Monday, March 31, 2008

THE ADVENTURES OF CYCLOPS & PHOENIX #1 –May 1994


“Wish You Were Here!”
Credits: Scott Lobdell (writer), Gene Ha (penciler), Al Vey (inker), Kevin Somers (colorist), Starkings/Comicraft (lettering)


Summary
Two thousand years in the future, Cyclops and Jean Grey awaken in human bodies, inside the “Askani Cloisters”, the headquarters of the future religious order. Apocalypse’s soldiers are destroying the monastery, when they’re attacked by Mother Askani, Rachel Summers. Ch’vayre, one of Apocalypse’s men, places the weakened Rachel inside a psionic cocoon. Jean tries to rescue her but realizes that she doesn’t have any mutant powers. Cyclops uses a gun taken from the body of a soldier to blast Ch’vayre. While escaping, Rachel explains that Apocalypse has been burning through the bodies he inhabits at an increasing rate in recent years. He ordered an attack on the Askani, hoping to kidnap Nathan Summers and use his powerful mutant body as his new shell. The healthy clone of Nathan was kidnapped by Apocalypse’s men, while the synthetic robot Boak escaped with the infected Nathan. Rachel tells Cyclops and Jean that she arranged to have their consciousnesses sent into the future to raise Nathan and overthrow Apocalypse. Using remnants of the Phoenix Force, Rachel gives their human bodies (cloned from DNA remains of their descendents) powers that closely resemble the ones they had in their original bodies. Ch’vayre reappears with more soldiers, claiming that Apocalypse’s men have taken Nathan from Boak. They offer Rachel in exchange for baby Nathan. Cyclops and Jean use their powers to flood the chamber and escape with Nathan. They reach safety, but discover that Rachel is in a coma.


Gimmicks
Every issue of this miniseries has a cardstock cover and glossy paper.


Continuity Notes
The events of this story take place shortly after the future scenes in Cable #8. Young Nathan Summers was infected with the transmode virus and sent to the future in X-Factor #68, a story that was referenced endlessly after Cable was revealed to be a grown-up Nathan.


Despite the title of the mini, Jean doesn't take the codename "Phoenix" in this issue.


I believe that the idea that Apocalypse inhabits different bodies is introduced for the first time in this issue. There are some diehard X-fans who have always hated this idea, thinking that it cheapens the character somehow. Rachel explains that Apocalypse is currently residing in a woman’s body.


Rachel arrived in this timeline “almost a hundred years ago” after taking Captain Britain’s place in the timestream in Excalibur #75. How exactly Rachel ended up in a specific time period when Captain Britain seemed to be in-between all time isn’t explained. Rachel says that the Phoenix Force left her eighty years ago to presumably search for a younger host, although she claims that she still has a residue of the force. Since Rachel was in her late teens/early twenties when she arrived in this time a hundred years ago, and the Phoenix Force left eighty years ago, that means that Rachel was only in her forties when it considered her body too “old and fragile” (the Phoenix Force must be the Donald Trump of cosmic entities). Alan Davis established in Excalibur #64 that the Phoenix Force was no longer inside of Rachel’s body, but that Rachel was tapping into its power (I’m still not entirely sure what difference this makes, and it’s hard to say if this issue contradicts that story).


Apocalypse has taken over in this time period, broadening the term “human” to mean anyone weaker than the strongest mutant caste. A century before Apocalypse took over, Rachel says that the world experienced racial harmony during the “Age of Xavier”. Apocalypse took advantage of the long period of peacetime to begin his war. Rachel formed Clan Askani, which means “family of outsiders”, to oppose him. Later, Ch’vayre brags that the Askani have fallen, just like the “Xavier Collective”, “The Scions of Genetics”, and the “X.S.E.” before them. The X.S.E. are the future mutant police force Bishop belonged to. This is the first indication that Bishop and Cable might be from the same timeline, or very similar ones.


Review
This is the start of a special format miniseries, presumably designed to fill in some of the gaps in Cable’s history and give him a stronger connection to Scott and Jean. It cost twice what Marvel’s standard line cost at the time, without any extra content, just better paper quality. Imagine Marvel selling a comic with twenty-two pages of content for $6.00 an issue today (I haven’t seen an Ultimate comic in years, but if they still have cardstock covers, they have the same production values as this series). I resented having to pay such an inflated cover price as a kid, but what was I supposed to do? The cover clearly says “An X-Men Book”, so I was obligated by my internal completist to buy this thing (“An X-Men Book” is probably the dullest description of a comic ever, by the way. It’s not even “An X-Men Event”; it’s just “An X-Men Book”). I wonder if similar branding would have helped short-lived spinoffs like District X and Jubilee in recent years.


I’ve never really liked it when the X-books go deep into science fiction territory, and that’s what we have here. All of the Starjammers and Shi’ar material can be fun in a “what if the X-Men starred in Star Wars?” way, but it gets old quickly. The sci-fi setting presented here, however, isn’t any fun at all and just comes across as “Days of Future Past” set so far in the future, it might as well take place on an alien planet. A character goes from being called “Rachel Summers” to the ridiculous “Mother Askani”, and the villains have unpronounceable names I hate typing out like “Ch’vayre”. Gene Ha designs a future landscape that doesn’t do much for me, but I can live with it. The future clothing and technology, however, are really just ugly. There’s a lot of bulky body armor, giant shoulder pads, and overly complicated weapons that just look awful. Ha seems to be basing the future gear on the weapons and clothing Liefeld gave Cable, which means we’re getting a mix of Ha and Liefeld, something I know I never wanted to see (check out that gun on the cover for an example of what I’m talking about).


The main appeal of this mini for longtime fans is seeing Scott and Jean in their own series for the first time. Lobdell does handle their characterizations well enough, but so far it doesn’t feel like a story that’s actually about the characters. Connecting Scott and Jean to their two time-displaced children isn’t a bad idea, but placing the characters so far into the future and in different bodies takes them too far away from how the audience is used to seeing them. It seems like the story has to go though all of these hoops to reunite the pair with Nathan only because Cable’s backstory was just made up as the creators went along. There’s more time spent on establishing the location of the story than on focusing on the title characters, which feels wrong. Knowing that the events of this miniseries were just ignored as soon as it was over probably prejudices me towards viewing all of it as pointless cash grab. I think the first slump after the ‘90s speculation boom came in summer 1994, which means this miniseries was lucky to slip in while the money was still around.

1 comment:

Teebore said...

oh man I ate this stuff up when it came out. When I started reading the X-Men I LOVED all the mysterious "what does that crptic comment mean?" stuff the creators were more than happy to pepper all over back then to keep us coming back for more.

As a result, Cable, the poster child for mysterious characters with complicated back stories(well, him and Gambit) was always a favorite, and once they confirmed he was Cyclops' son, I was sold. I was eager for anything and everything that fleshed out his background as the child of Cyclops sent to the future to save it from Apocalypse, so of course, it seemed like this series was written specifically for me.

In hindsight of course, its all something of a mess. But I'll always remember it (and Cable) fondly as a representation of everything I loved about comics back then.

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