…Already In Progress…
Credits: Jeph Loeb (writer), Adam Pollina (penciler), Mark Farmer (inker), Chris Eliopoulos (lettering), Marie Javins & Electric Crayon (colors)
At the X-Men’s mansion, X-Force tries to listen in on Cable’s conversation with Professor Xavier, but Domino kicks them outside. Cannonball is afraid that Cable will disband X-Force now that the Generation X students have taken their place as potential X-Men. Sunspot flies in, but his presence makes most of the team feel uncomfortable, leaving him alone with Cannonball. Shatterstar and Boomer prepare to train in the Danger Room, but find Sabretooth is inside. They’re shocked to see that he’s behaving like a peaceful animal, living inside a holographic fantasy forest. Cannonball warns them to stay away from Sabretooth, but Boomer thinks that he’s changed since Wolverine’s attack. Cable telepathically calls the team into Xavier’s office for a meeting. He reveals that X-Force will be working closer with Xavier, now that the Legacy Virus has been exposed and mutants are facing a more dangerous future. The team receives new costumes, except for Cannonball, who has been promoted to the X-Men. Domino enters with the team’s newest member, Caliban. When Rictor learns that Cable will be expanding his powers and communicating telepathically with the team, he decides to leave because he’s uncomfortable giving Cable access to his thoughts. Later, Cyclops calls Cannonball for his first mission as an X-Man. Meanwhile, a restrained and gagged Siryn is brought to the Weisman Institute for the Criminally Insane.
The new characterization of Sabretooth debuts here. The original idea was that Wolverine’s attack damaged his brain, turning him into a tame housecat. Like a lot of ideas from this era, this storyline only receives a half-hearted resolution months later.
Sunspot is now able to easily fly, claiming that Cable helped him put “that Reignfire stuff” behind him and “feel whole” for the first time. Cable’s powers are also expanded, as he’s able to casually communicate telepathically with the team. Warpath is given a bo staff to train with, which is treated as if it will have some impact on the character, even though it goes nowhere.
Caliban joins the team in this issue, and is colored purple for the first time. I can’t tell if the purple is just supposed to be a highlight on his white skin, but Caliban is consistently colored purple as this run continues. He’s also portrayed here like a mentally challenged child, which doesn’t seem consistent with his previous appearances (he always seemed more alien and strange than explicitly childlike to me). Warpath appears to be close to Caliban, which surprises his teammates.
Loeb might be implying that Rictor and Shatterstar are gay here, but it’s very ambiguous. Rictor doesn’t want Cable inside his mind, perhaps implying he’s in the closet, and Shatterstar is distraught that his “best, only friend” is leaving. By the way, the idea that communicating telepathically is the same thing as actually reading someone else’s thoughts doesn’t make sense to me. None of the X-Men freak out when Xavier, Psylocke, or Jean Grey talk to them telepathically.
According to the Statement of Ownership, average sales for the year were 355,542 with the most recent issue selling 257,700 copies. This fluctuation in sales is equivalent to the total sales of a Top 20 comic today.
This entire issue is narrated by a letter Cannonball writes to his mother. Apparently, Cannonball not only speaks in a Southern accent, but physically writes in one as well, so his letter is filled with “Ah”s, “if’n”s and “nevah”s. Loeb also gives him an odd compulsion to underline every other word, and the worst Southern accent I’ve ever read in comics.
This issue marks the beginning of the Jeph Loeb/Adam Pollina run. Even though Nicieza moved this title very far away from its original “x-treme” approach, this issue marks the largest change to the book’s status quo so far. Pollina’s art bears no resemblance to Tony Daniel’s Image-friendly look, which automatically gives the book a softer feel. I’m not sure how to describe Pollina’s art, since it’s pretty graphic and design-y, but still has a grounding in reality. I enjoyed it as a teenager, and it still looks nice today. Since Loeb is apparently going for a “New Mutants revisited” feel for this run, his art seems appropriate. More and more, the original Image look is beginning to disappear from the books. Now that Roger Cruz has moved on to a Joe Mad impression, it looks like Ken Lashley is the only artist with a conventional early ‘90s look working regularly on the titles. Jeff Matsuda becomes a regular penciler a year from now, but I think he’s shaken the Liefeld influence at that point and doing full-on manga work.
Loeb certainly makes this series his own with the first issue, which I have mixed feelings about. It’s admirable that his has a specific idea of what this series should be and isn’t flailing around, looking for a direction. I’ll also give him credit for at least doing a transition issue, which explains most of the cast changes. Even if I’m not thrilled by a lot of the changes, I’ll admit that this isn’t a car crash like this month’s X-Factor issue. Bringing the cast back to Xavier’s does have a nostalgia appeal to it, and even if all of Loeb’s characterizations aren’t perfect, he’s able to make the cast seem likable enough. However, the new direction flies in the face of a lot of Nicieza’s run, and it often feels like Loeb’s just unnaturally inserting himself into the book. Giving Warpath a bo staff is a good example of this. Warpath is the team’s strong man who can lift buildings and punch bad guys into orbit. What does he get out of carrying around a wooden stick? It’s only there because Loeb apparently thought he’d look cool with it, or perhaps because Caliban was taking the role of strong guy, so Warpath had to be given something else to do. (At fifteen, I could see how awkward and arbitrary this was. I was convinced that the bo staff wouldn’t last, but a friend who was still new to comics didn’t understand my cynicism. Well, it turns out I was right, Guy-I-Haven’t-Seen-In-Ten-
Even though bringing the team back to the mansion might be a nice nod to the long-time readers, it’s an awkward fit with the previous issues of this series. Cable now claims that X-Force existed to train future X-Men, which just isn’t true. That was the original goal of the New Mutants, which was abandoned when the teens met a new mentor who disagreed with Xavier’s methods and molded them into X-Force. This new leader was of course Cable, which makes the inconsistency even more glaring. Bringing the team back to a school setting not only undermines the past several years of continuity, but it’s made instantly redundant by Generation X – Marvel’s new title about teenage mutants living in Xavier’s school. The specific schools might not be the same, but it’s virtually the same premise. Loeb makes this even more obvious by having the characters themselves question if they’re redundant now that Generation X has formed. Loeb introduces the problem, and then bizarrely resolves it by giving this title practically the same setup as Generation X. Aside from the commercial appeal of having X-Force hang out with the X-Men more often, I really have no idea why Marvel went in this direction.
I do agree that Generation X puts X-Force in an odd position since both titles are about teenage mutants, but making the books seem even more similar isn’t the way to go. Moving back to New Mutants’ original setting makes the cast look like incompetents sent back to school, or just junior X-Men taking up space in the real team’s house. They’re caught in-between being teenage trainees or real X-Men, which doesn’t work. In one scene, Cannonball is actually starstruck to even be speaking to the great Cyclops, which is absurd. He’s practically grown up around the X-Men by this point, he shouldn’t be stammering around any of them. I’m not sure if Nicieza knew what to do with X-Force after a second teen mutant book debuted either, but he at least made the team independent and occasionally emphasized how their approach differs from the X-Men. Now, the team’s back as a junior-league X-Men, which makes it an even more redundant part of a bloated line of titles.