Thursday, 8 March 2012

New Beginnings - Alternate Universe Special: Age Of Apocalypse & The Manhattan Projects

This week we have a double header of new comics from alternate realities or perspectives. There is the new Age of Apocalypse which has spun out from the Uncanny X-Force story – The Dark Angel Saga – and also The Manhattan Projects from Image, penned by Jonathan Hickman as a completely new look at the past.

As said, Age of Apocalypse is a continuation of sorts, following the path of the alternate world Jean Grey and Sabretooth. They are trust back into a world that Apocalypse would have been proud of - where Homo Superior has dominated the “flatscans” - and the ascendant ruler of the land is a tainted Wolverine now known as Weapon Omega.

The story is told from a third person point of view, firstly explaining to the reader the surroundings and lay of the land, but then opening out to introduce the main protagonists and our narrator.

In this world where mutantkind has taken over and the human race is dwindling, there is a group ready to stand and fight. In true Age of Apocalypse fashion as well the norm has been turned on its head too. These are names we all know Trask, Creed and Stryker to name just a couple but for very different reasons in the past. They’re still fighting against mutantkind but from the other end of the mutant apartheid stick.

The first issue is a good introduction to this other world and I really liked the twists on most of the characters. The showing of the Keeper (Daredevil) in this brave new world was one of my particular favourites due to his character being so polarised from the normal Marvel world. Especially good is the final cameo at the end which I won’t spoil. Well drawn and not expected.

As for its longevity though I’m not sure. Lapham’s opening gambit has not been the world-breaking start I had expected when I’d initially read about the title some months ago. I was previously quite excited to see what these non-mutant freedom fighters could be like, but the gentle way the story has been built in the first half of the comic has somewhat muffled that feeling for me. Luckily, the gritty and harshly drawn frames by De La Torre have saved this to some extent. It’s a bit too gritty for me (and is very similar to work currently being produced by Alex Maleev on Moon Knight) but without this I think it would have potentially been too kiddy friendly and spoilt it further. This influence has even been strong enough to spill onto the front cover which is only identifiable as a Ramos by the faces - most prominently in the eyes.

I don’t know what the plans are for this title but it hasn’t carried the same weight as previous AoA storylines have. What it does contain in abundance is potential by taking a new “human” approach to it all.

In contrast we also have The Manhattan Projects which is the newest collaboration between Hickman and Pitarra since The Red Wing (reviewed here last year).

Firstly, the thing which grabs you immediately is the cover. As with Red Wing it makes a statement by being different, ambiguous and enticing. This is a cover you need to see and then come to understand by reading the comic. As an image it works very well indeed. However, there is a downside to this piece of marketing beauty. The production. I say this from an aesthetic point of view as well - for those who love Hickman’s work I encourage you to buy two copies. One to read and enjoy, the other to keep safely tucked in its plastic because as good as it looks the cover attracts grease faster than a Trekkie convention attracts fake pointy ears, leaving your cover looking like an episode of CSI. Even worse is that I only realised this after I had, quite literally, got my greasy mitts on it and read from cover to cover. Remember kids, no glove, no love!

Hickman’s tale opens with an interview as such but is interspersed with flashbacks to give you more about the obvious central character and his childhood – Dr Oppenheimer. Set back in the past, the comic is a conspiracy theorist's dream turned nightmare. It plays out the idea that points of history happened, but not for the reasons as we know them. In fact, as farfetched as some thought the real reasons to be, events such as Hiroshima have been used to cover up an even more “creative” history filled with samurai robots, portals and quite funny oneliners from behind closed doors.

It also toys with the yin/yang or light/dark ideas as well but have subtly played them under your nose, with the exception of the obvious double page panels. One thing I will say as well is that I always felt comfortable with the story because I could easily identify it as Hickman’s work. Kind of like a good pair of shoes. You know how they feel, fit and move so you’re happy to go on with them. This makes it a very easy and enjoyable read.

There is also a quite fun little cameo in there too from a certain genius of that time. In fact you do find yourself smiling throughout. Especially when the final twist comes about and you get the reveal of the title's full meaning.

This comic is designed to be a new monthly from Hickman and Pitarra and from this first issue you can definitely see it has legs, more so than the finite feeling of AoA. As long as schedules are kept to I can see this continuing to pick up fans looking for a different twist on the way history is looked at. Fans of Fringe would like this in particular, as you are involved in the story yet also see both sides of the fence through the narrative.

In a similar vein to Hickman’s writing, Pitarra’s artwork also feels like home. This partnership has worked well before so why change it? The rhetorical answer is you don’t and so the collaboration carries on. I do worry though that without new pencils Hickman’s work could become reflections of his past work.

Out of the both of these comics I was eagerly anticipating Marvels latest release but I found myself pulled more to Image’s new title. Part of this is because my enthusiasm and imagination got the better of me and maybe built up the former more than it should have.

Both are good titles but are for two very different audiences. Depending on if you are indie or mainstream you should at least pick one of these up (with gloves if it’s TMP!) and have a read.

Matt Puddy is ready for Vertigo's new offerings...

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