In a Nutshell
The Age of Apocalypse begins.
Story: Scott Lobdell
Dialogue: Mark Waid
Pencils: Roger Cruz w/Steve Epting
Inks: Tim Townsend w/Dan Panosian
Letters: Starkings w/the Comicraftsmen
Colors: Steve Buccellato w/the Electric Crayons
Editor: Bob Harras
Chief: Tom DeFalco
In the wake of a culling in Seattle, a hooded figure is attacked by Prelate Unus and a squad of Infinites, soldiers of Apocalypse. The man is rescued by the timely arrival of Magneto and his X-Men. When the hooded figure, who turns out to be Bishop, recognizes Magneto, he attacks, telling Magneto the world is twisted and it's all his fault. Meanwhile, in Apocalypse's pens, Prelate Summers, called Havok, puts down one of Beast's experiments gone mad, after which Cyclops admonishes Beast for continuing his experiments despite the terms of the Kelly Pact. Just then, the Summer brothers' father, Mr. Sinister, appears, and pulls Cyclops aside. He tells Cyclops that he'll soon be leaving, and that Cyclops will have to face what's coming alone. Nearby, nightclub owner Angel meets with Gambit, who is looking for the location of the X-Men's base. At the X-Mansion, Rogue & Magneto visit with their son Charles before continuing the questioning of Bishop. Elsewhere, Apocalypse convenes a meeting of his Horsemen, while in London, Weapon X & Jean Grey meet with the Human High Council, delivering information given to them by Sinister. At the X-Mansion, Rogue & Magneto use their powers in tandem on Bishop, enabling them to see his memories of a reality like hers, but different. Just then, Gambit, having snuck inside, breaks the connection, believing Rogue to be in danger. In the wake of viewing Bishop's memories, Magneto dispatches Nightcrawler to find his mother, Mystique, while telling Gambit he has a mission for him as well. Meanwhile, Apocalypse discovers Mr. Sinister has fled, but Holocaust assures him operatives have already been dispatched to bring him back. At the X-Mansion, Magneto tells Rogue they have much to do, unaware that a new force is slowly but inexorably making its way toward Earth.
Firsts and Other Notables
The issue marks the beginning of "The Age of Apocalypse" the story which will run across all the X-books over the next four months, in which every title is replaced by a new one set in the "Age of Apocalypse" reality, a reality which was created when Legion went back in time and accidentally killed Professor X. With Xavier dead, Apocalypse made his play for supremacy earlier, eventually conquering the majority of North America, killing much of the humans there and driving the rest overseas, while Magneto formed the X-Men in the name of Xavier to oppose Apocalypse.
The idea at this point is that Legion's actions work outside the usual rules of time travel in the Marvel Universe, in which time travelers simply create alternate realities but effect no change on their "home" timeline (which is not unlike how the time travel works in Avengers: Endgame). Instead, Legion's actions have led to the AoA reality replacing the original "prime" 616 reality (presumably due to the involvement of the M'Kraan crystal). However, in much the same way the "Days of Future Past" timeline was confirmed to not be eliminated by the actions of Kate Pryde in the past because Claremont wanted to continue mining that timeline for stories, "Age of Apocalypse" will be such a hit that Marvel can't help but revisit it after this initial story wraps. As a result, it ultimately comes to function like a standard Marvel alternate timeline complete with the ability of characters to travel into and out of it, and will receive the numerical designation of Earth-295.
In general, I am not planning on calling out the first appearances of every AoA variant character in this space, except in cases where the characters is original to this reality or notable in some other way; I will however call out notable or interesting versions of characters in another section.
To wit, it's worth noting that this issue, of course, marks the first appearance of the Age of Apocalypse version of Beast, eventually dubbed Dark Beast; he will be one of four AoA characters to survive the initial destruction of this world and transfer back to the prime reality at the end of the story, where he will, somewhat improbably, remain a recurring antagonist with relative frequency (including a stint in which he infiltrates the X-Men pretending to be Prime Beast).
This is also the first appearance of Holocaust, Apocalypse's "son" and one of his Horseman. Like Dark Beast, Holocaust will transfer back to the prime reality at the end of the story, though his tenure there is much shorter. Technically, Holocaust was first mentioned way back in Stryfe's Strike Files, though his appearance there is much different than here. Holocaust will serve in this story as the central antagonist in Astonishing X-Men.
Abyss, another one of Apocalypse's Horsemen, also makes his first appearance. Like Holocaust, he lacks a direct 616 counterpart (though one will appear later in Joe Casey's Uncanny run), and will serve as the main foe in Amazing X-Men.
The other two Horsemen are Mr. Sinister (who appears in this issue and will feature heavily in X-Man), and Mikhail, Colossus' brother, who for whatever reason only appears in one of the flashback X-Men Chronicles (the AoA version of X-Men Unlimited) issues.
Apocalypse gets a new look for his triumphant stint as the ruler of an era, and it's worth noting that Apocalypse hasn't made a "regular" appearance since his apparent death at the end of "X-Cutioner's Song" (a past version of the character appeared briefly in X-Men #41 and a future version in Adventures of Cyclops & Phoenix).
The main story arc of "Age of Apocalypse" begins here when Magneto and his X-Men first meet Bishop, the sole survivor of the 616 reality (as seen in X-Men #41). His mind and memories scrambled by the reality warp, this issue marks the first time he's spoken in 20 years (as he presumably made his way from the middle east to Seattle). Upon spotting Magneto, he tries to tell him about the events of “Legion Quest” and that this world is wrong. Bishop will remain a presence in various AoA books as the event unfolds, and prove instrumental to restoring the prime reality.
Rogue & Magneto have a son named Charles; he is attended to by Nanny, the robot who tortured the X-Men when Magneto had reduced their motor functions to infancy in X-Men #112 and #113. The Rogue/Magneto relationship, which is in many ways the emotional center of this whole story, is of course predicated almost entirely on the attraction between the two on display during the Savage Land portions of the Claremont/Lee Uncanny run (and it's prominence in this story will, in turn, make Rogue/Magneto a thing in the prime reality in the years after it in a way it probably wouldn't be without AoA). Of course, it's worth noting that the Magneto in this story should be appreciably older than in the 616 reality, as he presumably never created the mutant Alpha and therefore was never de-aged and subsequently re-aged to a younger age (also, it's not clear how, in a world in which Rogue isn't raised by Mystique and set against Ms. Marvel, she received the super-strength/flight/invulnerability powers she still has in the AoA reality).
The issue ends with a single page showing the crystallization effect that closed out the cancelled X-titles slowing making its way towards Earth. It will eventually be revealed that without Xavier, Lilandra never attempts to bring the X-Men into her fight against D'Ken, and as a result, the M'Kraan crystal of this reality is spreading unchecked (just as it did when it wiped out the 616 reality), which will also play into the climax of the story.
This issue features a wraparound chromium cover. The logo used is the original one from the series’ launch.
This is an issue that I still have vivid memories of buying and reading for the first time. It was published in December '94, shortly before Christmas, and I bought it at the Mall of America (I don't recall which of the then-three comic stores at the mall I bought it from; probably Tekno Comics) while doing some Christmas shopping with my parents, along with issue #41 of Wizard (which features a gorgeous Cyclops cover, a big article on "Age of Apocalypse", and the first Wizard Casting Call in which they cast an X-Men movie; I still think early 90s Michael Biehn would have made a great Cyclops...). After I got home, I read X-Men Alpha frantically, as I had to go next door to babysit the neighbor kids, and I was so excited & intrigued by this new alternate reality, that I read it again immediately after I got home from babysitting.
Some notable changes to the X-Men: Sabretooth is a member of the team, filling the "gruff on the outside, softie on the inside" Wolverine role, along with a character we'll eventually know to be Wild Child (who, in the 616 reality, is a minor member of Alpha Flight). Blink, the young girl who died in "Phalanx Covenant" is part of the group as well. Nightcrawler & Quicksilver are both members of the team as well. The bald, gray-skinned shapeshifter is Morph, the AoA-version of Factor Three villain/"short-lived member of the X-Men while posting as Xavier" Changeling (using the name of the original shapeshifter created for the X-Men animated series in order to have a character who could die early in the series).
Prelate Unus leads the Infinites who attack Bishop in the beginning of the issue. He's described as having force field-related powers, making him the AoA version of Unus the Untouchable.
Havok is the head of security for the Pen, the prison/concentration camp that exists in the shadow of Apocalypse's citadel, where Sinister & Dark Beast conduct most of their experiments.
Angel (with white skin & feathery - not metallic - wings) runs a nightclub called Heaven, and functions as a sort of information broker. Karma is his aide, and he employs a human singer named Scarlett. She is an original AoA character, but her 616 counterpart will appear, after the story ends, in X-Factor.
Wolverine, using the codename Weapon X, and Jean Grey are seemingly free agents, and romantically involved, working at this point with what remains of the human government; their history with the X-Men will be explored in the course of the story as well.
A Work in Progress
The opening pages set the stage with a couple pieces that will be common throughout the story, introducing “the Infinites”, Apocalypse’s shock troopers who carry out “cullings”, ie the genocide of humans within a defined area.
“Prelate”, a term first used in the vicinity of Apocalypse in the Adventures of Cyclops & Phoenix, is used throughout the story to designate the sort of mid level Apocalyptian leaders, those with more authority than the average foot soldier, but not as high up as one of the Horsemen.
In an early “things are harsher in this world” moment, Iceman nonchalantly murders Unus.
Magneto eulogizes Xavier, citing him as responsible for putting Magneto on the path he’s on, saying if not for him Magneto may have turned out to be one of the world’s greatest villains.
Mr. Sinister, who acted as a father to Cyclops & Havok, is just as cryptic in this world; here, he says goodbye to Cyclops amidst dire warnings of the end of the world.
While Magneto’s power allows him to touch Rogue (hence the child), she cannot yet touch her son.
The X-Men still operate out of Xavier’s mansion; I guess he must have told Magneto about it before dying in Israel at Legion’s hands.
Rogue references the Madri in a prayer with Charles; they will turn out to be priests of Apocalypse, all of whom are duplicates of Madrox.
Magneto cryptically refers to Jean as having been “lost” to the X-Men.
Thanks to Bishop, Magneto experiences memories of the “main” reality, allowing Cruz to re-draw assorted moments of X-Men history (including Magneto being reduced to infancy by Alpha).
Havok wonders what Beast did to the Blob to enable something so big to move so fast.
Cyclops cites the Kelly Pact, a tentative peace agreement between Apocalypse and the human government which, amongst other things, bans genetic experimentation. Elsewhere in the issue, Apocalypse is dismissive of it, considering the humans foolish for believing he'd meet their terms on anything.
Gambit & Magneto have had a falling out; not surprisingly, it will be revealed to have occurred over Rogue.
Terry Kavanaugh on the Spider-Man: Clone Saga's influence on Age of Apocalypse
"Bob Harras heard about [the Clone Saga] and said 'Oh my God, the Spider-Man books are going to rocket past the X-Men books. We have to do an event of our own".
Howe, Sean. Marvel Comics - The Untold Story. New York: HarperCollins, 2012. p365
Bob Harras on the origins of "Age of Apocalypse"
"My idea was, what if Jubilee wakes up one morning, goes down the mansion to get breakfast, and everything's changed. None of the X-Men are there, at least not in any recognizable way. It's like she's stepped into another world. I grew up watching Dark Shadows on television, where the characters would step through a door, and they were all the same actors, but suddenly the were playing different people. I used to think that was cool. It would go on for months. Then they'd go right back through the door at the end of the story, and just go back to the regular storyline. Another inspiration was the 'Mirror, Mirro' episode of Star Trek, where the Enterprise crew meet their evil counterparts. So 'Age' wasn't, perhaps, the most original original concept, but I don't think it had ever been done in a comic book to the extent we did it."
DeFalco, Tom. Comic Creators on X-Men. London: Titan Books, 2006. p183
Scott Lobdell on the origins of "Age of Apocalypse"
"Bob [Harras] called me up and said, 'What if Jubilee was in the mansion and everybody was there but they were different? She knew that they were different and it was like the whole world had changed. She was the only one that was the same.' That kind of started the whole ball rolling, and soon after that Fabian [Nicieza] was brought in to the discussions. What we needed to decide was, what kind of story would have to take place for the X-Men to change completely? We realised the only thing that would really change the X-Men would be if somebody other than Professor X had formed them. The only way to do that was to get rid of Professor X in the past. Suppose we go back in time and kill Professor X? Then we thought, we could kill him but that only gives us the opportunity to tell a few stories for a few months, but they wouldn't real. They wouldn't really mean anything. Then it occurred to us that we could do something that had never ever been done before, which was to kill Professor X, cancel the old X-books and essentially create this universe from scratch. I remember when we talked to the marketing people about it they were very excited about the notion of ten new X-Men #1s. However, when we first announced that we were going to cancel all the X-books and re-start them, the retailers were aghast at the notion. They couldn't believe we were going to cancel the X-books, the most popular books at the time, and start over. They thought it was a terrible idea. Actually, the 'Age of Apocalypse' proved to be a big draw and sold very well."
DeFalco, Tom. Comic Creators on X-Men. London: Titan Books, 2006. p200-201
Harras on cancelling the X-books & relaunching as "Age of Apocalypse"
"Sales & Marketing department [came up with the idea], of course. I don't think it would have ever entered my mind that the company would allow something that to be done. My original idea was to do the whole line in this parallel universe for a number of months, but it was one of those things where everyone saw an idea and said, 'Let's run with it,' which was great. None of that corporate 'No, we can't do it.' It was, 'let's try it.' There were practical problems, like what to do with the subscriptions, and so on. But they worked all that out, and it somehow made the idea even bigger. We were going to end the numbering of these books and then come out with new titles and number ones, and then re-start the numbering when the core books came back. I don't if that had ever been done before."
DeFalco, Tom. Comic Creators on X-Men. London: Titan Books, 2006. p183
Like Giant-Size X-Men #1 and the '91 relaunch, "Age of Apocalypse" represents another seismic shift for the overarching narrative of the X-Men, a clear "before/after" demarcation line for the franchise. It's difficult to overstate just how big a deal this story was at the time, and just how big a shadow it continues to cast today. In much the same way that the X-Men of the 80s existed in the twin shadows of "Dark Phoenix Saga" and "Days of Future Past", "Age of Apocalypse" will cast a large shadow on the X-books for the second half of the 90s (arguably until Grant Morrison's run, the next seismic shift in the franchise, but even beyond that: just under 15 years later, today's "Age of X-Man" is basically "Age of Apocalypse" in reverse, and takes its name from a character introduced in AoA). Just as "Days of Future Present" lingered even after its telling because it presented a worst-case scenario for the X-Men, the alternate paths presented in "Age of Apocalypse" will leave readers reconsidering the "prime" narrative - is Magneto capable of the goodness of his AoA counterpart? Does Havok carry the same darkness within him? If the X-Men fail, will things be as bad as in "Age of Apocalypse"?
It also stands as a story that is both deeply of the 90s, but also able to transcends the tropes of the era: it is unquestionably an event, a massive storyline told across nine titles for four months, bookended by a pair of gimmick-cover-laden one shots, with Sales & Marketing fully behind the decision to entirely relaunch the line, so as to flood the market with new #1 issues. The story features many of the hallmarks of the era, presenting a grimdark world populated by characters with pouches on their belts & perpetual stubble on their chins. But it is also a remarkably well-crafted story, in part due to the scale of the event (which allows the creators the room to fully establish this alternate world beyond the tropes, and create characters readers care about, even though they are, technically, just alternate versions of already-established ones), and the level of talent involved (the X-books were Marvel's biggest series at the time, and they wisely made sure their top talent was on display for the duration of this event; for the most part, despite its scale, the regular creative teams start & finish the event with few fill-ins or delays), and the end result is one of the few market-driven, line-wide event stories from this era that is still held up fondly by fans.
All of that starts here, with an issue that does a pretty effective job of both introducing this strange, new world to readers and also kicking off a number of plotlines that will be explored in the individual series. The opening pages quickly render a world of grim violence in which agents of Apocalypse carry out genocide on a massive scale, in which even the X-Men arrayed against them are darker and more violent. From there, Bishop's introduction to Magneto kicks off a series of narrative threads the rest of the event will chronicle (including Nightcrawler's mission to find Mystique and whatever Magneto needs Gambit for), while machinations inside Apocalypse's inner circle will drive further plotlines (including the bulk of X-Man and the initial actions of Wolveirne & Jean Grey in Weapon X).
Presumably on the desire to keep all their main artists on their books (and those books on time), Joe Madureira pinch hitter Roger Cruz handles most of the art (with a brief assist from Steve Epting), and his work is basically in a "mid 90s House Style", which works well enough for this kind of sweeping, introductory issue, even if some of the brighter colors belie the darkness & intensity of the setting. There's also some pacing/sequencing issues (Sinter is introduced as he prepares to go on the run, then attends a Horsemen meeting with Apocalypse, then apparently leaves) and Apocalypse, the titular big bad of the story, probably deserves a more dramatic introduction than showing off his new look via what is essentially Handbook-style pinup, but for the most part, this works remarkably well as an introduction to what will be the seminal X-Men event of the decade.
Next week, we take a look at the promotional material released in support of "Age of Apocalypse": Year of the Mutants Collectors Edition & Age of Apocalypse Ashcan!
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