We’ve talked before about how Apocalypse is a “slave to the theme,” and nowhere is that more evident than in his choice of henchpeople: his “Four Horsemen,” a designation that existed, canonically, thousands of years before the biblical references to horsepeople. He’s practically built a cottage industry around powering up random mutants with themed powers.
But like most small business owners, stick around long enough, you’ll get some turnover. Apocalypse has had just about everyone pass through the ranks of his Horsepeople. So hot on the heels of the latest movie, a day I never thought I’d see (because HOLY SHIT THEY PUT APOCALYPSE IN A MOVIE), we have brought you the definitive ranking of Apocalypse’s horsemen!
A few notes:
-They’re only ranked according to their relative greatness within their title, not across the huge breadth of horsemannery.
-Parallel universes count! Except when they don’t. But I feel like I’m hitting most of the big ones.
-The newest Horsepeople haven’t yet built a body of work to be accurately judged, so Venom, Moon Knight, Colossus, and Deadpool aren’t ranked.
-This isn’t really definitive.
With that out of the way, let’s get to the rankings before this take burns your hand!
1. Thunderbird (Exiles)
A curveball right out of the gate! Exiles was so good the first few years it existed, but most people who remember it fondly do so because of how awesome Nocturne was, or because they were part of Blink’s mostly inexplicable fan durability, or because everyone loves Morph. But Thunderbird was the heart of those early issues. John Proudstar was the member of the Giant Size X-Men team who died shortly after he was introduced in the 616, but on Earth-11000, he was captured by Apocalypse and turned into Apocalypse’s brawler horseman.
He eventually broke free of the control (as so many horsepeople do) and joined the dimension hopping team where he gained his fame, and while there, he ended up providing the inspiration (thematically and visually) for what Warpath, his younger brother, became in the pages of X-Force and then again on screen in X-Men: Days of Future Past.
He fit thematically with his title: he was a bruiser who could, with Apocalypse’s enhancements, hang with the Hulk. But unlike his 616 counterpart, the Thunderbird of the Exiles was actually pretty sensitive guy. Or at least he was, until he “died” punching a hole in Galactus so he could stick a bomb in the Devourer of Worlds.
2. Magneto (X-Men: Apocalypse)
I did not expect him to work this well! I really like how they tied together the Magda story, his destruction of New York from Morrison’s run, and the typical “Down and out mutant who falls in with a bad crowd” Horseman origin to make what ended up being the most effective Horseman ever (unless you count Angel as effective, even though he never really got the job done until he became Apo…let’s wait on that). Sure, he skips off after destroying at least three major cities on screen with nothing more than a “oh Eric, you scamp” from Charles, but we’re only talking about how he worked as a Horseman, not how he worked as a portion of a coherent narrative.
3. Abraham Kieros (X-Factor)
Kieros is pretty much everyone’s foundational War: he debuted shortly after Apocalypse did in the pages of X-Factor, and he remained a Horseman for a while. He is possessed of the ability to create explosions by clapping his hands, and he has possibly the most metal bowl cut in all of comics except for the exploding doll from Dark Knight Returns.
Kieros was kind of a dick. But he is also to this day what I see in my head when I think of Apocalypse’s Horsemen: that guy in bulky armor riding a metal horse with a bowl cut and his hands together.
4. Mikhail Rasputin (Age of Apocalypse)
Colossus’ brother was a giant continuity black hole, where writers tired of screwing up the Summers family tree went to cool down. However, in the Age of Apocalypse, he was awesome.
His powers in the 616 were always “uh, whatever I [the writer] need him to do to move this plot from A to B,” and in AoA they were refined down to “reality warper.” He turned himself into a cascade of metal, like if Angel Falls was infected with the T-O virus. Despite that, he carried a pimpin-ass cane and counted among his minions the AoA versions of Daredevil and Hulk. And he was an operator, the guy trying to fake a peace with the Eurasian High Council so he could usurp Apocalypse, then wipe the humans out.
Age of Apocalypse was so great.
5. Decimus Furius (Uncanny X-Force)
Despite being in maybe the best X-Men story of the last 20 years, Decimus Furius has a couple of strikes against him. First, he had absolutely no personality. The thing I remember most about him is that he’s the one charging at Deadpool when Wade makes the “you go for the juggler” joke. That was the extent of his character development.
The other strike is that he’s a Minotaur who makes people angry. That’s not really an iconic power-it is if you have a Greek princess learning to murder her way through the Earth like they did in Azzarello’s Wonder Woman, but it’s not super X-Manly. I mean, this list alone, you’ve got a guy who can clap explosions like he’s a more aggro Roy Mustang; a guy who looks like an actual horse and can punch the Hulk when he gets pissed; and a pile of circuits that can rewrite the rules of reality. A guy with a bull’s head can’t really hang.
6. Deathbird (The Twelve)
Pissed-off bird people are usually pretty awesome. It’s just when they’re already awesome, then you try and jam them into someone else’s story, that’s unnecessary and usually subtraction by addition. Deathbird was already deep in the Shi’ar royal family intrigue and the crazy X-Men space stuff (which, in a just world, would be a much larger part of the crazy Marvel space stuff) when she also got pulled into Apocalypse’s orbit.
Top that off with the fact that she was basically Angel 2 – she lost her wings and Apocalypse gave them back in exchange for her becoming a Horsewoman – and what you have is just a garbage decision and a crap Horseperson.
(tie) 7. Gazer (X-Men: The Blood of Apocalypse), Hulk (Heroes Reborn)
You’ll notice a trend: the quality of the story is more indicative of the character’s ranking than their relative fit as a Horseman. Blood of Apocalypse was reeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeally stupid, and Heroes Reborn is constantly and rightly ridiculed as some of the 90sest bullshit ever bullshat. Anything that comes out of those is automatically discounted. The fact that Gazer was only in a position to become a Horseman because of the stupid “No More Mutants” was a huge impediment to his ability to be interesting, and the less said of War Hulk, the better.
1. Autumn Rolfson (X-Factor)
The first Famine was unquestionably the best, not just because she had the best visual powers or because she was designed by Walt Simonson. Autumn Rolfson also ended up being really important to the larger Apocalypse meta story, too. She started as an anorexic mutant teenager, given a power boost by Apocalypse to be able to desiccate organic matter over huge areas. A trick she tried in the plains states and had to be stopped by Captain America, btw.
She also had an affair with En Sabah Nur and was mother to one of his many children. We found out in Uncanny X-Force that she gave birth to a young boy, William, who bore a striking resemblance to another horseman we’ll soon get to, and when she realized that Angel was manipulating him, she confronted him and got cut in half by his metal wings for her concerns. But her brief time in the pages of that story added depth to her that most of the other members of her clique were never afforded.
2. Abyss (Age of Apocalypse)
Nils Styger is a character created specifically for AoA, and later brought into the 616 in greatly diminished form (he was one of the teleporters Azazel sired on Earth to open a portal so he could come to Earth, god bless you The Draco). But in the world ruled by Apocalypse, he killed Bastion to ascend to the rank of Horseman, and took charge of Apocalypse’s various churches that worshipped him, heading up an army of religious fanatics and Madrox duplicates in what was a surprisingly effective army.
3. Storm (X-Men: Apocalypse)
Storm is ranked this high because of how quickly and concisely Singer made up for making her terrible in the other ones. Seriously, she may have only had five lines in the entire movie, but every line was full of character and purpose, unlike Halle Berry’s…uh…not great performance. She’s listed under Famine because she doesn’t really make sense as Pestilence (not like that’s ever stopped Apocalypse before). The Storm in this movie was smart and passionate and competent and…maybe mind controlled? I feel like that’s important for the redemption, but even if she wasn’t, they did a lot with very little.
4. Ahab (The Twelve)
You won’t hear anyone say this too often about a Walt Simonson-designed character, but Ahab is piping hot garbage. He’s like if someone boiled ’90s comic trends down to something completely bland and flavorless (like an Irish chef? whispered a tiny voice in the back of my head).
Ahab is a cyborg from the future who hunts mutants with his spear that is genetically keyed to its target. He’s got Cable’s glowy eye and white hair. He’s a Moby Dick allusion, in the same way that me throwing a copy of Melville’s book at your nose is an allusion. And his powers don’t really work as Famine – when he hits his target with a harpoon, it, uh, makes them hungry or something. Ahab sucks.
(tie) 5. Jeb Lee (Uncanny X-Force), Sunfire (X-Men: The Blood of Apocalypse)
It’s cool that Rolfson and Abyss are here, because until new movie Storm came along, Famines have been almost entirely trash. Lee is the only taint on an otherwise impeccable Uncanny X-Force run: a Confederate drummer given the power to starve…people…by playing the drums? He gives his listeners Bio-Auditory Cancer whenever he tapped on something, so God help you if you take too long in getting him his coffee. Other jokes available there were: “Wasn’t Bio-Auditory Cancer the title of Pearl Jam’s fifth album?” and “Thank god it wasn’t bio-oral cancer.” Feel free to pick the one that suits you the best.
Sunfire is last because if you take everything that made Lee stupid – the powers that don’t fit the theme, the pointlessness of including someone like him in Apocalypse’s gang – and add in “ruining an established character,” you get Sunfire. As Famine, Sunfire gained the power to make people hungry by strobing his flames Jesus Christ would you read this sentence? I can’t even get to the end, and I wrote 10,000 words on Multiversity.
1. Holocaust (Age of Apocalypse)
Holocaust is never directly named as Pestilence, but I don’t think it’s an unreasonable educated guess: his 616 doppelganger is Genocide, who is able to wipe out all life in the area that would become Tabula Rasa. Also, he’s basically a ball of radioactive fire trapped in a crystal case, so that seems very pestilential.
Maybe I’m transferring some of my affection for the Uncanny X-Force doppelganger onto him, but I also feel like he was the most recognizable character to have any lasting effect from AoA. And that giant honeycomb club hand he had was doodled countless times by young Jim.
2. Ichisumi (Uncanny X-Force)
SPIDER LADY SPIDER LADY EEW SPIDER LADY EEW.
Ok so they’re actually beetles, but still EEW EEW EEW. That’s a pretty good Pestilence. Just don’t think too hard about why she was Pestilence and Lee was Famine.
3. Plague (X-Factor)
I think we can all agree that the Morlocks are great – mutants who are shunned from society because their gifts make them…I don’t know, move faces around like they’re sculpting a Picasso, or shoot bugs out of their fists, or be really strong but also really ugly. It’s a classic trope, and one used exceptionally well by the X-franchise as yet another way to draw parallels to more complex issues than “why would a group of scientists put ferromagnetic metal into a giant human soaking bag.”
Plague seems like she was created specifically to become a Horsewoman, though. Apocalypse didn’t even have to do anything to her when he claimed her. “JOIN ME AS MY HORSEMAN PESTILENCE, PLAGUE! TOGETHER WE WILL CULL THE WEAK FROM THE STRONG, AND I WILL GIVE YOU…WELL I WILL GIVE YOU POWER YOU HAVE MOSTLY KNOWN TO THIS POINT. APOCALYPSE’S CHANGES TO YOU WILL BE MOSTLY COSMETIC.”
4. Caliban (The Twelve)
Continuity accretion is a usually positive process that clumps bits of history and gravity to characters as they continue to exist in a shared serial comic book universe. Caliban is an example of the reverse: a character who started out interesting both visually and narratively, who slowly had everything good about him chipped away until he was killed twice in the same story, and the only reaction anyone could have was “well, it’s probably for the best.”
Caliban started out as a Morlock with the power to detect other mutants, but following the events of the Mutant Massacre, he felt fed up with his helplessness and joined Apocalypse to solve that. After being made Death (we’ll get to that), he was freed of Nur’s control, only to start suffering from a seizure disorder related to his Horseman augmentations (should I say it? No, I shouldn’t, it’s crass). So he was brought back into Apocalypse and reaugmented as Pestilence, which makes total sense! A guy with superhuman agility and the ability to sense and track mutants anywhere is logically full of disease and stuff, right?
5. Psylocke (X-Men Apocalypse)
I don’t really know how “thrusting crotch first at things” matches up with the traditional powerset of a Pestilence, but I’m not really sure how it fits with Death, War, or Famine either, and having watched that whole movie, junk-forward lunging was about all Betsy did in her big screen debut.
6. Polaris (X-Men: The Blood of Apocalypse)
It was Polaris in an iron maiden filled with diseases. She used to have magnet powers. Then she had a “disease cloud.” THIS STORY WAS SO DUMB.
1. Psylocke (Uncanny X-Force)
If we’re going strictly by accomplishments while holding the job title of Death, Horseman of Apocalypse, Betsy isn’t even on this list. But since Uncanny X-Force revealed them to be less identity than offices held, I’m counting her, since her tenure as Death was at the core of one of the greatest emotional beats in X-Men history.
The Dark Angel Saga in Rick Remender and (mostly) Jerome Opena’s story was inarguably the best X-Men story of this millennium, and the emotional heart of that story was Betsy. Her trip from fighting the darkness in Warren (who she loved) to breaking completely at the end required a stint as Warren’s Death, and whether her darkness since has been played well or not, there is no denying that tear in your heart you feel when reading their final moments together.
2. Mister Sinister (Age of Apocalypse)
Somehow all my complaints about other Horsemen don’t apply to Sinister. Nathaniel Essex was a great geneticist and evolutionary biologist when those specialties were only just being invented. He traded his service to Apocalypse in exchange for ridiculously long life and powers, and turned into the glammest dude in the entire Marvel Universe, a guy who makes Bowie look like Eddie Vedder.
First of all, in AoA, we don’t know for sure that he’s Death, but typically Death is the leader of the group, and I can make a solid case for Abyss, Holocaust, and Mikhail fitting their roles. So it makes sense professionally that he’s Death, even if his power set/M.O. doesn’t make a shred of sense there. He’s additive, a tinkerer, a creator, someone who spends decades trying to scrape some of Scott Summers’ cheek into a petri dish filled with Jean Grey’s blood in the most elaborate way possible so he can create (and control) the uber-powerful mutant who emerges.
And his costume is just ridiculous: he’s wearing a one-piece bathing suit with shoulder pads and…streamers? It’s sure as shit not a cape. Meanwhile, he’s also got braids and a pencil goatee, the kind of hair arrangement that says “I’m sexually aggressive, but asking is about all the effort I’m going to put into it.”
But at the same time, AoA Sinister is GREAT. He’s more successful than he ever is in the 616: Nate Grey (and Magneto) actually kill Apocalypse at the end of the story, and he manages to create enough chaos that he gets away relatively unscathed. Of course, he did get whacked by Nate right before Apocalypse, but still, a win’s a win, right?
3. Angel (X-Factor)
He pretty much laid the groundwork for the typical Horseman story that we saw a thousand times after: mutant with great power and a bright future has some tragedy befall him/her, and is seduced or coerced by Apocalypse into joining him, losing himself in the process. Archangel is helped immensely by having a super badass costume (light blue and pink, a costume only Walt Simonson could have designed), but he is great mostly because he’s the archetypical Horseman, and because so much was done so well later in his story with the fact that he was the progenitor.
4. Sanjar Javeed (Uncanny X-Force)
Dark Aladdin is one of the rare cases of a late-term Horseman having powers that match up with the title. Javeed, the son of a Persian king, has an aura that can transmit fatal diseases to his targets – anything from the Black Death to some kind of imaginary SuperClap. He’s also ranked highly because he was actually successful! Wolverine couldn’t kill him, and he only lost to X-Force because Fantomex tricked him into leaving. He wasn’t decapitated or murdered as a kindergartener or had his skin turned to jerky and fed to a dying Wolverine like some other folks in those fights.
5. Wolverine (The Twelve)
I think it’s a really stinging indictment of The Twelve as a story that none of its horsemen were even terrible enough to be memorable. Looking back, Wolverine’s problem as a Horseman isn’t even something like “this story decision is offensive” or “ugh great another brainwashing story,” it was that they tried so hard to hide him that they made him a stupid character. Wolverine/Death isn’t Wolverine, he’s Senyaka with a scimitar (Scimyaka? Yes, that is what we’ll call him from now on).
6. Gambit (X-Men: The Blood of Apocalypse)
Every bit as stupid as the rest of the Blood of Apocalypse Horsemen, Gambit decided to join up with Apocalypse because he thought Poccy could help mutants, and he could then turn on his boss and save the world from Apocalypse, which, as far as superhero plans go, is about as smart as my planned deathbed confession in order to get into Catholic Heaven.
7. Angel (X-Men Apocalypse)
It’s kind of disappointing that they used Warren, gave him his bitchin’ metal wings and wing knives, but completely forgot to give him a personality or a point beyond setting up a callback to earlier in the movie. They even half-assed their way through Angel losing his wings. I wasn’t disappointed by a lot in the movie, but Psylocke and Angel were definitely on the list, right next to them not putting Xavier in conquistador armor when he fought Apocalypse.
8. Caliban (X-Cutioner’s Song)
Caliban was Apocalypse’s rebound Death after Angel ditched him, and that was pretty dumb. He was given enhanced strength and speed and kept his ability as a Hound.
1. Apocalypse (X-Men Apocalypse)
I CANNOT BELIEVE this worked. Utterly speechless! I need a second to compose myself.
They took Apocalypse, cut all the Celestial weirdness and time travel bullshit and a bunch of his convoluted backstory, left in just the right amount of convoluted backstory for him to feel like a note-perfect adaptation, and they made maybe my favorite X-Men movie ever with him.
It helps that a lot of stuff around him worked – Cyclops and Jean, for example, were also light years better than in the initial movies, and any movie that has Nightcrawler fighting a supervillain in a Thriller jacket automatically goes up a half a grade – but Apocalypse was ominous and menacing and chewed the shit out of the scenery and his powers were visually interesting. And his whole shtick worked! And they had Akkaba! AAAAH I CAN’T BELIEVE THIS MOVIE WORKED!
2. Archangel (Uncanny X-Force)
3. Apocalypse (like, all the rest of these comics)
So. Here we are. In an article about his Horsemen, the man’s purported goons, we also come to the conclusion that comics Apocalypse is…not great. He’s legendary! I love him, and I love his impact on X-Men comics, but if he’s not perfect, he’s atrocious.
And he’s only been perfect a few times:
–Age of Apocalypse, where he was largely set dressing for a bigger story.
-Simonson’s X-Factor run, and she was his creator.
–Uncanny X-Force, where hew as a plot device more than a character (P.S., Evan is not Apocalypse in case you were wondering).
-And Messia War, which was so underrated, you guys.
That’s four stories, and in two of them he was scenery.
Meanwhile, I think Angel is a better Apocalypse than En Sabah Nur because Angel’s turn as an Apocalypse was incredible, a story that still moves me to tears. He turned because the darkness inside him was inevitable, but he was saved by the love his friends had for him, and even though he died, his brief stint taking Apocalypse’s place on Earth was vastly more meaningful than anything his predecessor had done. If we’re ranking iterations of the character, I have to go with the guy who has the emotional impact.
(t) 162. Secret Wars Apocalypses (Secret Wars; Secret Wars: Age of Apocalypse; Old Man Logan)
An atrocity committed on the character. Apocalypse in Secret Wars was a bootlicker, in SW: AoA was incomprehensible, and in Old Man Logan was some kind of Woody Allen pastiche. That’s exactly what I think of when I hear “timeless, ancient evil.” The guy from Annie Hall. NOT MY APOCALYPSE.