Welcome to the X-Roulette! Shelfdust’s Patreon backers are asked to pick a number at random – and now I’m going to write about whichever corresponding issue of “X-Men/Uncanny X-Men” they chose! This issue was picked by Patreon backer Drew Waranis, who chose number 377 for the roulette – that’s one of the final issues of “The Twelve” so, uh, cheers for that one Drew.
The Twelve was a long-form storyline for the X-Men, teased out for years through fleeting references and quick quotes. The villains knew what it was, but they were more interested in either assisting or preventing it from happening, which means readers spent a little while with no idea what was going on. It eventually became clear that there were twelve mutants who were particularly important for a plan of some kind – and ultimately we found out that this was an Apocalypse plan. He wanted to take the mutant energies of twelve mutants and put them into a giant machine which would grant him Godhood. In Uncanny X-Men #377, he gathers every one of “The Twelve” and fits them into his machine – which would seem to set him on the precipice of complete victory. The Age of Apocalypse is coming….
Not that Age of Apocalypse. In fact, this leads into a storyline called “Ages of Apocalypse”, which has a lot of alternate reality nonsense and makes very little sense. “The Twelve”, on the other hand, was meant to be a massive storyline, and had been seeded for years and years. You can arguably trace the first hint of this story way back to X-Factor #13-14, where it was implied that four members of this group were Franklin Richards, Storm, Jean Grey and Apocalypse. From there onwards, we then find a few other lists of potential members of the group – one of which comes from Apocalypse himself, who claims that Beast and Angel are members, for whatever reason. As the actual storyline for “The Twelve” came into view, however, there was a quick swerve as Destiny’s diaries provided a new list of twelve members which contradicted both the previous lists we knew about.
Now, the biggest part of The Twelve was that this was set up to be Cable’s big storyline. The Rachel Grey from Days of Future Past – who knows who The Twelve are – telepathically transfers the list of names into Nate’s head, so he knows everything that needs to be done in order to prevent this from happening. It becomes the new major reason for him to stay in the modern-day, with the X-Men, and gives him a new mysterious lead to start working on. In addition, the X-Office brought back Bishop in a new ongoing series, but quickly trapped him off in a future timeline. And then we have Nate Grey. Oh, Nate.
So the cool idea here is that all these random characters are split off in different times and alternate universes, and Apocalypse is going to be trying to gather them all together so he can attain godhood. Cable stands against him, but nobody else is aware of what’s going on. That’s the set-up for “The Twelve”, and you can see how this might become at least an entertaining story – and how it sets up current storylines and plans for the future. However, when it came down to the actual crossover storyline, things immediately went pretty wrong. Cable was actually the first of the Twelve to get captured, which wiped out that storyline entirely. And Apocalypse’s plan, previously a long-term narrative thread, comes together in the space of one issue: this issue.
The X-Men are all in Egypt, in the middle of a battle with skrulls and Apocalypse’s forces. There’s a sandstorm, everything is confused, and across the course of this one issue Apocalypse captures eight of The Twelve through a combination of shapeshifting traps and quick teleports. Thus his machine is powered, and the characters who matter are all assembled together in one place. We then find out that Apocalypse has also previously captured Nate Grey, and will be using him as a “host” body once the process starts. All the other mutants are sat on the outside of the pyramid, essentially useless, and all the Twelve are captured and wired up to the great machine, which is just a series of bubbles.
The choice of the eventual Twelve characters is basically fine. The Living Monolith, Storm, Sunfire and Iceman arguably make up the four elements. Polaris and Magneto form opposite magnetic poles. Bishop represents time and Mikhail Rasputin (remember him?) represents space. Xavier represents thought. Cyclops, Jean and Cable represent… um, family. And then you have Apocalypse himself, who doesn’t need to represent anything because he built the flipping machine in the first place. There’s some kind of thought to this, at least, although it does seem strange that Franklin Richards has been dropped from the equation. It’s also not known how Apocalypse would know how to find all these people, as at least two of them live in the future and one of them in an alternate dimension. He’s meant to have known about all of them before any of them had been born yet, which is… also not explored.
So instead we just have to go along with the twelve he’s chosen. They’re twelve characters who were available, and there’s some kind of logic to how they fit into the machine. It’s a reminder, though, of how difficult it is to think long-term when you’re making work-for-hire comics. In order to this storyline to happen in issue #377, in the previous issue the creative team had to throw in “everything we told you before was a lie!” to cover all the previous hints which no longer make any sense whatsoever. “Cannonball is a member of the Twelve? No, that’s just what Apocalypse WANTED you to think!” etc. A bit like Dan Slott and his Reckoning War which never happened, the Twelve shows what happens when freelancers get a bit too ambitious with the material they’re being loaned out.
But the big problem with The Twelve isn’t how it throws out the previous narrative in order to put in a new one which the editors are more comfortable with: it’s just the way that the story is actually told. A giant crossover, this pulled in most of the other X-Men titles of the time – including two issues of Wolverine, who isn’t even part of the Twelve! The trade paperback actually cuts some of the issues into smaller pieces, jettisoning out the parts of the stories which don’t fit into this overall storyline. Although set up over 10 issues, the reality is that you only need to read bits and pieces of each issue in order to know what’s going on. Arguably you can get everything from this issue and the issue of X-Men which follows it – only two out of ten issues actually matter.
It also takes character out of the issue. The X-Men are reduced to their power sets rather than people, as evidenced by the rather abrupt way that Magneto, Jean and Xavier are captured very early on in proceedings. This isn’t a story about ideology and there’s no sort of nuance in what’s going on. There are twelve mutants who will power the machine, and so they’re all going to get captured and put into place so the villain can gloat on the last page. The skrulls being involved means nobody trusts each other, so that’s all the dialogue we really get. There’s nothing to latch onto, ultimately, and that’s what causes the downfall of the story. At the end of the day, there’s not a whole lot to this grand conspiracy, and it could have been so much more. We were promised the end of the world, but instead we got a collect-em-all storyline which could’ve been over in two issues.
Ages of Apocalypse was even worse though. Let’s hope that the roulette wheel never falls on one of those issues…
Uncanny X-Men #377: The End of the World as We Know It
Writers: Alan Davis and Terry Kavanagh
Artist: Tom Raney
Inker: Scott Hanna
Colourist: Brian Haberlin
Letterer: Saida Temofonte
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