X-Force (1st series) #18

Issue Date: 
January 1993
Story Title: 
X-Cutioner’s Song part 12: Ghosts in the Machine

Fabian Niceiza (writer), Greg Capullo (pencils), Harry Candelario (inks), Chris Eliopoulos (letters), Marie Jevins (colorist), Bob Harras (editor), Tom DeFalco (editor in chief)

Brief Description: 

Inside the force field, Stryfe is ever so cryptic as to his connection to Cable, Cyclops and Jean Grey. He talks of his past - the future - before battling Cable. Elsewhere on the moon, Psylocke learns that Apocalypse is dying, and informs Archangel, who goes to find him. Stuck outside the force field, Polaris and Cannonball worry for their friends inside, while Cable and Stryfe beat each other up, and Stryfe goes on about how hard done by he is. On Earth, a somewhat delirious Xavier tells Beast that the only thing that will end this is Cyclops and Jean’s lives. Archangel finds Apocalypse, who is indeed dying, and while Apocalypse wants Archangel to kill him, Archangel refuses his wish and leaves him to die without lifting a hand agaisnt him. Havok enters the battle to help Cable, while Cyclops and Jean Grey free themselves. Jean tells Stryfe that they can help him, but he doesn’t believe her, Wolverine and the others join Polaris and Cannonball outside the force field, where inside, Cable has devised a plan to self destruct the force field, though Cyclops has to press the button, something he does not want to do. Cable takes out Stryfe and Cyclops presses the self destruct, causing Cable and Stryfe to vanish, leaving only the X-Men behind, as the executioner’s song ends. But as the old song dies, a new chorus begins, for Mr Sinister’s assistant opens the vial that Stryfe traded Sinister for - it doesn’t have the Summers’ family genetic material as it appears to be empty, though the assistant suddenly develops a mysterious cough.

Full Summary: 

Professor Xavier has survived his assassination attempt. The X-Squadron has routed the forces which had taken control of Apocalypse’s former moonbase. And on the lunar landscape - Cable confronts the one man behind this ballad of madness - ‘STRYFE! Time’s up!’ Cable booms, dozens of weapons strapped to his muscular body, and carrying a very large gun.

Within the force-field, Stryfe stands on a very large platform, while Scott “Cyclops” Summers and Jean Grey float in stasis overhead, and images from theirs and Cable’s past flash on a time-device in the background - the X-Men’s inaugural battle against Magneto; the Inferno; the X-Tinction Agenda; Cyclops giving baby Nathan to Askani.

‘Is it really, Nathan Dayspring Askani’son? I have killed the architect of the futile dream! I have humbled the parents of the tomorrow pain! Only you remain, my brother!’ Stryfe declares, his red cape flowing behind him. ‘As you can see - time is up - and down - and inside out and mine to control! Which all means, that if anyone’s borrowed time is up - it is yours!’ Stryfe booms. Standing on the moon surface, Cable replies that he has learned that time has never been something they can control. ‘Not Apocalypse…not me…not you!’ Cable declares, adding that if his time has come today, then fine. ‘But I’m taking you with me, Stryfe!’

‘Perhaps you are right at that, Dayspring. Perhaps time is not ours to abuse’ Stryfe remarks as he removes his extravagant helmet. Stryfe motions above him and asks if that means Scott Summers and Jean Grey should be forgiven for their trespasses, and throws his helmet, which lands at Cable’s feet. Cable declares that he has no idea what Stryfe is talking about. ‘Oh no? Maybe you don’t at that. After all, you are nothing more than a scientific abomination!’ Stryfe declares. ‘A failed attempt to preserve a life which did not even need preserving!’ This angers Cable, who fires his powerful weapon up at Stryfe and shouts ‘STAB YOUR EYES - I’M A MAN! I’M MY OWN MAN!’

The blast strikes the platform Stryfe stands on and knocks the diabolical madman into the air - ‘Ah, have I touched a chord within you, Dayspring?’ he asks as he telekinetically lowers himself to the moon floor. ‘Perhaps you realize - deep inside - that I am the whole sum of our parts - and you - you are nothing!’ Stryfe declares. ‘You son of a %*$# -!’ Cable declares, lunging at Stryfe, knocking him to the ground. ‘Ah, truer words have never been spoken’ Stryfe remarks.

Up above, Jean asks Scott what chance Cable has alone against that madman, to which Scott replies that he doesn’t know, but that he is beginning to doubt if Stryfe really is as mad as he seems. ‘Maybe if we can find out what twisted him…we can end this madness?’

Miles away, within the drydock facility of the moonbase, a spacecraft soars away, as below, the X-Men Storm, Wolverine and Psylocke make a painfully obvious observation. ‘We are too late. The Dark Riders have effected their escape in that star shuttle!’ Storm a.k.a. Ororo Munro declares. ‘Two groups of X-Men after them and we couldn’t stop them?’ Wolverine a.k.a. Logan remarks, before exclaiming that they have been one step behind for too long. ‘Stryfe, Charlie, Shiva, Mariko - I’m sick of it!’ he shouts as he slices his adamantium claws through the computer equipment nearby.

Storm tells her friend that she understands, but that they must accept what I done, for now. Storm turns to Betsy “Psylocke” Braddock and reminds her that Apocalypse was in sole pursuit of the Dark Riders. ‘What happened to him?’ she asks. The telepathic Psylocke begins scanning for Apocalypse, and announces that she can barely detect his thoughts. ‘He did encounter the Dark Riders - and in his weakened condition - he was overwhelmed - no…Logan, Ororo - Apocalypse is dying!’ Psylocke reveals.

Elsewhere in the expansive moonbase, Warren Worthington III a.k.a. Archangel, Bobby “Iceman” Drake and Bishop continue their search for the Dark Riders, as yet unaware the Dark Riders have made good on their escape. Bishop declares that somewhere in this infernal facility there must be a teleportation chamber, for if the others successfully positioned themselves in the drydock bay, they should have the Riders comfortably trapped. But Betsy telepathically contacts Bishop: ‘I would not count on that’ she tells him, explaining that her team is at the space-dock now, and have just watched the Dark Riders make their getaway.

‘And Apocalypse?’ Archangel asks. Betsy informs him that he is somewhere in the facility on the brink of death. ‘We’re prepping a skimmer craft to rescue Scott - and the others’ she adds, to which Iceman tells her they will be right there. Warren tells Bobby and Bishop to go. ‘What about you?’ Iceman asks his best friend. ‘I can smell Apocalypse’s blood. I have to find him - and make his dying moments as miserable as I possibly can!’ Archangel exclaims as he flies off down a corridor, despite Iceman calling out after him to come back. ‘Forget about Archangel’ Bishop tells Iceman, adding that they should see what they can do for the living. ‘What are you talking about, Bishop? Warren is the living!’ Iceman exclaims as Bishop drags him along behind him. ‘Is he now?’ Bishop asks.

Back on the lunar surface, just beyond the perimeters of Stryfe’s time-vortex field, Lorna “Polaris” Dane and Sam “Cannonball” Guthrie gather themselves. Lorna asks Sam if he is okay, to which he replies ‘Yeah, if getting kicked in the head by a mule is your idea of okay!’, before asking if Cable and Havok got through. Lorna replies that they did and that she can see Alex just inside the force screen, barely conscious. ‘And where’s Cable?’ Sam asks. Polaris tells him that Cable is off fighting Stryfe alone. ‘Oh. Then Ah guess…he’s as good as dead’ Cannonball declares.

Back inside the time-vortex: ‘Away from me, half-life!’ Stryfe booms, as he throws Cable away from him. ‘I have watched you throughout our lives with an almost fraternal amusement, Nathan. As you went to and fro, as you played the part of rebel savior in our time - and mysterious renegade mutant benefactor in this one - I always wondered what fired fueled you - what passions drove you to act as you did - in way so different than I?’ Cable lands on the moon surface and dust flies up around him. ‘And now, after all this time - through time - I finally have my answer. You have been stoked by desolation - by isolation - by failure!’ Stryfe booms.

‘No -’ Cable utters as he gets up, and spins around, to find Stryfe standing over him - so Cable strikes him with a jagged knife. ‘Words aren’t going to beat me!’ he exclaims, knocking Stryfe back. ‘Very well then - if force is the tongue you wish to hear - then listen to my tortured soul!’ Stryfe declares, as he blasts Cable with some sort of weapon, which flashes energy all around. Cable gets to his feet, most of his clothing is gone, revealing apparently cyborg parts to his body. ‘I - hear you - Stryfe - and it’s not enough - to put me down -’ Cable tells him. ‘Look at you, Askani’son! A toy! A shell of a human! Look at yourself and tell us all - how can you pretend to be a man?’ Stryfe asks.

Meanwhile, on Earth, specifically Xavier’s Mansion in Westchester, New York. The rain pours down and lightning flashes. ‘Nnooooo!’ cries Professor Charles Xavier. ‘Geez! Scare the living beegeezus outta me why don’tcha?’ Jubilee remarks as she stands next to Dr Henry McCoy a.k.a. the Beast. ‘Professor - it’s Henry - your fever has broken. You’re going to be okay’ the Beast tells him as he helps Charles sit up. ‘You don’t understand, Hank - for a brief moment, in my fevered state - I was able to read all their minds - there on the moon - my X-Men and the others - and I saw all the mistakes we’ve made!’ he declares.

‘Mistakes born of our dreams and nightmares - of hope and despair - of fathers and sons - all these mistakes are weaving together up there - to form a tragic destiny - and there is nothing I can do to stop it!’ the frantic Professor X exclaims. The Beast lies the Professor back down, telling him to take it easy, that it will all work out. ‘Despite the odds, the X-Men always pull through’. ‘But there’s always a cost - ALWAYS - and what if this time - the cost is Scott and Jean’s life -? Because that is what it is going to come down to, Hank. Heaven help us all - that is the only thing which will end this insanity!’ the Professor declares.

Inside the moonbase, matters of life and death continue to be settled. Apocalypse drags himself along the floor, leaving a trail of blood behind him, while moaning, he utters ‘Well done. Well fought. So I die. As I have lived’. Suddenly, Archangel appears, and flaps his steel wings to the ground, stopping Apocalypse from crawling any further. ‘Does that leave me to follow your example?’ Warren asks. ‘My son -?’ Apocalypse exclaims, grinning. ‘As my “Father” made me, Apocalypse. Living to die. Dying to live. You don’t have much left’ Warren declares. ‘No - I - do not’ Apocalypse replies. ‘You are not strong, Apocalypse. You are not FIT!’ Archangel tells him.

‘In your world, you don’t deserve to survive…do you?’ Archangel remarks. ‘You are right…my angel of death…you are as I made you…strong - a killer - a survivor’ Apocalypse replies quietly. ‘Maybe. But long before I ever met you…I was - I am - a man’ Archangel replies. ‘Yes, you altered my wings - draped my skin forever in shadows - but you couldn’t change the most important part of me’ Archangel declares. ‘Warren Worthington III didn’t have to die just so the Archangel could live…any more than I need to kill you, Apocalypse…to find out what’s alive inside me’. With that, Warren turns and walks away from Apocalypse. ‘No - NO!’ Apocalypse shouts, declaring that he deserves a clean death, to die as he lived - a man of strength of courage and of power. ‘Not like this…not alone…enfeebled…slowing ebbing away…as others fight around e…this is not the way…to die…’ he whispers as blood pours out of his weakened body, he falls on his face.

Back inside the time-vortex, ‘No this, Nathan - THIS is the way to die!’ Stryfe exclaims as he kicks Cable to the ground. Up above, Cyclops tells Jean that they have to do something, as Cable cannot take much more. ‘I know!’ Jean exclaims, adding that there is a possibility that the more Stryfe concentrates on Cable the weaker the telekinetic bonds trapping them will become. ‘If Stryfe remains occupied - and that’s a big if - I should be able to break us free!’ Jean exclaims.

Suddenly, down below, Stryfe is attacked by a powerful burst of plasma energy. ‘Who -?’ he exclaims, before Alex “Havok” Summers steps forward. ‘You relish dealing in pain, don’t you, Stryfe? Well, stop crying foul and just cry HAVOK!’ Alex declares. Stryfe’s disfigured body lies on the ground, and whispers ‘Ah, my mistake. My genetic matrix shield was programmed for the Summers DNA - I had not considered it would allow the brother through’. Alex replies that it did, and although it kicked him pretty hard for not being Scott. ‘But I’ve always done a good job of that myself’.

Stryfe declares that it would appear that anyone who bears the name of Summers must pay for it, doesn’t it. ‘Some pay with their lives…you, Alex Summers, will pay with your death!’ Stryfe declares, ready to blast Havok with his power - only for Cyclops to shout ‘NO!’ and unleash an optic blast, knocking Stryfe backwards once more. ‘It’s over, Stryfe. Whoever - whatever you are - it’s over. It’s time to stop this cycle of pain!’ Scott declares. ‘We can work to heal your wounds, whatever they are - let’s work them out together!’ Jean tells him. ‘Together - all of us - together?’ Stryfe asks. With Scott, Jean, Alex and Cable slowly surrounding him, as he gets to his feet. ‘No. You’re lying. If I trust you - you’ll just betray me again!’ he exclaims.

Stryfe declares that he wants to believe then, he does, but how can he? ‘Why am I suffering this way?’ he asks. ‘I’m not the guilty one’ he declares. ‘You are! All of you are!’ he booms as he unleashes energy, there is a mighty rumble. ‘I leave you what you left me - a legacy of hatred! A legacy of decay! A loss of hope - a loss of life - a pox on all of mutantkind!’

Outside the time-vortex, Wolverine, Storm, Iceman, Psylocke and Bishop are approaching their teammates. ‘Did you feel the ground quake?’ Bishop asks. ‘Whatever’s going on in there - it’s building to a head!’ Wolverine declares, adding ‘And we’re stuck on the outside, looking in!’

Energy pours from one of Stryfe’s eyes - ‘Look at me with pleading eyes! Ask me for help! Ask me to be your salvation! ASK ME!’ he booms. Scott and Alex dodge falling debris as Cyclops exclaims that Stryfe has dismantled the entire tower. ‘But he never bothered to turn off the machinery!’ Havok, while Jean remarks that the amount of electromagnetic energy spinning around in here is phenomenal. She tells the Summers brothers to stay close to her and throws a telekinetic shield around the three of them. ‘What about Cable?’ Havok asks. ‘He’s too far away! I can’t reach out to him and still maintain our cover!’ Jean tells him.

Indeed, on the other side of the vortex, Cable pulls himself a long to the safety of a chunk of equipment standing upright nearby. ‘C’mon C’mon’ he tells himself as he attempts to fix his bionic arm. Suddenly, Cyclops announces that he can see Cable through the storm, and calls out to him, asking him what he is doing. ‘Get over here!’ Scott tells him, but Cable replies that he can’t. as he has to put an end to this. ‘If what we learned today is try - and I don’t know if it is - I have to put an end to this - put an end to Stryfe - put an end to me!’ he declares, before throwing something attached to a wire over to Cyclops, who reaches out through the telekinetic shield and grabs it. ‘Hit the engage button!’ Cable tells him.

Scott grabs the device and asks Cable what it is, what he has planned. ‘You’ll know, Summers. Believe me, you’ll know!’ Cable declares as he turns and runs from them. ‘Wait - Cable - WAIT!’ Cyclops calls out, but Nathan tells him that it is too late for waiting that it is too late for a lot of things. ‘Do what you can to survive’ he adds, before lunging at Stryfe: ‘I said it before - I’ll say it again - time’s up!’ Cable tells him, knocking him to the ground.

‘No! I will not be undone by a feeble copy of myself! Stryfe exclaims. ‘That’s where you’re wrong, Stryfe - I’ve always been my own man - made my own choices - and I choose to kill you now!’ Cable declares as both me wrap their hands around the others neck, with one of them pressing down on a small button: ‘Good lord! Did you see! He activated a self-destruct sequence!’ Cyclops exclaims. Concerned, Jean announces that she cannot get a reading on either of them. Havok tells her there must be too much electromagnetic activity for her telepathy, but Cyclops declares that it is because of the time-flux energies.

T-Minus 15 Seconds

Cable and Stryfe continue to fight, neither willing to give in. Cyclops wonders what the device that Cable gave him has to do with the time-flux or the self-destruct, ‘Unless Cable wants the three to work in unison?’ he suggests.

T-Minus 10 Seconds

‘Summers -’ Cable calls out. ‘But if I do what he wants and activate this - it’s going to kill him, isn’t it?’ Cyclops remarks.

T-Minus 5 Seconds

‘Cable - don’t ask me to do this!’ Cyclops calls out. ‘HIT IT!’ Cable shouts.

Self Destruct Engaged

‘SUMMERS! Activate the vortex!’ Cable orders, free of Stryfe’s grasp, he pushes Stryfe to the ground. ‘Scott -?’ Jean asks. ‘I can’t do this to him - to them -’ Cyclops replies. But Havok points out that if he doesn’t, then they may all just end up dying. ‘Summers, for all our sakes - do it - please!’ Cable declares. ‘God forgive me’ Cyclops whispers as he presses the button.

There is a strange noise and a blinding light as the time vortex explodes. ‘He wasn’t afraid’ Cyclops remarks as he, Jean and Havok watch in awe. ‘He knew this was right’ Havok exclaims. ‘So I let him go…again…’ Cyclops mumbles as the remainder of the complex is destroyed. ‘Cable…’ Cannonball whispers from outside the vortex where he, Logan, Betsy, Ororo and Bishop are watching.

The tremendous energies ripped into the time vortex are, perhaps, all the more impressive by the overwhelming silence. In the vacuum of space, locked in a death-grip whose bonds go far beyond the physical - Cable and Stryfe - disappear without a sound. But Scott Summers and Jean Grey can hear their dying screams. They hear the haunted death-knell as it rips through their very souls. And when the singing of the electromagnetic storm is done - nothing is left but deafening silence - and the desolate beating of two young people’s hearts. Drumbeats of despair, which slowly bring to a close - the Executioner’s Song…..

Wolverine, Polaris, Cannonball, Storm, Iceman, Psylocke and Bishop have gathered together as they look towards their dear friends. Jean puts her arms around Cyclops, telling him that Cable knew what he was doing. ‘The equipment he was carrying focused the energies of the time vortex through it’ she explains. Havok adds that Cable’s self-destruction opened the rift needed to bring Stryfe down. ‘Funny, the whole thing started with us thinking Cable was a murderer…but in the end, he turned out to be our only hope’. Cyclops agrees: ‘He was that. In order to save us all - we had to sacrifice him…a second time…’. Jean looks up at Scott: ‘Scott - no - you don’t think…’ she begins. ‘I don’t know if we’ll ever be sure. But I do know this. I’m going to spend the rest of my life thinking about today…thinking about him and wondering…God help me, I’ll never stop wondering…’ Cyclops declares.

As the old song dies….

Meanwhile, outside a rustic farmhouse in Nebraska, several cows graze in a field. Inside the small farmhouse, a small gangly man sits at a bench, steam comes out of a canister that he opens sonically. He turns to someone else in the room and announces that it is empty. ‘Curse Stryfe’s blood! I was promised the Summers family genetic material!’ a voice in the shadows booms - it is none other than Mr Sinister! Sinister’s assistant, Gordon, begins to cough repeatedly, while Sinister turns and declares ‘It was to be expected. We proceed, as ever, onwards, toward tomorrow. Oh, and Gordon - please do look after that cough…’

…a new chorus begins….

Characters Involved: 

Archangel, Beast, Bishop, Cyclops, Iceman, Jean Grey, Jubilee, Psylocke, Storm, Wolverine, Professor X (all X-Men)

Havok & Polaris (both X-Factor)

Cannonball (member of X-Force)



Mr Sinister


Gordon Lefferts

Story Notes: 

Minor continuity mistakes : Cable and Havok were wearing spacesuits in the last part of the crossover when they met Stryfe, somehow they have removed them to fight him. Stryfe also saw Havok in the last issue, but now he seemed to have forgotten that Havok was there.

Part 12 of the X-Cutioner's Song crossover.
This issue follows X-Men (2nd series) #16 and concludes the “X-Cutioner’s Song” crossover. An epilogue follows in Uncanny X-Men #297.

Stryfe’s assassination attempt of Professor X took place in Uncanny X-Men #294.

Apocalypse was reunited with the Dark Riders in X-Men (2nd series) #16. Their battle was not shown on panel.

Error: on page 17, Cyclops’ first word balloon is connected to Jean’s, but it cannot be her speaking as it doesn’t make sense.

Sinister received the canister in X-Men (2nd series) #14. It of course contains the Legacy Virus.

Cable re-appears in his own timeline in Cable (1st series) #1, before returning to the present day 616 in X-Force (1st series) #3.
Cyclops’ words refer to the realization that Cable is his lost son Nathan Christopher, a belief that proves to be true.

Issue Information: 
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