Credits: John Francis Moore (writer), Paul Smith (storyboards), Mandel Alves Flor, Fabio Laguna, Al Rio, Edde Wagner (pencilers), Cabera/Champagne/Lowe/McKenna
/Milgrom/Rubinstein/Townsend (inkers), Dutro/Oakley/Starkings (lettering), Agostinelli/Ariane/Sanchez /Triana/Webb (colorists)
Sauron sends the Savage Land Mutates to capture Havok. They’re followed to the Savage Land by Cyclops, Phoenix, and Polaris. After the death of his girlfriend, Tanya Anderssen, Sauron has grown more insane. He routinely sees images of his human self, Karl Lykos, which he tries to kill. With the aid of the Mutates, Sauron kidnaps Polaris, Cyclops, and Phoenix. He connects Cyclops and Havok to a machine, hoping to draw upon their related mutant powers. Phoenix and Polaris recover and rescue the brothers. Sauron chases them into the jungle, using his hypnotic powers to make the team fight amongst themselves. Phoenix finally uses her psychic powers to enter Sauron’s mind. She tries to free the part of him that is Karl Lykos, but instead witnesses a battle between Sauron and Lykos. Lykos commits “psychic suicide”, sacrificing his own identity in order to kill Sauron. Sauron is now reduced to his animal brain. The team allows him to fly away, knowing that he now has to live in the “kill or be killed” world of the Savage Land.
Sauron says that he used his hypnotic powers to trick Wolverine into letting him escape in Wolverine #71. There’s nothing in that actual story to suggest this, so I’m assuming it’s a retcon done to relieve Wolverine of responsibility for Sauron’s actions in the Savage Land.
I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that this was originally supposed to be the Sauron one-shot by John Francis Moore advertised a year earlier in the X-Men/Avengers 30th Anniversary insert. Paul Smith is credited with “storyboards”, which leads me to believe that he was supposed to be the original artist, but didn’t make it past the layouts stage. It makes sense that a prestigious, but slow, artist like Smith would have been working on a special edition one-shot project. Given the multiple pencilers, inkers, letterers, and colorists on this issue, I’m also going to guess that this was a last-minute rush job that cannibalized the Sauron project in order to get something out there to the printers. I understand that these things happen in periodical publishing, but you would think that more planning would have gone into a quarterly book. It’s ridiculous that a book that has three months to be prepared ends up with five credited colorists.
Moore does provide a decent, action-heavy story. It doesn’t feel worthy of a prestige one-shot, but it’s good enough for a standard issue of X-Men Unlimited. Before Marvel decided to go with a “continuity light” approach, you used to see more stories like this. The premise is essentially a sequel to Sauron’s original appearance, where Karl Lykos drained Havok’s powers and transformed into Sauron for the first time. It makes sense that the energy-vampire Sauron would want to drain Havok’s powers again, but I think this is the first time someone used the idea. The story moves at a steady pace, and Moore does seem to have an understanding of the characters. It still reads like filler, but it rarely feels dull or padded. The major flaw would be the artwork, which consists of four Jim Lee impersonators of varying quality. The storytelling is mostly clear, probably due to the Paul Smith layouts, but the art is just ugly for most of the issue. I was impressed by how close some of the artists get to Jim Lee when I first read this as a teenager, but it doesn’t hold up at all. The multiple letterers and colorists are also distracting, giving the book a chaotic feel. One third of the lettering is done with computers, the rest by hand, which looks pretty odd. What’s worse is that the colorists can’t seem to decide if Sauron has a yellow beak or not (he doesn’t). Taking it all together, this should’ve been a sign to Marvel that this book needed help, but they didn’t seem to get the message.