Imagine a world ravaged by omni-powerful being and his followers. The world in disarray and there’s little hope left to stop this being and bring the world back to what it once was. That’s premise the behind the 1995 X-Men crossover Age Of Apocalypse. This massive story saw the world destroyed and replaced by an alternate timeline in which Apocalypse ruled. With X-Men: Apocalypse in cinemas I thought it would be a great idea to dive into this notable story featuring the Darwinian villain. I dived into this ambitious 40+ issue event to see if it’s worth reading.
Before I dive into Age of Apocalypse event, I need to talk about what instigated it. A little, by 90’s standards, crossover called Legion Quest. After Mystique wakes up Professor X’s son Legion from a coma, he uses his abilities to travel back in time with the intention of killing Magneto. This, in theory, is meant to make the world a better place as he can no longer give mutants a bad name. The problem is that he fails by accidentally killing Professor X instead. The result is the timeline becomes altered in drastic ways. Actually, it destroys it. The effect is a brand new timeline in which Apocalypse rose 20 years earlier than he should have and takes over the world as there was no one to stop him.
If that sounds convoluted that’s because it kinda is. That’s what X-Men comics were like during this decade. While Legion Quest sets up a new story it also closed off others. If you follow the broad strokes and ignore the rest you’ll be fine. It get’s much easier as we enter…
The Age Of Apocalypse!
As I mentioned earlier, an alternative timeline ruled by Apocalypse was created as a result. The world is pretty trashed, with most of the United States destroyed. Humans and mutants with sub-par powers either experimented on, killed or put in camps. Those who have been able to escape headed to Europe as refugees. As you can assume, It’s not a nice world to live in.
Opposing Apocalypse and his followers is Magneto, who leads a small group of X-Men. In the memory of Charles Xavier, they do everything they can to stop the evil dictator. It’s an ongoing struggle but they’re given renewed hope with the arrival of someone special. That special someone is Bishop, who’s a stowaway from the original timeline.
What I failed to mention about Legion Quest was that Bishop didn’t disappear when the timeline collapsed. Instead, he awoke Apocalypse’s dystopian world. Without going too much into his history this is due to not being native to the destroyed timeline. It’s not important to know why, just that it happened.
Bishop meets up with Magneto and the others and drops the truth bomb that their world shouldn’t exist. After some convincing, Magneto splits his group for missions which either aim to stop Apocalypse’s forces, confirm Bishop’s claims or rectify the timeline.
Each of these missions stars in their own comic miniseries which replaced the regular X-titles for the duration of the event. By making these new titles it separated them from the regular X-Men comics. It also makes them more identifiable so you know what’s part of Age Of Apocalypse and what isn’t. The comics titles changed as such:
- X-Men became Amazing X-Men
- Uncanny X-Men became Astonishing X-Men (not to be mistaken with Joss Whedon’s X-Men run a decade later)
- Wolverine became Weapon X
- Cable became X-Man (introducing a new character)
- X-Force became Gambit and the X-Ternals (the most baffling of the title changes)
- X-Factor became Factor X (the laziest of name changes)
- Excalibur became X-Calibre
- Generation X became Generation Next
Amazing X-Men, written by Fabian Nicieza and art by Andy Kubert, featured a team lead by Quicksilver. Others in the team included Storm, Dazzler, Banshee, Iceman, and Exodus. This focused on the team helping as many refugees as possible escape to Europe. Along the way, they fight a few of Apocalypse’s Horsemen, who are the most powerful followers of Apocalypse.
Astonishing X-Men, written by Scott Lobdell and art by Joe Madureira, featured a team lead by Magneto’s wife Rogue. It was their goal to stop the horrible culling of human and mutant life by the hands of Holocaust. Holocaust was Apocalypse’s son and is a new character introduced during this event. While he would appear in comics beyond this event he never had the same impact.
Weapon X, written by Larry Hama and art by Adam Kubert, starred this world’s version of Wolverine. This series had him running missions for the Human High Council over in Europe. Kubert drew Wolverine feral with a wild mane of hair and constantly gritted teeth. He’s also missing a hand, which is replaced with a metal stub. As you can guess, his design is very 90’s.
X-Man, written by Jeph Loeb and art by Steve Skroce, featured a new character – Nate Grey. Nate was the son of this world’s Cyclops and Jean Grey with the help of the geneticist Mr Sinister. Sinister grew Nate in his lab with the purpose of using his powers to take on Apocalypse, until he escaped. With few memories as an adult, Nate joins a bunch of misfits under the guise of travelling performers. Mr Sinister comes after him incognito to encourage him and his powers so he can serve his purpose.
Gambit and the X-Ternals, written by Fabian Nicieza and art by Tony Daniel and Salvador Larroca, starred Gambit, Jubilee and a bunch of other mutant misfits. Their mission was to go into outer space to retrieve the M’Krann crystal. The use of this crystal would allow them to go back in time and reverse the proceedings which created this horrible world. This was my least favourite of all the series, mostly as it fell into many of the 90s trappings I’m not a huge fan of.
Factor X, written by John Francis Moore and art by Steve Epting, featured Cyclops as he works in one of the mutant camps. While he’s working on the side of Apocalypse he eventually changes sides when he starts to question the methods of his superiors. This results in plenty of tension with his brother Havok.
X-Calibre, written by Warren Ellis and art by Ken Lashley, involved Nightcrawler travelling to Avalon. Avalon is a secret refuge which took in both mutants and humans and was home to Destiny. Destiny is a mutant who has the ability to see into the future. The intention is to bring her to back so she could verify Bishop’s claims. For those curious, this story also features an alternate version of Deadpool, known as Dead Mad Wade.
Generation Next, written by Scott Lobdell and art by Chris Bachalo, starred Colossus, Shadowcat and a young group of mutants as they attempt to free another mutant who has the ability to time travel. Out of all these series Generation Next is the most interesting looking one thanks to Chris Bachalo’s unique style.
These titles ran parallel with each other for 4-issues each. Those were where bookended by one-shots “X-Men: Alpha” and “X-Men: Omega” which kicked off and ended the event. Thrown in a handful of one-shot tie-ins there was close to 50 issues in total.
Where are all the other heroes in this? While Age Of Apocalypse focuses on the X-Men there’s the occasional appearance of other Marvel characters. We see this through mostly the X-Universe tie-ins. These stories starred characters like Gwen Stacy, Ben Grimm and others running missions for the Human High Council. While they’re not essential reading they do help expand the universe by exploring different corners.
What I like about alternative universe stories like this are tweaks that are done. Characters receive different designs, back-stories and motivations to give us something new, but also familiar at the same time. We can have Wolverine missing a hand or Cyclops missing an eye. (Making him a true cyclops!) You can make characters who are normally good become villains or in the case of Magneto the other way around. If something drastic doesn’t change with a character, they at least gave a new outfit. While you’ll get more out of the differences if you know the characters, it certainly not essential.
What made Age of Apocalypse great is that it’s the most accessible of the multitude of the 1990’s X-Men crossovers. Why? Mostly because there is so little required information needed going in. While it’s a bulky crossover, featuring around 50 issues, it’s all self-contained. It doesn’t play into the ongoing multi-title soap opera which the X-Men comics were so entrenched in during that decade. Everything you need to know is told throughout the story in an organic way. This includes characters back-stories too.
For an ambitious story like this, you need a whole roster of artists. Marvel was able to pick their big name X-Men artists of the era to draw it. Some of the talents included:
- Adam Kubert
- Andy Kubert
- Carlos Pacheco
- Chris Bachalo
- Ian Churchill
- Joe Bennett
- Joe Madureira
- Ken Lashley
- Roger Cruz
- Salvador Larroca
- Steve Epting
- Steve Skroce
- Terry Dodson
- Tony Daniel
Many of them were either hot artists on the X-titles of the time or early in their carrier. It’s interesting to see that most of their styles fall under one of two camps. While these aesthetics are different in many ways they both were popular for the X-Men comics of the 90s.
There’s the aesthetic that’s heavily influenced by Image Comics founders and featured art that’s bombastic and over the top. This was lead by artists such as Adam Kubert (Weapon X) and Andy Kubert (Amazing X-Men) and represents the popular house-style of the X-Men comics, especially in the first half of the decade.
The other was a newer style that took elements of what was popular circa 1989-95 but with anime and manga influences throughout. Popularised by Joe Madureira, and a lesser extent by Roger Cruz, this style mixed Japanese elements along with principles popular in American comics of the time. The result was a more animated style which allowed for different tones.
Most of the artists listed above are still working in comics today, whether it be for Marvel, DC or Image. It’s interesting to compare how they’re styles have evolved over time. For some, it’s a substantial change, which gives reading this that extra bit of curiosity.
Eventually, everything becomes normal again and the timeline is restored, destroying the Age of Apocalypse. The X-Men go back to business as usual, kick-starting a variety of new stories keep the mutant soap opera going again.
Since the conclusion of this massive crossover Marvel has revisited this timeline in a variety of new stories. Most of these are set before the main story, which fleshes that universe out more. More recently characters from the regular universe visited the Age of Apocalypse in Rick Remender’s excellent Uncanny X-Force run.
A handful of characters also survived the Age of Apocalypse to make their mark on future X-Men stories. The Age of Apocalypse Blink went on to be a mainstay of universe-hopping Exiles team. Villains Dark Beast and Sugarman both made it to the regular Marvel Universe to become a pain for the X-Men over the years. The most impressive would be X-Man, who went on to have 71 more issues after the event concluded.
Overall, Age of Apocalypse is an ambitious crossover event which is much more accessible than any other X-Men story of the decade. It doesn’t play into the ongoing, and sometimes convoluted, soap opera of the various and interconnecting X-titles which allows it to build it’s own expanded world without the need for prior knowledge. While the story falls into certain elements popular in the 90s which some modern readers might not dig if you put your 90’s comics hat on you’ll be fine. If you’re looking to check out an X-Men story from this era I would highly recommend Age of Apocalypse as your number #1 choice.