Welcome to this week’s edition of the SHACK HOUSE’s guide to all those pesky X-Men alternate realities. This week, we’ll be covering a huge fan-favorite storyline that had massive ramifications throughout the Marvel Universe. I almost can’t believe it’s been nearly 20 years since its inception. The Managing Editor of Action A Go Go, Troy-Jeffrey Allen, should be writing this since this is his favorite X-Men storyline. But alas, you got me to fill you in instead. And since Bryan Singer is basing the next X-Men film off this storyline, you should get an early start. The Age of Apocalypse storyline was built around one simple idea: “What would the world be like if Charles Xavier never formed the X-Men?” Around late 1994, the writers on the X-books toyed with the idea and came up with a four-part storyline that would lead into the new world that would result from that very idea.
This storyline was known as the Legion Quest. In many ways, it’s the father of the Age of Apocalypse.
The Legion Quest took place in Uncanny X-Men #320-321 and X-Men (Vol. 2) #40-41 (January-February 1995). It was about David Haller, Professor Xavier’s illegitimate mutant son with Israeli diplomat, Gabrielle Haller. David (who goes by the code-name “Legion”) had been in a coma since Uncanny X-Men #280 (Sept. 1991) after the Shadow King/Muir Island debacle. He was a mutant with multiple abilities and personalities, a different one for each power. In the time he spent in his coma, he melded his mind back together, gained full control of his abilities (and then some) and began a single-minded mission: To prove he loves his daddy.
To that end, he accessed a new ability to generate chronal energies to travel through time. The problem is, he took some X-Men with him. Upon arrival in the past, 20 years ago in war-torn Israel, Legion and the X-Men (Iceman, Bishop, Psylocke and Storm) were temporarily amnesiac. In the present day, the fantastically powerful M’Kraan Crystal (a physical manifestation of the nexus point of every reality in existence) was undergoing disturbances due to Legion’s actions in the past. The intervention of Cable’s time-traveling astral form caused all five parties to regain their memories. Legion gained full memory of his mission: To kill Magneto before he becomes a villain. By doing so, he believes he can turn Professor Xavier’s dream of mutant/human peace into a reality. He starts a fight with a young and inexperienced Magneto that tears Haifa, Israel apart. But, here’s the punchline: The X-Men fail to stop Legion in the past when his coup de grâce that was meant for Magneto hits Xavier instead, who sacrificed his life to save his friend. Charles Xavier’s death created a grandfather paradox: Legion and the other X-Men (except for Bishop, who was already a time traveler from 100 years from now) faded from existence since Legion was never born and therefore could not have killed his father. The X-Men disappeared as they couldn’t have followed a now non-existent Legion into the past.
Moreover, Xavier’s death erases the Earth-616 timeline and reboots it with a new one. In the present, a crystalline wave washes over the universe, ending it and replacing it with a new temporal event sequence from the point of Xavier’s death. Legion had actually altered the past instead of merely triggering the creation of an alternate timeline, kinda like the events in Back to the Future, Pt. II.
Enter now…the Age of Apocalypse:
Magneto formed the X-Men in this new reality, inspired by Charles Xavier’s dream of peaceful co-existence between mutants and humans. However, the External High-Lord mutant named Apocalypse chose to dominate the Earth soon after Xavier’s death. For him, the televised battle between Magneto and Legion was the dawn of mutantkind. Apocalypse began his war against humans and mutants (survival of the fittest is his creed) while Magneto trained his X-Men harder than Xavier would have. His rationale was that Apocalypse or the humans wouldn’t go easy on them. His training consisted of his team pushing their powers to their limits. The best examples of this are Iceman, Morph, Dazzler and Sunfire.
Though the X-Men’s efforts were laudable, Apocalypse gained control of the entire North American continent and established mutants as the elite ruling class. Apocalypse functioned more like Adolf Hitler and initiates the mass genocide of humans known as “cullings” He also had all known mutants with time-travel related powers killed, specifically to prevent any time-travel to undo his rise to power. Also, the reboot of the Earth-616 universe resulted in a destructive crystallization wave created by the M’Kraan Crystal. Charles Xavier’s premature death also meant that Jean Grey never became the Phoenix, which meant that there was no one to repair the crystal’s energy lattice. The humans who resisted Magneto formed a group called the Human High Council. They’re in opposition of Apocalypse and mutants in general and believe a full-nuclear strike on Apocalypse’s North America to be the best way to eradicate the mutant ruling class. However, not everyone was changed as a result of the time change.
After 20 years of wandering around the new world with fragmented memories of the actual Earth-616 reality, Bishop eventually encountered Magneto and his X-Men. In a short time, he was able to convince Magneto‘s X-Men that this world was not how it was meant to be. Though suspicious of Bishop’s ramblings at first, Magneto and the X-Men formulated a plan to take down Apocalypse once and for all. He dispatched Nightcrawler to Europe find the blind mutant precog known as Destiny to verify Bishop’s story; former X-Man-turned-Robin Hood Gambit and his team of mutant thieves were sent to outer space to retrieve a piece of the M’Kraan Crystal to find the reality from which Bishop came; while Colossus’ and Shadowcat’s group of junior X-Men (known as Generation Next) were sent to retrieve Colossus’ sister, Illyana Rasputin. Illyana had latent mutant powers which would allow time-travel.
While Illyana and Destiny were brought into the fold, Gambit’s team were soon betrayed by one of their own gave the crystal shard to Apocalypse, where the crystal started regenerating itself into a full-sized M’Kraan Crystal. Moreover, Magneto was beaten and kidnapped by Apocalypse.
With their missions accomplished and Magneto held captive, his X-Men decided to make a final strike against Apocalypse. During the battle, Destiny, Illyana and Bishop entered the M‘Kraan. Destiny’s precognitive powers allowed her to choose the right alternate past to which little Illyana opened a portal for Bishop to go back in time. Arriving moments before Xavier’s death, Bishop used Legion’s powers against him and apparently killed him. He succeeded in preventing Xavier’s death and, with Legion now gone, the other X-Men were sucked back into the proper 616 present. This version of Bishop also disappeared, but the restoration of the proper timeline allowed him to re-access his original younger self’s body since, technically, nothing ever actually happened to him to begin with. Meanwhile, Magneto manages to kill Apocalypse by ripping him in half. In the AoA reality, the Human High Council launched their nuclear bombs against North America while the proper reality is restored.
The crystalline wave that originally changed reality now simply washed over Earth-616 with no changes. However, four refugees from the Age of Apocalypse reality crossed over: The Sugar Man, the Dark Beast, Nate Grey and Holocaust.
Rather than give a break down of group affiliations and detailed descriptions of each character in the Age of Apocalypse, here’s a list of each character:
DEAD MAN WADE
GYRICH, HENRY PETER
Aftermath of the Age of Apocalypse storyline:
1.) During the X-Men’s final battle against Apocalypse, some of his minions escaped that reality via the M’Kraan Crystal. The X-Man (Nate Grey) and Apocalypse’s son, Holocaust, were brought to the present-day 616 reality. The Dark Beast (a more evil version of our own Henry McCoy) and the Sugar Man entered the M’Kraan Crystal and landed 20 years the Earth-616 reality’s past. Their presence allowed future writers to retroactively include them in previously established story arcs. The Dark Beast and the Sugar Man were trained in the use of genetics by the AoA version of Mr. Sinister. The Dark Beast used his knowledge of genetics to experiment on the underground mutant community known as the Morlocks. The Sugar Man ended up on the island of Genosha, where he gave a patriotic Genoshan geneticist named Dr. David Moreau the process that turns mutants into slaves. This process made Genosha an economically prosperous nation. The Earth-616 version of Mr. Sinister recognized his work in both instances. This why the Mutant Massacre crossover occurred: Mr. Sinister wanted to destroy unauthorized usage of his theories and to prevent what he considered pollution in the mutant gene pool, so he had his Marauders kill the Morlocks. However, he didn’t take action against Genosha since the mutate bonding process rendered the mutants sterile and, thus unable to contribute to the mutant gene pool.
2.) It was later established that AoA reality was no longer a reboot of Earth-616, but was now a stand-alone alternate timeline altogether. Its designation is Earth-295. Now, the nuclear bombs didn’t destroy the world. The AoA’s Jean Grey prevented the bombs and Magneto took credit while still leading the X-Men. The truth was eventually revealed and Magneto became imprisoned while Jean Grey assumed leadership of the remaining X-Men. Earth-295 was been revisited in recent storylines in the titles X-Termination and Uncanny X-Force.
3.) Dark Beast and the Sugar Man recognized Bishop as the exact same person who existed in their time line. They tried to have him killed several times in order to keep their existence from Mr. Sinister’s awareness. Bishop’s memories from the AoA plagued him for several issues until he was able to re-adjust.
4.) This one’s not really an aftermath item, but more of an FYI. When Age of Apocalypse storyline took place, it temporarily replaced all the major X-Titles with new titles:
Cable became X-Man
Excalibur became X-Calibre
Generation X became Generation Next
Uncanny X-Men became Astonishing X-Men
Wolverine became Weapon X
X-Factor became Factor X
X-Force became Gambit & the X-Ternals
X-Men became Amazing X-Men
X-Men Unlimited became X-Men Chronicles
5.) Legion eventually re-surfaced, but was reduced back to mutant with multiple personalities and several powers. He eventually gains control of his personalities and powers and temporarily joins the X-Men.
1.) Jean Grey and Wolverine (known as Weapon X) are lovers. Though somewhat attracted Cyclops (who was one of Apocalypse’s squad commanders), she remains loyal to Logan.
2.) Nate Grey (X-Man) was a genetically engineered mutant created by Mr. Sinister from the combined DNA of Cyclops and Jean Grey. His DNA matches Cable, but he’s not an alternate timeline version of him.
3.) The Madri are the clergy of Apocalypse, worshipping him as a god and serving as his eyes, ears and grand inquisitors. They’re all duplicates of AoA’s Jamie Madrox. Mr. Sinister and the Beast generically altered Madrox’s self-replication power to create an infinite number of duplicates. The process left him a drooling shell of a man.
4.) Below is a juxtaposition of certain AoA characters and their Earth-616 counterparts.
All images appear courtesy of the Marvel Entertainment Group.
Sy L. Shackleford is a jack-of-all-trades columnist for Action A Go Go. A UConn graduate with a degree in both psychology and communication sciences, he is a walking encyclopedic repository for all things Marvel Comics, hip-hop, et. al.