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Comic Book / Onslaught

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"Know my name and fear it! I am Onslaught!"

Onslaught was a 1996 Marvel Comics Crisis Crossover involving nearly every superhero comic book they published at the time. The X-Men, Avengers, the Fantastic Four and other heroes fight an incredibly powerful Omnicidal Maniac which results in the "deaths" of every hero involved (except the mutants, Spider-Man and a Banner-less Hulk). Outside of comics, the series is best known for providing the Final Boss for Marvel vs. Capcom: Clash of Super Heroes.

The X-Men suffer several attacks by minions of the seemingly omnipotent entity known only as "Onslaught", who appears to know them well. He is also the one behind the recent stealing of the Sentinel fleet from a government base. When Gambit and Jean Grey go undercover to learn more about an unrelated Government Conspiracy, they are exposed but get an unexpected help from Onslaught. Later he tries to bring Jean over his side by showing her the dark long-repressed thoughts of her mentor Charles Xavier. She refuses. Juggernaut, who was attacked by Onslaught as well, comes to the X-Mansion and asks Jean to look for its true identity inside his head. She does and finds out that Onslaught is none other than Professor X.

It turns out that when Xavier brainwashed Magneto several months before (to cause him to stop being a threat after he cruelly stripped the adamantium off Wolverine's bones), a part of the latter's psyche merged with his own mind. Under the stress of constant failures and new misfortunes the Professor became more and more frustrated, until he developed a split personality, which eventually took a life of its own and was able to manifest in the corporeal world. Onslaught nearly kills the X-Men before leaving to capture Franklin Richards and X-Man in order to suck out their powers and become a living god. That brings him into conflict with both the Avengers, who were approached by X-Man, and Franklin's family, the Fantastic Four. Despite that Onslaught successfully kidnaps both of his targets, encircles Manhattan with Sentinels and prepares to Take Over the World.

The heroes (and Doctor Doom) eventually manage to defeat him but in order to do that most of them have to enter his non-corporeal form, which the X-Men then have to destroy, making it look like they killed them. Professor X is imprisoned for Onslaught's crimes and the anti-mutant sentiments become stronger than ever.

(Unknown to anyone, the heroes survived as they were recreated by Franklin's powers in another world, with no memory of their previous lives, as seen in the sequel "Heroes Reborn".)

After the events of House of M Onslaught came Back from the Dead in the aptly named Onslaught Reborn miniseries.

Thanks to the Red Skull's clone grafting Professor X's brain onto his own, and Magneto subsequently crushing his head in, he became Red Onslaught, kicking off the Autumn 2014 event AXIS.

Onslaught provides examples of:

  • All There in the Manual: X-Men: The Road to Onslaught, a special comic that told the backstory of Onslaught in chronological order.
  • Almost Dead Guy: One of the first hints to the story was the X-Men finding a barely-alive Juggernaut.
  • Antagonist Title: The story is named after the Big Bad on this arc, a split personality of Charles Xavier.
  • Arc Welding: The opening of Onslaught: X-Men does this to the traitor tape that was a part of Bishop's backstory, revealing that Jean sent it after Onslaught attacked X-Men—and hence that the X-traitor was none other than Professor X himself (debunking Bishop's theory that the traitor was Gambit), not that he was the first to die (and while he didn't die, either, Jean believed it was Juggernaut; it was also shown the X-Men managed to keep Onslaught from killing Jean the second the tape ended). The story also had Onslaught use an element from the early comics (Professor Xavier having the hots for Jean) to try to lure Jean to his side. Additionally, Onslaught's existence is traced back to Xavier mindwiping Magneto in retaliation for ripping out Wolverine's adamantium in Fatal Attractions (Marvel Comics).
  • Are We Getting This?: Trish Tilby reports on the final battle as the X-Men are forced to attack the Avengers and Fantastic Four to stop Onslaught.
  • Bait-and-Switch: Onslaught tells Jean he's going to show her the hypocrisy of humanity by having her look into the thoughts of her "one most dear." Jean initially assumes he means Cyclops, but instead Onslaught shows her a scene of Xavier's lust for Jean in the early comics to prove his point.
  • Big Damn Heroes: In Onslaught X-Men, Onslaught surprises Jean Grey when she is sending a distress signal (and records the message Bishop will find in the future) and is ready to cast a supercharged beam at her, when Cyclops shoots an eyebeam at him.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Onslaught is destroyed, but the Fantastic Four and many Avengers are seemingly killed in the process. The public also thinks the X-Men are responsible, triggering severe anti-mutant hysteria and Xavier being taken into government custody. Franklin Richards is orphaned and taken in by Generation X.
  • Borrowed Catchphrase: Reed Richards pulls this off when leading the Fantastic Four and an army of their allies into the fray;
    Reed Richards: In the words of my dearest friend, It's Clobbering Time.
    Ben Grimm: Couldn't have said it better myself.
  • Brought Down to Normal:
    • Charles Xavier loses his powers until they're restored in the "Hunt for Xavier" arc a few years later.
    • Also, until his Face–Heel Turn, Phil Urich retires from being a Goblin after his Green Goblin costume is damaged in a fight with one of the Sentinels Onslaught commandeered.
  • The Cavalry: Just when it looks like the X-Men have been defeated, the Avengers, Fantastic Four, and a whole host of other heroes arrive to join the battle.
    The Watcher: And yet... through the haze of dust, Xavier sensed a coming... of hope, of courage, of marvels.
  • Continuity Snarl:
    • Thor sports his shirtless "World Engine" look for the majority of the crossover, but changes into a new black costume in the last issue of his solo series, which takes place just before the final battle with Onslaught. In the actual finale of the crossover, Onslaught: Marvel Universe, Thor is inexplicably back to his shirtless look.
    • Same thing happened with The Falcon. He was sporting his armored costume at the time, but is shown wearing his classic 70's uniform during the final battle with no explanation.
    • Two issues sees the events of Uncanny X-Men, Vol 1. #335 contradicted twice:
      • The Uncanny sees Moira MacTaggert and Excalibur aware of the crisis and that some of the X-Men were coming for the Xavier Protocols. Excalibur #100 saw the titular team busy with other matters and Moira surprised by the X-Men's visit. Granted, this one is a double edged sword as said Uncanny issue itself also ignored that Excalibur was already dealing with the Hellfire Club's London Branch (the "other matters" in question).
      • Wolverine, Vol. 2. #104 sees Wolverine claim that Cyclops and Jean told him to meet with Gateway. In said Uncanny issue, Logan's mission to figure out Onslaught's origin was something he decided on his own and was a bit of a moot point since in the same exact issue, the Avengers and other X-Men already sussed out what Logan was going to learn: It started with Xavier mindwiping Magneto following the latter ripping out the adamantium from Wolverine.
    • The Red Skies Crossover issues with Spider-Man. While the end of Sensational Spider-Man, Vol. 1 #8 saw then-current Spider-Man Ben Reilly get involved with dealing with Sentinels (seen in Amazing Spider-Man, Vol 1. 415 and Spider-Man, Vol 1. #72), whereas Spectacular Spider-Man, Vol 1. #238 saw Ben chasing the Lizard creature while the invasions of Sentinels going down. For that matter, the end of Spider-Man #72 saw Ben and Peter resolve to be part of the final battle against Onslaught, but are absent in Onslaught: Marvel Universe.
  • Costume Copycat: Shortly before Onslaught finally made his move, Beast's Age of Apocalypse counterpart, the Dark Beast, captured and impersonated him to hide from Mr. Sinister and any further reprisals by him.note 
  • Crazy-Prepared: Turns out Professor X has made specific plans and instructions on how to deal with any X-Man (including himself), should they ever go rogue.
  • Crossover Finale: This story was used to launch the Heroes Reborn initiative, with the Avengers and Fantastic Four seemingly falling in battle only to be whisked away to a pocket dimension Franklin Richards created. Its events also saw the retirement of Phil Urich—just in time for Norman Osborn to be revealed as The Clone Saga's Big Bad.
  • A Darker Me: What happens when the dark sides of Xavier and Magneto combine.
  • Darkest Hour: Onslaught announces his intention to wipe out all of humanity and then crushes the X-Men in battle. Fortunately, the Avengers and Fantastic Four arrive during the lull in fighting.
  • Demonic Possession / Grand Theft Me : How Onslaught took control of the Red Skull.
  • Dénouement Episode:
    • X-Men #57 takes place immediately after the event, with Xavier formally surrendering to the authorities to atone for the whole mess and the team bracing for a new wave of anti-mutant sentiment. The Onslaught: Epilogue one-shot follows this, showing Xavier's time in custody and helping establish Bastion as a new threat.
    • The Amazing Spider-Man #417 serves as an epilogue for the wider Marvel Universe. As New York rebuilds, the Ben Reilly Spider-Man reflects on the loss of his colleagues, the impact this tragedy has had on civilians, and how remaining heroes like him will be needed now more than ever.
  • Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?: The Hulk literally punched Onslaught so hard that he destroyed his physical form.
    • Onslaught punched him back hard enough to knock Bruce Banner out of the Hulk.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: In X-Men #50, a psionic entity warns the X-Men that Onslaught is coming, Post works for Onslaught and attacks the X-Mansion, and Xavier is almost kidnapped, implying Onslaught is a separate villain and not Xavier being possessed over a period of time. The purpose of the warning, attack and kidnapping attempt is not explained.
  • Enemy Mine:
    • Doom sides with the heroes and helps them against Onslaught. When he tries to collect an energy sample for his own ends, though, Hawkeye and Iron Man take him down.
    • Apocalypse does try to help against Onslaught, though Cable and the Invisible Woman stop him from trying to kill the latter's son.
  • Enemy Within/Enemy Without: Xavier's evil side had already manifested in physical form once before in the X-Men vs Micronauts series as well as a Whole Episode Flashback issue during The Phoenix Saga.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Despite the fact his methods involve murdering a child, even Apocalypse is horrified by Onslaught's actions.
  • Evil Tower of Ominousness: Onslaught created one in Central Park.
  • Exact Words: Apocalypse promised to separate Franklin Richards from Onslaught. He never said anything about the boy surviving the experience. Cable and the Invisible Woman fully anticipated that, though.
  • Fighting from the Inside: Xavier attempts to do this, but isn't successful. Onslaught later exploits this trope to catch his enemies offguard.
  • Forgot I Could Fly: Magneto has limited telepathic powers of his own, it was likely because of this that the mindwipe backfired. He just rarely uses them these days.
  • Foreshadowing: Early on, Ben Grimm's newspaper horoscope says that he and a bunch of his closest friends will soon be going on a long trip.
  • Generic Doomsday Villain: In the proud tradition of previous Crisis Crossover villains, Onslaught is heavy on power and light on personality and motivation. He does have a motive, at least at first (he initially wants to institute mutant supremacy ala Magneto, but changes his mind and switches to For the Evulz after seeing Nate Grey's memories of the Age of Apocalypse), but due to how lightly this motive is actually referenced and how quickly the character drops it, he's still a case of this.
  • Genocide from the Inside: He goes after the X-Men and their assorted mutant subgroups first, and it doesn't take too long for him to decide that mutant are just as deserving of extinction as humans, despite technically being a mutant himself.
  • A God Am I: Onslaught at one point actually calls himself a god.
  • Godzilla Threshold: To gain the necessary strength to truly damage Onslaught, the Hulk (currently in his intelligent "Professor Hulk" incarnation) has Jean Grey shut down the psychic barriers preventing him from becoming truly enraged, sacrificing his current intelligence and control to give the heroes a powerhouse capable of doing serious damage to Onslaught.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: The heroes. (Doom was dragged along involuntarily by Iron Man.)
  • Hive Mind: Onslaught's ultimate goal is to merge humanity into a collective intelligence, without free will.
  • Hoist by Their Own Petard: The Sentinels were designed to protect humanity from mutants. Onslaught enjoyed the irony of reversing that intent.
  • Humans Are the Real Monsters: The original motivation of Onslaught was to Kill All Humans for their oppressing of mutants. Then he saw the world X-Man came from and decided that mutants are bastards too.
  • Imaginary Friend: Onslaught-as-Xavier fashions a child-aged imaginary friend called "Charlie" to befriend Franklin Richards and capture him.
  • Knight Templar Big Brother: In Avengers #401, Joseph extends a hand to help Scarlet Witch, when Quicksilver is running towards them with a large stake, intent on killing Joseph.
  • Left Hanging:
    • We never find out how Onslaught punched out Juggernaut, especially if he hadn't formed his physical body by that point and was still messing with Xavier.
    • We never learn why a psionic entity warns the X-Men about Onslaught, why Post attacks the X-Men and works for Onslaught, and why Xavier is almost kidnapped.
    • Jean Grey says something important is happening with Spider-Man, but we never find out what that is.
  • Literal Split Personality: Onslaught and Xavier partway into the story, as well as Hulk and Banner at the end.
  • Living MacGuffin: In Onslaught X-Men, the X-Men notice Xavier's data report about Franklin Richards and comment about their mentor's interest in the dimensional refugee X-Man. Throughout the crossover, the Fantastic Four, Bishop, Crystalis and Quicksilver try to protect Franklin, while the X-Force is tasked with safeguarding X-Man from Onslaught.
  • Living Memory: How Xavier became Onslaught: a part of Magneto's attached itself to Xavier when he mindwiped Magneto.
  • Make Way for the New Villains: Juggernaut is used in a non-lethal version, being decked halfway across North America to show how powerful Onslaught was.
  • Mama Bear: Apocalypse reasons that killing Franklin Richards will deprive Onslaught of substantial power (as well as eliminate a possible future threat to his own agenda). What he didn't expect was being shadowed by someone who would want to teach him a very painful lesson about such an attempt.
    Invisible Woman: Get away from my son, you butcher!
  • Mecha-Mooks: Sentinels.
  • Mental Fusion: Onslaught is mostly Xavier at his darkest with an (un)healthy dose of Magneto's more unsavory traits. AXIS adds a heap of Red Skull to the mix.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero:
    • Thor separating Xavier from Onslaught. Instead of destroying him, it freed Onslaught from any sense of Xavier's morality and influence.
    • The existence of Onslaught himself given he was created when Xavier lashed out at Magneto over the latter's ripping out of Wolverine's adamantium. Also, as before, Xavier's tendency to repress his darker emotions and thoughts just fed Onslaught's creation, including his feelings about failing to save a kid who was killed by an anti-mutant mob just outside the X-Mansion, his failure to reform Sabretooth, and Creed's subsequent near-killing of Psylocke and escape.
    • The fact that even before Thor tearing Xavier from him, Onslaught could move about independently can be traced back to Nate Grey pulling Xavier from the astral plane during their first encounter, which gave Onslaught the means to form a psychic body of his own.
    • The Hulk cutting loose on and destroying Onslaught's physical body was exactly what he wanted from the heroes, becoming a being of Pure Energy. Though this led to...
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: Turns out, the final form Onslaught desired was a Glass Cannon in comparison to his physical form, allowing the heroes to defeat him by forcing him into a state that they can attack directly.
  • Not-So-Imaginary Friend: Franklin's "invisible friend" Charlie. Onslaught did this to ensure he could kidnap Franklin right out from under the FF.
  • Off with His Head!: One memorable scene had the Ben Reilly Spider-Man defeat a Sentinel by (with great effort) ripping its head off.
  • Omnicidal Maniac: Onslaught wants to destroy both the human and mutant races because he views them as equally awful.
  • Once More, with Clarity:
    • As noted under "Arc Welding", we're shown the X-traitor tape in its entirety at the official start of the crossover.
    • In another example, in Wolverine #104, Wolverine and Elektra are taken by Gateway to the climax of X-Men #25 where Magneto tears out the adamantium from Logan's body. Xavier's mindwiping of Magneto is revisited, and it shown that a creepy creature emerged from Magneto's astral body and reached out to Xavier's counterpart, planting the seed that would eventually become Onslaught.
  • The Only One Allowed to Defeat You: Doctor Doom's reason for getting involved in the event is an interesting case of this trope. The destruction Onslaught is causing doesn't bother him, but kidnapping Franklin Richards does. Apparently Doom feels that he and he alone is allowed to kidnap Reed's family.
  • Plot Archaeology: As noted under "Arc Welding", this picked up the X-traitor tape subplot, revealing that despite Bishop thinking Professor X was the first to die, Xavier was ironically (and unknowingly) the traitor himself. Furthermore his origins are tied to Xavier's mindwipe of Magneto in Fatal Attractions (Marvel Comics).
  • Plot Hole: In X-Men #56, Onslaught claims his minions captured Nate, but Onslaught personally captured Nate in X-Man #19.
  • Red Herring: The aforementioned "Arc Welding", "Once More, with Clarity", and "Plot Archaeology" ultimately made Gambit's role in the X-Traitor subplot this, as again Onslaught: X-Men opened with the reveal the garbled tape Jean made about the X-Traitor was really about Xavier himself and she'd believed Juggernaut died, debunking Bishop's belief that the Witness, an older Remy, was the traitor and started the massacre of the X-Men by killing Xavier.
  • Red Skies Crossover: Wolverine #103 was labeled as tie-in but had no connection whatsover.
    • The titles displaying the Crossover's logo were generally separated into two types, with directly affected titles branded "Onslaught: Phase (1, 2, or 3, depending on the month)" while the more Red Sky types were billed as "Onslaught: Impact (1, 2, 3)". Most of the "Impact" issues featured the heroes (e.g. Spider-Man) facing Onslaught-controlled Sentinels. Interestingly enough, there was an issue of The Punisher that had criminals hiding out inside the remains of a destroyed Sentinel.
  • Shout-Out:
    • When Onslaught invades Four Freedoms Plaza in search of Franklin Richards, the boy (actually Lyja in disguise) is seen watching his "favorite video," which appears to be an episode of Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers.
    • When Sue is probing Franklin's room with her powers, one thing seen on his wall is Calvin and Hobbes.
    • In the final issue of Fantastic Four, Sue is holding one of Franklin's cherished toys, which appears to be a Goku plushy.
    • In issue #415, Franklin and "Charley" play a card game based on the Amalgam line of comics and the Overpower card line, which was a real Marvel card line in the mid-1990s.
  • So Proud of You: According to the narration during the beginning of the final battle, Xavier "never was prouder of his students."
  • Split-Personality Takeover: What happened to Xavier, as Onslaught had been growing in Charles since mindwiping Magneto in Fatal Attractions (Marvel Comics).
  • Spoiler Cover: X-Men volume 2, #54 features the reveal of Onslaught as Professor X and a cover with a silhouette on Onslaught. While the normal cover featured the words "The Secret Revealed" in the silhouette, a variant holograph cover doesn't have those words — but instead, it features Charles's head front-and-center in the silhouette.
  • Superpowered Evil Side: While Xavier is one of the world's most powerful telepaths, Onslaught also had telekinesis and magnetism. He grew even more powerful upon capturing Franklin Richards and Nate Grey.
  • Super Supremacist: Onslaught inherited this attitude from Magneto and initially sought to bring about Erik's dream of a mutant-ruled Earth. After reading Nate Grey's mind and seeing that a mutant-dominated Earth is still a Crapsack World, he drops this mindset in favor of being a straight Omnicidal Maniac.
  • Teacher/Student Romance: An old element from the early X-Men comics, namely Professor Xavier having feelings for Jean Grey, was used by Onslaught to try to get Jean to join him.
  • Trailers Always Spoil: The Heroes Reborn line was advertised on the covers of Onslaught issues.
  • Two Lines, No Waiting: The story was split into two major scenarios - titles with "Phase" listed on the covers were directly connected to the storyline while covers with "Impact" listed on them were titles that were affected by the events.
  • Untouchable Until Tagged: Onslaught was unstoppable until his helmet was cracked.
  • Wham Episode: Many of Marvel's major heroes are thought dead (actually sent to a pocket world), all remaining heroes have to pick up the slack (opening the door for the Thunderbolts development), the X-Men are blamed for the whole mess, and Hulk is split from Banner.
  • Wham Shot: The image of Charles Xavier being inside the Onslaught armor after ripping the Gem out of Juggernaut's armor.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: In an issue of Spider-Man, Peter Parker and Ben Reilly defeat a few Sentinels and run off at the end of the issue to help the other heroes fight Onslaught. They never show up in any of the battles with no explanation (beyond the theory that they just didn't manage to find the battleground in time, given Spider-Man's relatively solo status).
  • A Wizard Did It: Reed Richards deduces that mutants can't enter Onslaught's field without giving him more power (due to his being a mutant himself). To explain why the Avengers' Scarlet Witch was already shown entering the field, Reed says Wanda "seemed to be protected by her hex."
  • The Worf Effect: Early on Juggernaut got beaten up by Onslaught to establish him as a big threat. It was before writers made up their minds about just anything else of him. It becomes unintentional Fridge Brilliance after The Reveal of Onslaught's identity: If you become evil and all-powerful, one of your first targets would be the invincible-til-now man who has bullied and tried to kill you from childhood to the present day.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Apocalypse's idea to end the crisis (and rid himself of a potential rival) was to kill Franklin Richards. Needless to say both Cable and the Invisible Woman put an end to that plan.