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Wednesday, June 1, 2022

X-amining Tales From the Age of Apocalypse

"By the Light"

December 1996

In a Nutshell
Magneto's X-Men battle the Horseman of Death and his Inhumans!

Plot: Scott Lobdell
Script: Ralph Macchio
Penciler: Joe Bennett
Inkers: Joe Pimentel
Letters: Richard Starkings & Comicraft
Colors: Gloria Vasquez
Separations: GSW
Editor: Mark Powers
Editor-in-Chief: Bob Harras

With the help of the X-Men, Magneto is able to defeat Diablo and the Absorbing Man in order to liberate Robert Kelly from a prisoner of war camp. Later, Nightcrawler informs Magneto that Mystique has located where Apocalypse is hiding. Elsewhere, Sabretooth is tending to the recently rescued Blink, when Morph arrives and calls him to Magneto's emergency meeting. He reveals that Apocalypse is on the moon, and Blink will need to teleport them there. On the moon, Cyclops watches as the Horseman of Death tortures Sunfire. Cyclops remains disturbed by Death's actions and questions his loyalty to Apocalypse. Just then, Blink teleports the X-Men to the moon, just below the Celestial ship on which the X-Men believe Apocalypse to be recuperating. Death is aware of their arrival, however, and sends his Inhumans to attack. All the X-Men save Blink are captured. Death intends to use the Terrigen Mists to mutate the X-Men further and use them to overthrow Apocalypse. But Cyclops helps Blink teleport onto Ship where the X-Men are being held. He frees Sunfire, who kills Death, and then Blink teleports everyone away as Ship explodes. Back on Earth, Magneto and Rogue gaze up at the moon, and ponder whether Cyclops is truly their enemy, or an ally. 

Firsts and Other Notables
This is the first "Tales From the Age of Apocalypse", a square-bound prestige format one-shot set in the past of the "Age of Apocalypse" (before the events of X-Men Alpha). A second one-shot telling a different "untold" tale will follow about a year later. I'm not sure if Marvel intended to make them an annual/regular thing, but they only ever release two under the "Tales..." banner (eventually, as part of the story's ten year anniversary, Marvel will publish another one-shot and a five issue miniseries which reveals that the reality "survived", opening the door for "Age of Apocalypse" sequel stories). 

Adam Kubert provides the issue's cover. 

Through the Looking Glass
In the opening sequence, Magneto rescues (Senator) Robert Kelly from a camp run by Diablo and Absorbing Man. In the later series which returns to "Age of Apocalypse" and shows what happened after the end of the initial story, Kelly will be elected president. 

Diablo is an old Fantastic Four who uses alchemy and was born centuries earlier, but the "prime" Absorbing Man received his powers from Loki in order to use them against Thor, and it is unclear how this version of the character would have received his powers when X-Universe established that Thor remained locked sway in Don Blake in this reality. 

Later, the X-Men battle Apocalypse's Horseman of Death on the Blue Area of the Moon; though he isn't ever called it directly, this is the AoA Maximus, and his henchmen are the AoA versions of the Inhumans (Maximus is the second Death, having replaced the former one who appeared in X-Men Chronicles #1 and whose 616 counterpart remains unknown). 

A Work in Progress
At this point in their history, the X-Men are operating out of the Guthrie farm. 

Their current roster includes Magneto, Rogue, Sabretooth, Morph, Colossus, Nightcrawler, and Gambit, setting it before Colossus left to teach Generation Next and the Magneto/Rogue/Gambit schism. 

Sunfire opens the story a captive of Death, bur is eventually freed by Blink and Cyclops. He proceeds to kill Death and leaves with the X-Men, more or less marking the point at which he joins the team.

The AoA version of Ship, which appeared in X-Men Chronicles #1, is being used as Death's headquarters in this issue, and gets destroyed by Sunfire.  

The issue ends with Magneto and Rogue musing on Cyclops and, in one of those prequel story things, suggesting that he may well be their ally in the final battle...*wink*

Austin's Analysis
To the credit of this issue, it is simply, as the name suggests, a tale from the "Age of Apocalypse", and not an attempt to revisit that world and somehow alter its ending and/or revive the concept as a standard alternate reality. In that, it reads much like the two X-Men Chronicles issues, telling a story of the X-Men before their encounter with Bishop and the beginning of the end of their reality. Thus, it also reads like a lot of prequel stories: it fills in some details about past events (like what the Inhumans were up to or what happened to the AoA version of Ship) but can't really do much else in terms of pushing either character or plot forward (because both will, inevitably, run up against existing events). That makes it hard to get too excited about this (it's not helped by the art in that regard, either, which is clear enough in terms of storytelling but largely done in an unremarkable 90s house style that does little to elevate the story or make it memorable). Ultimately, this issue seems to exist simply to gives fans of the popular "Age of Apocalypse" storyline a little taste of that world (in exchange for giving Marvel a little more of that sweet, sweet cash), and in that regard, in succeeds. But it neither tries nor succeeds in doing much else. It is neither bad nor good enough to get much worked up over. It is the comic book equivalent of a shrug. 

Next Issue
Dirt Nap returns in Venom: Tooth and Claw. You remember Dirt Nap, right? 

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  1. AoA was the first event I followed along with in real time, and it had such a satisfying, contained ending that I just assumed they we're all like that. So I was a bite hesitant about these prequel books, but found them to be unofensive enough and I enjoyed re-visiting these versions of the characters again. What I really wasnt into was the retcon that the reality survived being bombed to heck, and all the subsequent books that came out of it. I wish they couda left it alone (though Remender's use of nightcrawler gets a pass)

  2. I remember this and the one from the following year, but I never read either. After AoA ended, I had no real desire to revisit it, since I was never all that into it in the first place.

    I agree with Nick; the idea that the AoA reality survived is dumb. The whole point of the crossover was that it was NOT a parallel universe, but the real universe "rewritten". Bob Harras has even said that he had to sell Mark Gruenwald on the idea that this would not be a parallel reality thanks to the involvement of the M'Krann Crystal!

  3. What a wasted opportunity! Like many fans at the time, I had loved the AoA event and I was constantly upset that Marvel did not publish more stories in that universe. It didn’t help that I felt like the main continuity had become aimless and boring (and it would only get worse as the 90s came to an end).

    Moreover, looking back, it’s a shame that they didn’t make Cyclops truly evil. Yes, I like the idea that he is inherently good and honorable, and that regardless of how he was raised, he’d always become a hero. However, they should have made him like how Cyclops has been portrayed since 2013: cold, heartless and arrogant (instead of allowing for his character assassination in the main continuity). He should have been a horseman, preferably “War”, and should have been a major villain, instead of a minor “prelate.” Pity!

  4. Imagine if Onslaught or Zero Tolerance brought the AOA X-Men and the 616 X-Men together and certain members of both teams.perished and we were left the remains to forge a new team. Instead we got... Psionic Energy and human robots.

  5. A lot of typos in this issue. That’s one of the perils of using fonts — not that mistakes never occurred in the days of hand lettering, and of course proofreading should have caught them regardless. Especially galling when you realize how much easier it is to make the fix in the digital file rather than on art board.

    1. I once read a quote, I'm pretty sure from either Richard Starkings or John Roshell, where they recommended (with tongue-in-cheek) that the letterer should always copy and paste directly from the writer's script, so any typos in the finished product will be fault of the writer!

    2. That’s assuming the script is typed out. When I first heard about the inclusion of the word “k*ke” in an issue of Wolverine the presumption going around was that “kikker” was mistyped for “killer” and got erroneously autocorrected to “k*ke” — but it turned out to be an editor’s handwritten scrawl of “killer” being misread by a young Comicraft associate ignorant of the slur. The utter failure of subsequent quality control is of course ultimately to blame either way.

    3. I know you were replying in light-hearted fashion, so my apologies. That error’s just always stuck with me. I actually discovered a couple of years ago that I should apologize to Richard Starkings for blaming the age of widespread use of lowercase font lettering, primarily at Marvel, on him and the Comicraft Industrial Complex, after I read a round-table conversation in which he just excoriated the practice and was utterly stricken that it was largely done with Comicraft fonts.

    4. No apologies necessary! I forgot about that WOLVERINE issue. I read it when it first came out, but I had no idea what that word meant or that it was a slur, so I just assumed it was a typo. It was several years later, I think on NOT BLOG X, that I learned both the word's meaning and that the issue was notorious because of it.

      Regarding the lowercase letters, as I recall -- at least at Marvel -- that was a Bill Jemas thing. He demanded that all comics be lettered in lowercase (or perhaps more accurately, sentence case) because whenever he looked at a comic lettered the traditional way, it came across to him as if all the characters were shouting at each other.

      (I think it's well known that Jemas wasn't very familiar with comics when he became Marvel's publisher, but to me that's the prime evidence! Comics had been lettered in uppercase since the beginning of time and no one else in the history of civilization had ever had a second thought about it.)

    5. I’ll bring this back around by sharing that one of the errors I caught in this issue is a lower-case g on “guthrie” in a mixed-case narrative caption referring to, if memory serves, “the [G]uthrie home”. Stick with capitals and you have one less way to trip yourself up! Of course, I make exceptions for hand-written journal entries and the like meant to be some kind of actual diegetic text, or even just evoke such a thing in how a character’s monologue visually reflects that character, but the whole point of traditional comics lettering is that its uniform, sans-serif capitals flow easily without calling attention to themselves as print.

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  7. Thanks for reviewing this!

  8. I love the Age of Apocalypse and the idea of returning to it, but this particular storyline never grabbed me. I’ve never found the Inhumans interesting. To be honest the only one of them I like are Lockjaw because he’s a dog and Crystal because she’s tied to Quicksilver, who I love as a character. But I digress.
    I’ll give this a read and comment again later because, like I said, I love these versions of the X-Men. I’m much more interested in the follow up to this issue with the Summers Brothers meeting the AoA versions of Corsair and the Brood.

    Ps. I’m still bummed that the highly underrated 2009 cartoon Wolverine and the X-Men was cancelled because they were going to adapt the Age of Apocalyse for the second season. The only animated adapted of AoA we’ve gotten was the lame episode of X-Men TAS, “One Man's Worth,” which didn’t do the storyline justice. Here’s hoping we get an AoA adaptation someday, similar to how DC Comics are making feature length animated movies like Under the Red Hood. IMO, those movies are the only thing DC is beating Marvel at.

    1. It was actually the other way around. "One Man's Worth" inspired the Age of Apocalypse, but animation's longer production timeline led to the comic being released first. A few AoA characters ended up in the final show as Easter eggs.


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