Wednesday, April 15, 2009

UNCANNY X-MEN #350 – December 1997

Trial & Errors
Credits: Scott Lobdell (co-plot, uncredited), Steve Seagle (script), Joe Madureira w/Andy Smith (pencilers), Tim Townsend w/Vince Russell & Dan Panosian (inkers), Comicraft (lettering), Steve Buccellato (colors)

Summary: In the past, Gambit receives a mysterious vial from Mr. Sinister, in exchange for gathering the Marauders. In the present, Gambit is taken into custody by Spat and Grovel. The remaining X-Men ignore his wishes and follow them. In New York, Psylocke traces the “darkness” inside Maggott into the shadows. Maggott and Archangel follow her, and arrive inside a hidden citadel in Antarctica. When Joseph approaches the citadel outside, he falls down in pain as it rises from the ground. The X-Men investigate the citadel, where most of them are soon abducted. Rogue reaches the lowest level, where Gambit is being kept. Suddenly, Erik the Red appears with the robot Ferris. Erik announces that Gambit is on trial for his past sins. Gambit admits that he once made a deal with Mr. Sinister, while Psylocke reveals the recently unblocked memory she saw in Gambit’s subconscious. She tells the X-Men that Gambit recruited the Marauders shortly before the Morlock Massacre. Rogue is goaded into kissing Gambit, which forces her to relive the day from his perspective. She learns that Gambit tried to stop the massacre once he realized what was happening, but was nearly killed by Sabretooth. He then rescued a young girl from the carnage and ran away. Erik the Red forces the building to collapse, declaring that this is the deliberation. As the team escapes, Rogue saves Gambit from the falling debris. However, she refuses to take him with the rest of the X-Men, telling him that he will have to save himself. Meanwhile, Erik the Red and Ferris escape in an aircraft. Erik takes off his mask and reveals himself as Magneto.

Gimmicks: This issue shipped with an enhanced foil version and a non-enhanced one.

Miscellaneous Note: The Statement of Ownership lists average sales at 300,732 copies with the most recent issue selling 261,017.

Continuity Notes: Erik the Red is a false identity Cyclops once assumed back in the Silver Age. The identity was later usurped by an evil Shi’ar agent in order to throw the X-Men off-balance (according to some inserted pages in Classic X-Men).

It’s asserted twice in this issue that Gambit’s wife, Belladonna, was dead when he made his deal with Mr. Sinister. Actually, she died years after this would’ve happened, after Gambit had already joined the team.

The vial Mr. Sinister gives Gambit was addressed in the Gambit solo series. It's somehow connected to a brain surgery Sinister gave Gambit in order to dampen his powers (more info can be found here).

One of the flashbacks shows Gambit leading the Marauders into the Morlock Tunnels (in fact, it’s supposed to be another job that Sinister is paying him for). This contradicts the actual published comics from that storyline, which had the Marauders simply following the Morlocks home and learning their location. The girl Gambit saves from the massacre is Marrow, which is something Alan Davis picks up on in the future. Prism is incorrectly listed as a Morlock in this issue, when he's actually a Marauder.

When Gambit is first brought into the citadel, he identifies the voice he hears in the darkness as Mr. Sinister. Later, it’s revealed as Erik the Red, and then finally Magneto. The Sinister idea is a strange one, since there are clues throughout the issue that point to Erik the Red’s identity as Magneto. I wonder if the Sinister reference is something that survived an earlier draft and just slipped through.

Review: This is obviously a mess, and it’s something Marvel had to do a fair amount of backtracking on in subsequent years. It’s interesting that no one is credited for actually plotting this story (Seagle is only listed as “scripter”). Seagle was originally hired to replace Larry Hama on Wolverine, but was asked to take over UXM when Lobdell abruptly disappeared. His first issue was supposed to be #351, I believe, but he was brought in at the last minute to finish this one. He apparently claimed on Usenet that he was finishing the issue Lobdell started, which leads me to believe what we’re reading is a Lobdell plot heavily rewritten by editorial, then given to Seagle to script. Fan reaction to this issue was largely negative, with many of the complaints centering on Rogue leaving Gambit to die in the antarctic. Some people within Marvel must’ve had second thoughts, since it’s later retconned that a) the X-Men circled back and did at least try to find Gambit, and b) Rogue’s actions were motivated by the intense self-loathing she absorbed from Gambit. Fabian Nicieza tried his best to make this work in Gambit’s solo series, but it’s hard to justify such a ridiculous ending. There is one Rogue/Gambit moment I do like in this issue, which has Rogue regretting her kiss with Gambit, because he’s the one person she wanted to get to know “like a real, normal woman”. It reminds me of the final Classic X-Men backup story Ann Nocenti wrote, which shows what it’s like for Rogue to learn everything there is to know about someone at one time.

Other aspects of this story just don’t make any sense, period. After years of selling Joseph as Magneto, another Magneto (who turned out to be the “real” one) turns up on the last page. It makes for a dramatic final page, but it undermines a storyline that had been building for years, and it makes no sense given the context of this specific issue. Why exactly would Magneto put Gambit on trial? If he’s that concerned about what happened years earlier in the Morlock Massacre, why isn’t he going after Sinister and the Marauders? There are a few lines at the end that suggest he only staged the trial in order to drive the X-Men apart, but that’s not much of an answer (And why exactly did he choose the Erik the Red identity of all things?). He also claims that this is the first step in the “gradual erosion” of the team, which isn’t followed up on at all (the next time Magneto does something, I’m pretty sure it’s a high-profile stunt in “Magneto War”, and not a devious attempt at driving the team apart). It reads as if editorial just got bored with the Joseph storyline, and with a new creative team in place, decided to bring back the evil, ruthless Magneto they seemed to prefer. I can understand why they wanted to end the Joseph story, but to abruptly bring Magneto back without resolving any of the mysteries surrounding Joseph feels like a cheat.

Other nonsense in this issue includes Psylocke following the “darkness” within Maggott and suddenly ending up in Antarctica with the others. I understand that she needs to be there in order to pay off the scene from UXM #324 that had her entering Gambit’s mind, but this is obviously forced. Spat and Grovel’s role is never actually explained, as it appears that they were hired by Magneto all along (Then why were they being held captive with the others? And how did they know where Gambit was going to crash land in the first place?). The “trial” setup also doesn’t work, since there doesn’t seem to be enough room left in the issue for the X-Men to really debate what should be done with Gambit. His secrets are revealed, Erik/Magneto forces the building to collapse (which is somehow a “deliberation”), and Rogue gets a rushed kiss-off scene with Gambit. This might’ve worked better if the characters were already in the place they needed to be at the start of the story, but unfortunately the past few issues of the title just wandered aimlessly, barely moving the characters anywhere. It’s too bad that this is Joe Madureira’s final issue, since it looks like a rush job, and Andy Smith has to draw random scenes throughout the story. Instead of finishing his run with his collaborator of the past three years, Madureira ends up penciling an uncredited plot that’s largely nonsensical. It’s a not exactly a graceful ending for this specific era of UXM.


Jeff said...

So is this your last review or are you going to continue? I'll miss my daily dose of reviews!!

Nicholas said...

It may as well since this exact issue was where I stopped subscribing to X-Men (I was subscribing this and Uncanny X-Men and X-Men 2099 at one point). Still glad to see a blog entry for every single issue I ever got in my subscription. Uncanny 350 was understandably a very poor way to end the run though.

wwk5d said...

What a sad way for the Lobdell era to end. There is so much wrong with this issue, as you pointed out. The non-sensical stuff with Pyslocke, Spat and Grovel, etc. For me, the Gambit/Marauder retcon is probably the worst of them all. It does seem like Sinister was intended to be the main villain behind all this, but then someone in editorial decided to bring back the 'real' Magneto (which negated, as you said, the whole build-up with Joseph), then forgot all about him. Ugh. A low point in X-men history.

Aqualad said...

I didn't read this issue until well into the Seagle run since it was sold out at my shop for a long time. Disappointing on every level. Nice foil cover though.

Matt said...

I don't remember this issue very well, but I'm pretty sure I bought into all of it. It's interesting in retrospect what I was willing to accept at the time.

I think I was well aware at this point that they were making it up as they went along -- but I was still under the impression that they might follow up and explain it all later.

Incidentally, I recall an interview with Scott Lobdell, I think in Wizard, where he was talking about how it was his duty as the departing writer to leave a big mystery for Seagle to follow up on. I wonder if this is what he meant, or if, when the interview was conducted, he was talking about his original plans (whatever they may have been).

evanmcb said...

I remember my retailer telling me when this issue came out that some of Mad's pages were lost by FedEx, and so they had to be redrawn by him and Smith. Don't know if that's true, but it I believe it just looking at the issue.

G. Kendall said...

"So is this your last review or are you going to continue? I'll miss my daily dose of reviews!!"

Coming soon, an important message to you, from the editor, about the NEW Not Blog X!

MWM said...

"It reminds me of the final Classic X-Men backup story Ann Nocenti wrote, which shows what it’s like for Rogue to learn everything there is to know about someone at one time."

this was possibly the best supplemental story to come out of CXMN. if only the recent XMN writers had read it, too...

Jayrich said...

To be honest, I enjoyed this storyline from the UXM, and I hate that they didn't elaborate on it. It had a perfect set up for Marrow to discover the role Gambit played during the Morlock Massacre, and take her own revenge, thereby bringing her in conflict with Rogue.

It may have seemed like a mess when it was all put together, but it had the potential to develop into a long lasting storyline that could've changed a lot of things in Xavier's team, and possibly avoid the B.S. they're going through today.

But hey, I'm just speaking as a FanFic writer and long time X-Men Fan. Just my opinion...

Brendan said...

it's good i wasn't collecting x-titles at this point because i would have quit doing so. Gambit was my favorite character at the time and I think he works really well when he's portrayed as a flighty, charming criminal that wants to atone for the past by being on the X-Men. His cameo in the Wolverine movie is generally how I like to see Gambit even if that movie is perfectly awful in almost every way.

Making him into the pinnacle of angstiness was a really bad move on the part of the marvel staff and I was already growing tired of how much stuff they put this guy through. This was like the nail in the coffin of this character which I remember most old-school fans hated but the new-school kids who watched the cartoon loved.

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