Credits: Warren Ellis (writer), Ken Lashley (penciler), Tom Wegrzyn w/Philip Moy (inkers), Joe Rosas & Digital Chameleon (colors), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (letters)
Nightcrawler returns with the rest of X-Calibre to Destiny’s village, unaware that they’re being trailed by the Shadow King. He begins to possess the refugees in Destiny’s camp, turning the mutants against the humans and causing chaos. Damask uses her “psionic skinning” powers to attack the Shadow King, but ends up killing one of his host bodies instead. Shadow King possesses Mystique, causing her shapeshifting powers to go haywire as he tears through her memories. Nightcrawler formulates a plan to attack Shadow King in the dimension he inhabits while in-between bodies. He holds hands with Damask and Switchback and teleports. With the help of Switchback’s time-altering powers, Nightcrawler’s able to stay in the adjacent dimension he enters while teleporting for a longer period of time. While there, he confirms that Shadow King inhabits the same dimension, allowing Damask to psionically attack him while he’s distracted. A wounded Shadow King inhabits one last mutant and shoots an energy blast at Destiny. Her adopted son Doug Ramsey blocks the blast, which kills him. Inspired by his sacrifice, Destiny agrees to help stop Apocalypse.
When Shadow King possesses Mystique, she begins to morph into different people from her past. She turns into Sabretooth, as the Shadow King comments that this memory is “worse than all the rest…” This, combined with last issue’s comment that Nightcrawler’s father had “fur in his genes”, makes me wonder if Marvel wanted Sabretooth to be his father at this point. Technically, Sabretooth is just hairy, not furry (the fur is supposed to be part of his costume), but it’s a vague enough reference to still work.
On the page after Mystique is possessed by Shadow King, Nightcrawler’s dialogue has been totally re-lettered (in another example of hand lettering awkwardly being inserted in-between computer fonts). The altered dialogue details his plan to enter the adjacent dimension and attack Shadow King, which implies that someone changed this plot detail or didn’t like the way Ellis described the plan in his script. Since this is the next page after a possessed Mystique turns into Sabretooth, it’s possible that Nightcrawler might’ve inferred something about him that Marvel wanted changed, but that’s pure speculation on my part.
It’s another action-heavy finale, which is able to work because Ellis also provides some strong character work throughout the issue. He doesn’t allow the characters to just easily go along with what the plot wants them to do; they have realistic doubts and insecurities that get in the way (Doug’s disbelief in alternate worlds is countered pragmatically by Switchback who points out that everything in this world is nuts). The story, oddly enough, seems to be making a statement against pacifism, as both Doug Ramsey and Destiny graphically learn about the dangers of “putting your head in the sand” and realize that fighting against Apocalypse is the only way to actually have peace. Superhero comics are inherently violent, but it’s rare to see a story that doesn’t tell you that putting down weapons is the ultimate solution. The Shadow King is a generically evil villain who can get old quickly, but Ellis is able to make his eerie narration interesting, and the chaos he creates at the camp brings a fair amount of excitement to the story. Lashley produces his strongest work yet, which is still very ‘90s but more attractive than his previous issues. On a few panels he skimps on the backgrounds, which unfortunately inspired someone to fill the white space with ugly, early ‘90s-style computer generated graphics that are supposed to look like trees. It dates the book pretty badly, which is unfortunate because this isn’t a bad issue at all.