For nearly two thousand years, the word apocalypse has invoked images of doom and disaster. Derived from the Greek word for the book of Revelation in the Christian Bible, over the centuries the word "apocalypse" has been associated with the end of the world. Taking this word as a name carries no small meaning, so when the mutant choosing to be called Apocalypse first appeared, the first heroes who faced him, and the readers in general, had to ask themselves... does he deserve such a title?
Further, can this villain, if villain he is, compare to the powerful Magneto, who had changed the magnetic polarity of the Earth? Or the unstoppable Juggernaut, against whom strength meant nothing? Or even the unrelenting Sentinels that, in a possible future, had laid waste to the entire planet? Despite what we would eventually learn of Apocalypse's ancient beginnings and his horrific history, when the team known as X-Factor first encountered him, he was leading a farce of a villain team called simply, and inaccurately, the Alliance of Evil.
Chapter I : Come, the Apocalypse
It was a time shortly after the formation of an organization known as X-Factor, founded by all five of the original X-Men. Previously believed dead, Jean Grey had literally resurfaced and rejoined her oldest friends to continue the goal on which Xavier had raised them: the peaceful coexistence between humans and mutants. As they had done while they were members of the X-Men, X-Factor would do battle with militant mutants dedicated to a far different goal, mutant-led subjugation of all humans. One such group called themselves the Alliance of Evil. During the course of an investigation, X-Factor witnessed the abduction of a mutant named Michael Nowlan by the Alliance. Under their master's leadership, the Alliance had been using Nowlan's powers of augmentation to become more powerful, despite the addictive nature of his ability.
Tracking the Alliance to their chateau headquarters, X-Factor did battle with the Alliance and its master, a mutant called Apocalypse. Unlike the Alliance, Apocalypse's powers were overwhelming and indefinable. His entire body, it seemed, could be reshaped at will to become a weapon. According to Apocalypse himself, he could rearrange the molecules of his body as it suited him. During the course of the battle between the Alliance and X-Factor, Nowlan's wife, Susan, was killed. As the guarantee of Susan's life was the means by which the Alliance controlled him, Nowlan now turned on his captors and recalled the energies that he had granted them. Unfortunately for Nowlan, the energies were too great for him to reabsorb and proved fatal. With Nowlan dead, the reason for the conflict was over, as well as Apocalypse's presence. Before departing, however, Apocalypse provided some unusual departing words. [X-Factor (1st series) #5-6]
Were these hollow words, spoken by a minor player in the struggle for the future of mutants? Or hints at a grand scheme of which the Alliance was but a small part? During the course of the battle, Apocalypse had claimed to have worked for centuries toward his goals, but what were they, and how did they affect the mutant world at large? Over the next several weeks, Apocalypse would begin to gather the pieces for his next plan, a plan that would most definitely include the "aid" of the group known as X-Factor.
The first of these pieces would be a mutant known simply as Plague. A member of the reclusive colony of mutants called the Morlocks, Plague lived in the extensive tunnel system beneath Manhattan called the Alley. Some weeks after the conflict between X-Factor and the Alliance, another group of mutants called the Marauders began the systematic annihilation of the Morlocks for their enigmatic employer, Mister Sinister. During the conflict, the mutant known as Plague was saved from the Marauder Harpoon and made an offer.
The second piece in Apocalypse's plan was to be found in the paraplegic ward of a veterans' hospital in Atlanta, Georgia. A former soldier in the US military, Abraham Lincoln Kieros had been paralyzed from the neck down, barely able to speak and was lying in an iron lung when he was visited by Apocalypse and offered a new life.
The next recruit in his plan was not a battle-hardened soldier of war or a walking bio-weapons factory, but something no less deadly: a very angry little girl. Brought up in a domineering family who ran her life, Autumn Rolfson yearned for the ability to do as she willed, yet force that same will on others. In the form of the ancient evil Apocalypse, she was granted that chance. [X-Factor (1st series) #10-12]
For the final member in his Biblically-inspired quartet, Apocalypse chose carefully and well. In his previous recruits, he sought out those angry at the world. In his fourth Horseman, Apocalypse chose someone who had held the world in his hands, and had lost it all. To this mutant, a man driven to attempt suicide, Apocalypse would tempt him with but a piece of his former life, in exchange for his soul. [X-Factor (1st series) #18]
His pawns gathered and paused for his word, Apocalypse desired another set of players in his chess game of death and destruction. Although he had only encountered them briefly, Apocalypse had become interested in X-Factor and had studied them, monitored their actions and researched their origins and motives. On the eve of his Horsemen's attack on humanity, Apocalypse summoned the band of mutant heroes and welcomed them to his cloaked ship, which floated invisibly, high above Manhattan. Like a melodramatic villain from movie serials, Apocalypse explained his scheme to unleash his Horsemen upon the human world, and offered for X-Factor the opportunity to join him. Their dream of peace between humans and mutants, he told them, did nothing to force mutants to evolve and become strong ! [X-Factor (1st series) #24]
But was this the truth? Was Apocalypse an ancient force present through all of history? Was he truly the source of so much cruelty in man or were his claims nothing but bravado? X-Factor had no way of verifying Apocalypse's claims, nor at the moment, did they care. Apocalypse and his Horsemen were about to unleash death most foul upon New York, and the claims of yet another madman were of secondary importance. The mystery of Apocalypse's past would be a mystery to all but Apocalypse himself and, of course, we the reading public.