Wednesday, January 21, 2009

X-MEN #56 – September 1996

Twilight of the Gods
Credits: Scott Lobdell (plot), Mark Waid (script), Andy Kubert (penciler), Art Thibert (inker), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (lettering), Joe Rosas & Malibu (colors)

Summary: Joseph tells Captain America the story of Dr. Doom’s arrival in New York. He asks why Doom is helping out, and Captain America responds that he’s making sure the Earth exists so that he can rule it one day. Meanwhile, Onslaught tries to absorb X-Man’s powers, but he manages to resist. Onslaught reads his mind, and is angered when he learns that the mutants who ruled X-Man’s world also destroyed it. He then absorbs X-Man into his body, forcing him inside with Franklin Richards. Xavier secretly leaves the rest of the heroes to personally confront Onslaught. Onslaught destroys his wheelchair, and tells him that neither humans nor mutants are fit to rule, so everyone must be destroyed.

Continuity Note: Onslaught claims that his minions, such as Holocaust, Post, and Havok, served their purpose and brought him X-Man. No, they didn’t. Onslaught captured him personally in X-Man #19.

Creative Differences: This is Mark Waid's final issue, scripting over a Scott Lobdell plot. When Waid's departure was announced, Scott Lobdell told Wizard, "I think I write the plot around the characters, whereas his tendency is to try and shoehorn characters into the plot". Waid and Lobdell continued to take public shots at one another for a few years, but Lobdell did eventually issue an open apology (which I can't find online, unfortunately). When asked in 2002 about why he left the book, Waid responded, "Creative differences. As in, I wanted to be creative". To throw more snark in, this is Mark Waid's response to Bob Harras' firing in 2000 (via Rich Johnston):

The only bad thing about this is that it happened after convention season was over. Otherwise, the entire freelance community would be drinking on me all summer long.

And that, my friend, has nothing to do with my own personal head-buttings with a man who's a weasel and a liar. It has everything to do with the fact that his legacy in this business will be as the man who always went the extra mile for ten years to keep the industry's highest-profile books COMPLETELY IMPENETRABLE TO A NON-FANATIC AUDIENCE--an ESPECIALLY grievous crime this summer of ALL summers--*AND* taught his lackeys to do the SAME. (The "X-Men Sampler" piece of shit in TV GUIDE is something I will use forevermore in my classes and teachings as an example of HOW NOT TO DO COMICS THAT CAN BE UNDERSTOOD BY NON-FANS.
)

Review: It seems that quite a few of these tie-in issues mainly consist of the heroes talking to each other while they’re waiting for their next strike on Onslaught. Waid handles Joseph’s conversations with Captain America and Xavier well, but eventually you just want the heroes to stop standing around and do something. There is a fun scene that has Dr. Doom (incredibly rendered by Kubert) destroying a Sentinel with one blast, which serves as a reminder that the story at least had some potential, even if it’s just seeing the various Marvel characters united against a common foe.

The story of Onslaught himself is advanced here, and not for the better. X-Man’s ability to resist Onslaught is played up for the first few pages, but suddenly in-between pages, Onslaught is able to casually absorb him with no explanation. The knowledge he gains from X-Man shifts him from a “mutants must rule” motivation (which wasn’t even clear in his previous appearances), to a nihilistic “kill everything” goal. This is just boring judged on its own merits, but knowing that Lobdell had actually given him a far more coherent motivation (reprinted in the Road to Onslaught special) makes it seem even worse. The original idea, which exaggerated Xavier’s goals and had Onslaught forcing everyone into a peaceful Collective Intelligence, at least is a logical progression of Xavier’s way of thinking. Abandoning that idea, which never even made into any of the actual stories, and just turning the villain’s plot into “everything must die” is horribly misguided.

I have no idea what was happening behind the scenes during this era, but after Onslaught reveals himself, the stories aren’t given anywhere to go. Onslaught sends Sentinels to attack New York and the heroes respond, but this is just followed by issues of Onslaught in his citadel threatening Franklin Richards. He doesn’t do anything once he emerges, and none of the stories ever gets around to explaining why exactly he’s attacking New York. I know that the Onslaught storyline was hijacked in order to provide an in-continuity reason for the Fantastic Four and Avengers to disappear (as the characters had been outsourced to Rob Liefeld and Jim Lee), but I don’t see how that precluded anyone from writing a few lines of dialogue to clarify the villain’s motives. Now that the storyline is drawing to an end, it seems as if the creators have given up on any legitimate motivation for Onslaught, so now he just wants to kill everybody.

5 comments:

Chad said...

I remember, even as a kid, reading this and wondering why knowledge of the AoA reality would make Onslaught turn on mutants. I mean, that world was shaped by *a* mutant, not by *mutants*.

Of course, you're right; by this point little or no effort was being put in giving story information and what little there was made no sense.

rob said...

I agree that there was a lot of standing around and planning during the Onslaught crossover, but as the last chapter before the big finale, I don't mind it here. I've always liked the convos with Xavier, Joseph, Cap, and Dr. Doom and the fact that the X-Men are secretly planning their final strike on Onslaught without alerting the rest of the MU heroes (who feel so shoehorned in to this story).

Matt said...

What's funny is that when I was younger I never questioned Onslaught's motives... I just figured he was Xavier's "dark side," so he wanted to cause mayhem for mayhem's sake, and that was enough for me. I wonder how I'd react if I read this for the first time today.

I remember that remark from Mark Waid after Bob Harras was fired, and it always rubbed me the wrong way -- and not only because, as I've mentioned here before, I was a Harras supporter. It's fine if Waid has his differences with the guy, and even if he doesn't like him. But to come out and publicly say things like that -- right after the poor guy was just fired from a company he'd worked for for 20 years or so -- struck me as very unprofessional and downright mean, and has colored my opinion of Waid ever since.

Teebore said...

That line about Doom helping out because he wants to make sure there's a world left for him to rule has always stuck with me (moreso, probably, than a lot of other stuff in the Onslaught story).

Matt said...

At the other Matt, it also makes it a lot easier to support Harras when you find out that Waid's greatest work, Kingdom Come, was basically lifted wholesale from Alan Moore's "Twilight of the Superheroes" proposal, but with a lot of religious imagery thrown in for good measure. He's admitted he read the proposal before writing KC, and we're supposed to take his word that his idea wasn't informed by Moore's.

Plus, Waid's admitted several times he didn't know much about the X-Men and probablly shouldn't have written them, so him bashing the writing of the books is empty criticism.

That tired line that comics should be for new fans is also hard to take. There's nothing wrong with lots of complex continuity, just make sure it's good. For the most part, 90s X-Men was. I decided to jump into this era about three and a half years ago and I haven't had a problem, it didn't seem impenetrable to me. Complicated? Yes, but I had fun deciphering things.

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