Thursday, April 17, 2008

X-MEN ANNUAL #3 – 1994


Heart and Soul
Credits: Ian Edginton (writer), Gene Ha (penciler), Rubinstein/Lowe/Green/Wiacek/Sellers/Pepoy/Moy (inkers), Pat Brosseau (letterer), Joe Rosas (colorist)

Summary
Storm receives roses from Shinobi Shaw, with a message inviting her to dinner. She cuts her finger on a thorn and begins to behave strangely. Against Xavier’s wishes, she joins Shaw for dinner at the Hellfire Club. After the meal, Shaw explains to her that he’s changed his ways after Psylocke’s psychic knife opened up his repressed memories, forcing him to realize that he was pointlessly following his father’s example. He now wants to use the Hellfire Club’s power to stop famine and war throughout the world. He asks Storm to join him, and she agrees to sleep on the decision. After she leaves, Candra comes out of hiding. Shaw brags that Storm will soon belong to him, but Candra says that she will belong to her, just as he does. That night, Storm has a nightmare about having her powers taken away and given to a young African refugee, who will use them to help more people. Storm leaves her bed and returns to the Hellfire Club’s mansion. She meets Shaw and the new members of the Hellfire Club. Shaw reveals that he drugged the flowers and her meal, causing her to let go of her inhibitions and embrace her darker nature. When Storm tries to resist Shaw, she’s kidnapped. The X-Men arrive as Shaw is attempting to inject her with more drugs. They fight the new Hellfire Club, until Storm corners Shaw. If he uses his phasing powers to stop her heart, the electromagnetic field she’s generated will electrocute him. When Storm asks him if he’s willing to die for his beliefs, Shaw lets her go. Back at the mansion, Xavier explains to Storm that the feelings Shaw exploited exist within everyone, and that sparing Shaw’s life showed how strong her will truly is.

Continuity Notes
The new Hellfire Club members, Benedict Kine, Benazier Kaur, and Reeva Payge, are introduced. Kine can manipulate nervous systems, Kaur apparently can accelerate diseases, and Payge uses sonic powers to control the brain’s neurochemistry. These are characters so obscure I don’t think even Frank Tieri bothered to kill them off.
For some reason, I decided as a kid that this comic must take place before the Phalanx crossover. Looking back, I have no idea why I placed it before those issues even though it came out months later. Does anyone have any ideas?

Commercial Break
There’s an ad for the “First Annual Marvel Survey”, which asks such prescient questions as “Should Wolverine get his adamantium skeleton and claws back?”, “Would you buy two Wolverine titles per month?”, and, of course, “Do you think Spider-Man should stay married or get a divorce from Mary Jane?”. To show their gratitude towards the respondents, Marvel only charged two dollars to participate in the survey. (The two dollars was to cover the shipping cost of an X-Men poster and a Wolverine newsletter, but I still find it funny that Marvel expected people to pay money to participate in a survey).

Review
Like most annuals, this is a self-contained story that doesn’t tie into any of the existing plotlines, but it looks like it might have been laying ground for some ideas that never took off. It does introduce a new version of the Hellfire Club, but I’m almost positive these characters were never seen again (looking online, it appears as if only one of the new members showed up again, in the first issue of Spider-Man Team Up). The story also reveals that Shinobi Shaw is secretly working for Candra, but this idea was also dropped without explanation. Candra’s role is especially odd, since she’s only in two pages and then disappears from the story. I have no idea if there were any plans to go anywhere with these ideas, but it seems odd that a writer not working on the monthly books was able to introduce new continuity threads in an annual story. Edginton won’t return to the X-books until X-Force is revamped in 2000, I believe.

Blurring the lines between Uncanny X-Men and X-Men, Storm is given the spotlight in this story, even though she’s officially a lead in Uncanny X-Men (Uncanny’s annual for this year also starred none of its cast members). I don’t know if there was a point where the books officially disavowed the “blue” and “gold” teams appearing in separate books, but it certainly seems as if Marvel had given up on the idea at this point. Storm hasn’t received a lot of attention in the post-Claremont era, and this story is an admirable effort to do something with the character. The basic idea is that Storm, on some level, resents the X-Men for not doing more to help people suffering throughout the world. Shaw wants to exploit those feelings in order to bring Storm over to his side. It’s not a bad idea, but the execution has some major flaws. For one, the story seems to assume that Storm has this great history with the Hellfire Club. Shaw even claims that he chose Storm due to her “prior association” with the club. What is he talking about? There was a story in the early ‘80s where Emma Frost briefly switched bodies with Storm, but I doubt that’s what he’s talking about. A few years later, Magneto tried to align the X-Men with the Hellfire Club, but that idea went nowhere, and I don’t recall Storm playing a large role in the story. Unless I’m totally blanking on something, it seems as if Edginton is referencing some prior story that never happened.

Another flaw in Shaw’s plan is the idea that bringing out Storm’s “dark side” would help convince her of his humanitarian motives. How does that work? I don’t see how bringing out the worse in Storm would make it easier to sell her on the idea of turning the Hellfire Club into the Peace Corps. Who thinks of humanitarian aid in Africa when they’re turning to their darkest instincts? If Shaw simply drugged her to make her less guarded and more open to his ideas, that would be one thing, but the story goes out of its way to point out that the bad side of Storm is coming out. The “Bad Storm” element just seems like a weak retread of the earlier chapters of the “Dark Phoenix Saga”, so the story would have been better off without it.

Showing that the X-Men don’t do enough to help real world problems is an interesting concept, but it’s the type of idea that rarely works in superhero comics. Realistically, Reed Richards would have cured cancer by now, Sentinels would be replacing American troops in war, and Storm would have stopped the droughts in Africa. The only reason why these things don’t happen is because Marvel doesn’t want its universe to differ that drastically from the real world. Bringing up these problems in the comics actually makes the characters seem kind of heartless for not stopping the situations sooner. There’s actually no resolution to this conflict in the story, not even a token scene where the X-Men say that they’ll be paying more attention to these problems in the future. Despite these flaws, though, there is some nice character work with Storm and Xavier. Edginton does seem to have a decent grasp on the X-Men, and I actually wouldn’t have minded seeing more from him at this time. Ha’s art is, thankfully, miles away from the Image look the X-books kept going back to during this era, so it’s also a decent looking comic.


A Moment of Silence
Credits: Jim Krueger (writer), Steve Yeowell (artist), Dave Sharpe (letterer), Dana Moreshead (colorist)

Summary
Banshee infiltrates a Hydra base to be with a dying scientist during his final moments. Years earlier, when Banshee was an Interpol agent, the scientist allowed Hydra to capture him in order to give Banshee his freedom.

Review
Typical annual backup material, which probably stars Banshee only because Marvel decided to start using the character again at this time. I might have placed this comic before the Phalanx story and formation of Generation X because of this backup, but I don’t see why Banshee couldn’t have starred in the story after Generation X formed.

5 comments:

Teebore said...

"For some reason, I decided as a kid that this comic must take place before the Phalanx crossover. Looking back, I have no idea why I placed it before those issues even though it came out months later. Does anyone have any ideas?"

Honestly, whenever I see this annual in my box, I think to myself "what the hell happened in this one?" so on the (sadly increasingly infrequent) occasions that I go back and read through my X-Men books, I also have a hard time fitting this one in.

rob said...

I agree that this story does have potential, and it's nice to see Storm get the spotlight. But there are problems. Despite the fact that it's a relatively mundance comic, Edington feels held back by the premise. He can't go all the way with the wider issues you address, and the fact that Shaw and Storm just don't have the history/connection that this issue is based on holds the whole story back as well.

The new Hellfire Club, well, sucks. There's literally nothing to define their characters and they don't especially shine in action. I think part of the blame goes to Ha for that - he's a wonderful artist and it's refreshing to see his work on an X-book, but his battle scenes are a little stiff.

As to your questions, I think by 1994 Blue and Gold were done. I would even go so far as to say that the teams started meshing between books after X-Cutioner's Song (Colossus' return home taking place in X-Men, for one, with Iceman there as well). Also, I vaguely recall Jubilee being in this issue, but don't have it with me and could be completely wrong. Could that result in you placing it pre-Phalanx (and pre-Gen X)?

G. Kendall said...

You're right, rob, Jubilee does make a brief cameo. That must've been why I filed it before the crossover. Thanks for reminding me.

sixhoursoflucy said...

"Showing that the X-Men don’t do enough to help real world problems is an interesting concept, but it’s the type of idea that rarely works in superhero comics. Realistically, Reed Richards would have cured cancer by now, Sentinels would be replacing American troops in war, and Storm would have stopped the droughts in Africa. The only reason why these things don’t happen is because Marvel doesn’t want its universe to differ that drastically from the real world. Bringing up these problems in the comics actually makes the characters seem kind of heartless for not stopping the situations sooner."

They addressed this problem earlier in that X-Men: Heroes for Hope one-shot from 1984. I guess the conclusion they came to was that famine, suffering, and despair are just part of the human experience and there is nothing you can do to stop them entirely. Kind of a cop-out conclusion, if you ask me.

jonn vonn numann said...

While the alliance between the Hellfire Club and the X-Men was a story idea that never went too far, it did involve Storm. In the days before "Operation X-Men-fake-their-deaths", Magneto and Storm (as the leaders of Xavier's school and the X-Men respectively) join the Hellfire Club's Inner Circle in the joint position of White King (New Mutants #54, I believe). Storm and the rest of the X-Men would soon be removed from proceedings by 'The Fall of the Mutants', leaving Magneto to contend with the Inner Circle in the pages of the New Mutants.

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