A Bluer Slice of Heaven
Credits: Fabian Nicieza (writer), Aron Weisenfeld (penciler), Milgom/Wiacek/Williams (inkers), Steve Dutro (letterer), Mike Thomas & Dana Moreshead (colorists)
Crimson Commando and Avalanche reunite with their former Brotherhood of Evil Mutants teammates on the island of Empyrean, an alleged haven for mutants. Unbeknownst to the Brotherhood, Commando and Avalanche are working undercover for the government. The island is owned by novelist Jonathan Chambers, a man who preaches the message of peace between humans and mutants. One of the scientists hired to work on the island is a member of Xavier’s Mutant Underground, and has tipped off the X-Men about the Brotherhood’s arrival. The X-Men arrive and talk to Chambers while Gambit, Revanche, and Psylocke investigate. A fight erupts with the Brotherhood, which is quickly stopped by Chambers. He reveals that he has the mutant power to drain the energies of other mutants. Brotherhood member Pyro tells the X-Men that he has the Legacy Virus, and that Chambers’ “energy vampire” powers ease the pain of the virus. Cyclops is skeptical about allowing Chambers’ research to continue, until Revanche reveals that she too is infected with the Legacy Virus. The X-Men leave the island, deciding that it is best to let other mutants make their own choice.
This issue comes polybagged with a trading card of Empyrean. Chambers doesn’t actually use the name “Empyrean”, only saying that it is “not only my home, but my presence of character and my method of healing”. The card labels him a supervillain, which seems to miss the entire point of the story.
As far as I can tell, the phrase “Legacy Virus” shows up for the first time. Both Revanche and Pyro are revealed to be victims of the Legacy Virus in this issue.
Another 1993 annual, another forgotten “brand new Marvel superstar!” To his credit, Nicieza could’ve just created a generic supervillain to fight the X-Men for thirty pages, but instead he tried to do something different. Creating morally ambiguous characters in superhero comics rarely works, as they’re usually pushed to be a hero or villain pretty quickly (as evidenced by this issue’s trading card). The setup for this story is interesting, and I like the fact that Chambers isn’t forced into a specific role in order to make the story work. However, I’m not quite sure why the X-Men seem so ambivalent about what he’s doing. Chambers absorbs energy from mutants to alleviate the pain of the Legacy Virus. He admits that he might have ulterior motives in helping mutants for his own “personal profit”, but the story’s extremely vague on this point. The story never says if he’s making money off of the mutants, and even if he was, does that make hospitals immoral? The story also establishes that he’s already wealthy as a writer and talk show host, so money wouldn’t be a convincing motive in the first place. If he actually wants the energy he absorbs from mutants, there’s nothing in the story that indicates this, or explains what he plans on doing with it. The only real issue raised is whether or not leeching off of the mutants’ energy could kill them. That’s a legitimate concern, but these are terminally ill patients, and Chambers is actively studying the effects of his power on the patients. Is all of this really so dodgy?
Revanche and Pyro are revealed to be suffering from the Legacy Virus, and the two of them actually do become casualties later on. Giving Revanche the virus already makes it seem as if Marvel regrets introducing the character. She really is the most expendable of the X-Men at this point, so singling her out doesn’t seem like such a bold move. Pyro is probably the best-known villain to die of the virus, and considering the fact that he lives on in the cartoons and movies, I’m surprised he’s never been revived. Considering how the Legacy Virus storyline fizzled out, it actually seems like a shame that any character had to die of it.
Aron Weisenfeld’s art doesn’t do the story any favors. It’s occasionally hard to follow, and just generally unattractive in that unique ‘90s way. On a few panels he produces some interesting work, reminiscent of Rick Leonardi, but the majority of this issue is just hard to look at. Even if the story is trying to do something different, the art’s exactly what you would expect from an early ‘90s annual.