All it took was three words on Twitter from Bryan Singer, and suddenly we’ve got another new X-Men movie set for 2016, a mere two years after Days Of Future Past. “#Xmen #Apocalypse” quoth the once and present X-director. What’s he talking about? Here’s what we’ve got…
Who Or What Is Apocalypse?
Apocalypse is a 5000-year-old mutant , born on the Jordanian coast and shunned by his own people for his freakish grey skin. As a child he crossed the path of Egyptian raiders the Sandstormers, and was adopted by their leader Baal, who twigged to the new recruit's potential power and named him En Sabah Nur (which means “The First One” in Sandstormer. Sandstormese? Sandstormian?).
There was then some unfortunate business with the time-traveller Kang the Conqueror, who installed himself in Egypt as the Pharaoh Rama-Tut and tried to recruit Nur for his own ends. Baal was killed in the ensuing shenanigans, and Nur vowed revenge and inserted himself in Tut’s city disguised as a slave. There, he fell in love with Nephri, the sister of Tut’s general Ozymandias, who had a frown and wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command. Probably. When Nephri rejected Nur, however, he went full-on angry super-mutant and re-named himself Apocalypse. Apparently, a tub of ice cream or a few beers just don't cut it for this guy.
He turned Ozymandias into living stone, while Tut fled. For a while after that Apocalypse walked the world as a god, testing civilisations by provoking wars - because what's the fun of testing civilisations by giving them a big cuddle? Later he picked up some alien technology that allowed him to go into suspended animation while he waited for mutant-kind to become more widespread.
What can he do?
He’s immortal, and can control his body’s molecules, so he can change his physical form and physical abilities at will, turn his limbs into weapons, adopt any super-power he fancies, survive in hostile environments, ward off disease and regenerate injuries. He requires no sustenance to live. He’s a telepath and a telekinetic, a scientific genius, a master strategist, and he can mind-meld with technology. His blood can heal other mutants but is fatal to humans.
Basically he’s a massive super-mutant, further enhanced by alien technology, and he has a god complex. That sounds like trouble. From the Sandstormers he inherited a survival-of-the-fittest philosophy, which means he despises weakness. He doesn’t care if you’re mutant or norm, but if you’re weak you’ll be destroyed. And compared to him, pretty much everyone is weak.
What's his connection to the X-Men?
Over the millennia following his birth Apocalypse had run-ins with Thor and Dracula, but really hit his stride when he came out of suspended animation in the modern era. Brought out of cryo-sleep a hundred years earlier than planned due to a balls-up by the time-traveller Cable, he found mutant-kind more in evidence and started his old war-game antics again, attempting to separate the worthy human wheat from the puny human chaff. His clashes with the X-Men (and the Avengers) started in earnest here.
First contact was when he kidnapped the mutant Michael Nowlan, intending to use Nowlan’s mutant-boosting powers to mutant-ise the entire human race. The X-Men (actually spin-off team X-Factor) put a stop to that. Then there was the time Apocalypse set himself up with some other mutants as the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, intending to lay waste to New York (quite a localised Armageddon then). That didn’t go well for him either.
He took umbrage when Herbert Wyndham, aka the High Evolutionary, a genetic meddler, started trying to force evolution forward. Apocalypse might have sympathised with the politics but he didn’t like the upset to the natural order. And there were tortuously complex time-travelling goings-on in Sins of the Future; protracted battles with Onslaught and Apocalypse’s own Harbinger; crossover epic The Twelve (where Apocalypse possesses the body of Cyclops); and House of M follow-on Decimation (where he finds himself happily unaffected in a world where Scarlet Witch has robbed almost all mutants of their abilities).
What's this Age Of Apocalypse business?
This is a biggie, a massive crossover saga that Marvel published between 1995 and 1996 involving essentially every single X-franchise title and spin-off.
In a nutshell, Legion, the son of Charles Xavier, goes back in time to kill Magneto, but he gets it wrong. Managing to hit a time when Charles and Eric were still best buddies, his actions actually kill Professor X, who dies saving Magneto. Magneto then takes a different path in life to the one we know, choosing to adopt Xavier’s philosophies of peaceful coexistence between mutants and norms. Apocalypse gets wind of all this and decides it’s the perfect time for an offensive.
He conquers North America and makes mutants the ruling class, undertaking huge culls of normal humans to prevent anyone rumbling him or causing the timelines to jump tracks back to the original chronology. Magneto assembles the X-Men as the resistance. The whole apocalyptic saga fills 15 collected editions.
So what will we see on screen?
This is interesting. Some version of the Age Of Apocalypse saga would seem the obvious angle, and yet, superficially, that would seem like too much of a repeat of the time travel / parallel universe threads of Days Of Future Past. The sudden arrival of this new X-movie and the speed of its planned release just two years following DOFP, however, suggests that the one could possibly immediately follow the other or that the two jumbled timelines might be connected. After all, Apocalypse has been rumoured as DOFP’s well-kept-secret villain before now. Perhaps, as adapted by Singer and co., the two epics are to be conflated. Peter Dinklage is playing mad scientist Bolivar Trask in DOFP: could he replace the comics’ Herbert Wyndham and become The Harbinger Of Apocalypse?
Whatever, the arrival of Apocalypse will introduce a massive antagonist into the X-movies, the level of which we’ve not yet encountered. The initial films’ (and First Class’) battles against Magneto are as much mutant politics as spectacle; X3’s Dark Phoenix didn’t really get to strut her stuff on a huge scale; and in DOFP we have (so far) Trask, The Sentinels, and Richard Nixon. We have not had a serious god-villain to date, and the scale of the threat would force a continued détente between the forces of Xavier and Magneto against a common enemy, which is always fun. With the Marvel Cinematic Universe revving up Thanos as their super-villain, Apocalypse would be a good counter-stroke.
Oh, and one more thing… If we’re assuming the continued involvement of Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine, then we likely also have the solution here to Logan’s being left with only his bone claws at the end of his solo outing this year. Apocalypse, at one point in the comics, restores Logan’s lost adamantium skeleton and attempts to brainwash him into servitude. Evil Wolverine? That could be a thing…