Friday, December 23, 2016

The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus

It's that Yuletide time of year again. Previously, I have spoken a bit about Christmas memories, some of my favorite TV Specials, some of my favorite Christmas Movies, and of course, various adaptations of the amazing perennial classic A Christmas Carol. But one key, central figure to the entire Christmas mythos that I have not yet truly breached, is that of the most iconic character associated with the holiday: Santa Claus himself.

Yes, you read that right. It may well be that the modern incarnation of "Christmas", is based on the Christian myth of the birth of Jesus Christ, their messiah. Even the word itself, derives from "Christ-Mass", meaning a religious observation of the "miracle birth". But the fact remains, that not only is a vast portion of the world population (meaning billions) not Christian of any denomination, but even biblical scholars state that if Christ existed as a real person, based on historical evidence, he was very likely not born anywhere near December 25th at all. Thus, with the 20th Century rise of the more secular (and also sadly commercial) presentation of Christmas as a world-wide holiday, the popular figure of Santa Claus is in fact more iconic with the day, regardless of the etymology of the name.

A more classical image of Santa.

Of course, much like the modern Christmas holiday itself, the modern image of Santa Claus is, at least as far as historians and anthropologists are concerned, himself an amalgamation, a mish-mash of various elements drawn from many sources. The typical root association is with the historical figure of "Saint Nicholas", a Greek who lived in the 4th Century, who among other things, grew in infamy for his penchant of giving gifts and general generosity, especially towards children. The other, even older possible (or likely) influences, are mythical pagan, pre-Christian figures, such as Woden (the Germanic Odin), or the Welsh (Celtic) Gwyn ap Nudd, both associated with the Otherworld and the "Wild Hunt", the harvesting of souls ready to cross over. Odin rode a mighty steed with eight limbs, similar to Santa's "Eight Tiny Reindeer", and Gwyn ap Nudd was associated with spectral hounds, most specifically Dormach, who was said to have a "ruddy" (as in red) nose.

Christmas itself, of course, has more pagan roots than it does Christian, as it too is a mish-mash of various cultural traditions, including Norse/Germanic "Yule", with it's the tradition of the "Yule Log" which gave way to the modern Christmas Tree. It also draws from the Celtic celebration of the Winter Solstice, which of course involved feasts, stories, merriment, and gift-giving. The historical figure of Saint Nicholas of Myra, later became mish-mashed with the Dutch figure of Sinterklaas and the English "Father Christmas", both emblems of generosity and merriment, and both notorious gift-givers. If you want to get super obscure, there are other folkloric figures of a similar mold, many of which very NON-Santa-like, at least in appearance, such as the Italian "Befana", or "Christmas Witch", who like Santa would give well-behaved children gifts, and badly-behaved children coal, or sticks, etc.

A more modern depiction of "Kris Kringle".

Santa with his loving wife, "Mrs. Claus".

Regardless of the etymology, the figure of Santa Claus is one that is known and beloved throughout much of the world, especially in "The West". And while as documented in past articles, I grew up raised by a fairly strict (though very odd) Christian, in my later years I came to associate the holiday more with Santa than anything. And I have always loved the character, even as a child. Not merely because I thought he brought me presents, though that certainly helps. In one of her better moments, when I was about 9 years old, my grandmother even somehow arranged for me to be in bed, and then suddenly heard "sleigh bells", which of course I could swear were coming from outside, before I was allowed to leap up and go look.

I also loved the character because he was this warm, generous, friendly and compassionate figure. Santa was a guy who cares about everybody, regardless of ethnicity, or nationality, or religion. He's a figure of good will, and "being good to one another". And naturally, my love of him was helped along by the many various depictions in the media, on television, most especially in the form of Christmas specials. Several of those came from one company, the great production house of Rankin/Bass (the creators of my beloved 1977 The Hobbit animated feature), such as "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" and "The Year Without Santa Claus", etc. But there was one special that always stood out to me, even though they only really played it on TV when it was new, in the 80s, above and beyond all the rest. And it is that special that I'm really here today to talk about, because to me, it tells the best "Santa Myth" there is.

Not your typical Christmas story.

Based on the novel of the same name, by author L. Frank Baum, creator of the "Wizard of Oz" world and stories, originally published in 1902, the Rankin/Bass stop-motion TV Special aired on December 17th, 1985. What makes this tale so unique, and what makes it stick out the most to me as an adult, is that it comes off far more like a piece of classical mythology, or a fairy tale. I don't give a ton of "lip service" to it, because this is an entertainment blog, but in my teens and on into my adulthood, the spirituality that I "came into", that makes the most sense to me, without really getting into it too much, is most easily described as "Celtic Paganism". A belief in the reverence of Nature, the intertwining of the spirit and physical worlds, the idea of cyclical reincarnation, and the concept of the "Awen" or "Flowing Spirit" that creates and flows through all living things (kind of like Chi or The Force), etc.

So to me, this take on the Santa myth really strikes a lot of chords, while still remaining true the core essence of the figure, which is important. The story begins when The Great Ak, Lord of the Forests, an antlered entity who is probably derived from the Celtic deity Cernnunos, discovers an infant boy, abandoned near the edge of the mystical forest of Burzee, where mortal humans are generally not allowed to enter. Having compassion for the child, he decides to save him, and brings him before the Fairy Queen to decide what should be done. They initially decide to allow the lioness, Shiegra, to raise the boy, as she takes an instant, maternal liking to him, and she takes him away to her den to sleep.

The Forest Nymph, Necile.

But in the meanwhile, during a discussion on the nature of children, and how Immortal beings like fairies do not have children, one of the fairies named Necile, realizes that she would very much like to know what it would feel like to be a mother. So, giving in to her curiosity and desire, she sneaks away to the lion's den, and takes the baby with her, intent on raising him herself. Of course, when Shiegra the lioness wakes to find the baby gone, she is furious, and goes roaring through the forest after him. The matter comes before the Fairy Queen, who finds Necile with the child, and Ak, who comes to see what the commotion is about. And after Necile makes her case, that she could be a good mother and care for the boy, it is finally agreed that she will be allowed to raise him, with the help of Shiegra, who will be his protector.

Already not your typical Santa mythos, eh? To recap, baby Claus, as Necile names him, is raised in a magical forest by elves, fairies, a lioness and other wild animals, and a great Forest God. Not too shabby. As part of his education, young Claus is taught by the Sound Imp, Tingler, to speak a wide array of languages, including human, animal, fish, bird, and other more magical entities. This of course helps lay some foundation for why Santa as an adult can relate and communicate to people all over the world. He is taught a great many other things as he grows up by his magical forest friends, so that by the time he reaches his teens, he is incredibly well educated.

Young Claus flying around the world with the Great Ak.

When he is old enough, Ak decides to take Claus to different places in the world, to see the world of man, his own kind, which he thus far has not experienced. This is done so that he can better understand the world he will have to live in when he grows up, as adult mortals cannot stay in the Forest of Burzee. This trip winds up being an incredibly formative moment for Claus, as he is forever changed by what Ak calls "Man's Inhumanity to Man". He is shown war, strife, poverty, and even child abuse. He is horrified by it all, of course, but seeing children being mistreated, and even left homeless and ignored out in the street, seems to affect him the most. It is then that he decides that he wants to do good things, to help the children of the world.

Tingler, Claus, and Shiegra, heading out into the world.

When he finally reaches adulthood, as he can no longer stay in Burzee, he sets out into the human world, to make his own way. Tingler the imp is sent with him, as well as (in the TV special at least) his "second mom" Shiegra the lioness, to protect him. He eventually settles in the oddly named "Laughing Valley", and makes a house for himself there, with the help of fairy folk, of course. He makes a habit of doing things like reading to the local children, befriending and teaching them. He becomes a well regarded figure by most in the valley. One night, he helps a lost boy who is out in the snow, and upon seeing his black cat Blinky (who had been a housewarming gift from his "mother" Necile), the boy takes an instant liking to him, exclaiming how he'd love to have a kitty just like that. Claus, who had been whittling wood, decides to surprise the boy in the morning, by presenting to him a wooden facsimile of Blinky, which he calls a "toy". The boy is thrilled, and when other town's children see the toy, at first they want one too, though they eventually decide to share it.

Fully grown Claus finds his calling.

Seeing how happy the toys make the children, Claus feels he has finally found his calling, and with the help of Necile and other fairy folk, he sets to work making lots of toys for the local children of the valley. He makes so many that it's hard to carry them all without a sleigh, which they ask Peter Knook, the Master of all Animals, if they can borrow some reindeer to pull. He agrees, begrudgingly, but only for one night per year, which they agree should be Christmas Eve (as Fate would have it). However, there's a problem. In the interim, toys have been getting stolen by some rather nasty characters called the Awgwas, giant goblin/troll-like creatures, who dislike that Claus has been making the children happy, because it is their lot in life to influence human children into mischief and bad behavior.

You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.

Initially Claus works around this new stumbling block, by delivering toys at night to keep them away from the Awgwas. He even has to improvise, getting into locked houses at night, by going down the chimney, leaving toys in stockings drying by the fire. Or in other places still, without fireplaces, he leaves toys hanging on nearby trees. But the monsters don't let up, and eventually steal too many of his toys. If Claus can't get the presents back from them in time, he'll miss his "one night a year" opportunity, and have to wait a whole year. And beyond that, with all the presents stolen, he and his fairy friends can't make enough toys in time to meet the deadline either.

Two of my least-liked critters: Snakes and Spiders.

The King of the Awgwas, who by the way can turn themselves invisible, even goes so far as to have Claus kidnapped, and taken to a cave guarded by monsters, so that he can't possibly deliver more presents. Ultimately, the Great Ak comes and tries to reason with the Awgwas, but they won't relent, so he is forced to declare war on them. Yes, war, in a "children's cartoon" (or book).

Necile is a bad ass! Don't mess with Mama!

So the denizens of the forest come, animals, fairies, imps, and the Ak, face off against an army of Awgwas, and Three Eyed Giants, and Goozle-Goblins, and Black Demons. The monsters are formidable, but they're not immortal, nor do they have the great power of the forest on their side. There is even a scene, shown above, where a great Asian styled Dragon tries to fry some of the fairies with fire, but Necile, presumably fighting for her "son", uses fairy magic to blow the fire right back in his face and burn him to a crisp. Pretty drastic for a story about Santa, eh?

The Great Council of Immortals

The monsters are no match for the forces of Burzee, and though Claus does not see the fighting himself, the Ak simply tells him later that "the Awgwas have perished". So he is now free to help the children of Laughing Valley, and indeed the world, as he pleases. He uses his one night with the reindeer to go all over the planet, delivering presents to children no matter where they live, and in time, this earns him the status of a Saint, and hence the title "Santa Claus". But with time, too, he grows old, and the Great Ak senses that his time is near. The special itself is actually framed by this plot point, as in the beginning we are shown Ak calling together the Council of the Immortals, and the story unfolds with Ak telling it, as a way of explaining to them why he believes Santa deserves to be gifted the "Mantle of Immortality".

The Commander of the Wind Demons

The Council themselves are a colorful and memorable lot, which include our friend the Fairy Queen, a batlike Commander of the Wind Demons,  the King of the Knooks, the Master of the Sound Imps, The Queen of the Water Spirits, The King of the Ryls, the Lord of Sleep Fays, the Grand Duke of Light Elves, and his princes Flash and Twilight. And of course, the Great Ak himself. He tries to convince them that the work Santa does is too important to allow him to die of old age, and that he should be given Immortality so that he can continue it indefinitely. At first, the other Immortals, especially that creepy Wind Demon guy, are quite skeptical that ANY mortal human deserves such an honor. But by the end of his tale, after hearing of Claus' character and all his many deeds, even the Wind Demon is convinced, and as Santa lies on his deathbed, telling Tingler and the others to decorate a Christmas Tree in memory of him, he is given the Mantle, and thus becomes immortal.

The Great Fairy Queen.

So there you have it. The synopsis of what is, to me, a pretty great origin story for good ol' "St. Nick". Seeing this as a kid really stuck with me, and when I was older, thinking back and trying to remember it, I remember being surprised that my grandmother would have let me sit and watch it at all. I guess she somehow didn't catch just how pagan the whole affair seemed, what with fairy folk and elves and gods and monsters, and Santa being given immortality. And, presumably, his magick powers he is often attributed with (such as being able to shoot back up chimneys in the blink of an eye). As a side note, this special is also significant, because it was also apparently the LAST major Rankin/Bass stop-motion special they would make, which is both cool, and sad.

To me, Santa has always been a character of mythical proportions. A wizard at the very least, or perhaps even a sort of divinity unto himself, like a kind of "God of Cheer and Giving" or something like that. Or perhaps he's just a nice guy who likes to do nice things, because he believes the world could use a bit more kindness. Either way, Santa Claus is a symbol, an emblem, of what Christmas-time, whether you're a Christian, or a pagan, or even an agnostic or atheist, is really supposed to be all about: fellowship with our fellow humans, being nicer and more caring to one another, acting civilized and trying to cause each other some joy, instead of so much suffocating misery.

To me, I think even in the context of this story, young Claus probably decided to focus on helping children, because perhaps he felt that adults were too set in their ways and hard to reach. That, perhaps, by reaching children, and showing them kindness and generosity, that they might grow up to extend the same to their own children, and their fellow man. Perhaps Santa believed, as I do, that it is really through children, and future generations, that we have any real prayer and hope, of building a better, brighter tomorrow. And that's the "Spirit of Christmas", after all, right?

"Peace On Earth, Good Will Towards Men".

 Certainly food for thought. And whether you, like me, even as an adult, like to believe in some form of Santa Claus, or you don't really celebrate the season at all, I hope that you all have a very Happy Holidays, and here's to us having, against all odds, a very good New Year!


Monday, November 21, 2016

Comic Chronicles: The Age of Apocalypse Pt. 1 - The 80s

As a bit of a follow up to my previous X-Men: The Animated Series article, there were more threads I wanted to talk about in relation to the show, and it's similarities and differences with the comics, but decided for time and flow, to save some of that discussion for another day. I also wanted to cover my favorite X-Men comics era, the early-to-mid-90s, mostly written by one Scott Lobdell, who because of his work on those X-books, is arguably my favorite comic writer of all time. Several very strong stories arcs were written in that time period, many of which directly influenced the 90s cartoon that was happening basically parallel to it, before the comics (and the show) started gradually going downhill in the later 90s (in the comics' case, after Lobdell abruptly left). One of those stories, was a great, though very dark, self-contained alternate reality that took place over the course of about five months in 1995, called "The Age of Apocalypse".

Obviously,  by it's name, you can see that it is based around one of the best and most powerful X-Men villains of all time, "Big A" himself. What you see above, is what he looked like in one of his very first appearances, and while his visage would evolve somewhat over time, he ever remained the towering, threatening ancient force of evil. So this article is going to be kind of a bridge piece, if you will, as it is going to focus mostly on Apocalypse, and things related to him, both in the comics, and in the 90s animated series.

It all began with the Phoenix...kinda?

So, for a bit of history, in one of the most famous stories in X-Men (and comics) history, "The Phoenix Saga", which originally took place back in 1977, the X-Men had an adventure in space, fighting Sentinels, which upon their attempted re-entry of Earth, Marvel Girl (Jean Grey), had to use her powers to pilot the ship, because of dangerous radiation that could prove lethal to everyone else (who were inside of a shielded probe). Her telekinetic shields were not strong enough, however, and she herself was dying from the radiation, even a she tried to pilot the shuttle to a safe landing. Enter the enigmatic cosmic entity known as "The Phoenix Force", which, in short, is sort of an embodiment of Life itself. The Phoenix senses Jean's mind crying out for help, and it approached her at the last moment, offering to save her...for a price.

The Price of course, was, as readers were originally led to believe, the Phoenix taking possession of Jean's body, so that it could use her as an avatar of itself to fight the mad alien D'Ken, and heal the cosmic M'Kraan Crystal, before it could destroy the universe. The crystal was healed, but unlike in the 90s cartoon version of events, Jean did not plunge with the crystal into the sun, to her apparent death. Instead, she seemed to remain very much alive, and from 1977 through 1980, she stayed on (mostly) as an active member of the X-Men, now going by "Phoenix". Then in 1980, the arguably MORE infamous "Dark Phoenix Saga" sequel story arc took place, and much like the cartoon, the villainous Hellfire Club's Inner Circle, led by the efforts of The White Queen and Mastermind, influenced and corrupted Jean/Phoenix's mind, to the point that Phoenix became addicted to the thrill of committing evil acts. She became a threat on a cosmic scale, leading the alien Shi'ar to seek her destruction to, again, save the universe.

The End...?

...Or IS it?

So, in comic continuity, because they wanted to make a "shocking" splash, or whatever, the character of Jean Grey was dead for around 5 or so years. In the mean-time, long-time writer Chris Claremont, in his infinite wisdom, decided to have Scott Summers (Cyclops) leave the X-Men in grief over his lost love...only to not too long later meet a woman named Madelyn Pryor, who happened to look EXACTLY like Jean, yet no one, not even Wolverine, seems to notice. Claremont eventually goes so far as to have Cyclops lose in a battle of leadership of the X-Men with a POWERLESS Storm, so he decides to retire from superhero life and go have a family with Not-Jean (really, really strong writing).

Thankfully, a few years later, the Marvel powers that be intervened, in my opinion for the better, and decided to make one of the few MAJOR "ret-cons" (retroactive continuity) in comics history that was actually a good decision: they decided to bring Jean back. Of course the problem was, how to do that? It was decided, and then revealed in crossover issues of The Avengers and Fantastic Four, that the Phoenix Force didn't actually possess Jean Grey. Instead, it saved her life, wrapping her in a sort of cosmic cocoon, and left her at the bottom of a bay (why? who knows) to heal. In her stead, Phoenix took on Jean's form, even memories, and began to think it was actually Jean. So the "Jean" that went bad, and ultimately died, was actually the Phoenix Force itself. So the Avengers, in 1986, discover said cocoon, and take it to the brilliant mind of Reed Richards, of the Fantastic Four, to study. Out of the cocoon comes Jean, who thinks she's still piloting the shuttle, and....well, there you go.

In my opinion, THE best X-Men book of the 80s.

So, after Jean recovers her memories (or rather, the memories of Phoenix, from the time spent pretending to be Jean), the FF call up the only X-Man they seem to be able to get ahold of, one Scott Summers, and naturally, he comes running, because it's Jean. Mind you, it initially made him look like a real piece of shit, basically abandoning his wife Maddie and their baby son Nathan (who would grow up to be Cable). But again, thankfully, writers later further fixed the mess Claremont made of things, by explaining that Maddie Pryor was, in point of fact, a CLONE of Jean Grey, created by Mister Sinister, who had his eye on Scott and Jean for years. It was actually his long-gestating plan, to take the child of Scott and Jean, because their genetic templates were perfect to create a "super-mutant" of Sinister's control, but when Jean "died", he created Maddie instead, and used Sith Mind Tricks etc., to both have Scott fall for her, and have no one else notice she looked EXACTLY like Jean (you still with me?).

SO, the point is, you could argue that Jean being revealed to be alive, brought Scott out of whatever kind of spell Sinister/Maddie had him under, and he ran to her because she was his one true (IE real) love. Maddie eventually popped up again, insane and evil, as a weapon of Sinister called "The Goblin Queen", and after her tragic death, Scott and Jean spent a time raising little baby Nathan Summers as their child (since Jean technically WAS his biological mother). In the MEANTIME, Scott and Jean get ahold of the other three original X-Men, Beast, Angel, and Iceman, who had been off superheroing elsewhere for years themselves, and the original five X-Men decide to reunite as the BEST X-Men team (IMO) of the 80s, called "X-Factor".

X-Factor's first true villains, and Apocalypse's first minions.

Enter "Big A" himself!

So, sorry for the detour, but getting BACK to the subject of Apocalypse, ancient, mad, and villainous mutant overlord. In X-Factor's very early adventures together, they gradually run into a group of mutants who call themselves "The Alliance of Evil" (not very subtle, I know): Frenzy, Tower, Stinger, and Timeshadow. It is eventually revealed that their master, is a mysterious mutant known as Apocalypse, a madman obsessed with the idea of "survival of the fittest". As a bit of side lore, Apocalypse was created as THE villain for X-Factor, sort of like the X-Men's Magneto, but that was not always the case. Writer Bob Layton actually wrote the first five issues of X-Factor, and had a major hand in the movement to bring Jean back to life in the first place. The end of X-Factor #5 showed a shadowy silhouette of the AoE's mysterious boss, but he was not originally going to be Apocalypse! Layton and the Marvel editors actually had some far lesser villain in mind, such as perhaps Daredevil's old enemy "The Owl".

But thankfully, for whatever reasons, Bob left X-Factor, and a lovely lady who had long been in the business, and finally got her time to shine as co-creator of the Power Pack comic in 1984, Louise Simonson took over the book from Issue #6 onward. It was, for the most part, actually Simonson who created the character of Apocalypse, wanting a stronger, longer-lasting villain than someone like Owl, and it was largely she who created his backstory of being a mysterious, ancient mutant of unknown age, who wanted to weed out the weak from the strong. In essence, Louise Simonson was Apocalypse's mother! Unfortunately for X-Factor, their first brush with Apocalypse would hardly be their last, and they had no way of knowing just how much he would effect their lives in the times to come.

The Fallen Angel...

In the previous article, I touched upon the character of Warren Worthington III, aka "Archangel", and how he was one of my initial favorites from the cartoon, in spite of him only having cameo appearances. Well, as I would come to learn once I started reading the actual comics in my teens (and later going back and reading every major X-Men and X-related comic from 1963 through the 90s, as an adult), his original fall and transformation were quite different, and quite darker, than the cartoon portrayed. In fact, the poor guy got put through the ringer.

In the X-Men Animated Series, Season 1 storyline "The Cure", Angel is depicted as a man who hides his wings, and is ashamed of them, and is funding research into what he thinks is a "cure for mutancy", because he wants to be normal. And while very well done in the cartoon, and compelling, it's also highly ironic, because in the comics, that couldn't have been further from the truth. Perhaps more than any single other X-Men character, Warren loved his wings, adored them even, and equally loved being a hero. He was a rich playboy, but he also cared about people, and actually took to the streets as a masked vigilante ("The Avenging Angel"), before Professor Xavier offered him a spot on the X-Men (in the 60s). In a world of super-powered characters, many of whom these days are like living gods, having wings and being able to fly might seem like nothing. But back in the 60s, a dude with wings who could fly was, I'm sure, pretty damn neat, and he was a fairly beloved superhero.

The Angel, in his early days.

Angel was, of course, one of the original five X-Men, as already stated: Cyclops, Marvel Girl, Iceman, Beast, and Angel. He had many incredible adventures with them as a teenager, and by his early 20s, the team had expanded to include a new "generation" of members, such as Storm, Nightcrawler, Colossus, and Wolverine. For whatever reasons (mainly poor writing), the original X-Men, against character, decided that the new X-Men could handle things, and they all left, save Cyclops. Angel and Iceman would go on to form a short-lived super-team called "The Champions", while Beast accidentally turned himself black and furry (eventually becoming the more familiar blue), and had a long stint with the Avengers. All three of them would ultimately wind up on the second team known as the "Defenders", and stayed with that team til it's final demise.

It was shortly after these events, by the mid-80s, that Jean was brought back, and they were contacted by Scott to come see her. They formed X-Factor together, and everything seemed right in the world again. Except Fate had other ideas. During one of the early major crossover events of the 80s, called "The Mutant Massacre", a team of murderers for hire, called "The Marauders", were sent (later revealed to be in the employ of Mister Sinister), to wipe out the underground mutant colony called "The Morlocks". X-Factor got involved, and being fool-hardy and brash, Angel got separated from the team, facing the Marauders known as Harpoon and Blockbuster alone. They beat him badly, and impaled his wings, basically nailing him up like Jesus on the cross, and left him to die. He survived, thanks to being saved by Thor, but his wings, sadly, did not.

Apocalypse Makes His Move...

Behind the scenes, Apocalypse was biding his time. He seemingly abandoned the Alliance of Evil after their original schemes failed, and instead, he next appears in the shadows, offering mutants seemingly beyond hope, what at first appears to be a "second chance at life". He appears, quite fortuitously, in the midst of the slaughter of the Morlocks, to offer the old woman known as "Plague", a mutant with the power to spread disease, a way out. He approaches the shy, withdrawn girl Autmn Rolfson, whose touch withers organic things such as plants, with promises of a better life. He offers the crippled ex-soldier Abraham Keiros, a mutant who can create explosive blasts, a change to walk, and thus live, again. The three of him become his Horsemen, Pestilence, Famine, and War, riding the skies atop mechanical monsters of his own creation. The price for his "salvation", as it would turn out, was becoming both completely transformed by, and subservient to Apocalypse's will. Of course, his set was incomplete, for in mythology, there were not three Horsemen of the Apocalypse, but four...

The Fourth Horseman, Death! 


When Warren injured his wings in those Morlock tunnels, they were damaged beyond repair. They started to wither and rot, and had to be amputated from his body, against his wishes, so that he might live. His life was technically saved, but not in his eyes.With the loss of his wings, he became incredibly depressed. He basically thought his life was over. Even though he was rich, famous, and handsome, with "everything most men could ever want", for him his wings, being able to fly, and being a hero, were everything.

Without them, he felt hollow, and so, in a shocking turn of events, he actually tried to kill himself, by rigging his own private plane to explode in the air. However, the mysterious villain Apocalypse, which X-Factor had already briefly encountered, saved his life by teleporting him from the blast at the last second, and made him an offer he couldn't refuse: he would give him wings again. Of course, Warren didn't know the price he would pay to be able to soar once more, but at the time, he also didn't care. He would give anything to, in his eyes, be "made whole again".

The Angel, transformed into Archangel.

The Four Horseman, in the cartoon.

The price, of course, was the same, either in the comics OR the cartoon: he was given new wings alright, deadly organic metal ones, razor sharp with the ability to throw poisoned dart "feathers" as projectiles. And with these new powers, he was also renamed Death, the first horsemen, and chosen to lead his other fellow, transformed mutants, Famine, War, and Pestilence. As the Four Horsemen, they were to serve and enforce Apocalypse's will. And what was his will? Easy. He only wanted to kill off MOST of humanity, with only the truly strong, and in his eyes "worthy" surviving.


Trying to Rise once more.

In the cartoon Warren would eventually be snapped out of his brainwashing by Rogue, and would appear again later, obsessed with trying to destroy Apocalypse as penance, but he was forever changed, touched by Darkness itself. In the comics, this also proved to be true, though it was the apparent death of his best friend, Bobby Drake (Iceman), at his own hands, that brought him back, and turned him against Apocalypse's mad designs. Warren would spend some time away from the team, both lost and feeling like he no longer belongs, though even after he returns, as you can see above, he continues to wear the outfit Apocalypse gave him, and calls himself "Archangel". He would continue to struggle with his Horseman conditioning, and transformation, for years to come, into the 90s. 

They Always Come Back...

Sadly, the near destruction of Manhattan, and the transformation of Angel, were not the last that X-Factor would see of Apocalypse. They persevered as a team, and after losing their original home base, they actually, surprisingly, inherited Apocalypse's gigantic Celestial Ship, which they made their new mobile base of operations. As I said earlier, they also eventually got Scott (and technically Jean's) son Nathan back, and along with the young mutant wards they had taken in along the way, they had something of an oddball mutant family on their hands. The 80s X-Factor, in many ways, not only more resembled what the X-Men were originally supposed to be, as opposed to the dark, brooding, often very erratic Claremont-written X-Men of the 80s. But to me, they also somewhat resembled my OTHER favorite super-team, the Fantastic Four. Like the FF, they were more like a close-knit family, than merely team, as these people had been together since they were still technically kids.

It was really a great run, and perhaps like Scott Lobdell, I'll also someday have to write an article just about Louise Simonson herself. With the end of the 80s, also came the end of X-Factor, at least in it's original form. Their final major story arc, once again involved Apocalypse, and this time, he cut even deeper than before. This time, he was specifically out for revenge against X-Factor for continually getting in his way, but he also had deeper machinations. He came to learn that Sinister, who as it turns out he had a hand in "creating" back in the Victorian Era, wanted Scott and Jean's progeny, both so he could create a race of "super-mutants", but also so he could have a living weapon against his former master, Apocalypse. To keep little Nathan from ever being a threat to him, so he thinks, Apocalypse infects the child with a techo-organic virus that will consume his body and kill him. The only way for Cyclops to save his son, is to send him with a total stranger who shows up to help them, taking him away to a far-flung alternate future where they can hopefully save his life. That son would eventually show back up as the aged mutant mercenary, Cable, but that's a bit of another story...

The 90s X-Men

And the 90s X-Factor

Around late 1990, the X-titles all converged once more (well, at least X-Men and X-Factor), around a storyline dealing with Charles Xavier returning from space (after being gone for far too long), to face his old nemesis The Shadow King, who was conspiring to use or destroy his X-Men and take over the world, and such. At the conclusion of that semi-messy plot, while it sucked that the great Simonson X-Factor run was over (she actually departed after her final Apocalypse story), it did help give birth to what I consider to be the BEST X-Men era, of the early and mid 90s. Charles once again became crippled (long story), and he had 20-something mutants to deal with, from the X-Men, X-Factor, and Moira McTaggart's Muir Island group. A lot of decisions had to be made, and 1991 was a transformative year for the X-titles.

X-Factor, as featured in the 90s animated series.


 The UK group, Excalibur, featuring old X-Men Shadowcat and Nightcrawler, continued on, eventually working with Moira. Xavier's old "teen squad" from the 80s, The New Mutants, came under the leadership of the mutant Cable, and reformed themselves as a paramilitary outfit called X-Force. The X-Factor name continued on, with a completely different group, made up of former X-Men Havok (Scott's brother Alex) and Polaris, as well as Strong Guy, Multiple Man, Wolvesbane, and Quicksilver. The X-Men, meanwhile, reconvened in a re-re-rebuilt X-Mansion, Xavier's palatial estate, with a team around a dozen or so strong. The early 90s comic lineup included: Cyclops, Jean, Wolverine, Beast, Iceman, Archangel, Psylocke, Rogue, Gambit, Storm, Colossus, Jubilee, and eventually, the time lost Bishop. That is, again, the basic team, with a few exclusions, that the 90s animated series would be based around, with their look, their themes, etc.

So I'll draw this one to a close, for now. But as a last bit of teaser, I will share that, of course, Apocalypse was hardly done with this world, nor the X-Folks. In fact, he comes back in some rather big ways, including the eponymous "Age of Apocalypse" storyline I mentioned, which I will cover in the next exciting issue of...Retro Revelations!