Director Bryan Singer’s run on the X-Men franchise began way back in 2000 with X-Men, a film that can partially credited with kicking off the superhero movie boom of the early ’00s. That run will more than likely come to an end next May with X-Men: Apocalypse, the sixth installment in the series (and, after the February 2016 debut of Deadpool, the ninth film to take place in Fox’s X-Men Universe). The man at the helm of (arguably) the three best entries in the series, Singer has teased that the events of Apocalypse will result in “the true birth of the X-Men” and serve as a conclusion of sorts to the previous X-Men films.
After Apocalypse, the direction of the franchise’s principal story line gets a bit murky. Three solo movies are planned for release in the next few years—Deadpool, Gambit, and Wolverine 3— as well as a New Mutants adaptation, but whether or not the latter will serve as a direct continuation of the current X-Men team roster is still unclear.
For now, all eyes are on the eponymous supervillain Apocalypse, set to be played by Oscar Isaac (Ex Machina, Star Wars: The Force Awakens). The long-awaited big-screen debut of Apocalypse is a welcome one for fans of the character, who could prove to be the most dangerous foe the X-Men have faced in any film to date. But how much do you really know about Apocalypse? Here’s our list of the 9 Things You Need to Know About Apocalypse.
Apocalypse Debuted In the Marvel Comic Books In 1986
The character was first revealed on the final page of X-Factor #5 in May of 1986. The creation of writer Louise Simonson and artist Jackson Guice, Apocalypse was actually a last-minute replacement character for Marvel. Bob Layton—who was the head writer on X-Factor at the time—had teased the reveal of a behind-the-scenes villain for the first several issues, one who was to serve as the head of the Alliance of Evil. Layton originally intended to use Owl, a storied Daredevil and Spider-Man villain, but editor Bob Harras insisted on the creation of a new character for the role. Simonson replaced Layton as head writer, and the rest is history.
Fun fact: A version of Leland Owlsley (a.k.a. Owl) appears as a recurring character in the first season of Netflix’s Daredevil, where he was played by Bob Gunton.
Apocalypse’s Origin Story From the Comic Books
Apocalypse’s full origin story wasn’t revealed until 1996, with Rise of Apocalypse detailing his early years in ancient Egypt, over 5,000 years ago. Abandoned at birth, the child was adopted by Baal, the leader of a group of nomadic raiders called the Sandstormers, who immediately recognized his potential for greatness and named him En Sabah Nur, which translates to “The First One” (in the Marvel comic book universe, that is). Baal raised Nur and ingrained in him his tribe’s beliefs in the survival of the fittest, a credo that drives Apocalypse’s every action.
Long story short, Nur’s tribe was wiped out by the Egyptian pharaoh—who was actually the time-traveling Marvel supervillain Kang the Conqueror in disguise—leading Nur to single-handedly overthrow the pharaoh and install himself as ruler, renaming himself Apocalypse.
Apocalypse’s Mark On the Historical Marvel Comic Book Universe
Over the centuries, the immortal Apocalypse traveled the world, leaving behind a very noticeable footprint. He forced various ancient societies to battle one another in an effort to establish the strongest possible civilizations and weed out the weakness in humanity. As a result, many of the ancient religions and societies of the Marvel Universe (like the Inhumans, for example) acknowledge the existence of Apocalypse in their histories.
On his journey, Nur encounters Celestial beings, who offer him the use of their highly advanced technology in exchange for a repayment of their choosing—likely his life—at some point in the future. Apocalypse accepts, transforming him into the being we know today. These technologies further augment his already impressive power set and grant him extraordinary abilities.
Apocalypse Created Mister Sinister
Thousands of years later, Apocalypse encounters a biologist by the name of Nathaniel Essex, an obsessive Darwinist living in 19th century England. There, En Sabah Nur learns more about the nature of mutation and bonds with Essex over their shared ‘survival of the fittest’ ideology. Using his aforementioned Celestial technology, Nur transforms Essex into the the near-immortal Mister Sinister. He then charges Sinister with aiding him in his quest to conquer the planet, but Sinister betrays him instead, forcing Apocalypse into a sort of hibernation from which he doesn’t return (excluding a brief confrontation with Marvel’s version of Count Dracula) for nearly a century.
Mister Sinister has since become one of the most popular villains in the Marvel universe, and is responsible for the creation of another fan-favorite mutant: Cable. Which leads us to…
Cable Is Apocalypse’s Archenemy
The son of Scott Summers (Cyclops) and Jean Grey’s clone, Madelyne Pryor, Nathan Summers/Cable was first introduced in the comics a few months before Apocalypse. Primarily characterized as a time-traveler, Cable was created—thanks to the meddling of Mister Sinister—in order to one day destroy Apocalypse once and for all. Nur and Summers have squared off on several occasions in the comics, with varying results.
Many fans are of the opinion that Cable is an essential character to any Apocalypse adaptation. Around this time last year, those fans were elated to hear writer/producer Simon Kinberg tease the possibility of Summers appearing in X-Men: Apocalypse, though it’s still unclear whether or not that will actually happen. In the meantime, Cable’s supporters can take solace in the words of Deadpool director Tim Miller, who recently expressed his desire to include the character in a potential sequel to the Merc with a Mouth’s solo adventure.
The Four Horsemen Are Apocalypse’s Personal Guard
A fitting twist on his name, Apocalypse regularly recruits four mutants to serve as his personal lieutenants through various methods of brainwashing and manipulation. These unfortunate souls are granted enhanced abilities by En Sabah Nur, and assigned the biblical titles of Death, Famine, Pestilence, and War. Nur also employs an innumerable amount of agents over the centuries, referred to as the Dark Riders, but the Four Horsemen are considered his most dangerous and elite followers.
Dozens of Marvel characters have served as Horsemen at one time or another. The team has featured the likes of Wolverine, Hulk, and even the absurdly-powerful Sentry. Warren Worthington III—better known as Angel or Archangel—is the X-Man most often associated with the Horsemen, as he’s served as Apocalypse’s incarnation of Death on several occasions.
The Comic-Con trailer for Apocalypse seemingly confirmed that Worthington (played by Ben Hardy) will become a Horsemen in the film version as well. Along with Angel, the trailer also revealed that Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Psylocke (Olivia Munn), and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) will likely be the other three Horsemen. Whether or not they’re serving willingly is another question entirely.
Apocalypse Has Complete Control Over His Molecular Structure
En Sabah Nur’s superpowers have been very loosely defined in the comics—as in, new abilities are constantly being introduced/evolving/being retconned entirely—but the one staple of Apocalypse’s arsenal since his powers first manifested has been his ability to control the molecules of his body.
Admittedly, that sounds way less interesting than it actually is. But this ability allows Nur to alter his size, shape, and appearance as he sees fit. It also allows him to grant himself virtually any physical superpower he can imagine. And his genius-level intellect allows that imagination to truly run wild, but more on that in a bit.
Skeptics were up in arms over the fact that Bryan Singer elected not to cast a physically-imposing actor as Apocalypse, instead choosing the 5’9 Oscar Isaac for the role. But with a healthy dose of movie magic combined with an entirely-plausible explanation for his varying size, Isaac has been granted the freedom to truly explore the role without worrying about whether or not his co-stars are taller than him. Rest assured, by the time the special effects team is done, they won’t be. Expect some sentinel-sized super-villainy in this film.
Apocalypse Has More Than A Dozen Superpowers
As previously mentioned, Apocalypse’s molecule manipulation allows him to adapt a multitude of superpowers for himself. A physical manifestation of his Darwinian beliefs, En Sabah Nur is capable of adapting to any environment and performing any physical feat he can think of. At various times in the comics, he’s demonstrated the ability to regenerate his limbs, project and absorb energy, teleport, fly, and increase his physical strength to levels that surpass even the Hulk.
Apocalypse is also an immortal, with superhuman endurance and longevity. He’s even displayed varying levels of telekinesis and telepathy, as well as the ability to directly communicate with and control the Celestial technologies that supplement his power.
It’s highly unlikely that all of these powers (and the various others he’s been shown to have in past iterations; yes, there’s more) will make their way onto the big-screen next May. In an interview with IGN back in April, Isaac discussed the importance of “figuring out what the limits are” in terms of Apocalypse’s abilities. But just what sort of limit has since been established is still unknown. Towards the end of the Comic-Con trailer—you can read Screen Rant’s full breakdown of it HERE—a terrified Professor Xavier (James McAvoy) says, “He can control all of us.” Does this mean that Apocalypse isn’t simply a master of manipulation, but a telepath on par with Xavier himself?
Age of Apocalypse Is Considered the Definitive Take On the Character
While the X-Men have dealt with their fair share of global threats, Age of Apocalypse was a massive crossover story line that featured the full realization of those threats. Originally published in 1995-1996, the series was written by a team of comic writers, including legends like Mark Waid and Jeph Loeb. In the alternate universe in which the saga takes place, Professor X is killed before founding his School for Gifted Youngsters or creating the X-Men, and Apocalypse is allowed to rise up and conquer the planet as a result. Magneto then adopts Xavier’s dream of peaceful coexistence with humanity and leads the mutant resistance against Apocalypse.
Age of Apocalypse has been widely-viewed as a likely source of inspiration for Singer’s upcoming movie, though its dystopian-future setting isn’t expected to be carried over – given the starting point of the last film in the series, X-Men: Days of Future Past. Still, X-Men fans should expect to see some serious, high-stakes action in Apocalypse.
X-Men: Apocalypse is still nearly nine months away from its release date, but fans likely have their opinions on the film—and Apocalypse’s look, specifically—already set in stone for the most part. Many have been quick to mock the similarities between the character’s onscreen appearance (what we’ve seen of it, anyway) and the look of a certain principal villain from the 1995 Power Rangers movie.
Before jumping to conclusions about the character’s appearance, however, perhaps it would be wise to recall the overwhelmingly negative fan response to the unveiling of the Sentinels and Evan Peter’s Quicksilver in Days of Future Past. Quicksilver’s stand-out slow-mo scene proved to be one of the film’s greatest highlights, and few complained about his or the Sentinels’ designs once their full-baddassery was displayed on screen. Perhaps the coming months will go a bit smoother by replacing gun-jumping reactions with a dose of levelheadedness.
With the film just recently having wrapped main unit production, X-Men: Apocalypse director Bryan Singer and his team undoubtedly have a tall task ahead. Charged with wrapping up a 15 year-long story line and introducing a newer, younger version of everyone’s favorite mutant team – all whilst squaring off against one of the most powerful villains in all of comics – Singer’s (in all likelihood) final X-Men film won’t exactly be a cakewalk. Here’s hoping he knocks it out of the park.
Deadpool will be in theaters on February 12, 2016; X-Men: Apocalypse on May 27th, 2016; Gambit — October 7th, 2016; The Wolverine 3 — March 3rd, 2017.