Another big-budget superhero movie is in theaters, and you know what that means: a mysterious post-credits scene! If you saw the ninth (!) movie in the X-Men franchise, X-Men: Apocalypse, and stuck around as the Quebecois visual-effects artists were listed and the Teamsters were thanked, you saw a little sequence that probably confused you. The final shot is a tease about the future of the franchise, but it features a reference that will be lost on 99 percent of the non-comics-reading public. Here’s what it’s all about. Spoilers ahead.
Once the dust settles (literally) from the climactic, Cairo-set battle between the X-people and the titular Apocalypse, we return to a secret military outpost that was introduced earlier in the movie. It’s where black-ops military man Stryker engages in experiments on mutants. Logan/Wolverine — known in the facility as Weapon X — was one of them, and the post-credits clip begins with a cleanup crew tending to the trail of dead bodies left in his wake after Jean Grey and company liberated him.
The key person in the dialogue-free scene is a bespectacled man in a suit who walks among the corpses with a purposeful gait. He obtains medical records and a vial of blood belonging to Logan, puts the vial in his briefcase, then closes it theatrically. As it closes, the audience sees it has a large, metallic emblem on it that reads “ESSEX CORP.”
This is a reference to an X-Men villain named Mister Sinister, whose civilian name is Nathaniel Essex. In the Marvel Comics from which the X-franchise sprang, Sinister has a significant history, despite the fact that he's not a terribly fascinating bad guy.* But now that Fox has used up Magneto, Apocalypse, and the Sentinels, they’re running out of great X-Men antagonists. Nevertheless, he’s a recognizable name for anyone who devoured X-series in the 1980s and '90s.
Sinister/Essex is actually very difficult to describe. His basic deal is that he’s a master schemer with vaguely defined superpowers and a fantastically goth aesthetic. In comics mythology, he was originally a human scientist in Victorian England, one obsessed with Darwin’s then-new theory of evolution by natural selection. He had an encounter with Apocalypse, who had been awakened from his centuries-long slumber. The two formed an alliance and Apocalypse granted Essex abilities including superhuman longevity. As such, he stuck around well into the 20th century.
Over time he became fixated on the development of the mutant species. After the world’s premier team of mutants, the X-Men, were formed, he popped up periodically to torment them via extremely convoluted plans. For example, he created a clone of Jean Grey named Madelyne Pryor while Jean was dead and sent Madelyne to make Scott Summers (a.k.a. Cyclops) fall in love with her and have a baby that Sinister could use as a mutant weapon. That baby got sent into the future to be raised by Scott and Jean’s daughter from an alternate timeline, and then the grown-up baby came back to the present as a grizzled warrior named Cable who was devoted to killing Apocalypse. Got all that?
Just to make things more confusing, Sinister’s superpowers are very amorphous. Ever since his 1987 debut in the Chris Claremont–penned and Marc Silvestri–drawn Uncanny X-Men No. 221, he’s variously been depicted as being invulnerable, telepathic, telekinetic, shape-shifting, and able to teleport. He can kinda do whatever the story requires him to do.
That said, one thing he is not generally depicted as doing is running a corporation. So it would appear that the film franchise is taking the character in some kind of new direction. But being a mustache-twirling businessman would certainly fit with Sinister’s overall deal of being a hyperintelligent manipulator. We can only hope that he has the same look he has in the comics: white skin, black lips, red diamond on his forehead, full black bodysuit, absurdly high red collar, and a cape made out of what looks like midnight-colored measuring tape. It’s too bad Alan Rickman’s no longer with us, because, damn, he would have been perfect for the role.
*This article has been updated to reflect the fact that, though he's boring, Sinister is pretty important in the X-mythos.