I told this story two or three times to buds last week, so I figure maybe it's worth throwing out there for mass consumption.
Rickey and I were riding the train home, talking comics as we often do ("One works for Marvel, one works for DC--and they ride the train together talking loudly about comics while people around them stare and make faces!" Please call us, VH1 reality TV producers), and came to the topic of how terrifying and yet great it is when comics actually make you feel like the characters and worlds you dig are in legitimate danger. Today as jaded industry professionals who have access to the Internet, we don't find ourselves in that position so often, but we reminisced about the good ol' days and how crazy it must have been to have been reading Crisis On Infinite Earths as it came out and not know what the fuck was gonna happen next.
So I shared the comics experience I had as a kid that scared the piss out of me because I legitimately feared my favorite comics were in dire straits: the Age of Apocalypse
I remember well cracking open an issue of Wizard in early 1995-ish and my jaw dropping when the headline above an Adam Kubert-drawn picture of Jubilee in a cowboy hat waving goodbye on the last page of Wolverine #75 read: "X-Men Titles Cancelled?" (or something to that effect).
How could they cancel X-Men? It was the best-selling, coolest, most popular comic in the universe! And besides that, there were like 27 X-Men books! What the heck would Marvel replace them with? Besides, Generation X was only on like issue #3? Why bother launching a title if you were going to cancel it?!?!
I actually wasn't reading Generation X (or X-Factor or Excalibur or Wolverine or Cable), but I was still picking up Uncanny X-Men and X-Men and X-Force was easily one of my top five perennial favorites--so what the hell, man?!
The Wizard article was short on details. It basically said, "We've heard rumors that X-Men books are being cancelled. We don't know anything else," and there were no quotes. Knowing now how the biz works, I'm sure that Marvel had disclosed at least a large chunk of the gameplan to and instructed how much to tease, but as a 13-year old, I really thought Wizard had come across the Marvel equivalent of the Watergate tapes.
There was no Internet back then (or I didn't have it), so I had no way of figuring out what this junk was all about, save for one avenue: the Mighty Marvel Hotline.
Yes, back then Marvel had a toll free number you could call once a week and a dude who sounded like Mr. Moviefone would throw a bunch of hypey newsbits at you. If there was any way I was going to learn more details on this impending X-Men catastrophe, the MMH held the answers.
For the first two weeks or so, I got nada (probably just stuff about the Clone Saga or the Crossing). Then, on week three, I hit the jackpot.
MMH Guy had all the details on the "wild rumors swirling around the X-Men" and explained that as of the summer, all the X-Men books would be undergoing "radical changes." While the exact nature of how and why was not up for discussion at the time, the MMH did have the inside track on the new titles each book would be taking on...
Uncanny X-Men would become Astonishing X-Men! X-Men would become Amazing X-Men! X-Factor would become Factor X! Excalibur would become X-Calibre (not sure how they conveyed that was a different title over the phone, but they did somehow)! Wolverine would become Weapon X! Cable would become X-Man! Generation X would become Generation Next!
And X-Force would become...Gambit & the X-Ternals?
Gambit and the WHAT?!
So while every other X-title stayed at least semi-consistent when the big shift to the AoA happened as far as tone and feature characters, instead of following the adventures of Cannonball and friends in Apocalypse's world, I got an interstellar jewel heist with Gambit, Lila Cheney, Strong Guy, Jubilee and Sunspot.
It wasn't a bad story and the creative team of Fabian Nicieza and Tony Daniel remained intact (for the first two issues, then Tony got subbed out for a young Salvador Larocca), but it was probably a bit more jarring change for us X-Force fans than readers of X-Factor or Wolverine got.
Then when AoA ended, Fabian didn't come back, and X-Force as I knew it was done.
So I guess I was right to be nervous. Stupid Mighty Marvel Hotline...