Monday, May 11, 2009

UXM #356 - #357, June - July 1998

Uncanny X-Men #356


Credits: Steve Seagle (writer), Chris Bachalo (penciler), Tim Townsend (inker), Steve Buccellato (colors), Comicraft (lettering)

Summary: Archangel, Iceman, and Beast travel to Alaska to visit Cyclops and Phoenix. Cyclops wants to talk to the others about developing a new version of Xavier’s dream. He confides to Beast that he’s also concerned about Phoenix. Strange birds follow the X-Men around the town, often dropping dead. Iceman is convinced that a man is following them. Meanwhile, Rogue catches Dr. Agee leaving the offices of a company named Mutopia.

Continuity Notes: Rogue is now wearing her original costume, which concerns Wolverine because of its “darker” implications. This is the third costume she’s worn in the past few months (she wore the space outfit last issue, and her standard ‘90s outfit in X-Men #75).

All of this talk about reconsidering Xavier’s dream goes nowhere, making it dropped plotline #248. I seem to recall the original solicitations for these issues actually made a big deal about Cyclops developing a new plan for the X-Men, but I don’t know what Seagle had in mind.

Review: This is another issue that would probably read better if the storylines it introduced actually went anywhere. Without a payoff to the Phoenix or “new dream” storylines, it feels mostly pointless. Seagle does handle the interactions between the characters well enough, so at least the lengthy conversation scenes aren't dull. The conversation between Cyclops and Beast also manages to make Cyclops’ concern over Jean feel more legitimate than it has in the previous issues, in part because it acknowledges the established continuity that Jean never was Phoenix and allows Beast to play devil’s advocate. But, once again, it’s setting up an idea that went nowhere, making the scene more frustrating than anything. Bachalo’s art is getting cartoonier and cartoonier, which looks nice on Beast, Wolverine, and most of the female characters, but also creates bizarre interpretations of Cyclops and Archangel.

Uncanny X-Men #357

The Sky Is Falling

Credits: Steve Seagle (writer), Dan Norton (penciler), Dexter Vines & Scott Hanna (inkers), Steve Buccellato (colors), Comicraft (lettering)

Summary: The city of Ptarmigan Creek is attacked by a murder of crows. The X-Men chase the birds away and soon split up to investigate. They later converge when the crows amass a giant bird form inside the town. Cyclops blasts the bird congregation and it disappears. Iceman claims that he defeated the birds because he knocked out Moon Wolf, the shaman who allegedly summoned them to punish the town for stealing Inuit land. Phoenix thinks that destroying the mechanical crow she found in the murder ended the threat. Archangel and Beast wonder if local pollution caused the problem. Iceman questions why no one believes his theory, as a mystical bird flies out of the eyes of the unconscious shaman.

Continuity Notes: Dr. Agee is discussing Rogue with his sister Rebecca, whose mutation he claims to have cured. Rebecca is finally revealed as an inhuman-looking monster living inside a tube.

Bishop and Deathbird are hurtling into a sun, which doesn’t exactly fit where their subplot left off. Bishop tells Deathbird he loves her in order to convince her to free him, which allows him to pull their ship out of the sun’s orbit. He claims that the nearby planet won’t be so lucky, which I assume is a reference to the planet they were caught in the pull of in their last appearance.

Melissa, the sister-in-law of the local sheriff (who’s also Cyclops and Phoenix’s neighbor), receives a decent amount of attention during this storyline. She stumbles across the team’s secret and shows that she’s trustworthy, while also serving as a potential love interest for Archangel. Seagle likely had plans for the character, which of course means she disappeared very quickly.

Creative Differences: The Bullpen Bulletins acknowledges that the description of the previous issue, “the original five X-Men confront the threat of the PHOENIX reborn”, wasn’t accurate. The writer claims that the X-Creators came up with another great idea for this issue, but “maybe we can convince the X-Writers to do this story after all – it sounds like a goodie to us!”

Seven issues into the new direction, and Marvel’s already dropping hints that things are changing soon. After printing a letter from a fan upset by the new lineup, the response says that the title will undergo another change in issue #360.

Review: This is the most frustrating issue of Seagle’s run so far. Remember last issue’s cliffhanger, which had Cyclops ready to discuss a new direction for the X-Men? Hope you weren’t too intrigued, as the story is dropped in three panels by the second page (Phoenix kicks Cyclops under the table, because there’s no need to “rush the serious stuff”). As horrible as it sounds, that’s actually a more satisfactory resolution for the story than many of the other subplots received during this era. The action sequences consist of what you would probably expect to see in an “X-Men versus birds” fight, although Seagle adds the wrinkle that the team doesn’t want to use its powers in public. This doesn’t exactly work if you can remember all of the times the various X-telepaths used their powers to cloud the public’s perceptions of an open fight, but the story’s really committed to the secrecy angle.

The intentionally vague resolution, which presents three different explanations for why the bird invasion stopped (and another explanation for what caused it), also doesn’t work. If this wasn’t in the middle of a run filled with vague hints and dangling plotlines, it might’ve come across as clever, but that’s clearly not the context the story appeared in. The ending points towards Moon Wolf as the real culprit, although that’s hard to square with the sheriff’s claims that the man takes responsibility for everything, including the Unibomber attacks. Seagle was probably going with the idea that the Inuit god just happened to possess this man who’s insane, but keeping it as an intentional mystery is just annoying. The fill-in art comes from Dan Norton, who turns in a Joe Madureira/J. Scott Campbell pastiche. It’s actually not bad, which leads me to wonder why he didn’t show up on the X-titles more often.


rob said...

I agree that this two-parter is a bit of a mess, but I have a lot of affection for the first chapter. I think it was refreshing to see such well fleshed-out portrayals of the original 5 and Bachalo's art was great, for me. The second part just comes apart - the characterization is nearly missing, X-Men versus birds is not engaging, and I wanted Bachalo back. And the amount of dropped plots/character arcs is frustrating in hindsight. With multiple reads, I have come to (slightly) appreciate the humour of the different explanations for the bird attacks, but Seagle still drops the ball in #357.

wwk5d said...

I heard one of the reasons Marvel wasn't too keen on this run was because the 2 writers were focusing mostly on 2 different casts, which meant one title would end up selling more than the other or something. This is reflected a bit in the next run; the same characters in both titles, and it pretty much becomes a bi-monthly title.

Matt said...

Wait, so now Archangel is back in his blue costume...? I wonder if there was a color guide that someone was ignoring, or if the implication is that he switches around depending on how he feels that morning (like Spider-Man with his red and black costumes in the 80's).

Chris Bachalo seems to really like Rogue's original costume. He put her in it during this run on Uncanny, and when he came back to Uncanny a few years ago, he put her in it again!

"This is reflected a bit in the next run; the same characters in both titles, and it pretty much becomes a bi-monthly title."

I sometimes get the sense that I'm in the minority, but this is the way I like it! I loved when the X-books were like one bi-weekly title, and when the four Spider-titles were basically a four times a month ongoing in the 90's.

I wish Marvel would use their current Spider-Man model for the X-Men, too -- cancel X-Men and Astonishing, and just publish Uncanny three times a month, with an X-Men "brain trust" of writers coordinating and collaborating on the overall narrative.

Teebore said...

I wish Marvel would use their current Spider-Man model for the X-Men, too You know, I'm not a huge fan of "Brand New Day" but I think I would be on board something like this for X-Men, mainly because I already buy all three X-Men titles (whereas before I only bought Amazing).

Make 'em all issues of Uncanny... with a consistent group of characters and story arcs...could be interesting.

They could even take "breaks" from the main narrative, and have a writer/artist come on board for a 1 month, 3 issue Dazzler story or something, before returning to a story featuring the "main" cast.

ray swift said...

And now, boys and girls, the sensational original X-men, including one of the most powerful telepaths in the world, all unite together against... Crows!
I'm getting pumped already!

Of course, Jean should be able to discard this threat easily all by herself, but that's not going to happen because only bad telepath can be useful with their power.

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