Wednesday, February 19, 2020

The Coming Of... Apocalypse!

It's mid-1986, and Mike Nowlan is a mutant striving to keep himself under the radar--even more than the average mutant who fears discovery. A junkie by choice, Mike shoots up with heroin to keep in check his mutant ability to augment the power of other mutants, as a way to keep those mutants from getting hooked on him.

As difficult a time as Mike is having as is, his problems escalate when, on the run, he attempts to convince his ex-wife, Susan, a former drug dealer, to resupply him--a plea which leads to a veiled threat on his part. That leads to Susan getting in touch with the members of X-Factor, in their civilian guises as "mutant hunters"--and soon they locate Mike in a motor lodge in San Diego, where they try to convince him that they want to help (after getting first-hand exposure to his power). But there are others who have a vested interest in keeping Mike just as he is--specifically, the Alliance of Evil (mutants who are addicted to Mike's power jolts), and the one in shadows who commands them. Kidnapping Susan, the Alliance arrives and gives Mike an ultimatum--provide them another power "fix," or his ex-wife dies. But while X-Factor urges Mike not to submit, he knows he has no choice--and once their power is boosted, the Alliance overwhelms X-Factor and escapes with both Mike and Susan.

Yet who is the central figure Mike is fleeing? Someone whose agenda will benefit from Mike's power, and who makes his debut appearance in this tale.

Now five issues into its new run, X-Factor had successfully reunited the original X-Men members--and its future looked promising in the hands of its co-creators, Bob Layton (scripter) and Jackson Guice (artist). Yet reportedly there were rumblings of discontent due to Editor-In-Chief Jim Shooter's insistence on changes to the stories from scratch--and little by little, the key players behind the book began to disappear. Editor Mike Carlin, leaving after the first issue, was replaced by Bob Harris; and by issue #6, Layton had left, with Guice departing the book after the following issue. Yet in the brief time before the collapse of its innovative core, you had the impression that this time the original X-Men were in good hands and would enjoy the success that had eluded them. Guice seemed the perfect fit for these five--and as you'll see, even the scripting of Layton's replacement, Louise Simonson, whose work I've admittedly never cared for when paired with artist Walt Simonson, was on par with the vibrant, well-paced material that Guice was turning in.

And with the Alliance having dealt X-Factor a setback--in addition to the problems caused by having to maintain a public deception of "X-Factor" as mutant hunters, as well as the continuing friction between team leader Cyclops and Jean Grey, the woman he'd previously believed to be lost to him--Simonson certainly has her work cut out for her.

Yet one worry for Cyclops is at least off the table, with Nowlan keeping mum on what he knows about the connection between the mutant team the Alliance faced and X-Factor. But when the Alliance threatens Susan, he must at least comply with their other demand--that he supplies them with another hit of power.

As was the case with X-Factor, however, the surge has the powers of the Alliance members spike out of control, forcing them to use force to stop him. But there is only one who can bring order to this scene--and he will brook no disobedience in the process.

As we'll see with X-Factor, however, Nowlan isn't the only one struggling with nondisclosure:

But X-Factor snaps back to business when the Beast, Angel, and Marvel Girl are forced to engage the Alliance, with Apocalypse as well deciding to enter the fray with his own version of "drug treatment"--in Nowlan's case, a device designed to block the drugs in his system from his bloodstream, so that his mutant power wouldn't be hindered. And with a direct threat to Susan's life from Apocalypse, Nowlan is forced to accede to the demand from Apocalypse that the Alliance receives a power boost, and the tide once again turns in the Alliance's favor.

Tragically, however, with all the uncontrolled power flare-ups in the room from the Alliance, Susan finds herself caught in the line of fire, and the inevitable occurs.

Obviously Cyclops has received quite the surprise in keeping track of Jean, though given his current state of mind it's easy enough to believe he may only be seeing what he wants to see. Things are far too busy to resolve that here, but it's an interesting seed that Guice and Simonson have planted.

Regardless, Nowlan's attempt at self-sacrifice leads to X-Factor destroying the machine keeping the heroin in his system at bay, regaining the initiative in time to successfully deal with both the Alliance and Apocalypse--though the latter escapes, his plans apparently unaltered to any significant degree.

It's a bit absurd to ask the reader at this point to swallow the fact that the police force waiting outside, with only flashing lights and drawn guns, are equipped to take the Alliance into custody. The only purpose here appears to be to bring the battle to a quick end with the departure of Apocalypse, no matter how implausible it seems.

But our attention is immediately drawn to the scene of carnage back inside, where yet another death on their watch gives X-Factor food for thought as to the course they take from here.

Whatever the alarm Scott feels like raising here, we know in hindsight that it will take about a year (our time) before Jean settles this issue of Phoenix with him. You'd think that the potential danger of Phoenix would be something Scott would want to look into and deal with immediately--but with the turmoil he's already going through with Jean and his wife, coupled with the concerns of X-Factor, the Phoenix will find herself moved to (of all places) the back burner for now.

X-Factor #6

Script: Louise Simonson
Pencils: Jackson Guice
Inks: Bob McLeod
Letterer: Joe Rosen


Tiboldt said...

Early Instalment Weirdness - Apocalypse.

It's great that they made so much of him because in this story he's not exactly 'A' game material. And the Alliance of Evil are pretty much forgettable. Did they ever reappear?

"Hi, I'm Stinger. I was created in the 80's. Can you tell?"

Comicsfan said...

The Alliance made another appearance in a later issue of X-Factor, Tiboldt--incensed at the thought of complying with the Mutant Registration Act and mixing it up with X-Factor once more as a demonstration of the folly of attempting to force that compliance. Eventually they were taken into custody by Freedom Force; and some of their members would appear separately over time.