The X-Men Episode Guide 5×10: The Fifth Horseman
The early ’90s were spoiled for choice when it came to comic book adaptations. Not only was Batman: The Animated Series on the air, but X-Men led Marvel’s push to get on the small screen, diving right into the often convoluted continuity of everyone’s favorite mutants, luring in a generation of fans, and paving the way for cartoons to follow. That’s why we’ve set out to review every single episode of the ’90s X-Men animated series.
This week, it's the return of Apocalypse and Fabian Cortez, so if you want to stop reading now, I'll understand.
Previously, on X-Men:
In our last episode, Jubilee and some unnamed children were trapped in a hole in the ground, leading Jubilee to keep everyone calm by telling a story where the X-Men were re-cast as fantasy characters. Jubilee was a Robin Hood-esque hero, Wolverine was a troll, Magneto was an evil sorcerer, and Gambit was an oily pickup artist. Not really much of a change there.
Believe it or not, the whole thing was actually a pretty enjoyable episode, leading me to ask what other cartoon episodes people didn't like at first that grew on them over time. Despite the fact that there were a few Commenteers that weren't quite clear on what "episodes" or "cartoons" meant, we got some good answers:
I know this is gonna sound crazy, but I wasn't really into "The Laughing Fish" episode of B:TAS. It just seemed too weird of a case for Batman to deal with on this more "mature" show. Being an adult, I now consider it to be one of the funniest, best Joker-related stories from the show. -- Joshua McLaughlin
The episode of G1 Transformers where Optimus' body was turned into a giant robot crocodile and Megatron sat on the Lincoln Memorial. Dumb when I was a kid, glorious as an adult. -- Ed Novak
The Forgottten from B:TAS, definitely. I hated that episode when I was a kid, but I've really come around on it. The music, the villain, the whole concept behind it, it's actually a really fun, off-kilter Batman story that informs a lot about the best aspects of Batman, as a character. It just didn't have, I dunno, Joker or Riddler in it, so I was foolish and scoffed as a lad. -- Brad Millette
Man, I am with you there, Brad. If you don't think Amnesiac Hobo Batman is an amazing idea for a story, then you and I will probably never agree with each other on anything.
This week's episode is The Fifth Horseman, from the writing team of Steven Melching and David McDermott and producers Frank Squillace and Tom McLaughlin -- and while I was hoping that title meant that it would be a brief animated biography of J.J Dillon, that is sadly not the case. Instead, it's going to be about Apocalypse.
I've never really cared for Apocalypse. That said, I know he was a big deal in the '90s and I understand how his long-reaching and incredibly nonsensical plans could make him an appealing villain for a TV show, if only because it allows you to bring in a lot of different storylines and thread them into one season-long arc. But seriously, y'all. We just went through a four-part story arc (approximate running time: EIGHT YEARS) about the X-Men and their associated hangers fighting this guy, ending with him being cast into temporal limbo, which is as close as you can get to a permanent end on a show where you cannot actually use the words "kill," "die" or "dead." And now he's gonna come back? Yeesh. On the other hand, from what I can tell, this is his last appearance -- not that you'd know it from the ending.
We open in South America, with a young man being chansed by a trio of mutants who are wearing slightly less flattering variations on Rachel Summers' costume:
The reason for this is that they are the Hounds of Apocalypse (not to be confused with the Hounds of which Rachel Summers was a member, nor the Horsemen of Apocalypse, both of which figure pretty prominently in competing alternate futures because of course they do, it's the X-Men), and they're not just out for an evening stroll. The boy they're chasing is meant to be a vessel of Apocalypse's resurrection, but he is having none of it, and is fortunately able to back up this stance by shooting explosions out of his forehead. All things considered, that's a pretty useful mutant power. He gets away, and then is never seen again, so presumably everything worked out okay for him.
Back at Apocalypse HQ, the news of the runaway vessel needs to be broken to a giant spectral Apocalypse who is communicating from beyond the grave through a statue, and so it falls to his #1 disciple, and oh my God, it's Fabian Cortez.
You can tell by the haircut, which signifies that he's business up front and sworn loyalty to a genocidal maniac in the back.
Sharp-eyed viewers may recall that Cortez, who possesses the mutant power to find himself in the coveted right-hand man position despite a long resumé of betraying his employers, was last seen apparently meeting a fiery end in space after trying to overthrow Magneto and rain nuclear fire down on Earth from the comfort of an orbiting asteroid. He was rescued at the last second by Apocalypse, who was apparently bored enough to see if he could pull off a scheme when he was almost guaranteed to be stabbed in the back.
As it turns out, the real danger comes from ineptitude: Cortez had exactly one job -- delivering the vessel so that Apocalypse could rejoin the ranks of the happily corporeal -- and he screwed that up with the kind of diligence we've come to expect from the Fabians of the world.
Really though, the best thing about this scene is that Apocalypse's floating head is superimposed over a statue of Apocalypse that has a fire in its mouth for some reason, making it look like he has grown a Hulk Hogan-esque moustache made of fire:
LET ME TELL YA SOMETHIN' MEAN GENE, WHATCHA GONNA DO, BROTHER, WHEN SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST RUNS WILD ON YOU?!
Needless to say, Apocalypse isn't happy about this, which may give you the idea that this vessel was a very specific mutant and that Apocalypse couldn't just download his big blue soul into any mutant who happened to be walking by. This, however, is not the case.
As it turns out, PURELY BY COINCIDENCE, Beast and Jubilee are cruising around South America doing some archaeology at that very moment!
According to the dialogue, they're in a fairly remote section of the Andes, but there's still a gas station gift shop that sells WORLD'S GREATEST TEACHER mugs (in English, no less) so that Jubilee can buy one for plot related purposes. Who knew that McGuffins 'N' Such had that big a reach?
While they're out looking for their dig site, they run across a sign post carved with ancient Mayan pictograms, which of course Beast can read. Didn't you know? He's a doctor. He says that it's basically a signpost, letting folks know that they're on the road to what he first describes as "a temple consecrated to the end of the world," before realizing that it's actually consecreated "to Apocalypse." You know, just in case you were wondering if there were English language puns that also worked in ancient Mayan pictograms.
Back at the Apocalyptodrome, Cortez is dealing pretty harshly with one of the hounds, and it turns out that it's Caliban, who was "dragged out of the Morlock sewers" and juiced up with Cortez's powers so that he could be an enforcer for Big A's upcoming regime. And that's going to be important, because when he and the other Hounds get sent out to bring back these new mutant presences so that Apocalypse can get his groove back, Caliban sees that they're actually trying to capture Jubilee and promptly flips right out:
This is another callback to an earlier episode: As you may remember, whenever the show turned to adapting classic Claremont/Byrne stories, Jubilee tended to fill the Kitty Pryde role. Obviously, they didn't do this all the time -- they never had a scene where she begged Rogue, who was usually the stand in for Colossus, to have sex with her before they were both killed by the Brood, for instance -- but she was the ersatz Shadowcat when they met the Morlocks. As a result, Caliban fell in love with her, and appears to be carrying a torch all these many, many seasons later.
So basically, Caliban is Not Cool with this whole thing where they're going to drag Jubilee back to the Apocacave as a human sacrifice, even if it would give their sinister master the awe-inspiring ability to shoot fireworks out of his hands and ruin coin-operated video games. Still, he brings them both back to the temple, but when Beast offers up his life if they'll let Jubilee go, Cortez ends up juicing him up into an even more bestial, uncontrolled form. He's BEAST BEAST!
Cortez reports the good news to Apocalypse, who seems perfectly happy to be reborn as a mall baby who loves chili fries, and Caliban gets shot down when he asks permission to go find another body. Beast, meanwhile, rampages back to the jeep and, in his fury, smashes up the World's Greatest Teacher mug. This brings him back to his senses, because if there's one thing that we all know, it's how attached Beast is to his crockery.
Let's see if he can get back to the temple in time for the human sacrifice!
Caliban makes one last attempt to save Jubilee, offering himself up as the vessel, but Cortez shoots him down because he's a gross Morlock and that's gross, zapping all of his strength away and terminating his employment. Fortunately, Beast reappears at that moment, smashing up everything and everyone until the whole temple starts coming down. Presumably, Apocalypse hire the same architects who built the castle in Devil May Cry, and while they tend to do some pretty shoddy work, you can't fault their flair for the dramatic.
During the fight, Cortez zaps Beast back to his normal furry self, but gets KOed by Jubilee, giving the Good Guys a chance to escape while Cortez gets his leg smashed by a very large rock:
The absolute highlight of this episode comes because of that, when Beast and Jubilee have the most halfhearted, mandatory "We should try to save him!" conversation, which lasts roughly four picoseconds before they decide eff that guy, let's bail.
Unfortunately, that's not the end of it. Apocalypse appears in a portal above the altar, and tells Cortez that there's still one suitable vessel left, and when Cortez still doesn't get what he means, Apocalypse informs him that it's him, Fabian Cortez. So really, this vessel could've been anyone, meaning that the entire plot to rope Jubilee into it is completely unnecessary. Either way, Apocalypse is reborn! With li'l kitty cat teeth!
Discussion Question: With that, Apocalypse is returned to the status quo, never seen again. So since we're going to be doing this a lot over the next few weeks, let's provide a proper eulogy and share our memories of Apocalypse. I'll never forget that time that he built a castle on Rainbow Road. See U At The Crossroads, A-Poc!