Wednesday, November 26, 2008


Digging up the Past
Credits: Peter Milligan (writer), John Paul Leon (penciler), Klaus Janson (inker), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (lettering), Kevin Somers & Malibu’s Hues (colors)

Summary: In 1859 London, a woman named Rebecca mourns the loss of her son, Adam. She worries that her husband, scientist Nathanial Essex, is growing more distant. Essex appears in front of the Royal Society and discusses his views on evolution, and his belief that mankind will someday mutate into superior beings. He unveils a composite of human and animal corpses to illustrate his point, which scandalizes the society. Later, a man named Cootie Tremble at a pub offers to take him to a freak show. At the show, he sees humans who appear to be the mutants he predicted. When Essex asks to leave, he’s attacked by Cootie’s men, who call themselves the Marauders. Essex gives them money and dares them to join his cause of science. Weeks later, in the sewers underneath London, workers accidentally awaken Apocalypse inside his regeneration chamber. Apocalypse surveys London and declares that he will fulfill his destiny here. He flashes back to his youth as a slave in ancient Egypt. He has a vision of the god Set as his mutant powers emerge for the first time. Back in London, Apocalypse is attacked by the Marauders, who see him as another freak for their show. After he kills Cootie and one of his men, the Marauders pledge to serve him. Meanwhile, Phoenix suddenly emerges nude inside a church, while Cyclops appears in the sewers below. Inside Essex’s home, Rebecca is haunted by gruesome visions. She walks into Essex’s laboratory and discovers the body of their son inside a chamber. Distressed, she runs to his grave and digs it up, hoping that it isn’t true. Essex finds her, telling her that he’s experimenting on their son’s body to prevent other children from dying. Suddenly, Apocalypse, in his human guise of En Sabah Nur, appears. He tells Essex that he’s interested in his work and proposes a partnership.

Continuity Notes: Nathaniel Essex, as it’s already been established at this point, is Mr. Sinister. This is the first issue to place Sinister back in the 1800s, which doesn't exactly fit with previous issues that inferred that he was around for "centuries". Another one of Sinister’s aliases, Milbury, is referenced here as his estate is named “Milbury House”. His future group of mercenaries are also named the Marauders.

Review: This is the first part of the second Cyclops and Phoenix miniseries, which for some reason was deemed an appropriate place for Sinister’s origin story. Actually, since most of Sinister’s motivation is supposed to revolve around the pair, I can see the reasoning behind the decision, although it seems as if they’re being tacked on to the story. In the first issue, Milligan is clearly more interested in Sinister’s story, as Cyclops and Phoenix only receive a two-page unexplained cameo. I didn’t buy this series when it was first released because none of the newsstand dealers in my town sold it. This is the first time I can remember an X-related miniseries not being bought by any of my local retailers, which sadly foreshadows the disappearance of comics from newsstands. I decided to do full reviews of each issue since the story is fairly intricate and a decent amount of continuity is established.

This doesn’t read like any of the other X-titles from this era, as it’s a dense plot with an average of around six panels per page. It takes literally twice as long to read this as a Scott Lobdell comic from the same period. The dialogue is appropriately stuffy, which is certainly a change from the other X-books, which alternate between sarcastic, glib one-liners and highly emotional monologues. John Paul Leon’s art also bears no resemblance to the cartoony, exaggerated style that was common at the time. It’s heavy on the shadows and is occasionally stiff, but he does a great job of recreating nineteenth century England. Overall, the issue is a little hard to get into, but the story moves at a steady pace and Milligan is able to make Sinister engaging enough to follow throughout the story. It’s probably trying too hard to appear important and serious (it seems as if Marvel really wanted a Vertigo flavor to the mini), but it’s still an entertaining setup issue.


Chad said...

I think this is one of a handful of stories I enjoyed from the X-office in the mid-late '90s. I always liked it when writers treated the concept of mutants as an actual sci-fi scenario rather than just an allegory for oppressed minorities, which very few ever did until Grant Morrison came along, so I was thrilled at Sinister's origin as a Victorian scientist who predicted the rise of a new species of human beings.

It was also an extremely rare example of the X-office actually de-obscuring a character's history, which I'm sure made an impression.

rob said...

I only recently bought the whole mini and really enjoyed it. And I agree, especially in the early issues, Milligan seems far more interested in Sinister's story, which is great stuff. Scott and Jean feel shoehorned in. But overall it still works and is a pretty strong story compared to the rest of the line at the time. There's some disturbing elements, like Sinister's presentation to the scientists and his dug-up son that really work well with Leon's art.

Teebore said...

This definitely was difficult to get into, being such a jarring transition from other X-books at the time, but once I got into it, I ate it up. I loved this examination of Sinister's backstory, the setting, his connection to Apocalypse, etc.

Also agree that for the most part, Cyclops and Phoenix are fairly superfluous...they could have just made this an origin of Sinister mini, but I guess they felt they needed the commercial hook of some X-Men.

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