Sep 5, 2015

The 40 Years of Comics Project - Day 193: The Amazing X-Men #3, May 1995

First things first: to anyone living in Calgary this weekend, Happy Pride! The weather might suck, but I can't imagine it'll damp the spirits too much of the celebrants.

I'll start on today's comic at the end. The final sentence of this issue gave me goosebumps. This issue, from the Nicieza/Kubert team was everything that an X-Men comic should be. Soap opera meets action movie meets light philosophical journey. Sort of like The Matrix. So let me back up and start from the start.

Magneto, on the opening page, asks the most important question, but it's sadly one that can never have an answer. While standing over the grave of Charles Xavier, he asks if Professor X would make the same decision he is wrestling with. But for Xavier, the question is not whether or not he would sacrifice everything to save the world, but whether or not everything should be sacrificed for him to save the world. How does one, even a dead one like Professor X, even begin to deal with that question? And it's also a question that invites X-readers into this conundrum on a very profound level. Long-time readers are invested in Xavier's dream, of his world of freedom and equality. It's virtually impossible to be a fan of the X-Men without having some investment in this ideal, and as such those fans are also well-versed in the fundamental beliefs of Professor X. So Magneto's question at the beginning, and it's slight reversal from the professor's perspective begs an answer not from the man whose grave he stands over, but from the readers sharing the moment: would Professor X sacrifice literally everything to return to life and save the world? It's the question of a delicate balance between a selfless and a selfish act.

We finally have the confrontation that seems to have been a long time coming in this issue as well: Magneto versus Apocalypse. I have to remind myself that, from a publication perspective, the stories I've been looking at over the last few weeks only took 3 months to come out, but, as I've noted before, one of the great things about this crossover is that it is so well-wrought as to feel like this reality had been around for ages. The confrontation is a nice parallel, taking place as it does at Xavier's grave, of the climactic confrontations we've often seen between Xavier and Magneto over the course of the X-universe's history. A little more physically-inflected, perhaps, but similar in tone. And, given that Magneto has been depowered, there's also an interesting parallel to Xavier's confinement to a wheelchair. This loss, on the part of both men, stokes a fire in their souls to use everything in their power to do what they believe is right.

I had a conversation with a very good friend and comics scholar recently about my reading of the Age of Apocalypse, and he noted how much he liked some of the revisions of the characters in this reality, even to the point of preferring them to the originals. I have to concur with this assessment, especially in the case of Magneto's son, Quicksilver. In the original universe, Quicksilver is, if you'll forgive the colloquialism, a dick. I've never liked him, never understood the character, never appreciated any of his qualities. But in this iteration of the X-universe, he's noble almost to the point of Cyclops-ian sacrifice. Which, with that goosebump-inducing final sentence, of what it means to be X-Men, returns us to the question Magneto asks at the issue's beginning. How much sacrifice is too much? How many of these individuals are better people as a result of the circumstances of their existence. We, as readers, are torn with regard to Magneto, whom we know will become an apocalyptic villain in his own right if his plan is carried through, and this feeling of being torn carries over to some of the characters who revolve around Magneto and his team. This, I think, is perhaps the most brilliant aspect of this crossover. We know, of course, that things will return to normal, and if they do, there will be very little change in the regular continuity. This is often the case with major crossovers, and actually is a great criticism of them. They offer the illusion of drama. But the Age of Apocalypse offers something that none of the others, that I can think of, do: loss. We lose these characters, these better selves of some of the less-likable people in the X-stable. So while the fictional universe itself will, by and large, be unchanged, the readers are. We continue on through the ongoing drama of the X-Men knowing how things could have been, and, dare I say it, should have been, for some of these fictional individuals.

And that, I think, is as good a place as any to stop for a bit. With the beginning of school this week, and my first proper, full-on lecturing starting, I've prepared some pre-read and written posts for the next week, a break for a bit from the Age of Apocalypse. We leave at the cliffhanger, major characters in the hands of the villains, heroes desperately trying to salvage a plan that seems to be unraveling. And when we return, we'll get a glimpse of the other heroes in the Marvel U, and how this turn of events has effected them. Will they be better selves?

In the interests of fair warning to those who are faint of heart or sensibility, the next week will be looking at the Eros Comix "mangerotica" line from Fantagraphics. It's explicit, lewd, and occasionally off-putting porn and erotica. If it's not to your taste, please give the week a miss. I'll be back to the Age of Apocalypse next Sunday. See you, if only virtually, tomorrow.

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