Since they were gathered together at the beginning of the series the Exiles have been shunted from one alternate world to the next supposedly rectifying something that’s gone wrong on each world. The mechanics of the series have obviously nagged at Tony Bedard, and among the work featured in this collection he finally addresses that. It’s surprising, clever, surely not what any reader might have predicted, transformative and an effective re-booting of the franchise. The opening chapters, then, throw the Exiles into a completely new environment where they’re given the answers they want. The only shame is that the location reduces the art of Mizuki Sakakibara somewhat, the uniform backgrounds restricting her on her final Exiles outing.

Before the revelations begin, Bedard’s taken the Exiles to the Age of Apocalypse, an era with special relevance to Blink. Bedard provides a neat coda to the original story, and the content reads far more smoothly here than it did over two paperbacks. The separation of material from Age of Apocalypse and Timbreakers was artificial, generated more by a desire to make more money from two collections than being true to the stories. Joining those together highlights just how well Bedard’s new background comes together and how well it applies.

As in the second Ultimate Collection, there are more pages by Jim Calafiore than any other artist, and his pages are an acquired taste. After a couple of years working on Exiles close-up views still predominate and he’s still not mastered some basics of drawing people. His contribution to a story about monsters on the loose, though, is possibly his best work of the series. It’s a loving tribute to old Japanese monster movies and old Marvel monster comics, and he obviously enjoyed drawing it. Late on Paul Pelletier makes his series début as the Exiles begin their World Tour. He’ll draw far more of Book Five, but his clear superhero action sells the idea of the Exiles visiting both the House of M era when mutants were royalty, and the ‘new universe’ where very few characters have super powers.

It may have been a good idea to have the Exiles drop in on Marvel’s already established universes and timelines, but what promises much, more often than not runs its course without delivering, although Bedard reliably changes the type of story as the World Tour progresses. Of the two sequences here, it’s the House of M spotlight that’s more effective, having the more human core of Beak returning to his own Earth to find everything different and his wife no longer knowing who he is. It also introduces a dangerous foe from the X-Men’s back catalogue who links the various World Tour segments here and in the next collection. This is both blessing and curse, certainly a viable and dangerous presence capable of causing considerable harm, and responsible for tragedy, but also irritating.

Exiles is a frustrating series, generally well plotted by Bedard to be enjoyable and spectacular, but the art rarely matches the imagination.