X-Men '97 Season 1's Surprise Ending Sets Up A Classic Marvel Comics Storyline

Spoilers for "X-Men '97" follow.

Rejoice, my X-Fans, for your theories have prevailed.

The "X-Men '97" season 1 finale, the three-part epic "Tolerance is Extinction," ended in shocking fashion. The big bad Bastion sent Asteroid M on a collision course with Earth, deciding to force humanity into extinction rather than evolution. Professor X, unable to not see the good in Magneto, even after his frenemy's torturous attack on Wolverine, pulls Erik back to the light with a telepathic therapy session. The X-Men, once more including Magneto, save the world. But then they vanish, pulled through time to the past (Professor X, Magneto, Rogue, Beast, Nightcrawler), future (Cyclops and Jean), and parts unrevealed (Storm, Wolverine, and Morph). The past X-Men, stranded in Egypt, circa 3000 BC, meet a grey-skinned mutant that fans will certainly recognize.

As is Marvel tradition, there's also post-credits scene revealing that, while the X-Men are scattered across time, an old foe is rearing his head. In the present, En Sabah Nur's future self, aka Apocalypse (voiced by Marvel Studios' in-house mimic Ross Marquand) stands in the ruins of Genosha. "So much pain, my children, so much... death," he declares as he digs one of Gambit's half-burnt cards from the ground. 

Gambit/Remy LeBeau perished back in "X-Men '97" episode 5, "Remember It," during the Genoshan genocide and was honored with a funeral in episode 7, "Bright Eyes." Since then, most comic-literate fans have pinpointed how Remy will return: Apocalypse will resurrect him as his horseman, Death, as he did for a time in the comics.

The imagery/dialogue of this stinger all but confirms that fans were right. The X-Men will soon have their fallen brother back — but not in the way they wished.

Gambit as Apocalypse's Horseman of Death in X-Men '97 Season 2

The Horsemen of Apocalypse is a concept going back to the New Testament, describing the four forces that herald the end times: Famine, Pestilence, War, and Death. This is a literary metaphor, but like the Bible's most fundamentalist readers, Marvel Comics' Apocalypse takes it literally. Since his earliest appearances in Louise Simonson's "X-Factor," he's been served by a team of four mutants dubbed The Horsemen.

The Horsemen's line-up is always changing, and Apocalypse often manipulates or brainwashes X-Men into joining. In "X-Factor," he remade the winged mutant Warren Worthington III into his Archangel, Death (the original "X-Men" cartoon loosely adapted Archangel's storyline in its first season).

Gambit became Death in the 2006 arc "Blood of Apocalypse" by Peter Milligan and Salvador Larroca (published in "X-Men" Volume 2 issues #182-187). Gambit electively joins Apocalypse, intending to be a double agent for the X-Men, but the power of the villains' brainwashing proved too great, and Remy became a true monster (albeit briefly, as his time as Death was short-lived). As Death, Gambit's skin becomes an inhuman dark blue, his hair is a ghostly white, and he trades his brown trench coat for a black one.

Certainly, the circumstances of Gambit's transformation into Death will be different in "X-Men '97" season 2. Apocalypse will presumably grave rob and resurrect Remy, perhaps alongside other fallen Genoshan mutants as his other three Horsemen. Using the heroes' dead friends as avatars of his will is a tactic worthy of any great supervillain.

Will Rogue and Gambit be Salvaged on X-Men '97?

Note how the card that Apocalypse picks up is a Queen of Hearts. That card symbolizes Gambit's love for Rogue (otherwise, his signature card is the Ace of Spades). It's unclear how long Rogue will be stranded in Ancient Egypt when "X-Men '97" season 2 rolls around. It could be a season-long story (like how Professor X and Magneto spent all of "X-Men" season 2 wandering the Savage Land), but something tells me it'll be more short-lived, if only because Rogue needs to get back to the present and see what her Sugah has become.

Since Rogue is with Magneto in the past, that relationship could keep evolving; Rogue will think her choice has been made for her and fall back into Erik's arms. Or maybe Magneto will want to resume their romance, while Rogue will again be hesitant because of Gambit's memory. Remember, before disaster struck on Genosha, Rogue made her choice, and it was Remy. Either way, "X-Men '97" season 2 will likely feature Rogue torn between staying with a reformed Magneto or betting that she can make Gambit's heart whole again.

Not for nothing, an "X-Men" comic story that came soon after "Blood of Apocalypse" was 2009 arc "Salvage" ("X-Men: Legacy" #220-224, written by Mike Carey, penciled by Scot George Eaton, covers drawn in beautiful detail by Lee Bermejo). In "Salvage," Rogue goes on a solo walkabout in the Australian outback to clear her head. Gambit (now returned to normal) and Professor X team up to bring her home. "Salvage" ends with Rogue finally achieving the inner peace needed to control her absorption-by-touch powers. She celebrates by kissing Gambit.

 Such a moment, recreated in "X-Men '97," would be a well-earned romantic climax for what showrunner Beau de Mayo called the X-Men's "one-true pairing."

Other X-Men '97 season 2 story possibilities

Where else do our Marvelous Mutants go in "X-Men '97" season 2? After "Blood of Apocalypse," Mister Sinister is the one who reversed Gambit's transformation (provided Remy would join his Marauders). Sinister met a karmic fate in "Tolerance is Extinction," with Jean using her residual Phoenix power to make him as old as he truly is. Sinister often uses clones, though, so I wouldn't count him out yet.

In the six month time-skip, a radio announcement confirms that Graydon Creed, former leader of the Friends of Humanity, is gearing up for a presidential run against incumbent Robert Kelly. Creed was last seen in original series episode "Bloodlines," about to be mauled by his (mutant) birth father Sabretooth, but apparently he survived. Is this just an Easter egg or a sign we'll be getting an election storyline in "X-Men '97" season 2? In either case, mutantkind's adversity is not over.

Bishop, returning to the present, tells Forge they need to return the X-Men to the present-day, but that could take some time. Those two — plus Cable, Jubilee, and Sunspot — are the only X-Men not on a world history tour, so will they recruit some new members to fill out the ranks? Forge's wall includes photos of potential candidates, including Colossus (if "X-Men '97" season 1 finally gave Nightcrawler his due, season 2 can do the same for Piotr Rasputin), Shadowcat (Kitty Pryde has been conspicuously absent in this continuity thus far, and her role was supplanted by Jubilee, but her photo is her in her blue Excalibur costume, so might we be getting a grown-up Kitty?), and Emma Frost, the White Queen.

Whatever path season 2 takes, I can't wait for more of "X-Men '97." 

"X-Men '97" season 1 is streaming on Disney+. "X-Men '97" season 2 is currently in production, but does not have a scheduled release date yet.