Friday, February 27, 2009

UNCANNY X-MEN #342 – March 1997

"Did I Miss Something ?!"

Credits: Scott Lobdell (writer), Joe Madureira (penciler), Tim Townsend (inker), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (lettering), Steve Buccellato &Team Bucce! (colors)

Summary: The X-Men are transported inside a spaceship that’s flying out of control, approaching an asteroid belt. Beast recalibrates the ship, and Joseph protects the team from the asteroids. They enter a stargate and travel to the Shi’ar Empire. On the way, Rogue comforts Bishop, who feels lost after Xavier’s transformation into Onslaught. The team reaches a Shi’ar space station, and is shocked when the ship’s computers claim that all of its occupants are dead. While searching the wreckage, Beast realizes that the power core is gone. Meanwhile, Bishop discovers Deathbird, who is barely alive.

Continuity Notes: The team change into new outfits after boarding the spacecraft. Rogue’s new uniform has a “low-field force field” that enables her to almost touch someone. Marvel tried to make this Rogue’s new costume after the storyline was over (while ignoring the force field bit), but it didn’t catch on.

“Huh?” Moments: Three pages after a computer scan shows “0.00” bodies alive inside the space station, Bishop finds Deathbird. I guess you could argue that the scan missed her because she was clinging to life, but this always bothered me for obvious reasons.

A brief scene has Storm, Cyclops, Phoenix, and Wolverine returning home after their adventure in X-Men #60 and #61. Those were the issues that took place on the day Graydon Creed was killed (or at least on the day of his funeral, depending on which scene you believe), which was Election Day in November. This story explicitly takes place on Christmas day. So, apparently, it took over six weeks for these X-Men to get from Manhattan to Westchester.

Gimmicks: For some reason, this issue has an alternate Rogue cover.

Commercial Break: There are four pages in this issue dedicated to selling the final issues of Ghost Rider; the ones that gave him a bright outfit that made him look like a clown. These are the “extra pages” Marvel used to justify the higher price after dropping the nicer paper stock.

Review: I guess this was Lobdell’s attempt at doing one of the “X-Men in Space” stories that occasionally showed up in the Claremont run. My memory is that this storyline went on forever. In fact, I’m pretty sure that this title was unable to participate in the “Operation: Zero Tolerance” crossover because the space storyline went on longer than expected (I know a separate story involving Marrow had to be presented for one issue in order to justify at least one tie-in). Judged on its own merits, this issue isn’t so bad. The opening sequence with the out of control spaceship doesn’t really work, since it has no plot significance and comes across as Lobdell trying too hard for an “action” opening (what exactly is wrong with the spaceship is never even made clear). The issue improves as it moves along, though, providing some decent character moments amongst the cast.

Lobdell offers some variation on the “innocent civilian unfairly dragged into the hero’s adventure” cliché, as Trish Tilby acts thrilled to be in on the action, while also keeping her fears to herself, which at least makes her characterization more believable. Bishop has an inner monologue that finally gives his take on the resolution of the “X-traitor” storyline. He not only wonders what his role in this time is, but questions if he has any friends on the team. This could be another meta-commentary on the lack of connection between the cast by this point. There have been plenty of scenes with the romantic couples on the team in recent years, but little effort on showing Bishop forming relationships of any kind with the rest of the cast. Bishop was written out of the book after this storyline was over, so maybe this was intended as foreshadowing. I wonder how much of an interest was left in the early ‘90s characters within Marvel at this point. Bishop did get his own series a few years after this, but Marvel was giving everyone in the X-universe their own series by 1999. Reading this scene, it almost seems to be an acknowledgment on Lobdell’s part that Bishop just hasn’t worked out as an X-Man.

Outside of the character moments, you’re mostly left with a setup issue. In that regard, the characters move to where they need to be quickly enough, and the behind-the-scenes threat hovering over the team seems appropriately ominous. I’m sure this would be a lot duller with a different artist, which is how I often feel about the Lobdell/Madureira issues, but it mostly works as the opening chapter of a new storyline.


Chris said...

Sigh, you would have to mention the dayglow Speed Racer Ghost Rider. We few Ghost Rider fans have been unable to live that abomination down, lol.

To comment on the actual issue, it didn't necessarily feel like this space story took forever to end - it was the following "X-Men in Antarctica and oh hey there's Magneto!" story arc that just WOULD. NOT. END. That's how I felt at the time, anyway.

Seangreyson said...

You are right, however that this story kept these X-men out of Zero Tolerance.

In fact their return from space conincides with the final issue of Zero Tolerance (the giant bomb somehow stored in Cyclops' chest issue to be exact).

rob said...

I always thought, give that Uncanny and X-Men had basically become one bi-weekly title in 95-96, that it was pretty gutsy to take half the cast completely out of the picture indefintely and run these stories. They may not be perfect, but Lobdell at least tried something different in his last year.

Matt said...

The Antarctica story ends in number 350, right? A nine-issue storyline (or rather, two stories featuring the same cast over nine issues) isn't really that long...

I was very disappointed when Bishop was written out after these issues. He had become one of my favorite X-Men by this point -- mainly due to his visual and his powers, though, but I always thought Lobdell handled his characterization pretty well, too.

rob said...

It isn't long in today's market, where almost every issue has to be labelled part of a multi-part storyline (so we're more used to it). But back then, given that Uncanny and X-Men were so closely linked in terms of subplots and cast for a couple years prior, to completely seperate the books for most of 1997 was different.

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