Monday, June 7, 2010

VINTAGE - Age of Apocalypse, X-Calibre

Let's go back to a magical time; it's the early nineties, and the X-Men still have a kickass cartoon on FOX's Saturday morning line up. With the resurgence of interest in the merry band of mutants, the editors of Marvel Comics did several creative storylines to highlight what was the best selling group of comic books in the world.

None of these events were better than the "Age of Apocalypse" - a crossover between all the X-books where reality was changed for the worse. David Haller, the bastard son of Charles Xavier, was a schizophrenic psychopath who was comatose after an encounter with the X-Men and the Shadow King a few years back. When he wakes up, he decides he's going to make his dad love him. How is he going to do that you ask? Well, obviously kill Xavier's greatest enemy: Magneto. So David goes back in time, as X-Men villains often do. A cadre of X-Men follow him back, but fail to stop him at every turn. When he finally closes in on an early twenties before-he-was-evil Magneto, Charles jumps in the way... and David accidentally kills him. Which is cool, because right before David blinks out of existence, he realizes he just made sure that he had never been born. This? Is all background before the actual story I'm really going talk about begins.

This particular collection, which temporarily replaced Excalibur for the four months AoA ran through the X-Men titles, focused on the X-Man Nightcrawler. While still an X-Man in the story, this Kurt (with the last name "Darkholme" here instead of Wagner) is a much darker and violent character. If you point your finger at him, he's probably going to teleport away with it and call you "rude." While our Nightcrawler is usually portrayed as a character who tries to get you to go to mass every Sunday, this particular Kurt "hates churches." Magneto, leader of the X-Men in the Age of Apocalypse, dispatches Nightcrawler on a solo mission to find the mutant precog Destiny. The time traveling Bishop from our world has shown up in this brave new depressing one and is ranting about a world where Xavier never died, and thus Apocalypse did not conquer most of North America. While Kurt really isn't into the idea of making the world a better place, he is motivated to find his mother Mystique, who serves as kind of a pirate leading refugees to Destiny's antarctic refuge nicknamed "Avalon." Mystique is the only person who can identify Destiny and one of the few people who knows how to get to Avalon.

Hot on Kurt's trail are the Pale Riders, which consists of AoA versions of Danielle Moonstar and Deadpool, the latter wittily named here as Dead Man Wade. That's just more fun to say. Wade is kind of a crazy mess, especially since Danielle like to periodically torture him and see how fast he heals. Leading the motley crew is a mutant named Damask, a professional pixie and Apocalypse's go-to gal when it comes to murder and mayhem. When Danielle keeps torturing Wade after Damask tells her to stop, Damask ruthlessly kills her. That's just what kind of girl she is. She also develops an unhealthy obsession with Kurt, imagining that his blue skin probably feels "just like velvet." Several characters who could be overlooked show up in supporting roles throughout the story, including John Proudstar, Callisto, and Doug Ramsey. Juggernaut, who isn't even named here as such, serves as one of Destiny's flock and leads people to Avalon on the tail end of their journey. There's also another original character in Switchback, a white-haired mutant from Detroit who can shunt back her "personal timeline" up to ten second prior. When she has a headache, she uses her power, going back to a time before it started to hurt. I really liked her.

Warren Ellis, the writer of X-Calibre, was doing cool things with Excalibur around this time. He had recently introduced Pete Wisdom, the hot-knife throwing secret agent from the UK who also had a naughty relationship with Kitty Pryde. Excalibur hadn't been selling as well as Marvel hoped in the post-Claremont era, and it was really Ellis's job to make the team interesting again and tell some dynamic stories. This diversion into an alternate world shows his strengths. By focusing on the one character and not a team, he really shows us just how different this alternate Kurt is. And while things really are opposite here, such as Nightcrawler and Mystique having a loving mother/son dynamic of once, it really doesn't feel that way when you're reading the story. I also really liked that Ellis took the opportunity to create two entirely new characters here, an opportunity that was neglected during the "Age of Apocalypse" because I guess it was more fun to see alternate versions of all the characters we had seen already.

While the trade collection of X-Calibre by itself is long out-of-print, Marvel Comics has recently published omnibus editions of the entire "Age of Apocalyse" saga following it's tenth anniversary. Jeez, I remember when these single issues were first published. I feel old. Anyway, my point is that this is one of few stories you'll actually be able to track down if you really want to read it. I recommend giving this alternate world a chance since many of the X-Men, Nightcrawler included, were super badass.

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