Wednesday, July 31, 2019
X-amining X-Universe #1
In a Nutshell
Mikhail Rasputin arrives in London at the head of a peace mission.
Story: Scott Lobdell
Script: Terry Kavanagh
Penciler: Carlos Pacheco
Inker: Cam Smith
Lettering: Richard Starkings & Comicraft
Colorist: Kevin Somers
Color Separations: Electric Crayon
Editor: Marie Javins
Editor-in-Chief: Bob Harras
In the ravaged nation of Wakanda, Gwen Stacy fends off an attack by the Marauders, assisted by the timely arrival of Tony Stark & Clint Barton. Stark & Barton are delivering relief aid, but have also been sent by the Human High Council to fetch Dr. Don Blake. In London, pilots Ben Grimm & Susan Storm watch with suspicion the arrival of Mikhail Rasputin at the head of a peace convoy. Just as they return to their base to land, the base explodes, killing every pilot capable of dropping a bomb on Apocalypse. They suspect Mikhail, but as they explore the wreckage, they're attacked by a massive hulking monster. Escaping the creature, they encounter Dr. Bruce Banner amongst the rubble. Meanwhile, with the Human High Council in an emergency session, the ranking security officer, Victor Von Doom, formally greets Mikhail amidst wild cheers from a gathered crowd, just as Blake and his envoy arrive in London. In the interest of transparency, Mikhail invites them aboard his ship to show he has nothing to hide, and they enter, joined by Doom, Ben & Susan. Once inside, Mikhail reveals that he's using the mutant Empath to manipulate the emotions of the crowd outside, and that he's lured the gathered group, those most resistant to Empath's power, to their deaths.
Firsts and Other Notables
Though previously mentioned elsewhere, this is the first appearance of the "Age of Apocalypse" Mikhail Rasputin, the Fourth Horseman of Apocalypse (along with Holocaust, Abyss, & Sinister). He bears little resemblance, in appearance or powers, to the prime Mikhail, looking at times like he could be a member of the Phalanx.
This issue closes with two infographics. One is titled a "Human High Council Membership Roster" and it features information on characters who died before the events of this issue, including Black Panther & Peter Parker. In discussing the deaths of Mr. Fantastic & Human Torch, it also establishes that, instead of trying beat the Commies into space (thereby creating the Fantastic Four), Reed Richards tried to use his experimental spacecraft to evacuate a mass of humans from North America, only to die alongside Johnny in the process.
The second is a tactical map of Europe. Of note is the fact that much of France has been obliterated (and is now underwater), and that Muir Island may be the home of a Sentinel processing plant.
The cover of this issue is cardstock, with a gold foil-embossed logo.
Through the Looking Glass
Serving as it does as the introduction of the Age of Apocalypse of the Marvel Universe, a veritable plethora of AoA versions of characters debut here. First up is Gwen Stacy, who in this reality is a relief worker operating in the devastated country of Wakanda.
The Marauders, a name lifted from Mr. Sinister's group of mutant killers in the prime reality, are here comprised of the AoA versions of Green Goblin, Kingpin, Arcade and the Owl.
Tony Stark & Clint Barton work together as agents of the Human High Council, distributing relief supplies utilizing Stark's technology.
Don Blake is a doctor working with Gwen in Wakanda, who has a past with Tony Stark. Narrative captions allude to his connection with Thor.
The AoA Fantastic Four consists of the non-powered Ben Grimm & Susan Storm; Reed Richards & Johnny Storm are dead.
Both Hulk and Bruce Banner appear in this issue; it's unclear if Hulk is Banner or someone else, and if he is Banner, if the Hulk is the result of the same Gamma bomb explosion as in the prime reality, or something else.
An unarmored Victor Von Doom, bearing some slight facial scarring (presumably as a result of the same accident which prompted the prime Dr. Doom to end up in his iconic armor & mask, a process presumably interrupted by Apocalype's ascension), serves as the head of security for the Human High Council.
Finally, the AoA Empath appears as a captive of Mikhail, hooked up to a machine amplifying his power, allowing Mikahil to manipulate the emotions of the people around him.
A Work in Progress
The spider-like Stark cargo transport prompts a pang in Gwen.
Mikhail is referred to as the “forgotten” & “invisible” Horseman at different times.
Mikhail employs a group of enhanced humans, augmented with texhnology (including Matt Murdock).
The narration alternates between calling Mikhail a Horseman and a Prelate; the latter seems incorrect, as that is the rank below Horseman (Cyclops, for example, is a Prelate, but not a Horseman).
X-Universe is an odd little two-issue series. The idea of a book that shows how the rest of the Marvel Universe was affected by the changed timeline of "Age of Apocalypse" is, in theory, a good one. The problem is that, on top of telling its own story, it has to cram all the world-building of "alternate Marvel Universe" into two issues (whereas the rest of the event has forty-ish issues to do the same for just the X-Men). The end result is a pair of issues crammed full of coincidences and winking nods to the prime reality, and while some are less egregious than others (Tony Stark, Don Blake & Clint Barton all working together fits in a sort of "the Avengers are destined to find each other" kind of way), it can get distracting, as it's easy to start running the math on the likelihood of characters like Gwen Stacy becoming a gun-toting relief worker in Wakanda who falls in with the "Avengers" or the Hell's Kitchen-born Matt Murdock becoming the Russian Mikhail Rasputin's righthand man, and feeling like the story is relying two much on coincidences to bring all these characters together.
Of course, those kinds of coincidences are part & parcel of any alternate reality story, and the rest of the "Age of Apocalypse" titles are rife with them too. But, when parsed out over the course of the forty-some issues of those titles, there's more room to breathe between them, to allow the suspension of disbelief to take over. Whereas between this issue and the next, almost the entirety of the Marvel Universe gets re-imagined and smashed together in the course of 48 pages, leaving very little room for the story itself as nearly every other page, the reader is pulled out of that story to ponder the circumstances of the latest Marvel U character to pop up in the AoA. Ultimately, this leaves the series in an awkward position: the only way to tell its "the rest of the Marvel Universe in the Age of Apocalypse" is to pile one coincidence on top of another, to the point where the plethora of coincidences distract from the story being told.
Next week: Generation Next plunges deeper into the Core in Generation Next #3, and the shit hits the fan in X-Man #3.
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