When the Age of Apocalypse storyline was announced in the ’90s, I was already five years into being a dedicated X-Men fan. We didn’t have a comic shop in my town, so riding my bike to the local convenience store and checking the comics on their news rack was the only way I could get my monthly comics in my area. Long before the internet was a thing in my rural California town, you would often learn about a major crossover or arc from the advertisements and letters page at the back of the comic. Thus, when Professor Xavier was killed in the past by his son Legion, it seemed understandable that the X-Men comics I had come to love were ending and a table was being set for a new, darker universe for future stories. It was a simpler time (or at least I was a greener person), but this new direction for the X-books seemed monumental and historic.
While the X-books would return to the status quo after four months, the reverberations left by the Age of Apocalypse storyline were monumental. The sinister alternative timeline, where Professor X never lived to create the X-Men and where Apocalypse rules over a ruined North America, is one of the most enduring pocket-universes in all of the X-mythos. For those my age when the story arc was first published in the mid-’90s, it remains one of the greatest X-Men tales of all time, and one Marvel would return to on numerous occasions in the following decades.
The X-Men: Age of Apocalypse: Alpha collection borrows from recent X-Men trades, collecting each of the individual first issues from the various X-books as well as the Legion Quest, which kicked-started this alternate world. Unlike some of the recent Dawn of X trades, where each issue published in an X-book in a single month is grouped together into one collection, this Age of Apocalypse trade is much more coherent in its grouping and purpose. One of the best things about the current X-Men field of books is their individual character; however, this does call into question grouping dissimilar stories other than to demonstrate the variety of the current line. With each of the first issues reprinted in this trade, the reader is treated to various pockets of this twisted realm that give the sense that all the narratives will intersect at the conclusion of the arc. Having some knowledge of the X-Men enhances each introduction to these new versions of the characters, but the reader doesn’t need to know much of the pre-existing lore as the individuals presented in these issues are essentially distinctive characters.
Another strength of this type of collection is the way it showcases the litany of talent at Marvel in the mid-’90s. Writers like Scott Lobdell, Mark Waid, Fabian Nicieza, Jeph Loeb, Larry Hama and Warren Ellis do some of their best X-Men work, being able to create and develop their own takes on these iconic characters. The artistic talent is also breathtaking to behold — in the years following the departure of some of Marvel’s biggest talent to Image Comics, it is clear that by 1995 they had found firm footing with the innovative talent featured here. I have always loved the Andy Kubert work from this era, with his epic character poses and attention to detail. But the standout work from this era goes to Roger Cruz, Chris Bachalo and Joe Madureira. Each of these artists created some of their most iconic images during this arc, and the designs they effortlessly craft in this trade are still awe-inspiring.
You could see how this younger crop of artists, with their styles informed by Japanese design and animation, was giving their work a distinct character that still stands up today. Lobdell and Bachalo’s Generation Next run remains one of my favorite four issues from this time period, with the highly animated line work and character expressions providing wonderful (if not unsettling) contrast in this sinister version of an X-Men junior team. Madureira, who would later be known for the long delays in getting his work to press, demonstrates just how detailed his work is in the Astonishing X-Men book. Each frame is packed with so much detail and energy, you have to give the artist leeway in the time needed to produce these incredible illustrations.
While other collections of the Age of Apocalypse exist, Marvel put additional effort into this assemblage. The simple fact that they felt the need to include the Legion Quest arc was a respectable addition to this trade. With the covers of the second printings being different from the originals, it was nice to see them reprinted here as well. The inclusion of the X-Men Aschan (remember those?) giving historical context for this storyline was also a worthwhile supplement. The book is topped off with some original inked pages, alternate covers and the promotional material published in all X-Books, detailing the “suspension” of all the main titles for the foreseeable future. I got a nostalgia hit reading through these pages and remembering how successful they were in sparking my interest way back in the ’90s.
This is an excellent trade and one worthy of shelf space. It’s a celebration of an entire era of creative talent at Marvel, carefully curated and printed commendably. Marvel would return to the well that was the Age of Apocalypse for years to come and getting to read each first issue from the event demonstrates why this story captured the imagination of generation of X fans.
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