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Aug 6

Age of X-Man: Apocalypse & The X-Tracts

Posted on Tuesday, August 6, 2019 by Paul in x-axis

Considering that Age of X-Man seems to have been intended as something of a palate cleanser before Jonathan Hickman’s run, it could hardly be accused of lacking ambition.  It’s delivered some very unusual X-books indeed, and none stranger than this: a comic in which Apocalypse leads a group of art-school drop outs to campaign for the power of love.  The titular X-Tracts aren’t the team, by the way – they’re scriptures.  (The team are called the Light Riders.)

All this makes a reasonable degree of sense within the context of the Age of X-Man crossover.  Nate, for his own reasons, has built a “utopia” based on autonomy, isolation, and the rejection of personal relationships.  Cast as the villain, Apocalypse rejects all that.  He’s not calling himself Apocalypse, of course; he’s En Sabah Nur, or “Murshid” (teacher), and he looks more like a cult leader.  But Nate wants him as an antagonist, presumably because he thinks there needs to be some sort of threat to order – however ineffectual – in order to keep everyone in line.  And certainly, in the other Age of X-Man books, the X-Men weirdly overreact to En Sabah Nur, who is doing nothing more than arranging some peace-and-love rallies.

X-Tracts focusses on Nur and his group from the inside, and they’re quite the bunch of eccentrics, hanging around in Greenwich Village, holding meetings in galleries, and setting about the important business of printing more flyers.  Curiously, considering the ground rules of Nate’s world, they do have a reasonable following (of characters we’ve never seen before) – but then, they’re still firmly the sort of marginalised fringe group that would serve Nate’s function.

As with so many Age of X-Man titles, you can debate whether there’s an especially compelling reason for Nate to stick this particular group of characters in this role.  Apocalypse is given the unlikely team of Kitty Pryde, Colossus (who eventually runs way from the X-Men to be with her), Dazzler and Eye-Boy, plus a new character called Unveil who’s presumably one of Nate’s creations.  Her literal plot role is to help people bond together, but she’s basically psychedelia, completed with sixties swirly colours.  Kitty is just kind of lost; Dazzler has found a niche for herself in protest songs; and Eye-Boy has been remade as a gun-toting mod who’s vastly more confident than he ever was in the mainstream Marvel Universe.  That’s an interesting inversion of the character.

On top of that, Apocalypse also has Genesis, his real-world clonal son, who he apparently rescued from one of the X-Men’s hatcheries as a child.  (This doesn’t stack up with the timeline of other characters who claim to remember the real world – they say the X-Men have only been in this world for a few months – but perhaps it’s a memory implant.)  So this turns out to be quite a significant series in the bigger scheme of things: it’s the first time we’ve seen Apocalypse and Genesis spend any significant amount of time together, and do it in a father-and-son role, both seemingly oblivious of their actual back story.  This seems to be setting up Apocalypse’s role in the upcoming Excalibur series.  So X-Tracts might wind up being the most significant of all the Age of X-Man stories – and at the very least, it seems that these minis won’t be entirely ignored.

The art is a little patchy.  The character designs are generally rather strong, and I like the way Apocalypse plays as a gentle, measured spiritual leader.  Some of the psychedelic colouring works rather well.  But it’s better at comedy than action, and there’s a whole storyline with Omega Red that looks a little bit bland.  Colossus feels a bit off, too, though that’s as much by comparison with the other Age of X-Man books as anything else.

Omega Red, then.  The main plot here is very simple, probably too simple.  Apocalypse sends his team to recover Omega Red from a cell.  Ostensibly, this is because Omega Red represents the extinct governing philosophy of communism, and the X-Men really won’t like that.  The implication, though, is that Apocalypse is hunting for allies to take on Nate.  And while Nate was able to find roles for Blob and Apocalypse in his utopia, Omega Red presents him with a real problem.  So, even though all the other “real” inhabitants of this world seem to be clustered around a single city in America, Omega Red is locked away in a cell.  In Siberia.  But… there’s nothing all that interesting about Omega Red when he does get out; he’s mainly there to cause chaos for Genesis and Eye-Boy.

And there’s some rather heavy handed stuff with a menorah, which is used a little too obviously as a symbol of what the characters have lost through Nate’s reprogramming.  That doesn’t really work either.  Still, there’s something about the basic idea of Apocalypse trying to act out the role of father and spiritual leader that carries the book.  There’s a genuine uncertainty about how far he’s acting and whether the circumstances really have changed him.  It’s an odd way of changing the character’s direction, but it leaves him in a far more interesting place than before.

It’s a mixed bag, but it takes an audacious premise and gets away with it.  Strange but worthwhile.

Bring on the comments

  1. CJ says:

    I thought the scenes with Apocalypse saying that he’s changed were pretty effective; I wasn’t expecting them and I figured upon realizing the truth that he’d revert to normal.

    I thought that Nate may have brainwashed him to have that change–seems like a very “mutant shaman” thing to do. I hope the change sticks.

  2. Ben says:

    This is the only tie in I didn’t continue to get after the first issue.

    I just found the writing and art substandard.

    Though to be fair, I find beatniks annoying in general.

  3. Brent says:

    I think the Apocalypse character in the upcoming relaunch series will be a grown version of Genesis. Hence him standing with the x-men. Just my guess. I don’t think anything will ever come of this event.

    I think Age of X-man is going to be completely wiped from continuity… and after today’s issue of House of X (#2) I’m afraid Hickman is basically erasing everything after Grant Morrison’s run (“the Lost Decade”).

    Even though I didn’t absolutely love Age of X-Man, I did feel like these stories were headed somewhere, and were cut off abruptly to bring in Hickman. Which I think has been the problem with Marvel in general over the past decade: a book isn’t doing quite as well as we’d like so bring in a new creative team to go in a completely different direction, ignoring basically anything that came before.
    Repeat every 6-18 months.

    So whether this new direction succeeds or not, I’m not sure Marvel has learned their lesson, or if we’re still ultimately headed no where.

  4. Voord 99 says:

    Cebulski claims that this was all planned going back to (IIRC) when he became editor-in-chief. He also claims that Hickman has a plan for about 3 years.

    Now, no-one is likely to say, “Would C. B. Cebulski ever lie to us?” And would he be so quick to make these claims if Hickman’s relaunch hadn’t turned out to be the very buzzy success that it evidently has turned out to be?

    But, hey, if it’s true, let’s all observe the cynicism with which Marvel relaunched Uncanny X-Men with a new #1 and a lot of fanfare, a whole, gosh, nine months ago.

  5. Howl says:

    > and after today’s issue of House of X (#2) I’m afraid Hickman is basically erasing everything after Grant Morrison’s run (“the Lost Decade”).

    That’s more editorial’s internal view of the Bendis induced Decimation era. White has paid lip service to it being responsible for the past 14 years. Yet the fact they don’t include it in the list of seminal moments says a lot.

  6. CJ says:

    Yeah, I didn’t get the impression that Hickman was erasing everything post-Morrison. I took “lost” to mean that the X-Men were in dire straits then–after Decimation and living on the edge of extinction since.

    Plus: Hope is listed on the Omega mutant and present at Krakoa in the data sheet in HoX #1, so I don’t think they’re ignoring Messiah CompleX either.

    I noted in HoX #1 that Nate Grey wasn’t listed as an Omega mutant–which he certainly must be. After the timey-wimeyness of HoX #2, I’m beginning to think that’s intentional. I also haven’t seen a bunch of other prominent time travelers like Cable, Rachel, or Bishop. There may be some multiverse-trimming going on.

  7. Chris V says:

    Yes, I did not take the “lost years” to be literal.
    I mean, what did mutants accomplish during that period of time?
    Mutants are an endangered species. Cyclops and Wolverine are going to war. Oh, Cyclops is psychotic and killed Professor X. Oh, now mutants are going extinct again. Now, mutants are more feared and hated by humanity than ever.
    It was just a holding pattern. With one tiresome, dead-end direction after another.

    The promise of Morrison’s run had been completely lost.
    The idea of mutants as the “next stage in human evolution” was totally ignored.
    How many more times could mutants become “more feared and hated than ever”, and be on the verge of extinction?
    It’s all been pretty depressing.

    If Hickman’s run is all about mutants actually becoming the future of the human race, then it’s easy to understand why everything after Morrison is pretty well lumped in to a “lost years” classification.

  8. David says:

    Yeah, the HoXM books were always planned for 5 issues. I think some of these creators just struggle more with shorter, more self-contained storytelling.

    The Hickman books have all been written and drawn and are releasing on a weekly schedule. That really doesn’t scream “last minute decision.”

  9. SanityOrMadness says:

    > I noted in HoX #1 that Nate Grey wasn’t listed as an Omega mutant–which he certainly must be. After the timey-wimeyness of HoX #2, I’m beginning to think that’s intentional. I also haven’t seen a bunch of other prominent time travelers like Cable, Rachel, or Bishop. There may be some multiverse-trimming going on.

    Well, all three of those are on the upcoming rosters – Rachel’s even in Hickman’s own X-Men series! (Of the other two; Kid Cable’s in Fallen Angels, Bishop in Marauders)

  10. Thom H. says:

    It’s entirely possible “lost decade” refers to the years in which mutants were supposed to rise to prominence on Earth only to be delayed by the Genoshan genocide.

    So: “lost” in terms of genetic potential as opposed to “lost” in terms of poor writing. Although, there’s probably a meta-wink going on there, too.

  11. SanityOrMadness says:

    Well, there’s still the basic point that Hickman’s data pages are focusing on Genosha (whose mutant population, everyone forgets, was overwhelmingly artificial ‘mutates’ who would never naturally have developed powers, similar to Polaris) as a setback, and completely ignoring the DeciMation, Terrigen and even Rosenberg’s vaccine.

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