May 30, 2016

The Depth of Apocalypse: An X-Men Retrospective

X-Men Apocalypse is the sixth installment of the X-Men Film Franchise. These movies have been a near constant since the early 2000s. After the success of The Avengers, X-Men finally began embracing their comic book weirdness. They moved away from a Deadpool with a sewn up mouth and moved into full fourth-wall breaking territory with resounding success.

In the comics, Apocalypse is one of the most feared X-Men villains. He routinely pushes the X-Force to their limits and has been trying to rule the world since ancient Egyptian times. When he isn't fighting with the X-Men he is usually tangling with Kang the Conqueror.

The film version of Apocalypse is portrayed by everyone's latest Hollywood crush, Oscar Isaac, with an awe encompassing presence of godhood. Like the biblical story from which Apocalypse is derived, he recruits four horsemen to help bring forth his own brand of chaos. These horsemen have always been represented in four distinct forms: War, Death, Famine and Pestilence.

Now because comics are the ultimate long form of storytelling, these titles have been passed along to quite a few people in the Marvel Universe. In this three part series, I'm are going to look at some of the characters who became horsemen, and other important Apocalypse storylines. With that, let's dive into War and Death, the two strongest horsemen in Apocalype's arsenal.

The War Horsemen

The five most prominent Horsemen imbued with the powers of War are Abraham Kieros, Bruce Banner, Deathbird, Gazer, and Minotaur.

Abraham Kieros was created by Louise and Walter Simonson during the first volume of X-Factor and served as the first modern incarnation of war. As a mutant, Kieros had the ability to create explosions by clapping his hands together. He was eventually healed by Angel, returning to his true mutant state.

Bruce Banner was the next to borrow the powers of War due to manipulation by Apocalypse. It is important to note that this was a temporary appointment, and there were no other Horsemen at the time. After a scuffle with the Juggernaut, Banner's best friend Rick Jones jumped into the battle, causing the Hulk to come to his senses and break free of Apocalypse's sway.
Deathbird was the true second horseman of War. She was a Shi'ar Warrior and hateful sister to longtime X-Men ally Lilandra. She was turned into War with the intent on hunting down and collecting "The Twelve" a group of mutants that were to be used to create a new body for Apocalypse.

Gazer was pit against an Egyptologist in a battle to the death, with the prize being the powers of War. As the fight went on, Gazer was going to be the clear loser, before Ozymandias intervened. After 'saving' his life, Ozymandias asked Gazer to betray Apocalypse. Gazer refused, but the rift had been created, leading to downfall of Apocalypse once again.

Minotaur was the final Horsemen of War, left to protect the reincarnation of Apocalypse should the need arise. To assist in his goal, his axe was enchanted with the powers of War. Anyone he struck would enter a state of constant fear, seeking war with anyone around them. Eventually he was defeated by X-Force.

The Death Horsemen

One of the staples of superhero comics is heroes being swayed to do the villain's bidding. The powers of Death have been granted to four very prominent X-Men: Angel, Wolverine, Gambit and Psylocke.
Angel was gifted the powers of Death and became Archangel, growing mechanical wings and turning his skin blue. At this point, he became incredibly intertwined with the Apocalypse mythos. After thinking he killed Iceman, he finally broke free of Apocalypse's hold. Even though he was free, he was too afraid to face his former teammates. He eventually rejoined the X-Men, but the Archangel personality still resided within him, struggling to break free. Eventually when Apocalypse did die, the Death Seed planted in Archangel turned him into a new Apocalypse himself. He sired two children while in this form, Eimin and Uriel, dubbed the Apocalypse Twins. Eventually, Psylocke was able to break Archangel away from Angel, and return Angel to his original mutant form, but with his metal wings.

Wolverine was placed in the same predicament as Gazer, although his battle was against his longtime nemesis Sabertooth. After defeating Sabertooth, Apocalypse had a Skrull replace Wolverine on the X-Men. As Death, Wolverine began hunting "The Twelve" for his new mask. Shortly after, in an ensuing battle with the X-Men, Wolverine destroyed his own Skrull doppelganger. The X-Men then chased him down and with the efforts of Shadowcat, break Apocalypse's hold on Wolverine.

Gambit is probably the most interesting Horseman, regardless of designation. His case is vastly different from anyone else's because he volunteered for the job. After Wanda Maximoff muttered "No More Mutant's" Gambit believed that Apocalypse would be able to restore mutant kind to their former glory. His personal reasons were quickly overwritten by becoming Death though, and Gambit became a thrall that followed Apocalypse's every word. The persona of Gambit survived though, and ended up escaping with Sunfire. Mr. Sinister eventually restored both Gambit and Sunfire to their former selves.

Psylocke was a Horseman when Archangel assumed the role of Apocalypse. Originally she was tasked with dimension hopping to the Age of Apocalypse, and obtaining a Life Seed to finally free Angel of his Archangel personality. She couldn't bring herself to kill Angel though, and briefly became the Horsemen of Death. Jean Grey eventually unlocked an untapped font of power in Psylocke, allowing her to break Archangel's control, and stab him with the life seed, creating a new Angel free of the Archangel personality.

The Famine Horsemen

Unfortunately there are only two notable Horsemen of Famine: Sunfire and Autumn Rolfson. It is a disappointment that the powers aren't bestowed more often, because as a concept Famine seems much more worse than someone who is fuelled with anger who likes to hit things.

225px-SunfirexSunfire (aka Shiro Yoshida), who is now an Avenger, once held the title during the third incarnation of the Horsemen. It was after M-Day and Shiro had, not only lost his powers from Wanda's hex, but he had previously lost his legs in a battle with Lady Deathstrike. Complicating matters further, Rogue was pushed onto the now disabled Shiro and drained him not only of his powers, but his memories as well. Rogue did eventually end up besting Lady Deathstrike, but Shiro was thought dead by his fellow X-Men. That is, until he was found by the Hand. Neglecting assistance from the hand in the form of mechanical legs, Shiro was approached by Apocalypse, who promised him his powers back as well as his legs. Shiro accepted and was able to use his solar powers to manipulate people's brain into thinking they were starving. Mr. Sinister ended up breaking Apocalypse's hold on Shiro, only to lose control of Shiro himself after his death. Shiro then joined the Uncanny Avengers.

2018763-1134913_autumn_rolfson__earth_1298_Autumn Rolfson is the only other prominent Horsemen of Famine because her mutant powers were already closely tied to the powers of Famine before she was recruited by Apocalypse. Her powers disintegrated food causing her to never be able to eat. Apocalypse recruited her under the guise of getting revenge on her controlling parents, and she ended up being a force to be reckoned with. She has fought Beast and Jean Grey, and won, only to be bested by Captain America. Apocalypse let her loose in the American farm belt and she wreaked massive havoc.
During her time as a Horsemen though, Autumn was sleeping with Apocalypse, and delivered a child in secret. Genocide was raised by her alone, for fear of Apocalypse discovering he might have a potential heir to his throne. This will be expanded on further next week though.

The Pestilence Horsemen

While many have held the title of Pestilence for Apocalypse, the three most prominent characters to hold the title are Caliban, Polaris, and Ichisumi.

PolarisPolaris is the child of Magneto (everyone always forgets about her). Having the same powers as her father she isn't exactly a push over, so when Apocalypse turned her into the Third Incarnation of Pestilence, she was feared. She originally protested the title and was mind-wiped during the process of becoming a Horsemen, but it also restored her powers lost during M-Day. After Wolverine discovered her true identity and Apocalypse was defeated, she sent off to hunt for Apocalypse alone in Egypt.

1538462-pestilence_01Caliban is unique because he actually spent time as two Horsemen, Death and Pestilence. He was originally a form of organic Cerebro, able to detect mutants within a few yards, before he became a member of X-Factor. As Death, he fought the X-Men, but as Pestilence he captured both Cable and Nate Grey in the name of Apocalypse.

Ichisumi was one of Apocalypse's final Horsemen, gifted with the powers of Pestilence as a last resort should Apocalypse fall. As a mutant she destroyed any girl prettier than her in her village using mind controlled beetles, so she fit the bill for Pestilence already. Her biggest contribution to Apocalypse lore though is fathering The Apocalypse Twins with Archangel while he was under the command of Apocalypse's power.

Death SeedDeath Seeds supplant the abilities of the Horsemen of Death, infecting hosts and activating based on differing criteria to create mayhem. This most famously happened with Archangel, who was infected by Apocalypse while Archangel was a Horseman. After Apocalypse's death, Archangel transformed into a reincarnation of Apocalypse. To combat this, Archangel was stabbed with a Life Seed, leading to his rebirth as Angel, minus his memories. A possible side effect of this is that Angel possesses more than just flight, and has been shown to cure people by touch. The psychological effects are even more drastic: Angel becomes convinced that he is an actual angel of God, enacting the will of God. Rick Remender, the writer behind most of the modern incarnations of the X-Force, has hinted that there are seeds for War, Famine, and Pestilence (although no writer has delved into those ideas quite yet).

Clan Akkaba are the worshippers of Apocalypse. Apocalypse was a member of the original Clan Akkaba in ancient Egypt, and one of the clan's last survivors. He later warped the clan's ideals and manipulated their tendency toward isolationism to his own means. They have served him ever since, even helping him battle Dracula sometime around the Victorian era. Historically, most members do not possess the X-Gene, but once Scarlet Witch muttered the famous "No More Mutants" line, the membership of Clan Akkaba swelled with former mutants. They joined thinking Apocalypse could restore their lost abilities, including future Horsemen, like Gambit. The members of this clan typically serve as rank and file canon fodder when the X-Force battle Apocalypse.

The Apocalypse Twins, Uriel and Eimin, are the two children of Archangel and Ichisumi. Together, they seek to free mutant-kind from the shadow of humanity. They are constantly clashing with Kang the Conqueror, who at one point travelled through time and stole them as children to raise as his own. Kang convinced the twins that they were the shepherds of the mutant race, and their destiny was to lead all mutants off of Earth. To accomplish this they trick Scarlet Witch into teleporting every mutant off the planet, conveniently leaving Kang with a mutant-free planet to rule with ease. However, questioning Kang's orders and searching for the truth behind their childhood abduction, the twins decide to destroy the Earth after removing the mutants. In order to protect themselves, they appoint four Horsemen of Death to serve them. Daken, Banshee, the Sentry, and Grim Reaper were all given the title to assist in their Kill Bill-level rampage against Kang. The Avengers Unity Squad, led by Havok, do eventually end up beating the Twins thanks to time travel shenanigans, allowing Earth to survive.

Kid ApocalypseEvan Sabahnur, also known as Kid Apocalypse, is the latest fail-safe of Apocalypse. Evan is the reincarnated form of Apocalypse, this time as a young mutant. He is taken in by Principal Wolverine (ha!) of The Jean Grey School, with hopes that he will not become as dangerous as Apocalypse was. In flash-forwards it is shown that Evan does eventually become Apocalypse, but these scenes are typically short, so it is unclear if he leaves destruction in his wake or chooses another path. His story is currently being told in All-New X-Men and he is one of the key players in the currently ongoing Apocalypse Wars story line.

So, as it turns out, becoming a supreme ruler and godhead can be a complicated business. You must have a devout group of followers, some goons for muscle, and a ton of back up plans. Once all of those elements are in place, you should be set to rule the world. Unless the X-Force is on your tail. Or Wolverine. Or James McAvoy.

This post originally appeared as a three part series on