A Brief History of Kang, Part 5: Apocalypse? How?!
By John Simons
Well, clearly, some of Marvel's writers have enjoyed the opportunity, which time travel provides, to re-invent history. Thus, a meeting between Rama-Tut and the Fantastic Four has, over the years, expanded to include Dr. Strange and the West Coast Avengers. That was an awfully busy weekend for the Pharaoh, wasn't it?
But wait, there's more! Seems that all of those time travelers were only a minor diversion for Rama, a slight distraction from his true activities in the last days of his rule: participating in the origin of infamous X-villain Apocalypse!
Yep, it's true. In 1996, Marvel released the 4-issue miniseries THE RISE OF APOCALYPSE, which tells the fateful origin of Earth's first mutant against the backdrop of Pharaoh Rama-Tut's reign in Egypt. Avengers fans may have even heard of the author before, a fella by the name of...
(cue scary music: dum-dum-DUUUUUUUMMMM!)
The story begins in the early days of Rama's rule, as a bunch of Egyptian desert nomads ponder their decision to cast out a freakish baby that had been born amongst them. Suddenly, they are attacked by Sandstormers, fearsome warriors led by a man called Baal. The attackers wipe out the entire tribe, and eventually find the grey-skinned baby left to die amongst some rocks. When some of the warriors see the baby's strange face they want to kill it too, so Baal kills them! Baal muses that the baby is "a god in the making".
Flash-forward seventeen years, and the babe En Sabah Nur has grown to a strong young warrior. He still feared and despised by all but Baal, who has become like a father to him. Now that Nur has reached manhood, Baal takes him to the secret temple of Rama-Tut. While others consider Rama a god, Baal knows he is only a man, because he is the one who found the blinded Rama when the stranger first arrived. Apparently when the Sphinx first crashed in this time, a "burning fragment" on it broke off and crashed in the desert. His tribe nursed Rama-Tut back to health, but they were betrayed and enslaved in return. This temple is in the spot where the fragment crashed.
The Pharaoh's grand vizier, Logos, has brought him word that Nur has reached adulthood. Rama refers to Nur as a "child of destiny" who "will become the most powerful being on the planet", and finds it unacceptable that the young prodigy's future be molded by Baal. He orders his warlord, Ozymandias, to lead all the armies of Egypt into the desert to find the boy.
While a bloody clash ensues above, Baal and Nur penetrate the heart of Rama's secret temple and discover a mysterious high-tech globe. Just then, the temple roof caves in, and soldiers from both sides come crashing down to their deaths.
Soon Ozymandias returns to the City of Kings, exultant in the destruction of the Sandstormers. Rama-Tut takes him down a few notches by reminding him that he failed in his mission to bring back Nur. To himself, Rama muses about how Nur will eventually become Apocalypse, one of the most important figures in history, and plans to make the mutant his heir. Meantime, he moves forward with his plans to wed Nephri, Ozymandias' sister. The warlord, meanwhile, has his own plans. If not for Rama, he would be king. The upcoming nuptials will bring him "one body closer to the throne".
En Sabah Nur and Baal have crawled from the wreckage of the temple, but they are badly hurt. Nur's mutant abilities allow him to heal rather quickly, but his mentor is near death. They wander passages under the desert for nearly a week before stumbling upon a secret entrance to the interior of the Sphinx. Aside from high-tech marvels, they also find hieroglyphics which foretell En Sabah Nur's rise to power as "The First One". Then Baal croaks, Nur swears vengeance on Rama-Tut, and then he wanders around underground for another month.
Finally, he climbs to the surface and, lo and behold, Logos just happens to be waiting for him right there! The vizier sneaks the mutant into the city and hides him in his laboratory. Logos thinks that neither Rama nor Ozymandias are good for Egypt's future, and that Nur is his greatest hope "to preserve civilization".
Masked and disguised as a slave, Nur toils to help build a pyramid. When he makes the mistake of being insubordinate to Ozymandias, the warlord kicks him off a cliff! Not only does Nur survive, but he is visited by Isis, goddess of the sun, and suddenly he finds the hidden power inside him and bursts into fire. Fortunately, the city is attacked just then, and so Nephri is able to sneak Nur away.
It is at this point that the Fantastic Four comes into the story (perhaps wisely, Kavanagh decided to leave Dr. Strange and the WCA out of it). Aside from kicking Logos out of the throne room, the scene progresses more or less as it did in FF 19. Later, Logos is startled to find that Rama has scorned Nephri in favor of Sue Storm. He soon has more pressing concerns, though, as Rama has learned of his betrayal.
Nur and Nephri walk into an ambush, and soon the young girl and Logos are strung up on wooden stakes. The Pharaoh tries to seduce Nur with promises of great power, and has all of his subjects bow before the mutant. Although Nehpri is repulsed when she finally sees Nur's uncovered face, Rama-Tut tells him he accepts him for what he is. Logos tries to be the voice of reason and Ozymandias runs him through with a spear. Not a smart move. This tips the balance, as Nur rejects the Pharaoh's offer, and is subsequently fried by Rama's ultra-diode ray.
Between issues 3 and 4, Nur somehow escapes certain death once again, possibly with the help of some rebel slaves, but this is not made clear. Pharaoh Rama-Tut once again orders his Warlord to find the mutant-- and then his involvement in this series comes to an end. The rest of his story follows as described in other stories-- with Dr. Strange's help the FF rally against him and he is forced to flee back to the future.
Although this is not an Apocalypse history, I would feel remiss if I didn't give a quick account of how the rest of this story goes: Ozymandias lures Nur out of hiding by stringing up his own sister, Nephri, as giant asp bait. Nur kills the snake, takes the name Apocalypse, is rejected by Nephri for being too ugly, and reaches his full genetic potential. He somehow transfers all of the memory of Rama's computers into Ozymandias' brain, and then he destroys all of the Pharaoh's technology. Rather than take the throne of Egypt, he rejects its citizens and wanders back into the desert.
The incursion of the X-books into Rama-Tut's life doesn't quite end there. As seen in CABLE #57, Rama apparently spends a little time on Earth in the 20th century, probably right after his first encounter with Dr. Doom. He returns to the Sphinx, where it seems there is still some working technology, after all. Rama's time sphere is damaged, and he needs help repairing it.
This story is told in a completely pointless and confusing manner of flashbacks and flashforwards, but the gist I can make out of it is this: somehow Rama manages to capture the alien time-traveler called Blaquesmith, and is trying to persuade him to help fix the time machine. Unfortunately for Rama, Blaquesmith also happens to be an old teacher of Cable's, and the mutant cyborg uses his telepathy to track them down. Rama and Cable get into some good old-fashioned fisticuffs, until Cable is felled by some strange psionic backlash that you need to read about in some other X-book to understand (ahh, gotta love those multitudinous x-books). Rama is about to zap him but then the chamber starts to fall apart. Cable grabs Rama's ultra-diode gun and shoots him with it. He and Blaquesmith run out as some kind of chronal distortion collapses the cave. Blaquesmith surmises that Rama was somehow able to launch himself back into the timestream, which leaves me wondering why Rama had to torture Blaquesmith in the first place.
..And if that's an indication of Joe Casey's writing abilities, I can't imagine why he's such a fan-favorite.
As for the Apocalypse series, I will grudgingly admit that it could have been worse. At least "The Butcher" managed to stick to most of the established facts about Rama-Tut, down to the identical dialogue in the first meeting with the FF. I definitely hope this is the last time a Marvel writer tries to shoehorn new characters into that 48 hour period!
There are several plot holes that just leave me scratching my head, like who built the temple Baal and Nur originally went to, what was the big deal about the globe Nur grabbed at the end of issue one, who inscribed the prophetic hieroglyphics on the inside of the Sphinx, and how exactly Nur escaped between issues 3 and 4. Also, like just about any time travel story (which by extension would mean, any Rama/Kang story) I wonder why Rama didn't just fly back in time to when Nur is still a baby, and bring him up as his own son.
I also wonder if the "good" Rama-Tut (from Englehart's run) had to deal with Apocalypse again when he went back to ancient Egypt for his second reign.
If the answers to these questions were to be had in a second Apocalypse mini-series-- I think I'd just as soon live in ignorance, thanks. :)
John, Lord of Time