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.
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.