Credits: Scott Lobdell (writer), Bryan Hitch (penciler), Paul Neary (inker), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (lettering), Steve Buccellato (colors)
Summary: A young Jean Grey watches a falling star from her window. The “star” flies towards South Dakota, where it reveals itself as the time travelling Rachel Summers. She’s following Sanctity, a mutant she found while lost in the timestream. Rachel discovers Master Mold, in the early stages of construction, near the home of Dr. Bolivar Trask. Rachel deduces that Sanctity has traveled back to this time to prevent the creation of the Sentinels. She talks to Sanctity and tries to convince her not to interfere with the timestream. When Sanctity fades away, Rachel realizes that she’s been speaking to a mental projection. Inside, Sanctity reveals to Trask that she is his missing daughter, Tanya. Before she can convince Trask to abandon his anti-mutant crusade, she realizes that Rachel has frozen his mental capacity so that he can’t hear her. Sanctity finally listens to Rachel and agrees to go home. Shortly after they leave, Trask’s son, Lawrence, finds his father recovering in his lab. Unbeknownst to everyone, Sanctity inserted a program into Master Mold, named “XII”.
Continuity Notes: This serves as an origin story for future Askani member Sanctity. It’s revealed that she is Tanya Trask, the daughter of Bolivar Trask, who has the power to “phase out of synch with time”. Because she had no control over her powers, she’s been missing for years. She met Rachel Summers while she was lost in the timestream (following Excalibur #75), in an “untold tale” according to an editor’s note. A narrative caption towards the end of the issue says that Rachel will “ultimately be betrayed” by Sanctity. I have no idea if this was ever resolved (it might just be a reference to the fact that Sanctity disobeyed Rachel and inserted info into Master Mold without her knowledge).
The “XII” program Sanctity inserted into Master Mold is a listing of “The Twelve”. I’ll be honest and admit that even discussing the Twelve bores me to death. Essentially, Master Mold once claimed in an old issue of X-Factor (while he was malfunctioning) that twelve mutants will shape the future. This wasn’t elaborated on, but it lead to years of fan speculation. Marvel apparently decided that this should be resolved, over ten years later, and this was the first step in reintroducing the concept. So if you wanted to know how Master Mold learned of the Twelve, this issue tells you. Sanctity, while making a list of horrible events she can prevent, says, “humanity waited so long for the Twelve…they so sorely disappointed us”. If you disliked the 1999 crossover “The Twelve”, you can insert your own joke here.
Young Jean Grey is described as eleven years old, while a few pages later a narrative caption says that the Sentinels will debut in “approximately three years”. This would make Jean fourteen or younger when she joined the X-Men, which doesn’t seem right. While I’m nitpicking, I’ll also point out that Marvel has apparently abandoned Mark Gruenwald’s rule that time travel can’t affect the main reality by this point.
“Huh?” Moment: Why is Master Mold wearing a domino mask on the cover? Is he afraid the other robots will recognize him?
Review: This is the start of “Flashback Month”, a gimmick that had every Marvel title doing a story that predated not only the first issue of its individual series, but the 1961 first issue of The Fantastic Four. It’s probably best known now for a behind-the-scenes fact; many fans viewed the “-#1” issues as an excuse to skip an issue of a series but maintain a full run, which makes it one of the few “event month” gimmicks to ever cause sales to decrease. (I remember the first issue of X-Force I chose not to buy was the #-1 issue. I was already getting burned out on the X-titles, and didn’t feel the need to buy a comic about Warpath’s childhood). Stan Lee appeared in all Flashback titles as the narrator (I believe he wrote his own dialogue, but can’t find any confirmation in this issue), mirroring his role in an earlier issue of Generation X. The art style on the covers was changed to reflect a ‘60s look (which might’ve added to the dent in sales), and artists were encouraged to go back to a simpler grid-style panel arrangement. Comicraft also altered the lettering fonts, presumably to make the word balloons look hand-lettered. Plus, the letters pages and Bullpen Bulletins switched back to simplistic layouts with plain white backgrounds (which thankfully made them easier to read). A lot of effort clearly went into this, and I can’t help but feel like the Marvel staff was a lot more excited about this than the actual readers were.
Strictly in terms of content this seems like a bad idea, since most of these characters weren’t involved in any type of superhero adventures before FF #1 (hence FF #1’s role as the start of the Marvel Universe). This automatically harmed a lot of titles, especially the Spider-Man books, which were left with issue after issue to fill with stories set during Peter Parker’s childhood (I’ve only read the Untold Tales of Spider-Man issue, which had to go all the way back to his parents’ days as government agents). Aesthetically, the event forced the entire line to devolve back to a 1960s look that the majority of Marvel’s audience probably dismissed as boring. I don’t want to pile on Bob Harras, but I wonder if this event is another example of him putting his nostalgia over the current audience’s expectations (he is the one who wanted the X-Men, Spider-Man, and the Hulk to revert to their “classic” status quos, after all).
The actual story in this issue is rather mediocre, although the art features Bryan Hitch’s strongest work yet. If I cared more about the various continuity elements, I imagine I would’ve gotten more out of this. Sanctity was one of those characters that I could never remember from appearance to appearance when these issues were first released, so learning that she has a connection to a group of Silver Age characters I knew nothing about didn’t make her more endearing. Lobdell’s description of her powers does actually sound interesting, but I have a hard time getting over her connection to the Askani, a concept that I’ve grown to intensely dislike over the years. The story doesn’t directly tie in to the Zero Tolerance crossover, but since it does feature a prequel story with the Sentinels, there is at least a small connection (which I’m sure didn’t escape Lobdell). Even if this one isn’t great, it’s still passable, which puts ahead of many of the other Flashback issues.