Tuesday, February 3, 2009

UNCANNY X-MEN #339 – December 1996

Fight and Flight!
Credits: Scott Lobdell (writer), Adam Kubert & Cedric Nocon (pencilers), Jesse Delperdang & Scott Hanna (inkers), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (lettering), Steve Buccellato & Team Bucce! (colors)

Summary: Spider-Man visits the X-Men’s mansion to tell them that J. Jonah Jameson is investigating Graydon Creed. Elsewhere, Mystique watches news footage of Creed and plots his assassination. She notices Iceman working undercover as one of Creed’s aides. Later, Beast and Cyclops follow Jameson on his transatlantic flight, hoping to learn what he knows about Creed. The plane is suddenly attacked by Havok and Ever, who claim to represent a new Brotherhood of Mutants. Havok nearly destroys the plane, but the passengers are rescued by Storm and Joseph, who have been flying nearby in the Blackbird. Havok drops out of the sky with Cyclops and teleports away, leaving his brother for dead. Cyclops is narrowly rescued by Storm. He tells her that he suspects that they’re seeing the “true Havok” for the first time. In London, a Daily Bugle reporter named Nick Bandouveris, who has learned the identity of Graydon Creed’s parents, waits for J. Jonah Jameson to arrive. Bastion appears and kills him.

Continuity Notes: Phoenix inadvertently views Spider-Man’s thoughts. A footnote claims that future issues of X-Man will explain why (Paul O’Brien says that never happened in his index of this issue).

Mystique claims that Iceman working undercover on Creed’s campaign “changes everything”. I don’t recall this going anywhere.

Ever shows up as a member of Havok’s new Brotherhood (Havok’s the only other member who appears here). He initially appeared in a holographic display of Gene Nation members in UXM #325, but didn’t show up in the actual story. I don’t know if any connection between Ever and Gene Nation was ever revealed. I imagine the character was cut from UXM #325 at the last minute and someone at Marvel just decided to reuse the design.

Bastion claims that it’s unfortunate that he had to kill someone on “our side” after he kills the human reporter. This seems like an intentional misdirection to draw attention away from his actual origin.

Review: And now, the dumbest thing to happen in X-Factor shows up in UXM. If Havok has to be a villain, then having him confront his heroic brother makes sense. Unfortunately, Lobdell doesn’t get any decent material out of the conflict, partly because Havok’s conversion is so hard to buy in the first place. There’s an attempt to tie the Havok storyline in with UXM’s ongoing threads, but it’s obviously forced. Spider-Man “warns” the X-Men that Jameson is investigating Creed, apparently because he thinks they might want to learn what he’s uncovered, although it’s not very clear. (Are the X-Men so passive at this point that they have to follow around reporters instead of investigating something themselves?) Havok wants to kill Jameson because mutants “don’t need help” toppling Creed, which is one of the dumbest villain motivations I’ve ever read. Adam Kubert shows up on the first few pages with a sketchy, cartoonier look before he’s replaced by Cedric Nocon. Nocon has a fairly generic ‘90s style, the kind that requires him to draw a minimum of a thousand lines per human face, but he brings a decent amount of energy to the scenes. I remembered this as a terrible looking comic, but it’s not nearly as bad as I thought.

Havok’s sudden turn to villainy is one of the most irritating character mangling I endured as a completist in the ‘90s. The impression I get from reading letter column responses is that the creators wanted to incorporate the Age of Apocalypse incarnation of the character into the mainstream Marvel Universe. Instead of providing the character with anything resembling a legitimate motivation for turning his back on his beliefs and becoming a villain, he gets brainwashed. Perhaps thinking that this lacked dramatic impact, the brainwashing was quickly dismissed, as it’s revealed that Havok is now just behaving the way he’s always wanted to. I was appalled at how poorly executed this stunt was at the time, and looking back on it isn’t exactly a fun time. In some ways it’s a precursor to Marvel’s cavalier attitude towards consistent characterization, which now has established characters like Spider-Man, Xavier, and Iron Man behaving strangely, and the Avengers all speaking like David Mamet characters. The fact that the Age of Apocalypse’s popularity lead to such an inane twisting of a long-running character is also frustrating. The AoA stunt was almost two years old by this point. Surely most of the heat from the storyline had died down by now. Some readers might’ve enjoyed seeing Havok as a villain in the alternate world in early 1995, but were they still demanding it by this point? Even if the AoA’s villainous Havok was overwhelming popular, that doesn’t justify dismissing his established characterization so that he can casually become a villain.

It was around this time that my friends who got into comics through the X-Men cartoon began to drop out of the hobby. I’m not saying that this specific storyline chased them away, but I think the noticeable drop of quality during this era (even down to the paper stock) disenfranchised a lot of readers. It’s possible that they were just following the old rule that says comic readers only stick with the hobby for three to five years, but it appeared to be more than that. It seemed like my friends still liked the characters and wanted to stick with the books, but thought there were too many titles to follow, and didn’t feel much of a reward for collecting so many books with erratic levels of quality. Within a few months, my own completist days would begin to end, even though I still felt a loyalty to a few of the titles.


Chad said...

Bastion claims that it’s unfortunate that he had to kill someone on “our side” after he kills the human reporter. This seems like an intentional misdirection to draw attention away from his actual origin.

You have to give Lobdell and the rest credit for actually deciding on the villain's motive and origin before putting him in stories this time. And I did like that Lobdell was intending for Bastion to become the anti-mutant/"pro-human" equivalent of Magneto and Xavier, a role X-Men continuity never really developed in the long term.

Still, it's a shame that, the one time they actually had a planned mystery, they still made it a bit too obvious. I think it was around now that a lot of fans with any knowledge of '80s X-Men continuity had already worked out that Bastion was the Master Mold that fell into the Siege Perilous.

Matt said...

"...the Avengers all speaking like David Mamet characters."

Ha! Very funny, and sadly true. As I've said before, a lot of what Marvel is up to these days has me pining for the 90s. At least for the most part, the characters were still recognizable back then!

Also, I recall that I enjoyed the scene in this issue where Jameson recognized the Beast and got excited about it because he figured that meant he was on to something.

Anonymous said...

I'd rather have the characters be unrecognizable in interesting stories than recognizable in shit comics like this one!

wwk5d said...

and i'd rather have characters be recognizable in good stories. too many writers are lazy these days...

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