The Life & Times of an Auteur.

Commentary on Pop Culture, and maybe creating some of my own.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Apocalypse - - What, Now? - A Retro Review


This is a review I had planned for months. To coincide with the release of "X-Men Apocalypse", I was going to take on the 90's four-part "epic", "Beyond Good and Evil". However, as "Apocalypse" fast approaches, as the reviews pour in, I find that not only do I wish to save my $13 by not seeing it, I also don't want to waste what little free time I have with it. That's why I have yet to write my "Civil War" review, because I work a job that often keeps me busy for twelve to fourteen hours every day, and the rest of that time is spent sleeping. At this point, only a cameo from Deadpool could get me in there.

So before I dive into this "epic", I have two confessions to make. Number One: I never liked Apocalypse. But that's hardly a revelation as I have blogged about this before.

Apocalypse in a nutshell.

Second, and this one is probably going to upset a few of you; I don't like the 90's X-Men TAS. I often cited it as an example of the wrong way to adapt a comic book for television animation (although, I think it's safe to say that there are two extremes to bad adaptations and "Ultimate Spider-Man", "Avengers Assemble" and the like are at the opposite end). It aped what the comic books of that era were doing more than anything, and this was the era where Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld reigned supreme; the era where Chris Claremont was forced off the book after making the X-Men a success. More to the point, there wasn't enough diversity of characters on the team they chose, which was Jim Lee's Blue Strike Force along with Storm and Jean Grey. I don't mean diversity as in ethnicity in this case, but diversity of character. The team had two mysterious recalcitrant loners whom both pined for women they couldn't have relationships with. When Wolverine is on your team, Gambit is redundant as he is pretty much the exact same character, only with all of Wolverine's most obnoxious traits taken to eleven. I would rather have swapped out Gambit in favor of Colossus or even Nightcrawler (whom this show managed to make depressing instead of the trickster-like swashbuckler that Claremont and Cockrum made a generation of fans fall in love with). To make matters worse, when they did adapt classic stories like the Dark Phoenix Saga, they managed to get everything there superficially while losing the actual soul the original stories possessed.

Now that I have angered you sufficiently, let me talk about "Beyond Good and Evil" itself. I had initially intended to follow the format that I did with "The Greatest Evil", "Crime Wave", and "In Zarm's Way" but those leave me spending at least two hours per episode and this is a four-parter. A very painful four-parter. So I just watched them again, but I don't want to spend hours dissecting every scene and line of dialogue. Although, I will say that Apocalypse's dialogue is almost as funny as the Headman's.

This is one of those epic events that some types of fans love where most of the show's major villains are brought together into some kind of grand alliance. In "Beyond Good and Evil" we are given Apocalypse, Mr. Sinister, Magneto, Mystique, Sabretooth, the Nasty Boys, as well as an awkward cameo by Deathbird whom was shown in a menacing scene at the end of the two-parter, "Sanctuary", really amounted to nothing... I will talk a little bit more about that later.

Another weakness of all this is that we were never given a real reason for all of these personalities to come together. Sabretooth works as a mercenary, and the Nasty Boys are just minions but we're never given a reason for Mr. Sinister or Mystique to be there. Well, let me walk that back a little, we are given a reason for Sinister to work with Apocalypse, but this was in the era where his motives, origins, and whom he was as a character had yet to be defined. The same year this four-parter aired, Marvel Comics revealed that Sinister's ultimate goal was to create the perfect mutant, using Scott Summers and Jean Grey's DNA, in order to destroy Apocalypse. But X-Men the Animated Series introduced Sinister years before the comics gave him an origin and a motive. This also explains the mess the comics found themselves in during this era. But here, Sinister wanted to help Apocalypse wipe out and re-create existence because... reasons.

Magneto's motivations for being there change within the four-parter. At first we're told he's there because Apocalypse promised to resurrect his deceased wife, Magda. But two episodes later, Magda is forgotten and we're told Apocalypse promised Magneto a world in which mutants ruled.

As for Mystique, they never even pay lip service as to why she's there.

Apocalypse, himself, is a mess in this four-parter. Let's start with the fact that this isn't the present day Apocalypse, but the one from 3999 that stole Cable's computer and traveled through time. It leads me to wonder where the present-day Apocalypse is. Well, the last time we had an episode that focused on him, he was shot out into space by his own spaceship whom Beast had fallen in love with (I don't know... I don't know...), before seeing him briefly on a star ship with Deathbird. I had assumed that he got picked up by her and they formed an alliance. Or perhaps 3999 Apocalypse forged the alliance, but I'm getting ahead of myself... more on the time travel aspects in a bit.

What's Apocalypse's motive in this? Well, up until now and throughout all of his appearances in comic books since his very first appearance, all subsequent appearances in the comics and all media, Apocalypse has always been the ultimate darwinist. He believes in survival of the fittest. Only the strong shall survive. Regular humans are weak, they should be destroyed. Only the most powerful mutants should survive to make future generations more powerful. I may not like Apocalypse as a character, but at least this motive fits in with the X-Men's themes of evolution. But, in "Beyond Good and Evil" Apocalypse took a very strange detour.

Apparently Apocalypse was able to keep this pyramid a secret for thousands of years.

In the year 3999, Cable invades Apocalypse's secret pyramid in Egypt and attempts to finally destroy the monster, but Apocalypse gets the drop on him, steals his computer and as he prepares to kill Cable, Cable shouts at him that he will never win. Then Apocalypse pauses to consider this... on a cosmic level, before using Cable's computer to blink himself to a weird temple that exists outside of time. Cable shouts that Apocalypse is evil, but Apocalypse disagrees that he is malevolent... just that he simply is who he is, he thinks himself above good and evil... then he stops and starts to consider Cable's accusation. So what conclusion does Apocalypse reach? That he is the personification of evil and that an elemental balance between good and evil will always deny him final victory. Um, what? Why? How? Why? Que? A villain who admits that he's evil doesn't work outside of comedy. I have no problem with Negaduck or Evil Emperor Zurg reveling in their evil, but a dramatic villain like Apocalypse whom believes in social darwinism believes that he is making the world a better place. It's messed up, it is evil, but he wouldn't think that he himself is evil. Hitler didn't think he was evil. Hell, in no version of the story does the Devil think he's evil. The Shadows from "Babylon 5" had similar motivations, as darwinists whom would destroy entire races they believed were weak, they felt they were helping the strong thrive and creating a better universe. But no, all of this is out the window and Apocalypse is now the personification of evil... and the X-Men are agreeing with him, even with Beast pointing out that once Apocalypse is destroyed, evil will simply take on another form. The fact of the matter is that Apocalypse was the wrong villain to tell a story like this with, and for that matter, the X-Men were the wrong franchise. You can get away with it when it's the Justice League or the Avengers, and while the X-Men are heroes, it was never about good vs evil... it was about acceptance, bigotry, and clashing ideologies... and while some of those ideologies were evil, nobody who clung to them believed they were anything but the heroes of their own story.

THE HILLS ARE ALIVE WITH THE SOUND OF BEING A LAME DARKSEID CLONE!

So what's Apocalypse's grand scheme? To abduct all of the most powerful telepaths in existence, from across time, bring them outside of time, kill them all at once so he can stop time, end existence, and re-create the universe in his own image. This is how he plans to get around the elemental balance of good and evil. I'm still trying to figure out how the hell a social darwinist reaches this ridiculous conclusion.

The time travel in this story is a mess. Now, I know time travel is difficult. I know it has a history of being misused in X-Men stories, but this is whole new levels of bullshit. Cable and the X-Men travel to ancient Egypt where they destroy Apocalypse's pyramid where he keeps his lazarus chamber in order to prevent him from becoming immortal and wrecking havoc on the world. They succeed but 3999 Apocalypse is now outside of the time and thus immune. When he is finally defeated, he is forced to exit the axis and back in the time stream, with his pyramid destroyed in the past, he ceases to exist. Cable and the X-Men erase Apocalypse from history. And yet Warren Worthington III still has metal wings and blue skin. There are no consequences to any of this; although for some reason, Xavier's legs work again.


If you are going to use time travel in your series, you need to establish clear rules and consider the consequences for your actions. This isn't me demanding closed-loop time travel ala "Gargoyles" and nothing but. "X-Men" already established in previous episodes that changing history was possible three times, and they dealt with the consequences of those changes fairly well, I might quibble here and there but they were consistent with their own rules. But this... nothing. It was poorly thought out spectacle.

This was intended to be the grand finale for the series. I think the idea was simply "let's throw in as many villains as we can for one big brawl". But, as a grand finale, it would have failed. Why? Notice that I barely talked the X-Men themselves. They barely factored into the story. I mean, they were in it and they did things, but this was mostly Cable and Apocalypse's story. Yes, we get Scott and Jean's second wedding, but then Sinister kidnaps Jean because Apocalypse "TOLD HIM TO!" and then neither Scott nor Jean factor much into the story ever again. Beast provides techno-jargon, but Bishop's sister, Shard, plays a larger part. The X-Men themselves don't even factor into the final battle with Apocalypse, except for Wolverine. So it's Wolverine, Cable, Magneto, Mystique, and Bishop battling Apocalypse... and only one of these characters is one of the series' regulars. Jean Grey gets kidnapped. Scott whines about it but doesn't really do anything. Beast provides techno-jargon. Gambit, Rogue, Storm, Jubilee, etc don't really do much except participate in some small skirmishes if that. Hell, Psylocke gets more to do and this is both her first appearance and an extended cameo where she winds up as just one more kidnapped psychic.

Speaking of cameos. Remember that weird Jim Carrey style janitor of the time stream that annoyed Bishop (and the audience) for four episodes? Then he transformed into Immortus. I didn't know who Immortus was. And, even as a comics reader, it wasn't for another fifteen years before I found out who Immortus was, and that he was another identity for Kang the Conquerer? And, to this day, I have no idea why he was here. He contributed nothing.


This was bad, folks. This was so, so bad. I'd be more lenient if this was an 80's cartoon. But in an era where "Batman the Animated Series" and "Gargoyles" were on the air, you don't just shunt your main characters off to the side and let the occasional guest stars take over for what you planned to be your grand finale. Yeah, Spider-Man may not be about dimension hopping and wars for the fate of all existence, but at least the finale of Spider-Man: TAS was still about Spider-Man. At least the finales for the 90's Iron Man and Fantastic Four cartoons didn't shunt their characters off to the side. Hell, even the finale of the 1987 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon didn't do that, and that was airing around the same time.

Granted, this turned out not to be the finale, and the show then went on to end with a whimper. But looking back at the show, especially it's first two or three seasons, you can see why, despite all of it's flaws, it made the X-Men household names. "Beyond Good and Evil" just betrayed the very premise and themes of the series, and grand finale or not, really had no business being a part of the show. It's weird. It's just bad. I don't know what went on here, what the thought processes were, but the show's audience deserved better than this.

Awful. Just awful.

16 comments:

  1. This show might as well have been subtitled "an awkward cameo by..." because there were so many and very few seemed to fit with the show. They had an episode dedicated to Ms Marvel and Rogue's past but at the end you didn't know more about Ms Marvel than you did at the start, other than that she existed. And this episode was just cameo central, come watch all these new characters while the main ones do nothing for 4 episodes.

    Apocalypse just doesn't work as an ongoing villain, in the show he was a threat of the week that was supposedly unstoppable yet he kept running away at the end of every episode. He wasn't a big bad, he was Cobra Commander. In a one off like a movie he could possibly work, since he can do big impressive stuff but then be killed off at the end never needing to return for the next story arc. Haven't seen the movie yet so I don't know how well they did.

    This is just such an odd multi-parter. Everyone had to be in it, no matter if it was just for them to be walking for 4 episodes. How the hell they sat down and wrote out the main characters for the show for the final battle I'll never know. Maybe they figured if they shoved Wolverine into it no one would care. They were probably right.

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    1. And then that awkward cameo by Immortus which left me scratching my head. It wasn't until ten years later that I found out who that guy was supposed to be.

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  2. Apocalypse was actually pretty cool in Evolution; he was built up, showed off his raw power, had a reason for being out of action and was defeated without deus ex machina (Leech's powers showed up earlier). His plan was also somewhat well done and he actually felt like a threat. They left an opening for him to come back (he's trapped in the time stream forever) but it didn't wreck him

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  3. For the record, the "X-Men" cartoon from 1992 was easily my favorite Marvel cartoon at that point. It was flawed and very much a product of its time, but when you look at Marvel's cartoons before and even some at the time, it's usually among the best. "Spider-Man: the Animated Series" may have run with serialization longer than X-Men, but it had its share of issues too. When "Beyond Good and Evil" first aired, I thought it was awesome because I loved villain team ups. Of course then we grow up and I realized how much of a mess it is, for many of the same reasons you cited.

    For the record, in the 1992 X-Men series, Mystique had worked for Apocalypse since season 1. She posed as "Dr. Adler", a scientist who invented the "anti-mutant collars" that Genosha used to enslave mutants and that anyone who ever captured them after usually used (which I thought were lame and simplistic since not all mutant powers are the same but I digress). Cable (who had two introductions which clashed with each other) initially wanted to kill Adler for this before seeing "he" was Mystique. Presumably Mystique believed in Apocalypse's Darwinist mission and tried to reconcile with her adopted daughter Rogue when he was recruiting Horsemen (via a fake cure for mutants). Despite being Apocalypse's minion, however, she doesn't always appear when he does and sometimes struck out alone (or with her own minions, Blob, Pyro, and Avalanche). In "BGAE", Mystique is with Apocalypse for the same reason as always, just turns on him when he goes too far with the whole, "I am evil and want to recreate reality" schtick. Hey, I never said it wasn't hackneyed.

    For the record, not only is Wolverine the only regular X-Man present for the finale (because by this point in the show he was officially its central star), he somehow manages to destroy Apocalypse's plans by slashing this green orb machine that was floating around Mr. Sinister. After he is freed from some floating metal hula hoops.

    I do agree that the strict adherence to the comics at the time was the series' strength and weakness. I doubt it ever would have been made if it wasn't aping the current comics, since "X-Men #1" from 1991 sold millions of copies. Marvel had been trying to sell the X-Men to a network since the 80's; NBC never bit but Fox did. Unfortunately, the 90's may have been the peak of popularity for the X-Men but not for reasons which usually involved coherent stories. They relied heavily on gimmicks, trendy art, and complicated crossovers - nothing at all like what Marvel Comics relies on now. He said sarcastically.

    For my money, out of the four X-Men animated series produced so far (four if you include "X-Men Anime" from 2011), "X-Men Evolution" was the best overall. And that one easily had the best version of Apocalypse. There, he genuinely thought his mission was what was best for mutants and the planet as a whole; he was simply working on a macro scale above mere mortals. "When has humanity ever known what it needed?" was one retort he gave Xavier there. The fact that Steven E Gordon gave him a great redesign which eliminated the stupid "A" on his belly was the icing on the cake. Why the hell would an ancient Egyptian mutant stick a letter which isn't even in his native language on his stomach?

    While I do think the series finale to the 90's X-Men show was pretty good (relatively), many of the episodes between this and that finale were either weird or misfires Or airing a year or two out of sequence. But, hey, at least it doesn't involve Rocket Racer and the Big Wheel.

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    1. "When "Beyond Good and Evil" first aired, I thought it was awesome because I loved villain team ups. Of course then we grow up and I realized how much of a mess it is, for many of the same reasons you cited."

      Greg Weisman said the following when he discussed the Gargoyles episode, High Noon: "Again, back in those days I just thought the audience would get revved up merely because we were teaming up THREE of our major villains. Macbeth, Demona and the villainous side of Coldstone. In Batman or Superman that would be a BIG EVENT. A huge threat to the hero. Did it have that effect on you guys? I feel vaguely that in a strange way, it did not. That our villains were so complex, that for once they backfired on us. That it wasn't viewed as, "Wow, our heroes have barely survived an encounter with one of those guys, how will they handle three?" Rather, the conflict was less interesting than the machinations and personalities."

      I agree that Evolution was better, though.

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    2. As much as I may still see some value in the 1992 X-Men cartoon, it really does feel odd comparing it to "Gargoyles". That show was in a different league. While I'll agree that the machinations behind the scenes for "High Noon" were great, I always get a little thrill just for the villain team up aspect too. I think it can work both ways if you write it well enough. In "High Noon", clearly the reason behind why Macbeth and Demona were teaming up was a big deal. The episode goes out of its way to establish that as a subplot which moves into other episodes (with Coldstone being manipulated via his multiple personalities). In "Beyond Good & Evil", the reasons for most of the team-ups are unknown beyond for Magneto's. Mystique never had a strong reason for being his ally behind agreement with his ideals, and even his ideals were never really deep. Apocalypse was all but the embodiment of evil in Season 1. He should have had an "e" on his stomach instead.

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  4. For the record, despite being literally erased from existence, Fabian Cortez continues to worship Apocalypse and seeks to resurrect him (and becomes host to him) in the 5th season episode, "The 5th Horseman". Somehow being erased from existence didn't stop his minions (or the heroes) from remembering him. On the one hand, the 1992 X-Men show did try their hand at tight continuity within the first 2 seasons, but by the third and definitely the 4th scrapped it. Part of that was due to some episodes being produced late and out of order. The other, honestly, was just sloppy writing like this. Cable being introduced in season 1 (and reintroduced in season 3 with each having no baring on the other) is mildly forgivable since Cable IS a time traveler. I'd also argue the effects of the X-Men to alter history were limited; no matter what, Bishop's "future" of 2055 was always how he left it. It was just the means with which it got to that state which would change every time he sought to undo it. And another oddity of this 4 parter was having two different terrible future timelines competing with each other; Bishop's, where everyone is ruled by Sentinels, and Cable's (circa 3999), where everyone is ruled by Apocalypse. Just stop with the pointless drama, X-Men, have some parties and fun, and at least die with some smiles. Oh, but then they wouldn't be busy with fighting alien cyborgs or whatever.

    One of the most blatant continuity errors within the show's universe was the line up of the founding X-Men, and in particular, exactly when they battled Magneto. Season 1 treats "Enter, Magneto" as the first time the X-Men are fighting Charles' old pal. I believe in this 4-parter, Warren Worthington III is introduced by Psylocke as "destined to join the X-Men". Later on, flashbacks sought to be more in keeping with the original comic book lore, though, and you'd see Angel hanging out with Cyclops, Jean, Beast, and Iceman (the latter at least was consistent as a one time "old member"). And that they'd fought Magneto at least once before and just never talked about it. Maybe Xavier did some mind wipes.

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    1. "For the record, despite being literally erased from existence, Fabian Cortez continues to worship Apocalypse and seeks to resurrect him (and becomes host to him) in the 5th season episode, "The 5th Horseman". Somehow being erased from existence didn't stop his minions (or the heroes) from remembering him."

      I meant to mention this. Yeah... that shows lack of thought. Then they bring Apocalypse back in time for the show to be cancelled.

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  5. I always kinda interpreted the whole "Balance between good and evil" malarkey as Apocalypse realizing he's the villain of a bad Saturday morning cartoon and having an existential crisis.

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    1. Deadpool would be his perfect nemesis.

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  6. I think seeing some of this on TV was my first major exposure to Apocalypse and needless to say, it really effected my impression of him. I learned about his Social Darwinist motivations later and it still didn't do anything to win me over to him - in fact, the more he repeated his same basic goals and basic plans throughout different media, the more boring he got to me. The Evolution version voiced by David Kaye is the coolest he's ever got, but when not even Oscar Isaac can make him cool, you know that this is a lame villain.

    And this parter had so many other problems. That time janitor guy who was actually Immortus/Kang the Conqueor? He felt so out of place on the show, I did not know why he was there or what I was even watching whenever he was on screen.

    Oh and seeing Mr. Sinister getting wasted always makes me sad because unlike Apocalypse, I feel like he actually IS a cool concept for a villain who just went to waste over the years - he's like the Hobgoblin of X-Men but unlike Hobgoblin, his original creator never got to correct the course for the character and restore him to his intended identity, which would have been so much better than the Victorian Era Darwinist backstory (heavily tied to Apocalypse, no less) we got for him.

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    1. Apocalypse was great once and only once... and that was in "X-Men Evolution". I am not opposed to him as a concept or idea, but gods... he's kind of like Unicron, you can't just keep using him over and over and over again.

      I do agree on Sinister and prefer Claremont's planned backstory on him... suddenly he makes a lot more sense.

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    2. A characters whose name is APOCALYPSE seems like a villain who ought to only be used at least once in any adaptation rather than be made a recurring threat.

      Again, never rectifying Sinister's character problems is like if they kept Ned Leeds the true identity of the original Hobgoblin. It just doesn't make a whole lot of sense compared to what the character's creator was building towards.

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  7. No, Thanos is a lame Darkseid clone.

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    1. Nope, Thanos is an AWESOME Darkseid clone!

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  8. Technically, thanos was based on metron, but they changed the design over time until he resembled Darkseid. His still an awesome character and hope they do him justice in infinity wars.

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