Friday, January 30, 2009

X-MEN #58 – November 1996

Testament
Credits: Scott Lobdell & Ralph Macchio (writers), Bernard Chang (penciler), Jon Holdredge (inker), Comicraft (lettering), Joe Rosas & Graphic Colorworks (colors)

Summary: Storm visits the Morlock Tunnels to honor the anniversary of the Morlock Massacre. She unexpectedly finds Gambit at the Morlock burial chamber. He claims that he read about the massacre in the X-Men’s files and wanted to pay his respects. Meanwhile, Graydon Creed appears on a talk show. Iceman’s father stands up in the audience and challenges Creed’s anti-mutant positions. At the mansion, Joseph interrupts Rogue in her sleep, telling her he’s discovered a possible solution to her inability to touch people. She tells him to leave until she gets dressed. Joseph grows tired of waiting and returns to her window to check on her. Gambit spots him and attacks, assuming the worst. The two fight until Rogue emerges and chastises them both. Elsewhere, Havok spies on J. Jonah Jameson.

Continuity Notes: This is the first issue that suggests a connection between Gambit and the Morlock Massacre. It’s not exactly subtle, as the narrative caption claims that the words “ultimately responsible” linger in Gambit’s mind and evoke thoughts he “would rather not dwell upon just now”. This comes after months of speculation in Wizard’s letters page that Gambit had some role in the massacre (after it had been confirmed that Gambit had some past with Mr. Sinister, who ordered the attack). I sometimes wonder if the creators at this time took fan theories from Wizard and actually used them (the revelation that Cable is Cyclops’ son was preceded by months of speculation in Wizard).

Bernard Chang apparently didn’t have a reference for the “feral” Wolverine, as he’s drawn normally here.

Since Uncanny X-Men #325 also took place on the anniversary of the Morlock Massacre, this means that one year of real time has passed between those issues (only thirteen months separate their publication). Or maybe we’re supposed to view the Morlock Massacre’s anniversary the same way we view Christmas in the Marvel Universe.

Review: I remember this as a dire era for this particular X-Men series. I barely recall anything about the stories; I just remember rotating fill-in artists and a never-ending series of time-killing filler plotlines. This issue doesn’t exactly prove me wrong. The strong hint that Gambit was involved in the Morlock Massacre gives the issue some significance, even though it’s another two years before an actual resolution is given. The rest of the issue consists of a pointless fight scene and a few brief setups for Uncanny X-Men’s storylines. The early Bernard Chang artwork is nice, even though he has a frustrating habit of giving his female characters the tiniest, skinniest necks I’ve ever seen (I realize this is an odd complaint, but it’s always bugged me). I didn’t care for his clean, cartoonish style when I first read this issue, but it’s aged well. It bears no resemblance to the very ‘90s looking cover, thankfully.

Ralph Macchio, who occasionally showed up as a fill-in writer on the X-books around this time, is credited as co-writer. I suspect he scripted the issue, as some of the speech patterns are off and the dialogue is much stiffer than Lobdell’s typical work. Marvel had developed a reputation over the years as a company that hired its own editors over actual freelancers as writers, which is something Bob Harras supposedly wanted to end. For some reason, Ralph Macchio (who was editing the Spider-titles at this point) would still randomly show up on the occasional issue like this for the next few years. It’s an extremely generic script, and I suspect it was written as a last minute fill-in.

The most annoying aspect of the story is the sudden conversion of Iceman’s father. After Lobdell spent years portraying him as a comically exaggerated bigot, he’s suddenly taking a public stand for mutant rights. Given his previous characterization, an internal monologue explaining his radical change of mind probably would’ve felt forced, but it would at least be better than what we get here. His characterization is drastically changed with no explanation, and there’s no insight from Iceman outside of, “Way to go, Dad!” Complaining about a minor supportive cast member’s erratic characterization might seem excessively nitpicky, but it’s representative of the sloppy storytelling that’s emerged in this era.

7 comments:

Jeff said...

This title goes down the tubes for the next couple issues until Carlos Pacheco comes on as the regular artist and knocks it out of the park (although the writing doesn't rise up to his level until Joe Kelly comes aboard). But yeah, not much to see here for a while.

Chad said...

I remember this as a bland era too that really shook my commitment to the franchise. I think it was after the Onslaught saga that it finally got through my thick skull that the editors and writers were just making everything up as they went along, but I don't think it was until the awful "Shi'ar versus Phalanx" story that I really got disillusioned.

Seangreyson said...

I wouldn't say this era was bad precisely. It was just kind of dull. They were at least still trying to create new characters (and particularly new villains), even if they weren't doing it successfully.

These days they tend to go back to the well of established characters and villains as a cop out.

They'd unified the x-books, but hadn't really given them a direction. They wouldn't really get that back until the end of the decade unfortunately.

rob said...

I agree that these next few issues are weak, but this one in particular I've always kind of liked. Maybe it's the Bernard Chang art. I don't know too much of what he's gone on to do, but I love the art here.

They try to bring some spice to the books in 1997 by splitting Uncanny and X-Men into completely different stories and locations for the first time in awhile, but there isn't much of a direction to the line. It's really just Lobdell's run sputtering to an end.

pedro de pacas said...

how are we supposed to view christmas?

Seangreyson said...

Christmas happens every year in the december issues. However you can't count X-mas issues to get a sense of time passing in the Marvel Universe. Kitty Pryde stays 13 and half for several years (she turns 15 in Excalibur 30-something, which is a good 10 years after her introduction and a good 6 or 7 X-mas issues).

From the Kree-Skrull war in Avengers, through the beginning of Civil War is only supposed to represent about 15 years or so in continuity by the current count. That covers approximately 40 years of time in our world however.

ray swift said...

Only moment of satisfaction in this issue for me was Gambit punching Joseph in the face. Which says a lot because I'm not in particulary a fan of Gambit.

Also, man, when will they stop to recycle those AoA plots? That was an alternative universe. Alternative, as in not alike this one. In this issue alone we had a saint Magneto, a magnetic cure for Rogue's touch problem, Rogue and Magneto as a love interest and Havok as a bad guy. Jesus, move on.

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