A Sinister Heart
Credits: J. M. DeMatteis & Ralph Macchio (writers), Terry Dodson & John Paul Leon (pencilers), Jon Holdredge & Shawn Martinborough (inkers), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (lettering), Mike Thomas (colors)
An elderly woman named Faye Livingstone is kidnapped from her nursing home. When Mr. Sinister, disguised as Nathaniel Essex, arrives for his annual visit, he finds Genesis in Faye’s room. When Sinister threatens him, Genesis unveils Faye, who has been genetically manipulated to look sixty years younger. Meanwhile, Phoenix and Beast are vacationing at his cabin in the Catskills. His home is suddenly invaded by the Dark Riders, who grab Phoenix and teleport away. Beast takes the Blackbird and chases the psychic trail Phoenix left for him to follow. Phoenix awakens inside a decaying Hollywood mansion and watches Genesis confront Sinister. Genesis claims that he’s going to do what his idol, Apocalypse, never could do and destroy Sinister by breaking him one piece at a time. Sinister examines Faye, who is dreaming of the past. She remembers meeting Nathaniel Essex at a Hollywood party in the 1930s. She thought they were in love, but soon discovered that Essex was using her mutant genetic material for his experiments. After he finished using her, Essex finally opened the door of his mansion and allowed her to leave. Genesis wants to use Phoenix’s psychic powers to create a mind-link between Faye and Sinister, which will prove that he actually did love her. Beast breaks through Sinister’s defenses and convinces Phoenix to go along with Genesis’ plan. Using Phoenix’s power, Sinister and Faye have a final dance inside their minds. Faye tells Sinister that she knows that he truly did love her and has been looking for a way to make amends. In reality, the genetic manipulation wears off, as Faye succumbs to cancer. Sinister coldly tells Beast to take the woman’s corpse and go away. Genesis is impressed that Sinister never broke his icy façade and decides to leave. Beast looks into Sinister’s eyes, and knows that he is hiding his grief.
This is the first story to actually show Mr. Sinister as Nathaniel Essex in the past. He still hasn’t been given a full origin yet, but we now know that he once worked for Apocalypse and was active at least by the 1930s.
This is better than your typical annual story. It doesn’t advance any of the ongoing storylines and isn’t written by the series’ regular writer, but it does reveal information about one of the many mystery characters from the era while also telling an entertaining story. The plot also gives Genesis his first interesting scheme ever, as he plans on exposing Sinister’s emotional weakness, rather than simply attacking him physically. Going back to the occasional episode of G. I. Joe that would show a member of Cobra in a sympathetic light, I’ve had a soft spot for stories that try to humanize villains since I was a small kid. The way the story is constructed, never allowing Sinister to admit to his true feelings to himself but making them obvious to the audience, is clever. As if the idea of Sinister keeping this woman captive and experimenting on her wasn’t dark enough, the story also infers that he might’ve sexually assaulted her in his attempts to create the perfect genetic offspring. The writers thankfully keep this element extremely vague, so we still get a sense of how heartless Sinister can be without totally undermining the story’s ending. The idea that Beast can look into Sinister’s eyes and sense his loss is a little much (especially when you consider that he has no pupils), but the scripting of the scene pulls the idea off. Beast’s theory that Sinister is mourning not just Faye’s death, but the idea that he’s gone too far and can never turn back is also handled well.
The art alternates between Terry Dodson and John Paul Leon, two skilled artists who couldn’t be more different. Leon is used mainly for Faye’s flashback scenes, so even if the change in art styles is jarring, at least another narrative is being told. However, he does end up drawing a few pages set in the present, which makes his dark, scratchy style even more out of place with Dodson’s clean look. Thankfully, this is only for a few pages, so it’s not as distracting as it would’ve been if the artists had just been assigned random pages.
Credits: Scott Lobdell w/Matt Idelson (writers), Ramon Bernardo (penciler), P. Craig Russell (inker), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (lettering), Mike Rockwitz (colors)
Brian Braddock reads a letter from his sister, Psylocke. She describes her growing feelings for Archangel and her suspicion that she’s falling in love with him. She writes about their trip to the Westchester County Fair, where they discussed their relationship and the forces that drove them together. Psylocke tells Archangel that his willingness to help her through her identity issues made her realize how much he truly cared about her.
I distinctly remember hating this backup story, mainly for the artwork. I’m not quite sure now why I hated the art so much, since most of it looks fine, even though some of the faces are a little ugly and Archangel and Brian Braddock look too much alike. I guess this has nothing to do with Bernardo’s actual drawing ability, but he also gives Archangel a hideous hairstyle that looks like the mullet Adam Curry sported in the late ‘80s. It’s strange that Marvel was still so hung up on giving their male characters perfectly styled long hair at this point, since that look had been out of fashion for years. This is a sixteen page backup story designed to sell the Archangel/Psylocke romance, which is probably something that should’ve already been done in the main book by this point. Their relationship always seemed forced to me, mainly because Archangel went from hanging around Psylocke for two issues to suddenly having some deep spiritual bond with her. I think this story is meant to address that problem, since it has the characters themselves question why they fell for each other so quickly. The story actually does a fair job of justifying the relationship, by casting them as two lonely individuals who tried to lessen their own pain by reaching out to each other. Psylocke decides that if you find something good in life, you should just go with it, so now they’re deep into a relationship. There’s certainly an element of cheese there, but it’s a reasonable enough justification that at least tries to make the relationship stay true to the characters. It goes on way too long, though, and some of the dialogue is rather schmaltzy.