Did X-MEN ‘97 Introduce One of Marvel’s Most Controversial Villains?

Spoiler Alert

One of the most controversial X-Men villains of all time was almost certainly born in the penultimate episode of X-Men ’97, “Tolerance is Extinction Part II.” Even if you didn’t see a new bad guy appear anywhere on screen, we were witness to his conception, so to speak. The villain in question is Onslaught, a psychic entity born of the animosity between Charles Xavier and Magneto. But who—or more precisely what—is Onslaught? Created by Mark Waid, Scott Lobdell, and Andy Kubert in 1996’s X-Men #53, this is the strange history of the beyond Omega-level mutant nemesis.

Bishop, the X-Men Traitor Mystery, and the First Hints of Onslaught

Bishop discovers that the X-Men had a traitor within their ranks in Uncanny X-Men.
Marvel Comics

The roots of Onslaught go back to the introduction of another major X-Men character, Lucas Bishop. When Marvel first introduced Bishop in Uncanny X-Men #281 in 1991, he was a time-traveler from yet another dystopian future. In his timeline, the X-Men were betrayed by one of their own and destroyed from within. The identity of the so-called “X-traitor” was a mystery lost to time which Bishop hoped he could solve. He initially believed the traitor to be Gambit. Years later, Marvel finally revealed who the X-traitor was. That revelation led to the emergence of the entity Onslaught.

X-Men: Fatal Attractions Is the True Genesis of Onslaught

The birth of Onslaught, when Xavier entered Magneto's mind, in 1993's X-Men #25.
Marvel Comics

In 1993’s X-Men #25, during a pitched battle between the X-Men and Magneto’s forces, Magneto ripped the adamantium metal from Wolverine’s skeleton, nearly killing him despite his regenerative powers. In a moment of uncontrolled rage toward his former friend, Charles Xavier used his telepathic powers to shut down Magneto’s mind, leaving him in a catatonic state. However, during this intense psychic contact, all of Magneto’s negative traits, like his anger, sadness, and enormous god complex, entered into Xavier’s mind. It intertwined with all of Charles’ suppressed negative emotions, and in time became its own entity called Onslaught.

Onslaught's first appearance in 1996's X-Men #53.
Marvel Comics

Onslaught remained dormant inside of Xavier’s mind for some time, but slowly started to emerge. He learned how to manifest his own body eventually. It was a gigantic and monstrous form, whose head looked like a version of Magneto’s helmet. The Onslaught entity still retained Charles Xavier’s dream of uniting humanity and mutants, only he would do so using fear. If humans and mutants were all terrified of the wrath of Onslaught, they would join together under his rule. Onslaught sought to recruit known mutants and others to his cause, like his brother Juggernaut and Jean Grey. All rejected him, and he wiped their memories of his true identity as Xavier. He then bided his time to make his move.

X-Men/Avengers: Onslaught Event Series Changes the Marvel Universe

Onslaught meets Jean Grey, and then wipes her memory of the event.
Marvel Comics

Eventually, when a young mutant died on the grounds of Xavier’s School for the Gifted, Xavier’s mind finally broke. The years of failures caught up to him, and Onslaught took full control of his body and mind. He tried to recruit his students the X-Men to his cause but they all turned him down, and fought against their former teacher. Bishop realized that Xavier himself was the X-traitor he had read so much about as a child. Bishop managed to save his fellow X-Men, but now Onslaught was free and ready to wreak havoc.

In the event series X-Men/Avengers: Onslaught, the powerful entity tried to attain the vast psionic powers of Franklin Richards, the mutant child of Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Woman of the Fantastic Four. He hoped that Franklin’s powers, as well as those of the alternate universe version of Cable called X-Man, might be enough to turn humanity and mutants into a collective consciousness. He reprogrammed Sentinels to obey only him. The X-Men and the Avengers were able to separate Xavier from Onslaught. But without Xavier’s noble side as an anchor, Onslaught became even more dangerous than before.

Onslaught “Kills” the Avengers and the Fantastic Four

The Avengers and Fantastic Four fight Onslaught in the 1996  crossover event.
Marvel Comics

The non-mutant members of the Avengers and the Fantastic Four realized they were going to have to be the ones to stop Onslaught. This was because the entity could more easily channel its energy into a mutant. They seemingly sacrificed their lives to stop him, dissipating his psychic energy into almost nothing. But the world blamed mutants for the death of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, and anti-mutant hysteria reached a fever pitch. This allowed Bastion to get the backing of world governments to fund his Operation Zero Tolerance. X-Men ’97 seems to be doing these stories in reverse order.

Why Onslaught Remains a Polarizing X-Men Character

Onslaught, the combined power of Xavier and Magneto.
Marvel Comics

So why is Onslaught so controversial? Many fans felt that the character was merely used to get the Avengers and Fantastic Four characters “off the board,” and sent into their own separate universe. Even though the X-Men believed them dead, it turned out Franklin had merely sent them to a pocket dimension. In 1996, Image Comics’ Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld returned to Marvel where they were given carte blanche to reinvent those characters for the modern era. This year-long initiative, called “Heroes Reborn,” was not terribly popular. Many felt Onslaught was merely a vehicle to separate the Avengers and FF from the X-Men, thus splitting the Marvel universe. Because of this, the Onslaught character has only made sporadic returns since, although one was as recently as last year’s X-Men series.

The X-Men ’97 Future of Onslaught

In X-Men ’97, we saw Xavier reach deep into Magneto’s mind before his attack on Logan. And he was clearly in his head for an extended (and seemingly painful) period of time. This was the moment that created Onslaught in the comics, and we’re fairly certain he’s coming in the series too. While the character wasn’t that popular, X-Men ’97 has rehabilitated an equally unpopular villain in Bastion. We think the writers of X-Men ’97 can turn Onslaught into a fan-favorite too. We are not sure when or where he’ll appear, but the godlike child of Charles Xavier and Magneto will almost certainly appear in X-Men ’97 at some point. It’s just a matter of time until he rears his ugly helmet head.

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