Credits: Jeph Loeb (writer), Steve Skroce (penciler), Sellers/LaRosa/Conrad/Hanna (inkers), Mike Thomas & Digital Chameleon (colors), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (lettering)
While Domino, Grizzly, and Caliban search for Nate Grey, Forge continues to secretly train him. Forge is afraid that his harsh training techniques are pushing Nate towards their new travel companion, Essex. Essex encourages Nate to push the limits of his powers, which emboldens Nate to try flying for the first time. He’s able to lift himself off of the ground, but the effort gives him a massive headache. Later, Essex encourages Forge and his crew to infiltrate a factory where McCoy is conducting genetic experiments on humans. When they arrive, the team is ambushed by Madri priests and Infinite soldiers. Nate’s powers explode during the battle, destroying large sections of the factory. A Madri witnesses Nate turning off the minds of two of his fellow priests, and vows to tell Apocalypse. After the team escapes, Nate continues to push his powers by mentally traveling with Sonique (the neophyte mutant they met in the Midwest) to the X-Men’s headquarters again. Magneto’s son sees their psychic presence, leading Magneto to threaten anyone who violates his home. Frightened, Sonique ends their psychic trip. Meanwhile, Brute finally sees through Essex’s disguise and remembers that Essex once experimented on him in Apocalypse’s Pens. When Brute confronts him, Essex attacks him brutally before leaving to meet with Forge. Forge is angry with Essex for pushing Nate too far during the mission, and tells him to leave their group. Suddenly, Domino, Grizzly, and Caliban enter.
“Sonique” is this reality’s version of Siryn, who was rescued at the end of the last issue. This and “Soaron” have to be the most arbitrary name changes in all of the AoA.
Like the first issue, this is an action-heavy story that moves at a decent pace. There’s really nothing engaging about the story, but it does manage not to be too dull, and it feels like it at least has a forward momentum. X-Man is still a brat, and most of the peripheral characters aren’t interesting at all, so it has to rely on giant explosions and a lot of energy to work. Skroce’s artwork is dynamic enough to sell the action, even if most of his faces are downright ugly. I guess the drama in the story is supposed to be whether or not Essex/Sinister will recruit X-Man to his side, which doesn’t really work because there’s no subtlety to his portrayal here. Everyone knows the Sinister of the original reality is truly evil, and this Sinister probably is too, but at least he opposes Apocalypse. There could be an opportunity here to present a more complex view of the character, something hinted at in X-Men Alpha and Factor X, but here he’s simplistically portrayed as just an evil Svengali. If Forge had more of a personality, watching Nate turn from him to Sinister would’ve at least had more emotional resonance. Instead, it comes across pretty flat. The scorched earth nature of the AoA event does at least open the possibility that anything could happen to Nate, but it’s hard to view these issues in that light, knowing now that his series survives for years after the AoA is over.