Credits: Peter Milligan (writer), John Paul Leon (penciler), Shawn Martinbrough & Klaus Janson (inkers), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (lettering), Kevin Somers (colors)
Summary: Cyclops, who arrived in the past nude without his ruby quartz visor, is mistaken for a Marauder by the freaks living under the city. When he is forced to unleash his optic blasts, the sewer-dwellers understand that he is like them. He mentally gets into contact with Phoenix and leads the freaks past the wooden bars in the sewers. The Marauders witness the escape and shoot Cyclops in the arm. The freaks fight back, chasing the Marauders away. A Marauder named Oscar Stamp trips, and is rescued from the angry freaks by Cyclops. Oscar agrees to serve as Cyclops’ eyes. Meanwhile, Phoenix is visited by Sanctity, the last of the Askani sisterhood, who is charged with guarding this timeline. She tells Phoenix that she has forty-eight hours to find Essex at the Milbury House and stop Apocalypse’s rise. At the Milbury House, Rebecca Essex confronts her husband over his experiments on their dead son. She asks Essex to stop his experiments for the sake of their unborn baby, and when he doesn’t give her an immediate answer, she leaves. En Sabah Nur convinces Essex not to follow his wife, but to show him his work instead. They tour his lab and then leave for a meeting with the Hellfire Club, the group Essex hopes will now fund his research. Soon, Phoenix arrives at Milbury House and comes across Rebecca burying her son. She goes into Essex’s laboratory and finds the mutants he has been studying. She mentally talks to a mute child, Daniel, who tells Phoenix where Essex has traveled. At the Hellfire Club, En Sabah Nur morphs into his true form as Apocalypse after the members mock his theories. He threatens to kill them if they do not serve him. He leaves with Essex, as Phoenix and Cyclops are reunited nearby. They recognize Essex as Sinister, and Cyclops contemplates killing him before he can cause so much pain in their time. Suddenly, Cyclops and Phoenix are attacked by Apocalypse’s physically enhanced Marauders. Apocalypse sees the fight and proudly joins in. A Marauder knocks Phoenix into the nearby river, as Apocalypse defeats Cyclops. He offers Cyclops to Essex as a test subject. When Essex hesitates, Apocalypse gives him a day to decide. Essex walks away, contemplating his next move, when he discovers a woman in the river. He pulls her out and discovers she’s Phoenix.
Continuity Notes: When Apocalypse tours Essex’s lab and hears the new theory of evolution, he realizes what he is for the first time. He declares that he is “an anomaly – the first born of this great mutation!” Ozymandias is indirectly referenced, as Apocalypse brags that a man with royal blood has served him for over a thousand years.
Sanctity sends Cyclops and Phoenix into the past in their own bodies, which makes wonder why the Askani didn’t do that in their first miniseries, other than the fact that Cable couldn’t have recognized Cyclops and Phoenix for continuity reasons. Since it was Rachel Summers doing the summoning in the first mini, after the Askani had been decimated by Apocalypse, I guess it is reasonable that Rachel had to rely on her own powers to drag them into the future. Sanctity's plan to have them change the past and stop Apocalypse seems to contradict the Marvel rules of time travel that Mark Gruenwald imposed for years.
Review: Did I mention this series is dense? The amount of plot in this issue alone is almost as much story as the entire first miniseries. Even though Milligan goes through a lot of twists to get there, this issue mainly accomplishes only three points. Essex begins to grow closer to Apocalypse and question traditional morality, Cyclops and Phoenix are reunited, and a fight with Apocalypse leaves the pair defeated. None of the material with the Marauders, the Hellfire Club, or the freaks under London has much to do with any of this. I wouldn’t say that they’re totally superfluous since the miniseries isn’t over with yet, but it does seem like there are too many characters at this point.
The true star of the series so far is Mr. Sinister, and Milligan is successful in creating a sympathetic portrayal of his former self. The idea that a man would abandon all morality in the name of science after his son’s death isn’t easy to pull off convincingly, but Milligan is able to create a conflicted portrayal of Essex that makes it work. Throughout the story, Essex is tempted by the progress that could be made if science wasn’t constrained by society, but also wonders what place his deceased son would've had in that world. When Apocalypse offers Cyclops to Essex as a test subject, he’s tempted by the opportunity to pursue his life’s work, but he also recognizes that Cyclops and Phoenix share what he once had with Rebecca. Milligan cleverly ties the moral conflicts to the early controversy surrounding the theory of evolution. Just as embracing evolution placed people at odds with the era’s theological and moral beliefs, Essex begins to wonder if all morality should be abandoned in the name of science. If life really has no meaning outside of survival of the fittest, how could a pursuit of knowledge at all costs truly be wrong? As interesting as the conflict is, the details of the story unfortunately trip over it. Just a few pages before Apocalypse offers Cyclops to Essex, Phoenix has already discovered the “evil, pure and simple” work he is doing on mutants in his lab. It’s already been inferred that Essex is experimenting on the mutants from the Marauders’ freak show, so his conflict over using Cyclops as a test subject seems odd. I guess Phoenix could’ve been reacting to the fact that mutants were being kept in cages (the art is so dark and murky it’s hard to tell what condition they’re in), but I think her response implies that he’s doing more than just studying his captives. The storytelling at the end of the issue is also unclear, as Apocalypse teleports away with the Marauders while giving Essex a day to make his decision about Cyclops. Essex is then seen walking away alone, so I guess the implication is that Apocalypse took Cyclops with him, but it’s not clear at all. At any rate, even if some of the details don’t add up, this is still a strong chapter of a series that’s engaging in its own right and more than just gratuitous brand exploitation.