Fans have been very vocal about certain characters' appearances in promotional material as of late, and last Friday’s release of the first trailer for X-Men: Apocalypse kept the trend going. The trailer received a predictably mixed reception from a feverish comic fanbase, with some praising the film's unique look, and others focusing their vitriol on the film's awkward-looking (and unfinished) CGI. But the loudest voice of all came from the ever-raging debate over whether or not Oscar Isaac was the right choice to play the film's eponymous antagonist.
Whether you thought a more physical presence should have been cast in the role (a la Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson), or if you thought his voice should have sounded more like Harbinger from Mass Effect, or if you thought the Ivan Ooze resemblance was still just too uncanny, many had some sort of bone to pick with what they've seen so far of Isaac and director Bryan Singer's version of Apocalypse.
Whether you’re a Singer/Isaac believer or not, the Age of Apocalypse is coming, and we here at Screen Rant have a few comics to prepare you for the arrival of En Sabah Nur. Here are 10 Apocalypse Stories You Should Check Out.
11 X-Factor Volume 1, #5 and #6
Apocalypse's live-action debut will be made within days of the character's 30th comic anniversary. In May of 1986, he made his first appearance when he was teased as being the behind-the-scenes villain the X-Factor team had been unknowingly warring against for several issues. His first full appearance came one issue later, when he was revealed to be the leader behind the Alliance of Evil. The organization's puppetmaster was originally intended to be Leland Owlsley, aka the Owl, but Apocalypse was inserted as a replacement character for the series' new lead writer, Louise Simonson. Best known as one of the head writers on The Death of Superman storyline, Simonson and her team sought to create a new big bad for the mutant heroes (one who wasn't named Magneto) and ending up creating one of the X-Men's greatest adversaries.
Apocalypse proved to be a hit, and he remained the series’ primary antagonist until he was killed off 5 years later. This being the world of comic books, however, he did not stay dead for long, and he was revived just a few months later.
10 The Future Adventures of Cyclops and Phoenix
Two of the original X-Men members, Scott Summers and Jean Grey, travel back in time and witness the creation of one of their greatest enemies—Mister Sinister—in this 1996 mini-series. Sinister had already been terrorizing the Marvel world for nearly a decade by the time this series made its debut, which marked the first time his full origin story had been revealed. Further Adventures established that it was Apocalypse that transformed Nathaniel Essex, a 19th Century English geneticist, into the nefarious Mister Sinister, largely due to their shared Darwinist beliefs.
Cyclops and Jean fail in their attempts to prevent the creation of Sinister, whose own plot to betray and kill his so-called master is foiled as well. Sinister, of course, would later play a major role in the creation of the telepathic mutant Cable. Widely regarded as Apocalypse’s archenemy, Cable did once succeed in destroying the seemingly-unkillable En Sabah Nur, so Sinister's plot was technically successful in a roundabout sort of way.
Much to the chagrin of comic book fans, neither Cable nor Sinister are expected to appear in X-Men: Apocalypse, despite the fact that many consider the two to be essential characters for such a film.
9 Fall of the Mutants
This mini-event crossed over into two other series (Uncanny X-Men and The New Mutants), but Apocalypse's time to shine came in the X-Factor installment. After affording the team the opportunity to join him and being denied, Apocalypse sicced his Four Horsemen on the X-Factor unit. One of the biggest surprises in comic history followed, as one of En Sabah Nur's lackeys is revealed to be the believed-dead Warren Worthington III. Angel no more, Worthington has been reborn as the Horseman of Death, Archangel. Shocking betrayals and non-stop action are in plentiful supply in this brief but memorable three issue arc from Apocalypse's creator, Louise Simonson.
Bryan Singer appears to be borrowing from certain elements of this series for X-Men: Apocalypse, and that doesn’t simply include Archangel’s presence in the big-screen incarnation of the Horsemen. The director has also confirmed the appearance of Caliban, a character who played a major part in Fall of the Mutants. His role will likely be a simplified one; his mutant-tracking abilities will definitely come in handy for the film's antagonist.
8 Apocalypse Wars
With En Sabah Nur’s live-action debut coming up next year, it would make a lot of sense for Marvel Comics to bring the villain back into the limelight, despite the fact that Fox owns the movie rights to the X-Men characters. And that’s exactly what they’re doing. This coming March will bring with it the first issue of Apocalypse Wars, a new crossover event that will bring the reborn villain onto the X-Men roster for the first time. Well, technically he's a teenaged clone of the character nicknamed Genesis, but even so, this series in primed to be one hell of a ride.
We're a few months away from the debut of this comic, so you can’t read it just yet (which is why you may be scratching your head a bit at its inclusion here), but we have a feeling it’s going to be much more than just a memorable quasi-tie-in series. Jeff Lemire, known for his widely-acclaimed two and a half year run on DC’s Animal Man, heads up the writing team, sure, but the comic could have some serious historical significance as well.
There's been no mistaking Marvel's decision in recent years to prioritize characters that they have the movie rights to over the ones they don't, like the X-Men and the Fantastic Four; it's less of a conspiracy theory and more of an obvious fact. The decision to launch such a major title so close to Apocalypse's release date could very well mark a turning point for Marvel Comics as they come to recognize that the success of the X-Men film franchise only helps them (and the comic book industry in general) in the long run.
7 Rise of Apocalypse
Apocalypse remained a somewhat ambiguous character in his first decade of existence—with details on his background being revealed at various points along the way—but it wasn’t until this 1996 comic that fans were gifted his full origin story. Rise of Apocalypse establishes the grey-skinned powerhouse as being born in ancient Egypt, making him over 5000 years old. His widely-accepted title as the world’s first mutant has been disputed over the years (mainly by the supposedly 17,000 year old psychic vampire, Selene) but he is nonetheless referred to as En Sabah Nur, which means “The First One”—in the world of Marvel Comics, anyway.
Rise depicts the awakening of Apocalypse's mutant abilities and the origins of his “survival of the fittest” mantra. He adopted the Darwinist belief through his early experiences, and unfortunately for everyone else, they continue to drive his actions to this day. This comic serves as an ideal starting point for fans looking to gain a better understanding of the character.
6 Apocalypse: The Twelve
In one of the truest showcases of his Darwinist views, En Sabah Nur tries to absorb the power of, you guessed it, 12 of the world’s most powerful mutants as a part of his long-gestating plan to achieve complete omnipotence. The story of The Twelve was first teased over a decade before, and saw Apocalypse attempt to make the powers of mutants like Professor X and Storm his own, making Wolverine his Horseman of Death along the way (a genius idea if there ever was one).
The two month long series split the Marvel fanbase down the middle; some loved it, others loathed it. And while it isn’t exactly head writer Chris Claremont’s best work, it is nonetheless essential reading for Apocalypse fans, if only for the big reveal of the mutant that fans have not-so-affectionately nicknamed "Cyclopalypse."
Like many of the comics on our list, certain aspects of The Twelve will likely crop up in Bryan Singer's Apocalypse. Just don't get your hopes up for a Horseman-powered Wolverine in Berserker Rage mode, as it appears the big bad's personal guard will be made up of Magneto, Storm, Psylocke and Archangel.
5 X-Cutioner's Song
As unimaginably powerful as Apocalypse is, he certainly has had his difficulties keeping his soldiers in line. X-Cutioner's Song saw the weakened supervillain being forced to team up with the X-Men to take down his out of control former protégé Stryfe, who was driven mad upon learning that he was actually a clone of Cable. Stryfe teams up with Mister Sinister to take vengeance on both his adoptive father (Apocalypse) as well as his biological parents (Cyclops and Jean Grey), forcing our favorite mutant heroes into their improbable alliance.
Despite not being the primary antagonist, En Sabah Nur has a truly awesome story in this one. Renowned for its complexities and we-didn't-see-that-one-coming twists, X-Cutioner's Song is undoubtedly one of the finest character displays for Apocalypse, who for the first time is shown to be as imperfect and vulnerable as the other mutant characters.
Unfortunately for the misguided Stryfe, he doesn't seem to learn his lesson the first time around, and he would be in need of reeducation only a few years later...
4 Messiah War
Spearheaded by Marvel veterans Craig Kyle and Christopher Yost (who're currently involved in production on Thor: Ragnarok), 2009's Messiah War was a big hit with critics and readers alike. Hope Summers—yet another child from the storied Cyclops and Jean Grey lineage—is deemed by some to be the future savior of mutantkind, while others view her as an unparalleled threat. Stryfe and Bishop team up to hunt down Hope in the future while Cyclops rallies his troops in an attempt to save her. In this future setting, a weakened Apocalypse begs his former Horseman, Archangel, to aid him in his fight to stop Stryfe, though he isn't without his own selfish intentions.
Once again, En Sabah Nur's vulnerability in this crossover showcases the true depth of the character. While he remains singularly driven to better himself and advance mutantkind, the moments of weakness he so rarely displays often rank amongst his finest moments. Apocalypse won't likely be shown to be anything less than near-perfection in the film version, though, as complicated plots like those featured in Messiah War often fall by the wayside in cinematic adaptations.
3 The Apocalypse Solution
Writer Rick Remender has steadily gained a loving fanbase in the Marvel community, thanks in no small part to this outstanding run on this Uncanny X-Force title. Featuring fan-favorites like Deadpool and Wolverine, this X-Force team is as dysfunctional as it is immensely entertaining. The series doesn't really depict the Apocalypse that we've come to know (though the X-Force squad does have a pretty serious brawl with the Horsemen), but the unique perspective on his teenaged clone, Genesis, is a true breath of fresh air. Unlike the original Apocalypse's brutally harsh upbringing, Genesis is raised under the watchful eye of Fantomex to do good, and he even ends up enrolling in the Jean Grey School for Higher Learning.
What Genesis (or Evan Sabahnur; see what they did there?) can eventually become will become a major source of conflict down the road, as we've already discussed. If you're looking to hit the ground running when Apocalypse Wars kicks off, we'd highly recommend starting here.
2 Age of Apocalypse
You probably saw this coming, but there's no real debate here: Age of Apocalypse is the definitive take on the eponymous villain. This massively epic crossover storyline engulfed the entire X-Men universe, forcing them into a world suffering under the harsh rule of En Sabah Nur, all seemingly caused by the premature death of Professor X. Having died before founding his school or forming the X-Men, Xavier's absence has allowed Apocalypse to overtake and conquer the world without much opposition. His "survival of the fittest" belief system results in a genocidal event that claims the lives of millions. Magneto leads the charge to save humanity, having adopted the peaceful principles Xavier had attempted to instill in him.
The crossover has already been adapted into multiple video games, and it would have served as the principal storyline in season 2 of Wolverine and the X-Men had the animated series not been canceled. Expect it to factor into the film adaptation in a major way.
This comic cannot be oversold. It's fantastic, and 20 years after its original release, it remains one of the greatest stories Marvel has ever told.
How many of Apocalypse's greatest hits have you read? Did we leave out any of your favorites? Have we been a bit too quick to judge Bryan Singer and Oscar Isaac's version? Be sure to sound off in the comments below.
X-Men: Apocalypse arrives in theaters on May 27th, 2016.