Monday, February 25, 2008

X-MEN UNLIMITED #3 – December 1993

The Whispers Scream
Credits: Fabian Nicieza (writer), Mike McKone (penciler), Mark McKenna & Steve Moncuse (inkers), Joe Rosen (letterer), Dana Moreshead (colorist)

Sabretooth is on a killing spree, tracking down the participants in a drug trade from years earlier and murdering them. Maverick tries to find Wolverine to help him stop Sabretooth's rampage, but discovers that he’s left the X-Men. Beast, Gambit, Bishop, and Rogue accompany Maverick to find Sabretooth’s remaining targets. After failing to stop him in Germany, the X-Men trail Sabretooth to Japan. An elderly psychic living with the Clan Yashida places Beast inside Sabretooth’s mind, where he relives killing an entire family after the father threatened to expose a drug trade route. Sabretooth escapes again, heading to the X-Men’s mansion. Sabertooth attacks Xavier, hoping that his telepathic powers will kill him. Xavier enters Sabretooth’s mind to learn the source of his bloodlust. Xavier determines that Sabretooth has escaped the authorities too many times and killed too many people. He reveals that Sabretooth will stay as a prisoner at the mansion and receive psychic therapy.

Continuity Notes
Sabretooth tells Maverick that it was always Birdy’s psychic “glow” that kept his bloodlust in check, which would place her pretty far back in his history. Birdy was killed in the Sabretooth miniseries.

Maverick tells Gambit that he “knows a lot” about him. I doubt this went anywhere, but I guess every character had to reference Gambit’s mystery past at some point during this era.

Creative Differences
There are quite a few re-lettered word balloons in this issue. Some of the more notable include…
On Page 15, a re-lettered balloon suggests that the priest involved in the drug deal was only posing as one. I guess this is less controversial than saying that an actual priest would be involved with drugs.
On page 45, an altered balloon has the Beast calling Sabretooth a “monster” after a flashback implies that he killed a child. Maybe the original dialogue explicitly spelled out what Sabretooth did?
On page 58, an added word balloon has Xavier say, “Sabretooth stays here”. I don’t know why it’s there since the other dialogue makes Xavier’s intentions clear. Xavier’s reasons for keeping Sabretooth at the mansion, on the same page, also appear to have been re-lettered.

It’s another issue from the brief period when X-Men Unlimited impacted the continuity of the other titles. After one more issue, it slinks into the background for the rest of its existence. This is a pretty good issue, even if its origins lie in an arbitrary editorial decision. According to legend, editor Bob Harras wanted Sabretooth to join the X-Men, based on his enormous popularity at the time. This was fought by the writers at the time, who rightfully understood that the X-Men wouldn’t allow a murderous assassin to join their team. Harras relented, so Sabretooth only ended up in the X-mansion as a prisoner, not a teammate. The idea of Sabretooth joining the team must’ve gone pretty far, though, because there was at least one trading card (bound in some of the actual comics) that showed Sabretooth as a member of the X-Men’s Blue team. Hints dropped in the letters pages and Marvel Age also indicated that Sabretooth was actually becoming a member of the team. This would have been a horrible move that would’ve crippled the X-Men’s credibility, so I’m glad things didn’t work out that way. (However, years later, editorial did force Marrow on the team, which bothered me for the same reasons listed above. I guess I’ll get to those issues later).

In order to get Sabretooth into the mansion, he’s given a retconned mental illness that Xavier thinks he can cure. The Sabretooth miniseries already laid the groundwork for this, so the idea at least doesn’t come out of nowhere. Considering all that we really knew about Sabretooth before this was that he was extremely nasty and liked to kill people, revealing that he has an uncontrollable bloodlust isn’t a stretch. Nicieza’s able to pace the story very well, taking advantage of the double-sized format, so the story doesn’t feel cramped or padded. Sabretooth’s presence as a Freddy Kreuger-type monster is sold convincingly, giving the story the feel of a horror movie at times. The X-Men chosen to face Sabretooth are interesting, as Rogue and Gambit are both reformed criminals, Bishop is a soldier who simply wants to eliminate Sabretooth, and Beast is an intellectual who believes in rehabilitation. It’s a good example of taking an editorially mandated idea and actually staying true to the characters while building a decent story around the idea.

Mike McKone pencils the entire issue without any of the pages looking rushed, thankfully. His style doesn’t fit in with the standard work being done in the X-books at the time, and I can remember not liking it as a kid. I guess I didn’t know how to react to smooth lines and a lack of unnecessary rendering at the time. It certainly holds up a lot better than most of the other artwork of the era.


Anonymous said...

I know it's common practice to blame Bob Harras for a lot of questionable decisions in this era (and often rightly so), but in this case, I'm not certain he was the one who wanted Sabretooth on the X-Men.

I read a comment years ago in Wizard, where Tom Brevoort explained Harras's discomfort that Venom had been the headliner of his own series for so many years, being as the character was a homicidal maniac who enjoyed eating brains. Brevoort stated that Harras was relieved when Venom's sales slipped to the point where he could cancel the title, since he felt such a character never should have been the protagonist of his own book to begin with. A quick Google search has yielded the comment in question here:

Brevoort's statement opens the fourth paragraph: "Finally, though, in 1998, Venom’s popularity reached a point where, according to Tom Brevoort in Wizard #72, 'Reader interest weakened enough for Editor in Chief Bob Harras to justify killing it. The return on the book had declined to the point where any immediate financial reward was overshadowed by Bob’s discomfort with the character starring in his own title.'"

Anyway, if he was so uncomfortable with Venom as a hero, I would think his feelings on Sabretooth in such a role would be the same. And remember, often the editorial staff took their marching orders from the corporate higher-ups (see Spider-Man's much-maligned clone saga for a perfect example)-- When the "suits" thought something would raise sales, they told editorial to make certain moves they might not have done otherwise. I have a strong suspicion that was probably the case in this situation.

I just discovered this blog recently, and I love it. Keep up the good work!

G. Kendall said...

I recall Lobdell himself said in an online interview (or on his message board) that it was Harras who wanted Sabretooth on the X-Men, though I might be misremembering.
Thanks for the kind words.

Chris said...

It would seem like Sabretooth's inclusion would obviously have been forced by someone either editorial or higher, considering the X-Men titles at the time had just removed Wolverine from the roster for the first time. That HAD to play into the decision somehow; maybe the suits realized that Wolverine, the most popular X-Man, was now gone from the book and scrambled to find ANY replacement they could get their hands on?

Chris said...

Something else I thought of after I pushed "publish" on the first comment, lol. The X-Men Animated Series did a similar storyline with Sabretooth being taken in by Professor X to "heal his berserker rages" in the first season. An attempt at creative synergy, perhaps?

wwk5d said...

One of the better issues from this title. The story moves at a nice pace, and the art is really nice. Plus, there are some nice moments as well (Rogue and Gambit returning home from a date and having fun, instead of angsting all the time).

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