Thursday, October 30, 2008

X-MEN UNLIMITED #10 – March 1996

Need To Know

Credits: Mark Waid (writer), Frank Toscano & Nick Gnazzo (pencilers), Art Thibert (inker), Matt Webb & Malibu (colors), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (lettering)

Summary: The Dark Beast, using chemicals to alter his appearance, travels to the Beast’s hometown to learn about his past. He speaks to his elementary school principal, his high school girlfriend, and his priest. Throughout the course of the conversations, he learns about Hank McCoy’s childhood curiosity and the incident that gave him blue fur. After speaking to his acquaintances, the Dark Beast kills them and anyone else in the area. When Dark Beast later visits Hank McCoy’s parents on their farm, he finds that he can’t bring himself to kill them. Meanwhile, the Beast continues to alienate himself from his fellow X-Men while studying the Legacy Virus. He realizes that his computer system has been hacked, and traces the perpetrator to the abandoned headquarters of the Brand Corporation. The Beast enters and sees a holographic display of a virus matrix he was trying to unlock. He’s suddenly encased in a restraining device and greeted by the Dark Beast. Dark Beast explains that he’s going to hide from Mr. Sinister in plain sight by posing as the Beast. Beast breaks free and fights back. When he learns that the Dark Beast murdered his childhood acquaintances, he’s ready to kill him. Dark Beast taunts that if he kills him, he’ll never learn where he came from. Beast hesitates, which enables Dark Beast to break free. He knocks the Beast out and chains him up. He then lays bricks and creates a wall to conceal his prisoner.

Continuity Notes: Someone must’ve realized how ridiculous X-Men #49 was, because they’re now backtracking. Dark Beast’s inner monologue in this issue reads, “As a transplant to this timeline, I have long known that this world must boast its own Hank. Until now, I have been too consumed with other matters to give McCoy much thought.” This isn’t very consistent with the previous scene that showed that he was shocked to discover that he had a counterpart here, and his dialogue chastising himself for being an idiot.

Some rationale is given for Dark Beast’s fear of being discovered. He claims that he served a “rancorous subservience to Mr. Sinister” in the Age of Apocalypse reality and that he’s trying to avoid that here. Since Sinister left Apocalypse at the start of the AoA storyline, we didn’t see a lot of interaction between him and Dark Beast. It seems odd that a character as physically powerful and proudly evil as Dark Beast could be a stooge for anyone, but that’s the explanation they’re going with.

Iceman appears in this issue, easily able to switch between his human and ice forms. Since his injury in X-Men #50 plays a large role in Uncanny X-Men #331, the issue that explicitly takes place after this one, that means that the Beast in X-Men #50 was secretly the Dark Beast. I don’t think Lobdell had that in mind when writing that issue, but it’s the only way for the continuity to work.

The high school yearbook Dark Beast is using to investigate Hank McCoy has a cover date from the 1960s. Even in 1996, that would put the Beast in his mid-40s, so that has to be dismissed as a mistake. Later on, Beast’s high school girlfriend is described as a thirty-year-old female, which naturally puts Beast in the same age range. I’ll again point out how strange it is that Marvel seems okay with the original teenage X-Men growing up, but Spider-Man graduating high school was apparently the worst mistake ever made.

Review: I really liked this issue when it was first released, and it still holds up today if you’re willing to overlook some terrible artwork. This is a strong story that does tie into the ongoing storylines in the other titles, so it’s exactly what X-Men Unlimited was originally supposed to do. Waid uses the issue as a character study on the Beast, examining how his insatiable curiosity could be twisted in dark ways on another world. The dialogue is witty and sharp, and characters feel real in a way most of the other writers at this time can’t pull off. Dark Beast’s belief that someone always has to die is played for an appropriate dramatic effect, especially in the scene with Beast’s parents. The entire story has been building up to the Dark Beast killing them, and the way Waid keeps putting if off by giving him a giant log or an axe for props is pretty clever. Dark Beast’s inability to kill his parents, even on another world, is interesting and adds at least a little depth to a one-dimensionally evil character.

The scenes from Hank McCoy’s childhood are also fun, and it helps that they’re grounded in an everyday reality that the other X-books continue to move away from. I’m not sure if Frank Toscano or Nick Gnazzo drew the flashbacks, but they have a nice, cartoony charm to them that reminds me of Tom Grummett’s work. The majority of the issue is unfortunately drawn by a generic-looking Image clone. Like Luke Ross’ previous fill-ins, he’s trying to combine a little bit of manga with the early ‘90s look, and results are extremely unattractive. The figures are poorly constructed, the faces look bizarre, and there are a million little lines over everything. It drags down an otherwise fine comic.


Jeff said...

Poor Mark Waid. He's a talented writer and his upcoming run has some decent issues, but he's stuck with Onslaught (and actually is the only writer who makes him work as we'll see in X-Men #53.)Apparently he and Lobdell had a very frosty relationship so he left. I wish it had been the reverse, although who nows how much of this era is just dictated by the editors anyway.

sixhoursoflucy said...

I actually quite relieved you liked this issue. It was one of my favorites as a kid, and I still love much of the art (although the Groundskeeper Willie character violated the context of X-Men reality a bit, IMO). I was worried you might convince me to hate it.

rob said...

The art is atrocious. And I thought McCoy killing everyone he encounters was a little dumb. But the story has potential, and as you note, consequences for the main books. The scenes where McCoy can't bring himself to kill Hank's parents verge on excellent. But for me it was a bit too much of a mixed bag, and kicks off a run by Mark Waid that never got off the ground (though that's not necessarily his fault).

Chad said...

I loved this issue as a kid too. It came out roughly around the same time that I was starting to awaken to the potential of the medium, and that there was more to read than just mainstream superhero comics. Seeing a more mature tone emerge in a story involving not only one of my favorite superhero franchises but one of my favorite characters (er, Beast, not Dark Beast) made an impression on me.

It's also striking how this issue is entirely a character-driven story at a time when all the X-books are solely plot- or event-driven, which really does make it a shame that Mark Waid didn't get to have much of an influence at all. But we are entering that era where there are quite a few blown creative opportunities for the franchise.

percy blakeney said...

Why does dark Beast keep killing everybody from Hank's past? Doing research to go undercover makes sense -making a spectacle of yourself just draws attention. the whole thing's ridiculous.

Also in the Battle of the Beasts how does Hank get taken out with a pipe? This world's Hank, AFAIK, should still be very, very strong having been mutated by Infectia back in his X Factor days such that he's a pretty heavy hitter (able to shake a whole street with a shockwave just by thumping the ground as I recall). Whether the other Beast is or not a pipe should not be making much of a difference (mind you Hank was knocked unconscious by being thrown over Bishop's shoulder a few issues earlier which doesn't bode well for consistent portrayals of power! Back in one of the early Bishop appearances was another example of this where I remember Rogue being knocked over when she ran into the supposedly normal human level strength Bishop. Rogue who according to the OHOTMU could lift 50 tons and can level buildings should break every bone in Bishop's body if she accidentally runs into him... . This says it all really. This is an era in which things are determined by how many 'badass' poses a character makes than any consistent portrayal of their abilities or capabilities. It's a failure to respect what made Marvel distinctive and special in the first place).

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