Comic Review: X-Men: The Age of Apocalypse – The Complete Epic

Published: 1995-1996
Written by: Scott Lobdell, Jeph Loeb, John Francis Moore, Mark Waid, Warren Ellis, Fabian Nicieza, Larry Hama, Howard Mackie, Terry Kavanagh
Art by: Roger Cruz, Terry Dodson, Steve Epting, Andy Kubert, Adam Kubert, Carlos Pacheco, Joe Madureira, Tony Daniel, Salvador Larroca, Chris Bachalo, Ken Lashley, Steve Skroce, Ian Churchill, Joe Bennett

Marvel Comics, 1462 Pages

Review:

I’ve really only heard great things about The Age of Apocalypse storyline since it started back in 1995, an era where I wasn’t really reading comics for awhile, except for Dark Horse’s Star Wars stuff.

In fact, the last major X-Men related event that I had read before this was X-Cutioner’s Song, a pretty good epic. But shortly after that, I got pretty burnt out once the top Marvel guys went off to form Image and then those comics were constantly hindered by delays and irregular schedules.

Based off of all the praise I heard, I always wanted to read this but it was such a massive story, spread over multiple collected volumes that I never really wanted to fork out the over $100 it would cost to buy the whole shebang. So, all these years later, I took advantage of a massive X-Men sale on Comixology and got the entire saga with its prelude for about $20.

Now that I’ve read it, I’m glad I only spent $20 because like Game of Thrones, all my friends and all the critics lied to me about how great this was. It’s not, it’s a clusterfuck of biblical proportions showcasing a lot of the things that were wrong with mid-’90s comic book art from the major publishers.

I’ll start with the art and just come out and say that this was mostly an eyesore to look at. The biggest reason was the colors, which relied so heavily on what I assume are digitally created gradients and overly vibrant colors that this was like staring into the asshole of a tropical fruit salad for hours. Everything is too busy, every single issue collected is made to be overly grandiose and if everything is larger than life and overly vivid, then that becomes the norm and thus, makes everything kind of boring.

Additionally, there is such a mix of different artistic styles that it becomes jarring as these collections jump from issue to issue every twenty pages or so. Some of the artists had great pencils but many of them illustrated in a style that didn’t feel like Marvel and instead felt like the artists were trying to emulate indie comics from Image and Valiant. Besides, the stuff that was illustrated well, ended up being wrecked by the primitive gradients and crazy colors that looked like a giallo film puked all over a box of Prismacolor markers.

When it comes to the narrative side of this, that’s also a mess.

This suffers from trying to be way more ambitious than it needed to be. The whole story is comprised of about seven or eight different subplots that are and aren’t intertwined. Some of them merge towards the end into the bigger story but some stuff just happens within this new timeline. But the story jumps around so much that it makes the whole thing hard to follow as a singular body of work. This is the same problem I have, right now, with all the new X-Men related titles that are tied to a bigger narrative but don’t feel connected as much as they should. But this is what happens when you have a half dozen different titles and different writers, all of whom want to explore different territory in their own way while being trapped within a common framework.

In fact, the only plot I actually enjoyed was the one that dealt with the characters that aren’t tied to the X-Men.

There was a two issue miniseries called X-Universe, which focused on what other Marvel characters were up to during this event. We check in on this timeline’s version of Gwen Stacy, some of the Avengers, Fantastic Four, Doctor Doom and a few others. I found this more interesting and it showed me that this alternate timeline could provide the right sort of environment for cool and refreshing takes on old characters.

While I should probably feel the same way about all the X-Men related characters and their stories, it is hard to focus on any of them because of how this jumps around so much. When I got to the non-X-Men characters, it felt like a nice break from the X-clusterfuck I was pushing myself through.

Ultimately, I was really disappointed in this. I kept powering through it because I was hoping that all these subplots and characters would unify into something coherent that clicked at the end but that didn’t happen. We eventually get to a resolution but it’s not all that satisfying.

On a side note (and spoiler alert): the way that Magneto kills Apocalypse is pretty f’n badass.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: other big X-Men crossovers of the ’80s through ’00s.

TV Review: X-Men (1992-1997)

Also known as: X-Men: The Animated Series
Original Run: October 31st, 1992 – September 20th, 1997
Created by: Eric Lewald, Sidney Iwanter, Mark Edens
Directed by: Larry Houston
Written by: various
Based on: X-Men by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby
Music by: Ron Wasserman, Shuki Levy, Noam Kaniel, Amotz Plessner
Cast: Norm Spencer, Cathal J. Dodd, Lenore Zann, Iona Morris, Alison Sealy-Smith, George Buza, Chris Potter, Tony Daniels, Alyson Court, Catherine Disher, Cedric Smith

Saban Entertainment, Graz Entertainment, AKOM, Fox Kids Network, 76 Episodes, 22 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

This animated show was the absolute highlight of my week back when it first came out and for a few years until high school took over my life and with it, the pursuit of other things. Honestly, I kind of checked out on this show around the same time that I checked out on comics because I was playing sports and trying to impress girls.

I did end up watching the show in its entirety, years later, after it was all available to stream on Netflix some time ago. I liked it and I thought that the show mostly maintained its consistency till the end, minus a few bad episodes, here and there.

Now that it’s on Disney+, I felt compelled to revisit it, as its been awhile and my memories of it are so fond.

However, despite still recognizing its greatness, it doesn’t quite resonate the same way for me anymore. I don’t blame the show, though, I blame the age of the viewer: me.

As I’ve gotten older, it’s harder for me to sit through long bursts of animation. I’m not sure why but I watched a handful of episodes and found my mind wandering, looking at my phone, looking at the clock and then thinking that I’d rather just read the comics that these stories are trying to adapt.

Again, it’s not X-Men, it’s me.

I then talked to a friend about it and he said that he feels the same way with most of the cartoons he used to watch. He’s 44 and I’m now 41. So I wonder if 40 is some sort of point where the mind severs itself from this type of entertainment? But then, I can still watch Batman: The Animated Series and the Marvel/Sunbow era of G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero.

That being said, I can’t shit on the show for my personal inability to sit through it now.

It’s a stellar animated series, one of the best of its era. The stories were well adapted, even if they took a lot of liberties and didn’t follow the same sequence as the comics.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: the other Marvel animated shows from the ’90s.

Comic Review: House of X/Powers of X

Published: June 24th, 2019 – October 9th, 2019
Written by: Jonathan Hickman
Art by: Pepe Larraz

Marvel Comics, 400 Pages

Review:

Let me preface this review by saying that this is the best new comic book story that I have read in ten years.

That’s absolutely a bold statement but let’s be honest, Marvel and DC haven’t really been bringing their A game for awhile, other than a few things, here and there.

Overall, modern comics just aren’t great anymore. But this is in a league of its own, as Sean Gordon Murphy’s recent Batman work at DC Comics is also on its own plane of existence when compared to what else is coming out from its publisher the last few years.

That being said, it’s been a really long time since I’ve been engaged by X-Men stories. That’s kind of depressing, as the X-Men pocket of the larger Marvel universe is one of my favorite franchises of all-time.

Jonathan Hickman has made me care again.

In fact, this made me care so much that I added every new X-comic to my pull list, as I am hoping that this carries over into something larger, richer and more spectacular. This sort of prologue to the larger X-universe is going to be a hard thing to beat or live up to over the long haul but it’s obvious that Hickman has a plan and I want to see how this all unfolds.

There are some things in this story that seem weird and out of place and I believe that these things are intentional. Primarily, many of the characters are acting uncharacteristic. I don’t think it’s an oversight or the product of a writer that doesn’t know what he’s actually writing about, as many modern writers seem to do.

If I’m wrong, I’ll be pissed and heartbroken but there is real intelligence to this writing and Hickman has a fantastic track record.

Also, this is a great jumping on point. You don’t really need to read what happens before. This is a true starting point for new readers or old readers that tapped out on the X-Men books long ago.

Plus, Pepe Larraz’s art is some of the best I’ve seen in a long time.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: old school X-Men mega crossover events.

Comic Review: X-Men: Mutant Genesis

Published: 1991
Written by: Chris Claremont, Jim Lee, Fabian Nicieza, Whilce Portacio, Peter David, Len Kaminski
Art by: Jim Lee, Whilce Portacio, Kirk Jarvinen, Tom Raney, Terry Shoemaker, Paul Smith, Andy Kubert, Jerry DeCaire, Ernie Stiner, Steven Butler, Art Thibert

Marvel Comics, 437 Pages

Review:

I’m pretty excited for the current Jonathan Hickman run on the X-Men titles. I haven’t started reading them because the two miniseries that are coming out are doing so just about weekly. So I want to wait to have all twelve issues before giving it a read. But from what I’ve heard, it’s absolutely solid and quite refreshing.

However, before getting into the new stuff, I wanted to travel back to the height of my time reading and buying X-books: 1991.

The reason I wanted to go back there was because it was a transitional period, as the original X-Factor team came to an end, the New Mutants became X-Force and two new X-Men teams formed, each with their own ongoing monthly series. It was also a transition from the Chris Claremont era into the era of Jim Lee.

This thick trade paperback collects multiple story arcs but all of the arcs are unified in their purpose, which was to end an era and to create a new one.

Here we have the final stories of the first X-Factor team, as well as stories involving the newly formed X-Force and New Warriors, Freedom Force and the X-Men team as it existed when Claremont moved on from the series.

This almost feels like an omnibus.

It also features a lot of great creatives on the writing side and art side.

Ultimately, this was a hell of a fun read that flew by despite its meaty 437 pages.

We get dozens of heroes and a whole slew of major X-villains like Magneto, Apocalypse, the Shadow King, Proteus and Fabian Cortez, just to name a few.

While a lot of the ’90s comics I go back to don’t have the same effect on me as they did when I was twelve, this is a solid f’n read. Seriously.

And what’s really surprising is that it has all these creatives working on it and it still turned out to be a really well managed and fully realized vision that brought an era to its end, quite epically, and generated real excitement and enthusiasm for what was to come.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: other major X-Men crossover events from the era: X-Tinction Agenda, X-Cutioner’s Song, etc.

Comic Review: X-Men: The Dark Phoenix Saga

Published: 1980
Written by: Chris Claremont
Art by: John Byrne

Marvel Comics, 200 Pages

Review:

Does it make me a terrible X-Men fan that I have never actually read The Dark Phoenix Saga?

I’ve tried to round up all the single issues over the years but some of them are pricey and there’s nine issues that make up this arc. But in my defense, I know the story very well, as it has been referenced a million times over throughout X-Men history. I’ve also seen various interpretations and adaptations of the plot. Granted, none of them are really accurate in regards to this, the source material.

This is free for Comixology Unlimited subscribers though, so I thought that delving into it was long overdue and that I really didn’t have an excuse anymore.

I expected this to be enjoyable but it still took me by surprise, as it was better than what I anticipated and all the years of hype I’ve experienced, didn’t diminish it in anyway.

The Dark Phoenix Saga is quintessential Chris Claremont. I can’t say that this is where he peaked but this is certainly a very elevated highpoint in his long run writing X-Men related stories.

This also came out in a time when Marvel wasn’t addicted to big crossover mega-events. This was a mega-event for its time but it wasn’t marketed or structured in the way that these things are now. It was just a good, lengthy story, limited to one already existing comic that found a way to utilize a lot of characters but in a way that balanced them all out and made them all useful to the plot.

One cool thing about this arc, is it also features the first appearances of Kitty Pryde, Emma Frost, Sebastian Shaw, the Hellfire Club and Dazzler. There’s a bunch of stuff going on within this story but it doesn’t off track and still builds towards the big battle between Jean Grey as Dark Phoenix and her X-Men family. It’s, at times, heartbreaking and tragic but it also makes you love all these people all over again in an organic, natural and emotional way. This hits emotional notes in the reader in ways that comic books never seem to come close to in 2019.

I can’t just give credit to Chris Claremont and his stupendous writing though. The art by John Byrne is absolutely superb and it is just as rich, colorful and meticulously crafted as the story its telling.

The Dark Phoenix Saga is one of the greatest Marvel stories ever told. It’s classic Marvel and truly represents what I loved about the era and how I fell in love with this creative medium in the first place.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: other early Chris Claremont X-Men comics.

Comic Review: X-Men: Grand Design

Published: October 4th, 2017 – January 3rd, 2018
Written by: Ed Piskor
Art by: Ed Piskor

Marvel Comics, 92 Pages

Review:

X-Men lore is so massive that a series like this is actually pretty necessary for modern fans who don’t know all the details of the older X-Men stories and how things led to where the franchise is now.

X-Men: Grand Design is a fabulous series that goes through the entire history of the X-Men team.

The first Grand Design series was comprised of two 46 page comics. The second series is also broken out over two issues but this is about the original run, which covered the original X-Men team, mainly comprised of Cyclops, the original Ms. Marvel (Jean Grey), Beast, Iceman and Angel.

This comic moves very briskly, as it hits every major storyline in the comic’s original run. We see the origins of all the key players, heroes and villains. We also see how the Sentinels came to be and the formation of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, as well as all the hoopla surrounding the arrival of the Phoenix Force.

Ed Piskor did an incredible job of writing this and mapping out the story so well. Everything just flows and it is perfectly accented by his old school pulp-like artwork.

I know these stories but even I don’t remember every single chapter of X-Men history. For old fans and new fans, this really is a must own and a must read. If anything, it just tapped into nostalgia pretty strongly and it has made me want to go back and read some of the classic story arcs.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: It’s sequel X-Men: Grand Design – Second Genesis.

Comic Review: X-Men: X-Tinction Agenda

Published: November, 1990 – January, 1991
Written by: Chris Claremont, Louise Simonson
Art by: Jim Lee, Marc Silvestri, Rob Liefeld, Jon Bogdanove, Rick Leonardi, Guang Yap

Marvel Comics, 299 Pages

Review:

I have wanted a collected version of this story for decades. I have a lot of the single issues but have always been missing a few and haven’t had much luck being able to complete the set over the years (mainly because of the highly sought after New Mutants issues). Plus, the trade paperback version was out of print for a really long time and good copies of it got pretty expensive. But, I was able to get this off of a sale on Comixology for around $5. I think the regular price, even for digital, was a whopping $25 or so.

Anyway, I’m glad that I got this version because it has a whole four issue prologue to the actual X-Tinction Agenda event. The first third of this book is a four issue story arc that happened in The Uncanny X-Men a few years before X-Tinction Agenda and it helps set the stage nicely. Plus, that story was heavy on using Wolverine and Rogue, which are two great characters from that era. You even get some Carol Danvers Ms. Marvel before anyone even really cared about the character.

The main part of this story deals with the X-Men, X-Force and the New Mutants returning to Genosha where mutant genocide is taking place. The villain of the story is Cameron Hodge, considered long dead since Archangel decapitated him with his wings several years earlier. Hodge is such a good villain and frankly, this is my favorite version of the character and the one I experienced first. He hasn’t had the staying power of Magneto, Apocalypse or Mister Sinister but he is, by far, one of the most formidable adversaries any X-team has ever faced.

This has been one of the all-time classic tales in X-Men lore. It was a huge event when I was a kid. And it may not be talked about as much in modern times but this was really where I jumped on to all the other X-books outside of the standard X-Men title. It also set the stage for a lot of major changes to all the books and teams going into the ’90s.

I could talk about the art and the artists that worked on this crossover event but just look at the credits I posted above. Look at those names. This book sells itself just on the merits of that talent level. Add the fact that this is written by both Chris Claremont and Louise Simonson is also pretty f’n incredible.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: Other major X-Men related events of the era: X-Cutioner’s Song, Mutant Massacre, Fall of the Mutants, Muir Island Saga, etc.