Wednesday, November 12, 2008

X-MEN #51 – April 1996

Deathbound Train
Credits: Mark Waid (writer), Pascual Ferry (penciler), John Dell, Mark Morales, & Vince Russell (inkers), Marie Javins & Malibu Hues (colors), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (lettering)

Summary: Cerebro detects a spike of mutant activity in a commuter train, and Bishop, Gambit, and Beast leave to investigate. Inside the train, they discover that the civilians have been infected with a contagious virus that mutates them into monsters. Gambit and Bishop head to the engine to stop the train before it arrives in New York City, while Beast is left to subdue the passengers. Elsewhere, while Cyclops and Phoenix visit the Grey family, Graydon Creed announces his candidacy for President on television. Inside the train, the Beast creates an anesthetic out of brake fluid and knocks most of the passengers unconscious. Mr. Sinister suddenly appears, upset that his experiment has been compromised. Gambit and Bishop realize that the train’s controls have been destroyed, which leads Gambit to charge the entire train with kinetic energy. A confused Bishop asks him why he’s turned the train into a bomb.

Continuity Notes: Professor Xavier is still repairing Cerebro on the first page, referencing its destruction in the Phalanx storyline, even though it’s been used since that story (to search for Cyclops after Avalon’s destruction, and presumably to locate the new mutant in X-Men Unlimited #8).

Professor Xavier calls Louis St. Croix, a member of his Mutant Underground, to discuss ways to stop Graydon Creed’s Presidential campaign. I’m pretty sure nothing comes of this.

Production Note: Nineteen pages. Again.

Creative Differences: Phoenix makes a reference to Cyclops being born forty years old, which leads to Cyclops to respond, “Jean, I’m twenty-fi--!” Mark Waid posted on Usenet at the time that this line was added by editorial, apparently because they were afraid that someone would interpret Phoenix’s joke literally. It’s interesting that editorial deemed Cyclops twenty-five, when X-Men #19 inferred that Beast was about to turn thirty, and Beast’s high school girlfriend was labeled thirty in X-Men Unlimited #10.

Review: This is the start of Mark Waid’s brief run, which lasted roughly until the end of the Onslaught crossover. Unlike most of the stories of this era, which tend to have the X-Men hanging around the mansion while a threat grows in the background, Waid writes a more straightforward, action-oriented story. There’s still characterization, but it comes in the context of the characters interacting with one another during the action. Pairing the Dark Beast with Sinister is a nice way to connect a mostly stand-alone story to an ongoing plotline, also. It’s interesting that Waid uses Cerebro as the catalyst for the story in his first issue when you consider how often it was just ignored during the Lobdell/Nicieza runs. This is a more traditional superhero approach to the X-Men, and while it feels a little trivial, it’s entertaining enough. Pascual Ferry does a fine job as fill-in artist, turning in a much more attractive job than most of the fill-ins from this era. He’s still drawing with a slight Madureria influence at this time, but he exhibits enough of his own style so that he doesn’t come across as a bland clone.

10 comments:

Jeff said...

This isn't earth-shattering, but it is coherent and fun, which is more than you can say about most of the titles at this time. Waid makes Gambit, Bishop and the Dark Beast much more interesting than they are in other titles. And there is actual action! Not just people standing around whining while vague hints about future enemies are doled out slowly.

rob said...

This two-parter is really the only story Mark Waid wrote that was really his own (the rest being all Onslaught), and it perked my intrest as a first-time reader because it was pretty fun and fast-paced. Of course, it's dragged down by the bizarre plotline of people wanting access to Bishop's memories of the AoA that I never liked, but it's a fun read nonetheless. And Ferry's art is a treat.

On a side note, I can't believe all the nineteen-pagers around this time.

Fnord Serious said...

I still think all the comics with reduced page count were a cost-cutting measure by a Marvel that would be undergoing bankruptcy later that same year. Less pages = less money paid out to creatives like pencillers and inkers who get paid by the page. Do writers get a page rate as well?

AERose said...

DEATH TRAIN.

Never read the issue, but what a fantastic story title.

Teebore said...

What I find so interesting is how I completely missed that all these books were coming out short when I was reading them for the first time as a kid.

When it was first pointed out here, I figured a few short issues here and there certainly wouldn't have caught my attention, but as the blog goes on, its apparent that ALL the X-titles for a good while were doing it.

Must have been a pretty stupid kid, I guess :)

x-man75 said...

I actually liked the idea of Dark Beast infiltrating the X-Men, and wish they would have done so much more with this story. Anyway, I can't really think of a time when Dark Beast and Sinister met besides this story, which is almost unbelievable...

Am I missing something else somewhere? The connection between the two is so obvious(the Morlocks)it seems bizarre that the two of them never had some sort of confrontation... Of course I read these X-comics a while ago, so I might just be forgetting something...

G. Kendall said...

I didn't notice the shortened issues at the time, either (except for the shortened issues of Excalibur, for some reason). I wonder if this was exclusive to the X-books, or if Marvel applied this across all titles? It's also interesting that the missing pages aren't replaced by outside ads, which surely would've brought Marvel some decent money. Instead, they're filled with expanded letter columns and hype pages. I wonder if Marvel felt that cutting the story pages and adding more ads might've taken things too far.

Matt said...

Count me as another one that never noticed the shortened stories at the time!

I recall really, really liking this two-parter, if only because it involved Mr. Sinister, my favorite X-villain at the time (he still would be today, if they hadn't killed him off and then turned him into a woman...!). That's kind of surprising in retrospect, because I've never really liked Mark Waid's Marvel work. He always comes across (to me, at least) as trying to write DC-style stories in the Marvel Universe, and it never really works.

And all these years I've unjustly blamed him for claiming that Cyclops was 25! I remember getting really upset about that line... I always just assumed Cyclops was about 30, and I liked it that way! Maybe I was a weird kid, but I never bought into the whole "characters have to be young for kids to relate to them" business. I've always liked the X-Men (and Spider-Man for that matter) better as 20- and 30-somethings than as teenagers -- even when I, myself was a teenager! I've never wanted them any older than 30-ish, but I never enjoyed them as much when they were presented as younger.

x-man75 said...

Amen on the Mr. Sinister/Ms. Sinister thing Matt. Mr. Sinister was my favorite x-villain. He always had his own unique look and he would usually have at least 10 different plans working at the same time to screw with the X-Men. He was a great evil villain... Now he's a she...

Why Marvel would change his sex is just beyond me! I don't see what the story benefit could possibly be!

wwk5d said...

To hook him/her up with Wolverine's illegitmate child? ;)

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