I'm sure there are a few of you who are questioning the fact that I've never read Age of Apocalypse before. It does seem somewhat unbelievable that the guy who writes the BLOG OF X hasn't read a page of this classic story. I pride myself on having a fairly solid mutant knowledge base, yet clearly this is a giant hole in my studies. On top of that, AoA is considered by many to be one of the greatest X-Men events of all time (despite its VERY 90s style). All of this added up to a clear solution: I would collect the four volumes of the Complete Age of Apocalypse trade paperbacks and document my first time reading them! You can follow my progress here in written form, and also on my YouTube channel where I will review the series in four edited videos as well.
BEFORE I STARTED
It should be explained what I knew at the outset of this task. I knew this story was HUGE, comprising nearly 60 issues, and that it centered on a possible dark future for our X-Men characters. Published from 1995 to 1996, this elseworlds story is widely regarded as essential reading, if only for its examinations of classic X-Villains like Magneto and Apocalypse. As usual, humanizing the villains is a vital element of the X-Men mythos. Magneto's evolution from hardened villain to the hero of this particular series is a perfect example. I also knew that it suffered, or so people tell me, from many of the qualities that hampered other 90s events: ridiculous costumes, inconsistent art, flat storytelling, and far too many flashy characters.
HOW I READ THE STORY
Although I have access to the Marvel Unlimited app, I wanted to read this on paper for my first time. Sadly, Marvel doesn't currently produce the saga in paper form. Most editions are either out of print or waiting to be printed in a new set of Omnibus books. So instead I went on the dreaded eBay and found reasonably-priced copies of the four volumes in the Complete Age of Apocalypse Epic. This allows me to read one giant TPB at a time and then discuss it with you. Amazon has a few copies left of the AoA DAWN, ALPHA, REIGN, and OMEGA trade paperbacks that collect most of the same materials. Dawn is basically what I read but it has some different material in that it also includes portions from the previous event Legion Quest. I might try that out to compare them all at the end of this experiment. If you have any comments or questions please be sure to leave them in the comments section down below.
The Complete Age of Apocalypse Epic: VOLUME 1
I will start with the frustrating fact I learned right off the bat. Volume 1 isn't where this story starts. It's almost completely a prequel book and in that way it feels very disjointed. This made for an incredibly odd read. Some have recommended that I should've read Legion Quest first, since it's the story that creates our fractured future storyline. I might take the time to try this at the end but for now it felt like trying to justify one event by connecting it to another. I felt that if Age of Apocalypse couldn't stand alone then it wasn't going to be worthy.
The story centers around a possible future where Charles Xavier (Professor X) has died at the hands of his time-travelling son Legion long before he had a chance to start his school for mutants. This creates an alternate future where Magneto becomes leader of the X-Men as a way of continuing his friend's legacy. Only one character is aware that this timeline is an abomination and not what should've been. That's the 90s time-travelling mutant Bishop. Everyone else is completely unaware of what has happened.
In this future, there weren't any mutants there to stop the villain Apocalypse when he rose to power. As a result he was largely successful in his ambitions of taking over the earth and crushing all the humans and weaker mutants who aren't worthy of survival in his world. He has taken North America as his own and wiped out a large portion of the humans there. Among his followers are some of our favorite mutants such as Beast and Cyclops. Apocalypse is using the United States as his home base while he prepares a worldwide assault, while Magneto raises a resistance intent on forging a future based on the vision of Xavier who believed in mutant-human coexistence. Watching to see when our favorite characters appear and where they pledge their allegiance is a big part of the fun in these early issues.
So what did I think of volume 1? I will definitely say I was disappointed and I almost considered giving up on this entire operation. The structure of these first 10 issues is so inconsistent that it felt like I was reading several unrelated comics all at once. And in a way, I did. These were one-shot (or two part) standalone prequel stories that are collected into a single volume. The art varies wildly and the plotlines are hard to tie together since they can take place years apart chronologically.
Some of the issues were captivating and powerful while others were confusing and poorly drawn (I know, I know...it's the 90s). I enjoyed the storyline of the Summers brothers and how their belief in Apocalypse was shaken when they met their real father. But the X-Man storyline was very confusing and only barely seemed to connect. The character is annoying and I couldn't wait to be done with his issues. Plus the 4-issue Blink series - which is nearly half of this collected edition - drags, has mediocre art, and seems almost completely useless.
The art is gonna be a big challenge for some people I believe. The colors are flamboyant and wild, the costumes and hairstyles are often ludicrous, and there is an excessive amount of booty and crotch perspectives throughout. Apparently low angle art was the style of the day. You can use this image from Blink issue 1, page 1, as a sample of what I mean. Enjoy the Rogue crotch-shot friends!
It took me a while to get over that hurdle in this first volume. I think the scattershot collection of books only makes that challenge more difficult.
So then what works? The concept is great. The idea of a dark future has long been a staple of the X-Men universe. Days of Future Past, the two-issue Claremont powerhouse story, being among the best X-Men stories ever told. Age of Apocalypse is something of a long-form deep dive into similar waters, although instead of a dark future with humans hunting mutants, we get Apocalypse and his army of horsemen wiping out the unworthy humans. It's a great idea that I hope will have more to offer in the second volume since that's where the story 'begins' properly. I can only hope.
OVERALL SCORE for Volume 1: 6/10
Although some of the wind was taken out of my sails for this experiment, I still have some hope that this will be turned around. I have faith in those of you who have encouraged me to take this journey and I am excited for part TWO!
Thanks for reading along and I will see you here next Friday for another BLOG of X! Here's an eBay affiliate link, as usual, if you want to hunt for some X-Men keys AND support this blog at the same time.
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