Jonathan Dobres

x-men re-examined: come the apocalypse

Air date: February 27, 1993

“Come the Apocalypse” peaks with its title. Disney Plus’s log line for this episode is, “Apocalypse turns mutants into the Horsemen,” and that about sums it up. It’s a rather poor first showing for Apocalypse, especially in light of the ominous buildup he was given in the last episode.

For the benefit of the uninitiated, Apocalypse is an ancient mutant (possibly the world’s first) with a limitless array of powers and abilities. Born far more powerful than any other being of his time, he became obsessed with the cultivation of ever greater power. Embracing the mantra of survival of the fittest, his goal is to create a race of elite super-mutants and destroy everything else, human and mutant alike. He is Professor Xavier’s worst fear, an all-powerful madman who cannot be reasoned with.

He hastily picks out four mutants from among those who have come to Muir Island for its “cure” to act as his extremely on-brand Four Horsemen. They emerge from the transformation with enhanced abilities, a unifying desire to do Apocalypse’s bidding, ugly new character designs, and extremely stupid-looking robotic horses to ride around on. Angel has become Death (also called Archangel once or twice here), Plague (previously seen with the Morlocks) has become Pestilence, and two others are Famine and War.

Apocalypse announces himself at Paris’s Conventional Weapons Disarmament Conference with the words, “I AM APOCALYPSE! LOOK UPON THE FUTURE! AND TREMBLE!” The animation is ridiculous. Apocalypse basically T-poses in front of the conference’s chairman. John Colicos’s vocal performance (or maybe the editing) is dialed to 11 but equally stiff. This episode makes Apocalypse look like an absolute clown.

Xavier sends the X-Men to deal with the Horsemen, while Rogue heads back to Muir Island to finally put together the pieces about the fake mutant cure. The diversion to Scotland is short, but more fun than anything else in the episode. Rogue immediately overpowers “Adler”, who reveals herself as Mystique and tells Rogue everything, including the location of Apocalypse’s lair at Stonehenge. Lenore Zann is reliably great as Rogue puts Mystique on the back foot, and there are a couple of nice animation touches, like Mystique transforming only the half of her body that’s facing Rogue (a cute wink at the fourth wall).

The Horsemen have by this point fanned out for a montage of misery, but between their debut in Paris, these random scenes of mayhem, and the upcoming fight at Stonehenge, it’s hard to track. The X-Men manage to knock Pestilence unconscious, who is scooped up by Archangel. The team then follows the defeated Horsemen to Stonehenge (you’d think Rogue might’ve just radioed them to bring them there).

Apocalypse is, needless to say, unhappy that his elite Horsemen have been defeated by mutants he didn’t personally handpick. The team has it easy in the final fight, so much so that the episode finds time for a nice Hero Shot of the team looking very rad. Rogue uses her power draining abilities on Archangel, which undoes his brainwashing and ends the fight, though he still looks super weird. Apocalypse retreats via his spaceship (???), and Archangel expresses remorse and shame over being unable to control Apocalypse’s evil influence.

I’m torn on whether Apocalypse’s various actions here are intended to show that his long-held god complex is out of step with modern times, or just bad writing. Centuries ago, sure, any four mutants he chose to elevate would have wiped the floor with the human race. But now there’s this paraplegic psychic in upstate New York who’s spent years training an elite team of mutants all his own. Maybe Apocalypse shouldn’t have just picked the first four mutants he liked at Muir Island!

Stray observations:

  • As the season has gone on, I’ve noticed that it often uses a stealth two-part structure. This isn’t “The Cure: Part 2”, but Rogue is definitely still the episode’s main character. She has snappy one-on-one scenes with Mystique and Apocalypse (again, Zann is the show’s best actor), and typically has the most to say in the ensemble scenes.

  • Just before transforming Angel, Mystique-as-Adler tells him that he will soon be, “free of the pain caused by your mutantcy.” Mutantcy?

  • Gambit continues his S-tier flirting with Rogue. “You can drain my energy any time, cher. Gambit has plenty.”

  • As far as I’m aware, this is the first episode where Wolverine calls Cyclops “Cyke”.

  • This is the episode with the infamous shot of Rogue’s rear. A certain segment of the fandom brings up this specific screenshot to complain that X-Men ‘97’s animation isn’t “faithful” to the original. I think there’s no denying that the animators were having a good time in what was otherwise a pretty poor-looking episode, but this is hardly representative. In the ten episodes I’ve watched so far, the men are much more frequently on display than the women. There’s a reason that X-Men has such a huge gay following, folks.