For a species that’s constantly on the brink of extinction, apocalyptic themes can be downright inane at times. These days, apocalyptic scenarios are a twisted kind of normal for the X-men. If they’re not confronting the extinction of the mutant race, they’re recovering from it or preparing for the next extinction. Apocalyptic themes are so interwoven with the narrative of the X-men that any story that doesn’t involve an extinction-level threat is an aberration.
By these dire standards, Apocalypse Wars is certainly not an aberration. That’s not to say it follows the same apocalyptic formula, though. The narrative Cullen Bunn crafts in Uncanny X-men focuses less on extinction, sterilization, or marginalization and more on a personal apocalypse. Granted, the world faces a serious threat in Genocide, one of Apocalypse’s overly dedicated minions. However, the threat isn’t as important as the turmoil it creates within the characters. It is basically the antithesis of a typical battle against Onslaught or Thanos.
This gives Apocalypse Wars a unique impact, one that is rarely explored in apocalyptic stories that don’t involve time travel or evil clones. That impact unfolds gradually over the course of this series and in Uncanny X-men #10, the scope and scale of that impact finally sets in. It doesn’t hit with the same weight as a traditional apocalyptic plot, but given the glut of such plots with the X-men, that may be a good thing.
There’s no deception, mystery, or twist at this point in the story. Bunn opts for a more simplistic approach in wrapping up Apocalypse Wars and this ends up being the most prudent. Genocide does more than enough to garner no sympathy whatsoever. He tries to honor Apocalypse’s legacy a little too closely, manipulating Angel and subduing Magneto in ways that only make the X-men angrier. Unlike the Hulk, however, the X-men are more focused with their anger.
Genocide’s plan to manipulate Angel comes off as one of those plans that was never going to work out and not just because one of Angel’s former lovers is a psychic ninja. He’s not Apocalypse, nor does he ever make the case that he can be Apocalypse. He’s essentially a decaffeinated version of Apocalypse who is capable of manipulation, but horribly lacking in cunning and strength. While he does have a menacing presence, he lacks the charisma that Oscar Isaac so masterfully captured in X-men: Apocalypse.
That lack of charisma, combined with the shallowest of motivations, may offer limited depth, but it makes the X-men’s defeat of Genocide that much more satisfying. It also gives Greg Land abundant opportunities to craft stunning, apocalyptic visuals. It meshes well with the themes and tone of the narrative. With characters like Genocide, it’s easy to get too cartoonish with the style. While Genocide has the personality of a Saturday morning cartoon character, Land and Bunn make sure it feels more refined.
While Genocide’s personality is a poor selling point in Uncanny X-men #10, it’s the personal impact of the story that makes it work. Most of that impact comes from Psylocke, who spends a good chunk of this story trying to get through to her former lover. The emotions don’t run high or become melodramatic, but they are there. Bunn makes it a point to highlight’s Psylocke’s determination to save her former lover. This creates the kind of personal stake that gives greater weight to what would otherwise be a generic apocalyptic scenario.
However, this isn’t the only personal impact guiding the narrative. Alongside this apocalyptic clash with Genocide, Bunn caps off another sub-plot involving Monet, Sabretooth, and Monet’s demonic brother, Emplate. The personal impact here is different in that it involves two siblings trying to help each other. The problem is that one sibling’s concept of help involves feeding on mutants, a species that just got sterilized for the second time. It makes for another conflicted clash where Land’s art shines once more.
There’s nothing wrong with this sub-plot. Bunn develops it nicely. The personal impact with Monet is not unlike the impact with Psylocke. What undermines this plot and the one involving Genocide is how disconnected they are. One doesn’t affect the other in any way. They might as well be plots from two different comics. It’s possible to cut, paste, and reorganize in a way that it’s impossible to tell that they’re from the same comic. This lack of cohesion undermines and disrupts the overall narrative.
The presence of two well-developed sub-plots doesn’t negate the impact of either plot. However, they do cut into one another like ill-timed commercial breaks. It gives the impression that both plots have to be rushed to tie up the necessary loose ends. To Bunn’s credit, he’s able to do this with both plots, but there’s only so much polish he can manage with two utterly disconnected stories.
Even without the polish, Uncanny X-men #10 does manage to capture the same underlying theme in Apocalypse Wars that also plays out in All-New X-men and Extraordinary X-men. Each plot and sub-plot, regardless of how disconnected they are, tie into concepts of destiny and inner nature. Genocide doesn’t even try to avoid either whereas Angel tries desperately to do the opposite. One succeeds through the aid and support of his telepathic girlfriend. The other ends up on the wrong end of Magneto and Mystique’s wrath. There’s no ambiguity in terms of which effort is more worthwhile.
In many respects, the theme of Apocalypse Wars is a fitting metaphor of sorts for the X-men and mutants in general, ongoing sterilization plots notwithstanding. It’s easy to accept apocalyptic doom and gloom when that sort of thing seems to happen every other week, but it’s possible to reconnect with a less dire outlook. It won’t make a second round of sterility feel less apocalyptic, but it will rally the likes of Magneto, Mystique, and Sabretooth on a cohesive team. In facing any apocalypse, it’s hard to imagine a team more equipped.