On Friday, I finished reading X-Men: Age of Apocalypse Prelude (graphic novel 247 pages). While some people may not think that reading a graphic novel should count towards my weekly book reviews, I am not them. I will read whatever I want to read, whenever I want to read it. It was a thick collection of pages with deep characters and a binding story. It is a book. And as with all books, it will teach you a story about yourself and the way you see the world.
Back many years ago in my childhood, I read a lot of comic books, with the X-Men line being my favorite. Marvel Comics always appealed to me more than DC Comics, mostly because it felt as though all of DC’s superheroes already started out in some spectacularly special fashion. Clark Kent was Superman, but he was from an alien planet which granted him powers above and beyond normal humans. Bruce Wayne was a boy billionaire who had money and resources to spend making himself the perfect vigilante. If I had paid more attention to the DC Universe as a kid, I’m sure I could have found heroes that weren’t automatically set up to be special, like Kyle Rayner as Green Lantern. But I didn’t. All I saw was Marvel’s long list of superheroes who all started out as completely normal people and then extraordinary things happened to them. It appealed to me as no other hero stories could. Take mutants, for instance. Mutants are normal people until they hit puberty and then their life gets even worse because they develop different talents and mutations. Puberty and teenage years aren’t pleasant for anyone, no matter who you are. Add in a dose of super powers, and you get the stuff that social nightmares are made of.
I remember always using all of the money I earned babysitting and doing chores on comic books. I had my very own box at the comic book store downtown, the only place you could get comics. I mean, I had a box with my name on it. Just for comics that I wanted to buy. While I couldn’t always (or usually) afford to buy every comic I put in the box, those who operated the comic book store did the best they could to give me a month or so to be able to come up with the money I needed. Every time I went down there, I added more comics to the box and I don’t recall a time when I ever had enough money to clean out the whole thing.
I tell you all this because I’m attempting to convey to you a sense of the past. X-Men: Age of Apocalypse came out when I was at the peak of my comic book buying. I loved the stories, the characters, and even the art work. The X-Men, more so than any other comic book characters of that time, were the heroes I secretly wished I could be. They were special and they helped people and they were part of a team. A team that would never let them down, no matter what dark secrets were eventually revealed in their pasts. That was something I desperately wanted as a kid, and I guess it partly transfers into what I want as an adult. But when this series first came out, I remember collecting each and every new issue, lovingly caressing the beautiful covers and seeing how desperate times had changed the heroes I knew. Some were still heroes and some most assuredly were not. But those that were not, I kept thinking in my mind that at the core of who they were remained solid and good, the true heart of a hero.
I’ve seen and heard “literary” types scoff at comic books, and genre fiction, and everything else that they feel is beneath them. In most cases, I feel that you can learn more about life in general from comic books than you can from “literary” fiction. If you really think about it, the X-Men is a way of looking at how people are often afraid of things they don’t understand or people who are different from them. It’s human nature. One of the stories underneath the end of all things in this particular book involves Rogue and Iceman going to visit Iceman’s parents. They all sit down for dinner and it turns out that Iceman’s father is a horrible bigot. Not just against mutants, which his own son is, but also against other races, other ethnicities, anything other than what he sees when he looks in the mirror. I guess in my mind, the X-Men have always stood for some pretty basic things. Everyone of every type should work together to make the world a better place and if you have the power and skill to protect those that are weaker than you, you should absolutely do what you can to help those who are not able to help themselves.
But see, these lessons go deeper than just having superpowers. We should all be trying to help each other out, regardless of superpowers, or race, or gender, or ethnicity, or anything like that.
Another of the really interesting parts about this story is that all of it comes down to the perspective of one very troubled young man. In his view of the world, he thinks that the world will be a better place, a place full of more peace and hope, if his father’s greatest enemy, Magneto, never actually has a chance to become Magneto. He uses his power to send himself back in time in order to kill Magneto before Charles Xavier and Eric Lehnsherr part ways as friends and become bitter enemies. Only, Legion kills Professor Xavier instead. And the whole world stops.
The X-Men and those associated with them have time to see the end of all that is as it approaches them and a lot of the story talks about regrets and not taking advantage of every minute of every day with those that matter the most to you. I guess in a lot of ways, this story hit me a lot harder now than it did in my youth when I first read it on its original glossy pages, spread out over so many different titles and comics. Back then, I didn’t really know or understand how much life can hurt. I thought I knew, but all my knowledge was from the inexperience of a child who had never known love outside blood and kin. My understanding of these things is stronger, as the pain of regret, love, and loss aren’t things you ever really get over. No, it’s something that you just learn to deal with. The pain never leaves, you just learn to make it bearable, to make it through the days and try to hope for something better in the future. At one point in the story, Legion brings Mystique a message from Destiny. He says, “Beware of times not shared, hearts not loved, and destinies not written.”
I’d forgotten how powerful this story is and how many things are taught through this series. And now that I have so much more experience in my life, this story becomes even more moving to me. Overall, this is probably my favorite series of comic books that I’ve ever read, even though it hurts so much more to read it now.