Credits: Scott Lobdell (original story), Terry Kavanagh (writer), Carlos Pacheco (penciler), Cam Smith (inker), Kevin Somers & Electric Crayon (colors), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (lettering)
In Wakanda, Gwen Stacy cares for the human refugees while waiting for more supplies to arrive. The village is suddenly attacked by the Marauders, a human terrorist group made up of Harry Osborn, Wilson Fisk, Arcade, and the Owl. Stacy kills Fisk, and Arcade is crushed by the heavy supplies dropped by Tony Stark’s spider-shaped aircraft. The aircraft’s pilot, Clint Barton, shoots down the remaining Marauders. Tony Stark tells Gwen Stacy and the humanitarian doctor Donald Blake that they’re needed in England. In London, Apocalypse’s fourth Horseman, Mikhail, arrives on an alleged peace initiative. Human pilots Susan Storm and Ben Grimm are reluctantly escorting his ship when their Field Command Center suddenly explodes on the ground. They land and investigate, and find the Hulk inside. Sue Storm shoots his ear off, forcing him to retreat. They search the wreckage and soon find Dr. Bruce Banner. He refuses medical attention for his head wound because the group is already late for Mikhail’s welcoming ceremony. Mikhail speaks in front of friendly audience, inviting members of the Human High Council to enter his ship. Victor von Doom, Tony Stark, Gwen Stacy, Donald Blake, Ben Grimm, and Sue Storm walk into Mikhail’s ship, and discover that he’s keeping the mutant Empath captive. Mikhail boasts about his plan to use Empath’s power to create an emotional frenzy that will rip London apart.
This series is in the “Marvel Select” format, with a cardboard cover and foil enhancement.
Approved By The Comics Code Authority (?)
There’s no Code seal on this issue. Arcade does have a bloody death, and there’s a lot of blood when the Hulk’s ear is shot off, but I don’t know if that was enough to cost it Code approval. It might have been a simple mistake.
According to a text piece in the back, Black Panther, Peter Parker, Frank Castle, Reed Richards, Johnny Storm, and Namor are all dead in this reality. A blind Matt Murdock is shown as Mikhail’s assistant, and Mikhail seems to have given him a “second sight”.
Mikhail is referred to as the “Fourth Horseman”, even though Abyss has already been labeled the latest Horseman. Why wouldn’t he be considered the fourth?
This issue supposedly takes place after Weapon X #3, where the Human High Council’s navigation systems were “sabotaged from within”. That never happened in Weapon X #3, but it might be a reference to Pierce’s attack in Weapon X #2, which destroyed their nuclear guidance system. Also, Ben Grimm claims that the explosion in their Field Command Center killed any pilots capable of carrying out the nuclear attack. I’m not sure how this can be reconciled with Weapon X #3, which has Weapon X searching out Gateway to pilot the nuclear strike. So is this supposed to take place before Weapon X #3 instead?
London is apparently “war-torn” which doesn’t seem to fit in with the established continuity. Apparently, it was the “very first cut of a bloody swath” that ran throughout Europe. London never appeared to be in great shape, but I was under the impression that humans were still relatively safe there (as it’s the home of the Human High Council, and Americans were being transported to England in Amazing X-Men and Weapon X). Pacheco draws Big Ben as rubble on the ground, which directly contradicts all of the previous stories that have it still standing and serving as the Council’s headquarters.
This is a miniseries focusing on the non-mutant Marvel superheroes in the AoA. It’s not a bad premise, but telling this story in a separate miniseries seems excessive to me. This could’ve easily taken the place of the mediocre prequel stories in X-Men Chronicles. The series was edited by Marie Javins, who wasn’t one of the regular X-editors during this era. I don’t know if that explains the shaky continuity or not, but this just doesn’t feel as if it really fits in with the rest of the AoA titles. Terry Kavanagh wasn’t a regular X-writer either, so it’s possible that he wasn’t in on all of the behind the scenes planning, either. Carlos Pacheco debuts on the X-titles with this mini (EDIT - at least from my perspective, since I didn't buy the Bishop mini). He sticks around until the late ‘90s after stints on Excalibur and X-Men.
The premise of this limited series is already gimmicky, but the story really pushes it to the limit. Out of all of the human characters that could’ve taken a stand against Apocalypse, Gwen Stacy gets chosen to be the hard-as-nails freedom fighter? It’s very fannish, and it stretches believability pretty far. I can buy that many of the Avengers would still end up as heroes in this reality, but the idea that Spider-Man’s dead girlfriend is popping caps on the bad guys with them is just silly. There are quite a few more cutesy moments, such as Ben Grimm calling the Hulk “a thing”, Clint Barton being nicknamed “Hawkeye” due to his piloting skills, and Donald Blake being referred to as a “god” because of his abilities as a doctor. There’s also the massive coincidence that Matt Murdock would receive powers similar to the ones he has as Daredevil from Mikhail, plus Bruce Banner accidentally becomes the Hulk in this reality due to Gamma experiments here, too. I guess you have to accept all of these things as a part of the premise, but it was too much for me even as a young teenager.
Overlooking the fanboy-ish elements of the series, this issue isn’t all bad. Kavanagh’s scripting is competent, and the action moves at a steady pace. The story itself is unobjectionable, although it starts to unravel once Mikhail lands in London. The fact that the humans there would gleefully welcome Mikhail and even chant his name, just because he’s on a “peace” mission, is absurd. There’s just no way any humans could believe Apocalypse wants peace at this point. This stretches disbelief way too far (although I guess it's possible that Empath is manipulating them, even though Mikhail doesn't appear to have any motivation to force him into doing that). The scene with Ben and Sue flying over the explosion at the Field Command Center is also pretty awkward, and rereading it doesn’t make it much clearer. Pacheco’s art is strong for most of the issue, even if his panel-to-panel continuity is spotty in a few places. I do think his art is strong enough to cover for some of the more mundane elements of the story, though. If you’re willing to overlook the massive coincidences and suspend disbelief for a few minutes, it’s entertaining enough as a straightforward action story.