Further Adventures of Cyclops and Phoenix #1

Issue Date: 
June 1996
Story Title: 
Digging Up The Past

Peter Milligan (writer), John Paul Leon (penciler), Klaus Janson (inker), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (letters), Kevin Somers (colors), Malibu’s Hues (enhancement), Mark Powers (editor), Bob Harras (editor in chief)

Brief Description: 

It is 1859 in London England, and Nathaniel Essex, the man who will one day become Mister Sinister, is a brilliant scientist who suspects that man will one day evolve into something much more. He has discovered something that he humbly calls the ‘Essex Factor,’ which he suspects will allow humans to evolve unnaturally in a short space of time. He fears being ostracized by his colleagues at the Royal Society, and tries one more time to relay his ideas to them. They are horrified at his attempts to mess around with evolution, and his peers, including Charles Darwin, reject him outright. He decides to continue his experiments in private, and following a chance meeting with a man named Cootie Tremble in a bar, he is taken to see the freaks and outcasts that Cootie’s men have removed from society. He is mugged by Cootie’s men, the Marauders, but offers them the opportunity to work for them. Soon, they are taking their captives to Nathaniel’s home on the outskirts of London. Elsewhere, Apocalypse rises from his chambers, having being in hibernation for many long years. He learns of Essex’s work from the Marauders, and orders them to take him to see their master. Meanwhile, Essex’s pregnant wife, Rebecca, is shocked to discover that it looks like her husband has been preserving their dead son’s body in his lab. She digs up his grave and finds it empty. She confronts him before passing out, as Apocalypse arrives at their home to speak with Nathaniel. Elsewhere, the X-Men’s Cyclops and Phoenix suddenly appear in London, naked and confused.

Full Summary: 

(1859 - Milbury House, near London, England)

After burying her son two years earlier, Rebecca Essex feels nothing but dread as she feverishly digs up her young son’s body. She wants this night to be over, and her husband to once again, simply be her husband. She recalls how pale he was on the night they buried young Adam, who died when just four years old, but she also noticed that her husband had no tears for him; just eyes that spoke of empty torment. She knows her actions must seem like madness but, if she is ever to be sane again, she must know what demon has possessed her husband. The pain hits her hard, as though their new unborn baby were tearing at her very insides. Still, as she continues to dig, and unseen by her, the hulking form of Apocalypse is lit up by a lightning strike.

(one month earlier)

Nathaniel and Rebecca Essex relax in their garden. Essex is regarded by some to be the greatest scientific mind of his generation, and by others as a dangerous man, twisted by obsession. Rebecca digs up an old bone and tries to interest her husband in it, but he is engrossed in a book. She asks if he must work every hour God sends. Rebecca wishes he could simply be a man, and maybe just occasionally let her into his world. He informs her that she should be resting. Rebecca replies that she is with child; she is not an invalid.

She asks why he is reading Darwin’s Origin of Species. Nathan tells her it’s because Darwin is a brilliant researcher. His book represents a great scientific achievement, though it should be greater, he feels. Darwin is still shackled by too many moral constraints. Rebecca thinks they are necessary if they are to maintain a civilized life, but her husband replies that science is beyond morality, and he doesn’t need a woman to tell him otherwise.

Rebecca notices that he is bleeding from squeezing the bone she gave him too hard. He excuses himself. He has to give a lecture to the ‘fools’ at the Royal Society, if he is to prevent his exclusion. Before he leaves, Rebecca asks him about the bone. He informs her that it’s merely the fossil of an ammonite; a sea mollusc that died several million years ago. Rebecca replies that it’s impossible. Her father told her that Ussher worked out from the Bible that the world started only four thousand years before Christ. Nathan says the Bible is wrong. There is no God. As he leaves, he adds that if his theories are correct, some humans might, in time, evolve into gods.

(later, at the Royal Society)

Nathaniel Essex is holding court, using diagrams in his presentation to Charles Darwin and his esteemed colleagues. He explains that evolution does indeed progress through slow incremental changes, but it has the capacity to undergo rapid and startling transformations within the space of one or two generations. Moreover, he suggests that humans contain parcels of hereditary information. These parcels, which he humbly calls the Essex Factor, carry the tribulations of the past, and the potentialities of the future. When combined in the offspring of certain racially superior individuals, these parcels will, within a hundred years or so, mutate. He feels that they are on the verge of an evolutionary breakthrough.

He then tugs at a rope attached to a large sheet. The onlookers are horrified at what they see, as the sheet comes away from the object it covers. Standing before Essex is a large human-shaped creation; green in color and inert. Essex explains that it is a crude prototype that he has assembled to illustrate some possible biological extrapolations. He has worked on human parts and fused them with anatomical regions from other animals and inorganic materials. He asks them to imagine the improvements on the present human form that are possible.

As he continues, he is met with a barrage of complaints and abuse. His peers feel that this is outrageous and that he should be thrown out. Essex asks that surely, science should be above such petty conventional models of decency. This is the future! A thrown object hits him on the side of his head, and he reacts by calling them all cowards. He tells them that if their forefathers had been as timid as they, then they would be sitting in trees, eating berries and scratching each other’s buttocks.

He turns to Darwin and asks if he, at least, can see the significance of his work. The bearded Darwin asks for forgiveness, but feels that Nathaniel should see his physician. He too has lost a son, and knows how it affects the mind. But, he says Essex can’t bring his son back. He cannot change the past by attempting to manipulate the future. His work, he feels, is breathtaking, but he has gone too far.

This infuriates Essex, and he insists he must go further. If only he could free himself of his so-called conscience that still pollutes him. Darwin replies that, if he did, he would become a monster, like his creation. Essex tells him that if that is what is required for science to progress, then let him be a monster. He runs from the hall throwing his books into the air. “Let me be a monster!”

He retreats to the intellectually free confines of a public house and, though a little drunk, he surveys the wretched crowd with a scientist’s clarity. He foresees a future whereby those with the correct Essex Factor will leave this rabble in the evolutionary gutter. After a harlot fails to arouse his interest, a young man smoking a cigar introduces himself as Cootie Tremble. He reckons he has something to interest a man like Essex; a place where he’ll see creatures beyond his imagination. Essex is intrigued and, offering Cootie some cash, he is taken underground.

(the sewers)

Wandering through a dark tunnel, Nathaniel Essex is astonished at what he finds. Locked up in cages are a bunch of miserable-looking people that Cootie describes as freaks and fools and all types of misshapen folk. He explains that he collects them to keep them off the streets. Essex leans forward and looks at a young blond-haired boy. He thinks the child looks quite normal, but Cootie tells him his name is Danny. He’s funny in the head. He saw his parent’s killed by cutthroats and ain’t spoke a single word since. Cootie’s friends laugh, but Essex moves to another creature. Its skin is green and its arms are gnarled to the point where the fingers have developed claws.

He wonders if his creature might have the Essex Factor. He sees them probably not merely as freaks, but nature’s failed experiments - the cast offs of evolution’s march towards the great mutation? He blames the alcohol in his body but, for a moment, he dwells on his young son, Adam. Why was he born the way he was? His ailments, crooked bones and a woeful lack of blood; were they, too, part of nature’s drive toward the future, or simply cruel and pointless? He comes back to his senses as the creature digs its claws into the back of his hand, and he demands they get it off him.

He pulls his hands out from the cage, as Cootie explains that the creature’s name is Martha. Maybe she just wanted his hand in marriage? Essex has seen enough, and wishes to leave, but he is grabbed by several hands and one of the men pulls out a knife. Cootie also brandishes a knife, and he tells Essex that he can’t leave. They’ve only just got acquainted. He introduces his friends as the Marauders, and they struggle as Essex bucks and wriggles to get free. Cootie slashes his face with his knife, but barely a drop of blood is released.

Essex reaches into his pocket and throws his money into the air. “You want this?” he asks. “You want money? Take it. Take it all, but if you’re as clever as you like to think you are… take this opportunity to improve yourself. Join my cause.” Cootie looks him in the eye, and asks what sort of cause. Essex grins, and replies that it’s the most sacred of causes: the cause of science.

(two weeks later)

Rebecca Essex is in the quiet graveyard tending to her son’s grave when she hears a commotion near the house. Cautiously, she makes her way to the older part of the cemetery, and finds the Marauders arriving on a stagecoach. She wonders what they’re doing outside Nathaniel’s annex. She hears an almost human cry emanating from one of the boxes. A hand on her shoulder startles her, but it’s only her husband, who asks why she’s clambering through the bushes. She must take better care of herself, and their baby. He explains that the men are delivering equipment for a new series of experiments.

He notices she’s been picking flowers. She tells him they’re for Adam. She likes to talk to him. “Talk to him?” enquires Nathaniel. Rebecca likes to talk to him at his graveside. She has so few people to talk to. Nathaniel understands, but really must get back to work. He instructs her to inform the kitchen he won’t be having supper, and then joins the Marauders as they shift the boxes inside.


Work is continuing on the sewers of London, when a couple of workers fall through the ground into an open pit below. Unbeknownst to the people who live in the world above, below the streets of London is a cavernous chamber, which has existed for hundreds of years. Now, alien technology vibrates softly, shaking off centuries of dusty sleep, waking to fulfil an awful destiny.

The two men gaze at a large metallic structure, connected at all sides by feed cables and pipes. Frank asks Pat what thing is, when suddenly a voice from inside the contraption informs them that it’s the place of their final reckoning. They are astonished and ask what, or who he is. The being replies that he is one whom nature has placed above all others; who has been tested by the strength of men and the ravages of time, and has proven fit to survive. He unleashes a powerful and fatal blast in their direction, and emerges from his long-time home.

He understands that, had they been strong, they would have attacked him in that first moment of consciousness, when disoriented by long years of hibernation he is at his most vulnerable. But, they were weak, and so were obliterated, as all must perish who stand in his way, for Apocalypse has risen. Soon, Apocalypse surveys modern London and is amazed, but sees only opportunity in this futuristic environment. As the light from the streetlamps wash over him, he remembers other times.

(flashback - ancient Egypt)

A young slave called En Sabah Nur helps heave an alabaster statue of the dark god, Seth. All his life, he felt superior to those around him, and no beating ever broke his fierce will to survive. One day whilst being whipped, a strange glow burst from his tortured features; an unspeakable power exploded from within, until Seth himself seemed to address him. It told him that it was time to seize his birthright. He was born not to be a slave to other men, but to be a conqueror. Though unsure of the source of his power, En Sabah Nur felt it roaring from his very soul, and he brought both slave and slave drive alike to their knees. This was the first manifestation of the man who would become Apocalypse.


As Apocalypse wanders the streets, he is confronted by the Marauders, who figure Essex will pay a pretty penny for the creature. As one wig-wearing thug named Billy approaches him, Apocalypse reaches out with one hand and grabs his head. He tells them that they consider themselves predators, willing to trample over the bodies of others in order to survive. There is strength in that, but he is far from that. He removes the Marauder’s head with a flick of the wrist, which shocks the others. He then informs them that, if they are to live, they must serve him.

Cootie bravely raises his rifle, but Apocalypse simply bends the end with his fingers, rendering it useless. No weapon devised by man can harm him, he warns. He desires the Marauders as his slaves, but Cootie tells him that they’re British. They shall never be slaves. Apocalypse silences him, and asks who this Essex is that they speak of. Why would he be interested in him? Again, Cootie decides to be brave and replies that he takes orders from no one, but, when the ancient one evaporates two more Marauders in an instant, Cootie removes his hat, and, stuttering his words, offers his services to him.


During a service at Westminster Abbey, a wind suddenly develops inside the church and, in a flash of light, the naked form of Jean Grey suddenly appears. Her body seems to hover for an age before dropping unceremoniously to the ground. She is dimly aware of the worshippers looking at her, but she does register her time-lost surroundings. The priest offers her something to cover herself with, and she asks, “Huh… where?! Scott?”

Underground in the sewers, another bright light appears, and Scott Summers drops into the gunk below, also naked. He quickly realizes that he no longer has his visor. Without it, he must keep his eyes tightly shut, lest he destroy anything in front of him when he opens them. He stumbles through the sewer, heading right into the waiting hands of a group of underground dwellers.

(Milbury House)

Rebecca cannot sleep, as her husband works through the night. Restless, she gets up and decides to investigate. She can hear their soft, pitiful screams, and wonders if she herself is going mad. Is her condition making her overly sensitive? She takes a spare key from a drawer, despite being told never to enter the annex, and makes her way through the house. She knows she must turn back, but some inexorable force drives her on. She discovers something covered by a sheet and, ignoring the warning bells within her mind, removes the sheet. Underneath is a tank, and what she sees inside it, floating in some kind of liquid, makes her blood turn to ice. She suspects that it might be Adam.

She runs from the house, across the cemetery where her son was buried, and begins digging. It cannot be, she thinks. Nathaniel could not do this! There is only one way to know. She digs her way into the coffin, and discovers her son’s body is missing. Her husband sees what’s happening and rushes over to her. For a moment, his unblinking drive for scientific brilliance falters, and perhaps he sees the true horror of where his obsession has led him.

Rebecca begins to feel faint, and Nathaniel cradles her in his arms. “Our own son? How could you! How could you?” she demands to know. Nathaniel tells her he was already taken from them. He thought his death would not be in vain, if he could prevent others from dying like him.

As his wife passes out, a voice from behind him says that perhaps he should take his wife inside. He turns to see a strangely dressed man behind him. “My name is En Sabah Nur,” he informs Essex. “More importantly, I am someone very interested in your work. Someone who may yet… be an invaluable ally.” He offers his hand to the young scientist.

Characters Involved: 

Cyclops, Phoenix (both X-Men)

Nathaniel and Rebecca Essex

Apocalypse/En Sabah Nur

Charles Darwin and his colleagues

Bar customers including Cootie Tremble

Cootie Tremble’s captives including Daniel and Martha

Marauders including Billy

Daniel, Martha, both captives of the Marauders

Franky and Pat

Westminster Abbey worshippers


(in flashback)

En Sabah Nur and his fellow slaves


Seth (as a statue)

Story Notes: 

Charles Darwin and his wife, Emma, had ten children, three of whom died young.

Apocalypse’s early days as a slave can be seen in the Rise of Apocalypse limited series.

James Ussher was a theological academic, who produced a work called Annales veteris testamenti, a prima mundi origine deducti (Annals of the Old Testament, deduced from the first origins of the world) which was published in 1650. In it, he claimed that the earth was created on the evening preceding October 23rd 4004 BC.

Years later, Nathaniel Essex, as Mister Sinister, would assemble a group of cutthroats, including Sabretooth, and name them after these Marauders.

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