Monday, February 9, 2009

X-FORCE #61 – December 1996

Ask Me No More Questions and I’ll Tell You No More Lies
Credits: Jeph Loeb (writer), Kevin Lau (penciler), Andrew Pepoy (inker), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (lettering), Marie Javins (colors)

Summary: Cable and Shatterstar fight Mojo’s troops as the world watches on television. Mojo sends the ambient energy the viewers generate to Mojoworld. During the broadcast, Mojo kills Shatterstar, as X-Force watches in horror. Spiral appears, and says she can save Shatterstar with Longshot and Siryn’s help. They leave, as the rest of X-Force faces Mojo’s arriving army. Spiral blocks Mojo’s signal and teleports Cable and Shatterstar’s body out of Mojo’s broadcast. In “another time”, Longshot, Siryn, Cable, and Shatterstar arrive with Spiral at the Weisman Institute. Siryn leads them to the room of Benjamin Russell, who is now a comatose adult. Cable hands Shatterstar’s body to Longshot, who then transfers Shatterstar’s soul into Benjamin’s body. Shatterstar awakens inside Benjamin’s body, which now has Shatterstar’s facial markings. Mojo suddenly arrives, and Spiral quickly teleports everyone back to Mojoworld. On Longshot’s order, Caliban breaks the television set inside Mojo’s palace. Breaking the connection between Earth and Mojoworld causes Mojo to get lost in the transmission signal. Shatterstar declares that he is whole, as the Gamesmaster looks on and laughs.

Continuity Notes: In the previous issue, Cable and Shatterstar were inside a cartoon show. Now, their bodies are inexplicitly back to normal and they’re fighting in Shatterstar’s future. Cable claims that this isn’t reality, but a recreation.

According to Spiral, Benjamin Russell was “hurled into a coma” when his mutant powers manifested. How exactly he ended up in the Weisman Institute for the Criminally Insane isn’t explained.

Spiral also says that both Shatterstar and Benjamin Russell “mean more than all the world to me”. As far as I know, their connection has never been revealed. She’s helping X-Force defeat Mojo in this issue because she doesn’t want him to grow more powerful. Why she aided Mojo in the previous issue is unexplained.

Siryn is brought along to find Benjamin because of her time undercover at the Weisman Institute. However, she only saw a flash of Benjamin’s face on a computer screen, she never actually met him.

“Huh?” Moments: The entire issue qualifies for this tag, obviously. More specifically, one scene has Cable using his telepathic powers like Ben Kenobi in Star Wars. He has Dr. Weisman repeat “There’s no need to detain you, go on ahead” so the team can easily enter her institute. However, the art depicts Siryn repeating Cable’s line, not Dr. Weisman. Siryn even makes a remark in the next panel that she hopes Cable never uses his telepathy in that manner on her. There’s also the fact that Shatterstar’s body turns into a glowing orb that represents his soul once Longshot touches it, which is a nonsensical element that’s a major plot point.

Creative Differences: Jeph Loeb has apparently contended that this issue was heavily rewritten and is not the story he wanted to tell. It’s also his last issue on the title, which may or may not be a coincidence.

Review: Well, what can you say about this one? It’s largely unreadable, never answers the questions it set out to answer, and doesn’t even make sense in the context of the two issues that preceded it. Plus, the art style abruptly shifts into a full-on manga look, so now the cast suddenly has giant eyes, tiny noses, and pointy chins. I guess there is some significance here, as this is the first time an X-book was drawn in a direct manga style without being filtered through a traditional superhero sensibility. I hated the art in this issue as a teenager, and my opinion is only slightly less negative today, but this issue clearly has bigger problems.

The actual resolution to the Shatterstar/Benjamin Russell mystery is so bungled, even the editors have to cop to it in a future letters column. With all of the goodwill in the world, you can’t make any sense of this. Even if you ignore Shatterstar’s memories of being created in a lab in the future, the explanation of his connection to Benjamin makes no sense. If Shatterstar and Benjamin are the same person, how did they coexist? If we assume that the scenes at the Weisman Institute take place in the past, how do you explain all of Shatterstar’s appearances before his soul joined Benjamin’s body? Is this supposed to create a time loop, like the birth of John Connor in the first Terminator movie, where Shatterstar exists in the future because his soul was placed inside the body of Benjamin Russell in the past? If that’s the case, it’s certainly not explained here. Besides, a time loop would only work if Shatterstar went directly from Benjamin’s hospital room to a hundred years in the future, before he time-traveled to meet X-Force. And even then, you’d have to assume that Shatterstar had some type of amnesia that prevented him from remembering his time with X-Force (the more I think about this, the more I wonder if this actually was the original plan). Assuming that the Weisman Institute scenes don’t take place in the past, then the story makes even less sense. And what exactly is the Gamemaster’s role in all of this? Was Shatterstar really from the future or not? If not, how did Mojo get footage of him a hundred years in the future in the previous issue?

Even if you ignore the confusing continuity elements, you’re still left with a terrible Mojo story. His plan consists of drawing energy from couch potatoes on Earth, and he’s defeated when someone literally unplugs a TV set. The giant army X-Force is supposed to be fighting on Mojoworld appears and disappears in-between panels, and there’s no explanation of how Mojo finds Spiral and the others at the Weisman Institute, even when the story explicitly shows that she severed his broadcast a few pages earlier. It’s a mess all around, and it’s not even enjoyable as a trainwreck. It’s a dreadful storyline that’s deserves every bit of its reputation.


Anonymous said...

I remember this issue for the manga art style. Manga was very hip at the time.

ray swift said...

Well, because I'm reading the X-men comics while simultaneously following your reviews, I was expecting for something REALLY bad. As in game-changing bad (like the Liefied takeover on New Mutants). But seeing that as it is, as an three issues story, it wasn't THAT bad. I mean, the story was aweful, of course, but so was all Loeb's X-force run, in my tast, so this wasn't an exceptional.
And it didn't change Shatterstar for me either. He was a boring character I do not care for with an ambiguous past before, and he is a boring character I do not care for now.
He was a bad character in Liefied run (like all the characters he handled and even ruined) as much as Cable. Maybe even more then Cable (because he didn't even had an agenda except for killing, like Feral). Then Nicieza started to make his character grow into something a bit more interesting, but then also started to soften him too much, like he did for Cable, which derived those two entirely from their original attributes, the only thing that made them stand out.
Right now, in my reading, I don't care much for the X-men (nor the UXM either), I don't care much for the X-force, I don't care at all for X-factor, I don't read the solo series and I mostly enjoy generation X and the few X-men stories that are surprisingly good nevertheless.
Bad era indeed.

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