Introducing the Horsemen of Apocalypse!
X-Men: Apocalypse, which debuted this past weekend, saw Fox’s X-Men franchise launch their own very different version of the Horsemen than we originally saw in the comics: Storm, Magneto, Psylocke, and Archangel. In honor of their apocalyptic debut on the big screen, let’s take a look back at their first appearance in X-Factor #19.
Though Apocalypse himself first appeared in an earlier issue, X-Factor #19 features the debut of his Horsemen as a team of adversaries for the mutants of the Marvel Comics universe. They are previously mentioned early in the series, and they join together under Apocalypse’s guidance four issues prior, but this issue by wife/husband team Louise and Walt Simonson, features their first big assault against our heroes. The original Horsemen of Apocalypse are Famine (a woman named Autumn, who has an eating disorder), Pestilence (a Morlock named Plague), War (a veteran named Abraham Kieros), and Angel of the X-Men, who becomes Death. They are imbued with the powers you’d expect from folks playing such roles, and they prove to be formidable foes when they launch their first assault against a seemingly fractured X-Factor.
The issue begins with Scott and Jean standing in front of the ruins of Scott’s penthouse. There is a lot of backstory introduced very quickly through some exposition-heavy dialogue, but what I gathered is that Scott and Jean had been forced to fight each other due to an enemy named Cameron Hodge. Scott references that he and Jean had been posing as mutant hunters, but he now seems to regret the idea – and believes that disbanding X-Factor altogether might be the best course of action. However, Jean is a stabilizing force here and, even while Scott – who I normally like a lot in other series – spends most of the issue behaving erratically going back and forth between whining about how much he sucks and then, a panel later, behavior like the encouraging leader we all know and love to the other members of the X-Factor.
Meanwhile, in a decidedly less angsty scene, Iceman and some other mutants are goofing off in the city, skating around on a slide that Iceman made. They are in the midst of a conflict that is also tied to Hodge – Iceman recently went on television to combat the anti-mutant narrative and called for humanity to judge mutants by their deeds rather than their genetics. Which is fair, though it seems that some of the humans in the city think that the gigantic ice slide that is defacing their billboards is a pretty crappy deed.
Apocalypse watches them from afar directly behind them, and is somehow unnoticed. He is playing the secretive villain role, quietly observing the heroes before sending three of his Horsemen after them. The Horsemen, despite being imbued with devastatingly powerful abilities, are still susceptible to who they were as people before joining Apocalypse. They are constantly fighting each other, trying to drag each other down, suggesting that they are each more powerful than the other, and even using their deadly powers against their teammates. Apocalypse rallies the three of them and sends them on a mission to take out Iceman’s group of buddies, suggesting that they focus their energy against their actual foes rather than each other. As they head out to the battle, Apocalypse speaks to Angel, whose wings have been removed, and tells him that he will be the fourth Horsemen: Death. It’s a creepy scene, and Angel’s motivation here makes him the most interesting of the Horsemen. He alone seems driven, above the squabbling over power.
The Horsemen attack is a dazzling display of Walt’s stellar action. In the best sequence of the book, Iceman and his group defend themselves from the Horsemen’s onslaught. They are soon joined by Scott and Jean, and Scott finally gets over himself enough to coach Iceman into delivering an attack that puts a stop to the Horsemen… for now. They are quickly beamed back to Apocalypse, who surely intends to send a complete unit after X-Factor very soon.
The issue ends in classic X-fashion, with lives on the line and even more danger on the horizon. A lot of mutants have taken on the mantle of the Horsemen since their debut in this 1987 issue, and I’m sure there will be more in the years to come. Stay tuned to Blastoff for my next piece, which covers their cinematic debut in X-Men: Apocalypse.
PAT SHAND writes comics (Van Helsing, Vampire Emmy, Disney Princess), novels (Iron Man, Charmed), and pop culture journalism (Sad Girls Guide, Blastoff Comics). You can find him on Twitter @PatShand, where he posts pictures of his cat and livetweets decades old episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer on the daily.