation or criticism. I know in the immediate aftermath, coming out of this crossover, there were some story developments I wasn't particularly fond of (like Feral Wolverine and Gene Nation), and then "Onslaught" (which I was excited about in the run-up but in the end recognized as being kind of mess) was the last gasp of my initial "I love whatever they're doing" fandom.

    Personally, I would've preferred the best possible reading order, even if it meant, say, three consecutive issues of one title lumped together or something.

    Yeah, it's really not in the best possible reading order. It's okay for the first half, for the most part, but by the end, there's a lot more clustering of issues involved. The first three ASTONISHING issues, IIR, basically tell one continuous story, then the 4th issue ties in to the climax of the whole thing, X-MAN #1 and #2 are pretty standalone, but #3 leads directly into #4, stuff like that.

    My other gripe with this collection is that it leaves out the two X-CHRONICLES issues (the alternate version of the quarterly X-MEN UNLIMITED) and the two-issue X-UNIVERSE (which showed what the Marvel heroes were up to in the A0A reality and tied into the "European humans nuke America" plotline from WEAPON X). Both are, narratively, a little outside the scope of the main story and I think they get collected in the "Tales from the Age of Apocalypse" companion omnibus that collects all the post-AoA AoA stories, but they deserved to be here, since they were released as part of the initial event (unlike the rest of the stuff in that companion omni).

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    1. I remember hearing about the "cancellation" of the X-books in the run-up and being legit horrified that my favorite comics were being cancelled despite being some of the best selling books out there (how naive I was).

      Our X-book was cancelled for good at the end of Legion Quest in 1996. Keeping the readership in economically viable level probably was a mission impossebleu with 52 to 68 monthly pages to cover anyhow sensibly anything going on in the Americas. It probably was a good way to go.

      We did still mostly get the AoA in one-off publications and on our anthology book, and yay for that.

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    2. "Sometimes I think you're an auto-contrarian just to *me*. :)"

      That's a fair assessment, Teebore, even if it's unintentional!

      I'm with you on being taken aback by the cancellation of all the X-books, and totally buying into it. I think I learned about it in an issue of DISNEY ADVENTURES magazine, of all places, and I was shocked and dismayed. Of course I eventually figured they had to return to the original universe eventually, or it would screw with the rest of the Marvel Universe. The X-Men would never again be able to guest-star in other series! But it took a while for me to figure that out.

      I do find it odd that the X-CHRONICLES books were omitted, though I think the reason was so they could fit "Legion Quest" in instead. Personally I would've been okay with leaving that story out, though, since it's already in the AGE OF APOCALYPSE PRELUDE book mentioned above -- and if that were the only way to get "Legion Quest", I would probably own that trade today despite my misgivings about its paper quality.

      Wow, Teemu. The most popular comic in the U.S. was canceled in Finland at, arguably, the height of its American popularity (at least sales-wise). Stuff like that fascinates me!

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  2. That is weird about the previous introductions being printed with other bonus material at the end. When I see older prefaces and introductions printed in later collections or anniversary editions of prose books, they’re up front, usually in reverse chronological order with the edition-at-hand’s new one first. Even if they’re statted replica pages rather than being reformatted for the new edition, more in the vein of artifacts than prose to be read as prose, they belong at the start or perhaps at whatever part of the new book reprints what they originally preceded, maybe facing reprints of the appropriate previous editions’ covers.

    // It's always felt like a waste of time; a diversion "stealing" four issues from all the regular ongoing X-titles. //

    Although I am a fan of alternate futures and parallel universes, in moderation, the way Marvel set this up was rather a pain in the ass for retailers and — from what I recall at the time —  at least some readers as well. The fact that the only X-title interesting me was Generation X, which got interrupted for four issues of Age of Apocalypse only four issues into its own fledgling run, didn’t help.

    The lack of X-Men Chronicles and X-Universe in the Omnibus doesn’t seem right, like Austin says.

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    1. And Marvel even does reformat many of these intros to the new books; they just then cram them in back for some reason. It's so frustrating!

      "Canceling" GENERATION X after only four issues was a little weird.

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