Thursday, December 24, 2015

Apocalypse is not an interesting or credible villain (X-Men)

For some reason the trailer for X-Men that played before Star Wars: The Force Awakens just popped into my head.

It's easy to pick on the makers of X-Men.  Marvel may be the people who said, "We've made a movie in which the Winter Soldier barely appears and has so little bearing on the plot he could easily be removed and replaced with Henchman 19 without changing anything that matters, why don't we call it The Winter Soldier?" but they just own X-Men in general, not the movie rights to X-Men in particular.  The people who actually make the X-men movies saw the above and decided that fucking with the audience via titles wasn't enough.

Sure, they did fuck with the audience via titles by using the title "Days of Future Past" and then not delivering it, but they seriously had this be the keystone on which their plot was built:
This mutant's power specifically, emphatically, and in all other definitive final-word-on-the-subject ways does NOT involve gaining the powers of others, so we'll say that getting her power will allow ... that thing it doesn't remotely do, don't make me write it out again. 
But this other mutant, who is a fan favorite, and is in one of the versions of the thing we're stealing the title from, does have the exact power we want, couldn't we, you know... 
NO!  We cannot under any circumstances allow the movie to make sense, so fuck you very much for even suggesting that logic be allowed in the same room as it.
Like I said, it's easy to pick on them.

But the problem with X-Men: Apocalypse is actually something that isn't their fault or their doing.  It's a problem with the character himself.

Apocalypse can't be killed.  So he's sort of like Wolverine in that regard.  The thing is, he is unlike Wolverine when it comes to claws, non-immortality related powers in general, morals, ambition, and amnesia.  He doesn't have claws, he does have a whole host of other powers, he lacks morals, and he's got a metric fuckton of ambition.  Since he lacks amnesia he can draw on the thing that Wolverine is always unable to tap: past experience.

There's one other, very important, difference: He's older.

He's at least five thousand years old.  The first writing systems hadn't been finalized when he was born and he predates the first actual alphabet by thousands of years.  Granted it's sort of the minimal allowable plural, but still, it's a lot and in the absence of a dual form in English that is the correct way to say it.

In all of that time, he's never succeeded.  Yes, he was worshipped as a god, but any given Roman Emperor did a better job on that front.  So did ... oh god, where do we start?  Egypt, China, and Japan all jump to mind but let's be provincial for a bit.

Macedonia was a nothing place that no one gave a shit about.  Alexander the Great managed to go from being the semi-disputed heir of that tiny little nothing kingdom to become the ruler of everything in the general vicinity.  Not just all of Greece but also places like Egypt and Persia; more territory than a provincial Macedonian probably ever imagined existed.  And he was god of the whole damn thing.

Alex wasn't a mutant.  He was a mundane human kid.  When he started at least.  By the time he died he was 32, which places all of his conquests in a 12 year period.  Of course we might want to point out that he did some take-over-the-world shit under his father, so note that he started his own (successful as far as anyone in the region was concerned) bid for world domination with about 6 years worth of experience due to the time he served during his father's reign.

Apocalypse, remember, has had over four hundred and sixteen times as long to accomplish ... anything.  He hasn't succeeded yet.

Ok, he maybe managed to slip in the legend of his four super-powered hench-people (on a perpetual rotation with a high turnover rate because he's completely incapable of picking lackeys who can get the job done) into an acid-trip story written in figured speech by someone living in exile on Patmos, but there's not a telapath the X-Men have ever met who couldn't have done a significantly better job than he did and done it in a matter of seconds.

So it's possible that he did a nothing project and still came out with a D- grade.  That D- on one project when he was given more than four hundred times as long to accomplish something as it took Alex the Awesome to increase the size of his kingdom upwards of forty fold.  How far upward?  Depends on exactly how you define things.

Now maybe we could give Apoc some slack by saying that he was waiting for the opportune moment, though if you're waiting more than a thousand years for that it really feels like you're afraid to do shit rather than you're actually a canny mutant waiting for your time to strike.

But, say he did.  We come to problem number two.  The less time he's spent actually trying (and utterly failing) to do anything worthy of note, the more time he's spent gaining experience that would be put to use in his efforts.  This is somewhat cancelled out by the fact that what Apocalypse is best at is sleeping (he's like a cat without the ability to boss people around.  He sleeps and fails to get people to wait on him) but we'll get to that.

For a moment pretend that Apocalypse isn't the Marvel universe equivalent of the God of Sloth, less the power to encourage sloth in others because Apocalypse seriously couldn't pull that off if his life depended on it (which it never would because: Immortal.)

So say that Apocalypse was waiting for the opportune moment and didn't choose to strike until civilization was at its weakest.  In that case he'd start with three hundred times as much experience as Alex and still have upwards of two hundred and sixty six times as long to get the job done.

Thus far he hasn't even gotten the job started.

And that's the problem, in a nutshell.

He's been ambitious for 5000 or more years.  When he started out there was literally no one who could compete with him, he's had cults full of followers, and yet he's still managed to accomplish less than a provisional meeting of the student council special committee on the possibility of referendum to make a non-binding statement of the quality of the cafeteria food.

People have tried to solve this by giving him more followers* or more powers** or more intelligence*** in hopes that "Please, please can he be scary now?" but every time they do this they just make him that much more pathetic.  Seriously, pathetic.  I wish I were joking.  You almost feel sorry for the shithead.

People have talked about certain privileged people as being born on third base and thinking they hit a triple.  That analogy doesn't work for Apocalypse though.  If we stick to baseball for our analogies, he started out in game four of the world series after being undefeated from the preseason up through this seemingly final game, with a score of ninety million to zip in the ninth inning with two outs and two strikes against the opposing team leaving him potentially one pitch, definitely one out, away for utter perfection and then finished with the worst record in all of baseball leaving everyone scratching their heads and saying things like, "How is it even possible to score negative points?"

Given what Apocalypse has going for him, it seems like he would need to be trying (very, very, very hard) to accomplish as little as he has.  It would seem like he'd have to be someone who was so afraid of infringing on free will that they didn't allow themselves to do anything.  It would seem like he'd have to have the exact opposite of ambition.  Any one of his powers should make it so that he'd be able to overpower out the entire heroes gallery of the Marvel universe without even trying, so you'd think he'd have to be trying not to do that.

But he isn't.  He's trying, and failing, to do shit.

As creators try and make Apocalypse more of a threat by making him more overpowered they just end up making him more laughable.  He's smarter than Lex Luthor but can't accomplish shit.  Lex Luthor might not be able to take over the world, but he's accomplished a hell of a lot (including curing cancer.)

But it's not just that.

He's smarter than Lex Luthor, has powers greater than Superman, skills and tech better than Batman, experience and contacts to overshadow Ra's al Ghul, and so forth and he still can't accomplish shit?  Are we sure this isn't just Marvel trolling DC by creating a character that's all of DC's heroes and villains put together, except without any of their weaknesses, that can't ever accomplish anything in the Marvel universe (unless it's in a timeline that will collapse in on itself because Apocalypse sucks so damned much if he ever succeeds, even for a little while, even if it was entirely not his own doing, it will result in the entire universe he had success in being erased from history because the fucking multiverse itself thinks that Apocalpyse is too sucky to be allowed to win even in an alternate timeline)?

Read up on Apocalypse's powers and he's basically everything DC's overpowered heroes and villains had going for them, put together, and yet he never, ever wins.  It doesn't take the X-Men to stop him, recall; he's been on a loosing streak for 5000 years.

The only thing that he's ever managed to not fuck up is the naps he takes.  (I told you we'd get back to them.)  See whenever his losing gets to be too much he goes and cries himself to sleep and stays unconscious for a few centuries.  A few centuries here or there is hardly anything for someone with a life as long as his, so it makes sense that he's able to fit in a few naps except, wait... he shows up in X-Men because he failed at napping.

This particular "I'll try and sleep away my massive inadequacies," session was cut short and he woke up to find that the only thing he'd ever been good at (staying asleep) had been robbed from him just so that he could lose repeatedly to a bunch of upstarts from the local accommodationist faction of the super power civil rights movement.

For all of his massive list of powers, the only one that seemed to work was the power to sleep, and he enters the X-Men time frame when at long last even that fails him.

He's not a threat to the word.  He's a napper.  An incompetent napper.

Strip away all of the ridiculousness, though, including the fact that all he can do is nap, and the problem's very simple:

He's been trying to do stuff for 5000 years.  He hasn't succeeded in much of anything.

Magneto is a credible threat because he's a relatively new player.  When he first appeared in X-Men he was a nuclear terrorist they'd never met before.  Completely credible threat.  He's trying, and succeeding, at taking over a nuclear missile base.  He's never tried before, which means he has no history of failure.  If instead it had been the five hundredth time, and each of those times he'd failed without the X-Men intervening, then it would have been farce.  It would have been understandable if the X-Men had taken the day off and gotten popcorn ready for the inevitable news report on Magneto's failure.

As things developed Magneto was retconned into being a holocaust survivor who had been a good friend of Professor X until they went their separate ways because Magneto (rightly based on the glimpses of the future we get) didn't trust the non-mutants to not have a new holocaust with mutants as the new scapegoats.

Still credible, but now also interesting.  He's still new to the scene, relatively speaking, as he and Xavier worked together long enough to become the closest of friends.  He's been working on the side of "bad" for about as long as the X-Men have been working on the side of good, his failures can be attributed to them (meaning that if they let down their guard, even a little, he'll probably tip the balance and win) and he has in fact had successes.

It's possible to believe that he can win, he has interesting motivations, his fears are not entirely unfounded, his methods may go too far, but the X-Men seem to end up not going far enough (see every fucking time we get a vision of the future), and so we're left with an interesting narrative and an actual threat.

In comparison, Apocalypse is pure, unadulterated, farce.

Apocalypse, even if her weren't farcically overpowered, has been on the job for 5000 years and for the vast majority of that time there were no X-Men to oppose him.  It didn't matter, he still didn't win.  There would have to be something new strange and different this time around to think the X-Men were even needed.  Even if they were needed it would be difficult to believe that they'd have to actually put much effort into it.  But here's the thing: there's never anything new.

Thousands of years ago Apocalypse already had an understanding of all science ever that exceeds what we know today.  A) Didn't help. B) That means that he's unlikely to have a breakthrough (yet) that turns him from not-threat into threat.  He's been farcically overpowered forever.  Even if he grabbed onto the all powerful McGuffin of Plot Device it would be a drop in the bucket of his powers and thus make no difference.

He might form a new cult, but he's had followers before and they were all notably less successful than the Cult of Baltar.  Him organizing is same old, same old.

Get new high powered help?  Been there done that.  They're called the horsemen and they've never helped before.

Apocalypse has been around too long without meaningfully changing meaning that whatever he does and whenever he does it the soundtrack is "Deja Vu" by Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young and the tagline is, "All this has happened before, and will happen again."

Basically the only way Apocalypse could be a credible or interesting villain is if he stopped being Apocalypse.

One way to do this would be for him to stop being farcically overpowered and as a result start taking things more seriously.  If he weren't immortal and nigh omnipotent maybe he'd put his super-powered SCIENCE! to work doing shit that could actually change his losing streak.  Or maybe he'd set his sights lower, Apocalypse might be hopeless when it comes to leaving any kind of mark on history save a near footnote in the trippy writings of a single writer, but he'd be downright scary if he tried to leave a mark on a single city, and terrifying if he set himself to the task of going after a single person.

Another way to do it would be to have Apocalypse stay farcically overpowered but become a different person.  Amnesia, soul transplant, possession, super power musical chairs, whatever.  Anyone who didn't have Apocalypse's curse to never accomplish anything of note ever that got a hold of his powers would be ... well, the stars would tremble, the earth would submit, the angels in heaven would bow their heads, and most gods would have to admit they were outclassed.

But it wouldn't have to be someone with ambition.  Someone who didn't want to use the powers but didn't know how to control them would be just as big of a threat to everything.

There's any number of thing you can do by using Apocalypse, but Apocalypse himself just doesn't work.  Unless there's a sudden revelation that Apocalypse is the sea people and it's retconned that that was the only time he was awake before he wakes up in the next X-Men movie (in which case how did John of Patmos know?  not that that ever made sense in the first place) then Apocalypse is the extremely powerful god of doing nothing all day and then sleeping.  Unless you have a powerful reason to want him not to get his beauty sleep, all you need to do is stay out of his way and you'll be set.

He'll find a way to loose on his own.  He always does.  It's the one constant of the universe; more immutable than the speed of light through a vacuum.

Which is why he's not a credible threat.


* The horsemen, cults, and secret societies, oh my!

** Complete control over his body at a molecular level, new physical abilities whenever he feels like it, wings, regeneration from a single drop of blood, every physical superhuman power ever, soaks up and re-purposes energy rather than being harmed by it, immune to all diseases, able to survive in any environment, telepathy, telekenesis, and so on.

*** He's the best physicist, engineer, geneticist, and biologist on earth.  He's augmented himself to be able have weapons pop put of his limbs, be jet propelled by his own body, and interface directly with any technology rather than use your provincial user interface and input/output systems.  He understands the advanced predecessor alien technology better than anyone else.  He's a master strategist.  He can out demagogue the most demogoguey Republican politician!


  1. Yeah, you could move the power-package from person to person. You could even have some fun with it, as the power-package (demon or whatever) demands burned sacrifices because the smell is pleasing, and the current host tries to explain that there's a lot more to ruling the world these days.

  2. Why not let him just take over the world, but have his viewpoint be so laughably outdated that anyone modern can easily manipulate him (and the truly threatening villain does behind the scenes)? That would be fun. Like, some dude who has been sleeping for a hundred years or a thousand isn't going to know shit about the internet. Everyone could be like 'sure, you are the King! have a fancy pillow, crown, and feasts, ignore that strange screen thingy' while continuing on with their lives as normal.

    Although that really doesn't work if he truly is the most supergenius of supergeniuses...