Credits: Whilce Portacio & Jim Lee (plot), Chris Claremont (script), Whilce Portacio (penciler), Art Thibert (inker), Dana Moreshead (colors), Mike Heisler (letters)
Summary: The Riders of the Storm attack X-Factor with the brainwashed Crystal and Medusa. The team is taken captive, until the Inhumans arrive as reinforcements. Askani helps Beast and Marvel Girl free Nathan from Apocalypse’s crèche. They discover he’s been infected with a virus. Nathan drags Marvel Girl into the Astral Plane, where she faces Nathan’s mental recreation of Apocalypse. She pulls Cyclops into the Astral Plane for help, and in the physical reality, mentally guides him. With an intense optic blast, Cyclops eradicates Apocalypse. Askani offers to take Nathan to the future, where he can be cured of the strange virus. Cyclops reluctantly agrees.
Apocalypse claims that killing Nathan will, somehow, seal the fate of the Twelve. Images of the Twelve flash during the story, but the only characters that can be clearly made out are Cable, Xavier, and Storm.
After taking X-Factor captive, Apocalypse tells them that he can now pursue what has always been his true goal: stealing their powers so that he can become a celestial menace.
Marvel Girl still claims that her telepathy is gone, and is relying on Nathan’s powers during the story.
Askani tells Cyclops that she’s the only one in her clan who can travel back in time, and that this is the final time he’ll see Nathan. Why she’s so confident that she’ll never be able to time travel again isn’t clear.
Ship tells X-Factor that he’s “intermerged (his) substance with Nathan’s” in order to slow down the virus’ growth. When Cable is finally revealed as Nathan, we learn that Ship traveled with him in the future and later became his computerized companion, the Professor.
The virus is never actually referred to as a “techno-organic virus” this issue, but the art does make it clear that some cybernetic technology is taking over Nathan’s body.
The Watcher delivers a soliloquy on the final page, as images from other X-titles appear around him. One of them features Cable, which inspired a lot of the early fan speculation that baby Nathan is now Cable. Apparently, Jim Lee had already decided that Cable should be Nathan at this point, while Rob Liefeld had plans to reveal Cable as a future version of Cannonball.
Review: Combine the dense plotting of Whilce Portacio and Jim Lee with the dense scripting of Chris Claremont and you get an issue-long fight scene that feels like it takes an hour to read. As an excuse to write out an infant character that was now considered a nuisance, this is actually much better than it has any right to be. Casting Cyclops as narrator of the story is a great decision, especially when you consider that the plot leaves virtually no room for the characters to actually interact with one another and process what’s going on. At least all of those captions can sell some emotion. As much as some fans would like to believe that Claremont “hated” Cyclops, I think he always had a firm grasp of the character and knew how to make the stoic Cyclops genuinely sympathetic.
As the story races through numerous fight scenes and abrupt plot developments, Claremont keeps Cyclops’ voice as a steady presence, reminding us of his love for his son and his guilt for not being the father he wishes he could’ve been. Claremont does a lot of the heavy lifting this issue; what easily could’ve been a ridiculous two-page scene that has Cyclops shipping his baby off into the future, never to be seen again, manages to be a be appropriately sweet and sad. And the bizarre decision by Portacio/Lee to give the only conversation scene in the issue to Cyclops and Charlotte Jones is deftly handled by Claremont, as he allows Cyclops to rationalize his decision to a layperson who hasn’t seen a lot of time travel or techno-organic viruses in her day.
Aside from completing the mercenary act of getting rid of baby Nathan, the basic plot of the issue is easily forgettable. Tons of characters, lots of fighting, but barely any room for any impact to be felt or plot threads to be resolved. Why waste time on showing how Crystal and Medusa are freed from their brainwashing when those pages could be spent on more fight scenes? The only hint that the plotters appreciate the significance of the issue comes on the final page, as the Watcher appears to deliver a one-page monologue, much as he did in the final chapter of “The Dark Phoenix Saga.” And, once again, Claremont rises to the occasion, mirroring the Watcher’s original speech while also finding some poetic justification for Cyclops’ decision this issue. The words are pretty enough to save the issue, but if you take the time to contemplate the story, it's a little too Image-y to be an approriate ending for this era of the franchise.