Credits: Scott Lobdell (plot), Mark Waid (script), Roger Cruz (penciler), LaRosa/Townsend/Kesel/
Holocaust and Apocalypse continue to torture Magneto. Apocalypse boasts that he’s learned Magneto’s plan from the Shadow King’s interrogation of Bishop and is preparing for the X-Men’s arrival. The shard of the M’Kraan Crystal Apocalypse recovered from Guido has expanded into another crystal, which is being examined by his men. Outside, Angel straps himself with explosives and dives into Apocalypse’s force field generator, which creates a hole for X-Man to enter. Nearby, Blink teleports the X-Men into the Pens. They discover a wounded McCoy, who was nearly killed by his freed test subjects. He accompanies the team into the chamber where the M’Kraan Crystal is being held.
Meanwhile, the Shadow King informs Apocalypse that the Human High Council has just nuked the Midwest. X-Man arrives and frees Magneto. While X-Man fights Holocaust, Magneto reunites with the X-Men below. He meets Illyana and convinces her to go inside the Crystal. Bishop and Destiny follow her inside. While fighting Apocalypse’s men, Colossus has second thoughts about sending his sister inside the Crystal. Enraged, he rips through Iceman and even inadvertently kills Shadowcat while trying to reach Illyana. Gambit is forced to kill him. In the midst of the confusion, Sugar Man comes out of hiding and jumps into the M’Kraan Crystal.
As Apocalypse gives the order to destroy Europe, Magneto enters his chambers. They briefly fight until Guido enters with Magneto’s son, Charles. Apocalypse escapes with a shard of the M’Kraan Crystal, but he’s soon confronted by X-Man, who steals the shard. As Rogue rescues Charles from Guido, Magneto and X-Man fight Holocaust and Apocalypse. When X-Man shoves the shard into Holocaust’s chest, they’re both consumed with energy. Elsewhere, McCoy programs a teleportation module to send him inside the Crystal, but Quicksilver scrambles the program before the teleportation is completed.
Outside, Jean Grey senses the approaching nuclear strike. She uses her telekinetic powers to block the missiles, as Weapon X parachutes in to say goodbye. Havok comes out of hiding and kills Jean. After he blasts Cyclops, Weapon X appears from behind and kills him in retaliation. Inside the Crystal, Destiny views the world that should have been. She coaches Illyana into creating a portal that sends Bishop back in time. Bishop arrives twenty years in the past, and stops Legion just before he accidentally kills Professor Xavier. Bishop shoves Legion’s psychic blade into his chest so that he can see the world he accidentally created. The loop of psionic power created by interacting with Bishop kills Legion. In the present, Magneto uses his powers to rip Apocalypse in two. Knowing that the end is near, he holds Rogue and his son as they’re consumed by a flash of light.
Just like Alpha, this issue has a wraparound chromium cover and no ads.
X-Man is referred to as Nathan Summers in a narrative caption, but Grey is always listed as his last name in his other appearances. Now that I think about it, I have no idea why Grey would’ve become his official last name instead of Summers.
In the previous chapters of the storyline, Destiny was supposed to meet Bishop and use her powers to determine if he’s telling the truth. I wonder if someone realized that this really made no sense, because that never happens in this issue. Instead, she just touches the M’Kraan Crystal and confirms the existence of the true timeline (which doesn’t make a lot of sense, either).
Magneto’s son, Charles, was previously shown to be a toddler in this storyline, but he looks and speaks like a five-year-old here.
McCoy (a.k.a. the Dark Beast), Holocaust, X-Man, and Sugar Man all enter the mainstream reality after this issue. How exactly some of them did this is clear as mud, but that’s what happened.
As a testament to how popular this storyline was, I was never able to find this comic in any of my local stores, even though I had previously missed only one issue in all of my years as an X-completist. In fact, I think I’ve only seen a physical copy of this comic once. I’m reading it now through the Twilight of the Age of Apocalypse trade I found in the late ‘90s (the trade also reprints X-Universe, and feebly tries to cover up the series’ inconsistent portrayal of Big Ben). This issue is supposed to be the gigantic climax for the entire AoA event, and while it’s certainly a dense comic that covers a lot of ground, it also rushes through everything at such a breakneck speed it’s hard to actually get involved in the story. Cramming so much into this one comic in order to make it seem more “important” not only makes Omega feel disjointed, but it also cheats a lot of the individual titles out of real conclusions. The cramped, rushed ending also makes the obvious padding of some of previous chapters of the storyline seem even more pointless. An entire issue was spent on having the X-Men travel from Chicago to Indianapolis, but Shadowcat’s death only gets one page? Some of the other quickie death scenes are rushed through so quickly they strain any credibility (Gambit’s sudden ability to kill Colossus with one blast is especially ridiculous). After so many pages of chaos, Waid does a fine job with Magneto’s final monologue, and I do like the ambiguous ending that doesn’t let you know if the lights represent the nuclear strike or the elimination of this reality. After dozens of pages of carnage, though, it’s not much of a payoff.
Cruz’s work in Alpha, even if it was a blatant swipe of another artist’s style, at least competently told the story for most of the issue without any major distractions. His work here, accompanied by six inkers, looks rushed and sloppy, and is occasionally distracting based on its sheer ugliness (there’s a group shot of the X-Men on page sixteen that’s just hideous). Legion’s death scene, which is supposed to be the climax of a storyline that began six months earlier, is virtually incomprehensible. I assume Legion’s supposed to be dead in this scene, but you can’t tell that based on the art (of course, the story’s justification for his death is total gibberish anyway). In fairness to Cruz, he is given an insane amount of characters to draw here, and almost every page is supposed to be a “shocking” moment that should require a lot of attention. A twenty-year industry veteran would have a hard time pulling this one off; giving it to a young artist in his late teens who was still finding a style was suicidal.
Even though Omega turns out to be a lame conclusion, I think the X-office does deserve credit for creating a storyline that was initially poorly received, but went on to become one of the few ‘90s events that fandom still holds in some regard. I seriously considered dropping all of the titles when the event was first announced (I was convinced that all of the established backstory was being trashed), but ended up finding the story more engaging than the previous few years of X-storylines. The AoA has flaws, but it does have a clear setup, a clear goal, and a clear ending. That’s pretty rare for anything published by Marvel between 1991 and 1998. The industry was already slumping by 1995, but the AoA was successful in generating some excitement amongst the increasingly jaded fanbase. Unfortunately, Marvel predictably didn’t know how to let go. The AoA spawned the ongoing X-Man series, a series so unpopular not even young teenage X-completists (such as myself) felt the need to buy it. The fake cancellation gimmick also inspired one of the more egregious stunts during the endless clone storyline in the Spider-Man titles. It’s also likely that this event gave Marvel the inspiration for creating new #1 issues to coincide with title relaunches, a trend that continues to this day. Not surprisingly, Marvel also went back to the AoA well for a couple of bookshelf format one-shots, and a ten year anniversary miniseries (which wasn’t written by anyone involved in the actual storyline, and based on most reviews, was simply unreadable).
Looking back, I can still see the appeal of this storyline. As dark as the X-titles could often be in the ‘90s, this story goes into pitch-black territory. As Marvel and DC learned in the ‘80s, there is a market for darker superhero stories. I’m not sure if the primary audience is nihilistic teenagers who just think it’s cool, or adults bored with straightforward superhero action, or younger kids drawn in by something gloomy and scary, but it’s clear that this material gets a reaction. Marvel also showed a lot of commitment to the event, keeping a straight face until the solicits for the upcoming return of the regular titles showed up halfway through the event. Given the fact that this was an entirely new reality spread out over forty comics, the continuity was also kept mostly straight (if it weren’t for X-Universe, which was produced outside of the X-office, most of the continuity hiccups would’ve been pretty small). Some of the alternate reality inversions of characters are a little obvious, but the new continuity also placed existing characters in interesting situations that couldn’t happen in the original world. I admit that it’s all very gimmicky, but for the most part the creative teams were able to sell the new reality and make the event feel almost like an organic storyline. I do think the event went for probably a month longer than it should have, and I’ve already mentioned the weak resolutions of many of the arcs earlier, but overall this turned out to be a pretty enjoyable stunt.