Warning: This article contains spoilers for X-Men #2.
Marvel's X-Men relaunch may finally be answering one of its strangest questions; just what's going on with Apocalypse? A lot of prominent X-Men characters have felt a little out-of-character in Hickman's relaunch; but none more so than Apocalypse. One of the X-Men's greatest villains, Apocalypse has always championed an ideology of "survival of the fittest."
And yet, the moment Apocalypse set foot on Krakoa, this classic X-Men foe seemed to change. Apocalypse claimed that everything he'd done over the millennia had been in order to create a home for the mutant race. It's definitely a revisionist approach to history, but he seems to genuinely mean it, or at least to want the X-Men to believe he's genuine. Since then, Apocalypse has reinvented himself, choosing an undecipherable new name and becoming something of a priest of Krakoa. This is Apocalypse as he's never been seen before, and naturally readers have wondered just what's going on.
The first wave of new X-Men books, branded as "Dawn of X," seem to be gradually explaining Apocalypse's plan. It seems he knows a lot more about Krakoa than the X-Men realize.
Apocalypse's History With Krakoa
The living island of Krakoa was introduced in 1975's Giant-Size X-Men #1, and Marvel initially suggested that it had been created by nuclear testing in the Pacific. Writer Jonathan Hickman has rewritten that history as part of his relaunch, as revealed in Powers of X #4. In that issue, Doug Ramsey managed to link his mind to Krakoa's in order to communicate. He learned that Krakoa had once been part of the "one land" known as Okkara, but that it had been torn asunder by a mysterious force wielding a weapon called the Twilight Sword. What was one became two - Arakko and Krakoa - and demonic creatures poured from the chasm between the lands.
Fortunately for the world, the monstrous beings found themselves faced by Apocalypse and his first Four Horsemen. Over the last decade's worth of comics, Marvel has gradually revealed that the early Apocalypse served as one of Earth's defenders. As late as 2620 BC, En Sabah Nur allied with an early Moon Knight in order to repel a Brood invasion. And Apocalypse hstood against the horde emerging from Arakko and Krakoa as well, sacrificing his first Horsemen to plug the gap and bring this invasion to an end. These original Horsemen seem to have been Apocalypse's most prized servants, to the extent that Powers of X #4 suggests he would trade any other Horsemen with them in a heartbeat.
X-Men #2 Sees The Ancient Threat Return
X-Men #2 hints at the real reason Apocalypse has gone to Krakoa; because he foresees the return of this ancient threat. According to this issue, the still-undefined invaders originate from "the land beyond the wild borders of Otherworld." Otherworld is a dimensional nexus shaped by the human subconscious, sometimes referred to as a pocket dimension that is the source of all magic. It is the home of King Arthur, and its greatest champion is Captain Britain. But it's important to note that the mystic principle of "as above, so below" applies to Otherworld; events on Earth will be mirrored in Otherworld. Thus the rise of the mutant race on Krakoa has been mirrored by a war in Otherworld, as revealed in Excalibur #1. King Arthur and the royal family have gone missing, and Morgana Le Fey has taken the throne. She's leading her people against a "white witch" who commands a force of monsters.
The problem is clearly escalating. In Excalibur #1, a mysterious gateway opened from Otherworld to Krakoa, and it refused entry to mutants. Apocalypse had Rogue absorb some of the portal's energy, exposing herself to the entity within. As a result, Rogue has now become its host, collapsing into what appears to be a transformative coma. Shortly after, in X-Men #2 the mutants discover that another new island has emerged from the sea. It's the island of Arakko, and by the end of the issue, the two living islands have been bound together once again. But, disturbingly, one territory in Arakko appears to be off-limits; the Arak Maw, which seems to be the volcanic mountain dominating Arakko. It's described as one massive portal, guarded for millennia by the Summoners.
Apocalypse Is Gathering An Army Against The Threat
According to X-Men #2, for millennia Apocalypse's Horsemen and their children have been fighting against the horde at the edge of Otherworld. The children are known as Summoners, and they are able to exert control over the beasts that serve the enemies of Arakko. Unfortunately their numbers are dwindling, and by the end of the issue one of the Summoners is warning Apocalypse that the defenses will not hold for much longer. The monstrous threat that Apocalypse faced millennia ago is returning to attack the world once again.
Viewed from this light, Apocalypse's purpose right now is to build an army. His plans appeared to involve exposing Rogue to the energy of Otherworld, and she seems to be transforming into a new form, one more useful to the so-called Priest of Krakoa. Meanwhile, he also seems to be more than a little gratified at seeing Betsy Braddock become the new Captain Britain; she now serves to link mutant and magic together, making her an extremely valuable asset. And in X-Men #2, Apocalypse expresses genuine affection and compassion for the Summoners, who he is determined to find a way to protect.
Of course, right now the situation is quite complex. It's unclear, for example, whether Morgana Le Fey is warring against the monsters at the edge of Otherworld - or whether she's unwittingly battling against the Summoners themselves. The one Summoner introduced in X-Men #2 is a woman clad in white, with power to control monsters, which matches perfectly with Morgana Le Fey's description of her opponent as a "white witch." It will be fascinating to see how all this plays out, in the pages of both X-Men and Excalibur.