The Art of War
Credits: Jeph Loeb (writer), Steve Skroce (penciler), Bud LaRosa (inker), Mike Thomas & Digital Chameleon (colors), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (letters)
The Shadow King tells Apocalypse that X-Man escaped from Domino, which angers him but also forces him to realize that X-Man might be considered strong enough to survive. Elsewhere, X-Man fights against Sinister to avenge Forge’s murder. Sinister explains to X-Man that he created him in a lab and artificially aged him in order to use him as a weapon against Apocalypse. When Cyclops freed him, Sinister was forced to allow it because he didn’t want Apocalypse to know about Cyclops’ treason, or to learn about X-Man’s existence. Sinister tries to convince X-Man to fulfill his destiny and kill Apocalypse. They continue to fight, but X-Man eventually decides to leave and find Apocalypse before Apocalypse finds him. A dying Sinister is shocked to realize that the fight has apparently finished him. X-Man mentally connects with Magneto again and learns that he’s being tortured by Apocalypse. He travels to New York and comes across the culling of the prisoners in Sinister’s pens. He briefly encounters Cyclops and Jean Grey, and decides to face his destiny and fight Apocalypse.
X-Man doesn’t remember Sinister’s lab, or the night Cyclops helped him escape. He says that he was “taken from the pens” and tortured, but he escaped. Sinister implies that this isn’t true. Why exactly X-Man has fragmented memories isn’t explained. Since Sinister created him as a secret weapon, it doesn’t make sense that he would’ve allowed him to be placed with the rest of McCoy’s test subjects, so his memory of living in the pens is extremely suspect. Then again, it also seems unlikely that Cyclops could’ve broken into Sinister’s secret lab and released his creation. It’s possible that X-Man escaped from the lab and came across Cyclops, who helped him escape, but it’s not clear at all.
Sinister says he waited for “centuries” for the right mix of DNA to create X-Man (Cyclops’ and Jean Grey’s, of course). I’m not sure if the X-office had an origin for Sinister worked out yet, but implying that he’s been around for centuries doesn’t quite match up with the later revelation that he’s a 19th century geneticist. His earlier appearances implied that he was a time traveler, which this might be a reference to.
This issue does resolve the two major storylines of this series, as Nate finally fights against Sinister and learns the truth about his origin, albeit in a disappointing manner. The majority of the issue is taken up by X-Man’s fight with Sinister, which is drawn enthusiastically by Skroce, but it feels like it drags on for too long. The revelation of X-Man’s origin is delivered rather casually over the course of just two pages, and it doesn’t really answer all of the questions it raises. X-Man’s first meeting with his parents also feels lifeless, as if Loeb is just getting it out of the way before Nate is in place to fight Apocalypse in X-Men Omega. Nate also continues to come across as bratty and infantile, which doesn’t exactly make him very endearing. The final page announces that the title will continue after X-Men Omega alongside the Cable series, which kills any drama over whether or not he’s actually going to survive the AoA. The idea that anything might happen to X-Man is one of the unique aspects of this series, but I guess even that couldn’t last.