The Age of Apocalypse: The Best of the Worst Possible Futures

Contributed by Max Bowen

I recall a time at a comic shop when I dared utter the phrase “I really liked the Age of Apocalypse” storyline. The owner, as close to a living personification of the Simpsons’ Comic Book Guy as you’re ever likely to find, immediately launches into a tirade about how it’s actually the worst series ever, snatches one of the trades off the shelf, and then dares me to read it.

Keep in mind I own all the trades, so making me read this really isn’t that big a punishment.

“Well, OK, I will, I say.” Because it’s awesome—but not just because it’s a good look at a bleak future.

Age of Apocalypse (AOA), was a four-month spinoff series launched in 1995 that asked the question “What if Charles Xavier never founded the X-Men?” The answer is pretty damn dark, as the immortal, Darwin-obsessed mutant Apocalypse is able to rise to power and conquer much of the known world. Humans are reduced to a minority, hunted down, and placed on the short end of the stick. All told, they’re looking down the barrel of extinction, and Apocalypse is all too happy to pull that trigger. Only one man, the time-displaced Bishop, remembers the world as it should be, and he’s on a quest to make things right. From the company known for putting out alternative storylines, this one stands out to me as one of the best.

I won’t spoil all of it for those that haven’t checked it out, but the series is rife with ironic twists. The biggest of these is that Magneto, one of Xavier’s greatest foes, ends up leading the X-Men, now a resistance group dedicated to bringing down the big man. The entire familiar X-cast is there, all in unexpected new roles, or with major shifts to their personalities and it’s a great read, if for no other reason than to see what changes have been made to your favorite mutants.

OK, sales pitch aside, the message of the series as I see it is that one life touches many. Xavier dying before his time radically alters the Marvel Universe as we know it, showing us that without his influence, the worst of us are given the chance to show some good, and those with the purest souls can easily stray to the dark side.

But what about the rest of us? Most of those reading may not rise to his level of fame, but what we do still makes a difference, even if it’s a small one. What kind of impact do we have on the people we know, and what would their lives be like if we had never entered the picture? Yeah, I know, it’s the same message in “It’s a Wonderful Life,” but it resonates, even today.

Think back to those you spend a lot of time with: have you ever influenced them, either for good or for ill? Did they take your cue in planning their own lives, or making their own decisions? It’s not a bad thing—A lot of us will ask “what would so-and-so do?” I often thing of my mom and what advice she would have when I’m in a tough spot, and I think we all have someone whom we’ve changed their lives.

Consider that, and maybe you’ll see that you have made a difference for the better, and maybe you can do it again for someone else. Or maybe you’re actually the villain. Maybe you gave some bad advice that leads the listener to really screw up their lives. I suppose the lesson to take is to consider your own words and deeds, and if there’s someone out there that uses them as a blueprint for their own decisions.

Yes, you may not be the one to change the world, but you may change a life. And honestly, that’s a pretty big deal.


Max Bowen is the host of the Citywide Blackout Radio Show.

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