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AGE OF APOCALYPSE #1
WRITER: Dave Lapham
ARTIST: Roberto De La Torre
Cover By Humberto Ramos
Variant Cover By Bryan Hitch
• Spinning Directly Out Of Uncanny X-Force
• The Amazing X-Men Have Lost And The Evil Weapon X Is More Powerful Than Ever
• Jean Grey And Sabretooth Are At Their Lowest
• Who Are The X-Terminated?
32 Pgs./Parental Advisory ...$2.99
Back in 1995, Marvel Comics published a pretty ambitious and heady crossover event that invovled the entirety of its X-Men line. In "The Age of Apocalypse," the X-books were, in effect, replaced by different titles, all of which took place in a dystopian alternate reality ruled by the villain Apocalypse. The event turned out to be so well-realized and thought out that it ultimately lived up to its ambition. Certainly, it's rare for a major corporate comic book crossover event to actually tell a complete and compelling story, so "The Age of Apocalypse" really stands out in that pack.
Marvel has made some brief returning forays into the "Apocalypse" storyline in the ensuing decade and a half, but never more successfully and vigorously than in the recently-concluded "The Dark Angel Saga" in Uncanny X-Force, itself another exceptionally strong, epic story that really dazzled readers (and ended up on many year-end "Best of 2011" lists). Marvel's new ongoing Age of Apocalypse series spins out of "Dark Angel" and picks up in that universe where Uncanny X-Force left off.
Jean Grey and Sabretooth are depowered and the only two X-Men left in the world. All the rest are either dead, running around on Earth-616 in Uncanny X-Force, or they're Logan/Weapon X, who was driven mad by instructions from The Celestials to prepare the Earth for judgment, and has become the successor to Apocalypse (there have been many iterations or Wolverine in the myriad alternate realities Marvel has showcased over the years, but Logan as Brutal Dictator could be one of the most robust and fearsome). With nowhere else to turn, Jean and Sabretooth throw in with a group called The X-Terminated, comprised of humans who in the mainline Marvel Universe are actually X-Men villains. In this universe, they're freedom fighting survivalists who number amongst the sixteen thousand humans left alive in the entire world. They track down a human reporter named Harper Simmons who is disseminating subversive literature that espouses equality between mutants and humans. In the process, the X-Terminated run afoul of Logan's forces and eventually stumble upon a discovery about a long-thought-dead mutant. The reveal of who the first person narrator would be serves as kind of a "fake out," since the real surprise is the character who shows up on the last page of the issue, opening all sorts of storytelling possibilities for this series.
The biggest hurdles Age of Apocalypse faces as a series stem from the fact that it stands on the shoulders of two other stories, one of them over fifteen years old. Writer David Lapham does the smart thing by having Rick Remender's Uncanny X-Force do the heavy lifting for him. Lapham exhibits a deep knowledge for the original "Age of Apocalypse," as he uses references and concepts introduced back then (even some of the most obscure ones, such as the character Keeper Murdock), but he writes this story as simply a spin-off of the Remender book. Lapham doesn't use much of his page space to recap what's come before, which is ultimately a good idea since doing so wouldn't leave him any room to write his own story, which would of course be a terrible way to kick off a new series. Lapham's story dumps the reader into a set place and forges ahead. It won't leave a newcomer completely lost, though, as the first two-thirds of the issue act a general survey of the world of AOA. Each scene moves from location to location, introducing the book's main characters and their conflicts while building the world, one which is conceivably plausible as the evolution of the one we saw in the orignal 1995 story. The first-person omniscient narration gets a little obtrusive at times, but it does offer a sense of dread by hinting at the impossible odds the heroes of the piece are up against and implying that things will go very, very wrong for them.
The sheer brutality of the world in Age of Apocalypse comes through in the art of Roberto de la Torre and Lee Loughrides, who come together to present a starkly hellish world marked by burnt out and rusted over infrastructure as well as architecture that harkens back to two worlds: the one before Apocalypse's reign, and the one after (not that it matters, since all of it is crumbling). It's interesting to note the evolution of de la Torre's art since he's been working for Marvel. He started out at the company working with Brian Reed on Ms. Marvel, where he exhibited a more vibrant style wholly approprate of the character and her story. As he moved from books like Iron Man and Thunderbolts, de la Torre took on a darker style to match express the narrative tone of those books. He continues that in AOA, where his gritty, angular linework reminiscent of the work of Michael Gaydos gets across the fact that nothing is neat and pretty in the world (though there is a single panel – from a flashback told by Harper Simmons – that looks really beautiful, even with the fact that it uses two grotesque characters as Dark Beast and The Sugar Man). His storytelling flows neatly, though, and his action sequences are exciting. Loughridge ably keeps pace with de la Torre by conveying the dankness in the story. His color palette here uses a lot of grimy earth tones and dulled cooler colors, tying story and art together.
What started as a world without Xavier has become a world without any X-Men at all. Age of Apocalypse will provide something a little different in the Marvel line-up that, by its nature, won't be incorporating much of the Marvel Universe at all. It's obviously going to be a dark book with an unlikely cast of characters, but this first issue certainly works in its milieu and settles in nicely. Any readers who haven't experienced Uncanny X-Force may want to go back and check that story out to see how things got this way (not to mention the original "Age of Apocalypse" story that ran in all of the X-Books for four months in 1995), but this series is driving forward and telling its own tales. The name will draw in fans of the past, but the book is off to a good start living in its own skin.
Review by: Royal Nonesuch