This fun graphic novel fleshes out the history of the Living Pharaoh, also known as the Living Monolith, a minor X-Men villain, and also introduces Apocalypse, a major X-Men villain, albeit in an anonymous appearance in one panel (only to be identified later). This graphic novel features no X-Men, but rather the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, and of course Captain America, who doesn’t even show up until halfway through the book.
Briefly, this is the story of Ahmet Abdol, a young boy in Cairo who imagined he was the descendant of the Egyptian gods Horus and Osiris. When he grew up, he became an academic who argued that he could prove his hereditary claim, which made him an outcast from society and invited a violent backlash that resulted in the death of his wife, the near-death of their infant daughter, and the emergence of his mutant powers. He was then recruited by a man (actually Apocalypse) to lead a cult that worshiped pharaohs and believed him to be a living god. The newly anointed Living Pharaoh began to gather cosmic energy, which led him to fight the X-Men and, in this graphic novel, the Fantastic Four, who of course are no strangers to cosmic rays.
After the Living Prophet uses a young acolyte named Fayah to capture Reed, Sue, and Johnny and transport them to Cairo, he absorbs their energies to become the Living Monolith—but only after letting himself be goaded into killing Fayah, even after he realized she was actually his daughter. She-Hulk—who wasn’t taken, not having been affected by cosmic rays—calls Avengers Mansion for help…
…and Cap is the only one there to take the call. Notice how he resists the suggestion to call in the government for fear of “red tape”!
He decides to ask Spider-Man instead, but he doesn’t know how to contact him or what his real name is. even though Steve Rogers and Peter Parker have met before, including at The Daily Bugle, where Cap now tries to find Spidey’s favorite photographer. As usual, Cap draws some attention.
Wait—who else would it be???
Next, Cap pays a visit to someone who hates all costumed types… except Cap.
I love how nervously docile Jonah gets around Cap, until he asks about Parker, at which point his expression changes to that of an irate Howard the Duck.
Parker is nowhere to be found, but he saves Cap a step by appearing in costume outside, and demonstrates the regard the superhero community has for the Sentinel of Liberty.
After Cap takes him back to the Baxter Building, Spidey analyzes the Living Monolith’s equipment and replicates it in the hopes of rescuing the Fantastic Four. But while he assumes he’ll be the one to go, Cap pulls rank and explains that She-Hulk is better qualified.
Somewhere, Tony Stark is chuckling and shaking his head: “Welcome to my world, kid.”
But it turns out that no one is going, because the Living Monolith shows up in New York first.
She-Hulk still wants to rescue her teammates, but Cap once again argues that more lives are at stake at home (although the last part about the FF possibly being dead wasn’t really necessary).
(Wherever he is, Tony just nods and sighs.)
It doesn’t take long for the Terrific Three to find the Living Monolith, and Cap bravely draws his attention to give others the time to get to safety.
After seeing She-Hulk tackle the Living Monolith while Cap gets civilians to safety, Spider-Man decides to try another angle on the problem, which takes him away from the scene. She-Hulk doubts his courage, but Cap gives him the benefit of the doubt (before a huge fist swings down, knocking She-Hulk through several blocks of buildings).
The only possible physical threat to him gone, the Living Monolith goes on a rampage, until something stirs a memory of his wife, whom he knew since they were children in school, and Cap sees an opening.
What’s Cap going to do, though? Basically, this.
Yep… he has a word with the Living Monolith, arguing that people aren’t all as bad as their worst examples (such as the ones that tormented the Monolith and killed his wife).
You’re not the first one to call Cap’s philosophy “too simple,” pal… someone oughta write a book!
Cap continues, drawing on the Monolith’s own pain to explain what he’s doing to others…
…but as soon as he starts to get through, all his work is for naught.
Luckily, She-Hulk returns just as the battle resumes, and she points out another problem… but Cap sees a solution, putting his reputation to good use with both the military and civil authorities.
Even though the Living Monolith poses a massive threat (and is no ordinary man, even if he’s not a god), and the heroes’ side is woefully outmatched, Cap is still tormented by the thought of killing him, hoping as always that there will be another way out. (This is basically a trolley problem, modified to make the “one person on the track” responsible for the plight of the others, and shows that even if the choice is made to sacrifice the one for the many, the decision-maker can still regret that he had to make the choice at all.)
Once again, Cap uses himself as bait…
…luring their foe into She-Hulk’s trap.
The massive bolt of electricity takes the Living Monolith down, and the crowd celebrates… all but one, who is undoubtedly relieved that no more innocent lives will be lost, but regrets that it cost even one.
Just then, Spider-Man returns with the rest of the Fantastic Four, and earns a commendation from the Captain.
But wait… perhaps the reports of the Ex-Living Monolith were premature, leading to a very perturbed look on Cap’s face.
If you think Cap will let himself off the hook, you don’t know him very well… but that will come later. For now, while more heroes gather and try to remove the Monolith’s body, hordes of his acolytes arrives and stir up trouble once again. On the bright side, this gives the Monolith an opportunity to see the best in humanity, as strangers sacrifice their lives to save each other, verifying what Cap was trying to tell him earlier.
After having his epiphany, the Living Monolith helps Thor use Mjolnir to pull him into space, where he can do no harm (and think about what you did mister). Back on Earth, the heroes have a post-game analysis, and Cap reveals he is still torn up about making the call to kill the Living Monolith, even though it didn’t stick. (And he’s very generous to Spidey, whose problems seem pedestrian in comparison.)
Marvel Graphic Novel #17, October 1985: James Owsley and David Michelinie (plot), Davud Michelinie (script), Marc Silvestri (pencils), Geof Isherwood and many others (inks), Bob Sharen and many others (colors), Joe Rosen and many others (letters). (More details at Marvel Database.)
Not yet collected.
ALSO THIS MONTH: Captain America #310 (October 1985) and Avengers #260 and Secret Wars II #4 (October 1985)