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Wednesday, May 22, 2019

X-amining X-Men Chronicles #1

"Origins"
January 1995

In a Nutshell
Magneto's X-Men battle Apocalypse's Horsemen at Cape Citadel

Writer: Howard Mackie
Pencils: Terry Dodson
Inks: Klaus Janson
Letterer: Starkings/Comicraft
Colorist: Matt Webb
Editor: Kelly Corvese
Chief: Bob Harras

Plot
Magneto oversees the training of his X-Men at their base on Wundagore Mountain, then introduces them to his newest recruit: Weapon X. Meanwhile, Apocalypse's ship appears above New York, and Candra declares that the time for the strong has come. Back at Wundagore, Mystique brings a young mutant named Rogue to Magneto, hoping to spare her from Apocalypse. Later, Apocalypse's Horsemen attack the Cape Citadel military base, targeting its nuclear weapons. Hearing of the attack, Magneto sends the X-Men into action, leaving Scarlet Witch behind with Rogue to watch over the base and the younger students, not knowing that the villainous Nemesis is watching from outside. After the X-Men leave, Nemesis attacks. At Cape Citadel, Sabretooth is unnerved when he learns the Horsemen intend to not just control the nuclear weapons, but use them. Just then, the X-Men arrive, and engage the Horsemen. They ultimately prevail, but  when the X-Men return home, they discover their base badly damaged by Nemesis and Scarlet Witch having died fighting him off and saving the school. Though devastated, Magneto vows the dream of humans & mutants peacefully co-existing will live on.

Firsts and Other Notables
X-Men Chronicles is the "Age of Apocalyse" iteration of X-Men Unlimited; being quarterly, it only releases two issues during the event (instead of four). Given that, it serves to provide some of the only direct looks into the past of "Age of Apocalypse", at events which occurred in this reality before the main story begins in X-Men Alpha. To that end, this issue showcases the X-Men's first encounter with Apocalypse (or at least, his Horsemen), in a parallel to the events of X-Men #1. It also depicts the first meeting between the X-Men and Weapon X, and between Rogue & Magneto, as well as the death of Magneto's daughter, Scarlet Witch (whose death was referenced in X-Men Alpha).

Scarlet Witch is killed defending the school from Nemesis, who gets very little introduction here (even his powerset is vague), but the next issue of this series will reveal he is Apocalypse's son Holocaust, who will be attacked by Magneto in revenge for the death of Scarlet Witch, which leads to him needing the containment armor he is wearing in X-Men Alpha (and for the rest of "Age of Apocalypse").


A dying Scarlet Witch asks Rogue to be a friend to Magneto, laying the seeds for their eventual relationship.


Apocalypse sends his Horsemen to attack Cape Citadel (a parallel to Magneto’s attack in X-Men #1); they consist of fellow Externals Gideon & Candra, War, Death and Sabretooth (who will, of course, eventually defect for the X-Men). While I’m okay with there being five Horsemen, it’s always bugged me that two have “Horsemen” names while the other three don’t.


Like previous issues of X-Men Unlimited, this one concludes with a series of pin-ups - all Age of Apocalypse themed, of course.


This is a double-sized issue with a wraparound cover.


Through the Looking Glass
This issue shows the X-Men’s first base in Wundagore mountain, and establishes that Magneto’s version of the Danger Room has been dubbed “the Killing Zone”. The original X-Men wear red and gold-colored uniforms (not unlike the ones Generation X will don later in their series), and consist of Quicksilver, Iceman, Storm, Scarlet Witch, Jean Grey & Colossus.


They are eventually joined by their first recruit, Weapon X.


Mystique still found and (partially) raised Rogue, before turning her over to Magneto after she was targeted by Apocalypse.


Apocalypse's ship in this issue resembles Ship from X-Factor.


A Work in Progress
Rogue was attacked by Polaris, and during the fight, she acquired and retained a portion of Polaris’ magnetic powers.


Sabretooth breaks rank with the Horsemen when he learns they intended to use the missiles at Cape Citadel, not just capture them.


Weapon X and Sabretooth fight one another, a battle which concludes when Weapon X severs Sabretooth’s spine.


Austin's Analysis
The first of two looks at the "past" of the "Age of Apocalypse" reality, this issue presents the first mission of Magneto's original X-Men, as they go into battle to defend the nuclear stockpile of Cape Citadel against the forces of Apocalypse. Obviously, this serves as an homage to the first issue of X-Men, in which Xavier's original X-Men defend Cape Citadel against a similar attack by Magneto, and that kind of cross-reality symmetry is what makes these kinds of stories fun (seeing which details of the established stories are "constants"). While the basic structure of the stories match (Magneto's oversees the training of the X-Men, introduces a new team member - here, somewhat winkingly, Wolverine is put in the original Jean Grey role - then sets the team off into battle), being a double-sized issue, this adds to the original story in two notable ways. First, it establishes a parallel attack on Magneto's Wundagore base, in which Scarlet Witch is killed. It doesn't really add a lot to the story (most of the attack happens off-panel), other than to deal with some continuity stuff (showing why the reality-altering Scarlet Witch isn't around for the story, and seeding the Rogue/Magneto relationship).

Second instead of the X-Men facing off against a singular foe, these X-Men battle Apocalypse's Horsemen. In general, this is disappointing, just because it would have been neat to see the X-Men take on the titular villain directly for the first time, but it also doesn't help that the Horsemen in this case aren't terribly interesting. Beyond the two generic "War" and "Death" characters, we've got two distinctly 90s characters in Gideon and Mackie-favorite Candra, making Sabretooth the only engaging one of the bunch (and that comes, in part, because we already know, from X-Men Alpha, that he's destined to jump ship for the X-Men). It changes the story from being the epic first confrontation between the X-Men and their mortal enemy, to one where the X-Men face off against their biggest enemy's goons, most of whom are 90s jobbers, at best.

The end result is perfectly fine: it does its job of presenting a historical tale of the AoA X-Men while filling in some continuity bits. The alternate reality setting keeps Mackie from indulging in many of his scripting tics, while the Dodson/Janson art proves a surprisingly good combination: Janson takes some of the cheesecake-y shine off Dodson's pencils, while Dodson still brings a kind of bright, classical superhero look that keeps everything from being too dark or gritty. It's a worthy representation for the setting: darker than the original timeline's story, but still not as dark as the AoA world readers will come to know as the event unfolds. But the deviations away from the homage to the original prove to be detracting, as the issue is at its best when it engages directly with its parallel narrative, and much less interesting when it tries to blaze its on trail by expanding on the original beyond the essential tweaks brought on by the alternate reality setting.

Next Issue
Next week, we dive deeper into the Age of Apocalypse with Astonishing X-Men #1, Factor X #1 and Weapon X #1!

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14 comments:

  1. For some reason the X-MEN CHRONICLES issues aren't in the AGE OF APOCALYPSE OMNIBUS -- I think Marvel skipped them in favor of including "Legion Quest" instead -- so I haven't read this one, but I have a pretty good recollection of it from my youth.

    I agree with you that having Apocalypse himself at Cape Citadel would have been way more dramatic (and a more appropriate homage to X-MEN #1) than using the horsemen instead. I can only assume Marvel wanted to save an Apocalypse vs. X-Men showdown for the core books, but it still seems like a missed opportunity.

    (Do they ever show the Magento vs. Apocalypse fight that reportedly destroyed Wundagore? I can't remember.)

    I'm not sure what I think of the Dodson/Janson pairing. In some of these shots they look good together, but others feel off somehow.

    Lastly, I like that Colossus in the X-Men training uniform basically just looks more-or-less like he's wearing his regular costume from the normal continuity.

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    1. "For some reason the X-MEN CHRONICLES issues aren't in the AGE OF APOCALYPSE OMNIBUS -- I think Marvel skipped them in favor of including "Legion Quest" instead -- so I haven't read this one, but I have a pretty good recollection of it from my youth."

      I have that Omnibus (if it's the big hardback one), and it struck me as a strange omission. But that also tried to put a dozen or so titles in "chronological" story order, so reading it is an unnecessary mess. As Licinio notes, the AoA timeline is all over the place, so it would have made for a better reading experience to just do the bookends and the titles together.

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    2. That is indeed the Omnibus in question.

      Most of the time I like that Marvel tries to put their collected editions in a reading order, because that's how I used to file all my comics in longboxes back in the old days. So I'd have, like three issues of X-MEN in a row if it was a three-part story, following by the three issues of UNCANNY that came out alongside them. Marvel's trades are organized the sam way and I think it's great.

      But for AoA, that just doesn't work somehow. I feel like this event needs to be read as it was released. Maybe it's because of its nature as a finite alternate universe or whatever, but I have trouble reading it in "story order".

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    3. It is super weird that they leave CHRONICLES out of the omnibus. Like, I can see the rationale, but it just makes more sense to start with "everything released originally as "Age of Apocalypse"" and then go from there.

      @Matt: So I'd have, like three issues of X-MEN in a row if it was a three-part story, following by the three issues of UNCANNY that came out alongside them.

      My anal-retentiveness just shuddered a little. :)

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    4. Chronicles also isn't included in the three volume paperback collection I picked up from Amazon ahead of Teebore's coverage of the event. Like the omnibus, this set also made the decision to include "Legion Quest" instead.

      The four volume Complete Epic Collection does include Chronicles, along with a bunch of AoA tie-ins and one-shots. (Marvel's Epic Collection line is excellent, and my preferred method of collecting back issues these days. I don't know why I didn't go for it here.)

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  2. I have serious issues with the timeline here. Supposedly, Apocalypse appeared before the would-be Fantastic Four acquired their powers, setting a chain reaction that prevented Donald Blake from becoming Thor or Captain America being found. Thus, the X-Men here should be at least a few months younger than the original X-Men from 1963. Colossus should be a boy, since I recall Claremont explicitly stating that he was 17 in the early years after he joined the team, when Cyclops was around 22 at least. If the X-Men of 1963 were around 17 at latest (since they graduated a few issues after #1), then Colossus should be 12 around the the same time.

    Moreover, why would Sabertooth care if bombs were used? Original timeline Sabertooth never showed sympathy to anyone and was a clear remorseless psychopath. I like the idea of this version being a good guy, but his change should have occurred in a different manner.

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    1. Iceman *still* being the youngest of Xavier's student despite the team consisting noticeably of the Second Genesis gang breaks this all down for me. Instead of it being an alternative timeline, liberties have been take to make it a reboot.

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    2. Given the sliding timeline mucks with ages anyway, I'm mostly willing to give this is a pass in that regard - if FF #1 is perpetually "10 years ago", which is seemingly he case here, too (Xavier died "20 years ago" and this takes place just before FF #1 would have, "ten years ago"), then there's just no way for Cyclops to really be five years older than Colossus regardless, has it would compress the "New X-Men" stuff way too much (more than it already is) and leave too much space for the Silver Age stuff to occur in.

      My solution is just to not think about ages beyond a general "the X-Men are older than the New Mutants who are older than Gen X who are older than the New X-Men" breakdown. That way lies madness. :)

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    3. More than the F4 or larger comics universe continuity issues, my problem is with the art. All of the characters are "aged up." There isn't a single artistic cue that this is an alt universe flashback story, wherein the characters are younger versions of their AoA selves. They just look like adult 616 versions of themselves wearing Generation X uniforms.

      Also, while I mostly agree with Teebore that nailing down specific ages for characters is madness, I definitely share Licinio's habit of trying to establish relative ages for characters -- and I have to disagree with Licinio here. Colossus is younger than Iceman but not that much younger. Bobby is established as a college sophomore -- so, let's say, 19 or 20 -- in Uncanny 145 and Colossus is established as 19 in Special Edition 1. These are the two closest-to-each other references to their ages that I can recall -- under two years in publication time, and probably under a year in story time. That puts Peter and Bobby just a year or two apart in age.

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  3. So this may be me never knowing this even existed speaking, but:

    AoA is better when only getting the in medias res version and letting the reader's imagination fill in all the blanks what happened in between. There is zero need for a pretend Silver Age AoA X-Men title to do that in subpar fashion.

    "Hey kids, this is Wolverine, he's moving in with us."

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    1. Yeah, while it's mildly interesting to see "past" tales of the AoA, neither issue is hardly essential - which, I suppose, makes it the perfect counterpart for X-MEN UNLIMITED (and undermines my "they should have been included in the omnibus" argument above). The story definitely works better beginning in media res and going from there, with whatever backstory mentions occur remaining that.

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  4. I always assumed Death was supposed to be Selene. But couldn't figure out why she would be called Death when the others had their regular names. Also, that then led me to wonder who War was supposed to be and I still have no clue.

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  5. While I’m okay with there being five Horsemen, it’s always bugged me that two have “Horsemen” names while the other three don’t.

    Five horsemen -- two with "Horsemen" titles and three without -- has bugged me since I was 12.

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  6. Art here is very uneven but when the faces and figures are on point they have an impressive Adam Hughes quality.

    // two have “Horsemen” names while the other three don’t. //

    I concur: Uncool.

    So if AOA Magneto was never de-aged and re-aged up to a more youthful, prime-of-life self in this reality — which admittedly we don’t know for sure — he’s at minimum about 45 years older than Rogue, age 70 or so “present day” in 1995 to her 25-ish. I’m not saying that doesn’t happen with men and perhaps disproportionately with men in certain positions of power. I am saying it’s irksome when the ramifications of sliding timescales and events crucial to a character’s history being wiped out by retcons or reality warps aren’t taken into consideration. And like others have said we’re not looking at “present day” here but roughly a decade earlier, so Magneto took in Rogue when she was about 15. While pegging characters with specific ages isn’t necessary or even desirable from a story point of view, just the ballparks here are discomfiting in terms of that relationship and more generally frustrating for any reader trying to get their narrative bearings.

    I don’t know if this comes up later, but one assumes that AOA Logan should have still met Captain America during WWII and stuff, unless the changes wrought by Xavier’s death affected history on a quantum level and sent ripples further into the past.

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