In Rogues Portal pre-screening X-Men: Apocalypse review, our writer Billy Seguire gushed over how cool it is to finally see some more of the X-Men Universe spring from the pages of the comics onto the silver screen. These movies have been a near constant since the early 2000s. After the success of The Avengers, X-Men finally began embracing their comic book weirdness. They moved away from a Deadpool with a sewn up mouth and moved into full fourth-wall breaking territory with resounding success.
In the comics, Apocalypse is one of the most feared X-Men villains. He routinely pushes the X-Force to their limits and has been trying to rule the world since ancient Egyptian times. When he isn’t fighting with the X-Men he is usually tangling with Kang the Conqueror.
The film version of Apocalypse is portrayed by everyone’s latest Hollywood crush, Oscar Isaac, with an awe encompassing presence of godhood. Like the biblical story from which Apocalypse is derived, he recruits four horsemen to help bring fourth his own brand of chaos. These horsemen have always been represented in four distinct forms: War, Death, Famine and Pestilence.
Now because comics are the ultimate long form of story telling, these titles have been passed along to quite a few people in the Marvel Universe. In this three part series, I’m are going to look at some of the characters who became horsemen, and other important Apocalypse storylines. With that, let’s dive into War and Death, the two strongest horsemen in Apocalype’s arsenal.
The War Horsemen
The five most prominent Horsemen imbued with the powers of War are Abraham Kieros, Bruce Banner, Deathbird, Gazer, and Minotaur.
Abraham Kieros was created by Louise and Walter Simonson during the first volume of X-Factor and served as the first modern incarnation of war. As a mutant, Kieros had the ability to create explosions by clapping his hands together. He was eventually healed by Angel, returning to his true mutant state.
Bruce Banner was the next to borrow the powers of War due to manipulation by Apocalypse. It is important to note that this was a temporary appointment, and there were no other Horsemen at the time. After a scuffle with the Juggernaut, Banner’s best friend Rick Jones jumped into the battle, causing the Hulk to come to his senses and break free of Apocalypse’s sway.
Deathbird was the true second horseman of War. She was a Shi’ar Warrior and hateful sister to longtime X-Men ally Lilandra. She was turned into War with the intent on hunting down and collecting “The Twelve” a group of mutants that were to be used to create a new body for Apocalypse.
Gazer was pit against an Egyptologist in a battle to the death, with the prize being the powers of War. As the fight went on, Gazer was going to be the clear loser, before Ozymandias intervened. After ‘saving’ his life, Ozymandias asked Gazer to betray Apocalypse. Gazer refused, but the rift had been created, leading to downfall of Apocalypse once again.
Minotaur was the final Horsemen of War, left to protect the reincarnation of Apocalypse should the need arise. To assist in his goal, his axe was enchanted with the powers of War. Anyone he struck would enter a state of constant fear, seeking war with anyone around them. Eventually he was defeated by X-Force.
The Death Horsemen
One of the staples of superhero comics is heroes being swayed to do the villain’s bidding. The powers of Death have been granted to four very prominent X-Men: Angel, Wolverine, Gambit and Psylocke.
Angel was gifted the powers of Death and became Archangel, growing mechanical wings and turning his skin blue. At this point, he became incredibly intertwined with the Apocalypse mythos. After thinking he killed Iceman, he finally broke free of Apocalypse’s hold. Even though he was free, he was too afraid to face his former teammates. He eventually rejoined the X-Men, but the Archangel personality still resided within him, struggling to break free. Eventually when Apocalypse did die, the Death Seed planted in Archangel turned him into a new Apocalypse himself. He sired two children while in this form, Eimin and Uriel, dubbed the Apocalypse Twins. Eventually, Psylocke was able to break Archangel away from Angel, and return Angel to his original mutant form, but with his metal wings.
Wolverine was placed in the same predicament as Gazer, although his battle was against his longtime nemesis Sabertooth. After defeating Sabertooth, Apocalypse had a Skrull replace Wolverine on the X-Men. As Death, Wolverine began hunting “The Twelve” for his new mask. Shortly after, in an ensuing battle with the X-Men, Wolverine destroyed his own Skrull doppelganger. The X-Men then chased him down and with the efforts of Shadowcat, break Apocalypse’s hold on Wolverine.
Gambit is probably the most interesting Horseman, regardless of designation. His case is vastly different from anyone else’s because he volunteered for the job. After Wanda Maximoff muttered “No More Mutant’s” Gambit believed that Apocalypse would be able to restore mutant kind to their former glory. His personal reasons were quickly overwritten by becoming Death though, and Gambit became a thrall that followed Apocalypse’s every word. The persona of Gambit survived though, and ended up escaping with Sunfire. Mr. Sinister eventually restored both Gambit and Sunfire to their former selves.
Psylocke was a Horseman when Archangel assumed the role of Apocalypse. Originally she was tasked with dimension hopping to the Age of Apocalypse, and obtaining a Life Seed to finally free Angel of his Archangel personality. She couldn’t bring herself to kill Angel though, and briefly became the Horsemen of Death. Jean Grey eventually unlocked an untapped font of power in Psylocke, allowing her to break Archangel’s control, and stab him with the life seed, creating a new Angel free of the Archangel personality.
The new movie doesn’t outright state who each Horseman is, but one can assume Magneto portrays War and Archangel is Death. Next week we will look at the comic incarnations of Pestilence and Famine, and the troubles they bring to the X-Men.