Marvel Events Part VII: Apocalypse, Onslaught, and Beyond

by GregFahlgren

Continuing ongoing series talking about major Marvel Events as we hit the mid-90s!

Welcome back True Believers! Are you ready to continue our adventure in studying the major events in Marvel History? No? DON’T CARE, IT’S MY BLOG SO LET’S GO!

Marvel’s stories in the early 90s had been dominated by the X-Men and their various affiliates, so when it came time for the next big company-wide event, it made all the sense in the world for the X-Men to be at the centre of it. There are many, many reasons that these events unfolded the way they did, the history of the X-Men step-by-step leading us down this path. So many strings attached to these next few stories, it’s hard to pinpoint where it all truly started. No matter what started the domino of events to lead to this, every event like this needs a spark, and in this case, the spark that lit the fire was a son trying to do right by his father...

Legion's Quest

Prelude to an Age

When we last saw Legion, he was comatose as a result of the battle with Shadow King during the Muir Island Saga. Mystique, whose friend Destiny had been killed by Legion when Shadow King was controlling him, had vowed revenge, and after years of searching, finally hunted the young man down, intent on killing him. Mystique fails in her assassination attempt, but Legion’s mind was fractured upon his awakening, Mystique leaving him to his madness. In his delirium, Legion comes to the conclusion that he needs to help his father achieve his goal of mutant/human coexistence. He decides that the only way to truly assure his father’s dream can be achieved is to go back in time and kill Magneto (yeah, this is going to work out great isn’t it folks?)

Legion goes back twenty years to when Xavier and Magnus were interns at a hospital together. Back then, they were the best of friends, years Charles still a young man trying to help people with his powers where he could, Magnus a Holocaust Survivor trying to deal with to deal with the burning hatred that was beginning to form is his soul. Legion, whose memories were fragmented by the time travel, encounters the two, and upon realizing who Magnus is, tries to kill him. Charles intervenes, and despite Bishop, who had followed Legion to the past, trying to prevent it, Legion kills his father by accident.

 

This one act changed the course of history, Legion’s act of patricide creating a new, terrifying future for the mutant race. Despite kill Legion then and there, Bishop and Magneto could only watch helplessly as Charles died before their eyes, the hope that Professor Xavier carried in his heart dying with him.

Age of Apocalypse

Hell Opens

Xavier’s death caused a domino effect for the rest of the world. Magneto in his grief took on his friend’s dream of a world where mutants and humans coexisted peacefully. However, Xavier’s death also spurred long time X-Men nemesis Apocalypse to launch his attack on Earth, ten years earlier than he had in the previous timeline. The world wasn’t ready, and after brutal and violent war, Apocalypse had effectively taken over North America, setting himself up as a king. Ruling with an iron fist, he was aided by his Horsemen, four powerful mutants sworn to his service, along with a number of other powerful servants and slaves. To further his dominance, he makes mutants the ruling class in his new society, calling for cullings of the human survivors to wipe out the “lesser race”. Next, Apocalypse has every telepath and time powered mutants hunted down and killed to ensure no one can destroy his rule.

Bishop, now stuck in this alternate timeline, helps Magneto form the new X-Men. After years of conflict, the two devise a plan to restore the original timeline. To complete this plan, Magneto split his teams up, sending the various X-Men to complete a series of missions all working towards the same goal: sending Bishop back in time to stop Legion from killing Xavier.

The first of these teams was lead by Nightcrawler, called X-Calibre. Their mission was to find the mutant seer Destiny to verify Bishop’s story. Going to Avalon, they indeed find her, but had to fight Apocalypse’s Pale Riders in the process. Once the Pale Riders were dealt with, Nightcrawler and company brought Destiny back to Magneto’s base.

The next team, named the X-Ternals (lead by everyone’s favourite Cajun card player, Gambit) are sent into space to find a piece of the shattered M’kraan Crystal, essential to seeing into the past so Destiny could prove Bishop’s story, and be used to send Bishop back to stop Legion. Heading deep into Shi’ar space, they find a shard of the Crystal, and bring it back to Earth. However, team member Strong Guy betrays the team, taking the Crystal and kidnapping Magneto and Rogue’s son (yes, they married, Gambit/Rogue shippers stay calm), Joseph, delivering both to Apocalypse.

The third team, Generation Next, was lead by the husband and wife combination of Shadowcat and Colossus. The two move to rescue Colossus’s sister Illyana, one of the last trans-dimensional teleporters left in the world. They find her imprisoned by Apocalypse Prelate Sugar Man in Seattle. When the young team engages with Sugar Man, the evil mutant proves too powerful, and the fight quickly turns against them. Obsessed with saving his sister, Colossus abandons them, rescuing Illyana and barely escaping with her and Shadowcat, apparently leaving the rest of the team to die.

The fourth team was called the Astonishing X-Men, and under the command of Magneto’s wife, Rogue. While the other teams were sent to collect what was needed for Magneto’s plan, Rogue led her team to stop the cullings and aid in the human evacuations to Europe. When they arrive at their destination, Sabretooth learns that Holocaust, one of the Horsemen, has base at one of Apocalypse’s nearby factories. He asks his surrogate daughter Blink to teleport him there to fight the Horsemen. Reluctantly, she does so, and in the ensuing fight Sabretooth is apparently killed. The rest of the team arrives, and manages to defeat Holocaust’s Infinites and drive the Horsemen away before destroying the factory, allowing the humans to escape. They return back to base, only to discover that Joseph has been kidnapped.

The fifth and final team, the Amazing X-Men, are lead by Magneto’s son Quicksilver. Much like Rogue’s team, they are sent to aid in the human evacuations separate. They encounter the Horsemen Abyss, and manage to defeat him to give the humans time to complete their escape to the coast. However, while they were away, Bishop and Magneto are attacked by Apocalypse himself, and captured. When Quicksilver returns to base to discover what has happened, he splits up his team, sending Iceman to rendezvous with Rogue’s team, while Dazzler and Exodus are dispatched to find Joseph. Meanwhile, he leads the remaining members to rescue Bishop.

Elsewhere in the world, Wolverine, called Weapon X in this timeline, and Jean Grey become lovers while working as agents for the Human High Council. When they discover that the High Council intends to launch nuclear strikes against North America, Jean becomes appalled, driving a wedge between her and the cynical Logan. After Logan battles and defeats Donald Pierce, Jean elects to go to America to help in the evacuations. Logan meanwhile is ordered to find Gateway, the teleporter to be used to transport the evac ships to America. Once his mission is complete, Logan goes with the evacuation ships, hoping to find Jean before the bombs drop.

Cyclops and Havok unfortunately fell into the surface of Dark Beast, Hank McCoy, who without Xavier’s guidance had become a sick scientist under Apocalypse’s employ. The Summers brothers lead the Elite Mutant Force, and are charged with hunting down humans for Beast’s experiments. During one of these missions, Cyclops is revealed as a traitor helping humans escape from Dark Beast’s slave pens. Havok tries to kill him, but Jean Grey intervenes. The EMF split between the brothers, and when Havok’s side is defeated, Cyclops and Jean escape. Havok recovers soon thereafter, and swears to kill his brother.

While Jean and Scott had never married, nor had Scott had a child with Madelyne Pryor, Mr Sinister had still succeeded in combining their DNA to create a single child, named Nate Grey. Nate, the more powerful telekentic in the world, grows up under the guidance of Forge, who leads a covert team of mutants travelling under the guise of as a theatre troupe, attacking Apocalypse’s factories and trains wherever they could find them. Eventually, they meet a man named Essex, who encourages Nate to use his telekentic abilities to their fullest potential despite Forge’s protests. Eventually, they are attacked by mutant bounty hunters, and Forge realizes that Essex is a traitor. Essex kills Forge, and then reveals himself as Mr Sinister. Nate unleashes his power, nearly killing Sinister and stopping the Bounty Hunters. Afterwards, he leaves his surviving team members and heads to New York alone to find Apocalypse.

In Europe, a group of humans, lead by Tony Stark and working for the Human High Council, are sent to stop the fourth Horseman, Mikhail Rasputin. Rasputin had been using Empath to hypnotize humans in Europe, forcing them to stop fighting and obey Apocalypse. Stark has the team purposely captured, only to be reawakened later within Rasputin’s complex, a massive tower blocking all transport out of Britain. Once awake, they steal weapons and destroy the tower. They are soon set upon by The Thing, this timeline’s Hulk. However, during the fight The Thing reverts to Bruce Banner, allowing him to help the team complete their mission, allow more humans to escape. In the final battle atop Big Ben, Donald Blake tackles Rasputin off the top of the clock tower, sacrificing himself to kill the Horsemen. Victor von Doom rescues the survivors just as Apocalypse launches an attack on Britain.

All these stories lead to the final battle between Magneto’s X-Men and Apocalypse’s forces. What X-Men remain use Blink to teleport into Apocalypse’s base and capture Dark Beast. Angel, once a servant to Apocalypse that is no longer trusted, switches sides, and sacrifices himself by flying into Apocalypse’s force field generators, allowing Nate Grey to enter the capital unhindered. The Human High Council meanwhile launches their nuclear strikes, wiping out the western half of Apocalypse’s Kingdom. Once the X-Men free Magneto and Bishop, Magnus orders Destiny to enter the M’Kraan Crystal with Illyana (despite Colossus’s protests) in order to send Bishop to the past. As they continue with their plan, Magneto goes to continue his fight with Apocalypse, and is soon joined by Nate Grey.

As the X-Men fight Apocalype’s forces, Jean and Cyclops continue to free prisoners from the breeding pens. Jean uses her powers to hold off the Human High Council’s nuclear bombs, wanting to make sure everyone single person gets out before they drop. Havok soon arrives, killing Jean before shooting Cyclops. As Havok moves in to finish his brother off, Weapons X parachutes in kills the younger Summers brother. Jean dies in Logan’s arms as Cyclops watches, the scene seeming all too familiar to X-Fans.

Bishop arrives in the past, and successfully kills Legion before he can kill Xavier. However, Colossus thinks that Illyana has been gone too long, and goes on rampage, destroying everything in his path. Shadowcat steps in his path, trusting that her husband would never harm her. The trust was misplaced, and Colossus mows her down, killing her. Finally, Gambit charges his staff and injures the mad Russian from behind, forcing him to revert to his human form just as Illyana returns to report her mission was successful. Realizing what he had done, Colossus allows himself to die.

As the battle concludes, Nate uses the M’Kraan Crystal shard to stab Holocaust to death, while Magneto rips Apocalypse in half. Without Jean to stop them, the bombs continue their journey, destroying everything sight. As they drop around them Magneto thanks Xavier for being in his life, and waits for it to end...

Despite all the death, Bishop’s mission had been a success, and the timeline was restored. He returns to his own time, and rejoins the X-Men, no one knowing about what had happened except for him.

That was a trip right? Age of Apocalypse was a landmark event, for the first time in Marvel’s history titles were pre-empted to make room for the event’s titles. This is a technique that has been used many times since, most recently with the currently ongoing Secret Wars. The story itself is held in high regard by X-Fans, and is considered the height of Scott Lobdell’s career. The event changed the comic book scene forever, and with a movie adaption coming out, I have a feeling that the Age of Apocalypse will live on for many years to come.

Onslaught Saga

The Darkest Reflection of Hope

Charles Xavier is the most powerful telepath in the world, maybe the most powerful mutant outside of a few. His abilities could literally shut down the entire world if he really wanted to, but Xavier’s ethical nature would never allow him commit such an atrocity. But what if something else were to take over his power? And what would the heroes of Marvel be willing to do to stop it? Those are the question that the Onslaught Saga attempt to answer, and in the process tells one of the most harrowing stories in the company’s long history.

In truth, this story started way back in Fatal Attractions (see my last entry in this series), where Professor Xavier mind-wiped Magneto in response to his former friend ripping out Wolverine’s skeleton. However, a piece of Magneto’s mind had transferred into Xavier’s, sowing a seed a hate in the Professor. That seed laid dormant for years, during which the mutant population was devastated by the Legacy Virus, a virus that Xavier had been unable to find a cure for. This failure was compounded with another, Xavier unable to rehabilitate Sabretooth, the psychotic killer briefly joining the X-Men before reverting to his murderous ways. Anti-mutant sentiment had steadily grown to alarming heights, and Xavier was after so many years of fighting was becoming frustrated, a wave of negativity passing through his mind on a daily basis. This wave combined with the seed of Magneto’s psyche, eventually morphing into a being only known as Onslaught. This being would stay dormant for some time, waiting for a trigger point to bring it the forefront of Xavier’s mind.

Onslaught first manifested when a young mutant woman was beaten to death outside the Xavier Institute. Through the guise of Professor X, Onslaught committed several acts against the X-Men, testing their abilities.. However, during an encounter with X-Man, the Age of Apocalypse survivor pulls Xavier’s body from the Astral Plane, inadvertently allowing Onslaught to move independently. Soon after Onslaught has a confrontation with Jean Grey in the Astral Pane, the evil entity offering her power equal to that of the Phoenix Force. When she refused, he sent her back to her body with only fragments memories of the encounter.

Soon after, Onslaught took control of Xavier’s body completely, and called the X-Men to him. Onslaught (as Xavier), revealed his plans to train the X-Men as an army of mutant soldiers to fight qan all out war against humanity. When the X-Men refused, Onslaught fully revealed himself, and attempted to destroy them. Bishop, whose whole life had been spent trying to find the mysterious “X-Men traitor”, realized that it was Xavier all along, and saves his teammates. Onslaught however, escapes, and the X-Men must now face the reality that in order to stop Onslaught, they may have to kill Xavier.

Leaving the X-Men behind, Onslaught went to abduct Franklin Richards. Creating a psionic projection of a young Charles Xavier, named Charley, he befriends the boy, slowly earning his trust enough to capture Franklin despite his parents’ interference. Next, Onslaught tracks down and captures X-Man, drawing the three powerful mutants into an external armoured shell, fusing their powers together. With this power, Onslaughts moves forward with his plan transform the human race into one large collective consciousness.

Onslaught heads to New York City, and uses his knowledge to take control of the Sentinels. Using them, he forms a protective circle around Manhattan, effectively sealing it off from the rest of the world. The X-Men, Fantastic Four, and the Avengers unite to challenge the entity, fighting through the Sentinels to get to him. In their first confrontation, the heroes manage to rescue Charles Xavier from Onslaught’s outer shell, causing Onslaught to become a being of pure psionic energy inside his armoured shell.

During the second and final confrontation, the combined heroes tried again and again to rescue Franklin and X-Man to no success. Finally, Jean Grey uses her telepathy to suppress the Bruce Banner portion of the Hulk’s mind, unleashing the strongest and most furious Hulk ever seen. Hulk battled Onslaught alone, and managed to rip off the entities armour. The resulting explosion caused Bruce Banner and the Hulk to separate, but worse yet, Onslaught outside his armour was immune to nearly all physical harm.

As the heroes tried to recover, Onslaught uses Franklin’s power to create a second sun that would destroy the heroes for good. In a desperate attempt to stop it, Thor flew directly into Onslaught’s energy field, disrupting his form temporarily. The rest of the heroes followed suit, all except the X-Men, Mr. Fantastic theorizing that a mutant host within the field would make Onslaught all powerful. As the Avengers and Fantastic Four continued their assault, Onslaught slowly dissolves in a massive psionic explosion. Xavier and Cable manage to save Franklin and X-Man, but the Avengers and Fantastic Four are seemingly killed.

Soon thereafter, Xavier is taken into custody for Onslaught’s crimes. The X-Men protest, but Xavier tells them to stand down, feeling responsible for what all that has happened. Wrong or not, he is taken away, and the surviving heroes were left to mourn their dead...

The Onslaught Saga was an impressive event, spanning for months across multiple issues. However, many fans were disappointed by it, and since it led to the ill-fated Heroes Reborn arc, have named it one of Marvel’s biggest mistakes. Whether or not this is true, Onslaught cannot be forgotten, the event showing what could happen when someone as powerful as Xavier goes over to the other side.

Heroes Return/Reborn

Seemed like a good idea at the time...

Probably the most controversial event in the company’s history, Heroes Reborn picks up directly after the Onslaught Saga. The heroes that had died in the previous event, the Avengers, and the Fantastic Four, were revealed to be still alive on another Earth. This was an effort by Marvel to revamp their comic line, which was suffering serious economic difficulties. This idea was not exactly well received by fans, many decrying the tactic, having seen similar techniques before from DC Comics with their famed Zero Hour and Crisis on Infinite Earths storylines.

Eventually, it was discovered that this Counter-Earth had been created by Franklin Richards in a pocket reality in order to save the heroes during the final destruction of Onslaught. Franklin brought them back, heralding the return of the Avengers and the Fantastic Four to the 616 Marvel U.

Heroes Reborn may not be essential reading, and a lot of fans would rather the event be forgotten entirely, but it happened, and was interesting at the very least.

Operation: Zero Tolerance

Darkness Takes Over...

With Zero Tolerance shut down, the X-Men set to the task of finding their lost mentor, who has been missing since the end of the Onslaught Saga. This quest leads them into the path of Cerebro, which has now gained sentience (that’s never a good thing is it?). The mutant finding machine (literally, not a metaphor) was capturing new mutants wherever it could find them, cataloguing them for study. By the time the X-Men had found it, Cerebro had begun to target the recently reformed Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. Learning from recently escaped prisoner Nina, the X-Men learn that the Brotherhood had captured the now powerless Xavier, making him their reluctant mentor.

The team, realizing that they need to stop Cerebro, split up, one half going after the Professor, the other distracting Cerebro. Cerebro responds by shifting its focus to humans, cataloguing them before digitizing their genetic code into its computer banks, effectively killing them in an attempt to create a perverted version of a mutant utopia like it thought Charles wanted. While the X-Men keep Cerebro occupied, Nina finds the Professors, and helps him reactivate his mind powers which had been lost during the conflict with Onslaught. Together, they mind-link Cerebro with every human on Earth, forcing it feel their individual souls all at once. Mortified by its actions, it halts its plan and fades into nothingness. Xavier rejoins the X-Men afterwards, heading home for the first time since Onslaught first appeared.

Hunt for Xavier ended the Onslaught storyline, bringing Xavier back to the X-Men to overwhelming fan approval. The team had been through a lot in the 90s, but as is always the case, more challenges would face them and the rest of the Marvel U in the years to come.

The Hunt for Professor X

Bringing Dad Home

With Zero Tolerance shut down, the X-Men set to the task of finding their lost mentor, who has been missing since the end of the Onslaught Saga. This quest leads them into the path of Cerebro, which has now gained sentience (that’s never a good thing is it?). The mutant finding machine (literally, not a metaphor) was capturing new mutants wherever it could find them, cataloguing them for study. By the time the X-Men had found it, Cerebro had begun to target the recently reformed Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. Learning from recently escaped prisoner Nina, the X-Men learn that the Brotherhood had captured the now powerless Xavier, making him their reluctant mentor.

The team, realizing that they need to stop Cerebro, split up, one half going after the Professor, the other distracting Cerebro. Cerebro responds by shifting its focus to humans, cataloguing them before digitizing their genetic code into its computer banks, effectively killing them in an attempt to create a perverted version of a mutant utopia like it thought Charles wanted. While the X-Men keep Cerebro occupied, Nina finds the Professors, and helps him reactivate his mind powers which had been lost during the conflict with Onslaught. Together, they mind-link Cerebro with every human on Earth, forcing it feel their individual souls all at once. Mortified by its actions, it halts its plan and fades into nothingness. Xavier rejoins the X-Men afterwards, heading home for the first time since Onslaught first appeared.

Hunt for Xavier ended the Onslaught storyline, bringing Xavier back to the X-Men to overwhelming fan approval. The team had been through a lot in the 90s, but as is always the case, more challenges would face them and the rest of the Marvel U in the years to come.

Conclusion

The 90s march on

The mid-late 90s were not exactly the greatest time for comic books. After Age of Apocalypse, sales went down steadily, Marvel (not to mention the rest of the industry) losing readers and revenue everywhere.. The events after Onslaught were still fun stories though, and definitely worth checking out, but it Marvel as going to survive, it was going to have to step up its game.

Hate to leave on such a negative note, but the truth is the truth. Until next time True Believers, HAPPY READING!

Read the Complete Series!

First chapter of a series of blogs detailing the Events and Crossovers of the Marvel Universe.
Continuing from Part I, I explore the important cross-over events of Marvel's Silver Age
Examining the major Marvel Crossovers and Storylines from the 70s into the mid-80s.
Returning to the Marvel U, and examining the BOOM of crossover event comics.
Continuing study of the biggest events in Marvel's long history.
Continuing with my special series talking about Marvel's Crossover Events.
Updated: 12/31/2015, GregFahlgren
 
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