This X-men crossover is fricken brilliant. It’s dark, intense and it’s possibly the greatest crossover Marvel Comics has ever produced.
Every now and then, Marvel will have an alternate universe story. For example, this past spring there was an Age of X crossover in an alternate timeline where mutant kind was fighting a losing war against the human race. In 2005, there was the House of M – a company-wide event that depowered the vast majority of mutants in the main Marvel universe. These alternate universes offer glimpses at how differently every major character turned out. But I’m not talking about House of M or Age of X today. Heck, I haven’t even read Age of X. I’m going to talk about the Age of Apocalypse.
The Age of Apocalypse storyline ran in 1995-1996, and it covered all of the X-men books. The plot is that Apocalypse, an ancient mutant of extreme power has taken over the world. Who is Apocalypse? Apocalypse is one of the X-men’s most well known villains, and has one single goal – survival of the fittest. In other words, he wants to kill pretty much everyone, human and mutant, and rule over all those who are “fit to survive.” He is also extremely powerful, has complete molecular control over his body, can manipulate energy, he is an absolute genius and he’s immortal too – among other things. To find out more, click here
The age of apocalypse timeline was created when Xavier’s son, Legion, went back in time and accidentally killed his own father before he started the X-men. Legion is another extremely powerful mutant who has multiple personalities, each with a different power. Click here for more info. After Xavier dies in Magneto’s arms, Magneto forms the X-men in his honor. His X-men become the primary resistance against Apocalypse’s rule.
The best part about this crossover is how dark it gets. The only places left on earth that are still habitable are North America, ruled by Apocalypse, Western Europe, where the human high council resides, and the savage land, a fictional location under Antarctica. Everywhere else has been destroyed by various means. In America, humans and mutants are experimented on and slaughtered by the numbers, and slavery is commonplace. The freedom fighters are losing their war, and Europe is planning on a nuclear strike to destroy the continent, which could end up destroying them with nuclear fallout. At the same time, Apocalypse is planning to invade Europe.
In addition to the darkness, it’s also fascinating to read how the alternate timeline affects different characters. I already mentioned Magneto, who is a straight hero. Storm, Jean Grey, Iceman, Nightcrawler, Colossus, Shadowcat, Gambit and Jubilee are fairly similar to their main timeline counterparts. They’re all X-men fighting the good fight, although they hold back much less than their main timeline counterparts. Heck, Colossus is a cold-blooded warrior who lives by the phrase “kill or be killed,” while the regular Colossus has a heart of gold. Wolverine (Logan) isn’t known as Wolverine in the Age of Apocalypse timeline, but instead goes by Weapon X – the codename given to him by the group that gave him his metal skeleton. He is an ally of the X-men, but rather than trying to overcome his animalistic side, he embraces it. Sabertooth is also a member of the X-men, whereas his main universe counterpart is usually a villain. Mystique is also an ally of the X-men in this timeline, and actually has a positive relationship with her children Nightcrawler and Rogue (she’s a terrorist in the main timeline and her children want nothing to do with her.)
On the flip-side, Beast, a long-time member of the X-men, is Apocalypse’s top geneticist in The Age of Apocalypse timeline. Cyclops and his brother Havok are also very high up in Apocalypse’s forces – Cyclops is even in charge of security. However Cyclops switches sides by the end of the crossover. Mr. Sinister, another famous X-men villain, is second in command to Apocalypse, but is working against Apocalypse in privacy. Read more about sinister here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mister_Sinister . Domino, a mildly popular character, (usually a protagonist in the main timeline, whose mutant power is luck,) serves as a mercenary for Apocalypse. Several other villains remain villains in this universe, but there are also a number of new characters too.
Holocaust is Apocalypse’s son, and one of his horsemen. He is also one of the few people Apocalypse fears. Why? Holocaust is literally a walking atomic bomb. Abyss is another new villain in the series – read about his powers here because I have no idea how to explain it. Nate Grey is a hero introduced in the Age of Apocalypse timeline, who was engineered by Mr. Sinister to be the most powerful mutant in the world. Read about his powers here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nate_Grey . Holocaust, Nate Grey and Dark Beast all ended up immigrating to the regular Marvel Universe after the crossover ended.
Overall, this series has around 50 issues or so, spanning over several titles and storylines three or four issues long each. It’s jam-packed with brutally awesome moments, and has a simple plot with plenty of depth behind it. If you have any interest in the X-men but don’t want to be confused by all the continuity, this could be a great read. The timeline has been revisited several times, most recently in Uncanny X-force – my favorite current team book. The event has been influential enough to inspire several videogames, several episodes in the 90’s show, and was teased as the main plot in the second season of Wolverine and the X-men. Too bad that show got cancelled. The entire crossover can be collected in paperback form over four volumes, although I recommend you start with Volume 2 as Volume 1 mostly contains random stories that don’t really affect the main event.