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Wednesday, September 4, 2019

X-amining X-Universe #2

"Dying Breath"
June 1995

In a Nutshell
Humanity fights back against Mikhail.

Based on a Story By: Scott Lobdell
Script: Terry Kavanagh
Pencilers: Carlos Pacheco & Terry Dodson
Inkers: Cam Smith & Rob Riggs
Lettering: Richard Starkings
Colorist: Kevin Tinsley
Editor: Marie Javins
Editor-in-Chief: Bob Harras
Separations: Electric Crayon

As Empath, under the care of Matt Murdock, continues to keep the human populace of London docile, the captive Tony Stark is experimented on aboard Mikhail's ship. While Mikhail is meeting with the Human High Council, transistors in Stark's mechanical heart create a feedback loop, shutting down power to the ship, exactly as the captured agents of the council planned. With Operation: Trojan Horse in action, the agents storm the ship's armory and lead an attack on Mikhail's forces, with Gwen & Stark going to the bridge while Doom & Don Blake go to tell the council of Mikhail's lies. On the bridge, Gwen & Stark are attacked by the Hulk, and when Blake & Doom confront Mikhail in front of the council, he calls in his cybernetic Stryfe-Force troops to eliminate them. Aboard Mikhail's ship, Empath manages to force Murdock to confront all the pain he's caused, ending Empath's control over the crowd, and they rise up, storming the rest of Mikhail's armada. As Blake sacrifices himself to kill Mikhail, Hulk transforms back into Banner when he realizes Apocalypse intends to kill everyone in London, and works to take control of the ship. With the rest of the survivors aboard, the fleet heads for outer space, just as reality around them ends.

Firsts and Other Notables
The issue ends with all the human survivors in London, all aboard Mikhail's ships, heading for outer space, with reality ending (as a result of X-Men: Omega) just as they escape the atmosphere

This issue is beset with several continuity/character errors that speak to the apparent slipshod execution of the series. A figure clearly meant to be Clint Barton (mentioned in this issue as Stark's pilot from the previous issues) with a visual nod to DC's Oliver Queen/Green Arrow, is said to be Bullseye (who was, per Blam in the comments to the previous issue's review, the character Carlos Pacheco was asked to draw as Stark's pilot in issue #1, only to have the character redrawn to be Clint after the fact).

The Human High Council is shown to be operating out of Big Ben, as in other AoA issues, but it remains knocked over and laying on its side (unlike other AoA issues).

Kavanagh seems to believe "Horseman" and "Prelate" are equivalent ranks, when other issues have made it clear that's not the case.

Finally, Apocalypse's Seawall is referenced as being a force capable of destroying Mikhail's captured aramada and wiping out London, even though the Seawall elsewhere in "Age of Apocalypse" serves as a defensive shield protecting North America from outside attacks, with no indication it could go on the offensive to threaten Europe.

For whatever reason (to milk a few extra bucks out of any lingering speculators?) this issue also features a red-foil embossed cover, just like the first issue.

Through the Looking Glass
It's confirmed that the Tony Stark of this world was still injured (presumably in Vietnam) and still developed a technological solution to the shrapnel that was slowly killing him as a result. On the one hand, that makes sense, since "Vietnam" can be considered mostly to take place before or during the "twenty years ago" (relative to 1994-1995) setting of when Legion killed Xavier. On the other hand, it then seems odd that Tony Stark didn't continue being Iron Man, since his development of the initial armor occurred while in captivity (so if he escaped - as he clearly did - then he did so using the initial Iron Man armor). And while Apocalypse's emergence may have disrupted Stark's role as a wealthy captain of industry (and obviously prevented the formation of the Avengers), there's nothing to have prevented him from being Iron Man when Apocalypse did attack.

tl;dr: Lobdell and/or Kavanagh probably should have just steered clear of this particular hornet's nest.

Longtime Hulk antagonist General Thunderbolt Ross appears amongst the Human High Council.

Don Blake reveals he has dreams of being, essentially, Thor, shortly before he takes out Mikhail with his cane (which is, of course, secretly Mjolnir).

When Doom urges Stark to use the captured ships to attack Apocalypse, Stark insists their mission to protect the civilians, saying none of them set out to be Avengers before winking at the camera then slipping on a pair of sunglasses as the opening credits roll.

There's a subplot running through this issue involving a mother, father and their baby, caught up in the events of the plot. The mother ends up getting impressed into Mikhail's army of cybernetic troops, while the father is ultimately killed during the battle, leaving the baby to be rescued by Ben Grimm. Ben, in turn, is killed, and so the child is passed into the care of Sue Storm, at which point it's revealed that the baby's name is "Frankie", suggesting, I guess, that Sue is destined to take care of a child with "Frank" in the name.

A Work in Progress
Mikhail's power is said to be the power to control power (ie energy), which is, frankly, a more clear explanation of his power than we've had at any point prior to this. 

The Grim 'n' Gritty 90s
Don Blakes pulls a Pulp Fiction to revive Stark, whose heart stopped as part of the process that freed Mikhail's prisoners.

Austin's Analysis
This isn't a bad conclusion to the story - there's always something fun & entertaining in seeing a group of underdogs take down a vastly more powerful foe and the art, even with the switch to Terry Dodson towards the end, is very nice - but it also does little to ameliorate the concerns of the first issue. Between the various editorial mistakes that suggest this two-part series was thrown together last minute and the weird juxtaposition between the series being both too expansive (stretching the credibility that all of these characters would still come together when so much else in the world is different) and too limited (as it fails to address how the big events of the Marvel Universe, from the coming of Galactus to the Kree-Skrull war, played out in this altered reality, which seems like the kind of thing a series meant to ostensibly show the non-mutant side of the altered reality should do), this issue does little to justify the existence of this series. As much as individual parts of this work, so long as you don't think too hard about it, it's nevertheless a series in which the idea behind it is better than how that idea is executed.

Next Issue
Next week: Generation Next #4 and X-Man #4!

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  1. Basically just a cash-grab?

    "as it fails to address how the big events of the Marvel Universe, from the coming of Galactus to the Kree-Skrull war, played out in this altered reality"

    It's the small things as well, like, as you mentioned, how did Tony Stark not become Iron Man? How did Donald Blake spend all this not once turning into Thor, even by accident, when he had Mjolnir this whole time?

    I mean, it could have been worse, the art is nice, and it's nice to see the good guys kind of "win" by having a successful evacuation before reality blinks out. But otherwise...I guess Lobdell and co. spent so much effort into the world-building of the X-men part of the world that they didn't put as much into the non-X-men part of the world.

  2. So maybe it wasn't a full-pledged pure timeline divergence after all, but really a House of M type alternative reality caused/imagined up by nigh-omnipotent Legion. Deep down in his core Legion probably acknowledged in the past Israel that Magneto's resistance after all wasn't the reason why Xavier's dream hadn't realized, and to cope with that the big evil in "his" dystopic universe turns out to be Apocalypse, the spokesman of what the first Cro-Magnon did to the last Neanderthal.

    Obviously the powers cosmic and otherworldly aren't Legion's to command, which is why his simulacrum of the reality is lacking Galactus, Phoenix, the Celestials, Captain Britain, the Sorcerer Supreme... and maybe even most the potential for superheroes with no X in their team name. In this world Tony Stark only made a boring breastplate to keep his ticker going, and there's no magical qualities to Don Blake's cane. I bet von Doom can't sorcery either. Shi'ar probably exists only courtesy of their association with the X-Men.

    1. Do note the total absence of thunder, lightning and valkyrias when Don Blake heroically dies while killing Mikhail. If he was Thor and died a Valhalla-worthy death, oh there would be fireworks.

    2. Also remember what Legion did to his mom in the past, if you want to understand the thing about the Legion's self-reflecting original and definitive AoA hero X-Man and Maddie. Explains also the stupid codename.

      If you don't want to understand, that's cool too.

  3. Did they actually confirm that this is the cane that actually is Mjolnir? Don Blake found the cane in the cave in Norway when he went there to hide himself from the stony aliens. XU #1 says he was on sabbatical in Norway when things went awry, but apparently he never got into that actual cave. This one possibly is just a regular cane.

  4. Right. I think this one is just a regular cane.
    I also think that the fact that Tony Stark never became Iron Man may be due to the lack of other superheroes in this version of reality.

    Maybe the fact that there were other superheroes operating on Earth-616 at the time, like the FF and other members of the Avengers, is what influenced Stark to continue on as a superhero.
    Without that, he never thought up the idea of creating Iron Man.
    Plus, if he lost his corporation, he wouldn't need to think up a super-powered bodyguard to protect his factories against saboteurs and Commies.

  5. I don’t believe the cane is a disguised Mjolnir. I simply felt he never had the chance to reach that cave in this timeline. Why his father never tried to help him, despite clearly becoming humble in this timeline as well, it’s another question. Maybe Asgard was conquered by Loki and Odin was defeated.

    It would have been fun to see Galactus’ arrival. Perhaps it was an unique occasion in which Apocalypse and Magneto joined forces.

  6. There’s a not-great What If? issue with the premise that the Age of Apocalypse did not end in X-Men: Omega, and the surviving X-Men have to fight off Galactus. I forget if it is explained why he came to earth later than in the main timeline. Of course, since it’s an issue of What If?, it is not canon. (Also, we now know the Age of Apocalypse didn’t end after all....)

  7. When is the Generation Next #4 review going up?

  8. Seriously: What’s the deal with Mikhail calling himself “the Fourth and Forgotten Horseman”? It’s not as though he’s sitting on the bench.


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