It’s not hyperbole to say that Al Ewing is one of the best comic writers of our time. If you look at his time at Marvel, that much is so evident, and it’s something that he keeps on proving as his books keep coming out.
X-Men: Before the Fall – Heralds of Apocalypse is, to me, one of those all-timer Ewing issues. Would context help for you to understand the wider narrative? Yes. Can you still read it without doing the homework, pick up the context clues, and still have a grand time while being interested in more? Absolutely.
Because that’s the Al Ewing magic, baby.
“It is not enough only to be strong.”
For a quick history lesson: this is the first time we’ve seen Apocalypse since the X-Men summer event of 2020, “X of Swords”. Back then, Ewing wasn’t doing X-Books, so this is the first time we’re seeing him take a crack at the character. We’ve already seen his Isca the Unbeaten throughout X-Men: Red, and Genesis in the last issue of that book – so it was a delight in seeing how he tackles the iconic character.
He, along with artists Luca Pizarri, Stefano Landini, and Raphael Pimento, colour artist Ceci De La Cruz, and letterer Travis Lanham take Apocalypse and Genesis through a tale where we see their moments right before the split of Okkara into two and the present before the events of X-Men: Red #12. It spins a tale that’s personal, while also maintaining the gravitas necessary for an Apocalypse story, and it gives us a good amount of worldbuilding. It’s a huge weight to balance, with so many moving parts, yet they maintain the focal point of it being a story about the couple, and that’s why it pulls through.
“…for mutant blood has always been the cost of mutant power.”
It’s spectacularly paced, and there’s never a moment where you’re confused about whether the story is taking place in the present or the past, because your eyes will be glued to the page from beginning to end anyway. I said so in my review for X-Men Red #12, but it’s the way Ewing creates that tone of a rich history now being discovered, adding to the ever growing Marvel 616 lore while giving his own valuable additions that makes these books so good. It never reads like exposition either, because it’s always grounded in character-based storytelling.
The art team kills it on this. Even with three artists, they maintain a consistent style which helps with the story so it never feels jarring, and it should never have to, given the flashbacks are told through conversations between the two protagonists of the story. There’s an incredible amount of detail in the close ups, where even without seeing the characters’ full faces, you can make out exactly how they’re feeling. The panelling allowing the zoom-ins helps, too. It frames those moments elegantly, and when it needs to, pans out for those big epic moments and really allows that excitement you should be feeling.
“Fall of X” might be disarming given we’ve only been in the Krakoan Era for four years now, but if we keep getting books on this level, they might just be cooking something special. (And I believe in Ewing, so I know he absolutely is.)