United We Stand – What If the Age of Apocalypse Had Not Ended?
Credits: Mariano Nicieza (writer), Kevin Hopgood (artist/colorist), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (letters)
Two years after the nuclear strike against America, Magneto leads the surviving X-Men to a station on the moon. A group of humans, including former Council members like Tony Stark, now lives there and refuses to return to Earth. Stark shows Magneto information they’ve learned from the Watcher’s technology. They’ve discovered that the Silver Surfer is leading Galactus to Earth. Magneto encourages the humans to work together with mutants to stop him, but many humans, including Dwayne Turner, refuse to trust mutants. Later, inside the Blue Area of the moon, Dwayne uses ancient technology to give himself super powers. Galactus arrives to devour Earth, and the X-Men and most of the humans unite to stop him. Bandit, Dwayne’s brother, is saved from Galactus by Quicksilver, but he’s soon killed by the Silver Surfer. After saying goodbye to his brother, Dwayne is inspired to use his new powers to mentally unite humans and mutants against Galactus. Their united force kills Galactus, leading Magneto to warn everyone to learn a lesson from the battle.
I guess I bought into the AoA storyline enough to purchase my first issue of What If…? in five years. This issue is probably most notable as one of Marvel’s first experiments in digital painting (even though the cover is done in a traditional pencil/ink style for some reason). Calling it “dated” would be charitable, as most of the issue looks like a poorly airbrushed album cover from the early ‘80s. I recently discovered Kevin Hopgood’s pencil work through some Iron Man back issues, where he displayed a strong style that reminds me of Ron Garney’s art. His work here is buried underneath the garish effects and ugly computer modeling, so it’s definitely not a representation of what he’s capable of. I don’t know if he ran into deadline troubles or not, but the computer effects aren’t even consistent throughout the issue. The painted look is created by knocking out the black ink lines and replacing them with colors throughout most of the issue. Getting closer and closer to the final page, though, the black lines return and the art begins to resemble a more traditional comic (Hopgood’s linework looks like quick sketches on a few pages, leading me to believe that he didn’t intend for this to be the final product). As gaudy as it looks today, I was intrigued by this new look at the time and wasn’t bothered by most of the effects.
The story itself is a bland continuation of the AoA storyline that quickly moves into the cliché “Galactus attacks, everyone dies” format What If…? often used. How exactly the X-Men survived the nuclear attack is dismissed quickly in a narrative caption (Magneto used his powers to fly the team into space), creating more questions than answers. According to Quicksilver, Storm is dead, and most of the other X-Men aren’t seen either. What happened to them? How did they die? Why did Magneto save some X-Men but not others? X-Men Omega ended with a giant cliffhanger. If you’re doing a story that follows it up, why would you skip ahead two years? The story of how the X-Men did or didn’t survive the nuclear attack is a lot more interesting than Galactus’ five hundredth assault against Earth. Aside from skipping over the answers the original story left, there’s also a disproportionate amount of time spent on two cast members from New Warriors who had nothing to do with the Age of Apocalypse storyline. Did we really need to know what happened to Night Thrasher and his brother Bandit in the AoA?
The story also fails as a follow-up because it seems to have confused the timeline of what actually happened in the AoA. The idea that the human characters from X-Universe left Earth for the moon in order to escape Apocalypse can’t really be reconciled with what we’ve already seen. Apocalypse was killed and the bombs were dropped on America at the end of Omega. The human characters from X-Universe were fighting against his men at the same time. Why would the humans leave to colonize the moon in order to escape Apocalypse after he was killed? This might be whiny continuity nitpicking, but it’s an annoying way to pick up the story. Nicieza (the other one, I guess) does introduce the racism aspect of the X-Men mythos into the story in a plausible way, since it would be hard to argue against anti-mutant humans who lived under Apocalypse. He also tries to introduce character moments between Quicksilver and Gwen Stacy, and Bandit and Dwayne, but the dialogue is too obvious and generic to work. It all turns out to be a disappointing effort, and a good sign that Marvel really didn’t know how to follow up this storyline.