Credits: Scott Lobdell (writer), Chris Bachalo (penciler), Mark Buckingham (inker), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (lettering), Steve Buccellato & Electric Crayon (colors)
Illyana wakes up inside Mondo’s body and unknowingly pushes her hand outside of his chest. The guards notice and target him. Meanwhile, Sugar Man is still suspicious of Quietus, even though he shot Chamber. He shoots his sharp tongue into Quietus’ stomach, exposing him as Husk and Vincente in disguise. Chamber reveals that he used his psionic powers to make Sugar Man think he was shot, as Colossus and Shadowcat make a dramatic entrance. After Chamber blasts Sugar Man’s body apart, Colossus orders Skin and Chamber to find Illyana and Mondo in the lower levels. Nearby, Mondo kills the guards and pledges to rescue a human girl who asks for help. As soon as Skin and Chamber find Mondo, Sugar Man kills him with his tongue and kidnaps Illyana. Colossus crashes through the ceiling and kills Sugar Man. With Sugar Man dead, the Core erupts into a violent war between the human workers and mutant guards. As members of the team die, Colossus orders Shadowcat to use her powers to help him escape with Illyana. After helping them escape, Shadowcat attempts to go back to rescue the others, but Colossus orders her to get Illyana to safety while he goes back. Colossus reaches the Core’s entrance as the door closes, catching a final look at Husk as she’s overpowered by mutant guards. Distraught, he leaves and reunites with Shadowcat and Illyana. Unbeknownst to him, the Sugar Man has followed him.
Well, things certainly happen in this issue. Lobdell takes advantage of the finite lifespan of the AoA world by ripping through the cast in a way he could’ve never done in the “real” universe. Having naive Illyana narrate this issue helps to underscore the tragic nature of the story. Juxtaposing her blind faith in her brother with his actions during the final scene creates an extraordinarily dark ending, one that honestly shocked me when I was young. Bachalo’s art helps to convey the story’s bleak mood, but the visual storytelling begins to fall apart here. There are a few scenes where it’s essentially impossible to figure out what’s supposed to be happening. Mondo’s death scene is staged in such a way it’s extremely difficult to understand what exactly the Sugar Man is doing. It looks like the page is missing some necessary panels, as Mondo falls down and Sugar Man just emerges from rubble holding Illyana. Chamber and Skin’s death scenes are also confusing, as they apparently just disappear between panels. There’s also panel here with the little girl that has a giant “YANK” sound effect that’s indecipherable (is the “YANK” supposed to be Chamber yanked away to an off-screen death?). Sugar Man is also portrayed inconsistently, alternating in size between a giant monster and a tiny Muppet. This might be connected somehow to his unexplained resurrections (does he make tiny Sugar Men or something?), but it’s not clarified at all in the issue.
Even though the story does have a respectable dramatic impact, there are elements here that don’t make a lot of sense either. Husk and Vincente, in disguise as Quietus, seem to think that only “shooting” Chamber should convince Sugar Man that they’re on his side. This ignores the fact that Sugar Man wanted both Chamber and Skin dead last issue. Apparently, Sugar Man has forgotten all about Skin in-between issues, even though he’s standing right in front of him here. Since it turns out that the gunshot was a mental illusion created by Chamber, he could’ve just as easily created the same illusion for Skin too, so it’s not as if this was a hard spot to write out of. The explanation that Chamber used his psionic powers to trick everyone also reminds me of how poorly defined most of the cast’s powers are. Since Chamber can communicate telepathically, can he also read minds? Can he use the psionic energy that ripped through his chest for things like telekinesis? It’s strange that basic questions about the characters’ powers were skirted over for so long.
The mechanics of the ending, where Colossus accompanies Shadowcat and Illyana out of the Core and then goes back, don’t really stand up to scrutiny. Since Shadowcat can phase through objects, I don’t see why she would’ve needed Colossus to go with her. If the idea is that he refuses to leave Shadowcat and Illyana, that’s contradicted a few pages later when he leaves them to go back for the others. So why did he go off with them in the first place? These nonsensical elements don’t really undermine the story’s impact, but they start to add up once you start to closely examine the details of the plot.