Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Scanned Thoughts: Age of Apocalypse #1


I remember only a few things about the 90s. One, the cartoons were way better. Two, the internet speeds sucked. But for comic book fans, few events embodied the grungy, crack-fueled dot com bubble than Age of Apocalypse. This was an era where there were no Avengers movies. Hell, Robert Downey Jr. was just another burned out Hollywood coke fiend who was just one arrest away from being someone's prison bitch. The X-men were the 800 pound gorilla armed with a bazooka in comics and Age of Apocalypse added a flame thrower to that arsenal for good measure.

Naturally, it became a part of Battleworld during the events of Secret Wars. This is a dark, apocalyptic world. While those worlds are more widespread than empty beer bottles at a Raiders game these days, this world took it to new levels in the 90s. It established the gold standard for these worlds by not making them feel too much like something Kurt Cobain wrote while in heroin withdraw. There were characters, plots, stories, and dramas worth following. It's a world where Apocalypse reined supreme in a way that Donald Trump can only jerk off to. But in Battleworld, Dr. Doom is a god. So how does he cope with a world like that? Age of Apocalypse #1 gives us insight into that world and the 90s kid in me is so excited that he actually put down his Game Boy.

It doesn't waste time throwing in a few familiar faces that haven't been seen since Pearl Jam was still a relevant band. Holocaust was one of those characters whose name alone wouldn't get past the bullshit politically correct censors that cause bullshit Twitter trends today. While he's not going to rile up the Neo-Nazi crowd as much as we want, he is on a mission in the Savage Land. He even brought a contingent of Infinity Soldiers with him, who are Apocalypse's version of Doombots. What sort of threat could possibly warrant this kind of firepower? A berserker Wolverine? A Dark Phoenix Jean Grey? The return of Hope fucking Summers? Actually, it's Doug "Cypher" Ramsey.

Seriously. I actually had to sober up to write that. Bear with me though because it's not quite as fucked up as it sounds, although it's close. Doug Ramsey, a mutant whose power and appearance is so unspectacular that he probably could've hosted TRL at one point, is now the target of Apocalypse's forces. But it's not just that he painted dicks on pictures of Apocalypse. Destiny actually went out of her way to protect this kid. He's apparently so important that she's willing to drag his ass through the Savage Land, braving Jurassic Park rejects to save him. I'm not going to say this suddenly makes Cypher relevant, but it certainly sparks intrigue.


Apocalypse makes it clear to Sinister and all his Horsemen that this kid is more important than the semen stains on Monica Lewinsky's dress. In a world where he's only as strong as Doom allows him, I almost get the sense he's doing this out of boredom. But nobody sends a walking lawsuit like Holocaust to find Cypher if it isn't at least somewhat important. Even the most bored demigods don't like to make that big a mess.

Cypher seems just as dumbfounded as I am after a lap dance from a transvestite stripper. He doesn't even know why he now has an Apocalypse-sized target on his ass. It's so big that Destiny gets caught in the crossfire, the first but not the last of a few overly callous deaths in this story. Holocaust eventually gets close to the point where it would make any Iranian diplomat very nervous. Then, like Michael Jordan in his prime, he gets a save from the dream team of the 90s, the X-men. I'll give the 90s kids a moment to wipe away the tears of joy.


A team consisting of Nightcrawler, Storm, Colossus, Dazzler, Iceman, and Exodus converge in the Savage Land to save Cypher. This is not the fucking practice squad. Even the X-men have taken notice of this kid's sudden importance. It leads to a flashy, visceral fight that would've made an awesome episode of American Gladiators. Storm, Colossus, Dazzler, Iceman, and Exodus lead the charge against Holocaust while Nightcrawler tries to get Cypher the fuck out of here, hopefully to a place where they can all figure out why he suddenly warrants more attention than O.J. Simpson.

I imagine they're just as curious, but it helps that Cypher offers some narration that shows he's just as overwhelmed, probably hoping this is either a bad dream or a really shitty game show. He also gives some quick insight into the X-men of this domain, which most 90s kids don't need. But it's still helpful to those of us who were strung out on meth and Ecstasy for a good chunk of the 90s.


While Nightcrawler and Cypher make a run for it, the X-men manage to damage Holocaust's containment suit. This allows Iceman to be more useful than usual and freeze his ass so they can run away and give Apocalypse the finger in the process. It's not the most creative way the X-men have ever won a fight against someone like Holocaust, but it gets the job done. Like an episode of Power Rangers where all the problems are solved by the proper application of Zords, it seems like such a simple resolution. Perhaps this means that this domain of Battleworld won't be quite as fucked up, right?


I hope everyone picked up on the sarcasm because comic fans of any era know that's bullshit on a stick. Of course just freezing Holocaust doesn't solve the problem. This isn't the era of Bugs Bunny cartoons and Nicholas Cage movies anymore. This is the era of Game of Thrones where we allow shit to get fucked up on a level that only HBO dares to air. That means that instead of subduing Holocaust, the X-men just wire his ass to explode. It kills most of the X-men nearby, forcing Nightcrawler to teleport way out of his range to save Cypher. It might not trigger the same outrage as the death of Jon Snow, but if kids in the 90s read this shit, they would gasp so hard that they would drop their Tomagachis.

It's still somewhat jarring, the fight taking this dark a turn and taking out this many X-men in the process. It's like putting a huge picture of a horse's dick in the middle of Playboy magazine. It really does kill the mood in that it feels like a callous gimmick that tries to be shocking. But again, in the Game of Thrones era it's more an annoyance than anything else. It just goes to show that Marvel is way too fucking eager to take advantage of situations where they can get away with killing major characters.


On top of that, the deaths of these X-men don't even accomplish their mission. Apocalypse's forces still end up with Cypher. Nightcrawler saved his life, but got himself killed in the process. He might as well put a bow on Cypher's ass and delivered him overnight. On the plus side, Holocaust is dead so maybe this comic won't be banned in Iran. So it wasn't a complete waste. This isn't a fucking Ultimate comic.

Despite these deaths, the story surrounding Cypher continues to unfold. Sinister and Dark Beast start studying this kid, trying to figure out why the fuck he warranted Holocaust going nuclear. They're still just as stumped as I am, but not nearly as stoned. They were apparently aware of him. They knew he was a mutant who could unlock any language. But beyond that, he was less relevant than a sober Tara Reid.


Since Apocalypse's resident geniuses are stumped, they try a few other methods to find out what they want. That means putting Cyclops and Havok, who are basically Sinister's errand boys in Age of Apocalypse, in charge of beating it out of him. And by beating I don't mean any of that "enhanced interrogation" bullshit. They really do try to just beat him up until he tells them why the fuck he's so important. To be honest, I'd be tempted to do the same thing at this point.

However, this questionable tactic does reveal something else that adds a little intrigue. Cyclops, who is basically Sinister's golden boy, tries to play the part of the ACLU and stop the beating. He actually comes off as the most reasonable voice in this room while Havok is just as much an insufferable asshat as he's always been. It's a sign that there's some disagreements and discontent within Apocalypse's army, which is fitting because that's pretty similar to what happened in the original story. It's not much of a reminder, but I'll take what I can get in a story that's centered around Doug Ramsey of all characters.


While Sinister is sharing in the frustration over Cypher, we get a glimpse of Flatscan. It's basically a shitty ghetto in the world of Age of Apocalypse. It's where the remaining humans dwell, living in shitty world where they're basically canon fodder, slave labor, and poverty. They're basically a setting for every episode of Cops. And Sinister thinks it's a good idea to take Cypher there with the Summers brothers. Why does he think this? Either he's been listening to too much Pearl Jam or he's as sick of Cypher as everyone else.

But before they arrive, there's an ominous meeting between Burner and an AOA version of Carol Danvers, who is basically the human equivalent of the neighborhood watch. While she's doesn't come off as the same iconic Marvel version of Wonder Woman with a movie in the works, she does strike a deal. Someone apparently knows that Apocalypse's forces will be paying a visit and they want a chance to give them the finger. Given the state of humanity in this world, I can't imagine Carol would have too many problems with that.


The next day, the Summers brothers arrive in full force with Cypher tagging along. Nobody has explained why it's still a good idea to bring him into the Age of Apocalypse equivalent of downtown Detroit. I guess they've given up making sense of it as well. They meet with Carol Danvers and treat it like a routine cavity search by the TSA. Nobody seems too thrilled about it. They know what happened to Holocaust when the X-men tried to rescue Cypher. They want to be sure there are no other X-men in flatscan that might cause more nuclear explosions, which sounds way more reasonable than Apocalypse's usual reasons of tormenting the weak. It makes for a nice, tense exchange that's full of plenty of non-sexual tension, which is a first for most conversations involving Cyclops and powerful women.


But while this conversation is going on, Cypher starts decoding some strange message within Flatscan. It's very unclear where this message is coming from. It's very confusion and even sober mind will be left scratching their heads. This is one of those areas where it feels like some pages are missing. He seems to pick up on it just by listening to Carol Danvers argue with Cyclops. That's like finding out the secret formula for Coke Cola just by playing a Nirvana song backwards. It makes about as much sense as it sound and no amount of bong hits will make it feel satisfying.

At the very least, it does offer an explanation as to why Cypher is so important. Apparently, the humans have created a virus that will wipe out mutants. So yeah, they're basically ripping off the plot of Outbreak without the use of an adorable monkey. It might not be original, but it reveals the extent of the conflict here. This isn't just some Rambo style resistance. The humans in this world are sick of Apocalypse's rule and they're ready to resort to genocide. I want to say they're going to extremes, but this is a world that came an era where skateboarding and BMX biking became a sport. I think it's quite fitting in the world of Age of Apocalypse.


While Cypher is probably clenching his asshole to the point where he could shit diamonds, the X-men decide to show up and complicate the situation as only they can. Remember that deal Burner made with Carol Danvers? Well, it paid Microsoft style dividends because it put the X-men in a position to attack and hopefully get another shot at rescuing Cypher. They already lost five of their teammates going after this kid. I guess they can stand to lose a few more.

This time they've got pro bowlers on the field. That includes Magneto, Wolverine, Emma Frost, Rogue, Blink, and Burner. And yes, Blink is a pro-bowler in the world of Age of Apocalypse. What can I say? It truly was a different era. So now the fight over Cypher is set to escalate even more. I'm not sure all the Surge and grunge rock albums are enough to prepare anyone for it at this point. At the very least, we know why Cypher deserves to have that target on his ass. He's still an annoying little shit though.


Even with an event like Secret Wars, the scale and scope of the original Age of Apocalypse is hard to match. This story defined a decade almost as much as flannel shirts, boy bands, and Monika Lewinsky. It's too early to say whether Secret Wars will match that scale. But in the context of this issue, it feels somewhat watered down. This is basically a light beer version of Age of Apocalypse. It's not going to be as satisfying, but it can still get you drunk if you have enough of them. However, I can't say with a sober or drunk state of mind that there's enough here to be more satisfying than a cold can of Crystal Pepsi.

This issue does a lot of things right in that it establishes a clear and concise conflict centered around Doug Ramsey, an X-men character so under-utilized that he might as well have been drafted by the Oakland Raiders. It also establishes some of the unique dynamics that this domain has in the context of Battleworld. It's still not a lot and the early death toll is a turn-off on par with a Kathey Bates nude scene.

That said, there's still plenty of intrigue surrounding the battle for Doug Ramsey. This isn't just some mindless brawl where the wrestlers are given a few too many steroids and meth. There's purpose and intent, along with plenty of familiar names that add to the intrigue. There's just not enough of it to make it as special as some 90s nostalgia types probably want it to be. I give Age of Apocalypse #1 a 6 out of 10. I still get the sense that Apocalypse misses the 90s as much as most X-men fans. This comic might not tide him over until Bryan Singer makes another shitty movie, but it will still remind him and other X-men fans that there was once a time where mutants truly did rule and nobody dared replacing any of them with shitty Inhuman rip-offs. Nuff said!

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