Aug 2, 2015

The 40 Years of Comics Project - Day 159: X-Factor #109, December 1994

From A to X? And what happened to that promised enormous run of Alpha Flight?

I feel sure that, at some point in my ramblings, I've noted that particular crossover series are alphabetized according to crossover, rather than having the various titles dispersed throughout the collection. In my Active collection, the original "Inferno" crossover is categorized this way (which is why I picked up the Inferno Secret Wars series, but I was pretty disappointed...anyway). The case is the same in the Storage collection, and before the aforementioned Alpha Flight run, we come to the epic X-crossover known as "The Age of Apocalypse."

A few initial thoughts before I hit the meat of this first comic: When this comic came out, it had probably been about 5 years since I'd seriously read comics, and would be a few more before I got back into them upon discovering Gaiman's The Sandman and Morrison's The Invisibles. My era of X-comics ended with the Claremont/Silvestri stuff where the team was living in the Australian Outback, so I missed Age of Apocalypse (AoA) in its initial run. I only picked it up in the early 2000s while working at a used book store and needing something to read. Looking back to my own X-universe experiences, I guess there were still a fair amount of titles chronicling the mutants (Uncanny, X-Factor, New Mutants, Excalibur), but the difference was that these were all individual titles telling the stories of individual teams, rather than, as I see it now, and in the time of AoA, individual titles telling the stories of a single group of characters. I may be wrong about that, but it's certainly what's kept me from reading X-titles for almost 2 decades. The final thing I'd like to address before hitting the comic is the reading order I'm going to be using. This particular issue isn't an official part of the crossover, but it's the crossover that leads into the crossover (90s comics were so ridiculous). Following the "Legion Quest" story, I'll be reading AoA in publication order, rather than reading all four issues of a particular title at once. I think this sort of read gives a much better look at the scope of the crossover, that it fleshes out the new reality much more effectively, and that it'll keep me from getting bored with a single title. It's going to be a long run in this alternate reality (probably a month or two). Let's get going, shall we?

Okay, first the bad: Jan Duursema's art in this comic is fucking abysmal. In the first panel of the comic, Mystique is front and center, and her breasts resemble nothing less that cantaloupes glued to the front of what, I guess, is a very spindly female body. There's shades of Eric Larsen's art to it, but it's a thoroughly inferior version. This makes sense, as the Image artists had left Marvel and become superstars by this point, and this comic gives us a very good indication of that divide between superstar artists like those Image lads and their imitators. Like Duursema.

It's easier if I just show you:

I've pointed this out before, and I just can't wrap my head around it. It's not even well-stylized. It's just bad. And then there's this awkward fight scene"

I don't really know what's going on in that last panel.

So much for the bad. The good is this: Legion comes back with a vengeance. He's always been one of my favourite characters in the X-Universe. The Claremont/Sienkiewicz New Mutants stuff that he was in still rank as some of my favourite superhero comics, so to see a treatment of him that, as this prologue to AoA unfolds, really taps into his madness and his power is quite a treat. This particular era of X-Factor also interrogates, with some success, the problems of a government-run and sanctioned mutant police force. It's tough to say what we can take away from this treatment. If one places the X-Men as metaphors for civil rights throughout the twentieth century, what is the message of this segregated super-team. Mutants deal with mutant problems? I'm not sure that's sending the right message. That said, I've only read bits and pieces of this run, so perhaps that problem is dealt with. But even the original X-Factor team had a mandate to deal with solely mutant problems. I understand the fact that there are issues to deal with that only a person of that particular genetic make-up might understand, but it really does set up a very divisive sort of mentality.

Or perhaps I'm reading too much into a fluff comic from the nineteen nineties.

So that's that for today. I was very hard on this comic, and I'll try to reign that in as we go through the Age of Apocalypse. The early nineties were not a good time for comics, from a creative standpoint, so there's certain to be glaring faults. I'll try to see past them, to read in the time, so to speak. AoA has stuck with many readers as foundational (see the upcoming movie called "Age of Apocalypse"), so there's got to be something to it. Heck, even from a completely personal standpoint, it's one of the few X-titles, crossover or otherwise, that I've read from the early nineties, so there's good in there. It's just that it's mixed rather expertly with some really horrendous story-telling. So let's, together, explore just exactly what makes this crossover such a classic. I'll see you tomorrow.

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