Friday, August 8, 2008

X-MEN PRIME – July 1995

Racing the Night

Credits: Scott Lobdell & Fabian Nicieza (writers), Bryan Hitch, Jeff Matsuda, Gary Frank, Mike McKone, Terry Dodson, Ben Herrera, & Paul Pelletier (pencilers), Milgom/Russell/Smith/Farmer/McKenna/Palmer/Townsend/Collazo (inkers), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (lettering), Steve Buccellato & Electric Crayon (colors)


Summary

Jean Grey tries to speak to Wolverine in the woods outside the mansion, but he refuses to go inside until Sabretooth is gone. Xavier attempts to counsel Bishop, who still has flashes of memories of the Age of Apocalypse. Later, while Cyclops and Beast are preparing food for the comatose Gambit, a disoriented Bishop briefly attacks them before coming to his senses. Meanwhile, reporter Trish Tilby goes on air and reveals the existence of the Legacy Virus to the public. She also reveals that the virus has spread to at least one human. While watching the broadcast, Xavier and Psylocke suddenly feel a rush of psychic energy, indicating X-Man’s arrival in this reality. Elsewhere, a young mutant looking for the X-Men named Dennis Hogan stops at a bar while on his way to Salem Center. When news of the Legacy Virus comes on the television screen, he runs away in a panic. The suspicious bar patrons follow him.

In Wyoming, X-Factor and Val Cooper chase down Mystique. She’s attacked by a shadowy figure, which helps the team apprehend her. Forge speculates that whoever attacked Mystique wasn’t trying to kill her, but make a statement instead. Suddenly, Havok’s powers go haywire and explode, destroying the nearby dam. In Genosha, Excalibur tries to get information from the first Mutate, but he abruptly explodes. The Sugar Man watches the events on a monitor and declares that no one will learn the secrets of Genosha. Inside X-Force’s new headquarters, a holographic image of Arcade appears. He chastises the team for taking his home and sets a timer to blow it up. Warpath risks his life to save Sunspot from the explosion, surprising Siryn, who still doesn’t trust him. Cyclops appears with a message for Cable.

In Florida, Iceman and Rogue are partying at a bar when news of the Legacy Virus appears on the television. Inside the Morlock Tunnels, a homeless man is murdered by Marrow. She performs the Morlock’s Ceremony of Light, and to her surprise the Dark Beast appears. She tells him that there are more of his children who are tired of hiding. In England, Emplate visits a young woman in a wheelchair named Gayle Edgerton. He tells her that they have a mutual friend, Chamber. Outside of Avalon, the Acolytes discover a giant chunk of ice with a body inside.

As the bar patrons chase down Dennis, he loses his concentration and lets his mutant reptilian form show. Disgusted by his appearance, and fearful that he’s spreading the Legacy Virus, they begin to beat him mercilessly. Xavier senses his pain, and has Storm fly him to the location as the X-Men follow. Xavier sends his mind out of his body to connect with Dennis, feeling every blow he receives. As Dennis dies, he realizes that he’s too late. Dennis’ attackers flee from the scene, and the X-Men arrive a few minutes later to find his body. A despondent Xavier tells the team that they have to fight for a better future.


Gimmicks

This issue has a wraparound foil acetate cover, and is 48 pages without any interior ads (there are in-house ads on the inside covers, though). The overlay cover resembles the gimmick used for the painted Marvels series, bringing the price up to a whopping $4.95. This format is almost identical to the Alpha and Omega specials, which cost a dollar less.


Continuity Notes

This story picks up two weeks after the events of the “Legion Quest” storyline. Gambit has been in a coma ever since kissing Rogue, which seems excessive since she used to kiss villains all the time in order to steal their powers, and they never ended up in comas.


The shadowy figure who attacks Mystique is supposed to be Onslaught, making his first of many meaningless cameos. I vaguely remember that the figure was retconned into being someone else (after Marvel figured out who Onslaught actually was), but it was supposed to be him at this point.


Future Cable supporting cast member Blaquesmith makes a brief cameo for the first time, witnessing X-Man’s arrival through a video screen. Marrow (in her original ugly balding look) makes her first full appearance, after making a cameo as a child in Cable #15. According to the narrative captions, over twenty years have passed for her since then. This is the first issue to hint at the idea that the Dark Beast created the Morlocks, which doesn’t seem to fit with their initial appearances. Later on in the issue, Douglock refers to a Mutate as a Morlock, which is a mistake (how dare Marvel mix up their subcategories of mutants?!?).


How exactly Bishop still has memories of the AoA doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. Since the older Bishop stopped Legion from killing Xavier, the AoA never happened. That means that the Bishop who lived through the AoA should’ve disappeared with everything else. “Our” Bishop never actually experienced that timeline.


Review

This is a five-dollar comic book. That blows my mind to this day. Marvel charged five dollars for this thing. Considering the fact that Marvel was still only charging $1.50 for its regular line of titles less than a year before this comic was released, it’s even more astounding. I was still in my early teens, struggling financially to keep up with the expanding X-line when this issue came out. I refused to pay the full cover price for it, and rationalized my purchase by combining my order for this book with over a dozen titles in order to get an overall discount from East Coast Comics. I would occasionally do this when I knew there were too many books coming out for me to afford, even though I knew I ran the risk of ECC running out of stock (I missed out on that Alan Moore Spawn miniseries that way; a hole in my collection that honestly used to bother me). The only real story in this issue is the death of Dennis Hogan, as the rest of the issue consists of brief set-ups for upcoming storylines in the various titles. This reinforces the “family” feel amongst the titles, an illusion that became harder and harder to maintain as the line continued to bloat. Marvel could’ve used this as an opportunity to promote the entire line and bring in any curious new readers by releasing this issue as a low-price special, but why bother? The X-books were already on top of the food chain, and if the fans were willing to pay $5 to see the return of the “real” X-Men, why not take their money from them? It’s not hard to see how this type of thinking lead the already declining comics industry to eventually bust.


Most of the previews for the upcoming storylines are so brief they can’t generate any real interest. A two-page subplot scene in the middle of a normal issue is a nice way to build suspense for an upcoming storyline, but a myriad of them pasted together with conflicting art styles just feels like a mess. Ben Herrera’s art should not be bumping up against Gary Frank’s under any reasonable circumstance. Probably the most significant of the cutaway scenes is the X-Force section, which casually reintroduces Sunspot to the team and destroys their new headquarters. Not only is it rushed and suspense-less, but it undermines the work Nicieza was setting up in the previous issues of that series. The editorial staff is in such a hurry to get X-Force out of their headquarters, they just go for the quickest, most obvious thing they could do, even if it doesn’t make a lot of sense (surely the team checked to see if the psychopath Arcade left any explosives lying around before taking over his headquarters). The abrupt shift in direction is annoying, and it’s the type of thing that eventually drove me away from X-completism.


The strongest part of the issue is the X-Men section drawn by Bryan Hitch. It introduces a suitable amount of mystery about what happened to some of the characters since we last saw them without going overboard (unfortunately, the more we learn about the mysteries, the lamer they become). The story of Dennis Hogan grounds the book in a grim reality, as the heroes arrive too late to save the innocent mutant. He’s not murdered by supervillains or giant robots, or even a mob with pitchforks and torches. It’s a group of people his own age, using their own fists and a baseball bat to beat him until he can’t move. It was pretty disturbing to me when I first read it, and it’s made even more unsettling given real life events that have happened since this comic was published. Allowing Xavier to feel every broken bone Dennis receives heightens the impact, and Lobdell’s narration helps to convey the gruesomeness of the attack. Unfortunately, he goes overboard with Xavier’s response, which has him give a blindingly obvious speech about hatred and the fear of those who are different killing the boy. The scene is already dramatic enough; it needs subtlety more than a theatrical speech.


If I’m going to nitpick this story, I’ll also point out that the premise is a little shoddy. Why is this kid following rumors and searching out the X-Men in the first place? Isn’t it actually the X-Men’s job to search out and find mutants? Doesn’t Xavier have an elaborate computer system he uses to find mutants? The story brings up one of the flaws in the X-Men’s premise that’s usually glossed over. Shouldn’t Xavier be using Cerebro on a regular basis to find new mutants? Unless there’s something wrong with it, the X-Men should theoretically never be surprised when the latest mystery mutant comes on the scene. Even after the teenage cast of Generation X was introduced, the idea of the X-Men searching out new mutants continued to be ignored. Not only did the X-Men fail to rescue Dennis, they didn’t even fulfill their basic mission statement and search him out when his powers surfaced. It’s a flaw that the story could’ve easily covered with a few lines of dialogue, too. Xavier could’ve offered him a place in the school earlier, and now Dennis is traveling to Salem Center to take him up on the offer. (The idea that there are rumors that the X-Men live around Salem Center also bothered me when I first read this, but thinking about it now I can see it working. Considering the number of mutants that have passed through the school over the years, it does make sense that word would’ve spread outside of their immediate family and friends.) Despite my gripes, this section of the issue hits the right emotional notes and at least works as an X-Men story. The rest of the comic is choppy and inconsistent, and even adjusting for inflation, there’s still no way it’s worth five dollars.

3 comments:

Arvin Bautista said...

wasn't cerebro destroyed during the phalanx attack?

rob said...

I think Cerebro just magically reappears in these stories, ignoring the Phalanx bit. What you note is interesting; consider Kitty and Dazzler's first appearance, when Xavier and the Hellfire Club are immediately aware of two new mutants. As the line bloated and more mutants were introduced each year, this element was lost.

I've never been a fan of this one-shot, and it has to do with the deluge of subplot pages, of different artistic qualities. I recently reread this and just read the X-Men/Dennis story, and it does stand up as a strong story on it's own. The brutality of the humans' hatred should be the core of the X-franchise, and stories like this can be effective.

As a Canadian, I remember having to pay something ridiculous for this, and begging my dad for a few extra dollars. Also, I think Mystique's attacker goes on to become the Hound from X-Factor, but I'm hazy on that story.

adam-0oo said...

I actually wasn't aware it used to be a big deal when a new mutant appeared. Since I have been reading, there have always been loads of them, just appearing at random. Like, technically, shouldn't the X-Men know where all of the bad guy mutants are then? I can imagine some of them having Anti-Cerebro tech, but all of them?

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