Credits: Scott Lobdell (original story), Terry Kavanagh (scripter), Carlos Pacheco & Terry Dodson (pencilers), Cam Smith & Robin Riggs (inkers), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (lettering), Kevin Tinsley (colorist)
A dejected woman named Marta leaves her husband and baby to join thousands of other humans inside Mikhail’s mothership for his “personal augmentation” program. Inside the ship, Tony Stark, Clint Barton, Ben Grimm, Susan Storm, Donald Blake, Gwen Stacy, and Victor von Doom are being held captive. Matt Murdock watches over Empath, who is being forced to stir emotions in the populace of London, provoking them towards a bloody riot. Meanwhile, Tony Stark is strapped to a table for organ harvesting. His mechanical heart acts as a booby trap once it interacts with Mikhail’s technology, shorting out the power and freeing the captive humans. They loot Mikhail’s arsenal, allowing Ben Grimm and Sue Storm to reclaim the nearby airstrip while Tony Stark and Gwen Stacy head to the lower levels of Mikhail’s ship. They’re ambushed by the Hulk, who made a secret deal with Apocalypse years earlier.
Inside the ruins of Big Ben, the remaining members of the Human High Council meet, distressed that more and more humans are joining Mikhail in his ship. Donald Blake reunites with the rest of the Council members, who are grudgingly meeting with Mikhail. When Mikhail sees a part of his mothership explode in the sky, he calls upon an army of enhanced humans to kill the Council. Doom arrives to rescue them, killing Marta, the woman who reluctantly left her family earlier. Donald Blake stabs his cane through Mikhail’s heart, forcing him to fall from the top of Big Ben to his death. Inside Mikhail’s ship, Matt Murdock accidentally touches Empath and connects to his emotional turmoil. Murdock responds to his anguish and rips him free of the machinery that’s amplifying his powers, killing him. Mikhail’s drones respond to the attack by targeting the crowd of humans outside. After her father is killed, Marta’s baby is saved by Ben Grimm. While fighting off the Hulk, Tony Stark breaks into Mikhail’s security system and learns that an armada is coming to bomb Europe. Stark talks Hulk into turning back into Bruce Banner, who is able to hack Mikhail’s system and gain control over his fleet. Doom arrives, saying that the fleet should be used to attack Apocalypse, but Stark decides to use it to relocate the civilians instead. The fleet races to freedom as Apocalypse’s armada approaches.
Kavanagh makes various references to the timeline of the Age of Apocalypse, and none of them fit. A narrative caption on the first page says that Apocalypse has caused “decades of darkness and despair”. Since this timeline diverged twenty years ago, that means that Apocalypse would’ve had to conquer the world immediately for that reference to fit. I realize that’s nitpicky, but there’s another reference to Matt Murdock being drafted by Apocalypse at age eight. This implies that Apocalypse conquered America (or at least a section of it) over twenty years ago (I’m assuming Murdock is at least twenty-eight). Not only does that contradict the premise of the entire storyline, but it also disagrees with the claim in Gambit and the X-Ternals #1 that Apocalypse conquered America on Jubilee’s sixth birthday (since she’s in her early teens, that means that Apocalypse has only been ruling America for around seven or eight years).
Big Ben is again portrayed inconsistently, not just with the other AoA books, but within the issue itself. During Carlos Pacheco’s section, it’s still lying on the ground, but Terry Dodson draws it standing erect (as it’s shown in the other titles). During the climax of the story, Donald Blake even shoves Mikhail out of the giant clock to his death, which really makes you wonder how Pacheco’s interpretation got through in the first place. (EDIT - Having just looked back at the Twilight of the Age of Apocalypse trade that reprints this series, I noticed that they covered up the first image of Big Ben in this issue with a white box. The giant splash page of Big Ben in the first issue is left untouched, though).
In case the first issue left any doubt, X-Universe is now officially a pointless cash grab. Not only does it continue the annoying coincidences from the first issue (this reality’s Stark also created a mechanized heart after an accident, Sue Storm holds a refugee baby with the same name as her son in the original world, etc), but the story itself is uninteresting and often just confusing. I remember trying to trudge through this thing when I first bought it in my early teens, basically giving up on the story and just skimming over it until I got to the final page. Having to closely examine the plot for the purposes of this blog today made me feel alternately sleepy or just bewildered during some of the sudden scene shifts. I realize that the ending is supposed to be ambiguous (as the characters disappear into a white light, which either symbolizes the bombs dropping on Europe or Sue’s view as they go into high gear), but that doesn’t explain all of the other instances of awkward storytelling.
When trying to piece the whole thing together in order to write a comprehensible recap of the issue, I realized that the basic story is actually reasonably okay. The main problem is that it just jumps around too much and it’s weighed down by a lot of pompous narration that’s outright boring. Kavanagh overwrites almost every single page of this comic with a multitude of narrative captions, most of which fail to offer any insights into the characters or clarify what exactly is supposed to be happening. To his credit, he does introduce an interesting dilemma for the Council at the end of the issue, when Stark has to decide to use Mikhail’s fleet for a last-minute attack on Apocalypse, or as rescue ships for the humans about to be bombed. Unfortunately, he waits until the story has three pages left to set up this idea, and simply has Stark confidently declare what they’re going to do without any debate. Doom could’ve at least argued that saving the civilians is futile if Apocalypse himself isn’t stopped, but instead the idea is just dropped as the story rushes to an end. As annoying as it all is to read, the art is at least nice. Pacheco and Dodson still weren’t given any regular titles at this point, but their work here shows that they’re better than many of the artists working on the monthlies.