The new X-Men movie is all about their enemy Apocalypse, who always has four henchmen that he dubs his Horsemen and places them in the roles of War, Death, Famine and Pestilence. The characters first were mentioned in X-Factor back in 1986 and in the 30 years Apocalypse has been around, he’s actually had many different people as his Horsemen. Some are new characters that he recruits and others are existing characters like Wolverine and the Hulk.
There have been 8 incarnations of the Horsemen as well as about a dozen alternate universe or TV versions. Below we list the various characters to inherit each role and what they did in their tenure. At the end, we’ll ask why the filmmakers decided to use Psylocke, Magneto, Archangel and Storm and see if they were the best choices.
A Mummy: In Uncanny Avengers #6, we witness Thor back in 11th century Medieval London battling a team and in the role of War was an unnamed mutant that looks like a mummy. Thor handily destroys the entire team.
War: Only briefly seen, a version of War led Apocalypse’s mutant army, the Dark Riders, in a battle against Vlad Tepes. This was in the 19th century, prior to Vlad becoming Dracula.
Abraham Kieros: The first version of War we saw in the comics appeared in X-Factor #11 (December, 1986). Abraham was a mutant who could create blasts of force by harnessing kinetic force. He could clap his hands and throw powerful blasts in his line of site. Apocalypse found Abraham after he was paralyzed as a U.S. soldier in the Vietnam War. He offered the ability to walk again if he would serve as War in his Horsemen. After several battles in which the X-Men defeated him, Apocalypse abandoned him, leaving him paralyzed again. Archangel later healed him.
Hulk: Apocalypse recruits a confused Hulk as his new War in Incredible Hulk #456 (September, 1997), offering to remove his memories of his abusive father. He gives Hulk a helmet that prevents these memories and pits him against Juggernaut. Hulk defeats Juggernaut but when he accidentally injures his friend Rick Jones he tears off Apocalypse’s armor and leaps away.
Deathbird: In X-Men Vol. 2 #96 (January, 2000), Apocalypse recruits a new War: Deathbird, the Shi’ar alien and sometime ally/sometime enemy to the X-Men. The X-Men defeat Apocalypse’s plan to gather twelve powerful mutants and channel their energies into himself to become a god. The Horsemen scatter.
Gazer: Gazer was a mutant who worked for NASA as an astronaut on an orbiting space station, using his ability to absorb otherwise harmful radiation as sustenance. Following the events of M-Day, he was one of many mutants to lose their powers and he quickly got radiation sickness (X-Men #169, 2005). Gazer began to lose his mind. He stepped out into space to die but was teleported onto Apocalypse’s spaceship and forced to battle an archaeologist who had found Apocalypse’s ship. The winner would become the new War. Gazer was going to lose the fight but Apocalypse’s servant Ozymandias stabbed the archaeological in the back and told Gazer he owed him a favor. However, once transformed into War, Gazer was completely loyal to Apocalypse and informed Apocalypse that Ozymandias planned to betray him. This was interrupted by a battle with the X-Men during which time Ozymandias killed Gazer during the confusion of battle.
Red Hulk: In Avengers Vol. 4 #2 (June, 2010) the Avengers encounter a future version of Apocalypse and his Horsemen. Red Hulk rides a red horse and in biblical literature, that equates to War. After a brief fight, they disappear from the timeline.
Decimus Furius: Apocalypse had throughout time gathered mutants to serve as his Final Horsemen if all else failed. This was first seen in Uncanny X-Force #1 (December, 2010). The Clan Akkaba resurrected Apocalypse and woke his horsemen. Decimus Furius was a child in Rome in the 200s. Starving to death, his mutant abilities emerged and he changed into a creature resembling a minotaur. He was locked up and eventually forced to fight as a gladiator, winning battle after battle. Apocalypse recruited him and as War he gained increased strength and the ability to drive others mad with rage by touching them. He was ultimately killed by the Apocalypse Twins, Apocalypse’s children in the future who were raised by the villain Kang to hate their father.
Havok: At the end of the Age of Apocalypse crossover (1996), Weapon X defeated Apocalypse and appointed Havok as the Minister of War, a similar role.
Cable: In Cable & Deadpool #16 (June, 2005), Deadpool travels to alternate realities. In one, Cable has been made the Horseman of War. Realizing that he can’t defeat him, Deadpool escapes into yet another dimension.
Thunderbird: In the Exiles comic book (2001), a group of X-Men from alternate dimensions go on dimension-hopping adventures. One of their first teammates is Thunderbird from Earth-1100 who was turned into War by Apocalypse, giving him highly enhanced strength and senses but removing his humanity. He broke his mental programming and joined the team.
A Native American Lady: An unnamed Native American served as Famine when Thor fought the 11th Century incarnation. He defeated them quickly.
Autumn Rolfson: The first modern incarnation of the Horsemen in X-Factor included Autumn as Famine. She was an anorexic mutant who could induce extreme hunger in others and also turn organic matter to dust with prolonged physical contact. After several defeats at the hands of the X-Men, Autumn retreated and hid with her son, Genocide, the son of Apocalypse. She feared Apocalypse would kill them if he learned about his existence. Later, Archangel becomes the new Apocalypse and recruits them. But after Archangel has Genocide wipe out a small town in Northern Montana, Autumn confronts him and Archangel kills her.
Ahab: When Apocalypse seeks to gather twelve powerful mutants, he recruits Ahab as his new Famine. Ahab is a cyborg mutant from the future who helped hunt down other mutants. He eventually travels to the present. He can form energy harpoons that seek out specific targets. As Famine, he could also drain the life force of his victims by touching them. When Apocalypse was defeated, he fled.
Sunfire: Superhero Sunfire had recently lost his legs and his powers when Apocalypse approached him to become the new Famine. Sunfire refused but was transformed against his will. He regained his legs and his nuclear fire powers were enhanced. He was ultimately able to break free of his mental programming with the help of Emma Frost.
Scarlet Witch: In Avengers Vol. 4 #2 (June, 2010) the Avengers encounter a future version of Apocalypse and his Horsemen. Scarlet Witch rides a black horse and in biblical literature, that equates to Famine. After a brief fight, they disappear from the timeline.
Jeb Lee: Jeb was a spy for the Confederates during the American Civil War. He would dress up as a Union drummer. Upon returning home, Confederate soldiers believed him to be Union and killed his family in front of him. This activated his powers, the ability to turn percussive sound into a bioauditory cancer that ate away at his victims. Apocalypse recruited him as one of his Final Horsemen. In a battle with X-Force, Wolverine cut off his hands so that he couldn’t drum and create sound. Later, he replaced his hands with prosthetics but he was killed by the Apocalypse Twins.
Cyclops: At the end of the Age of Apocalypse crossover (1996), Weapon X defeated Apocalypse and appointed Cyclops as the Minister of Famine, a similar role.
Blob: In the Cable & Deadpool “Enema of the State” storyline, Blob was Famine in an alternate dimension.
A Winged Mutant: The 11th Century version of the Horsemen that Thor defeats has a mutant with wings for arms in the role of Pestilence.
Plague: Plague was an older lady who was a mutant. She lived with the Morlocks, mishappen and homeless mutants that lived in the abandoned tunnels under Manhattan. The Marauders killed most of the Morlocks and Sabretooth would have killed Plague but her power sucked away his life force and he fled. She was then recruited by Apocalypse and turned into Pestilence. She was immune to all disease and, if exposed to a disease, could spread that to others rapidly. After a few defeats at the hands of the X-Men, Plague is knocked off her flying robot horse by the child superheroes Power Pack and falls to her death.
Caliban: Caliban was a weak, ugly, and not very bright mutant who had the ability to sense and find other mutants. He ultimately came to live with the Morlocks and was among the few to survive the massacre by the Marauders. He went to Apocalypse to ask for the power to get vengeance and it was granted. Caliban became tremendously strong and took the departed Archangel’s role as Death. After several losses, he began to revert to his weaker self and the X-Men took him back in. But he began to suffer seizures. Ozymandias, Apocalypse’s servant, abducted Caliban and explained he was dying after leaving Apocalypse. He was transformed again, this time into Pestilence. After Apocalypse’s plans to steal the power of twelve mutants failed, the Horsemen fled. Caliban again began to lose his strength and savage nature and returned to the X-Men.
Polaris: Polaris had recently lost her magnetism powers after the events of M-Day stripped most mutants of their abilities. Apocalypse forcefully recruited her into the role of Pestilence. In battle with the X-Men, Iceman knocked her out and she was abandoned. Havok recovered her and the X-Men were able to repair her mental conditioning.
Spider-Man: In Avengers Vol. 4 #2 (June, 2010) the Avengers encounter a future version of Apocalypse and his Horsemen. Spider-Man rides a white horse and in biblical literature, that equates to Pestilence. After a brief fight, they disappear from the timeline.
In the “Enema of the State” storyline in Cable & Deadpool, Deadpool visited an alternate dimension where an 8-limbed Spider-Man served as Pestilence.
Ichisumi: Ichisumi was a geisha in 1893 Japan. She had a fierce temper and an insecurity complex. One day her mutant power emerged and she released a swarm of yume beetles from her mouth. The beetles feed not only on organic tissue but memories and thoughts of her victims. Apocalypse recruited her as one of his secret Final Horsemen. While the Final Horsemen were defeated by X-Force in several confrontations, Ichisumi survived and was actually last seen pregnant by Archangel, who had become possessed by Apocalypse at the time. She was fated to give birth to Apocalypse and also gave birth to the Apocalypse Twins in a possible future.
Emplate: In the Age of Apocalypse reality, after defeating Apocalypse, Weapon X appointed Emplate as his Minister of Pestilence, a similar role.
A Gas Entity: In the 11th Century, when Thor fought the Horsemen, a gaseous mutant that could fly served as Death.
Angel: When Angel lost his wings, Apocalypse offered to allow him to fly again if he would serve as Death. This was the first version readers ever saw in the comics. While sometimes called Death, as his title, Angel also became known as Archangel, now with metallic wings that could shoot razor-sharp blades. The original X-Men eventually rescued and rehabilitated him.
Archangel also served as Death in a parallel reality that Deadpool visited in the “Enema of the State” storyarc in Cable & Deadpool.
Caliban: Upon losing Angel, Apocalypse allows Caliban to become Death, greatly enhancing his physical strength. As noted above, Caliban later served as Pestilence as well.
Wolverine: Apocalypse assembles a new group of Horsemen during his plan to abduct twelve powerful mutants. He pits Wolverine and Sabretooth against one another with the winner being allowed to serve as his new Death. Wolverine reasons that his healing factor stands a chance at eventually recovering him from Apocalypse’s mental control and that he would do less harm than Sabretooth and defeats Sabretooth. Fighting the mental conditioning, the X-Men eventually restore him.
In Avengers Vol. 4 #2 (June, 2010) the Avengers encounter a future version of Apocalypse and his Horsemen. Wolverine rides a pale horse and in biblical literature, that equates to Death. After a brief fight, they disappear from the timeline.
Gambit: After M-Day, which wiped out most mutants’ powers, Apocalypse gathers a new Horsemen with the goal of eliminating 90% of the population. While he forces the other members to become Horsemen, Gambit submits willingly, agreeing with some of Apocalypse’s ideas and hoping to keep an eye on him. During a battle with the X-Men, his love of Rogue allows him to break his mental conditioning.
Sanjar Javeed: The bastard son of the King of Persia, Sanjar was born around 325. He had the mutant ability to spread terminal disease based on what metal he touched, unknowingly killing the kingdom when he sent out treasures as gifts to the people of the land on behalf of his father. He was collected by Apocalypse as one of his secret Final Horsemen. He fought X-Force and even Wolverine’s claws couldn’t kill him. Fantomex tricked him into leaving the battle. Apocalypse was killed but his essence possessed Archangel who became the new Apocalypse. Sanjar served Archangel but in a fight with X-Force he was beheaded by Deathlok. Since Deathlok was an undead cyborg, Sanjar’s powers were useless against him.
Psylocke: Archangel immediately abducted his former lover Psylocke and used one of Apocalypse’s Death Seeds to transform her into the new Death. However, the seed was in a parallel reality and the Jean Grey of that reality used her telepathy to free Psylocke from Archangel’s control.
Daken, Grim Reaper, Sentry, Banshee: The Apocalypse Twins came to the present from the future and had more Death Seeds. They used these to reanimate four super powered beings as Death, each with a grudge against the Uncanny Avengers. The Avengers Unity Squad actually loses in battle to them but future versions of themselves return to the present with their memories intact and use it to defeat the Horsemen. Sentry’s mental conditioning is broken and he uses his incredible power to save Earth from a Celestial summoned to destroy the power, taking him into deep space. Grim Reaper and Daken escape. Banshee is taken into custody by the X-Men and Beast claims they can break his conditioning given time.
Writer Rick Remender has said he believes there are yet unused Seeds for War, Famine and Pestilence as well.
Azazel: In the Age of Apocalypse reality, Weapon X appoints Azazel as his Minister of Death, a similar role.
Some Horsemen have not been given individual titles.
In the Age of Apocalypse storyline (1995-1996 crossover event), an alternate universe came into being where Apocalypse ruled the world. His Horseman consisted of Candra, Gideon, an unknown female Death and Abraham Kieros as War. Apocalypse had his Horsemen and others who wanted the position battle to the death. This resulted in a new team composed of Mr. Sinister, Holocaust, Mikhail Rasputin and Bastion. Later, Bastion is killed and replaced with Abyss. Apocalypse is eventually defeated by Wolverine (Weapon X) and he appoints Ministers to each post, as listed above.
During the House of M event, an alternate reality is formed. Apocalypse visits Black Panther’s nation in Black Panther Vol. 4 #7 (October, 2005) along with three of his Horsemen: Iceman, Angel, Sabretooth and Nightcrawler.
In Extraordinary X-Men #8 (March, 2016), some X-Men travel 1,000 years into the future where they encounter a new version of the Horsemen. It has yet to be determined who fills which role but the team is comprised of Colossus, Venom, Deadpool and Moon Knight.
Okay, so where did Storm, Magneto, Psylocke and Archangel come from? Obviously Archangel is a pretty prominent member from the comics, but the other three aren’t. Well, you’d have to look to the 2000-2003 cartoon X-Men: Evolution for that. This cartoon was a different take on the X-Men, using the same characters but almost all of them were teenagers. In the final 9-episode season they had Apocalypse form a Horsemen consisting of Storm as Famine, Professor X as Death, Magneto as War and Mystique as Pestilence. So they took Storm and Magneto and if you look at interviews with the movie’s writers, they originally planned on using Professor X before deciding he wasn’t doing much in the final act so they last-minute changed the role to Psylocke, another telepath. In the comics, Archangel is the most prominent hero turned into a Horseman, so they kept that and it was probably an easy decision since they wanted to use Jennifer Lawrence’s new star power to use Mystique as the main hero for the film. Will the filmmakers’ decision to cast so many X-Men as the Horsemen, instead of more generic bad guys, pay off? I guess we’ll know in a few weeks.