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Wednesday, April 17, 2019

X-amining X-Men (vol. 2) #41

"Dreams Die!"
February 1995

In a Nutshell
Legion accidentally kills Xavier in the past, ending reality.

Writer: Fabian Nicieza
Pencilers: Andy Kubert & Matt Ryan
Inker/Finishes: Matt Ryan
Letterers: Oakley & NJQ
Colorists: Kevin Somers/Digital Chameleon
Editor: Bob Harras
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco

Plot
As Legion attacks Magneto twenty years in the past, the X-Men who followed him to that time attempt to stop him. In the present, Lilandra contacts Professor X, telling him a crystallization wave launched by the M'Kraan crystal is destroying worlds, and it's heading towards Earth. In the past, the battle between Legion, Magneto and the X-Men draws the attention of Apocalypse, who decides it's time for the order of ascension to begin, in which only the fittest will survive. In Haifa, Iceman uses his power to freeze all the water in Legion's body, seemingly stopping his attack. But Legion restores himself and, having overpowered Magneto, prepares to strike a killing blow. Just then, Xavier throws himself between Legion & Magneto, taking the strike intended for Magneto, killing himself in the process. Having slain his own father, Legion blinks out of existence, and the X-Men disappear as well, save for Bishop, who is left behind, his mind damaged by the energy that ripped away Legion & the X-Men. In the present, the crystallization wave reaches Earth, and as it approaches the X-Men, Rogue reaches out and kisses Gambit, just as all of reality transforms into crystal, then shatters.

Firsts and Other Notables
Xavier dies in this issue, after intercepting a killing blow from Legion meant for Magneto. As a result, all the X-Men and Legion disappear from the past (since Xavier now never formed the X-Men/fathered Legion, and yes, that’s a paradox, because he was killed by the son he never lived to father), with the exception of Bishop who, like with Cable in Uncanny #321, as a result of being a temporal anomaly (ie being a time traveler twice removed) is left in the past with his mind scrambled (which is the condition he’ll be in when “Age of Apocalypse” begins).


As a result of Xavier’s death in the past, the main reality is wiped out by the crystallization wave, the idea being that without Xavier to form the X-Men, there’s no Phoenix to repair the M’Kraan crystal after Emperor D’Ken opens it. As a result, it spreads unchecked and wipes out the universe; the crystallization effect in the present day is merely reality adjusting to the new “crystallized” state of being as a result of the changes in the past.


One quick note on the creation of the "Age of Apocalypse" timeline by events in this issue: by 1994, the "rules" of time travel had been pretty well-established within the Marvel Universe (laid down, in large part, by editor Mark Gruenwald over the years). Traveling through time simply creates a new alternate timeline, it doesn't wipe any other timelines from existence. So Kate Pryde (and later Rachel Summers) can go to the past, but the events of their future still occur, no matter what they can do. They can use their knowledge of the future to make sure the new reality in which they find themselves doesn't go down the same path as their reality, but even if it did, it would just mean there's two timelines where Sentinels wiped out mutants, put the survivors in camps, etc. Ditto Bishop and his efforts to stop the X-Traitor - the X-Men of his timeline will always be betrayed, but maybe he can stop these X-Men from befalling the same fate.

But "Age of Apocalypse" is presented differently. Under the existing rules, Legion's actions would create the world of "Age of Apocalypse", but not affect the "main" timeline - he would have created a splintered, alternate timeline as soon as he arrived in the past (ie there's one timeline where Legion goes back in time and kills his father, and another timeline where he doesn't). But his actions instead wipe out the reality he original hails from because (I believe; this is never really explicitly laid out) of the way the X-Men are connected to the M'Kraan crystal, and because of the way the crystal affects reality. So without the X-Men to stop the crystal's expansion, it destroys their existence, and the audience simply shifts over to following the adventures of the X-Men in the "Age of Apocalypse" reality (we'll get into the mechanics of how the "main" reality is restored - and the how AoA reality continues to exist - when we get to X-Men: Omega). 

As the crystallization wave approaches, Rogue kisses Gambit, the first time the pair have shared romantic physical contact with each other. It’s basically the “crystallization cliffhanger” for this issue, and the ramifications of that kiss will drive a plot line for Rogue, Gambit and Iceman coming out of “Age of Apocalypse”, ultimately leading to the whole “Gambit helped facilitate the Morlock Massacre” reveal.


The final pages of the issue shows reality crystallization, and features snippets of the other series’ “cliffhanger” moments as the crystal wave hits them (excluding Uncanny, which has no such moment, and Cable, since the events of Cable #20 occur contemporaneously to this issue as Cable & Domino remain with the present day X-Men in the Israel desert). One scene included that doesn’t appear elsewhere looks to be Adam-X (the X-Treme!!!!) confronting someone who is probably meant to be Erik the Red, as Nicieza continues to try to develop the character via any means possible.


In the past, the fight between Legion, Magneto and the X-Men prompts Apocalypse to realize the time for him to make his move has come, roughly a decade before his “sinister” associate had predicted (clearly a reference to Mr. Sinister, suggesting a closer association between the two than had previously been shown, something that will be explored further in "Age of Apocalypse" and other later stories). This, then, is the catalyst that will launch the Age of Apocalypse, as Apocalypse sets about testing the world ten years before he did in the main reality, and without a fully formed team of X-Men to immediately oppose him.


Lilandra drops in to holographically tell Xavier about the reality crystallization wave spreading across the universe, suggesting to Xavier that his X-Men have failed in the past. It also gives Lilandra an opportunity to point out they’re lives are ending as they lived so much of their time together, physically apart, but together in spirit.


One final observation on the whole "the events in the past are taking place twenty years ago instead of in a specific year" thing: if we take that as true while reading it now, in 2019, then the events in the past are taking place in 1999, or five years after the story was published. Not at all what was intended (or what we should do) but something kind of fun to think about.

A Work in Progress
Psylocke is back to having short hair.


Past Xavier communicates telepathically with Psylocke, only the second time he’s done so with a fellow telepath. There’s no footnote, but the first time would be his encounter with the future Shadow King in X-Men #117.


That issue is referenced again when Xavier recognizes the adult Storm as the little girl he encountered in Cairo.


The encounter with Cable in Uncanny #321 has unblocked whatever restraints Iceman had subconsciously put on his powers, allowing him to freeze all the water in Legion’s body (as opposed to his usual tactic of encasing people in an ice sheaf).


Shortly before he dives in front of Legion’s attack, Xavier says he can’t concentrate enough to use his powers, which seems like a pretty lame excuse, but I appreciate Niceiza writing in an explanation so I don’t have to ask “why didn’t Xavier stop Legion telepathically?”


The Grim 'n' Gritty 90s
There’s a mild gimmick to this issue’s cover, as the logo and cover text is printed with silver ink.

Austin's Analysis
Given that it wraps-up both the immediate story and all of reality, this issue concludes "Legion Quest" in suitably epic fashion, as the X-Men fail to stop Legion from altering the timeline when Xavier sacrifices himself to save Magneto (and, uh, doom all reality). Though Kubert seems a little off his game in places - even in the pages where Ron Garney isn't pitching in, some of the figure work is scratchier than usual for Kubert, and it's not always clear where the characters are in relation to each other or their surroundings - there's still a tremendous amount of energy on the pages along with a larger-than-life scope, and Nicieza does his best to ramp up the pathos, from Magneto's bewilderment as he fights for his life, to Cyclops, Phoenix & Archangel's "seasoned pro" reaction to the approaching crystallization wave, to Rogue & Gambit's desperate first/last kiss.

The real standout character, though, is Past Magneto, as he desperately tries to defend himself against Legion while also arguing against the notion of executing him for crimes he has yet to commit, and as with the previous chapter, it does a lot to setup Magneto as the central figure of "Age of Apocalypse". Here, Legion essentially becomes the kind of maniacal villain he accuses Magneto of later becoming which, when combined with Xavier's sacrifice on Magneto's behalf, realistically sells the idea that Magneto would instead become someone who would stand up against the kind of villains he sees Legion as being. It is, to borrow a phrasing, nigh-operatic, especially when combined with the tragedy of Bishop, his mind shattered, left behind in a world he doesn't know, and the helplessness of the present day X-Men, as they can do little but watch the end of existence wash over them, and it is the perfect note on which to end the story, as the world as it is known ceases to exist, and the Age of Apocalypse begins.

Next Issue
Tomorrow, the mystery of Reignfire revealed in X-Force #43. Friday, a character debut we've all been waiting for in Excalibur #86. Next week, Generation X #4!

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13 comments:

  1. Let’s be honest: Mr Sinister and Apocalypse somehow knowing that something in the past would change, and that this would lead to Apocalypse dominating the most of the world makes no sense. It’s just a silly excuse to make readers excited with the coming event.

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    1. They do nothing of the sort. What Mister Sinister (I presume) had predicted was the "mutant menace" becoming a publicly known thing, something that in the main Marvel Universe happened about a decade later, but here people are watching it from their tv. Apocalypse apparently decides to speed up the planned schedule of his ascension in the face of the news.

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    2. Yeah, that's not present day Apocalypse in that scene, it's "20 Years Ago" Apocalypse deciding to make his move, ahead of when he did in the "main" timeline, which is what accounts for the Age of Apocalypse.

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  2. There's lots to say about AoA, and I'm looking forward to following along over the next several months, but I'll save the storytelling and art discussion for the issues themselves. What struck me most about the series when I first read it is how editorially tight it was. I don't know if that was Harras, the higher-ups, the writers policing themselves, or some combination of everyone miraculously being on the same page. Whatever the case, it's extraordinary to see plot and (especially) character continuity on such a massive scale*, much less when you're essentially reinventing dozens of characters at the same time. The temptation by the writers to "get crazy with the cheez-wiz" must have been nearly irresistible, and they do go a little wild here and there, but overall AoA stands up after 25 years as a master class of organization and cooperation.

    *just go back a few years to "Days of Future Present" for an example of how disruptive crossover inconsistencies can be

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  3. The real standout character, though, is Past Magneto, as he desperately tries to defend himself against Legion while also arguing against the notion of executing him for crimes he has yet to commit, and as with the previous chapter, it does a lot to setup Magneto as the central figure of "Age of Apocalypse".

    In UXM #203, in the aftermath of Rachel failing to end the universe with the M'Kraan crystal, right after assuming the mantle of teacher from Xavier, Magneto tells the X-folks: "In the early days of our friendship, Charles Xavier asked if I would slay the infant Adolf Hitler -- an innocent baby -- to spare the world the horror of the Holocaust? I said, yes. Then he asked -- would I slay Hitler's grandparents? I said, yes again! I would gladly pay any price, to make any sacrifice, to expunge such trancendent evil. But now... I wonder...?"

    Apparently Legion got Magnus to reconsider his position on the question here and then.

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    1. It actually would have been interesting to hear Legion cite the "kill baby Hitler" argument to Magneto. It could have further served to underscore his turn to the heroic in AoA.

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  4. "This, then, is the catalyst that will launch the Age of Apocalypse, as Apocalypse sets about testing the world ten years before he did in the main reality, and without a fully formed team of X-Men to immediately oppose him."

    So what his catalyst in the original timeline? Uncanny X-men #1? And assuming he keeps the same time schedule in AOA, that could mean the same amount of time that happens between Ucanny #1 and Fall of the Mutants happens between Xavier's death here and the death of AOA Wanda...I guess?

    "One final observation on the whole "the events in the past are taking place twenty years ago instead of in a specific year" thing: if we take that as true while reading it now, in 2019, then the events in the past are taking place in 1999, or five years after the story was published. Not at all what was intended (or what we should do) but something kind of fun to think about."

    Which doesn't help out Magneto or Ganny with regards to their history being tied to WWII...

    "The encounter with Cable in Uncanny #321 has unblocked whatever restraints Iceman had subconsciously put on his powers"

    Those restraints will be back post-AOA, sadly.

    "but I appreciate Niceiza writing in an explanation so I don’t have to ask “why didn’t Xavier stop Legion telepathically?”"

    I thought the explanation was always Legion was so much more powerful than Xavier at this point.

    "It is, to borrow a phrasing, nigh-operatic"

    One could also say it becomes the focused totality of his character in AOA. Well, at least, I hope - I pray - others agree with me.

    "It’s just a silly excuse to make readers excited with the coming event."

    Well, to be fair, the entire idea of AOA is rather nonsensical to begin with.

    wwk5d

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    1. that could mean the same amount of time that happens between Ucanny #1 and Fall of the Mutants happens between Xavier's death here and the death of AOA Wanda...I guess?

      Yeah, I guess as well. Once again, I really would like some kind of non-fiction summary of the historical events as they occurred in the AoA timeline.

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  5. Good issue! Great "sendoff" for the existing universe. I agree the artwork is a little iffy, though. I noticed that Kubert intention seemed to be that Bishop is not wearing his bandana/scarf here, but no one else got the memo. He's clearly drawn without it on the first page, but colored as if wearing it. Later, Garney draws him with it (as does Ryan on the pages Kubert only laid out), though Kubert consistently draws him without it.

    Seeing the X-Men stand around, waiting for the end of the universe and unable to do anything about it -- I feel like I wasn't as impressed with it as a teen, but now it somehow really strikes a chord, and it feels way more impactful than I remember it being. Maybe because I'm more aware of my mortality at age 40 than I was at 16? But in any case, I love the characters reactions -- Cyclops, Jean, and Archangel taking it like seasoned pros, as you mentioned, but also the fact that the once brooding and solitary Archangel has decided that he doesn't want to die alone, and lands beside his oldest friends to meet the end with them. Plus Gambit and Rogue watching Xavier and Lilandra, separated by galaxies and unable to touch one another, which leads to their kiss as the wave hits.

    Other things I liked: the continuity references to UNCANNY 117, the Eric the Red cameo (as an Eric aficionado, I spent quite some time trying to figure out what issue that scene came from before eventually giving up), and Apocalypse's oblique reference to Mister Sinister -- as I've noted many times before, I ate up that sort of pseudo-cryptic stuff when I was younger.

    Also, this is the last hurrah for letterer Bill Oakley, who's been on the title since issue 19. Comicraft takes over for "Age of Apocalypse" and remains on letters for the rest of the decade (and a bit beyond) after reality is restored.


    "...if we take that as true while reading it now, in 2019, then the events in the past are taking place in 1999, or five years after the story was published."

    My head hurts!

    (And this is why, as I've said before, I have my own version of Marvel Time that makes everything easier for me to take. This story was published in 1995. Thanks to the compressed timeline, it was probably only a few years ago for today's X-Men, but as far as I'm concerned: in the Marvel universe, today it's 2019, a few years ago it was 1995, and twenty years prior to that it was the 1950s. It makes no sense, but it works for me.)

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    1. Also, this is the last hurrah for letterer Bill Oakley, who's been on the title since issue 19.

      Ah, good to know! I am terrible about acknowledging inker, letterer and colorist milestones like that.

      Delete
  6. The Israeli TV broadcast references the Six Day War (of 1967) as a (somewhat recent) thing of past, to further mess up your chronologies.

    Like, if one wants to cross-reference that to Hama's concurrent enough WOLVERINE, Logan referenced the Epsilon Red business having taken place in or around 1968 (previous summer having been the Summer of Love and TET offensive still going on).

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  7. Just a few quick notes:

    — You left Ron Garney off the credits.
    — I really appreciate all of that (potential) explanation re the M’Kraan Crystal.
    — A Mild Gimmick is my new band name.

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