Issue(s): Onslaught: X-Men
The cover says "The Evolution of the Marvel Universe begins here!". What they really meant was that the end of the Marvel Universe begins here.
But of course, while it became the vehicle for launching Heroes Reborn, Onslaught was originally meant to be an X-Men story. And one of the aspects of that is a resolution to Bishop's long-running X-Traitor storyline. We saw some foreshadowing of that in Uncanny X-Men #334 with Bishop softening his stance towards Gambit, who he originally suspected to be the traitor. This issue begins with a full replay of the truncated message from Jean Grey that Bishop saw in Uncanny X-Men #287. But now we know that Professor X is the traitor she was talking about.
The message with all the words filled in is quite different than what Bishop interpreted from what he saw in the future. For example, the original message had "Professor Xavier... was the first to die" and it turns out there was quite a large gap in that segment. And what the X-Men "should never have trusted" turns out to not be a member they welcomed into their ranks but the after effects of Xavier shutting down Magneto's mind. None of that explains why The Witness (seemingly Future Gambit) didn't simply tell Bishop what really happened, but that's for later Bishop & Gambit stories to deal with.
The above scene is a flash-forward, 45 minutes into the future. The story then reverts to the present, which begins with most of the X-Men still searching the mansion grounds for the Juggernaut. Jean is aware that Professor X is Onslaught; the others are not. Xavier summons his former students to him, telling them to not worry about the Juggernaut. Xavier tells the X-Men that he made a mistake. But the mistake wasn't absorbing Magneto's mind, it was the fact that he believed in the X-Men and his dream. While Xavier continues along these lines (shocking the other X-Men), Jean tries to find a way to reach the Professor. She then discovers what happened to the Juggernaut, which means it's too late.
Onslaught reveals himself.
The other X-Men still don't understand what's going on, so they ask what happened to the Professor, and Onslaught says that Xavier "created" him.
The story is still trying to keep the Magneto aspect of this a secret (even though Jean's future message referenced the mind-wipe at the start of the issue).
Jean says that when Onslaught reached out to her in X-Men #53, it was really Professor X trying to warn her.
Having just read that issue, i did not get that impression at all. It's like even that late in the game, the writers still didn't know exactly what they were doing with Onslaught and are trying to rationalize it now.
The X-Men decide they can't take on Onslaught yet and split up to recruit help. Onslaught is basically doing the same by going after a young Franklin Richards.
It's worth emphasizing (as the Invisible Woman implies) that Franklin has only recently returned to the Fantastic Four as a young child. He'd been replaced by a future version of himself, a development that had dragged on for about 37 issues and only finally resolved the issue before this crossover began. The scene above looks like a nice typical family situation for the FF, but this is in fact the first time such a scene could have occurred in the past 3 publication years. In fact, i wouldn't be surprised if the only reason that situation finally got resolved was because the crossover necessitated it.
Franklin's recent experiences should cause the things happening here to take on a different context. Like, Xavier's "do you ever get... scared?" question might be answered by "Sure because you never know when I might get kidnapped by a Hyperstorm!" and you'd think Franklin's parents would be a little overprotective right now and take his "invisible friend" more seriously.
Onslaught then returns to attack the X-Men. Again, the revelation that Magneto is at all involved is kept semi-secret, although at this point it's at least clear what Wolverine is implying.
Along with the X-Traitor plotline, this Onslaught issue resolves an admittedly much shorter lingering development; the fact that the Beast has been replaced by his Age of Apocalypse counterpart. It also answers what was probably a common fan complaint: how could the Dark Beast possibly be hanging around a team with the world's most powerful telepaths without getting found out, and the answer is that Onslaught has been helping keep the secret.
Beast himself doesn't return in this story, but that will happen during the crossover.
Dark Beast pledges loyalty to Onslaught and offers access to his resources. Jean tries to escape, and that's when she sends the message that Bishop will find in the future, but then it turns out that the X-Men are still alive after all.
Whatever causes the X-Men to not be around in Bishop's future, his actions in the present day are a lesson in jumping to conclusions!
Quarter is neither asked for nor given during the fight with Onslaught.
The X-Men manage to fend off Onslaught, thanks in large part to Bishop somehow absorbing a powerful psionic blast. The X-Men note how Onslaught went "bananas" when Wolverine nearly mentioned Magneto, and wonder if he's secretly controlling Xavier. There are also indications that Xavier is resisting Onslaught, which might lend to the idea that Magneto is secretly controlling him (even though this possibility is mostly ruled out). So it's still not 100% revealed what the nature of Onslaught is. Which is kind of surprising to me on this re-read; when i first read this story i already knew what Onslaught was meant to be, and i guess i just took it for granted when reading the story. I had forgotten that we weren't really supposed to know what the deal was at this point.
Also in this issue we see a Sentinel factory about to get taken over. And we see that X-Man has gone to the Avengers for help, not quite a repeat of the scene from Avengers #400 but with no new developments (this is Onslaught: X-Men, after all).
My first foray into Onslaught was just reading this and the other bookend (Onslaught: Marvel Universe). I also had the two Hulk tie-ins and the one Cable issue that crossed over with Hulk, but they are incidental to the plot. I didn't read any of the build-up or the other tie-in issues. I later picked up a Green Goblin issue where he fought a Sentinel (which was about as relevant to the crossover as when Daredevil fought a vacuum cleaner during Inferno). Based on that initial exposure, i thought the crossover was great, because the concept is really great and these bookends are well done. This issue is marred only by what was happening to poor Wolverine at the time.
It's only after picking up some of the build-up issues and more of the tie-ins that i realized what an overall mess the crossover was. But the idea behind the crossover, even if the creators came to it belatedly, is strong enough that even though there's a lot of confusion along the way, it still holds up.
Quality Rating: B+
Chronological Placement Considerations: Continues directly from X-Men #54 and Avengers #400. Uncanny X-Men #335 is probably the best of the Onslaught: Phase One tie-ins to read next.
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (1): showBishop, Cannonball, Captain America, Cyclops, Dark Beast, Franklin Richards, Gambit, Henry Pym, Human Torch, Iceman, Invisible Woman, Jean Grey, Mr. Fantastic, Onslaught, Professor X, Scarlet Witch, Storm, Teen Tony, Thing, Thor, Vision, Wasp, Wolverine, X-Man
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