Credits: Scott Lobdell & Mark Waid (plot), Mark Waid (script), Adam Kubert & Joe Bennett (pencilers), Dan Green w/Thibert, Townsend, Delperdang (inkers), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (lettering), Steve Buccellato & Team Bucce! (colors)
Summary: The X-Men rescue Professor Xavier from Onslaught, as the Avengers and Fantastic Four arrive as backup. Onslaught uses Franklin Richards’ reality warping power to create a second sun in the atmosphere, which puts greater pressure on the heroes to finish the fight. Cable telepathically enters Joseph’s mind and uses his magnetism powers to temporarily remove the barriers Onslaught placed on Xavier’s telepathy. Phoenix, at the Hulk’s request, turns off the Bruce Banner portion of the Hulk’s brain, allowing him to attack Onslaught with no self-control. The Hulk destroys Onslaught’s armor, which creates a large explosion that somehow physically separates Bruce Banner and the Hulk. Onslaught reemerges as pure psionic energy, which can now spread out across the planet. Thor volunteers to contain Onslaught’s energy in his own body, but he’s not enough. Members of the Avengers and Fantastic Four unite and enter Onslaught’s energy field. Mr. Fantastic warns mutants not to join the other heroes, claiming that their genetic pattern could give Onslaught more strength. Iron Man forces Dr. Doom to join the rest of the heroes, while Bruce Banner leaves the unconscious Hulk behind and follows the others. Mr. Fantastic gives word to the X-Men to destroy the energy field when all of the heroes are gone, as the mental images of Xavier and Joseph rescue X-Man and Franklin Richards. Onslaught is destroyed, but Xavier predicts that mutants will be blamed for the damage.
I Love the ‘90s: Thing refers to Reed and Sue Richards as “Paul and Jaime”, a reference to ‘90s sitcom Mad about You.
“Huh?” Moment: While inside Onslaught, X-Man has a conversation with a floating word balloon that’s not attached to anyone. Later on, we see him speaking to Xavier and Joseph, who are colored with a special effect. I’m assuming that there was a production error that prevented the pair from showing up in the earlier scene.
Continuity Notes: Mr. Fantastic claims that the mutant Scarlet Witch can enter Onslaught because of her reality-warping hex power. Some fans complained about Falcon entering Onslaught, but as Kurt Busiek has often reminded fans, Falcon is not supposed to be a mutant, despite what a malfunctioning Sentinel once said. The heroes who enter Onslaught’s energy field go on to star in the “Heroes Reborn” titles. It’s later revealed that Franklin Richards created an alternate Earth when he came into contact with his mother as she passed through Onslaught. That world is represented by a blue ball, which suddenly appears next to Franklin after he’s rescued.
Which heroes actually entered Onslaught was never kept consistent, and the fact that Franklin’s world was populated by millions of people, and not just these specific characters, means that he could’ve recreated whomever he wanted to anyway. For the record, we see Human Torch, the Thing, Wasp, Giant Man, Falcon, Namor, Captain America, Black Panther, Scarlet Witch, Crystal, Iron Man, Dr. Doom, Bruce Banner, Mr. Fantastic, and Invisible Woman enter on-panel.
Remember the psionic armor that was brought up in several tie-in issues? The plot element that was used to justify Excalibur and Iron Man’s inclusion in the crossover? Would it shock you if I told you it plays no role in the final installment at all?
Just to be thorough, here’s a list of the hints that preceded the revelation of Onslaught’s identity:
X-Men Prime – A shadowy figure attacks Mystique, declaring, “It begins”. Forge speculates that whoever did this didn’t want to kill Mystique, but make a statement. This was originally supposed to be Onslaught, but someone changed their mind and the mystery villain became the X-Factor character Hound. Even in the context of later X-Factor issues, Hound’s actions don’t make a lot of sense, either.
UXM #322 – Juggernaut lands in New Jersey, and claims he was punched in Canada by Onslaught. It’s later revealed that Onslaught attacked him because of Xavier’s resentment of his abusive stepbrother, which is fair enough. However, Onslaught isn’t supposed to have a corporeal form at this point; that happens after X-Man makes Xavier’s astral form physical in X-Man #10.
Cable #21 – A shadowy figures steals data on Cable from Blaquesmith. Moira MacTaggert learns that someone (possibly the same person who leaked her Legacy Virus infection to the media) has been stealing her files on Cable, also.
X-Men #44 – A powerful force is interfering with the psionic plane. This is later revealed to be X-Man, but the emergence of Onslaught could’ve also caused the disturbance. The X-Men’s Australian base has been used by another mystery figure, who is never revealed. I’m sure this was supposed to be another Onslaught hint, but it’s hard to say given the number of mysteries dominating the titles at this point.
X-Force #46 – A mystery man kidnaps Mimic behind the scenes. It’s confirmed that Onslaught did abduct him, but Mimic drops out of the storyline very quickly with no explanation.
X-Force #47 – Cable accuses Xavier of hiding information from X-Force regarding a mission, which he denies. This could work as an Onslaught hint, especially since their mission involved Mimic. However, it’s not portrayed as a shocking revelation, and nothing in the story infers that Xavier is lying.
Wolverine #93 – Two Landau, Luckman, and Lake agents send Juggernaut to another dimension because he “knows too much”. This was probably meant as a reference to Onslaught, yet L, L, & L end up playing no role in the storyline.
X-Men #46 – Onslaught kidnaps fifteen scientists working on a Sentinel project. Since Onslaught does use Sentinels later on, this at least makes sense. It’s important to Senator Kelly that a scientist named Evan Donner is missing, but this goes nowhere.
X-Men #48 – Xavier begins to shut his feelings off after Sabretooth nearly kills Psylocke. Xavier’s disappointment over failing to help Sabretooth is later used to help justify Onslaught’s creation (which doesn’t explain why Onslaught was active before this happened).
X-Men #49 – Onslaught kidnaps Chamber, for still unknown reasons.
X-Men #50 – The strongest indication that Xavier wasn’t originally supposed to be Onslaught. Onslaught uses Gateway to kidnap four X-Men so that he can observe them. How much more information on the X-Men could Xavier possibly have? Other nonsense from this issue includes Gateway trying to abduct Xavier for Onslaught, the implication that a strange landscape is the source of Onslaught’s power, and Onslaught’s claim that he’s preparing the X-Men for “the coming”.
X-Force #52 – Blob, whose powers have been enhanced by Onslaught, is sent to steal Nimrod technology. This is another Sentinel connection, although Nimrod is supposed to be a highly advanced Sentinel, and he never shows up in the storyline (although Nimrod prototypes do attack Cable a few months later when he revisits this base). Blob and Mimic are soon forgotten as the crossover begins.
UXM #331 – Archangel questions if Xavier would use his powers in unethical ways, which looks like a hint that the creators were at least considering him as an Onslaught candidate at this point. Cyclops revisits the location Gateway took the X-Men to in X-Men #50. He’s shocked that there’s no debris, and the landscape doesn’t match its previous appearance. Never explained.
Cable #31 – It’s inferred that Onslaught is the one who stole Blaquesmith’s data on Cable in Cable #21 (originally, a silhouette of the X-Cutioner was shown to be the culprit). Whatever information Onslaught wanted is never revealed, and Xavier/Onslaught would presumably have all of the information he needs on Cable already.
UXM #332 – Xavier threatens Zoe Culloden in order to get information on the missing Wolverine. The story hints that Xavier’s beginning to break from the strain of recent months, which works as a clue.
UXM #333 – The creators have now firmly cast Xavier as Onslaught, as he begins to act irritable and snarky around the X-Men, which sets up next month’s revelation. The story also claims that Onslaught abducted thirty-one scientists, which more than doubles the number listed in X-Men #46. This issue has a June 1996 cover date, which means that as recently as May’s Cable #31, actions were ascribed to Onslaught that make no sense given his true identity.
Review: For what it’s worth, I really liked this comic when I was sixteen. It seemed like a respectable goodbye to the heroes, and Adam Kubert’s rendition of the Marvel Universe was great. I was upset that Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld were going to be rewriting the histories of the FF and Avengers, so the fact that this issue already paved the way for an in-continuity explanation for the new reality was a welcome relief. Looking back, it seems like the entire issue is a series of in-continuity justifications for real world business decisions. “Jim Lee wants to use Hulk in Iron Man? Well, split him and Banner up so we can have him, too. At least we get to keep the mutant characters. Oh yeah, Scarlet Witch is a mutant, isn’t she? Okay, I’m sure we can get around this somehow. Hey, are we keeping Quicksilver or not? Spider-Man? We can just say he didn’t make it to Central Park in time. Same thing for Daredevil. No one missed him in Secret Wars, anyway.”
As for the story itself, there are a few nice exchanges between the characters as they say goodbye, but the action scenes are disappointing. The heroes spend a lot of time ganging up on forcefields and bubbly energy patterns, but none of the characters are really able to use their powers in distinctive ways. Onslaught remains a generic “destroy everything” villain, who can do nonsense such as creating a new sun. This adds nothing to the story, and it seems like the heroes quickly forget about it as soon as it appears (I guess it’s supposed to be the source of the wind that constantly surrounds the characters, but it’s not clear). I assume the scene was used as foreshadowing, to show that Franklin’s powers can create planet-sized bodies. Marvel’s editors had already decided that Franklin would be the means of returning the characters to the Marvel Universe when “Heroes Reborn” was over, which was at least some level of future planning. Even so, in this issue it’s a strange plot development that goes nowhere.
As the conclusion to a storyline that had been building for over a year, this is undoubtedly a disappointment. Almost none of the clues leading up to the villain’s reveal match up, and characters who where supposed to be Onslaught’s faithful servants have disappeared by the time the event begins. At the very least, Mimic and Blob could’ve replaced the omnipresent Sentinels in any of the numerous tie-ins. The Punisher fighting the Blob could’ve been fun; instead we got an issue that barely used the Sentinels as the setup for an unrelated story.
There’s a sense of half-heartedness surrounding the entire event, which is the exact opposite feeling the Age of Apocalypse storyline evoked. AoA managed to create an entirely new world, keep a remarkable amount of consistency amongst the various titles, and actually have a point outside of shock value. Charles Xavier’s importance to the world was demonstrated by showing what would’ve happened without him, which is a legitimate premise for a long-term storyline involving a large cast of characters. Now, Xavier has been turned into a villain because of the events of an unrelated storyline published three years earlier. He becomes the most powerful threat the Marvel Universe has ever known, and then proceeds to do absolutely nothing over the course of a dozen titles. He’s never given a plan or a motive, until the very end of the storyline when he just decides to kill everybody. It doesn’t make anything resembling a statement about the character, and Onslaught never even becomes an interesting opponent for the heroes to fight. The initial tie-ins got some material out of the heroes’ response to the events, but after that the characters do nothing except fight Sentinels, chat with each other, and develop futile plans for stopping Onslaught. Like so many other crossovers, it just becomes a waste of time.
With Avengers, Fantastic Four, Iron Man, and Captain America licensed outside of Marvel’s offices for over a year, a new status quo was created within the Marvel Universe. Marvel could’ve pretended that the Lee/Liefeld books were still in the Marvel Universe and just ignored any continuity problems, but I suspect this was unthinkable at the time. An entire storyline had to be created to explain where the heroes have gone (one which unfortunately cannibalized an existing X-subplot and made it even more nonsensical), and the characters Marvel still controlled had to react to the loss. This did create an interesting new scenario, where more obscure heroes had to take the place of the missing icons, as mutant heroes where blamed for the heroes’ deaths. I seem to recall Marvel getting some mileage out of this, although it’s clearly a case of making the best of a bad situation.
“Heroes Reborn” became a commercial success, as much as that could be judged in the post-boom period of comics sells. Critics hated most of the titles, but the stunt was successful in renewing interest in characters that Marvel has been neglecting for years. The story that went around at the time was that losing so many of their characters embarrassed Marvel’s employees, and inspired them to try harder when the rights reverted to them in 1997. This lead to some of the X-artists being assigned to more traditional titles like Fantastic Four and Captain America, while Silver Age revivalists such as Kurt Busiek and Mark Waid were hired to do new stories that also brought the characters back to their roots. Rather than making the Avengers more like the X-Men, the goal now was to make readers realize what made the Avengers cool in the first place.
In some ways, the post-“Heroes Reborn” era began the X-line’s descent as the industry’s dominant commercial force. The biggest artists weren’t automatically assigned to the X-books, which sent a message to readers that Thor could be just as important to Marvel as X-Men. Soon, second-string titles like Daredevil were getting high-profile relaunches (as part of a deal with Joe Quesada’s Event Comics, which resembled the “Heroes Reborn” deal but didn’t place the characters in another reality) and rivaling the X-titles in sales. The success of Quesada’s relaunches (and, allegedly, anger over editorial’s inability to capitalize on the success of the first X-Men movie) allowed him to replace Bob Harras as Editor in Chief in 2000. Joe Quesada once said that he couldn’t keep the various X-characters and their spandex outfits straight, a sign that he didn’t hold the numerous mutant characters in the same esteem Bob Harras (who had been editing various X-titles since the ‘80s) did. The X-franchise still holds weight, or else Marvel wouldn’t be publishing so many spinoffs, but the commercial appeal has obviously dwindled under Quesada. The majority of the titles are now mid-level books that turn a profit and have a fanbase, but don’t set the sales charts on fire. It’s common to see low-selling X-books cancelled these days, which would’ve been unthinkable during most of the ‘90s. Without the commercial success of “Heroes Reborn”, and the Onslaught storyline that preceded it, it’s conceivable that the comics landscape would look very different today.