Thursday, May 15, 2008

UNCANNY X-MEN #318 – November 1994

Moving Day
Credits: Scott Lobdell (writer), Roger Cruz (penciler), Tim Townsend (inker), “Grover” Eliopoulos (letterer), Steve Buccellato (colorist)

Beast gives Skin a ride to the airport after he decides not to join Xavier’s new school. After Beast encourages him not to give in to his cynicism, Skin agrees to join. The new students go shopping as Banshee contemplates his role as headmaster of the new school. Professor Xavier mentally absorbs the events of Cyclops and Phoenix’s time in the future, but isn’t hopeful that their information can help cure the Legacy Virus. Iceman confronts Emma Frost about her ability to master his powers. He admits that he wants respect and control over his powers, and she tells him that he has to learn how to do that on his own. Gambit helps Cyclops move into the boathouse, and Archangel tries to say goodbye to Jubilee but instead gets a lecture from her. Finally, Banshee leaves with the students and Jubilee says goodbye to Professor Xavier.

Continuity Notes
The X-Men’s home is renamed “The Xavier Institute for Higher Learning”, and the Massachusetts Academy becomes “Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters”. This is also the issue that establishes that Banshee and Emma Frost will head the new school, although that decision happened off-panel before this issue takes place.

Production Note
This issue is the debut of Marvel’s new format for the X-books. The books now have a higher quality paper stock and cost $1.95. This was a pretty big price jump at the time, so Marvel released the same titles two weeks later on lower quality paper for $1.50. Image had set a new standard for mainstream comic production over the previous two years, and it’s obvious that Marvel was trying to compete. I was still buying comics mostly from newsstand vendors at the time, and none of them bothered to offer the lower priced versions. I was still into comics for the stories and didn’t care that much about the paper they were printed on, so I hated having to pay an extra fifty cents per issue to keep up with the X-books. A year later, only the “main” X-books sold on newsstands would be the glossy two dollar versions, and the rest of the line went back to cheaper paper and a lower price (I know that comic shops still sold glossy versions of all of the books, but I don’t know if Marvel kept selling cheaper versions two weeks later at this point).
As a part of the new format, every X-title now has a distinctive corner box, emphasizing the “X” logo. It’s actually a smart branding choice, and I’m surprised Marvel ever dropped it (especially when Marvel was trying to sell literally twenty X-spinoffs a month in the early Quesada days). There’s also a special Bullpen Bulletins for the X-books called “X-Facts”. I think all of this was a part of the “Marveloution” plan, which segregated Marvel’s titles into separate lines with their own editor-in-chiefs.

This is, say it with me, another “quiet” issue that focuses on the characters after the big crossover. It’s also yet another issue used to set up the Generation X series. There are a few moments I like, such as Jubilee pointing out that she’s barely even spoken to Archangel, and Gambit telling Cyclops that he has the things he’ll never get to have. Jubilee’s scene with Archangel brings up one of the flaws from this era, though. As this issue shows, there was still a heavy emphasis on characterization, but the sense of cohesion between the characters is essentially gone at this point. Why haven’t Jubilee and Archangel ever spoken to one another until now? How do, say, Psylocke and Iceman feel about each other? What does Colossus think about Gambit’s past? Do Rogue and Cyclops have anything in common? The Claremont run was able to create stronger connections between a wide variety of characters, even without these “quiet” issues.

One difference between the titles at this point and the ‘80s, obviously, is the increased number of characters and spinoffs. With so many characters to juggle, it is a lot harder to create a “family” feel amongst the team. Another difference would be the annual crossovers, which tend to eat up around two or three issues of each book. However, when you look at all of the slow, character-driven issues published in this era, it seems like there should have been plenty of space to make connections between the characters. What seemed to happen was that only a few characters were allowed to get the spotlight, which often dominated a lot of the “quiet” time. How many times did we see Rogue and Gambit talk about their relationship? How often did Scott and Jean reaffirm their love? In the meantime, established characters like Storm do nothing, and Jubilee and Archangel spend years on the team never speaking to one another.

It’s interesting to see just how big a push the Generation X series received. Marvel first started promoting it in their X-Men/Avengers 30th Anniversary inserts, which ran over a year earlier. An X-Force/New Warriors crossover was used to set the stage earlier in 1994, followed by the Emma Frost spotlight issue in UXM, and finally the Phalanx Crossover. Now, UXM is dedicating another issue to establishing the series in the same month the new series is launched. Compare this to the way Marvel handled the latest group of “new mutants”. These characters appeared in their own spinoff without any set-up from the main titles, were almost never referenced outside of their own book, and their title has undergone at least three name changes in six (?) years. The line obviously had flaws during this era, but it certainly seems as if Marvel knew how to build a brand at this time.


Teebore said...

Ah, another enjoyable, patented Lobdell post-crossover quiet issue (LPCQI-a Lipqwhy?).

I enjoyed your ruminations on the state of interpersonal relationships amongst the cast at this time. It's something I never really thought of before, all those characters from whom we never get reactions to one another.

Part of it, I think, is that even when these issues were coming out, I had managed to read quite a bit of the old Claremont issues, so his ability to create strong relationships amongst the cast then was informing those relationships for me in the newer stuff, so I didn't notice the lack of it.

Of course, this didn't work for some of the newer characters who hadn't been around as long, but it did mask things enough to keep me from noticing the decrease of character interaction at the time.

rob said...

I have to agree with teebore as to why he didn't notice the problem as much at the time. I was grabbing every cheap back issue and issue of X-Men Classic that I could in the early 90s, and these made me feel that the X-Men were just a much a family then as in the 70s-80s.

The unofficial dissolving of the Blue/Gold teams in 1993/94 hurt the chance to really define group dynamics. I know they didn't necessarily take advantage of it at the time, but it was a good chance to examine smaller group dynamics. Uncanny was especially bad at this.

That said, I have always had a soft spot for this issue. It's not perfect and the Gen X promotion has gone overboard at this point, but it has some sweet scenes and some fun ones, and Roger Cruz's imitation of the month art looked pretty good for a young kid that missed Jim Lee on the book.

percy blakeney said...

Your review is spot on here regarding the fragmented nature of the characterization and their relationships. I read these comics for the first time a few years ago (having dropped X-Men in the mid 280s as the book had become unreadable -I did pick up the ones in the early 300s with Romita art during the early 2000s as I'm a big fan of his)and have been re-reading them recently (and trying to give them a bit more of a chance). What you say here has been one of my strongest impressions. There are some genuinely good individual 'quiet' issues but the sense of the group as a whole and the dynamics between them is completely absent. This is really damaging.

anyway, having your blog to keep me company as I make my way through these is really helpful. Thanks for sharing.

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