One thing quite a few people know about me is that I have a lot of interest in comics. Truth be told, I know more about them than I have right to: I never really read them. I decided to change that, and ignoring my reading list altogether I read The Age of Apocalypse epic in the X-Men series of comics from Marvel, including the Prelude. Originally I had planned to review each of the four volumes in turn, until I realised that they were almost impossible to distinguish between.
They’re broken down into individual stories, following the likes of Cyclops, Havock and Sinister, Magneto and Rouge, Gambit and the Xternals, and a whole cast of characters taken from the comics and thrown into a new story. Everything changes in these comics, the logic behind it all explained in the Prelude. Introduce time travel and things are bound to change. And in the words of my fellow comic book nerd from college, ‘This is their masterpiece.’
It was...different. Essentially, the storytelling falls into two categories: the dialogue and the pictures. It’s literally a case of showing and not telling (except when dialogue and narration has to fill in the gaps for readers). One of the hardest things is getting used to looking at everything on the page in different orders – some scenes spread over two pages, the images being that big, so the whole layout of the comic changes.
As well as that, there’s the issue with reading dialogue and following what’s actually going on. It took me a while to get used to reading what was being said in the right order. This is no fault of the people who wrote the comics, of course; I’m just not that used to reading them. For me, the writing goes right across the page, no pictures.
As I’ve said, this is their masterpiece. Each of the books (Prelude, and Volumes 1, 2, 3 and 4) fills us in on the little details: what caused the Age of Apocalypse to come about, how the X-Men planned to stop it, once and for all, what Apocalypse was doing to the world, what was happening to the universe and how they ultimately hoped to stop that, too. I won’t drop spoilers. For fans of X-Men, this is the must-read series of comics. They break open the whole world of X-Men and answer the question: What would happen if Charles Xavier never formed the X-Men?
This really is the ultimate ‘What if...’ story, and it certainly let down a lot less people than House of M and its particular affect on the Marvel universe...
What was your favourite arc, and what was your least favourite?
My favourite would have to have been that which followed Rouge. She was always one of my favourite characters (I know, the outsider being my favourite character... har har har). Again, no spoilers, but there’s a whole new set of stories being told in this group (which still keeps the old favourites around, too, like Storm).
My least favourite... Wolverine. My experience with Wolverine – known in these comics as Weapon X, I might point out – is that he’s the angry, distant type. He fights and he’s looking for answers and God help anyone who tries to get in his way. Well, with certain changes that still follow his character’s general story, he’s a bit annoying in how much he gets down in himself. And he’s missing a hand. That may have attributed to it all (because, you know, his hand is supposed to grow back..?).
This one is difficult... Cyclops has an interesting story, but he still maintains a lot of his usual morals and all that stuff that eventually wears him out. Beast is even more...delightful, we’ll say. I think they did a great job with him in these comics, taking him to an extreme they couldn’t have gotten away with in a different reality. Best of all, though, was Nate Grey. I stumbled across Nate in my extensive reading about X-Men a few years ago and never really understood where he came into the story. Well, AoA answers the very important question of his origins, and goes into some detail on his powers, his life and his personality. And he’s one of the coolest looking characters that isn’t grossly mutated beyond recognition as a human. (The white flick in his hair and the glowing eye certainly did the trick!)
This one would call for a spoiler. No spoilers. Just wait until you get to Volume 4 and you’ll see it all happening. You just have to wonder what made them do it. Then you realise it’s genius, if a little too tragic. You’ll see!
Who would you recommend this series to?
A few groups... firstly, if you like X-Men but haven’t read this series yet: this is for you. Do I have to say it again: It’s their masterpiece! Secondly, to people who generally like comics and haven’t read this series, even if you’re not especially a fan of X-Men. Thirdly, if you like a good story and think you can manage the images (and, can I just say, the artwork is brilliant, so it’s totally worth it), then you should give this series a try.
Well, I can’t possibly answer that for Marvel... they have the most convoluted plots in the world that I will forever be out of my comfort zone with them. I can only hope to catch up on some of the amazing stories they tell. As for me, I’ve got reviews coming up of a children’s book, a graphic novel, a Young Adult novel and a book about writing for children, none of which were on my list. (I think the list is cursed, because I chose too many big books and started reading too many of them at once...)