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Nov 13

X-Men: Black – Apocalypse

Posted on Tuesday, November 13, 2018 by Paul in x-axis

Not a one-shot, but a back-up strip running through the other five titles, “Degeneration” is a curio.  I’m pretty sure Apocalypse was comprehensively out of circulation the last time we saw him, so you’d have thought the obvious story was “why is he back at all”.  That’s not what we get here; instead, Apocalypse is just back as if nothing had happened.

What writers Zac Thompson and Lonnie Nadler opt for instead is a story from Apocalypse’s point of view with no actual heroes in it.  It’d be stretching a point to say that he’s the hero here, but he’s certainly taking the role of triumphing over adversity.  And in itself, that’s at least an underplayed angle on the character, who tends to be played as an A-list villain on an operative scale.  With nobody else around for him to posture to, this one necessarily ends up humanising him to a degree.

Since we last saw him, Apocalypse has been working on a new plan to build a permanent host body.  He’s jury rigged some Celestial technology which is meant to “repair genetic decay” so that it “can now replace all cells in a body with perfect counterparts”, whatever that means.  He plans to use this machine to turn some poor lab rat into a perfect body which he can use as his next host.  Quite how he expects that to work is a little hand wavy – wouldn’t it just result in a perfectly healthy weakling?  Oh, and Apocalypse has named his new machine “The Finch”, for… reasons?  If there’s a reference there, it’s flying over my head.

Anyway, since the first few attempts didn’t work, Apocalypse decides to try sharing some of his healing powers with Test Subject D, which leads to a big explosion and Apocalypse waking up on an alien world with incredible accelerated evolution.  Because, Again, Reasons.

This gets us to the actual point of the story, though.  Aside from anything else, Apocalypse finds that on this alien world he’s rapidly degenerating back into a regular old human, and indeed beyond.  Artist Geraldo Borges does a great job with this.  The alien world itself has the vibe of a 50s sci-fi magazine cover, but there’s something very effective about the way his Apocalypse starts off traditional, then starts to feel like a bloke in a costume struggling to carry his backpack, before becoming an ordinary human with only his unusual mouth design to signal who he was.

By part three, Apocalypse is a caveman and his florid narration – which seemed decidedly purple and self-important in the first issue – is starting to have trouble with long words.  The twist here is that the four lab rats who were his prisoners in part one have also been brought to the same place, but they’ve been evolving the other way, and by the time they capture him, he’s unrecognisable to them.  So you get a chapter of the now-intellectual victims pondering what it is they’ve found, while Apocalypse is a monkey whose first-person “narration” is reduced to repeating the word “survive”.

It’s a clever idea, but what’s the pay-off?  Well, the former lab rats, having evolved into Apocalypse’s role, have also taken up his interest in scientific experimentation, and are having a lovely old time bringing the art of vivisection to this island.  So the irony is that they wind up repeating Apocalypse’s original error and trying a very similar experiment.  In a roundabout way, Apocalypse winds up getting his new host body after all.

This is quite clever, at least for those readers who actually bought the whole thing and realise what’s going on; it won’t make much sense at all if you only bought that chapter, since Apocalypse immediately resumes his role as narrator, and he isn’t entirely reliable.  Apocalypse credits his victory to the lab rats remaining as simple as ever, and claims that “even as an aphasic simian being, I was able to outwit them”.  This is, shall we say, overstating his contribution.  He does grab the guy and bring about the error, but the overall impression is of much more of a destined cycle, which Apocalypse wrongly reads as evidence of his own genius.

This feels like it ought to be the climax, but it actually arrives at the end of part four, which is odd pacing.  Part five establishes that We Were On Earth All Along, and sees Apocalypse complete the task of smashing up his creations’ makeshift society.  This comes across as a bit of a coda, and a backdrop to Apocalypse giving us a closing monologue about his self-image.  The gist seems to be that he sees himself as both a god and a scientist, privately acknowledging that he still doesn’t fully understand the Celestial technology he’s working with, but convinced that through trial and error he will get there.  I suppose the idea is that he’s meant to read this as a particularly striking example of a trial-and-error learning experience.

It’s an interesting take on the character, but how far it’s really illustrated by the story that went before may be more debatable.  The compelling hook on this story is the humanisation and degeneration of Apocalypse, which doesn’t particularly feel like it sets up the moral that Apocalypse draws from it.  Then again, the more I think about this, the more it starts to feel like a strength.  For us, Apocalypse has essentially fluked his way back from disaster thanks to ironic parallels more than his own efforts.  But from Apocalypse’s perspective, he has triumphed nobly over adversity, persevered when all seemed lost, and proved his willingness to put himself on the line for knowledge; he thinks this is a story about his own heroism, and you can at least see where he’s coming from.  It’s a dubious reading of the story, but it makes sense as Apocalypse’s reading.

I wasn’t especially taken with this on a first reading, but it does stand up better on a re-read.  Still no idea why they called it the Finch, though.

Bring on the comments

  1. Dave White says:

    I’m sure “The Finch” is a Darwin reference but it still doesn’t make sense except thematically.

  2. Taibak says:

    Please tell me the lab rats weren’t obvious parallels of the Four Horsemen….

  3. Nu-D says:

    I only bought the Emma Frost issue, so I didn’t bother to read the one chapter of this that I had.

    But there was one big down side; it took pages away from the main story, which in turn felt cramped and would have been better if it had room to breathe a little.

  4. Paul says:

    The lead story in that issue is 20 pages, though. I think that’s the current standard.

  5. Si says:

    Apocalypse taking credit for events unfolding even if he obviously had nothing to do with what happened, actually goes right back to the way Louise Simonson wrote him. So that’s pretty cool.

    A fond wish would be to have Apocalypse fight Squirrel Girl one day. She’d be all “That’s not even slightly how the theory of evolution works! Did you even read Darwin before developing your evil philosophy?”

    By the way, I won’t read the comic til it comes out on Unlimited, so I have to ask, are they actual literal lab rats?

  6. Paul says:

    No. They’re anonymous people who were being experimented on.

  7. Michael says:

    Honestly, I’ve grown sick of Apocalypse over the years. He’s such a ridiculous character concept and his motivation always remains so one-note–he’s an immortal shapeshifting mutant obsessed with ruling the world through finding the strongest blah blah blah.

    And every time they graft more stuff onto him, he gets just a little worse for it. Celestial technology, host bodies, parasitic death seeds, and all that other crap. Nevermind, of course, all the future-related elements which tied into Cable, Stryfe, Clan Akkaba, or Ozymandias, or that time Chamber turned out to be part-Apocalypse or something.

    I was quite glad when they put an end to him, and I was hoping we’d go longer before he returned.

    Evan is the most interesting take on Apocalypse we’ve had in ages, with the nature vs nurture debate going on.

    I wonder how long before Apocalypse is back to giving random characters upgrades to become his new Horsemen. I can see it now: in a shocking twist, we have a storyline where the Four Horsemen are Squirrel Girl, Moon Girl, Ms. Marvel and Gwenpool…

    Wait, that would be AMAZING.

  8. Thom H. says:

    @Michael: I would read that.

    Also, yes: the Uncanny X-Force story that introduced Evan (still in his test tube) was so exciting because it promised a whole new direction for the character. And now look…

  9. Omar Karindu says:

    I’m sure “The Finch” is a Darwin reference but it still doesn’t make sense except thematically.

    Yes, probably the Galapagos finches in which he first observed evolution through nothing their variations across the islands.

    If we were to be super, super generous, maybe it’s that Apocalypse names the machine “The” Finch, when the reality is that Darwin saw variations in various finches. For Apocalypse, evolution is a closed-ended process that ends with “the strong” left as the survivors, and he is the Strongest. But it’s actually open-ended and admits of variation, not of some singular, one-niche-fits-all notion of “:fitness” or “strength.”

    But probably the writer just looked up Darwin on Wikipedia, saw that the finch was the original organism Darwin observed, and then used it as a throwaway reference.

  10. Si says:

    Maybe the machine’s called The Finch because Apocalypse loves watching reruns of Just Shoot Me. That weedy Apocalypse that the X-Men fought in the future recently is obviously him realising his dream of inhabiting the body of David Spade.

  11. Joseph S. says:

    Yes, I presumed it’s a reference to Darwin’s Finches, which demonstrated natural selection. I suppose if were being charitable Apocalypse’s Finch is meant to accelerate natural selection in his rats? Which doesn’t really make sense, but hey, not much about this story makes sense. The five #1 issues all had the function of checking in on the rogues gallery, restating their MO, and establishing the deck for later use. Magneto’s group on M, Emma as the new Black King, Jugs out searching for McGuffins for Reasons. Mojo and Mystique leaned closer to just checking in and having fun but at least they called back to the past. The Apocalypse backup feels to removed. You can’t just go from being dead for years to toiling in the lab with no explanation. At first I assumed the extra worldly jaunt might be a kind of retcon to explain his reappearance but in the end it felt tacked on. If they wanted to do an apocalypse story they could have set it in the past. If they want to reintroduce him, they’ll still have to do the work in the future, as this doesn’t really get him back in circulation.

  12. SanityOrMadness says:

    @Joseph S.

    Well, the thing to remember is that after being brought back from the dead for “Blood of Apocalypse”, he was never actually killed off – he escapes, then the Celestials kidnap him in a rather random epilogue (was Milligan setting something up that was rendered moot by his leaving the book almost immediately afterward?). Chamber even seems to see him alive [actually, Ozymandas in an Apocalypse suit] not long afterward, so no-one had reason to think he was dead.

    Remender pretty much ignored everything post-Search for Cyclops (where he had very definitively been Killed Off For Real), and all the “Apocalypse Seed” stuff had no relation to any prior version of the character.

    [Really, I don’t think Apocalypse as a character has ever really recovered from the Portacio/Claremont story that basically ended the original X-Factor run, that changed him from a cross between an evil Reed Richards (even in powerset) and Loki to an OP villain who could grow giant and no-sell hits. AoA worked largely with him as a backdrop rather than a character, and as Michael said, they just keep grafting stuff onto him to no useful effect, and making him more dour in the process.

  13. Dave says:

    Above post is pretty much what I came to say.
    They killed Apocalypse’s GHOST (spirit/essence/whatever) at the end of Search for Cyclops, so any further appearances trying to (or not trying to) explain his reappearance are moot.
    THEN there’s the fact that his first reappearance and exit were completely ignored for Remender’s clone story.

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