Can we just go ahead and admit that Apocalypse is a bit of a washout as a supervillain already? Sure he talks a good game, but like Galactus, how many brutal mass pogroms against the unworthy has he really done? Don't grope for an answer--the answer is "barely any," because Apocalypse's endgame would mean a drastic upheaval in the status qu0 and they're not about to do that. So like the Coyote, he can't succeed in his end goal by his very design.
And before you bring up the the Age of Apocalypse, consider this: Apocalypse doesn't have anything to do with the advent of that storyline--he just happens to be on deck at the right time when Legion's crazy-ass son all of a sudden decides he has time-travel powers and ends up killing his dad. Like Roger Sterling, Apocalypse only inherited his success, which, coupled with the fact he hardly ever hauls himself off his ancient ass and does anything himself, makes him one of the Marvel Universe's most underachieving villains ever. He's a total Siena Blazeout.
So Apocalypse is rather lazily characterised, lazy in general, and in truth, even his intermediaries are a bit suspect: If you think that sending the Four Horsemen (well, unless we're talking about Flair/Blanchard/Anderson/Windham) or even worse, the Dark Riders is going to get you anything but disappointment in the end, you really probably aren't qualified intellectually to rule the world.
But I didn't come here to talk about that today. Well, not exactly. I came here to discuss Apocalypse: The Twelve, the crossover that was supposed to shut the door on the 90's for the X-Men and lead them into the new millennium, once again with Chris Claremont at the helm.
You would be forgiven, of course, if this is less than overwhelming to you. Because really, Claremont had at least been scripting the X-Books for months before this (either that or Terry Kavanagh's scripting did an amazing imitation of all his various tics) and the ultimate result of Claremont's new era would necessitate the Grant Morrison era a year later. Already, and even moreso in the light of retrospect, this whole "new era" seems like a shell game.
For all the shit I give Chris Claremont about . . .well, everything, I have a lot of sympathy for him. He'd tried a few things back in the 90's to gain some distance from his defining work on X-Men, and while they hadn't worked all that well, one could at least appreciate some effort was being made (well, maybe not with Sovereign Seven) Ultimately, I thin going back to the X-Books was something of a poisoned chalice--really nothing was going to satisfy the fans of the book. Had he hewn too close to his older style he would have been called a dinosaur, try to go too outre (which is what he did . . .sorta) and he would fall on his face. Really, there was no way he could win.
Anyhow, The Twelve. The Twelve is obscure plot point that had been picked up and dropped for about 12 years or so previous to this, and the final revelation of it hardly seems like it justified all the mystery swirling around it, and when you hook that to Apocalypse's lackadaisical villaining, you don't have the prospects for a great story, no matter how epic you build it up to be.
Good thing then, that The Twelve is not to much "epic" as a hurried, bewildering mess. Characters appear out of nowhere and disappear at will, fights start, last for two issues, and end inconclusively, there's a whole arc with Archangel that doesn't make the slightest bit of sense at all and dear lord, the Skrulls. So many Skrulls. WHY ARE THERE SO MANY SKRULLS?!?!
Anyways, let's (finally) get right to the heart of this thing. After the events of The Shattering (now grandfathered into the Reign of Error series) the X-Men broke up for maybe two issues or so even though it was supposed to be this big thing and Wolverine turned out to be a horseman of Apocalypse and blah blah blah. Naturally, this should be the leading edge of the X-Men encountering and working to undo Apocalypse's plan.
However, as the throughline of this crossover seems to be "hurry up and wait." So naturally we spend an issue recounting how Wolverine got turned. While there's a germ of a good idea there--Wolverine becomes a Horseman because the other option is Sabretooth and Logan feels he has a better chance of breaking his control--but it's all a bit padded and look back when we should be moving forward and raising the stakes. Instead, this story is framed by Wolverine fighting and losing against the Hulk, and naturally, Apocalypse shows and tell Wolverine "it's fine it's all part of the plan." Because yeah, getting the shit beaten out of you is a perfect way to advance your plans for victory, especially as beating on the Hulk has no bearing on anything that's going on elsewhere.
But because we don't progress as much as digress, we now cut over to cable, where Rob Liefeld gives us a quiet (for him, anyways) issue wherein Cable says goodbye to X-Force (through gritted teeth, obviously) and Caliban has lost his shit and been turned into Pestilence, the second Horseman. Pestilence doesn't have any special powers--or, at least none apart from being a big strong guy who hits people (this is a Rob Liefeld comic after all) and for the next issue X-Force and Cable fight Caliban and finally, we have the big "final" throwdown between Apocalypse and Cable in issue #75 which had been built up (more or less) as the final battle between the two principals, but as the "final battle" thing has now been hijacked for the final part of The Twelve (which would then be punted even further down the field in "The Search for Cyclops" nonsense--have you twigged to the major fault with this crossover, yet?) in which . . .well, nothing happens.
Cut back to Uncanny X-Men for an issue where people sit around wringing their hands and waiting for something to happen while the X-Men poke at Skrulls and look very very concerned that something's up. Oh, and Roger Cruz is doing his very best Joe Madureria impression here. I would imagine Joe loved that. Flip over to X-Men and hey, stuff's actually happening--Deathbird is revealed as War, the third Horseman and . . .Ahab? Really? Really?--is revealed as Famine. They kidnap Iceman and Sunfire as stuff is now actually happening with the plot. I should add it's taken us four issues to get here. There's also a bit where Magneto, having recently conquered Genosha, wonders if he's dug his own mass grave. How prophetic. Anyways, this sets the stage for the final fight . . .
. . .so naturally, let's take a short detour and get Wolverine on the side of the angels again. I have no earthly idea exactly what happens in these books and I've read them dozens of times. Oh, the Wolverine stuff generally makes sense--he's confronted by his sidekicks while Psylocke tries to break his brainwashing. It works, and naturally Angel takes the opportunity to go utterly bugfuck insane with one of the most deathlessly hilarious lines ever in the history of bad comics:
"LIGHT--IT NEVER DIES--NOT EVEN IN MONSTERS!"
I try to drop that little gem into conversations any chance I get. I think the checkout lady at the grocery store wants to kill me by now.
Anyhow, in what I'm certain was a crucial plot point at the time, the Angel's hair and wings go all light-brighty and he flies around healing people. Naturally Wolverine, fresh off being brainwashed, has to try and stop him because this is a Bad Thing, although the story seems desperately uninterested in explaining why this is so terrible or even WHAT THE FUCK IT HAS TO DO WITH ANYTHING (apart from the fact that Angel and Wolverine were both Death at one time, but that again, has nothing to do with the larger story) and the Angel heals one more guy and everything's OK except none of this has anything to do with the motherfucking Twelve.
Well, thank heaven we finally get to the nitty gritty (which is good, this feels like it's been dragging on forever) and the X-Men take the fight to Apocalypse (well, they fight the Skrulls for a hell of a good long time and frankly they do way better than the Horsemen ever did, which makes me wonder why the Horsemen in the first fucking place and . . .gah) and the whole schema of the Twelve is finally revealed--it's a random collection of mutants who represent vague concepts (Fire and Ice? Time and Space?) that will make Apocalypse uber-powerful . . .somehow. You would be forgiven for the fact that this contravenes everything that was known about the Twelve previous . . .never mind there's actually Thirteen of them because the whole thing is a shuck and jive and Apocalypse changes his mind and decides to merge with X-Man because . . .well, if the massive plot holes in this crossover haven't already made you want to scream . . .
And the maddening thing of this is the climax of the story ends with Cyclops and Apocalypse merging. This is built up to be a "Death of Phoenix" level tragedy--hell, Claremont even cribs line and verse from the final issue--and it's completely undercut because this is not the end of the story--no amount of time is spent on this in the name of allowing the tragedy to sink in (Hell, when Jean Grey died they gave it a whole issue to sink in) before we have four months of alternate reality stories and then we're off to the next thing. So, no coherent throughline of buildup, no catharsis, no nothing. I can't imagine why this failed.
In short, this was yet another way to attempt a cosmetic fix to the problem and it failed because there was no real endgame in mind beyond "Get things to a point where we can announce Claremont's on the book and we can put "A bold new direction! A good jumping-on point!" and thus it was a great big ball of nothing that tied absolutely nothing up (not even the central mystery of the crossover) resolved no great plots and just marked time until they hit the reset button and tried very hard to pretend nothing happened.
Bottom line, it's probably best to avoid this, because even for fans of bad comics it takes a bit of willpower to slog through. I also recommend that you never forget that LIGHT NEVER DIES
not even in MONSTERS!