It’s been a few years since Marvel collected the Age of Apocalypse into a series of trade paperbacks, but this new collection is a nice complement to those collections. X-Man: The Man Who Fell To Earth collects X-Man #5 - #14, Excalibur #95 and Cable #29-31, telling the story of Nate Gray, the X-Man, as he finds himself stranded in the mainstream Marvel Universe, after narrowly escaping from the Age of Apocalypse timeline. Jeph Loeb is the writer/plotter behind most of these stories, as the alternate reality version of Cable explores the Marvel Universe slowly, encountering Madelyne Pryor, Threnody, Excalibur, Rogue, Charles Xavier and finally Cable, Blaquesmith and Exodus.
Rereading this collection of stories is an interesting experience, as it really feels like the writers were just kind of going with the flow, and not planning that much of the stories in advance. Nate Gray would later be a very interesting character, when Warren Ellis took hold of the character once the book was into its fifth year, but this early iteration of the character is a little lacking in form and substance. The premise behind the character’s adventures is intriguing, as he finds himself suddenly stranded on a world he doesn’t recognize, where evyerone and everything he knows is gone, but Loeb/Ostrander lean too heavily on him being an angry youngster with little to no real control over his powers, instead of giving him strong personality traits. The character also manages to conjure up Madelyne Pryor, and her inclusion really hurts this title as it tries to build momentum, because the character is portrayed in such a way that new fans would have no idea why she’s important at all, and long-time fans will scratch their heads trying to figure out how she’s here at all. Her hooking up with Selene and fading from view of the book feels rushed and lacks proper send-off, making the book feel rudderless. That being said, the story starts to build momentum once Blaquesmith and Cable are added to the mix, as Blaquesmith is worried that Nate Grey might just be a younger version of Stryfe in the timestream, which could ruin the future. From there, there’s a run of issues that show Xavier confronting X-Man on the astral plane (leading to a major event which leads directly into Onslaught, down the line), X-Man meeting Moira MacTaggert and Excalibur, and finally meeting his “twin”, Cable, during a knockdown, dragout fight with Exodus. It’s almost as if Loeb/Ostrander weren’t able to write Nate as well until they knew which characters to put him up against, to help show how he’s developing as a character. It works out quite well for the reader, as there’s a sense of dramatic build-up towards the eventual confrontation between X-Man and Cable.
The artwork in this collection is a bit of a mixed bag, as Steve Skroce, the artist on the first four issues of X-Man during Age of Apocalypse, continues pencilling the issues featured in this collection. His artwork is a mess of detailed linework, which at times is just too much, as his overuse of lines makes characters look old and saggy, with extremely large eyes. However, this aspect of his artwork is inconsistent, which in this case is actually a good thing, plus most of the issues feature some fill-in artwork, which affects the overall visual consistency of the collection. The best artwork in the entire collection is by Ian Churchill, as he was illustrating Cable at this point in time. His artwork is absolutely incredible, although at the same time also being extremely nineties, from the costumes to just how wide Cable’s arms are.
This was a fairly enjoyable collection of X-Man’s earliest adventures in the mid-90s, although there are definitely some issues with consistency, both in the artwork and writing. But generally speaking, this is a fun collection, and well-worth adding to your library of X-books. The latter half of the collection is far more enjoyable than the first half, as there’s a greater sense of purpose and direction which was sorely lacking in the first few issues post-Age of Apocalypse.