Monday, December 22, 2008

ONSLAUGHT: X-MEN – August 1996

Traitor to the Cause
Credits: Scott Lobdell & Mark Waid (writers), Adam Kubert with Pascual Ferry (pencilers), Dan Green with Art Thibert (inkers), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (lettering), Steve Buccellato & Team Bucce! (colors)

Summary: Xavier summons the X-Men to his office, where he begins to discuss the team’s failure to make the world a better place. Phoenix, who knows his secret, tries to enter his mind but can’t. She notices a shrunken Juggernaut inside the Crimson Gem of Cytorrak, sitting on Xavier’s desk. When Phoenix tries to warn the rest of the team, Xavier disappears and is replaced by Onslaught. Onslaught explains to the X-Men that Xavier created him by suppressing all of his darkest desires. When Cyclops tells him that he sounds more like Magneto than Xavier, Onslaught gets angry and attacks. He telepathically forces the team to stand still and flies away, saying he has other matters to attend to. Gambit uses his kinetic energy powers to disrupt Onslaught’s psionic grip and frees the team. Phoenix theorizes that Gambit was allowed to do this because Onslaught isn’t totally in control of Xavier. The team splits up to download Cerebro’s files and destroy any information Onslaught can use. Meanwhile, inside the headquarters of the Fantastic Four, Franklin Richards plays with his new friend, Charlie. Everyone else thinks Charlie’s imaginary, but he’s able to throw a glass of milk against the wall. Elsewhere, X-Man warns the Avengers about the threat he believes Xavier poses. Soon, Onslaught returns to the X-Men’s mansion and attacks the team. The Dark Beast, who is still disguised as the Beast, pledges his loyalty to Onslaught. When Onslaught momentarily collapses from weakness, he decides that he needs a servant. While Onslaught is distracted, Phoenix runs to the psi-shielded chamber and calls the other mutant teams for help. Onslaught interrupts her message and prepares to kill her, as the rest of the X-Men attack him from behind. Onslaught aims a blast of psionic energy at the team, which Bishop miraculously manages to absorb. A weakened Onslaught leaves with the Dark Beast. The X-Men recover and plan their next move. Inside a Sentinel manufacturing plant, a Sentinel awakens and says Onslaught’s name.

Gimmicks: I guess this issue is notable for not having a gimmick cover. Marvel started releasing non-enhanced versions of the gimmick covers a year before this, but this is the first event comic since 1993 not to have a gimmick cover in the first place. At this point, the tide had turned against the novelty covers, and the exorbitant cover prices that went along with them. It seems like Marvel was trying to make a conscious effort to make the readers feel as if they were getting a better value for their dollar. The cover price is $3.95, which is reasonable given that it’s a forty-eight page story with no ads and slick paper.

Creative Differences: Mark Waid confirmed in a recent CBR article that the addition of Magneto to Onslaught’s origin was a last minute idea. This would also mean that Onslaught’s visual was designed at the last minute, since his resemblance to Magneto’s armor is an actual plot point.

Continuity Notes: Jean’s message to the other X-teams is a direct reference to the scene from Bishop’s future in Uncanny X-Men #287. When Bishop first saw her message, large parts of the audio cut out, leaving the identity of the X-traitor unrevealed. The missing dialogue is filled in here, revealing that Xavier-as-Onslaught is actually the X-traitor. Bishop stops Onslaught from killing all of the X-Men, which presumably creates a large diversion from his own timeline. (The narrative captions go back to the idea that he’s from a hundred years in the future, even though seventy-five years had become the standard date given by this point).

The weak spells Onslaught experiences are due to Xavier fighting back within him.

Onslaught tells Bishop that his knowledge of the Age of Apocalypse will help him to map his conquest for this world. I don’t think anything comes from this, and it really seems like a forced attempt at creating the illusion that all of these storylines were planned out in advance.

Onslaught tells the Dark Beast that he was the one shielding his thoughts from the telepathic X-Men. Why exactly he did this is unrevealed, although I suppose it fits into the idea that Onslaught was curious about the Age of Apocalypse.

X-Man met the Avengers in Avengers #400, which I’m sure was one of their proudest moments. I assume that he’s warning them about Xavier because he’s still suspicious of him after their encounter in X-Man #10, and not because he knows anything about Onslaught.

Production Note: There are numerous lettering mistakes in this issue, mostly notable is the one that has all of the issue numbers in the footnotes printed in unreadable dark colors. The font also changes size for no reason during the Avengers scene, and Cyclops’ font style changes for no reason in another scene.

“Huh”? Moment: Franklin Richard’s milk is incorrectly colored as if it was orange juice, even though the script refers to it as milk four different times.

Review: I remember enjoying the two big bookshelf Onslaught comics at the time, while I found the various tie-in comics to be fairly weak. I can see why I liked this specific issue at age sixteen, but it doesn’t hold up that well. I think most completists feel that the more storylines referenced in an issue, the better that issue must be. This issue concludes the Onslaught mystery, references Bishop’s knowledge of the AoA, reveals the identity of the X-traitor, connects the Fantastic Four’s mutant son to the X-Men for the first time in years, and advances the “imposter Beast” storyline for the first time in months. This all felt like a big deal at the time, as if these disparate threads were all supposed to come together all along. The fact that the revelation of Onslaught’s identity didn’t make sense in light of the character’s previous actions didn’t really matter to me at the time. I rarely reread my back issues, so it wasn’t as if I had memorized every action that had been attributed to Onslaught or one of his followers. And if a detail didn’t exactly match up to what I remembered, I was still willing at this point to give the creators the benefit of the doubt until the story was totally over (and by the time this crossover limped to its conclusion, I had probably forgotten most of the lingering questions anyway).

Trying to view the issue as objectively as possible today, it seems like the majority of its appeal just comes from the “fan service” elements. The plot itself consists of Onslaught attacking the team in fairly predictable ways, disappearing for a few pages, then coming back for another fight, and then disappearing again. There really aren’t any character moments, although I suppose the interactions amongst the team during the fights aren’t bad. A lot of the dialogue just consists of explanations of who or what Onslaught is supposed to be, which was interesting at the time in a “are they really doing this?” kind of way, but now that the shock has long worn off, it feels tedious. The art still holds up, however, as we get to see Adam Kubert’s imaginative take on the various X-Men. He begins to develop a more angular and simplified style here, which was probably due to the increased number of figures he had to draw, but it’s still an interesting look. The panel that has Onslaught turning Cyclops’ powers against his own face always stuck with me over the years. Cyclops’ exaggerated facial expression foreshadows the cartoonier look Kubert’s developed in the subsequent years. Since the story itself isn’t particularly interesting, the art picks up a lot of the slack.


Teebore said...

This all felt like a big deal at the time, as if these disparate threads were all supposed to come together all along.

I sure believed it when I first read the issue. I remember re-reading the "unedited" version of Jean's transmission several times and thinking "so Xavier's been the X-traitor all along" as if they hadn't just made that up on the fly.

Ah, the innocence of youth...

I might have to give this one another look sometime soon. I remember re-reading it a few years after the bloom came off the rose, and while its flaws were more apparent then, I recall it still had a lot of energy. I'm curious to see if that holds up.

rob said...

I did reread this not too long ago, and the X-Men sequences do hold up pretty well. There is an energy here and also a decent sense of the X-Men trying to cope with what they've learned about their mentor. It's not perfect, especially in light of the boring chapters that follow, but the main story about the X-Men still held up as well-done. And Kubert's art was excellent.

Matt said...

I haven't read this since it was first released, but I know I loved it at the time. I recall that I actually got goosebumps as Jean sent out the same message I had read Bishop watching years before! And when Bishop saved the rest of the team -- Well, that immediately became one of my favorite X-Men scenes ever!

I miss Bishop -- the real Bishop, not the Cable clone that's running around trying to kill (ironically enough) Cable... He hasn't been the same character since Scott Lobdell stopped writing him (though Chris Claremont's interpretation was pretty good).

ray swift said...

Well, reading it for the first time, it doesn't seem worse then most stories from that time... Judging by only this issue, it strucks me as a story of a good character going bad that isn't going to influence on the world after said character "breaks the spell", but I'm only at the begginig of the crossover. It's really interesting to see what's all the fuss about.

The only thing that bothered me, aside from the regular un-inspiring type of a story that roamed the age, is Onslought's undefined full-of-plot-wholes-and-contradictions powers.
To express it in several sentences:
- We have Xavier: the most powerful mutant mind on earth, that aside from whiping out Magneto's mind once and some weird shit in classic X-men, almost never did anything useful with his powers from the day we met him, each time on behalf of a different, stupid, excuss.
- Then we have Onslought: Xavier's dark side, an omnipotent being who can, pretty much, destroy the entire world (or so X-man says) and whipe the entire X-team without any effort. Oh, and aside from his psychic powers he can do all kinds of unexplained weird stuff too.
- Yet still, he cannot just take over all of the X-men's mind and frigging MIND CONTROL them to bid his will.

If Marvel don't know how to handle telepathy They should stop writing characters with this kind of power.

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