In a Nutshell
A group of X-Men depart to stop Holocaust from culling Chicago.
Writer: Scott Lobdell
Penciler: Joe Madureira
Inkers: Dan Green & Tim Townsend
Letters: Chris Eliopoulos
Colors: Steve Buccellato
Hot Seat: Bob Harras
Separations: Digital Chameleon
Magneto is preparing the X-Men for their next mission when they're suddenly interrupted by the arrival of Blink & Sunfire. After Blink closes her teleportation portal on the prelate who followed through after her, killing him, Sunfire announces that he & Blink have discovered Apocalypse is still carrying out cullings, despite the Kelly Pact, and that Holocaust is personally carrying them out. At Apocalypse's citadel in Manhattan, Rex confirms to Apocalypse that he was able to track Blink's teleportation enough that, soon, he'll be able to pinpoint the X-Men's base. At the X-Mansion, Gambit says goodbye to Rogue before departing for the mission Magneto gave him, then Rogue begins preparations to lead a group of X-Men in an attempt to stop Holocaust. She promises Quicksilver they'll be back, then the group departs, leaving Bishop to wonder why they're willing to throw their lives away in so futile a fight. Quicksilver responds that this is their world, and they will fight for it, no matter what. And while Bishop doesn't remember much, he's certain the professor wouldn't have it any other way.
Firsts and Other Notables
Astonishing X-Men serves as the "Age of Apocalypse" counterpart to Uncanny X-Men, though the series name will be used again for two later series, a short mini-series leading up to the "The Twelve" crossover event, and then again for Joss Whedon & John Cassaday's flagship series in the 00s.
Much the same way Uncanny & Adjectiveless original focused on two different groups of X-Men, this series will focus on the adventures of a sub-group of X-Men consisting of Rogue, Sabretooth & Wild Child, Sunfire, Blink & Morph as they battle Holocaust in an effort to stop Holocaust's culling of the city of Chicago, though this issue makes it clear this grouping isn't a standing assortment of characters, but rather simply the X-Men most invested in stopping Holocaust.
Both Blink & Morph previously appeared in X-Men Alpha, but receive considerable more page time here, with Morph firmly placed in the comic relief role (with his shapeshifting antics likely intentionally channeling Jim Carrey's title character in The Mask, which was released the summer before this issue) while Blink takes up the "plucky youngster" Kitty Pryde role. Blink and Morph, along with Sabretooth, will go on to become recurring characters in Marvel's reality-hopping 00s series Exiles, with both Blink & Sabretooth leading that group for extended periods of time (the Morph in that series is technically from a different reality than the "Age of Apocalypse" Earth-295, but is functionally the same character as the one appearing here).
Joe Madureira, after pencilling the two Uncanny chapters "Phalanx Convenant" as the book's new regular artist and then taking four issues off, returns to the series with this issue. Thankfully, he will stick around for all four Astonishing issues.
Titles released this month represent the first published under a new editorial regime at Marvel, with former editor-in-chief Tom DeFalco (who took over directly from E-i-C Jim Shooter) stepping aside in favor of new system which found Marvel's books broken into five "families" of titles, each overseen by its own editor-in-chief, with Bob Harras handling the X-books, Mark Gruenwald overseeing the "classic" & cosmic heroes, Bobbie Chase leading the "Marvel Edge" books like Punisher & Daredevil, etc. The "Five E-i-C" era will last only about a year, after which Harras will be elevated to the position of sole Editor-in-Chief for the rest of the decade.
As part of the reshuffling, each of the title families start featuring their own version of the Bullpen Bulletins page, highlighting happenings and upcoming issues specific to that family (something the X-books had already started doing with their "X-Facts" page launched when the books switched to the Deluxe format following "Phalanx Covenant", which gets a "Age of Apocalypse" makeover this month).
This issue introduces Rex, a sort of personal assistant to Apocalypse (Smithers to Apocalypse's Mr. Burns) who will pop up a few times throughout the storyline. It is unclear if he is mutant or not (he never exhibits any obvious power, but it also seems odd to think Apocalypse would employ a human in a position so close to him), and as far as I know, he has no known counterpart in the prime reality.
Through the Looking Glass
Sunfire, present in both the promotion material and on the cover of X-Men Alpha, is revealed to be a member of the X-Men in this reality, with a new look that makes him more like the Human Torch in that he is perpetually surrounded by flames. His look here will later be adopted by the prime reality Sunfire during the story in which his powers flare out of control and he briefly serves as one of Apocalypse's Horsemen.
Blink kills a Prelate who attempts to follow her portal to the X-Men’s base. He’s later said to be Delgado, which was the name of one of Magneto’s original Acolytes (who died in Adjectiveless #3).
Rogue & Quicksilver reminiscence about Morph’s previous ugly headpiece, a reference to the Silver Age Changeling’s ugly costume.
The X-Men travel to Chicago via a ship powered by Rogue’s magnetic abilities, a nod X-Factor’s similar Polaris-powered vehicle.
A Work in Progress
The opening narration of this issue, as Magneto addresses his X-Men, matches the opening of X-Men #94: “it begins with the breaking of a man’s heart...and a searing of his soul).
We get a classic Nightcrawler moment where he can’t concentrate enough to teleport, but can concentrate enough to think about how he can’t concentrate enough to teleport.
The inciting incident for this story is the discovery that Apocalypse, despite his claims in X-Men Alpha, and started culling humans once again.
Holocaust is said to be responsible for the destruction of Japan.
It’s revealed that before their falling out over Rogue, Gambit & Magneto were best friends.
Nightcrawler & Magneto have a conversation which nearly summarizes the plot threads being followed up on in some of the other AoA series.
Magneto vaguely recalls Bishop's presence during the climax of “Legion Quest”.
For anyone who hasn’t read X-Men Chronicles, this issue reveals that Sabretooth (and Wild Child) once ran with Holocaust & Apocalypse.
Gambit drops a skeevy line about having a list in his other pants when Rogue rhetorically asks what she’s going to do with him.
The rom-com moments continue as Blink (who does not like Gambit at all) plays the role of the protective friend by pointedly interrupting Rogue & Gambit along with Charles.
If X-Men Alpha was the pilot episode of the "Age of Apocalypse" TV show, than this issue functions in a role similar to the first post-pilot episode of a new series: retread ground already covered in the pilot and reintroduce the characters/settings for anyone who missed it. It is to the credit of the creators that this is as entertaining as it is, considering it does just that, essentially reintroducing Magneto's X-Men, the context of the world, and setting up plotlines not only for this individual title, but three other AoA books as well. Joe Madureira, returning to the book (sort of) after (*sigh*) four issues away is in top form, leaning in to the manga sensibilities of his style that brings a bright, animated look which juxtaposes well against the more grim backdrop of the setting. Lobdell, meanwhile, turns in a script that is, somewhat remarkably given that darker setting, one of his funniest in a while, mining both the over-the-top Morph and the more subdued romantic comedy elements of the Rogue/Gambit/Blink interactions for some genuine laughs that do much to break the tension of plot that has a contingent of X-Men leaving to stop a massacre few expect them to survive. The end result is an issue that is entertaining despite being mostly setup, and covering some already-covered narrative ground, in which writer & penciler alike seem inspired by the new setting.
Tomorrow, a peak inside the Apocalypse's empire in Factor X #1. Friday, Weapon X & Jean Grey battle Sentinels in Weapon X #1. Next week, Amazing X-Men #1!
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