Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Review - The Age of Apocalypse (X-Men)

X-Men: Age of Apocalypse PreludeOne 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.’

X-Men: The Complete Age of Apocalypse Epic, Book 1How did you find reading comics to reading regular fiction?
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.

X-Men: The Complete Age of Apocalypse Epic, Book 2What did you think of the story?
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..?).

X-Men: The Complete Age of Apocalypse Epic, Book 4Whose story were you happiest with?
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!)

X-Men: The Complete Age of Apocalypse Epic, Book 3Saddest part of the whole series?
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.

What’s next?
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...)


Anonymous said...

Pretty bad review mate, not only does it make you come off as an idiot (who has trouble reading comics?!?, what did you read as a child? War and peace?) But you make points which are fully explained, the reason weapon x's hand didn't grow back is that the adamantium was destroyed. Marvel comics are not as difficult to get into as they used to be either.

Paul Carroll said...

I have a few things to say to that:
Firstly, if you're going to insult me, at the very least use a name - even a pseudonym - so I have someone to address.

Secondly, insulting me in your first sentence is not a good idea. Immediately your next points come across as an attack rather than a comment.

Thirdly, no I didn't read War and Peace as a child. But I didn't read comics either. If you read the start of the review you would see that I made that quite clear: I don't read comics. This was the first time I really did. And for people who spend the first fifteen years of their reading life reading novels and textbooks, a comic - particularly one where the images stretch across the pages and then don't proceed to take on a coherent order - can be something of a challenge. Like I said, it was hard to get used to, but I did.

Fourthly, my experience with Wolverine/Weapon X - and I do read up on characters and stories even if I haven't read all the comics - is that his hand ought to have grown back. The healing ability is independent of the adamantium on his skeleton. Unless I missed some explanation that says canonically why the bone won't brow back, this is an error by the writers. OR it's a change in Weapon X as a result of the change in his life: his abilities obviously change as others' do, but it's much more subtle given his primary ability is an accelerated healing rate. Remove the need to heal as much (against all the enemies that Xavier seemed to land him up against) and that might explain the missing hand. But as yet, I don't understand why the skeleton didn't grow back. (NB he still has a skeleton, as shown in a different story arc when Magneto removes the adamantium from his bones.)

And finally, I'm actually going to agree with you on a point: Marvel comics are a lot easier to get into, but that's not all because of the writers. The simple fact that there are films and people have an interest in the comics makes them easier to read. That's basic psychology: an interest in doing something can make it a lot less difficult because your head is in the right place.

Now, where is your bridge so I can make sure you get the message?

Anonymous said...

Hello again, sorry if you think what I wrote was supposed to be an insult, I said the review makes you come off as an idiot, not that you actually are one. But I just dont think anybpdy needs the mechanics of how to read a comic explained to them, even the uninitiated have read comic strips in newspapers or whatever. And it clearly stated in the Weapon X serieal that the destruction of Logan's hand was permanent due to both the adamamtium and bone being pulvarized, don't forget this series is from 1995, quite a while before Wolverine became the seemingly unkillable mess he is nowadays.
And lastly Marvel's books are easier to get into because Joe Quesada mandated they be , this was in the early 2000's, before the movie franchises were embedded in pop culture, only Blade and the original X-Men were out at the time. They were made more accessable as Marvel had just survived bankrupcy and needed new readers, so writers were told to stop harkening back to previous issues and all the editor's box outs were dropped.
Anyway hope that clears up my intent, and sorry if I offended you.
And the name's Phill.

Paul Carroll said...

Wow... that was all a long time ago. Looking back at my comment, I may have gone a bit mad!

Explaining the mechanics of comic books wasn't a how-to guide, near as I can remember, but more to do with why I had some difficulty adjusting. I'm used to reading text without pictures, so I sought to explain why the pictures changed things. Mind you, a year on I'm much more accustomed to reading comic books, so it's nearly second nature, but AoA was such a big thing I had to read it - and it took me some time getting used to that.

Thank you for explaining why the arm didn't grow back, though. I haven't read the Weapon X serial, so I completely missed that explanation.

Sorry for freaking out last year! My essay of a comment seems way too charged now! Hehehe!