Thursday, October 16, 2008

X-MEN #48 – January 1996

Five Card Studs

Credits: Scott Lobdell (writer), Luke Ross (penciler), Andy Lanning (inker), Steve Buccellato & Electric Crayon (colors), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (lettering)


Cannonball joins the X-Men for a poker match, while Bishop tries to explain his memories of the Age of Apocalypse timeline to Cyclops and Phoenix. His waitress at the restaurant is Pam, the same woman Bishop recognized months earlier. The Dark Beast watches their conversation in his secret headquarters. Sugar Man enters, demanding that the Dark Beast honor his agreement and share the information he has on Bishop. The Dark Beast says that he’s confirming that this reality’s Bishop is the same mutant who convinced the X-Men to alter the time stream in their world. They’re afraid that Sinister might gain access to Bishop’s memories. Meanwhile, it becomes obvious to the X-Men that Cannonball suckered them by pretending to be a poker novice. Gambit warns him against showing all of his cards at once. When Gambit puts his cards down, he holds the last one and charges it up to destroy the poker table. Cannonball accuses him of cheating, but Storm picks up the remains of his final card and sees that it was an Ace.

Continuity Notes

The Dark Beast is now being referred to as McCoy. Marvel was serious about this becoming his official name, since they even asked readers in a letters page to start calling him McCoy. It didn’t stick around, since I’m pretty sure he’s referred to as Dark Beast whenever he’s used today.

This issue establishes that Sugar Man and Dark Beast are afraid of Mr. Sinister, although I’m not sure why. It’s interesting that Cable #26 implied that Sinister was afraid of Sugar Man. Dark Beast reveals that he’s created some creature out of brain tissue that can filter “every thought, every image from all my constructs” and transmit the thought waves into digital data. I’m not sure why it’s brought up in this issue, but it might’ve been done to explain how Dark Beast would’ve been able to disguise Fatale as a woman Bishop recognizes (which is revealed next issue).

Dark Beast attempts to explain how the Bishop of this timeline remembers the Age of Apocalypse. Because he was already temporally displaced, he has no counterpart in this reality. He re-accessed his original body when the timeline was fixed because “technically, nothing actually happened to him in the first place”. This still makes no sense to me. I’ll buy that Bishop is surrounded by “chronal energy” that allowed him to stick around as reality rewrote itself. However, the Bishop that lived through the AoA faded away once Legion was killed. “Our” Bishop never lived through the AoA, so why would he have memories of it? Why exactly would the consciousness of the Bishop who faded away end up inside the Bishop who didn’t live through the AoA?

When Gambit tells Cannonball that the ability to distract can be more important than bluffing in poker, Beast has a revelation about the Legacy Virus. He declares that he’s not going to approach the problem the way Stryfe expected him to. This is treated as if it’s a major event, but of course nothing comes of it.

A recuperating Psylocke tries to comfort Xavier in a brief scene. The narration says that Xavier can’t feel anything, presumably because he’s so deeply hurt by his failure with Sabretooth. This could be considered an Onslaught hint, but I’m not sure if Marvel had determined his identity yet. Xavier speculates that Sabretooth didn't kill Psylocke because he wanted to send a message. If this was meant to be a clue towards an upcoming storyline, nothing came of it either.


This is another no-action downtime issue, although this one is slightly more concerned with touching base on various subplots than on character interaction. None of it is particularly interesting, since it mainly consists of characters reiterating things we already know. The only new info here is the revelation that Dark Beast and Sugar Man have been sharing data with each other, and they’re afraid that Sinister might learn about the Age of Apocalypse. Aside from the fact that we don’t know why they care so much about keeping the AoA a secret from Sinister, watching the characters discuss how they’ve been able to hide behind-the-scenes for two decades until now is just annoying. The poker match has a few decent character moments, as Cannonball finally does something besides screw up (although the ignorant bumpkin act Lobdell has him put on in the opening pages is ridiculous). Lobdell uses the game to make a statement about Gambit’s character, although I’m not quite sure what it’s supposed to be. It’s obvious that Gambit’s refusal to show all of his cards at once parallels his mysterious nature, but his decision to just end the game even though he had a winning hand doesn’t make any sense. What point does that make? It seems like Lobdell just wanted a big finish for the poker story, and having Gambit charge a card and blow things up was the most obvious way to go. The fill-in art in this issue is handled by Luke Ross, who’s trying to draw in the big-eyed manga style, but with a ton of pointless, thin lines scribbled over everything. Some of the faces are so ugly, it’s distracting. At this point, he definitely wasn’t the best choice for an issue that mainly consists of conversation scenes.


Jeff said...

Sugar Man, Dark Beast, Fatale as a waitress and a lot of focus on Bishop, who hadn't even been in adjectiveless X-Men that much up to this point. That is a LOT of bad 90s characters. This and issue 49 are two of my least favorite X-issues ever. The art is awful. I wasn't reading Uncanny when the waitress subplot started so I had no idea what that was about. This issue is AWFUL, I even hated it as a kid.

rob said...

The waitress subplot never had a start. Pam served Bishop a drink in Uncanny#299 and was never seen again until these two issues. One of the most slapped-together stories of the era.

Speaking of, you mention so many dropped plots in this issue alone, symptomatic of the era. I can remember another - Iceman, who had an overarching plot about his powers at this point, asking Storm for help in controlling them. This is literally never touched on again.

I have always hated Sugar Man and Dark Beast hiding for two decades. Next issue brings the ultimate stupidity - that McCoy has never seen our Beast until XM#49. Even though it's evident from all his appearances that he's been following the activity of Sinister and the X-Men. All of this taken into account, the whole era for the books is so hastily put together, and none of this even touches on the Onslaught debacle.

Chad said...

Oh, I remember that issue, and even then I was ticked off by Dark Beast's retroactive involvement with the Morlocks (although I am mollified by your pointing out that the line was that Dark Beast experimented on the Morlocks, but I don't think this was made clear in any of the stories at the time).

And I figure Lobdell's point is that Gambit was willing to let Cannonball believe he was a cheater or a sore loser rather than ruin Cannonball's moment of glory before the others. If I'm right "Gambit isn't selfish!" seems like a dull character moment to build an entire issue around.

Matt said...

Wow, I recall liking this issue when it came out. But then, I've always been a sucker for "revelations" and retcons. To me, they made the universe seem richer and more exciting. Beast deciding to approach the Legacy Virus differently, Bishop recognizing the waitress, Dark Beast and Sugar Man hiding out for 20 years... This was why I read X-comics! Of course, I was a little miffed when most of these were never touched upon again, but I was always ready and willing to wait (for years, even), and give the X-books the benefit of the doubt that they would someday resolve these things.

I think I was under the mistaken impression that they still had it all planned out. I didn't yet realize that unlike Chris Claremont, who would cultivate stories for years with an actual resolution in mind, Lobdell, Harras, etc., were just making it up as they went along. It looks sloppy in retrospect, but at the time I was buying into it fully.

Nonetheless, I can't bring myself to hate these stories too much. I have way too many fond memories of the Bob Harras era (I would take him back as EiC in a hearbeat over Quesada), and even if the revelations didn't lead to satisfying conclusions down the line, I was at least intrigued and excited enough to keep reading every month! No X-Comics (and few mainstream comics in general) have that effect on me any more...

Matt said...

Also, I recall Dark Beast was referred to as "McCoy" in Chris Claremont's Xavier-centric Excalibur title a few years back. But I think that in the more recent "Endangered Species" storyline, he was Dark Beast once more.

wwk5d said...

The art looked bad then, and still does. I hated the Dark Beast/Sugar Man retcons then, and still do. I always saw the Gambit point as no matter how good Remy has it, he will always (for whatever reason) screw things up in the end, even on purpose. Or maybe he was trying to teach Sam a lesson, which just isn't all the clear at this point. And lord only knows what the waitress subplot was supposed to be when she was introduced waaaay back in Uncanny #299.

In hindsight, for me anyway, it seems like the whole post-AOA era was when the titles really begin to go downhill (story wise, anyway), and get worse once Onslaught begins. The whole post-AOA, pre-Operation Zero Tolerance period was just one big mess.

Anonymous said...

It's amazing how quickly Cannonball went from self-confident leader of the X-Force to complete dork again. I always thought the highlight of Niceza's post Leifeld run on X-Force was the emergence of Cannonball as a man and leader and unfortunately, he's returned to bumpkin moron within a few issues post AoA. Perhaps that's one of the reasons Fabe left so abruptly...

Even if he does inexplicably defeat Gladiator in UXM.

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