Heaven Can Wait
Credits: Fabian Nicieza (writer), Paul Smith (penciler), Matt Ryan (inker), Kevin Somers & Digital Chameleon (colors), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (lettering)
Exodus addresses the Acolytes, telling them that the new mutant they’ve discovered in space is a gift from fate. When Milan expresses doubt, Exodus punishes him by having him keep vigil over the lifeless mutant’s containment unit. When Milan uses his powers to connect his mind with the Avalon space station’s medical equipment, he’s overtaken with images of the Age of Apocalypse. Soon, his entire body is consumed with energy and he evaporates. Fellow Acolyte Rusty is soon asked to check on Milan. When he touches the containment unit of the mystery mutant, Rusty’s hand begins to evaporate. Like Milan, he’s quickly consumed. Holocaust emerges from the containment unit, and is promptly attacked by Exodus. Still believing that Exodus is an X-Man, Holocaust eagerly fights back. In the course of their battle, their space station begins to fall apart. Amelia Voght teleports to the X-Men’s home for help, and accidentally runs into Cyclops and Phoenix’s car while still in her mist form. She teleports the duo to Avalon, only to have Colossus warn them that Avalon is about to be destroyed. Meanwhile, in Florida, Rogue begins to take on Gambit’s physical appearance and attempts to steal an artifact from a museum. Iceman arrives to stop her.
I assume the square of gray coloring on the cover is some type of production error.
Rogue wasn’t looking or behaving like Gambit in X-Men Prime. His personality traits should have faded away not long after they kissed, anyway (just as kissing Rogue shouldn’t have harmed Gambit enough to put him into a coma). I don’t remember if these are intentional mysteries, or if the X-office just forgot how Rogue’s powers work.
The Statement of Ownership lists average sales for the year at 614,075 with the most recent issue selling 521,700. So the series either had a few exceptionally high-selling issues that drove the average way up, or it was bleeding readers throughout the year. Since the title was renamed and renumbered during the AoA, I don’t think those sales are included.
This is the beginning of Nicieza’s final X-Men storyline, concluding his three-year run on the title. The insertion of the AoA characters into the mainstream reality bombed for the most part, but Nicieza’s able to use Holocaust’s arrival as the impetus for a new storyline, instead of pointless retconning. The Acolytes have mostly turned into deadweight at this point, so bringing in a new character to tear through them isn’t a bad idea. It helps to build Holocaust as a villain in a way that doesn’t seem as cheap as Onslaught’s debut in this month’s Uncanny. I remember being surprised at Rusty’s death, since he had been around for almost ten years at this point, but Nicieza does at least reform his characterization before he’s killed off. This was years before writers were allowed to go through every obscure mutant and murder them for shock value, so his death scene did have some impact at the time. Paul Smith shows up as guest artist and delivers a very nice-looking issue. I seem to recall a Wizard article about Smith from around this time, which mentioned his fill-in work here as a specific move on his part to put his name back out there and attract new fans. Bob Harras seemed to be genuinely excited to have him back on the X-books. I still hadn’t seen his original run at this point, and didn’t see what the big deal was. He’s another artist whose worked seemed too soft and clean for my early teenage tastes. I look at this issue now and realize that I was pretty dumb. Smith’s work really is the opposite of the “extreme” look that was still going around during this era, so I wonder what the rest of the audience thought about this issue.