I was a major fan of this comic while it was out (and good), and always MEANT to do a write up of it, but for some reason I’d always delayed. Maybe it’s because I didn’t really feel like re-reading the entire series (I mean, I’m behind on my comic reading ALREADY). But what the hey! I still remember it well enough, and the characters were interesting for their time.
Exiles is basically directly inspired by both the TV show Sliders, and The Age of Apocalypse, an “Alternate Timeline” story in Marvel that involved a world in which Charles Xavier was murdered at a young age, and Apocalypse had taken over North America as a result.
This story featured a TON of costume redesigns by hot artist Joe Madureira, and was enormously popular for a very dark period in comic history (especially in terms of sales). AoA‘s use of deceased character Blink and villain Sabretooth as major heroic characters excited a lot of fans, and years later, Marvel FINALLY took fan-demand for a Blink return seriously, and made her the central character of a brand-new series.
Thankfully, this was no mere attempt at capitalizing on a Doom Patrol fandom for one character- by putting a TEAM around her, Marvel successfully made a good series. The Exiles are basically a bunch of Alternate Universe-drawn Marvel heroes (related to the X-Books, mostly… pretty much entirely, actually), set up by a mysterious Timebroker to “Slide” (like Sliders, basically) into Alternate Realities and then “fix” something that went wrong.
Blink led the team, and her teammates included the daughter of Nightcrawler, the son of Magneto, a heroic Mimic, Morph, and various other characters. The recurring cast gave the book a heart, and the overall concept gave it a wide-open universe with endless possibilities. Being a more minor book with “unknown” or alternate characters meant they could also KILL people, giving the book an edge most Mainstream books lack entirely.
The book was written by Judd Winick at first and drawn by Mike McKone (I can always tell it’s him because men’s mouths always look funny- he sorta fixed this by Avengers Academy), but other creative staff soon took over. Jim Calafiore basically took over the regular art chores, but I wasn’t too big a fan- this and his Secret Six stuff is full of really crudely-shaded, boxy-looking people with no pupils and angry-faces all the time.
BUT, that said, he’s probably every writer & company’s dream. The dude NEVER missed an issue, meaning he was probably fast as hell (just as big an advantage to an artist as overall skill).
Winick later dropped out, being replaced by both Chuck Austen and Tony Bedard (who wrote almost half the overall issues). The best artist overall was Clayton Henry, who has a REALLY great, cartoonish art-style.
The Initial Cast:
Blink– A teleporting pink-skinned girl, drawn from Generation-X, who used her as an “Early Installment Fatality/Sacrificial Buddy”, who died saving the team right away. Age of Apocalypse made her a highly-requested star. She ends up the team leader, reading the “Tallus”, which both Teleports the team to new Universes, and gives them their missions.
Morph- Shapeshifter and comic relief. Generally can’t be serious, which of course makes him the heart of the team.
Mimic- Calvin Rankin, with lowered powers and a classically-heroic sensibility.
Nocturne- Nightcrawler & The Scarlet Witch’s daughter, with the ability to Possess others (rarely seen).
Thunderbird- John Proudstar, not dead but horribly-mutated by Apocalypse into a Super-Powerhouse that can go out of control.
Magnus- The son of Rogue & Magneto, and our very own Sacrificial Buddy.
Sunfire– Mariko Yashida, now a teenage lesbian with Sunfire’s powers.
They are also challenged by “Weapon X”, a squad under the same mission the Exiles are, but are generally more “hardcore”, and get the missions that involve killing and stuff. They end up being led by the AoA Sabretooth (the mentor/father-figure of Blink), and feature more generic versions of nasty mutants, like Wolverine, Kane, Deadpool, Maverick, Mesmero and others.
I actually don’t have the first trade that introduces everybody and offs Magnus, but I’ve got most of the others, up to a point. A great one is when the team ends up on a Skull-controlled Earth (they took over in the late 1800s), and plan to free it… when Galactus suddenly shows up. They end up having to lead an army of Super-humans who’ve been forced into gladiatorial combat for their entire lives (Spider-Man, Hulk, Thing and pretty much all the classic guys) against Galactus & Terrax, fighting them off with raw numbers.
This mission leaves Thunderbird comatose, and he’s replaced by Sasquatch (a black, Doctor Heather Hudson). Blink eventually leaves (and is replaced by an amoral Magik), and Nocturne switches places with Beak (back when he was a major character), leaving her in the Mainstream Marvel Universe.
Blink soon returns, saving the Earth from Ego (who basically “birthed” a new sentient planet in the Earth, who fights against daddy alongside some Celestials), and the team has to square off against the evil, lethal Hyperion, who slaughters various Earth’s heroes wholesale and tries to set himself up as a God. This is sort of the big arc of the whole story, as he wipes out a chunk of heroic characters (including some of the team), finally stopped by Beak (who was generally useless in a fight, but fairly clever). Next, they end up fighting the body-hopping Proteus, and this is about when I dropped off the series.
They kinda kept certain things going a bit too long, the writing had gotten weaker, they revealed The Timebroker to be a bunch of space bugs (a “WTF” moment to top all “WTF” moments- they had the biggest mystery in the series and THAT was the best they could come up with?!?) and they’d pulled an Oz by killing off too many interesting characters and replacing them with weaker ones (in the end, only Blink & Morph remained of the original cast, and the newbies were useless). Moving into the boring-as-hell New Universe world didn’t help, and neither did the fact that the first collection I didn’t get was like FIFTY DOLLARS or something ridiculous- I basically refused to buy it on principle, and never picked up another issue.
The series ended up dying a horrible, slow death, as Chris Claremont got a hold of it, and replaced everybody with his favorite female characters. He had LONG since delved right into self-parody about this, but plopping Shadowcat, Psylocke AND MOTHERF*CKING SAGE into the book just to get his jollies off about his favorite Pet Characters on a book that was at the time totally different from anything else in comics was just WAY too much for fans to take.
Sales dropped and the book was cancelled, then failed in a reboot.
The Rest of the Cast:
Sabretooth– The AoA version, who basically has a Wolverine-like personality, right down to the attachment to young girls.
Sasquatch- Heather Hudson, a black doctor.
Magik– A nasty, amoral Sword-wielder with no demonic link.
Beak- Well, I already statted him. He’s the one guy smart enough to realize that when you have access to alternate universes, you should fight an unstoppable Hyperion with OTHER, GOOD HYPERIONS.
Namora– A blue-skinned Atlantean chick version of Namor, with the same imperious personality. Basically a fanservice/Powerhouse character.
Holocaust- The evil son of Apocalypse. Basically the same as the regular comics version, I think.
Power Princess– Already statted her, naturally. The Squadron Supreme character became the new Powerhouse of the team.
Spider-Man 2099– Because they weren’t using any of those guys, so why not?
There’s a TON of alternating people who joined the team after this, but I wasn’t reading then and so I’m going to assume they all either sucked or were just like their Earth-616 counterparts (in a few cases, like in Claremont’s favorites, they WERE the same characters).
I should also point out another thing about this series…
THE FIRST LAW OF ALTERNATE UNIVERSES AND FUTURE TIMELINES:
Everyone Is Significantly-Vulnerable To Instantaneous Death.
Every time Marvel tries an alternate timeline or universe, people in it are 100 times more vulnerable than they were in the mainstream universe. I don’t think a single named mutant has EVER been killed by a Sentinel in Marvel’s history, yet in dozens of alternate futures, they’ve killed every hero on Earth, including guys like Thor and The Hulk. Major superheroes like Spider-Man and Cyclops are prone to getting one-shotted by a nemesis (remember Kulan Gath’s “Magic-Ruled Earth” in that X-Men storyline? Spidey was at the CENTRE of it… then casually fried by Gath’s power. The Age of Apocalypse saw dozens of named-mutants being killed with shocking ease.
And so it is with Exiles that people are exceptionally easy to kill. Major characters can be asphyxiated, blown up, etc. Colossus can punch straight through Luke Cage’s chest with a single shot, and then get the same from Iron Fist. Dozens of guys can be wiped out by a Cosmic Being when they would’ve probably survived or dodged it in a regular Marvel book. It just happens. I dunno how you’d stat up something like this (maybe assume that all attacks use the “Lethal Damage” alternate rules?), as it’s more of a genre convention (it’s more dramatic when people die- so people will always die!), but there it is.