Friday, January 2, 2009

X-MEN: THE ROAD TO ONSLAUGHT – October 1996

Credits: Scott Lobdell (writer), with clips from various back issues providing the art.

Summary: Past events leading to the creation of Onslaught are represented.

Continuity Notes: According to this issue, Xavier’s previous subconscious conversations with Magneto (which had been presented as dreams in UXM #309 and #319), might have been interactions with the portion of Magneto’s soul that entered his body after he wiped his mind. This issue also claims that X-Man pulling Xavier’s presence out of the psionic plane (in X-Man #10) enabled Onslaught to have a physical form. This doesn’t explain how Onslaught punched out Juggernaut in UXM #322, which was published six months before that issue.

The back of this issue has a typewritten summary of Onslaught’s goals and motivations, complete with grammatical and spelling corrections in red ink. (The corrections amuse me…if they knew this was going to see print, why not just go ahead and fix the errors? Was someone in editorial just spellchecking and grammar-checking internal memos that were never intended to be published for fun?) I thought about writing a summary of them for this section, but since the entire segment is already a summary of vague story ideas, summarizing it seemed pointless. Instead, I’m just going to retype the entire thing. Here you go…

What Is Onslaught’s Goal?

A hypertrophic version of XAVIER’s dream of peaceful co-existence between all races. ONSLAUGHT (arguably the world’s most powerful telepath) intends to create a world free of independent thought by bonding all of humanity* into a single Collective Intelligence!

*i.e. humans and mutants

While there might be people who would argue that humanity has been given a fair chance to get its act together, the threat of ONSLAUGHT goes much MUCH deeper than the profound loss of mental freedom.

There is a reason why XAVIER never took the easy way out by using his mind to help create a Collective Intelligence. That is because…it’s not possible.

That is, the human mind is a fragile and complicated thing…it is not capable of joining into a Collective Intelligence! If all minds on the planet were psionically joined together by a single intelligence, each human mind would be completely overwhelmed by this psionic onslaught. (It would be the equivalent of throwing a twig into a river! It would be like all the organic material that is in an orange trying to squeeze itself into the skin of a grape…again, it is not possible. The human mind doesn’t work that way.

While XAVIER long ago acknowledged the impossibility of it all (not to mention the undesirability and all the moral ramifications if it were possible), ONSLAUGHT is megalomaniacal enough to believe that HE (with the proper precautions) is capable of uniting all human minds into a Collective Intelligence. He believes his will is strong enough to sort of hold everyone in the cradle of his mind.

But he is wrong.

And that's what makes him the most dangerous threat the world has ever faced.

Unlike other previous super-villain’s motivations…if ONSLAUGHT succeeds, it means the END OF EVERYTHING.

That is, if all humanity is linked into a Collective Intelligence, despite ONSLAUGHT’s best efforts and megalomanical claims to the contrary, there will NOT BE A SORT OF XAVIERian Utopia. Just the opposite. There will be no thought whatsoever. Every human AND mutant mind on the entire planet will be overwhelmed by this psionic onslaught.

There will be no winners…no survivors…no chance for the classical “small band of freedom fighters to overthrow a tyrannical despot.”

There will be no smoking battlefield where an APOCALYPSE or a DR. DOOM or a SINISTER or a MAGNETO might stake a claim of leadership over a world in turmoil.

No, if ONSLAUGHT succeeds in his stated arrogant-yet-somehow-benevolent goal of creating a Collective Intelligence…it will ultimately mean not only the end of independent thought…but the end of ALL THOUGHT whatsoever, as well as the potential for ANY thought at all.

(This fact is not lost on even the most self-assured super-villains of the world…more on that later.)

How Does Onslaught Intend To Accomplish His Stated Goal of Creating A Collective Intelligence?

1) “Recruit” and ultimately unite two of the most powerful mutant minds on the planet. The easily manipulated child, FRANKLIN RICHARDS…and the pure, primal, untrained psionic energy that rages nearly unchecked through the mind of NATE GREY, X-MAN.

2) Make his intentions known to the planet Earth. That is, “Very shortly, I will be in charge of all your thinking. Do not fear me, for I will be a kind and gentle shepherd to a frightened and confused flock.” Why be so blatant about it?

Shrewd manipulator that he is, ONSLAUGHT realizes that if he lets the world know he is out there – like a shark circling in the water – that it will increase feelings of anxiety and paranoia and fear and hopelessness…all these emotions and the resultant mass hysteria will (a) help raise the level of psionic activity to a fevered pitch and allow him more energy to wield and (b) it will have the added benefit of preparing the weaker minds to be assimilated – this is the psionic equivalent of swabbing alcohol on the skin prior to the injection.

3) Release an army of Sentinels upon the streets of Manhattan. Why – to bully the masses? So that SENTINELS are on hand to pull the heroes off ONSLAUGHT’s back during the final moments?

While ONSLAUGHT would be happy to have you believe he simply wants to use SENTINELS to contain the frightened masses…his motivation is much more devious.

Similarly, in his progressively aggressive state, ONSLAUGHT doesn’t believe he has anything to fear from the insignificant “heroes” of the world.

No, like EVERYTHING he does, ONSLAUGHT has a more devious plan in mind. (After all, one of the most frightening aspects of a psionic omnipotent villain is the fact that you can’t trust what you normally think. It is the art of distraction, the art of hiding in plain sight as it were.)

For the past several months, ONSLAUGHT has been raiding Sentinel Processing Plants and awaying with Sentinel researchers. Why? Well, the rest of the Marvel Universe will take a while to learn this…but it is because ALL SENTINELS are equipped with the ability to cancel out psionic energy in their mutant targets. So, with a little manipulation of the psionic technology within, ONSLAUGHT can create the opposite effect…

Rather than cancel psionic energy, the technological wonders that are SENTINELS are capable of containing psionic energy (i.e., the fear and panic of an entire city of millions), channeling it, redirecting it to a single source… ONSLAUGHT.

Again, it will take a while for the heroes to see past the obvious “SENTINELS terrorize Manhattan” ploy.

4) It is not enough to simply have psionic energy, even vast amounts of it… ONSLAUGHT needs the means to bind all minds together. (Similarly, it is not enough to have all the water you want; if you’re going to put out a fire you need a bucket or a hose or some means to use what you have (water/psionic energy) to achieve your goal (put out the fire/create Collective Intelligence).)

In UNCANNY #332, XAVIER learned of the existence of Landau, Luckman, and Lake and the proliferation of pan-dimensional portals woven throughout the planet! If ONSLAUGHT can tap into that, he can spread his own thoughts troughout the entire planet with a single thought.

To answer the unspoken question, “Why is ONSLAUGHT concentrating on Manhattan?” it is because this is where the Mother of All of these doorways exist…smack dab in the HEART of New York City…

…in the heretofore unseen GRAND CHAMBER of the MORLOCK TUNNELS! (Wow, the resolution of the traitor storyline and the origin of the Morlock Tunnels – this is turning into one hell of a story befitting the subtitle “The Greatest X-Men Story Ever told!”)

Located beneath the entire length of Central Park, at some point ONSLAUGHT is going to expose (i. e. rip the face off of) Central Park to reveal this horrific bubbling “cauldron” of energy that he intends to wield.

How does he intend to wield that energy…?

5) By using GATEWAY.

This story will ultimately reveal/hint at GATEWAY’s origin. We’ll discover over the years he has taken great interest in all psionically powered mutants (XAVIER, M, CHAMBER to name a few) because he knew that they among any others were capable of wielding the ambient energy capable of inadvertently destroying the world. But, because he serves the energy itself…he serves the one who wields that energy! (…not unlike the Watchers who disclaim any moral obligation to help avert disasters, or GALACTUS who sees his acts as nothing more than sustenance).

To recap Onslaught’s Agenda:

1) Recruit FRANKLIN and X-MAN

2) State his intentions to the world.

3) Release the Sentinels on Manhattan.

4) Expose the core of ambient, worldwide energy which exists in the Morlock Chamber beneath Central Park

5) Use Gateway to disseminate his hyper-psionic energy throughout the world using the preexisting Landau, Luckman and Lake energy portals.

Review: Over the years, I’ve heard people describe this one-shot as the initial, superior Onslaught plan; the one that never materialized in the actual comics. This comic wasn’t sold at any of my local stores, and I wasn’t aware of its existence until years later when I read references to it online, so I decided to download it for completism’s sake. Reading through the first few pages, I wondered what people were talking about, since it seemed to be a pretty straightforward recap of Xavier’s history. Then, I reached the final few pages and realized how this one-shot received its reputation. And, yes, most of these ideas never made it into the comics, and the story outlined here is much better than what we got. That doesn’t mean it’s flawless, as the “Sentinels as psionic energy carriers” is totally nonsensical, and we’re given another pointless retcon of the Morlocks’ origin (which used to just be “group of ugly mutants hide from society in the sewers”), but it is an interesting outline overall.

It’s amusing that the elements of the storyline that are acknowledged as cliché and are actually intended to be feints for other plot details, such as the Sentinels attack on Manhattan, ended up without the plot twists in the published comics. So, shockingly, without the plot twists, they’re just stereotypical evil villain actions. I guess Marvel was in a mess during this period, as they published an outline for a story arc that never conformed to the outline…as that storyline was still being published. Was it really so hard to pass this outline out to the various writers and editors involved in the crossover? How did Marvel screw this up so badly?

5 comments:

Aqualad said...

Maybe Marvel was banking on the fact that X-Men fans would buy EVERYTHING connected to the crossover, so there would be no need to expand on these plot points in the comics themselves?

I never read this book, but I wish I had--the "Sentinels In Manhattan" thing didn't make all that much sense. It did give us that issue of Green Goblin where Ben Urich's kid takes out a Sentinel though. That was cool.

clay said...

I believe it was Ben's nephew, not son.

You know, thinking back, that Green Goblin series wasn't bad at all. Short, but a lot of fun.

Teebore said...

Yeah, I have a buddy who loved that Green Goblin series, especially the Onsluaght tie-in ending when he takes down ONE sentinel.

I'm pretty sure this one-shot went a long ways towards ending my childhood belief that everything happening in the X-books was part of a master plan. I remember reading it and thinking "that sounds pretty cool...a lot cooler than what actually was published. Why did none of this come through in the stories?"

Matt said...

I never knew this existed until now! That's a pretty well-thought out outline, and most of it actually makes a lot of sense (motivation-wise, I mean -- I agree that psi-Sentinels are over the top). I wonder who wrote it -- Lobdell? Harras? Waid?

I never read Tom DeFalco's Green Goblin series, but I did enjoy the Spider-Man issues where Ben Reilly fought some Sentinels...

wwk5d said...

The GG issues also have some nifty early Scott McDaniels artwork.

Yeah, the story presented here had the potential to be better than what was presented. Still, the thing to learn from Onslaught is, don't make it up as you go along...plan it our from the beginning so all the hints and early plot points end up making sense.

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