Monday, November 24, 2008

UNCANNY X-MEN #332 – May 1996

The Road to Casablanca
Credits: Scott Lobdell (writer), Joe Madureira (penciler), Tim Townsend (inker), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (lettering), Team Bucce (colors)

Summary: Professor Xavier meets with Zoe Culloden in her Moroccan office. He wants to know about Wolverine’s altered condition, but she refuses to speak to him because of Landau, Luckman, & Lake’s privacy policy. He allows her to mentally carry out a scenario where she kills him in order to protect L,L,&L’s secrets. She’s shocked to learn that the events were in her head, and that Xavier is using his power to prevent her from moving. He demands that she tell him what happened to Wolverine. Outside the office, Phoenix telepathically locates Wolverine. She leaves with Cyclops, Iceman, and Cannonball to find him. In the desert, Wolverine finds a castle. He steps on a trap door and falls a mile underground. There, he’s greeted by Ozymandias. Ozymandias has spent centuries alone, creating stone representations of his visions. He’s shocked to see Wolverine’s appearance, and wonders what mankind has evolved into. The X-Men arrive and attack Ozymandias when they overhear him threatening to “tear the answers” from Wolverine’s skull. Ozymandias creates animated stone statues and sends them after the team. While riding on the back of Iceman’s ice-slide, Cyclops is knocked off and falls down a deep chasm. Ozymandias grabs Wolverine, as a stone recreation of Magneto chokes Phoenix.

Continuity Notes: This is the first appearance of Ozymandias, who is yet another mysterious character with ties to Apocalypse. He’s named after the poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley, which contains the famous line comic writers love, “Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair”. Ozymandias makes a number of cryptic statements in this issue alone. He claims that he was a king before Apocalypse imprisoned him. He now “sets his blind eyes…his stone hands” to fending off madness by creating statues. Phoenix wonders if he’s an early mutant and Apocalypse didn’t want the competition, or if he’s a re-engineered human like Mr. Sinister (the Further Adventures of Cyclops and Phoenix miniseries that gave him an origin was about to be released). In this issue, he’s presented as a victim of Apocalypse who fears his eventual resurrection, but I think he’s later portrayed as Apocalypse’s faithful biographer.

All of the statues created by Ozymandias resemble established X-characters, although Phoenix claims that she doesn’t recognize one of them. The statue is a male with an average build and medium-length hair parted in the middle. The art isn’t very clear, but it eventually occurred to me that this is supposed to be X-Man.

Xavier reveals to Zoe that he's aware of Landau, Luckman, and Lake's operations, which shocks her. According to him, L,L,&L have twenty-six offices.

Production Note: More nineteen page fun.

“Huh?” Moment: Ozymandias refers to etchings he’s made to represent recent events, like Avalon falling to Earth and Xavier’s fight with X-Man, but the drawings he’s referring to look like random lines that barely form any type of coherent image. I wonder if there was supposed to be some sort of computer effect in their place that wasn’t properly pulled off. The idea that X-Man pulled Xavier from the Astral Plane into reality is now presented as something of a big deal, but it certainly didn’t come across that way in the actual story.

Review: Well, the X-Men track down Roverine while another new mysterious villain is introduced. This isn’t exactly a highpoint of the era. Rereading it, this isn’t as bad as I remembered, since it actually tells a decent amount of story in nineteen pages, works in some action, and has Madureira’s typically strong artwork. It’s the connection to the inane “Wolverine as a dog” storyline, and the knowledge that Ozymandias turns out to be a dud, that makes the issue initially seem to be worse than it really is. Ozymandias’ design and powers actually don’t bother me; it’s the unimaginative origin and lack of personality that kills him. As the months go on, he just becomes that stone guy who hangs around Apocalypse occasionally. Apocalypse is already surrounded by dozens of characters with no personality, so I’m not sure what the point of Ozymandias was supposed to be.

The Xavier scenes seem to be setting up the upcoming Onslaught reveal, as Lobdell shows him willing to cross the ethical lines he’s made for himself in order to help Wolverine. The justification given is that after losing Sabretooth, he refuses to lose Wolverine. This, charitably, could come across as coherent long-term plotting, as one storyline leads to another, and Xavier’s character arc continues to take a darker turn with each event. However, reading all of these issues in a short amount of time just emphasizes the aspects that don’t work. Not only was Sabretooth’s reversion totally out of left field, but Onslaught was already making behind-the-scenes appearances before that even happened. Lobdell is trying to make something work and the pieces just don’t fit. On top of that, Xavier’s actions don’t make a lot of sense anyway. With his mental powers (and Phoenix’s), they could easily locate Wolverine, so he doesn’t need Zoe for that. As for his physical condition, the advanced Shi’ar technology the X-Men have at their mansion would likely tell him more than what Zoe can (granted, this is assuming that Xavier thinks the X-Men can bring him home). I understand that he would want information from someone involved in the case, but the idea that she’s his last resort and he has to cross these boundaries seems forced.


rob said...

I think the idea of X-Man pulling Xavier's form from the astral plane to the real world basically goes on to become a huge part of the Onslaught story. That incident gave Onslaught/Xavier the ability to make their psychic form physical.

I wouldn't necessarily blame Lobdell for trying to make the pieces fit. In the great Usenet thread you posted below, he bravely admitted the story was being made up as they went along. We all know and accept that now, but to have a writer say that when he was still employed on the books was something. The editorial office was obvious in turmoil at this point, and the writers were just trying to keep things going.

As for this issue, I loved the art and the interaction between this group of X-Men, but that's about it. I seem to remember a cute bit where Iceman tries to explain the Champions to Cannonball.

wwk5d said...

A lot of the flaws pointed out in the review hold true. However, the part about the Ozymandius's drawings not ebing clear was a computer glitch, I believe; the art was supposed to be much clearer than how it ended up in the issue itself.

I do kind of blame Lobdell, for the Onslaught mess. Even if there was a lot of chaos and turmoil in the X-offices at the time, she should not have plotted a major story that way. You can't throw out random issues every few issues and expect a story to form around it. Sometimes it works (on TV, like the X-files or Battlestar). Other times...well, you have a mess like this.

But, he does at least get some credit for admitting it, which is more than, say, the creators of Lost would ever admit to...

Seangreyson said...

Ozymandius was at least better than the Dark Riders in terms of Apocalypse connected characters. He actually served a couple functions down the line, rather than just being some lame villain to fight when the Acolytes weren't available.

I think his most interesting characteristic was he started to provide a real background to Apocalypse. Plus the prophetic visions thing was interesting as well.

Of the new characters introduced during the 90's he's certainly more interesting than Post or Holocoust/Nemesis

Teebore said...

Also, Ozymandias got fleshed out a bit in the Rise of Apocalypse miniseries...not sure when that was originally published, but it was around this time.

I recall enjoying the series, and it had a pretty good origin for Apocalypse that actually took into consideration some of the vague hints dropped through the years. Ozymandias was a general to Pharaoh Rama Tut, if I recall correctly (which, granted, doesn't gibe with his assertion in this issue that he was a king before Apocalypse).

Plus, it had some nifty Adam Pollina art.

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