Marvel's new ongoing series Age of Apocalypse debuts this week, more than 17 years after the start of the original story introducing the grim alternate reality.
The X-Men were incredibly popular in the '90s — in 2010, 1991's X-Men #1 was recognized as the highest-selling single issue comic book by Guinness — so it was definitely an attention-getting move for Marvel to "cancel" the entire existing slate, and relaunch it for four months with books set in a completely different timeline. It's proved to be a lasting concept, with repercussions still felt today in the mainstream Marvel universe, and several subsequent follow-up projects — culminating in the new book by writer David Lapham and artist Roberto De La Torre.
"It's an exciting concept, that led to a lot of big, fun, imaginative ideas with characters that we all know and love," Uncanny X-Force writer Rick Remender said about the appeal of "Age of Apocalypse" in an interview with Newsarama last year. Rememder used the "Age of Apocalypse" setting heavily in last year's "Dark Angel Saga" storyline, which paved the way for Lapham and De La Torre's Age of Apocalypse.
Marvel Comics in general and the X-Men in specific have a long history of alternate timelines and realities — form "Days of Future Past" to "Age of X" — but Age of Apocalypse has proven to be one of the most prominent and during. Despite the presence the Age of Apocalypse has had at Marvel in recent years, it's still a story that's older than some readers have been alive. So we've put together a bit of a primer on the AoA phenomenon, to better prepare you for the new series and beyond.
The Basics: Starting with the foil-covered one-shot X-Men: Alpha, Marvel's X-titles were relaunched and retitled for four months, though some new names were cleverer than others (X-Factor simply became Factor X, and Excalibur was X-Calibre.)
Storyline-wise, the cause was Legion — Professor X's son — attempting to do his dad a solid by traveling back in time and killing Magneto. That alone would have been pretty misguided — chaos theory and all that — but he actually ended up killing Xavier. Whoops.
As you might surmise from the name "Age of Apocalypse," a world without the founder of the X-Men led to megavillain Apocalypse conquering large swaths of the globe, with — twist! — Magneto leading the opposition, in the form of his own team of X-Men, some familiar (Storm, Dazzler, Rogue — Magneto's AoA wife, a relationship reflected in current comics) and some surprising (Sabretooth, Morph from the X-Men animated series, and soon-to-be fan-favorite character Blink). Continuing with the "down is up" motif, Cyclops, Beast and Havok were all bad guys.
With contributions from creators including Scott Lobdell, Joe Madureira and Warren Ellis, the story was a success. After four months in 1995, and thanks in no small part to Bishop — the only character who knew that something wasn't quite right — things eventually got set straight, though the Age of Apocalypse never really went away.
Aftermath: Four characters from Age of Apocalypse made it back to the "mainstream" Marvel Universe — X-Man, Dark Beast, the delightfully named Sugar Man and Nemesis/Holocaust. X-Man and Dark Beast have had a particularly strong impact, with X-Man — the AoA equivalent of Cable — starring in his own solo series for 75 issues and currently co-starring in New Mutants. Dark Beast has caused a fair amount of trouble for the X-Men, switching places with "our" Beast and earning a spot on Norman Osborn's Dark X-Men, seemingly an assignment tailor-made for him.
Blink — who originally appeared, briefly, during "The Phalanx Covenant" — ended up making her way to Exiles, a reality-hopping series that lasted for 100 issues.
Age of Apocalypse (limited series): At the 10-year anniversary of the original AoA event, Marvel revisited the timeline with a prequel one-shot and a miniseries picking up after X-Men: Omega, where the timeline had been devastated (further) following a nuclear attack. Written by Akira Yoshida and with art from Chris Bachalo, it was, at that point, the juiciest taste AoA fans had of that setting since the original story.
"The Dark Angel Saga": In 2011, writer Rick Remender took Uncanny X-Force right to the front door of the Age of Apocalypse, and time had made an even bleaker place than it was before. Though Apocalypse is out of the picture, the AoA Wolverine — the one-handed Weapon X — has taken his place, which is bad news for pretty much everyone.
Following the end of the story, the AoA Nightcrawler — whose mainstream Marvel Universe counterpart died in 2010's "Second Coming" story — joins X-Force to help round up and execute fellow AoA escapees, which now include Blob and the now-evil Iceman.
Uncanny X-Force #19.1: Serving as a direct prequel to the Age of Apocalypse series, things get even worse in the Age of Apocalypse in this recent issue, as Magneto and Rogue both perish at the hand of Weapon X, leaving Jean Grey and Sabretooth the only X-Men left in the reality.
The protagonists of Age of Apocalypse are the "X-Terminated," a group of humans — including William Stryker and Graydon Creed — who were notorious mutant-haters in the main Marvel Universe, but in this light are actually freedom fighters carrying the torch for humanity."The characters in AoA, they all have their issues, but I didn't want it to be a set up where they're evil, like they are in the regular Marvel Universe — 'They're really Nazis, but the only difference is that they're the underdogs, so we have to root for them,'" Age of Apocalypse writer David Lapham told Newsarama. "It's not that. They all come with elements of their Marvel Universe counterparts, but they came of age under totally different environments and different circumstances. They developed into different people."
Other stuff: The Age of Apocalypse has inspired What If? installments and multiple other media adaptations of X-Men, including an episode of the '90s X-Men cartoon titled "One Man's Worth" — except things got wrapped up there in 22 minutes instead of four months.
- Remender & Lapham Connect X-FORCE to AGE OF APOCALYPSE
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- Rick Remender on the Age of Apocalypse-Bound DARK ANGEL SAGA