X-Men: Phoenix # 1 - 3 (1999), The Adventures of Cyclops and Phoenix # 1 - 4 (1994), Askani'son # 1 - 4 (1994), Books of Askani (1995)
X-Men: Phoenix # 1 - 3 (What happened to Rachel?)
Writer - John Francis Moore
Pencils - Pascal Alixe
This book was written in 1999 and even though I typically prefer to read chronologically (in regards to publishing), this story takes place immediately after Rachel swaps places in the time stream with Captain Britain (as covered in 112: Exc 75 - 77 (Goodbye Rachel, again.) Rachel went into a cocoon and appears again 2000 years in the future, which is the timeline where Apocalypse rules all, as we have been learning about in Cable's solo comics.
In this story we learn about Apocalypse burning through husk bodies, constantly looking for a body strong enough to sustain his power. With Apocalypse in a feeble state throughout this series, the primary antagonist comes in the form of his top lieutenant, Counselor Diamanda Nero. She is a mutant with the ability to steal the powers of those she kills. Nero is supported by two other mutant siblings named Luminesca and Ch'Vayre, the latter being a character who will feature prominently throughout all 3 series I'm covering here.
Rachel ends up spending the rest of her life in this timeline and eventually attracts a following. Over time, she becomes the Askani mother with her followers being labeled as "The Askani." Rachel is joined by a young mutant telepath named Blaquesmith and others such as Diogenes, Hark, Lexii, Ozana, and qua. This Askani group spends years challenging both Apocalypse and Nero, in an attempt to free the world from his despotic rule.
The series concludes with a battle between Rachel and Nero where Rachel ends up giving Nero the Phoenix Power, she can't handle it, then gives it back. In so doing, Nero is left without any of the powers she has taken over the years, ultimately choosing suicide so her best course of action. This also serves as an official point where Rachel parts ways with the Phoenix Force. The Askani tribe flourishes after Nero's defeat and sets us up for the 1994 Adventures of Cyclops and Phoenix (Phoenix referring to Jean for some reason, not Rachel).
The Adventures of Cyclops and Phoenix # 1 - 4 (Wow, Scott got to raise Nathan)
Writer - Scott Lobdell
Pencils - Gene Ha
The Adventures of Cyclops and Phoenix takes place immediately after Jean and Scott get married. While honeymooning, their consciousness is ripped from their bodies and sent 2000 years into the future by Rachel (The Askani Mother). Their consciousnesses are put into the bodies of two humans, and they decide to go by the names "Red and Slim." This is a timeline where Rachel is very old and Nathan (Cable) has only been in the future for a few years.
The elderly Askani Mother (Rachel) updates Red and Slim (Scott and Jean) on what has happened in recent years. Apocalypse is burning through Husk bodies and looking for a mutant strong enough to sustain him. He picked Nathan as a baby and infected him with the transmode virus as a way to test him. If he could survive that, then he would be strong enough to hold Apocalpyse. This is the story told in X-Factor # 63 - 68 when Apocalypse originally infected Nathan and the Askani Mother (now revealed to be Rachel) took him into the future to save him. Rachel brings us up to speed on something we recently learned in the Cable solo comic, that Rachel feared Nathan would die and decided to clone him (Stryfe was made), as she bought into a prophecy that he (Nathan/Cable) would save this timeline. Apocalypse had kidnapped Stryfe, incorrectly assuming he was the real Nathan and had beated the Techno Organic Virus. This sets up Stryfe to be "heir" to Apocalypse.
Shortly after arriving in the future, Slim and Red come across the real baby Nathan and decide they need to save him from Apocalypse. It all seems rather rushed, but basically Scott is willing to risk death in an attempt to save Nathan this time as he's spent years guilty for letting him go. The risky gamble works and Jean and Scott are able to escape with Nathan.
Jean and Scott actually spend YEARS in the future raising the real Nathan. This is actually VERY cool as Nathan mentions that he was raised by a loving couple named Slim and Red, but up to this point in our continuity, Cable doesn't know that was Scott and Jean and they didn't know either because they hadn't been pulled into the future yet (it happened on their honeymoon). It will be fascinating to see what happens in future issues to see if they tell Cable that in truth, they actually were the ones to raise him.
Over time, Jean and Scott travel from city to city raising Nathan and avoiding conflicts. At one point they are saved by a cyborg named Prior Turin, who is actually Diogenes, one of Rachel's original followers. We were also led to believe that Rachel had died, but we see that she has been in a coma speaking psychically with Nathan all along to provide him with guidance.
Meanwhile, we see that Stryfe (evil Nathan) is being raised by Apocalypse to be his heir, and this turns him into a spoiled brat. We've seen this trope play out constantly. One of Apocalypse's leading lieutenants, Ch'Vayre (who we saw in the Phoenix miniseries) takes a liking to Stryfe. Eventually, Stryfe learns the truth that he wasn't going to be the heir, but essentially killed as Apocalypse would take over his body. This doesn't happen as Apocalypse finds out the truth, that Stryfe is only a clone, and decides he isn't good enough for him. This leaves Stryfe as feeling both entitled, betrayed, and abanonded...which makes sense why he would grow up to be the raving lunatic we've seen over the last few years of X-Men comics.
This all leads to a startling conclusion where Nathan, Scott, and Jean actually do take on Apocalypse and kill him (reportedly), thus fulfilling the prophecy and allowing Scott and Jean's consciousnesses to go back to their bodies, where only a few minutes have passed and they are still on their honeymoon. Jean decides that she is going to start using the codename Phoenix (in honor of both Rachel and her past). Nathan is now on his own and this series is followed up Askani'son where we learn what happened next to Young Cable.
Askani’son # 1 - 4 (The Adventures of Young Cable)
Plot - Scott Lobdell
Script - Jeph Loeb
Pencils - Gene Ha
In the wake of Apocalypse's death, the government is still run by a despotic regime known as the New Canaanites. Tribune Haight, a leading member of the new government, sends someone named Strator Umbridge to kill the Askani, who are seen as a terrorist groups, constantly trying to bring down this government.
Nathan is traveling from town to town with his best friend Tetherblood. He eventually runs into Blaquesmith and later Prior Turin, both of which offer him guidance but refuse to officially join his cause. Instead, he is sent on a mission to find the last of the Askani in a place called Ebonshire. At one point Cable discovers an AI consciousness living inside him. This is actually the old X-Factor Ship which was sent into the future alongside him, which will be known as "Professor" from this point forward.
There aren't many Askani left, but they are now run as a cult of telepathatic females, led by Madame Sanctity, who may or may not be insane. As Nathan draws closer to the city of Ebonshire (where the Askani live), he is met by the beautiful Aliya who I think is eventually going to be the character Jenskott...his wife and mother of Tyler.
Meanwhile, Ch'Vayre has been on the run with Stryfe. The adolescent Stryfe is still a piece of work and obsessed with one day claiming his title as the heir to Apocalypse. He doesn't seem to understand (or care) that Apocalypse was going to kill him.
This all culminates in a final battle where Nathan/Cable and his allies (Tetherblood, Professor, Blaquesmith, Aliya) battles with the new Canaanite government at the same time as Stryfe attacks. Ultimately, Cable wins the battle dealing a significant blow to the government and Stryfe escapes with help from Madame Sancitity (for some reason). This sets up the status quo we have seen in the Cable series and X-Force flashbacks. Cable leads a rebellion composed of the Askani followers (giving Cable the name Askani'son), marries Aliya, fights with Tetherblood, and is aided by his AI buddy Professor.
I want to take a minute to talk about Rachel's connection to Nathan/Cable. It is pretty common for new writer's to take stories in a different direction, needing to retcon past stories to make the new ones work, but this is one that is entirely believable going all the way back to the Claremont days. When Nathan was born, Rachel immediately created a psychic connection with Nathan and promised to look after him. She fought for him during Inferno. When joining Excalibur, she would constantly be seen checking in on him (often secretly through a window). All of this longer history tracks perfectly with the more recent history of Rachel inexplicably being able to hear Professor, mumbling about the Askani'son to Cable, and even going to help him when she gets stuck in the timeloop. All in all, there is a very coherent throughline with Rachel caring deeply about Cable and constantly looking out for him. She's not sure where she fits in with Jean and Scott, but she decides that Cable is her brother and it seems to be the only thing she is sure of.
There is another big moment here with Rachel officially giving up the Phoenix Force. She was always incredibly overpowered and I know the Phoenix Force will spend a lot of time with other Marvel heroes, so it's worth noting that this is where it leaves Rachel. This also makes me curious about Rachel's future. I didn't like her in the pages of Uncanny and just as I was starting to warm up to her in Excalibur, she appears to be gone forever. I know she will eventually come back (many years from now) and go by other codenames such as Prestige, but I'm not sure how that will be reconciled with the fact that she went into the future and lives out her life until death in that future. Also interested to see when and or if we see the Phoenix Force again.
There is no better example of the amazing value I am getting out of this X-men comics journey than to be shocked by the revelation that Scott and Jean got to raise Nathan. I had read a lot of comics in the early 90's and watched the Animated Show, but I really have no clue what happens from this point on. I was incredibly shocked (and touched) to learn that after spending years seeing Scott tear himself apart that he got a chance to redeem himself. This concept also reminded me of one of my favorite episodes of TV ever, "The Inner Light" on Star Trek: The Next Generation. That is an episode where Picard is transported to a small planet and lives an entire life (getting married, having kids, dying) in the span of only a few seconds in reality. This is really touching.
While these are tried and true tropes, I liked the Stryfe characterization. Seeing him as an entitled, overpowered, and eventually cast aside adolescent seems to track perfectly with the overpowered, brilliant, but insane Stryfe that we meet in the future.
Lobdell is on hand here doing more good work and special shout out to Jeph Loeb who comes in to do some scripting. That name jumped out on me because I know he will have a huge role with Marvel TV, so I enjoy seeing him here in the comics space.
My Rating - 9/10
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