Is there anything left of the Age of Apocalypse worth revisiting? That is the question David Lapham and Roberto de la Torre struggle to answer in this first issue, and how hard they struggle with it is probably the answer.
I was honestly surprised when Marvel announced this series. Why? Because I was reading the Dark Angel Saga at the time, and the last thing I would’ve guessed it was doing was trying to stir up interest in going back to the Age of Apocalypse. That story took us back there and revealed the last few scraps left to pick from. Then, it proceeded to kill off or otherwise remove most of those scraps. What we were left with were Sabretooth, a Jean Grey bearing little resemblance to how her character was originally portrayed in that reality and Weapon X as the new Apocalypse in pretty ridiculous feat of strained characterization and story logic. From this, Marvel chose to launch a new Age of Apocalypse series. ...Really?
I read the Age of Apocalypse crossover back when it happened, and it stands as one of my favorite comic book events of all time. As such, I have to imagine that I’m inside the target audience for this book. It’s far too convoluted to appeal to many new readers, depending so much on the past history of this alternate reality. It also lacks many prominent X-characters that newer readers would be interested in, mostly because they are all already dead. So this series is mainly just a shout out to the older X-fans.
Unfortunately, it mostly fails in this regard.
See, the thing of it is that I am a fan of Age of Apocalypse. What that means is that I’m fully aware that the Age of Apocalypse ended. Virtually all of the characters died heroic and/or tragic deaths while Bishop successfully set the timeline right. The end. When the tenth anniversary revisited Age of Apocalypse, it really didn’t. It gave us an alternate reality of an alternate reality where writers used that infamous storytelling crutch of the X-Universe, the Phoenix Force, to change the end of the story. This series follows the tenth anniversary. This isn’t really the Age of Apocalypse that so many people were fans of in the ‘90s. It’s not my Age of Apocalypse, so it holds almost no nostalgic appeal.
Because of this, the challenge this book faces is to be interesting in its own right. The writing is solid enough, but the material fails it. Lapham tries to cobble together a cast for his X-Terminated human resistance team using some of the X-Men’s human villains. It all falls rather flat, though. The group tries to hang off the coolness factor of Prophet, but Prophet’s coolness is painfully artificial. William Stryker is portrayed here as the Age of Apocalypse’s Batman. He’s the unbeatable fighter, the brilliant tactician and the one with the amazing toys. But it comes off more as writer’s pet syndrome than anything legitimate. The rest of the cast are simply present. Their introductions are muted and underwhelming, leaving me feeling there isn’t much interesting variety to this cast of non-powered humans.
Like the writing, De le Torre’s art is basically solid. It’s just also very unremarkable. It really feels as though there is no effort being put into giving the world a distinctive look. Scenery is very vague if it exists in the background at all, giving very little sense of the hell this world has been through. Designs for the main characters are rather dull, adding to how uninteresting the cast comes off. Clinching my impression that there wasn’t much effort put into this world is the appearance of this reality’s Matt Murdock, which is so uninspired it should be criminal.
The shame of it is that there really is an interesting concept behind the X-Terminated. This whole idea of a reverse Decimation, where it is only a small group of X-Men who have lost their powers and must defend humanity from a world run by an oppressive mutant majority, is actually pretty clever. But why is it here? Why is it trying to be set in this pseudo Age of Apocalypse reality? The problem this book is facing is that there is so little left to work with. The supply of characters has been almost exhausted by previous stories. We’re left with a cast that is mostly made up of characters who were human to begin with, and that really diminishes the potentially interesting concept. It boils down to just Jean Grey and Sabretooth, because they are the only ones left for Marvel to use.
However, the issue does end on a relatively strong note, bringing back one of my favorite characters from the original Age of Apocalypse story. I just don’t know how much that is actually worth in a book that really doesn’t feel like the Age of Apocalypse. It almost feels like a setup for disappointment.
The greatest flaw of Age of Apocalypse is that it tries unsuccessfully to be the Age of Apocalypse. That story is over, and Marvel has already squeezed more than every last drop of interesting material out of it. The idea of the X-Terminated would work vastly better in an new alternate universe, free from all the baggage of continuity and free to use characters readers would be more interested in seeing. The nostalgic value of the title does little to help and definitely doesn’t work effectively enough to be the main selling point. The book reads like a series the creators are half-heartedly struggling through, and I can’t honestly blame them. The X-Terminated are a good idea being forced into the wrong setting, and this is no Age of Apocalypse.