This post originally ran in November 2014. We are republishing it with the release of the first official trailer.
Congratulations, everyone: We have an Apocalypse on our hands! Fox cast Oscar Isaac as the titular baddie in the upcoming X-Men: Apocalypse. But who, you may be wondering, is this evil gent into whose sinister shoes Isaac is stepping? And what, thematically, does Apocalypse add to the X-Men mythos? Here are five things you need to know about one of the most important X-antagonists of all time.
1. He’s an immortal mutant from ancient Egypt.
This shouldn’t be too much of a surprise if you stuck around for the post-credits sequence of this summer’s X-Men: Days of Future Past. In it, you saw a bunch of Egyptian slaves building a pyramid while a young mutant spun giant stones around in the air. That telekinetic lad was Apocalypse — or, as he was known in his youth, En Sabah Nur. In the comics, he was cast out of his desert tribe for being a freak (he was born with blue and grey skin), then raised by nomads, then enslaved. But after he manifested his mutant powers (we’ll get to them in a moment), he took his revenge on Egyptian society, killing a bunch of people and conquering the region. He’s been around ever since, sometimes ruling nations, sometimes hiding in the shadows, and eventually popping up to regularly torment the X-Men. Oh, and he used to have beef with Dracula back in the day.
2. His powers are confusing and plentiful.
Apocalypse is one of those guys in comics whose only coherent superpowers are “he’s really powerful” and “he’s a dick.” He can sort of do whatever a writer needs him to do in order to fight the good guys. He’s really strong, he can shoot energy beams, it’s extremely hard to hurt him, he can move stuff with his mind… hell, he can even give superpowers to other people. Hopefully, the movie adaptation will have a more specific power-set, because in the comics, his anything-and-everything approach to fights is extremely boring. Despite being nearly omnipotent, he wears armor all the time, often with tubes sticking out of his shoulders. Oh, and he’s really into the color blue for some reason, so all of his outfits rely heavily on azure tones with some occasional grey color-blocking.
3. He wants to enslave humans because he’s really into natural selection.
This is the core of the Apocalypse character. Millennia before Darwin, Apocalypse was obsessed with the survival of the fittest. He thinks mutants are superior to humans, and that humans should therefore be treated as little more than cattle. Back in the 1990s, when Apocalypse’s popularity was at its peak, we got to see multiple visions of Earth as it would be under his meaty blue fist (one was an alternate universe, and the other was a possible distant future), and in them, humans are kept alive but treated with racist disdain and wanton violence. Given that the X-Men are all about peaceful coexistence between humans and mutants, they’re his natural enemies. Honestly, his end-goal isn’t all that different from Magneto’s, except that Magneto is sort of noble at heart and has a deep love for his fellow mutants, whereas Apocalypse is just a totalitarian ass-wipe.
4. He has four “Horsemen” who do his dirty work.
At some point, En Sabah Nur formed an entourage. I guess he was really into the Book of Revelation, because he got four sidekicks and named them his Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: War, Famine, Pestilence, and Death. Interestingly, each has a straightforward role that can be bestowed on anyone, so the Horsemen have a rotating cast. For example, Wolverine was brainwashed and turned into Death for a while, and the Hulk had a period as War. The most notable Horseman convert is Warren Worthington III, a.k.a. Angel, who was turned into Death a long while back and has never gotten over the trauma. In the aforementioned post-credits scene of Days of Future Past, we saw four folks at En Sabah Nur’s side, so we can safely expect the Horsemen (perhaps renamed “Horsepeople,” if Fox wants to be gender-inclusive) to ride into theaters.
5. He’s become increasingly irrelevant in the comics.
There’s a reason Ol’ Blue Lips is only just now showing up in the X-Men movie franchise, eight films in: No one really cares about him anymore. But that wasn’t always the case! Apocalypse was introduced in 1986, and for the next 15 years or so, he was a top-tier Marvel villain. By the mid-’90s, no one could touch his popularity. Remember how I said there were multiple visions of a world ruled by him? Those two stories (Age of Apocalypse and The Adventures of Cyclops and Phoenix) came out within a few months of each other! So what happened? One fatal blow was Apocalypse succumbing to Lost Syndrome: He had a big, dangling mystery whose conclusion was anticlimactic. For more than a decade, there was this prophecy that a group called the Twelve would join up to fight Apocalypse in a potentially world-ending battle, and there was constant hinting about who the Twelve might be. They were finally assembled in a 1999 story line, Apocalypse was defeated, and … that was it. He’s been brought back, but there’s just not that much to do with a character who hates everybody and can do whatever he wants. Here’s hoping they come up with something more nuanced for the next X-flick.