X-Universe 1 – Yes we get it, hints of the 616, very clever.

Credits: Written by Terry Kavanagh (based on a story by Scott Lobdell), pencilled by Carlos Pacheco, inked by Cam Smith and edited by Marie Javins

Cast: Earth 295 versions of Gwen Stacy, Anthony Stark, Clint Barton, Dr. Donald Blake, Benjamin Grimm, Susan Storm, Dr. Robert Bruce Banner/The Hulk, Matthew Murdock, Wilson ‘Dirigible’ Fisk, Norman ‘Red’ Osborne, Leland ‘Owl’ Owsley, Arcade, Mikhail Rasputin, Victor Von Doom and Empath.

Plot: In the ruins of Africa, the human population of Earth is suffering. As well as a lack of food and medicine, they are prey for Marauders, humans who have sided with the mutant rulers of Apocalypse’s America to kill their own kind. Here four of these Marauders (Red, Dirigible, Owl and Arcade) are opposed by Gwen Stacy who holds them off long enough to be rescued by a giant robot spider with Tony Stark and Clint Barton aboard. They finish off the Marauders and drop off much needed medicine and food. The main reason they are there is to collect Gwen’s partner, Dr Donald Blake and get him back to England.

In the skies over England flies the armada led by the 4th Horseman Mikhail. He is there on a peace mission, but recognises that the zeppelins he is flying past contain dozens of nuclear warheads long before his assistant Murdock tells him. As the human council’s pilots try to land on a nearby airstrip, it is attacked, levelling the area and killing many of the pilots. Piloting duo Susan Storm and Ben Grimm land nearby to see what has happened and come face to face with the Hulk who has also sided with the mutants and is happy to kill everyone around him.

Storm and Grimm hold him off, causing enough injury to cause the grey monster to revert to Bruce Banner who warns them that it’s too late and Prelate Rasputin has already arrived in Europe and is welcomed by Victor Von Doom. Rasputin talks of peace and invites several human observers including Blake, Stacy, Grimm and Storm to look over his ship and prove he has nothing to hide. Once on board, Rasputin reveals that he’s he plans to unleash death upon the humans of Europe using his captive Empath and the only ones who could resist Empath’s power are now locked on the ship with him.

Notes: This is the answer to the question of what happened to the other characters in the Age of Apocalypse and to be honest, I don’t remember anyone asking? This is a fine enough story that suffers the double edged sword of cleverness. What I mean by that is that it’s very clever in showing the characters from the 616 having different lives here. Here there was no fateful spaceflight that birthed the Fantastic Four, so no age of Marvels. Dr. Don Blake wasn’t in Norway on holiday, so he never found the walking stick that became the hammer, so he never became Thor again. No Thor, no Avengers, so no Captain America. There’s no mention of Spider-Man existing so there’s no Green Goblin which is why Gwen Stacy is still alive. All of that makes perfect sense and puts characters in different places and with different motivations.

But the writer can’t stop trying to nod and wink to the audience about how the characters would be. Tony Stark has his chest plate, Clint Barton is a marksman, Bruce Banner becomes a hulking monster without Gamma Rays and Matt Murdock is blinded with enhanced senses, but not through radiation. Doom is a scarred leader and Gwen sees a spider-robot and this is supposed to say something to her. I mean I get it, it’s the obscured path, the road not taken and all that and we get it, but nothing interesting is happening because of it.

We also get the 4th out of 4 Horseman Mikhail Rasputin. He has this weird bio-mechanical look to him, but it’s not explain why that is or how it relates to his powers. It isn’t really mentioned how he rose through the ranks and it’s that sort of vagueness that plagues this character. His plan isn’t very clear, only that he brings death to the humans using Empath, but nothing too specific. It feels like this should have been a four-parter with more space dedicated to the interesting stories that are happening just outside the panels we do get. It sort of reminds me of the Twilight movie franchise. It’s an interesting world and a fascinating mythology, but we are stuck in this teen romance story and not one of the more interesting characters’ tales. I am hoping for a better part 2, because this story really needs one.

Verdict:

Writing: 2 out of 5 – Vague villainous plots mixed with nod and wink references like a prequel or an episode of the show Smallville it feels like such a wasted opportunity of what could be something pretty special. Characterisations seem on point, but nothing seems to be done.

Art: 4 out of 5 – This is the first Carlos Pacheco work I have re-read since the sad news of the man’s passing reached me and it does remind me of how amazing this man’s work was. He mixes sci-fi and super-heroes well and adds detail and mood in equal measure. It all looks so good that it does paper over some of the writing’s cracks and makes the issue worth including in this Age of Apocalypse re-read. Literally it would be a 5, if not for the colouring that was all over this event.

Overall: 6 out of 10 – A beautiful comic that sort of misses the mark a couple of times, but I am hoping that this mini will end on a high.

Next Time: Clone Shenanigans once more.

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