Credits: John Francis Moore (writer), Steve Epting (penciler), Al Milgrom (inker), Starkings/Comicraft (lettering), Glynis Oliver (colorist)
Cyclops, Havok, Northstar, and Aurora track down escapees from Sinister’s pens. As Cyclops fights their leader, Havok comes from behind and kills her, telling Cyclops he’s gone soft. Sinister watches the events from his hidden lab inside a giant statue of Apocalypse , which took the place of the Statue of Liberty years ago. Havok meets with McCoy, called “The Beast” by the prisoners, to discuss Cyclops’ recent personality change. The Bedlam Brothers join Havok for an evening out at Angel’s nightclub, Heaven, where they later stop a human insurgent. Backstage, Havok continues his illegal affair with the human lounge singer, Scarlet McKenzie. When they return home, Cyclops asks his fellow Prelates to help him break into the missing Sinister’s private lab. They discover that Sinister trashed all of his equipment and extensive research data before abruptly leaving. With Sinister gone, Cyclops reluctantly takes command. Meanwhile, Sinister sets off an auto-destruct sequence in his hidden lab inside the statue of Apocalypse.
The continuity between the various titles gets dodgy with this issue. An enraged Apocalypse already discovered Sinister’s trashed lab in X-Men Alpha. A much calmer Apocalypse received news that Sinister was gone from Rex during a brief scene in Astonishing X-Men #1. In Weapon X #1, Cyclops reports to Apocalypse that Sinister is gone and has likely turned against him. Weapon X #1 explicitly takes place before this issue because Havok’s mishap with the Sentinel hand is referenced here. Actually, Apocalypse is told about Sinister’s defection and Havok’s incident with the Sentinel in the same scene in Weapon X #1, which makes this issue’s ending even harder to fit into continuity.
The Pens are prison camps that provide “genetic stockpile of human and mutant alike”. Sinister explains that Apocalypse wants the next generation of homo superior to be created “not by accident, but by design”.
The Infinites are created with a “patchwork protein of mutant DNA” developed by breaking mutants down to “protoplasmic soup”. Havok comments to McCoy that they can’t survive for more than a year.
Cannonball and his sister, Elizabeth Guthrie, are revealed to be guards in the Pens. Sinister says that their sister, Husk, refused his “sponsorship”. Elizabeth Guthrie is described as a “teenaged Amazon” who can increase her size and mass. I have no idea if she showed up in the regular continuity, but I’m afraid to think about what Chuck Austen might’ve done with her.
The escapees from the beginning of this issue are Artemis, Phantazia, Pyro, Avalanche, and Newt. Artemis is apparently this world’s version of Callisto, although she seems to have chameleon powers here (EDIT - actually, didn't Callisto show up in X-Calibre?). Pyro is shown with the ability to create flames, which contradicts his ability only to control fire in the mainstream continuity (a fact the movies surprisingly got right). Since all of the characters have been experimented on by McCoy, it’s possible that his powers have been altered, though (it’s established here that creating the fire hurts him, so it’s possible that Moore did this intentionally). Newt resembles Jack Kirby’s original Toad design, which implies that the Toad in X-Man might not be Mortimer Toynbee (the X-Man character more closely resembles one of the new Dark Riders introduced a few months earlier in Cable). Was there ever a comprehensive list of all of the alternate versions of the established characters during the AoA?
Like most of the other AoA first issues, this issue is more concerned with reintroducing the cast and establishing the new world than telling a specific story. Aside from setting up various plot threads for this specific series, there’s also a lot of time spent covering material the other X-titles have already dealt with. I understand that Cyclops needs to have a dramatic realization that Sinister has abandoned him, but the scene obviously needed to be better choreographed between the titles. That’s really the only distracting aspect of the story, as the rest of the issue is dedicated to establishing the world of the Pens and the relationships between the Prelates. Most of the setups are pretty interesting, although the future conflict between Havok and Cyclops is telegraphed way too obviously. At the very least, this seems to be a better fit for Moore than the regular X-Factor series turned out to be. Steve Epting’s art suits the dismal mood very well, even though it wasn’t slick enough for my tastes as a teenager.