Monday, March 30, 2009

UNCANNY X-MEN #346 – August 1997

“The Story of the Year!”
Credits: Scott Lobdell (writer), Joe Madureira w/Humberto Ramos (pencilers), Tim Towsend (inker), Comicraft (letters), Steve Buccellato (colors)

Summary: Peter Parker is sent on a mission for the Daily Bugle to photograph Henry Gyrich as a part of its Zero Tolerance investigation. His limo is suddenly attacked by Callisto and Marrow, which forces Parker to intervene as Spider-Man. Marrow is willing to kill Gyrich and his guards, but Spider-Man and Callisto try to talk her out of it. Gyrich’s guards suddenly turn into Sentinels and attack. They wound Callisto, which forces Spider-Man and Marrow to fight together. Gyrich, who didn’t know his guards were Sentinels, returns with reinforcements and shoots them down. Spider-Man talks Gyrich into letting Marrow leave with Callisto, who needs medical attention. Meanwhile, Bastion offers J. Jonah Jameson the information he’s decrypted from the X-Men’s files. He burns the disc, claiming that he won’t work with a murderer. Elsewhere, Gambit wakes up alone in a mysterious location.

Continuity Notes: Notice that Marrow is much more attractive in this appearance. I’m not sure if this is the first time she showed up with better looks (I’ve never read the Cable issue she appeared in a few months before this), but it becomes her standard look. I’m assuming there were already plans to add her to the team, and making her easier on the eyes was the first step.

This issue portrays Gyrich as being conflicted over Operation: Zero Tolerance, which is in sharp contrast to his appearance in the previous issue of X-Men. It’s possible that he was adamantly in favor of OZT in that issue because he was doing a television interview, but it’s still jarring to read the issues within a few days of each other.

According to Gyrich, his bodyguards were the same ones who were protecting Graydon Creed when he was killed. Presumably, this was supposed to finger Bastion in the assassination, but the clue was never paid off.

Some type of zebra-creature is standing behind Gambit in this issue. Paul O’Brien says that it’s a Kymellian, an alien race from the pages of Power Pack. This is totally ignored in the next issue.

Production Note: Marvel’s new cover design format debuts this month. Each comic now has a two-page foldout in the front cover, which has profiles of the characters and a recap of the current storyline. It’s a nice idea, but it lasted less than two years due to the added costs. The letters pages have also thankfully dropped the ugly computer-designed graphics in the background for just plain white.

Review: It wouldn’t shock me to learn that this issue was mainly just an excuse to have Joe Madureira draw Spider-Man. It certainly works on that level, since I remember looking over it again and again just for the art, which still looks impressive today. It is a fun action-oriented story that recaps the events of the current crossover while offering strong portrayals of Spider-Man and J. Jonah Jameson. My memory is that the Spider-titles were just overwhelmingly boring during this era, so this issue seemed like a welcome relief from the blandness. In terms of continuing the story from the preceding issues, all we get is one page of Gambit doing absolutely nothing, which doesn’t exactly work. I really have no idea why this storyline was allowed to drag on for so long, especially when the other titles were participating in a crossover. Since this is the first time the resurrected (and prettier) Marrow appears in UXM, the issue does have some added significance. I’ve never understood why exactly she was added to the team, especially if we’re to believe that Bob Harras was never a fan of reforming villains. She was clearly intended to be a bad bad guy (she was outright shown killing someone in cold blood in her first appearance), so giving her a makeover and having her join the X-Men seemed odd. The future writers tried to make this work, but I could never swallow it. Her appearance here is fine, since it’s only raising the idea that she’s capable of changing and there aren’t any X-Men here to question her about her past, but I never felt that her character arc had a meaningful resolution.


Matt said...

I really liked this issue when it came out -- it made me think Lobdell should have moved to Spider-Man after his X-Men tenure ended (and didn't we know by now that he was on the way out in just four more issues?).

"My memory is that the Spider-titles were just overwhelmingly boring during this era..."

I recall really enjoying them at this time. The Clone Saga was over, Peter Parker was back as Spidey, and you had DeFalco on Amazing doing his Black Tarantula/Rose story, Howard Mackie on Peter Parker doing the usual street-level gangster stuff (something he actually did very well), and DeMatties on Spectacular doing some great things with Kraven and the Chameleon (not to mention the hysterical Legion of Losers and the White Rabbit).

And then there was DeZago on Sensational. I never really got that guy. he wasn't bad, but he just seemed very run-of-the-mill.

Incidentally, I loved the new cover design! The big corner box and the banner across the top really evoked a "late-70s/early-80s" feel, which I think I've made clear lately is a huge plus in my book.

kerry said...

I really thought the gatefold recaps were a good idea, though they had the weird habit of recapping bits of the story you were about to read.

This cover reminds me that this was the era of "over-lettering," where every possible font was used just because it was available, resulting in a lot of busy, crowded pages and covers. This may have been a Richard Starkings-specific phenomenon, as his current Elephantmen series is also has all its lettering stylized to within an inch of its life.

kerry said...

Oh, and I actually liked the Spidey books in this era, too (post-Clone, pre-Gathering of Five/reboot).

Aqualad said...

WHY wasn't Joe Mad ever given a Spider-Man title? I remember Wizard Magazine using this issue as proof that he would be the perfect guy for the job.

Anonymous said...

Joe Mad only has four more issues on this series. After that I think he leaves Marvel and starts doing just covers and things for video games, until he finally starts his never on time Battle Chasers series.

rob said...

I too loved this issue when it came out - a total change of pace, very exciting, and it felt like it really recharged Lobdell and Madureira. It was also the best use the X-books got out of bringing in Jameson around this time. The gatefold was a fun addition too.

The post-Close/pre-Gathering of the 5/reboot era WAS pretty good. It goes without question that DeMatteis was doing good work. And despite Mackie's awful reputation, these issues with Romita jr were some of his better stuff. Never read Amazing then (except some of Steve Skroce's issues), but also really enjoyed Sensational - Dezago kept it light and fun, if a bit inconequential, and Weiringo's art was perfect for the book. I miss the 90s!

wwk5d said...

Marrow did have something of a character arc, at least at the end of the Davis run...once Claremont decided he didn't want her, it seems like noone really knew what to do with her, so she was either a brainwashed agent of SHIELD for one issue, or back to being an evil terrorist bitch (thank, Tieri).

Matt said...

... And now Mad is doing Avenging Spider-man. The circle is complete!

ray swift said...

While this issue was enjoyable, I found Spiderman's behavior towards Marrow highly questionable. Marrow tried to assasinate Gyrch. Not once, not twice, but three times! The fact that Spiderman, a vigilante, will protect her from being handed to the police raise a huge moral question around the whole story. Does Spiderman really thinks that his little pep talk to Marrow will surely prevent her from going after people blood again? And the suggestion that if she'll be back for troubles than he himself will hand her to the police is just plain stupid - Spiderman only was in that same place in the same minute of the assasination attempt by mare chance. It's almost 100% guaranteed that if Marrow will comeback to murder (as she said so herself) Spiderman won't be there to prevent it. Then what? Is he so cocky and full of himself that he is willing to bet on human lives?
The line between the vigilantee and the law is always elusive in superheroes comic books, but this one raise it to a whole new level.

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