Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Apocalypse Wow: The Life and Times of En Sabah Nur

I don't know why, but something has me thinking about Apocalypse. It's like a little voice in my head chanting "EN SABAH NUR! EN SABAH NUR!" So weird.

In all spoiler-free fairness, it's already been reported that the next X-Men sequel has been subtitled "Apocalypse." Bryan Singer announced it earlier this year in a tweet that launched a thousand nerd boners.

I loved Apocalypse as a young reader. A big, blue, robot-looking dude who espoused survival of the fittest and turned Angel into a badass? What's not to love?

If you're not familiar with the immortal mutant, here's some homework for you.

1. First appearance: X-Factor #5, (June 1985): Apocalypse is revealed as the string-puller behind the Alliance of Evil, a cadre of mostly forgettable villains (one member of the alliance, Frenzy, went on to become one of Magneto’s Acolytes in the ’90s and later became a player in X-Men: Legacy) that plagues the original five X-Men in their first outings as X-Factor. Oddly enough, as Brian Cronin writes in Comic Book Legends Revealed, said string-puller was not originally intended to be a new character but the Owl. The change was made to accommodate incoming writer Louise Simonson. Available in Essential X-Factor Vol. 1.

2. Turns Angel into Archangel: X-Factor 17-23, (1987): Under Simonson, Apocalypse becomes a regular thorn in X-Factor’s side and develops facets of his personality such as his survival of the fittest mantra and his penchant for turning mutants into horsemen. Chief among his first batch of Horsemen was Warren Worthington III, who was injured during the Mutant Massacre, lost his wings and his fortune due to the meddling of his ersatz friend, Cameron Hodge, and was driven suicidal. Apocalypse took the blonde, blue-eyed sad sack and turned him into an angel of Death, later to be called Archangel. Available in Essential X-Factor Vol. 2.

3. The taking of Baby Nathan: X-Factor 68, (July 1991): This arc includes the first appearance of the Dark Riders, whom I always liked better than the Horsemen, as henches go, although the Horsemen certainly have satisfied a narrative trope of turning X-Men eeeeeeeeevil for a brief period. Chris Claremont, Jim Lee and Whilce Portacio created the riders – Inhumans, not mutants, it should be noted – during a time when it seemed every major X-villian had to have his own running crew. Magneto had the Acolytes, Stryfe had the Mutant Liberation Front, and Mr. Sinister had the Nasty Boys, which of course made no sense because Sinister had a perfectly good batch of henches in the Marauders, but that’s a head-scratcher for another time. In this storyline, Apoc infects Baby Nathan with the techno-organic virus that makes the grown up Cable look so early ’90s-tastic. Cyclops and Jean give the baby over willingly to a woman they just met claiming to be from the future, then go on to their next adventure, helping the X-Men fight the Shadow King on Muir Isle, leading to a reshuffling of the X-teams. Available in Essential X-Factor Vol. 5.

4. X-Cutioner's Song: Uncanny X-Men 294-296, X-Men 14-16, X-Force 16-18 and X-Factor 84-86, (fall 1992): A weakened Apocalypse, still smarting from his last encounter with Cyclops & Co., teams up with the X-Men to save Xavier, who was mortally wounded by Stryfe, posing as Cable. Like the Summers clan, Apoc is on Stryfe’s hitlist for slights against him, though said slights would not be performed for centuries. Stryfe assaults Apocalypse and even steals the Dark Riders from him, down to the last tiny Tusk. Things get so bad for him that he asks Archangel for a mercy killing, which Warren refuses.

5. X-Men the Animated Series (1992-97): My first exposure to the character. In his first two-part appearance, he transforms Warren into Archangel and fights the X-Men at Stonehenge and says cool things like "I am as far beyond mutant as they are beyond you." Later on in the series, he gets a four-part arc in which he kidnaps all the psis in a bid to increase his power but is stopped by Bishop and his friend Immortus the Cosmic Janitor.

6. Adventures of Cyclops and Phoenix (1994): The one in which Apocalypse dies in the future. Scott and Jean get pulled through time on their honeymoon to raise Baby Nathan and help a ragtag group of Askani defeat the villain, only for his cause to be taken up by a young Stryfe. Damn that Stryfe. He's so hot right now 20 years ago!

7. Age of Apocalypse (All X-books, winter 1995): America's favorite alternate timeline (besides that one from the last season of Lost) was borne of Legion going back in time and accidentally killing his father. As a result, Apocalypse takes over North America, Cyclops loses an eye, Mr. Sinister gains a goatee, Wolverine loses a hand and the 616 gains a Sugar Man.

8. Rise of Apocalypse (1996): Writer Terry Kavanagh and Penciller Adam Pollina reveal the origins of Apocalypse at last. Finally we get to see En Sabah Nur as a weird-looking baby and the first goth teenager, survival of the fittest-ing in the sands of ancient Egypt, enslaving Ozymandias, and mucking about with Kang the Conqueror in his Rama-Tut identity.

9. Blood of Apocalypse: X-Men 182-187, (2006): In Peter Milligan’s storyline, Apoc returns from the dead – again – in the wake of House of M to discover there are a heck of a lot fewer mutants than their used to be. He offers himself as savior of mutantkind, demanding humanity Decimation itself in the process. It is during this period that Apocalypse counts the greatest number of X-Men among his Horsemen, including Gambit, Polaris and Sunfire. Also, the Celestials come calling for repayment for letting him play with their toys all these years.

10. The Apocalypse Solution: Uncanny X-Force 1-4, (2011): Wolverine’s band of X-killers tries to get the jump on a newly reborn Apocalypse only to find him as a young boy. Writer Rick Remender begins a great run with the age-old question of “Would you kill Hitler as a baby?” and spends much of this series and his next, Uncanny Avengers, revealing its consequences, both in the 616 and the Age of Apocalypse.

Happy reading! One day, maybe Matt and I will share with you the fanfic trilogy we wrote in which Apocalypse and his posse wiped out most of the X-Men. It was pretty flippin' sweet. At least we thought it was 15 years ago. In truth it probably had more Pete Wisdom and Deadpool than was necessary. 

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