ONSLAUGHT (1996 event)

These linewide events are exhausting.

This post covers the “official” Onslaught Event + Tie-Ins, and a couple of these issues may not be tagged as Onslaught issues as well. The books covered in this post are, alphabetically:

  • Amazing Spider-Man #415
  • Avengers #401-402 (series ends)
  • Cable #34-36
  • Excalibur #100-102
  • Fantastic Four #414-416
  • Green Goblin #12
  • Incredible Hulk #444-445
  • Invincible Iron Man #332
  • Onslaught: Epilogue (One-Shot)
  • Onslaught: Marvel Universe (One-Shot)
  • Onslaught: X-Men (One-Shot)
  • Punisher #11 (covered here)
  • Spider-Man #72
  • Thor #502
  • Uncanny X-Men #334-337
  • Wolverine #104-105
  • X-Factor #125-126
  • X-Force #57-58
  • X-Man #18-19
  • X-Men #54-57

Onslaught is both a character (who we’ve already talked about) and an actual event (where Onslaught puts into operation his evil plans). We don’t know it at the start, but it actually begins back in X-Men #25, when Professor X stops Magneto by brain blasting him. Unbeknownst to X, Magneto had a master plan—when Xavier psychically connected to him as an attack, Magneto inserted a projection of himself into Xavier’s subconscious. That “projection” slowly gestated until, in X-Men Prime, a mutant seeking protection was killed by a mob at the school’s doorstep. Then, the character emerged and beat the snot out of Juggernaut in Uncanny X-Men #322.

Also in issues preceding the main event, we watched him gather up a team—much like Mister Sinister and Apocalypse did in issues preceding their “main events.” O’s guys include Blob, Mimic, Post, Sebastian Shaw, and Holocaust, among others. We also watched him kidnap and assess mutants like Chamber, Wolverine, Cyclops, etc. He would tell them that they could join him or be considered an enemy, and most declined the offer.

X-Men #54 and Uncanny X-Men #334 are the soft start of the main event. There, Onslaught tries to get Jean Grey to join with him. Of course she declines, but she also taps Juggernaut’s mind for his memories of his own clash with Onslaught, and learns that Onslaught is, in reality, Professor X. (OK, he’s not entirely Professor X—he’s a result of Magneto’s presence in X’s mind, but close enough.)

This leads Onslaught to rip the Crimson Gem of Cyttorak out of Juggernaut’s body and then capture Juggernaut inside it, in order to contain the character.

Now we’re in crossover territory. And there are a lot of them. Onslaught has been stalking young Franklin Richards by serving as his imaginary friend.

Their early interactions are portends for later issues in this event.

X-Man is aware of Onslaught and tries to get the Avengers to believe that X is now a villain.

With his secret now out, Onslaught changes his tactics and appears before the X-Men, tells them he’s really their Professor, and tries to lure them into an alliance. All of the X-Men see through it and refuse, except for Beast. Who isn’t Beast. He’s Dark Beast, hiding as Beast and has been doing so since X-Men Unlimited #10.

X-Mansion is destroyed in the process.

All of the above happenings bring X-Man, The Avengers, and the X-Men together in their resistance to Onslaught.

Sigh. So continuity-heavy!

While all this is going on, Apocalypse is still alive and kicking and chilling with Uatu.

It’s a deep backstory to let us know that we may be in a new event, but the last one is still around as well.

Mid-’90s art can be distractingly bad.

Some of the new Avengers/X-Men hybrid team goes to find Magneto, having seen indications that he’s related somehow (but not knowing that he inserted the Onslaught concept into Xavier’s mind). A moment on that: I do like the idea that Charles is the world’s most powerful telepath, yet he can be susceptible to a subliminal infiltration similar to a posthypnotic suggestion. It’s a cool way to insert human fallibility into a man with godlike power.

That team ends up finding Joseph instead of Magneto, and are fooled. To be fair, Joseph actually believes himself to be the real Magneto—he’s a clone. So now the anti-Onslaught collective have a Magneto with them.

The Excalibur team goes to Muir Island and gets the “Xavier Protocols.” Turns out the Professor has a file on himself, disclosing how he can be defeated in an emergency. It’s like he “Batmanned” himself. (Yes, I just used Batman as a verb.) Don’t get too excited, though. This is a Macguffin. The Xavier Protocols are destroyed by Onslaught pretty easily a few issues later in the story and they don’t really come up again.

Another group goes to warn the Fantastic Four that Onslaught is coming for their mutant son Franklin.

Before that team can arrive, however, Onslaught—masquerading as Professor X—shows up at the Baxter Building and says he wants to enroll Franklin in his school for mutants. Reed Richards may be a crappy, absentee father, but he doesn’t want his kid going to boarding school, and seems inclined to say “no.”

Onslaught kidnaps Franklin, and overcomes the FF and the team of Avengers/X-Men who arrive for the battle. Franklin’s abilities make him stronger.

Nate stays hidden, with X-Force as his bodyguards. But of course they’re found. Not by Onslaught, though—but by Mister Sinister. He attacks and captures X-Man. Captures, yes. Keeps, no.

Onslaught is able to psychically call to Nate Grey, and ends up with the X-Man under his thrall. Poor Sinister. He has all these great plans and they never go anywhere.

Simultaneously, Onslaught also mind-controls Hulk during a fight.

Then, he has Hulk fight Cable. Which is cool. Storm and Cable are able to defeat Hulk and free his mind, so now Hulk is a part of the fun, too. He doesn’t stay in it for long, though, because Onslaught uses his mind powers to make Hulk distrust his team-mates. I mean, that couldn’t have been too hard to pull out of Hulk’s mind. He’s felt like a persecuted victim for most of his history.

The heroes are not the only ones with teams—Onslaught has minions, too. He sends some of his flunkies to reprogram the master sentinels programming and have them go after all non-Onslaught allied mutants. X-Factor tries to stop them and, in the process, take Dark Beast and Fatale—and also find the real Hank McCoy, who’s been imprisoned in a wall for a while—since X-Men Unlimited #10.

The enslaved Havok and Random succeed in the overall mission, though, so now Onslaught controls the Sentinels.

He uses them to neutralize SHIELD’s Helicarrier, which leads to the Punisher tie-in as Frank Castle infiltrates and fights off the invaders.

He also unleashes them in New York, blowing shit up. Most of the heroes converge there to try to stop the (ahem) onslaught, fighting minions like Holocaust in the process.

I know what you’re thinking: “But what about Generation X? What are they doing during all this?” Well, if you are in fact thinking that, you are to be congratulated for being able to remember ALL of the X-Books being published in 1996. Rather than participate, White Queen decides to hide her students at her mansion in Canada. That make sense, frankly, since she is still working off her guilt at having lost all of her prior set of students—the Hellions—due to their inadequate battle training.

Generation X #18-19 were published during this event, but they don’t really tie in. They have their own post.

Now where were we? Oh, yeah. New York City. The heroes finally find Onslaught himself, there’s a big fight.

Several of these comics are the final issues for these series. Like, here is the last panel of Avengers #402, where the series ends:

The Fantastic Four’s series ends, too, with panels paying tribute to the way it began…

I’d say it’s touching but it’s been done about a dozen times already. At this point, we know the FF will be back.

The battle is supposed to be epic, but it has scenes like this that are underwhelming:

The heroes overpower Onslaught and pull Professor X out of the Onslaught armor. I’ll note that Onslaught is using the captive Franklin to boost his own powers, but I also find that Onslaught’s power level is vague. In this part of this story, he’s strong enough to take on the combined might of a bunch of X-teams, the F4, and the Avengers. The heroes are able to protect themselves from his mind-powers using Vibranium psychic shields—kind of like how Magneto’s helmet protected him from Professor X.

Once Thor yanks Xavier’s body out of the armor, Onslaught becomes a living thought—an energy-based being that lives entirely within the suit of armor. Following the rule of unintended consequences, we learn that being trapped inside the Professor’s body served as a kind of “governor” for Onslaught. Freed from it, he’s now able to be as bad as he wants to be.

Apocalypse shows up at this point and teams up with Invisible Woman and Cable to free Franklin Richards. But during the attempt, Apocalypse shows his true colors and tries to kill—rather than rescue—the boy. So bottom line: He’s still a dick. And they are unable to rescue Franklin.

And since we’re in New York, we get tie ins with Ben Reilly, the retired Peter Parker, the new hero version of Green Goblin, etc., who fought various Onslaught-constructed threats.

Hulk manages to shatter Onslaught’s armor, but instead of killing him it just frees him from its bondage—and the force of the ensuing blast separates Hulk from Banner (again).

Now that he’s an energy being, the non-mutant heroes literally throw themselves into his energy field (which makes him weaker—only mutants make him stronger). As the battle builds up speed, Onslaught decides that it’s too hard to get allies and pick winners—it’s easier just to kill everyone.

And this is probably the point where most people just got fed up with the event: The X-Men manage to destroy the weakened Onslaught, but in so doing all the absorbed heroes are killed.

Or I should say, “killed.”

In the aftermath, Professor X is depowered. Apparently he used up his powers to take out Onslaught. Because 616 citizens are idiots, people get even more anti-mutant when all the heroes die, and the increased hostility will enable mutant haters Bastion and Graydon Creed to gain power. Creed runs for President, and Bastion arrests Charles Xavier as an enemy of the State. It also, happily, enables the creation of The Thunderbolts to serve as “heroes” in the absence of The Avengers.

But that’s not the aftermath that everyone remembers (and many detest) about Onslaught. This is what they remember: The heroes inside of Onslaught didn’t die. Instead, they were reborn in the event “Heroes Reborn.”

This led to relaunches of Fantastic Four, Iron Man, Captain America, and The Avengers. Hulk was spared because Marvel thankfully decided to leave Peter David alone.

So, in the past year, the entire X-Universe was rebooted in AoA, those reboots all ended at the end of AoA, then they all got rejiggered during Onslaught; Spider-Man’s books all got cancelled and rebooted as part of the clone “event;” and now the rest of the 616 is completely redone. (This last reboot was really just a way to get all the Image Comics creators to come back and work for Marvel for a bit.) The reboot happens on a separate Earth in a pocket dimension, so the 616 people don’t know they are there. I’ll be covering all those “reborn” series, even though they’re really not canon—so I probably won’t be doing it in detail.

I know people love to hate this event, but it’s actually the perfect summary of 1990s Marvel. Nothing was working. Sales were down. So they blew up EVERYTHING and tried to start over. Of course, the effort failed and the story was convoluted and confusing, with more than a few holes. But in retrospect, knowing where the event was going and recognizing the point in time that it arrived, it’s kind of a fun read.