A few years back, around the time “Messiah CompleX” was hitting its stride, my LCS owner, Robert, asked me why I thought X-Men crossovers sold so consistently. No other line of books could get the fans so excited over a crossover, but X-fans, even lapsed X-fans, showed up in droves if the books were tying together.
I’ve given it a lot of thought since then, and I still don’t have an answer that satisfies me. But I have spent a lot of time pondering what made past X-Men crossovers work or fall apart. And, of course, because ranking the things we love in the order we love them is imprinted in a geek’s DNA, I ended up making a list of the best. And now, we’ve reached the end of that list – with what I can honestly say is one the best comic stories I’ve ever read.
Story crosses through: Publication of all the x-titles was suspended during the "AoA" event; they were replaced by four-issue mini-series for the duration of the story - Astonishing X-Men (Uncanny), Amazing X-Men (X-Men), X-Man (Cable), Weapon X (Wolverine), Gambit and the X-Ternals (X-Force), X-Caliber (Excalibur), Generation Next (Generation X), Factor X (X-Factor)
Synopsis: After Xavier is tragically cut down in battle twenty years in the past by a time-travelling enemy, Apocalypse takes advantage of the man's death to make a grab for power much earlier than he attempted on our reality. The present day sees Apocalypse in complete control of North America, battling the Human High Council in Europe for control of the world. All that stands in Apocalypse's way is Magneto and his band of rebels, the X-Men - named in honor of his dead friend and the ideals he embodied.
It’s all-new, all-different. A big reason this story resonates with longtime x-fans is that the alternate reality aspect gives us a fresh look at some of our favorite characters. Visually, it's just a treat: Hank McCoy mutates himself even further in the name of science, turning himself into a truly monstrous "Beast"; Cyclops lost an eye in a skirmish with Weapon X and now reflects his name. But even more than the art is watching the true personalities of these characters shine, even through the grim 'n' gritty lens of drastically altered scenarios. Every character in the "AoA" is recognizable as his 616 counterpart; no one's actions or reactions seem against character type. Warren, for example, constructs an impartial facade, pretending that his money puts him above the petty concerns of humans and mutants; in the end, however, his inner hero wins out, and the Angel flies once more. Cyclops is even more impressive - in a reality where he has been raised as Sinister's own son since he was a toddler, he still finds the status quo of Apocalypse's rule untenable, and works to destroy it from within. Havok gives free reign to the jealousy that has always boiled beneath the surface of his character. Nightcrawler, despite a life that has caused him to reject a God his 616 counterpart praises, still cracks a joke or two and can mount a swashbuckling manner when appropriate. And we've seen Beast in the pursuit of scientific answers at the expense of his morals a number of times; here, it's just taken to its most logical extreme. It's a true feat of character deconstruction and a real pleasure for longtime fans to read such different - yet startlingly familiar - characters.
And I love how, even in the midst of the overarching plot, there are a few touches here and there that reflect just how the entire Marvel Universe was affected by this change - specifically how, since Jean never became Phoenix, the M'kraan crystal was never healed and this reality is slowly being consumed by it. It's the level of attention to detail and sweet little continuity nods like that (and a few others, mostly over in X-UNIVERSE, but that's the one that always stuck out to me) that put the "AoA" a cut above the rest.
Sweet little continuity nods can be off-putting for new readers. I hate to say it, but it's true - the "AoA" really rewards the hardcore x-fan over the more casual reader. As much as I dearly love this story, I'm hesitant to hand it to an inexperienced x-reader - it'd be like handing a copy of Final Crisis to someone who likes Batman and wants to learn more about the DCU.
FINAL ANALYSIS: “The Age of Apocalypse” is a fresh, exciting take on characters that were, at the time, pushing 40 years old. It's an epic story that rewards multiple readings and a good starting knowledge of X-Men continuity. It's not the best book to hand a newbie, but it’s a genuine treat for the true x-phile.