One of the best-loved X-Men stories came out in 1995. Marvel Comics cancelled all of the monthly X-family titles for four months, and replaced them with a dark, dystopian world where Professor X had never founded the X-Men, and North America had been taken over by the evil mutant known as Apocalypse. Welcome to the Age of Apocalypse.
The event was preceded by a 5-issue event called Legion Quest (taking place in Uncanny X-Men #320-321, X-Men vol 2. #40-41, and Cable #20, with a lead-in happening in X-Factor #108-109), where Prof. X’s illegitimate son, David Haller, a.k.a. Legion, thought that his father’s war with his on-again, off-again best friend, Magneto, was the reason the he and his father had become estranged. So Legion travelled back in time 20 years to kill Magneto. The X-Men learned of the plan, and a handful of the mutant heroes ALSO travelled back in time to stop Legion.
What nobody counted on was Prof. X jumping in front of Legion’s attack to save Magneto’s life — so Legion ended up killing his own father before Legion himself was ever born, and that re-wrote history. In this new world, Magneto founded the X-Men in his late friend’s honor. But without Xavier in his way, Apocalypse took over North America.
The Single Issues
The event proper kicked off in X-Men Alpha, which has a chromium cover (it was the 1990s, after all) where Bishop, one of the heroes who had traveled to the past to stop Legion, ran into this new world’s X-Men. He explained to Magneto that everything was wrong with this world. Hoping for a better future for mutantkind, Magneto chose to believe Bishop. The X-Men divided up into different teams, each with a different mission to hopefully fix the world. These stories were each told in the following titles:
- Astonishing X-Men #1-4 (replaced Uncanny X-Men)
- Amazing X-Men #1-4 (replaced X-Men vol. 2)
- X-Calibre #1-4 (replaced Excalibur)
- Gambit and the X-Ternals #1-4 (replaced X-Force)
- Generation neXt #1-4 (replaced Generation X)
Other tales starring the Age of Apocalypse versions of major Marvel heroes were told in the following comics:
- Factor X #1-4 (replaced X-Factor)
- Weapon X #1-4 (replaced Wolverine)
- X-Man #1-4 (replaced Cable)
Two stories set before the events of X-Men Alpha were told in X-Men Chronicles #1-2 (replaced the quarterly X-Men Unlimited), and what happened to most of the rest of the Marvel Universe was told in the bonus miniseries, X-Universe #1-2. There was also Age of Apocalype: The Chosen, which was a profile book of all the major characters from the crossover, written from Apocalypse’s point-of-view; And the X-Men Collector’s Preview as well as the X-Men Ashcan both of which previewed the new world.
The event wrapped up in X-Men: Omega (also with a chromium cover), where Magneto’s X-Men defeated Apocalypse and hopefully changed reality…just as a barrage of nuclear bombs exploded around them, never knowing if they were successful or not.
That’s a total of 50 issues, from X-Men: Alpha through X-Men: Omega, plus the Collector’s Preview and Ashcan, plus the 5 issues of Legion Quest, for a grand total of 57 single issues.
Additionally, X-Men Prime was the first X-Men issue back in the main Marvel Universe after the Age of Apocalypse ended, setting up the next year of stories, so it often gets lumped in as part of the collection. So, 58 issues if you want to be TOTALLY complete.
The event was so successful that Marvel has told several subsequent stories set in the AOA, as well as a handful of prequels, but I’m personally only concerned with the stories released in 1995.
Ultimate Edition Collections
The first collections released had embossed, gold foil covers. They were billed as “Ultimate Editions,” and there were two versions of each one released: One to mass market retailers that had the logos outlined in black, and one to comic stores that left the black outline off, leaving the covers in all gold. These exist for Astonishing X-Men, Amazing X-Men, X-Calibre, Gambit and the X-Ternals, Generation neXt, Factor X, Weapon X, and X-Man, with each book containing all 4 issues of that series.
Also released were Ultimate Editions for Legion Quest (collecting Uncanny #320-321 and X-Men #40-41), Dawn of the Age of Apocalypse (collecting Cable #20, Alpha, and The Chosen), and Twilight of the Age of Apocalypse (collecting X-Universe #1-2 and Omega), although these three were only released with black logos.
All of the Ultimate Editions originally cost $11.95 USD, and were released throughout the second half of 1995.
Age of Apocalypse: The Complete Epic Collections
The next collections were a pretty comprehensive set of issues divided amongst four volumes, released in 2005-2006 for the 10th anniversary of the original event.
Hey, remember how I said I was only concerned with the stories from 1995? Well, Marvel’s collected editions department certainly wanted you to know that there was more our there, and they shoved EVERY new AOA story they could into these volumes.
Volume 1 collects mostly prequel stories printed after 1995, plus the prequel stories from X-Men Chronicles. The full lineup: X-Men Chronicles #1-2, X-Man Minus 1, X-Man ANNUAL 1996, Tales from the Age of Apocalypse (1996), Tales from the Age of Apocalypse (1997), and Blink (2001) #1-3 and most of #4.
Volume 2 kicks of the proper event and the first chapter or two of the minis. These are collected in chronological order of the events of the story, so there’s a lot of jumping around from title to title. Collected are: X-Men Alpha, The Chosen, Generation neXt #1, Astonishing X-Men #1, X-Calibre #1, Gambit and the X-Ternals #1-2, Weapon X #1-2, Amazing X-Men #1-2, Factor X #1-2, and X-Man #1.
Volume 3 continues the odd ordering of the second volume, and gets every subplot up to their penultimate chapters, except, oddly, Astonishing X-Men, which is completed here. Collected are: X-Calibre #2-3, Astonishing X-Men #2-4, Generation neXt #2-3, X-Man #2-3, Factor X #3, Amazing X-Men #3, Weapon X #3, Gambit and the X-Ternals #3, and X-Universe #1.
Volume 4 finishes up the event, with Generation neXt #4, X-Calibre #4, X-Man #4 and #53-54, Factor X #4, Gambit and the X-Ternals #4, Amazing X-Men #4, Weapon X #4, X-Universe #2, X-Men Omega, the rest of Blink #4 (there’s a time jump in the middle of the issue), and X-Men Prime.
The Age of Apocalypse: The Complete Epic editions were all priced at $29.99, and clocked in between 360-376 pages. They were later reprinted in 2010.
(The first printings arrived just in time for the Age of Apocalypse Xth Anniversary mini-series, which was six issues, plus a one-shot full of vignettes, and a special entry into the Offical Handbook of the Marvel Universe. All eight of those comics came out in less than two months. They were okay, but stuck in a lot of characters and concepts that had appeared in X-Men comics between 1995 and 2005, so it felt very disconnected from the original event to me. It was written by C.B. Cebulski [under his former pen name, Akira Yoshida], and drawn by Generation neXt penciller, Chris Bachalo.)
After the 2010 reprints, Marvel released a new volume in this run, titled X-Men: Age of Apocalypse Prelude in 2011. It’s unnumbered, but is effectively volume zero. This new collection contains X-Factor #108-109, Uncanny X-Men #319-321, X-Men #38-41, Cable #20 and X-Men Ashcan — That’s Legion Quest, plus the 5 issues immediately prior to it, and the Ashcan special. It’s the most complete version of Legion Quest to date.
These five books contain every AOA-related story printed at the time, except for obviously the Xth Anniversary mini, as well as the Collector’s Preview, and the issues of Exiles that went back to the dystopian world — The Exiles were a team of mutants from across the Marvel Multiverse who jumped from universe to universe for each story arc. Their adventures in AOA-land would need the context of their own adventures, so it’s best to leave those stories to Exiles collections.
Well, if you ask me. Marvel’s collected editions department, however…
20th Anniversary Re-Collections
For the 20th anniversary, Marvel re-collected the Age of Apocalype in 5 new collections with new titles, with fancy new computer-colored covers. At a quick glance, these look like re-packages of the 2005 collections. But as you get into the more granular detail, you can see that each volume mixes the collected issues up JUST enough that one CANNOT mix-and-match the two different sets of collections.
The first volume released was The Age of Apocalypse: Alpha, and it included Uncanny X-Men #320-321, X-Men #40-41, Cable #20, X-Men Alpha, Generation neXt #1, Astonishing X-Men #1, Gambit and the X-Ternals #1, Weapon X #1, Factor X #1, X-Man #1, X-Calibre #1, Amazing X-Men #1 and X-Men Ashcan — So that’s the five parts of Legion Quest proper, plus all the first issues of the main miniseries.
The second volume, The Age of Apocalypse: Reign, collects Astonishing X-Men #2-3, Gambit and the X-Ternals #2, Generation neXt #2, Weapon X #2, Factor X #2-3, X-Man #2-3, X-Calibre #2-3, Amazing X-Men #2-3, X-Universe #1, and X-Men Collector’s Preview. That’s parts 2 and/or 3 of all the main miniseries, plus the first part of X-Universe, and the first time the Collector’s Preview has been included in a collected edition.
The third volume, The Age of Apocalypse: Omega, collects Astonishing X-Men #4, Gambit and the X-Ternals #3-4, Generation neXt #3-4, Weapon X #3-4, Factor X #4, X-Man #4, X-Calibre #4, Amazing X-Men #4, X-Universe #2, X-Men Omega, and Age of Apocalypse: The Chosen. That finishes off all the 1995 stories.
But wait, I said there were FIVE volumes in the 20th anniversary collections. So what else is there? Well it HAD been ten years since the last set of collections.
Volume four, The Age of Apocalypse: Dawn, is all of the AOA stories that take place before X-Men Alpha. So that’s X-Men Chronicles (1995 Marvel) #1-2, Tales from the Age of Apocalypse (1996 X-Men) #1-2, X-Man minus 1, Blink #1-4 and material from X-Men: Age of Apocalypse One-Shot (2005) and X-Man Annual 1996.
Volume five, The Age of Apocalypse: Twilight, includes all of the AOA stories set AFTER X-Men Omega. That includes X-Man #53-54, X-Men: Age of Apocalypse Xth Anniversary #1-6, Exiles #60-61, What If #77 and 81, and What If: X-Men – Age of Apocalypse (2006), plus material from X-Men: Age of Apocalypse One-Shot (2005), Hulk: Broken Worlds #2, X-Men Prime, X-Men: Endangered Species, Exiles: Days of Then and Now, and Official Handbook Marvel Universe: X-Men: Age of Apocalypse.
ADDITIONALLY, in 2012, there was an ongoing series that lasted for 14 issues set in the Age of Apocalypse. And in 2013, the X-Termination crossover ended that series, as well as the reboot of X-Treme X-Men. It was closed the book on the AOA for good (until the 2015 Secret Wars miniseries). These two stories were collected a Age of Apocalypse: Termination. The complete listing for the collection is: Uncanny X-Force #19.1, Age of Apocalypse (2012) #1-14, X-Treme X-Men #12-13, X-Termination #1-2, Astonishing X-Men (2004) #60-61, and material from Marvel Point One.
Dawn, Alpha, Reign, Omega, Twilight, and Termination are the most complete collection of Age of Apocalypse material, outside of collecting all the individual issues. Although, those Legion Quest lead-in issues from the 2010 Prelude collection are missing.
Oh, and be warned: Even though the collection and logo make it LOOK like it’s part of the Age of Apocalypse canon, the collection titled X-Men: The Rise of Apocalypse is NOT an AOA story. It’s just Apocalypse’s origin, plus some bonus flashback stories from the main Marvel Universe. It’s fine, there’s nothing particularly wrong with it. It’s just not part of the Age of Apocalypse, despite Marvel’s graphic designers clearly dressing it up as one and releasing it at the same time as this set of AOA volumes, likely to sell a handful of extra copies.
Okay, so you don’t want to track down a bunch of volumes, and would rather just get everything in one huge hardcover for $125.00 USD? Great, the AOA Omnibus edition exists for you! It was first released in 2012, and then re-released in 2016 and again 2021. 1072 pages collect Uncanny X-Men #320-321, X-Men #40-41, Cable #20, X-Men Alpha, Amazing X-Men #1-4, Astonishing X-Men #1-4, Factor-X #1-4, Gambit and the X-Ternals #1-4, Generation neXt #1-4, Weapon X #1-4, X-Calibre #1-4, X-Man #1-4, X-Men Omega, Age of Apocalypse: The Chosen and X-Men Ashcan. That’s Legion Quest, and all of the main series, plus The Chosen profile book and the Ashcan special. In one giant book.
But what about all the other material?
For people who want even more, Marvel put out the Age of Apocalypse Companion Omnibus in 2014, and re-relaseded in 2021. This $99.99, 992 page tome contains X-Men Chronicles #1-2, Tales from the Age of Apocalypse (1996), Tales from the Age of Apocalypse (1997), X-Man Minus 1, X-Man #53-54, Blink #1-4, X-Universe #1-2, Exiles #60-61, X-Men: Age of Apocalypse Xth Anniversary #1-6, X-Men: Age of Apocalypse One-Shot, What If #77 and #81, What If X-Men: Age of Apocalypse – AND material from Hulk Broken Worlds #2, X-Men Prime, X-Man ANNUAL 1996, X-Men: Endangered Species, Exiles: Days of Then and Now, and Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe: X-Men: Age of Apocalypse. So, all the material from the Dawn and Twilight paperback collections. In one giant book.
For The Completionists
For the folks who have to have absolutely every version of everything, here’s all the other goodies I’m aware of:
There were second printings of all the #1 issues of the eight 1995 mini-series, which have muted backgrounds. These are most easily-identified by looking at where the barcode goes. They have a broken “X” logo and the text “X-Tra Edition.”
Additionally, there are “gold” editions of X-Men Alpha and X-Men Omega. The “gold” edition of Alpha gives it a rainbow effect in the light and has an empty bar code area.
The gold edition of Omega is a little more easily recognizable as the chromium foil is, well, gold. This mutes the colors, but gives the book a gold logo.
There’s also a second printing of Alpha, which does not have the chromium cover, as well as a “True Believers” reprint from 2015, which had the cover price of one dollar.
And for MAJOR completionists, there were variants put out by Dynamic Forces — 500 copies of Alpha signed by writer Scott Lobdell, 1500 copies of Alpha signed by artist Joe Madureira, and 1000 copies of Omega signed by Scott Lobdell. These all come with a Certificate of Authenticity.
The Omnibus Editions both have variant covers. Because why sell you one $100 book when they can sell you the same book again with a different cover? Twice!
Also, after the Age of Apocalypse, the title X-Man continued until issue #75, meaning the series ended in 2001. The lead character, Nate Grey, joined the main Marvel Universe. As mentioned, handful of his issues go back to the AOA, so I GUESS you can add the following 71 issues of X-Man and any of his other dozens of of appearances in other comics, if you want to be TOTALY complete (PLEASE don’t do that to yourself).
Oh, and the 1995 X-Men Fleer Ultra trading cards had a sub-set of “Alternate X” cards, previewing the event before it actually started. There was a Weapon X preview card that came in an issue of Wizard magaine. The 1996 Fleer X-Men set also included some AOA cards in the main set.
And that’s not to mention the dozens of Age of Apocalypse-inspired action figures that have come out over the last three decades…
Finally, Marvel handed out “unbound” copies of JUST THE COVER to X-Men Alpha to retailers during 1995 convention season. These are unfolded, with no staple holes. They never had a proper retail release, so if you think these sound interesting and ever get the opportunity to pick one up for a reasonable price, I recommend doing so. They’re kinda neat.
So what’s THE BEST way to collect The Age of Apocalypse?
I mean, the Omnibus Editions are the easiest way to get all the material at once, although I can definitely understand not wanting to drop $225 + tax in one whack to get the whole thing. But I DO Like that the main Omnibus collects all the 1995 issues, and the companion is just that — A companion for people who want the extra material. I will say though, it’s a shame that X-Men Chronicles is included in the Companion Omnibus and not the main Omnibus, because XMC #1 really gives a lot of weight and motivation for some of the major players — It’s a pretty great flashback issue to read after all the other #1s.
One of the shortcomings of the 2005 collections is that all the pre-X-Men Alpha stories are collected in the first volume. So if you end up with these collections, I recommend reading volume 2 first, then 3 and 4, and saving volume 1 for the end. The prequel issues all read (to me, anyways) like they assume you’ve already read at least SOME of the 1995 story. They SHOULD be bonus material, not part of the main story. But one of the remits of these 10th anniversary collections was to put everything in a “proper” reading order. So I get what they were going for.
Howver, the gold-foil Ultimate Editions from later 1995 are also very nice, because maybe you just want to read the X-Calibre story. Or the Generation neXt issues. Without, you know, hopping all over the place in multiple books. And while being a completionist on these DO require that you collect 11 paperbacks from nearly 30 years ago, they also allow you to just get the stories you want. So maybe you don’t like, for example, X-Man or Weapon X. You can just not buy those.
I own all the individual issues from 1995, plus the gold foil Ultimate Editions (a mix of the mass market and comic store versions), as well as the 2005 collections plus the 2010 Prelude collection — Since I already owned the 2005 versions, I didn’t feel the need to re-buy the series for a FOURTH time in 2015.
But! When I’ve bought the story for friends as gifts, I buy them the 2015 Alpha, Reign, and Omega collections — usually split up over, say, two birthdays and a Christmas. That Alpha-Reign-Omega combo is definitely the fastest, easiest way to get the main story without plunking down over a hundred bucks at once. And if you (or the person who received the gift) decide to get more, Dawn, Twilight, and Termination are right there. So that’s what I’d recommend.