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By Thomas Wheeler

In 1995, the X-Men's universe turned upside-down, in one of the most dramatic storylines since The Phoenix Saga. Because of the time-traveling interference of Charles Xavier's own unbalanced son, Xavier was killed, decades in the past. He would never form the X-Men. This paved the way for the mutant madman known as Apocalpyse to conquer North America, establishing mutant dominance, and paving the way for global conquest. It was, without question, the Age of Apocalypse.

But there was resistance. Erik Magnus, known as Magneto, formed a band of rebels, whom he called the X-Men after his murdered friend, Charles Xavier. He opposed Apocalypse, and eventually, upon learning that the reality that existed was not the one that was supposed to exist, set the stage for the restoration of the proper timeline.

For four issues each, all of the established X-titles changed their official titles, and followed this amazing story of an alternate reality where Apocalypse ruled, Magneto was a hero, and familiar characters were -- not so familiar anymore. The storyline was popular enough for Marvel to revisit it in 2005, its tenth anniversary, although this mini-series was a sadly watered-down sequel to the original.

But, ten years ago, it was hot enough for TOY BIZ to release a special series of AGE OF APOCALYPSE action figures, and AoA characters would even turn up later as part of other assortments. Although hardly a full cast, the line was interesting, and is worth a Flashback Review on the tenth anniversary of the storyline.

From a 2005 perspective, some of the figures seem a little primitive. We're used to the likes of Marvel Legends these days. But in 1995 and 1996, Toy Biz had been producing Marvel action figures for only a few years, and no one really expected the level of detail and articulation that is customary today. Even so, some of these figures manage a healthy level of detail that, back then, was quite unusual.

Since this was the Age of Apocalypse, of course there was an APOCALYPSE action figure! The big guy had traded in his dark blue outfit for a lighter blue, with red and purple trim, but he was still entirely recognizable. Most of his comic appearances presented him with a rather exaggerated physique, especially the upper torso and arms, and this is reflected in the figure. A nice touch is that much of the purple painted trim is metallic in color. He's a bit on the small side, but if there's one deficiency to the collection, it's that proportionate sizes went out the window, probably for cost reasons. On his own, though, he's still a cool figure.

Next, we have to consider the main hero of the story -- MAGNETO. He didn't really change his outfit all that much. It's still red and purple. However, Magnus had notably long hair in the AoA storyline, and this is reflected in the action figure. There's a little more of an armored look to the shoulders, wrists, and boots than the traditional Magneto, and this comes across very well, also. The shoulders and chest plating on the figure are painted in a metallic color.

One of the big surprises to come out of the AoA storyline was that SABRETOOTH was a hero. He still had a temper, certainly, but he was not the crazed killer of the main Marvel Universe. In some respects, he seemed even calmer than the main Marvel Universe version of his opposite number, Wolverine. Sabretooth kept his primary uniform color scheme - yellow-orange and brown, but the design was altered to reflect his allegiance to Magneto, with a collar design identical to the mutant master of magnetism. Sabretooth was generally in the company of WILD CHILD, who in the "actual" Marvel Universe was a somewhat reluctant hero, a fairly small specimen with many of the same abilities as Sabretooth, but generally lacking the killer fighting instincts. In the AoA Universe, he was barely sentient, essentially a "tracking and attack dog" that Sabretooth kept on a leash. The Sabretooth figure is a superb design, even if the feet are somewhat preposed as far as allowing the figure to stand are concerned, and he comes with a too-small but decently designed Wild Child figure, non-poseable, on a chain leash.

The other big surprise of the AoA was that CYCLOPS, Charles Xavier's favorite and arguably most noble student, wasn't one of the good guys. He worked for Sinister in the AoA Universe, and was chief over the holding pens of human prisoners and renegade mutants. He lived up to his name better than usual, too, since he'd lost one of his eyes in a fight with Logan, aka Weapon X, known better to us as Wolverine. Even more serious and embittered than his main Marvel Universe counterpart, CYCLOPS still had a certain nobility, and ultimately became one of the good guys. The character still wore blue and gold, although he had long hair, an attempt to hide the scars on his face. The figure is a superb likeness of the character from the comics, although as with a number of the figures in this line, is a little too pre-posed despite being well- articulated.

One character's name that had to be changed for the toy was HOLOCAUST. You can get away with a name like that in a comic book. A toy that's going to be seen by people who don't read comics and tend to be pretty touchy about certain names is another matter. In the storyline, Holocaust was the son of Apocalypse, and one of his most prominent Horsemen, or closest associates. His body had been virtually destroyed in combat, and he existed now largely as energy, confined in a special containment suit. The figure, named NEMESIS, a name Holocaust took briefly when he was temporarily transferred to the main Marvel Universe after the AoA, was a surprisingly excellent rendition of this character. The containment suit was transparent yellow, with what looked like flowing red energy in it, with a faint image of a skull, about all that was left of Holocaust's body. The figure pulled this effect off a lot better than I would've thought possible. About the only real alteration was the replacement of Holocaust's spiky mace-like left arm with something that, frankly, looked more like the barrel of a machine gun. This was supposed to be an improvement!? Still, Holocaust, or Nemesis, was one of the visually cooler figures in the series.

And of course, no X-story is going to be complete without Wolverine, although in the AoA Universe he hadn't taken that name. He was known simply as WEAPON X. Still had the adamantium skeleton, and the claws. His hair was even wilder, though, and his uniform was completely different. Then there was the missing hand. Logan had gotten his left hand blown off in the same fight that cost Cyclops one of his eyes. But as we would learn, he still had his claws sheathed in the lower arm. The figure, although rather pre-posed, and with a head that's a little too big (but ye gods, that hair can't be easy to sculpt!) is an excellent likeness.

Figures based on the AGE OF APOCALYPSE would continue to turn up outside the series that was specifically devoted to them, however. They'd appear in other assortments, gift sets, even one mail-order exclusive. Let's consider these additions to the line.

ROGUE - The wife of Magneto in the Age of Apocalypse, based likely on the fact that the two had a brief fling in the Savage Land in the "actual" Marvel Universe. There were two Rogue figures in the AoA toy line. One was a recolored version of the White Queen, and honestly looked dreadful. The face wasn't even a close match, and you could see all of the White Queen's sculpted details through the otherwise very different painted uniform. The other Rogue was a much better overall likeness, and was sculpted specifically to be Rogue, but suffered from excessive pre-posing.

ICEMAN wasn't a hard figure to add to the line. What do you do with ice? Well, the face of the figure was different. Bobby Drake in the AoA was a more sullen individual, and he tended to have a rather nasty glare in his eyes, and brought his ice sheathe out to obscure any sign of a visible nose or mouth. So really, all that was needed here was to take an existing Iceman figure, and sculpt a new head for it. Fortunately, it worked very effectively.

JEAN GREY - the love of Logan's life in the AoA, and unlike the main Marvel Universe, Jean returned the affection. She scarcely knew Cyclops. The figure used the body of the Firestar figure, as evidenced by the sculpted details at he glove and boot area that don't correspond to the paint job, but there's a new head sculpt, and the end result is a somewhat pre-posed but very decent figure.

GAMBIT - A thief is a thief in any universe, and Gambit was no exception. He ran a band of ragtag mutants called the X-Ternals during the AoA, and was charged by Magneto with finding the M'Krann Crystal to help set the universe right. The character still looked like Gambit, but with a different outfit. The figure, very nicely done, came in a boxed set with one of the Rogue figures, since the two had had a relationship before Rogue went off with Magneto.

X-MAN - The AoA's version of Cable, for all intents and purposes, although with a drastically different origin. Created by Sinister from genetic material from Cyclops and Jean Grey, Nate Grey was a telepath of considerable power, whom Sinister planned to use to dethrone Apocalypse. But this young man struck off on his own, although he did participate in the final battle against Apocalypse, and was one of a handful of characters from the AoA to make their way to the main Marvel Universe, where he would have his own title for a generous number of issues. The X-Men figure, an excellent likeness, would turn up in the "Marvel's Most Wanted" figure series.

BLINK - Her main Marvel Universe counterpart lasted in a prelude to Generation X just long enough to get herself killed, and hardly anybody remembers her anymore. The AoA character, another entry in the "Marvel's Most Wanted" figure series, would go on to considerably greater popularity. Following the Age of Apocalypse, she starred in her own four-issue limited series, before going on to star in the ongoing popular Marvel series EXILES, about a band of reality-hopping mutants trying to set things right across the multiverse. The AoA's Sabretooth, who was more of less Blink's mentor, has turned up there, as well. The Blink figure is a little difficult to stand because of very oddly posed legs, but it's a superb likeness.

MORPH - A name taken from the original X-Men animated series, Morph was actually the character formerly known as Changeling, a small-time villain in the main Marvel universe. Morph was a shape-changer with an insane sense of humor. An alternate reality version of him appears in EXILES. The figure of Morph was a ToyFair mail order exclusive, and the body used was that of the AoA Magneto, which made sense, since the uniforms shared similar characteristics, but not colors. Some changes had to be made, though. Magneto's head, because of the hair, was molded to the torso. That had to be changed. And Morph actually had a fabric cape, as opposed to Magneto's plastic. Overall, though, it's a good likeness of the character.

There are two figures that I didn't get, that were part of a monster series. One was the DARK BEAST, the evil, AoA version of Henry McCoy. The figure was just too extreme, and too ugly. I customized my own (a review of which has been posted on this Web Site). The other was the SUGAR MAN, a creepy thing with a huge head sitting on two legs, and arms coming out of the head. Just too strange. Incredibly, Sugar Man also made his way to the main Marvel Universe, and recently turned up in the pages of EXCALIBUR, hiding in the sewers of Genosha. But fortunately, he got turned into shishkebob before the end of the story.

So that's the AGE OF APOCALYPSE! There were other characters I would've liked to have seen turned into figures. Havok. Sunfire (could've been done really cool with a light-up feature if you ask me). Others. But overall, the figures that were made are an excellent collection, from one of Mighty Marvel's most impressive Mutant storylines! I hope you have enjoyed this Flashback review.