With a series as old as the X-Men, even a dedicated fan is bound to have runs that went unread or ignored. During the mid-2000s, I found myself entering the professional world, moving from city to city to chase various jobs, and generally ignored what was happening in the X-line. I’ve been lucky enough to go back and read some of the highs and lows from this era of merry mutants, but Peter Milligan’s X-Men run only recently made its way to my desk. With the new pressing of X-Men: Blood of Apocalypse, it was an opportune time to give the era a read. While I love some of Peter Milligan’s work (X-Statix was a favorite of mine), this run simply lacks the creative spark that gave his previous work notoriety. He tinkers with fringe ideas, but fails to deliver on them, leaving this book ultimately feeling like a collection of fragmentary notions.
Collected are Cable & Deadpool #26-27 and X-Men #177-187, and as the title suggests, it’s a run of issues connected to Apocalypse and his reappearance. Coincidently, this is the tail end of Milligan’s run on the X-Men, and it feels like a contractual obligation rather than a story Peter was interested in telling. Milligan is a good writer; he knows how to transcend and bend the comic genre in service of criticizing its underlining premises. He’s always been a writer that recognizes the absurdity of superheroes yet sees them as meaningful tools to explore our culture and norms. Thus, it’s frustrating to see Milligan plant a series of oddities in this arc without ever pledging the narrative to surveying those elements. Personal drama between Rogue, Gambit, Polaris, Havok and Cyclops is explored, but these character interactions are not likely going to find their way into reader’s hearts; it often comes across as theater for theater sake and not in service of a larger narrative goal.
It’s interesting reading this run with the Hickman’s Krakoan context in mind, as Apocalypse returns to protect mutant kind in the aftermath of the Decimation event. The version on these pages is more of a B-movie villain than a conniving mastermind, as he makes a slew of X-Men his Horseman all while being undermined and betrayed by Ozymandias. It’s a stark contrast to the statesman-like version in recent years, and should have played to Milligan’s strengths, but ends up an uneventful return of the villain.
Salvador Larroca provides the pencils for most of this run, and while he does have a recognizable style, his pseudo-realistic figures don’t gel well with the absurdity of Milligan’s approach. All the characters have a glossy, polished finish but feel flat on the page. It’s almost like the individuals are all inhabiting different spaces in the same panel. Roger Cruz fills-in for a few issues that also feel out of place. The strongest artistic contributions come from Lan Medina in the Cable and Deadpool issues, providing some competent blocking and movement to the writer’s narrative.
The trade is also short on supplementals. There are two sketch pages at the end of the trade, but this volume could have used an introduction by Milligan to illuminate his thinking at the time of the title’s publication. Seeing that this run came out a short time after Grant Morrison’s New X-Men and would be followed by Mike Carey’s fan-favorite run, having some editorial notes about how these fit into the larger 2000 era would have been helpful.
X-Men by Peter Milligan: Blood of Apocalypse is an odd book, and a run that is likely forgotten by many fans. While it is not a set of issues I will fondly return to, it does serve as an interesting sideshow to a period when the direction of the X-Men was unclear and facing an identity crisis.
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