Credits: Howard Mackie (writer), John Romita, Jr. (penciler), Joe Rubinstein (inker), Starkings/Comicraft (lettering), Matt Webb (colorist)
Storm, Gambit, and Phoenix travel to Cairo to visit Storm’s thief mentor, Achmed El-Gibar, in his final days. Candra and her devotee Bond also arrive in Cairo, hoping to recruit one of Achmed’s followers, a boy with “latent power” named Jamil. Karima, one of Achmed’s young street urchins, steals Phoenix’s purse and is confronted by Storm. She leads the team to Achmed’s home, where they’re ambushed by Jamil. Jamil is rebelling against Achmed and starting his own street gang. After the X-Men stop his attack, Jamil runs away and meets Candra and Bond in an alley. Candra bribes him with new clothes and a promise to show him the world. Jamil leads Candra and Bond to Achmed’s home, where they fight the X-Men. After a standoff with Storm, Candra leaves with Jamil. Achmed asks Storm to save Jamil from Candra so that his urchins will have a new leader before he dies.
After searching the city, the team finds Jamil. They’re attacked again by Candra and Bond, who trap them underneath a collapsed building. With Phoenix’s help, Storm fights through her claustrophobia and breaks free. They follow Jamil to Candra’s estate, where Jamil is being asked to kill fellow urchin Karima in order to prove his loyalty to Candra. The X-Men enter and stop Jamil from killing her. Storm challenges Candra to a duel over Jamil and she accepts. Gambit and Phoenix stop Bond and Jamil while Storm defeats Candra. When Candra regroups and tries to attack Storm from behind, Karima stabs her hand and stops her. Jamil refuses to go with Storm, saying that he will pay any price to get away from the streets of Cairo. Storm returns to Achmed, who tells her that she has not failed him, but has actually brought back a greater treasure. He asks her to look after the future of the urchins and then passes away. After leaving his side, Storm begins to train Karima to lead the urchins.
As established in one of her earliest appearances, Storm grew up as a pickpocket in Cairo, and was mentored by Achmed El-Gibar.
This seems to be the period where Howard Mackie found favor with the X-office. The Generation X preview special listed Mackie and Romita, Jr. as the new creative team on X-Men Unlimited, and even though this was Romita’s only issue, Mackie stayed with this book for the next few issues. He was also given the high-profile Rogue miniseries at this time, which I guess Marvel considered good enough to warrant future assignments. Within a year, he’ll be writing X-Factor, too. I know that his run on that title took a massive beating online, and since I hardly remember a thing about it, I’m not sure what to expect when I get to those issues.
Anyway, his debut on X-Men Unlimited isn’t very good, but it is better than his extremely weak Rogue miniseries. The fact that it’s contained to a single comic helps to hide the repetitious nature of the plot, while the Rogue mini’s four separate installments just emphasized the fact that she was fighting the same people over and over again. The characters at least have more sensible motives than what we saw in the Rogue mini, and the Romita art helps the fight scenes out a lot. There is the odd choice to portray Achmed El-Gibar, who takes street kids and trains them as thieves for his own profit, as some sort of hero, which makes me wonder how Mackie would feel if someone stole his own wallet while on vacation. Having Storm train the little girl to keep the tradition alive is also a strange ending, even though the story plays the scene straight and doesn’t present it with any moral ambiguity. I get that these are supposed to be street kids with nowhere else to go, but you would think that a hero like Storm would make an effort to teach them a better way to survive than just stealing. I haven’t read her earlier appearances in a while, but I don’t think we were ever supposed to think that Storm’s past as a thief was cool; it was supposed to show how hard her childhood was. The twist ending, that Karima will actually lead the urchins, isn’t that bad of a resolution. However, she’s hardly given anything to do in the story until this point and remains an extremely underdeveloped character throughout the entire issue. At no point in the story do you actually care about anything that happens to her. Instead of three separate fight scenes with Candra, some of that time should have been spent on building up her character. Aside from the fact that a very minor peripheral character dies, this reads like another inventory story. The rest of the issue consists of eight pin-ups (a few look like rejected covers) and two pages of letters, which reinforces just how pointless this series has become.