Chapter 5: The End Times in Powers of X #3 – This Is What You Do
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Penciler: R.B. Silva
Inker: R.B. Silva
Color Artist: Marte Gracia
Cover Art: R.B. Silva and Marte Gracia
“I am going to tell you what will happen later in the time of wrath, because the vision concerns the appointed time of the end.” (Daniel 8:19)
Powers of X #3 differs greatly from the other Powers of X issues in that it is the only one set completely in one era, the X2 era. Introduced as “The War” in Chapter 2: Powers of X #1 (and briefly discussed in the essay I wrote about it), the art team dramatically visualizes an apocalyptic setting, familiar to many X-Men stories since the famous “Days of Future Past” story-arc by Claremont and Byrne. Hickman tells a tale of the last days. Consequently, the images and themes appearing in this issue, whether intentional or not, are based on religious symbolism belonging to eschatology, the area of theology concerned with the end times.
This topic is more often referred to in modern times as the apocalypse. How fitting then, that Apocalypse, the well-known X-Men villain, leads the heroes of this era in a long-running war against Nimrod and the Human-Machine alliance. But, why is this sub-genre of science fiction called “apocalyptic”? Interestingly, as was also discussed in Chapter 2: Powers of X #1, the word “apocalypse” didn’t originally denote doomsday wars and the end times, but actually comes from a Greek word that means “revelation”. Only later did it come to refer to the destruction of the world at the end times, mostly due to the imagery and story told in the last book of the Christian Bible: Revelation, the title of which is actually the English translation of the Greek word “apocalypse”. Luckily, Hickman does not simply retell Christian eschatology point for point in the context of the X-Men. However, as in all apocalyptic stories, much of the imagery has parallels in the biblical accounts of the end times.
This setting also allows Hickman to explore a deeper question: What makes you keep fighting at the world’s end? He literally has the priest of the so-called Church of Ascendancy ask the suddenly violent Cardinal: “Wh-why are you doing this?” Cardinal doesn’t exactly give a straight answer but does relate how he has been driven so far as to sacrifice his pacifism for the sake of the fight against evil. But, if the world is coming to an end, what motivates your sacrifice? What difference does it make? The dying priest, at least, claims, “I do it for my god.”
While revealing to his disciples the suffering that will come at the end times, Jesus tells them, “but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved” (Matthew 24:13). “Standing firm” or “holding onto hope” well describes the mutants of this era. Even their enemy, the Omega Sentinel, recognizes this: “You people care too much about holding on… even when you have nothing to hold on to.” Earlier, Nimrod mentions in a conversation with the Omega Sentinel that the mutant heroes “have always sought to free the humans in some hope that together they might overcome the inevitability of, well… me.” But what gives you hope when there is seemingly nothing left to hope for?
Hickman symbolizes the hope of the mutants in their dreams, an idea familiar to X-Men lore, specifically by contrasting this characteristic with the machines. In the same conversation just mentioned, the Omega Sentinel tells Nimrod, “In fact, that’s what the mutants think is wrong with us – that we do not dream.” Here Hickman alludes again to the recurring idea that machines have no soul, this time by suggesting that they do not dream or have any hopes. Nimrod counters, “And what good are dreams? That dream of theirs is almost as extinct as they are.” In fact, just before these lines, the Omega Sentinel explains that the dream of mutant-human cohabitation “died some time ago.” Ideologically it would seem that the mutant heroes have nothing left worth fighting for. And yet they keep on fighting this hopeless war.
The war between good and evil takes central focus in the biblical account of the apocalypse. The battles both in heaven and on earth are described in dramatic language, for example: “Then war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back” (Revelation 12:7). Silva just as dramatically draws the action sequences in this issue, perfectly accentuated by Gracia’s colors. Astounding images of giant Sentinel robots commanded by the Omega Sentinel fill the page as they quickly overpower the valiant Cardinal, Rasputin, Xorn and North. Nimrod himself attacks Wolverine, Krakoa / Cypher, and Apocalypse as they attempt to capture the true objective of this suicide mission. All this leads to a climactic fight between the most powerful forces of good and evil in this X2 era: Nimrod versus Apocalypse. It draws parallels to the final showdown in the biblical account of the end times: “Then I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies gathered together to wage war against the rider on the horse and his army” (Revelation 19:19). Today the final doomsday conflict is often called “The War of Armageddon”. This also comes from the Bible; Armageddon being the name of the place, where the kings of the world gather together, presumably for this final battle (Revelation 16:16).
The “beast” mentioned above is the so-called Anti-Christ, introduced in chapter 13 of Revelation along with a second “beast”, often called the False Prophet. As these two figures represent the ultimate evil on earth during the end times, there are obvious, but not complete, parallels to Nimrod and the Omega Sentinel. Nimrod, though a machine, is characterized as horribly arrogant, similar to the Anti-Christ: “The beast was given a mouth to utter proud words” (Revelation 13:5). He, along with the Omega Sentinel as his assistant, rule the earth, just as the Bible tells that the Anti-Christ “was given authority over every tribe, people, language and nation” (Revelation 13:7).
Moreover, in the biblical account, the inhabitants of the earth who do not follow Jesus commit their greatest sin in devoting themselves to the Anti-Christ and worshiping him instead of God: “People worshiped the dragon [Satan] because he had given authority to the beast [the Anti-Christ], and they also worshiped the beast and asked, ‘Who is like the beast? Who can wage war against it?’” (Revelation 13:4). Similarly, this issue opens by introducing the Church of Ascendancy, a cult-like religion, which worships Nimrod, the Omega Sentinel and the advanced machines that rule this era as gods; its disciples seek to somehow evolve out of their fallen nature by conjoining technological parts to themselves. This is shown in a horrific ritual; a baby (generally a symbol of innocence) is forcefully and painfully turned into a cyborg. The mechanical elements appear somewhat monstrous in Silva’s drawings, Gracia coloring them all a dark black. These mechanical parts along with the marks on the priest’s face, physical signs of his devotion to his gods, harken again to the biblical account: “[the False Prophet] also forced all people… to receive a mark on their right hands or on their foreheads… which is the name of the beast [the Anti-Christ] or the number of its name.” (Revelation 13:16-17).
Hickman and the creative team don’t just employ this opening scene for its apocalyptic symbolism, they also use it as a reminder of the previous chapter, Powers of X #2, repeating almost all of the major themes from that issue. The limits of humankind are a central part of the Church of Ascendancy’s theology. The priest – scary looking, pale faced, wearing dark purple robes, and with one mechanical arm – preaches of “our fallen nature” and “our flawed design.” His call is familiar to some religious movements: “You must reject your humanity!” In the X3 era, as seen in the previous issue, the so-called post-humans long to rise above their flawed nature through Ascension, not spiritually, but rather by being integrated into the godlike collective intelligence of the Phalanx, a technologically based species. Here in the X2 era, the followers of the Church of Ascendancy want to combine themselves with technology, in order to rise above their fallen nature. Their place of worship is named “The Temple of Concordance”; the word “concordance” coming from an old Latin word meaning “being of one mind”. Hickman obviously implies that the followers of the Church of Ascendancy are the rudimentary predecessors of the post-humans in the X3 era; the priest’s face-markings, pale skin, robe, and headdress – as drawn by Silva and colored by Gracia – are all similar to what the post-humans wear and look like.
The most direct allusion to the biblical account of the end times comes in the anticipated presence of the four horsemen of Apocalypse. These servants of Apocalypse – integrally connected to this character since his first appearance in comics – are based completely on the passage of Revelation 6:1-8. Here four horsemen are called forth, who symbolically personify four ways that many suffer and die at the start of the end times. Although only the horseman “Death” is specifically named (Revelation 6:8), the descriptions of the other three reveal them to be War, Famine, and Pestilence.
Indirectly, the imagery that Silva uses, typical to apocalyptic stories, finds its origin in the biblical accounts of the end times.
Although there appear to be many futuristic skyscrapers, most of the action takes place among destroyed buildings. The accounts of vast destruction in the biblical apocalypse are too numerous to even list here, some due to natural disaster with others the result of war. (See for example Isaiah 24:18-20 or Revelation 16:18-21.) One example applicable to the destruction seen in this issue of Powers of X can be found in Isaiah 25:2: “You have made the city a heap of rubble, the fortified town a ruin.”
Gracia’s colors stress the darkness that has fallen on this era. Maybe all of the action takes place at night, but the sky and general setting of all scenes in this X2 era are dark and foreboding; also a common image found in the biblical apocalypse. In Jesus’ speech on the end times, he quotes Isaiah 13:10 and 34:4: “the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken” (Matthew 24:29). Other examples of the world plunged into darkness can be found in Revelation 6:12-13; 8:12 and 16:10.
Most of all, the biblical story of the apocalypse involves an inordinate amount of death, for example in Revelation 9:15: “And the four angels who had been kept ready for this very hour and day and month and year were released to kill a third of mankind.” In this issue of Powers of X, while going through a door shaped like a large coffin, Apocalypse says, “There is death here.” Wolverine simply lets him know, “Yeah…that’s how the whole planet smells now.” Perhaps obvious but still tragic, the end of the world must eventually lead to the death of everyone and everything that exists.
Faced with all this suffering and death, knowing that the world will soon completely come to an end, what makes you keep fighting? What motivates your sacrifice? What gives you the hope to remain faithful?
The Christian Bible gives a clear answer: the end of the world is not the end of the story. And the suffering and death of the apocalypse are God’s righteous judgement (often called his wrath) against the evil in the world and those who “refuse to repent” (Revelation 16:9). An angel sings: “You are just in these judgements, O Holy One, you who are and who were” (Revelation 16:5). For the faithful and the repentant, God has prepared a different ending, or rather a new beginning. Revelation 20:11-14 prophesies that the dead will be resurrected and judged “according to what they had done as recorded in the books” (Revelation 20:12). But, there is another book, “which is the book of life” (Revelation 20:12). Anyone whose name is found written in the book of life enters into Heaven, the eternal paradise described in Revelation 21 and 22 (and the topic of Chapter 1: House of X #1). The eternal perspective, the promise of paradise, gives the faithful the perseverance to hold onto hope and make any sacrifice necessary, even when faced with the end of the world.
Without this hope, if existence and everything truly just end after the apocalypse (or with one’s own death), then the nihilism of Xorn presents itself as a logical alternative worldview. One doesn’t have to go as far as Xorn does in idolizing the annihilation; but his words from Chapter 4: Powers of X #2 ring true: “For most there is nothing. Just the pointless march toward oblivion. It’s eat, sleep, fight, die, just as it has always been and always shall be, until the sun swallows us all.”
However, as plainly shown in this issue, the mutant heroes of the X2 era don’t seem to be fighting for a meaningless end. They stay faithful, also believing that the end of their world is not the actual end of the story. The end of this issue reveals the decisive twist: the X2 era takes place in Moira’s ninth life. The suicide mission was successful in retrieving important information about the origins of Nimrod, information that Moira can hopefully use in her next life. The hope of a second (or tenth) chance at a better outcome gives purpose and meaning to the sufferings and sacrifices in this timeline. But only in Moira’s next life, “Because there’s nothing left to save here,” Wolverine says. And so this apocalyptic tale concludes with the literal end to Moira’s ninth life and, accordingly, the true end of the X2 timeline.
Note: All biblical quotes are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version NIV, Copyright 2011 by Biblica, Inc.