Monday, November 12, 2007

X-FORCE #18 – January 1993

Ghosts In The Machine
Credits: Fabian Nicieza (writer), Greg Capullo (penciler), Harry Candelario (inker), Chris Eliopoulos (letterer), Marie Javins (colorist)

Cable and Stryfe battle inside his forcefield, while the X-Men search for the Dark Riders. Psylocke detects that they’ve escaped, and that Apocalypse is dying. Archangel witnesses Apocalypse’s final moments, but refuses to give him a clean death. Havok, Cyclops, and Jean Grey team up against Stryfe, who responds by dismantling his tower, creating a whirlwind of debris and electromagnetic energy. Cable attaches a device to his arm and then initiates a self-destruct sequence when confronting Stryfe. Cyclops reluctantly activates the time vortex and Cable and Stryfe disappear. Meanwhile, Mr. Sinister is disappointed that the canister Stryfe gave him did not contain Summers genetic material.

This is part twelve of the X-Cutioner’s Song. It comes polybagged with a Stryfe trading card. Stryfe explains that he hates himself on the back of the card. Like all of the greatest villains in comics, Stryfe just really needed a hug.

Continuity Notes
This issue still does not outright say that Cable (or Styfe) is Cyclops’ son. It’s certainly implied by Stryfe’s dialogue, the forcefield that only allows Summers DNA inside, and the images of baby Nathan in the time vortex. But no one comes right out and says it.

Cable doesn’t know what Stryfe’s talking about when he insinuates that Cyclops is his father.

Stryfe implies repeatedly that Cable is his clone, which was apparently the plan when this story was written. Later stories would establish that Styfe was actually the clone made in the future when baby Nathan was dying.

The Legacy Virus is inside the canister that Sinister received from Stryfe. The Sinister flunkie named Gordon who opens it is immediately sick.

The X-Cutioner’s Song, one of the longest X-crossovers ever, is finally over. It’s a pretty disappointing finish that doesn’t give any full answers, and ends in a confusing plot device. I remember reading this story for the first time, not being able to figure what Cable’s doing, and if we’re supposed to believe he’s dead or not at the end. It still doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. Cable talks about a time vortex, he sets up a self-destruct sequence (on his own body?), there’s an explosion, but then we see two figures disappearing into the time stream. So do they blow up, get lost in time, or both? And why does Cable take this extreme action? Cyclops, Jean, and Havok actually do a lot of damage to Stryfe in a short amount of time. If Cable joined them, could Stryfe really survive a four-on-one fight?

People in my age group tend to have fond memories of this storyline. has a tribute to this storyline up now, and one of the current X-editors recently praised it while promoting Marvel’s new X-crossover. I can see the appeal. You get to see all three X-teams (four if you count the X-Men’s blue and gold squads separately) fight together. You also get to see X-Force fight against the other teams, in a payoff to a long-running subplot. The MLF subplot is concluded. Stryfe is given a partial origin, and more information about Cable is revealed. Three of the major X-villains of the era appear. The three most popular X-heroes get to fight, and then team up for one section. Forgotten characters like Caliban and Apocalypse’s original Horsemen appear. It’s a big story that serves as a world tour of the early ‘90s X-universe, just in time for fans of the new cartoon to join in.

As a story, though, it’s too long, with too many distractions that don’t add up to much. Why would Stryfe hire Mr. Sinister to kidnap Cyclops and Jean in the first place? He heads his own terrorist group, why turn to someone else? Was he hoping that Sinister himself would die when the canister was opened? Why does Sinister implicate Apocalypse in the kidnapping? Why does Sinister help the X-Men and tell them that Stryfe is actually behind everything? More importantly, if Sinister wanted to get Summers DNA out of the kidnapping deal…why didn’t he do it himself when he kidnapped Scott Summers and Jean Grey?

The story also suffers from a lack of focus as the issues go on. What was the point of the two-issue long MLF fight? The stated reason is to get info on Stryfe from the MLF, but as soon as the characters are defeated, they’re never seen again. Having Archangel accidentally kill someone in that fight also turned out to be truly pointless. The implication was that this was going to be something else for him to angst over, but it’s quickly ignored. The creators can’t seem to decide if they want the old lighthearted Angel back, or to keep the grim Archangel around. The story opens with a happy Archangel going out on a date, and ends with him declaring that he’s going to make Apocalypse’ last moments as miserable as possible.

As far as crossovers go, X-Cutioner’s Song could be a lot worse. The story actually does have a clear goal, and serves to conclude some lingering plotlines while opening up new ones. It’s also filled with scenes specifically designed to please the fans. Unfortunately, it’s overly long, stalls for issues at a time, and fizzles out at the end.


Justin Boatwright said...

Wow, I didn't know that about the Legacy Virus. That last page with Sinister always struck me as strange but it makes a whole lot more sense given that context.

Warts and all I still can't help but love this crossover. The whole Cable/Stryfe/Cyclops dynamic had it's hooks in me so even though it was fairly obvious Cable wasn't dead I was pretty excited when he came back not too long after (in X-Force #25 if I'm not mistaken) and got his own ongoing series which started answering more of the questions we now take for granted.

Going back through this has gotten me quite excited for the current Messiah Complex crossover which is following an almost identical format. The first two parts have been pretty good so I am on board so far. Have you been reading those? Curious to hear your thoughts on the current state of the x-books.

Great stuff as always, thanks!

Teebore said...

Yeah, it wasn't until long after this story concluded that I figured out the vial Sinister opened contained the Legacy Virus. Makes sense, when you go back and look at it, but the first time through? Whoosh, right over my head.

I too can't help but enjoy this story. The first time around I completely ate up the Cyclops/Cable/Stryfe stuff, vague and cryptic as it may have been.

Now when I read it and the flaws are even more apparent, my recollection of how much I loved it the first time helps carry me over the bumps in the road. Ah, nostalgia...

Luke said...

As I said in the previous X-Factor post, I came into this story on the tail end, and really had no idea what was going on with it at all. So your summaries and reviews have all been fresh to me and I have njoyed reading them. Probably moreso than I would enjoy the crossover, but that's not the point.

As far as the "World Tour" concept, you're pretty much dead on. "X-Cutioner's Song" serves as more of a showcase of characters than anything resembling organic storytelling, a trend which would continue in the X-crossovers for as long as I read them -- which, in all fairness was not that long, as I gave up on the mainline mutant books during "Phalanx Covenant," and even dropped my beloved Excalibur once it became obvious that with Davis gone, so was all hope.

Very much looking forward to the review of X-Factor #87, probably my favorite single issue of an X-book ever!

J said...

My god you're writing a blog devoted to 90s x-books, you poor, disturbed person. Good luck, brother.

G. Kendall said...

I don't follow too many of the current X-books. I think the only title I buy affected by Messiah Complex is X-Factor. The x-books kind of lost me when two "dark secrets" about Xavier were revealed simultaneously.

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