Monday, March 22, 2010

THE RISE OF APOCALYPSE #1-#4, October 1996 - January 1997

Hammer & Chisel

Credits: Terry Kavanagh (writer), Adam Pollina (penciler), Mark Morales & Henry Candelario (inkers), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (letters), Chris Lichtner & Malibu (colors)

If you were wondering why X-Force had a run of terrible-looking fill-ins in late 1996, this is why. Taking one of the regular artists off his book and placing him on a miniseries was an unusual move, especially when you consider just how ugly Marvel was willing to allow these minis to look. I guess an origin of Apocalypse mini was considered important enough to justify a bigger-name artist like Pollina, although it seems like this still got lost in the sea of X-product Marvel unleashed in 1996.

The story opens five thousand years ago in Akkaba, a settlement near Egypt. The villagers have left a blue-skinned baby to die in the elements, but he’s rescued by Baal of the Sandstormers. Seventeen years later, the baby undergoes manhood rituals as En Sabah Nur. Nearby, a scholar named Logos informs Pharaoh Rama-Tut that Baal is mentoring the “child of destiny.” He sends Ozymandias to find the child, although Ozymandias just wants to kill him. The story ends with Baal taking En Sabah Nur to an underground lair, where a portion of Rama-Tut’s future technology is stored.

Linking Apocalypse to the old Fantastic Four foe Rama-Tut might seem forced, but if we’re supposed to buy Apocalypse as a world-class villain, I think he probably needs some connection to the “core” Marvel Universe. I’m not sure how consistent this is with Rama-Tut’s previous appearances, though, since Kavanagh doesn’t seem too concerned with keeping the details straight. Ozymandias was supposed to be a king in ancient Egypt, not an aide to Rama-Tut, and I could’ve sworn Louise Simonson established that Apocalypse spent his youth as a slave. I could be wrong, but I think previous flashbacks didn’t even show him with blue skin as a youth. Just judging this issue by its own merits, it’s a dull start to the story. Kavanagh does introduce enough action scenes to give Pollina something to do, but the stiff dialogue is often a challenge to endure.

Blood of the Father

Credits: Terry Kavanagh & James Felder (writers), Adam Pollina (penciler), Mark Morales (inker), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (letters), Chris Lichtner and Jennifer Schellinger & Co. (colors)

Ozymandias’ quest to find En Sabah Nur leads to a massive battle with the Sandstormers, which only Ozymandias survives. The battle creates a cave-in underneath their base, which is where Baal and En Sabah Nur were examining Rama-Tut’s technology. Both are nearly killed in the cave-in, but Baal stays true to his “survivor of the fittest” philosophy and offers his stronger son food to survive. Before Baal dies, he reveals that he was one of the villagers who discovered Rama-Tut after he arrived in this timeline (in fact, he named him Rama-Tut). Baal has held on to Tut’s “Eye of the Ages,” which predicted En Sabah Nur’s birth. En Sabah Nur is discovered by Rama-Tut’s vizier Logos, who has grown suspicious of Tut. Logos offers En Sabah Nur a chance to kill Ozymandias if he stops the wedding of Ozymandias’ sister, Nephri, to Rama-Tut.

The dialogue is still too uptight, but the story is more engaging. There is a novelty to seeing Apocalypse as a teenager, mourning the loss of the only person who ever showed him kindness. He’s also smitten with Nephri when he sees her for the first time, introducing an unexpected romantic element. Revealing that one of the peasants who discovered Rama-Tut (I assume a background character from one of his early appearances) went on to become Apocalypse’s foster-father is slightly absurd, but I like it. I do think revealing that Baal endowed Apocalypse with the “survivor of the fittest” philosophy is too much, though. It seems like Apocalypse should’ve developed this without anyone else’s influence, since it’s supposed to be his core motivation.

The Face of the Gods

Credits: Terry Kavanagh & James Felder (writers), Adam Pollina (penciler), Mark Morales (inker), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (letters), Christian Lichtner and Graphic Colorworks (colors)

And now we get to the slave era, as Logos sends En Sabah Nur to work undercover as a slave. Since Apocalypse is essentially an adult at this point, and this period doesn’t seem to last for more than a day, I question how well it fits into continuity, but at least some effort was made for consistency. When Ozymandias whips En Sabah Nur too hard, he falls from a great height. He sees a vision of the goddess Isis, which may or not be a hallucination. En Sabah Nur suddenly explodes with light and grows more powerful. The commotion draws the attention of Nephri, who decides to join En Sabah Nur’s cause.

I was surprised to see the Fantastic Four appear, placing this story at the exact time as Fantastic Four #19. Kavanagh/Felder tie the original Rama Tut story in with the wedding subplot, as Tut declares that Sue Storm will be his bride instead of Nephri. Logos is also placed into custody, as Tut has grown suspicious of him. Tut presents his captives Logos and Nephri to En Sabah Nur, and removes the mask that covers Nur’s face. Nephri recoils in disgust at that distinctive Apocalypse lip design, and because the story needs more of a justification to push Apocalypse over the edge, Tut kills Logos. En Sabah Nur tries to avenge the murder, but is quickly shot down by Tut’s future technology.

Rama Tut actually does seem like a logical choice to play the villain, as his future weapons can present a legitimate threat to Apocalypse. The duo of Tut and Ozymandias (who doesn’t seem to care that his sister is being crucified by Tut) make for a nasty combination, and the story has managed so far to present a believable interpretation of Apocalypse as a young man. He’s not at all villainous at this stage, but he’s driven by revenge and isn’t shy about using his powers, so it isn’t hard to see the direction he’s headed in.

The First Culling

Credits: Terry Kavanagh & James Felder (writers), Adam Pollina & Anthony Williams (pencilers), Mark Morales & Al Milgrom (inkers), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (letters), Christian Lichtner and Graphic Colorworks (colors)

As the story opens, Ozymandias leaves Nephri for dead in a snake pit. She’s rescued by En Sabah Nur, who’s seemingly risen from the dead. Nephri is still frightened of Nur, and when he tries to take her away with him, Ozymandias returns to reclaim his sister. She stands by her brother’s side (which is just ridiculous, since he left her for dead a few pages ago). En Sabah Nur is overcome with rage, declaring his new name Apocalypse. He grows larger for the first time, using his strength to defeat the army. Ozymandias escapes, but Apocalypse soon finds him deep in Rama Tut’s lair. Ozymandias tries to steal Tut’s future technology for his own power grab, but is thwarted by Apocalypse. After Apocalypse violently throws him into Tut’s “Memory Lock,” Ozymandias is overwhelmed with knowledge of the future. Apocalypse declares that Ozymandias will now serve him.

And what of Rama Tut and the Fantastic Four? Their story has played out off-panel. We only see Tut fleeing to the future as the Fantastic Four escape imprisonment. A giant explosion within the Sphinx, which the Fantastic Four assumed to be a booby trap, is actually Ozymandias crashing into the Memory Lock. Now that’s a retcon. I’m willing to defend the addition of Rama Tut to Apocalypse’s origin story, but I wish more was done with the idea. There’s no real reason for the story to be set at the very end of Rama Tut’s reign. While this enables a Fantastic Four cameo, it doesn’t add anything to the story, and in fact shortens the time Tut can participate in the events. I do like the origin of Ozymandias, though, since it explains how exactly he knows the future, and gets around the question of how Apocalypse could’ve endowed another character with powers this early on. The story concludes with Apocalypse visiting Nephri at the end of her life, fifty years later. She still rejects him, while he’s proud not to be a frail human. It’s a successful ending, providing closure and confirming the heartlessness of Apocalypse.

Anthony Williams, a routine X-office fill-in artist, finishes off a large portion of the issue. His style isn’t too dissimilar from Adam Pollina’s, yet this isn’t a perfect match. Pollina’s art has been more exaggerated than usual for much of the miniseries, as Rama Tut and Ozymandias were usually portrayed as barely human caricatures. Williams grounds the art closer to reality, and while this would’ve been helpful in telling Ozymandias and Rama Tut apart in the previous issues, it doesn’t match the established look. I’m not sure what role James Felder played in shaping the story, but thankfully the dialogue became less stilted and overblown after his arrival. Overall, it’s hard not to view this as yet another miniseries, but it does at least tell the story it set out to tell and has some fun along the way.


Teebore said...

I always had a soft spot for this one. But I remember being excited to get a look at Apocalypse's past, and while being ultimately pointless, I liked how it tied in with the FF issue.

ray swift said...

I don't know why should I bother about this mini-series at all?
Apocalypce doesn't has much personality to begin with. He isn't much of a character. His attributes lays more in his unrelenting pilosophy. His a machine of destruction and dystopia. He is more like a symbol. I would say that delving into his past is pretty much like delving into the brood past. Who would want to read a mini-series about the brood origin? Not me for sure.

Also, Apocalypce already has a past. And a good one for that character. He was a slave all of his life. He learned on his flesh the harsh truth of life, of tyrant and slaves. He learned that the only thing that derived people from each other - is power. So when he gets power - and the strongest power that is - he let it effect on the way he is gonna live his new life and make him irreversibly corrupted.
What's wrong with that story? Why can't they just make a one-shot featuring Apocalypce revolution from a slave to a tyrnat?
This new background only feels no different from some of the crap storylines we got from this era. Like a generic bad hollywood movie that going by the same pattern. You got the evil dude, then you got the mentor, the love interest, the tragedy... Everything is so... childish.

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