Wednesday, June 18, 2008

UNCANNY X-MEN #321 – February 1995

Auld Lang Syne
Credits: Scott Lobdell (plot), Mark Waid (script), Ron Garney (penciler), Townsend/Green/Rubinstein (inkers), Steve Buccellato (colorist), Chris Eliopoulos (letterer)

Twenty years in the past, Xavier and Magneto are discussing the possible existence of mutants in a bar in Israel. Elsewhere in the bar, an amputee is being harassed by a group of drunken men. When Xavier tries to stop them, he unwittingly starts a bar fight. Elsewhere, Storm and the rest of her team of X-Men are still trying to recover their memories. In the present, the Shi’ar use their technology to augment the psi-powers of the X-Men present. Phoenix will telekinetically keep Cable’s body together while Professor Xavier telepathically boosts Cable’s latent time travel ability. Cable is able to appear twenty years in the past, where he’s drawn to the temporal energies that surround Bishop. Cable telepathically gives Bishop the information he needs before disappearing in an explosion of energy. Meanwhile, Legion disguises himself as Xavier and seduces Gabrielle Haller. Xavier senses a darkness around Gabrielle and leaves with Magneto to find her. They find Gabrielle wounded, with Legion hovering above her. Legion tells Magneto that he’s come to kill him.

Continuity Note
This is the first time Cable’s time travel ability is outright mentioned. It was previously alluded to in X-Force #39, when Prosh made a cryptic statement that Cable might not need technology to travel through time. It’s not treated as a major revelation here, and there’s no explanation for how any of the characters knew he had this power. I don’t think Cable’s ability to time travel with his own power was brought up again, but I could be wrong. For what it’s worth, it takes Shi’ar machinery that’s the size of a building, and the augmented powers of Professor Xavier for him to access the power in this issue.

At the time this story was published, Marvel was still following the strict time travel rules established by Mark Gruenwald (you can read his column about time travel here). The basic idea is that time travel automatically creates an alternate reality, therefore the current reality can’t be affected by someone travelling to the past. In order for this story to work, that rule obviously can’t be applied. The previous issue of UXM has Storm acknowledge this rule, with Legion replying that he’s created new “chronal energies” that will enable him to pull this off. This would tie into the idea that Legion is potentially the most powerful mutant ever, which Xavier speculated earlier in this storyline. So even if the rule is being broken, there’s some justification for how it’s being broken in the storyline (which would fit in with Marvel’s stricter stand on continuity at the time). It will be interesting to see the rules are (or aren’t) followed as the story goes along. I suspect that Gruenwald created the rules in the first place in order to prevent writers from using time travel to undo previous stories that they didn’t like.

Up until you get to that horribly misguided scene with Legion, this is a solid middle-chapter for the crossover that only has a few rough spots (the bar fight goes on a little long, and I mentioned the unusual introduction of Cable’s new power earlier). It’s drawn very well by Garney, who’s pretty close to developing his recognizable style at this point. Xavier and Magneto’s friendship comes across as genuine, and the scenes in the present do a decent job of communicating the seriousness of the situation. The X-Men that are stuck in the past are also given realistic reactions to having nothing to do for three weeks. It’s the scene between Legion and Gabrielle Haller that overshadows the rest of the issue, making you wonder if the X-office has lost its mind. Maybe the fact that anything Legion did with Gabrielle Haller is implied and not explicitly stated made this “safe” enough to get published, but it’s really hard to see any justification for this scene. Let’s see, do I start with the rape or the incest angle? Aside from the fact that Legion is impersonating someone else when he’s getting intimate with Gabrielle Haller, she’s also shown in tears with her clothes ripped in the final scene. So even if you’re willing to overlook the deception used by Legion in the first place, there’s still the implication that something physical happened between them. Then, of course, there’s the bizarre incest element. Legion wants to go back in time to prove his love for his father by killing his greatest opponent. Okay, fine. How exactly this turns into Legion going back in time to impersonate his father and hook up with his mother is beyond me. Perhaps the idea was that Legion is insuring his own existence by making sure his mother gets pregnant, but that doesn’t work. It’s not in his plan at all for his father to die, so Xavier would still presumably impregnate Gabrielle (and I’m not even going to go into what kind of DNA Legion’s offspring with Gabrielle would have). I guess the idea is to emphasize that Legion is still insane, but surely there could’ve been a more tasteful way to get this across. It’s really a bizarre move that drags everything down.


rob said...

When I think of the issue, I tend to ignore the rape elements and immediately recall the wonderful interaction between Xavier and Magneto and the treat of Ron Garney's art. I don't know what would prompt them to go in this direction with his character, especially after Legion's creepy, effective portrayal in X-Men#40. I think it's an unnecessary story element and a black mark on an otherwise strong storyarc.

Jeff said...

Yeah, that rape scene is pretty bad. And I once again agree with Rob. I remember reading the story and thinking that they were trying to make Legion his own father, but I'm not sure that works and it is kind of a stupid idea to boot. Do you think this was an X-Office decision or Lobdell's? Oh well. X-Men #40 is the high point of this storyline for me anyway

Robin said...

Still remember my reaction to the Legion bit whe I was 13; 'ok, this is weird, wait, you mean? ummm ok that's disturbing'

percy blakeney said...

Was completely thrown by the rape/incest thing. What the hell is going on? Why? Presumably they were indeed going for Legion fathering himself in a causality paradox -but why? There seems to be no good reason for this and its just really unpleasant. Still, as I recall, comics of this period (and many since it must be admitted) thought shock value gave them cred -as if just being nasty made you Alan Moore or Frank Miller.

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