Friday, May 29, 2009

UXM #361& X-MEN #81 – November 1998

Uncanny X-Men #361

Thieves in the Temple

Credits: Steve Seagle (writer), Steve Skroce (penciler), Tim Townsend w/Hanna, Hunter, & Candelario (inkers), Shannon Blanchard (colors), Comicraft (letters)

Summary: Storm and Shadowcat respond to Black Tom’s call for help and arrive in South Korea. Black Tom explains that most of Juggernaut’s power has been stolen by a cult, who trapped the Cytorrak magic in a new gem. An enraged Juggernaut briefly goes on a rampage in Seoul, where Storm and Shadowcat soon encounter Gambit. Gambit claims that he’s been hired to steal the new Cytorrak Gem. He accompanies the two X-Men to the Cytorrak Temple, where Shadowcat learns of the cult’s doomsday plans for the gem. Gambit steals it, and decides to give it back to the ailing Juggernaut, rather than his employer. Storm asks Gambit to consider rejoining the X-Men.

Continuity Notes: This issue has a few questionable elements. Black Tom is no longer in his plant form, without explanation. There is a brief comment about him still recuperating from his injuries, but that’s it. A three-page narrative sequence repeatedly describes Juggernaut as a mutant, which he is not. There’s also a claim that he mislead the team and violated their trust in order to enter the mansion, with a footnote pointing towards X-Men #70 (that’s not even remotely what happened). Shadowcat claims that she would've died in a Florida swamp were it not for Storm, even though she wasn't in the group of X-Men with Storm in the previous storyline. This is also supposed to be the first meeting between Shadowcat and Gambit, but it seems like their paths crossed during the “Fatal Attractions” crossover.

Review: And now, apparently because a lot of people demanded it, Gambit returns. It is conceivable that a lot of fans were upset by Gambit’s departure (I imagine a large section of the fanbase only knew of an X-Men team with Gambit), but it didn’t seem as if the hardcore readers missed him that much at the time. This seems to be a commercial for the upcoming Gambit series, which also featured Steve Skroce on art and debuted a few months later. Skroce has entered a phase that has him drawing as many figures, tiny objects, bricks, glass shards, and Ditko-esque leaping heroes as possible. Most artists couldn’t make this work, but I think he manages to pull the reader into the image, rather than overloading them with too much nonsense. The story is just an excuse to give Gambit something to do, and it reads like something written on the fly. The “meanwhile” scenes at the mansion are actually more enjoyable. Marrow steals one of Colossus’ sketches, as we learn that she’s secretly obsessed with beauty. Colossus apologizes for getting angry by giving her a sketch he’s drawn of her. It’s a little sappy, but Seagle does a nice job with the character interactions.

X-Men #81

Jack of Hearts, Queen of Death!

Credits: Joe Kelly (writer), Adam Kubert (penciler), Mark Farmer (inker), Steve Buccellato (colorist), Comicraft (letters)

Summary: The X-Men introduce Marrow to the Danger Room, as Gambit moves in to the mansion’s boathouse. Rogue and Gambit soon travel to Boston, where they discuss what happened in Antarctica. A powerful young woman named Kali appears, declaring that the “voices” want Gambit and Rogue dead. After she’s defeated, Rogue tells Gambit that she still loves him. He doesn’t respond, so she flies away. Suddenly, a woman made of green mist circles Gambit, telling him to stay away from Rogue.

Continuity Notes: The Danger Room has returned without explanation (although future issues show the team receiving shipments from Muir Island, which would be a reasonable rationalization).

The mystery of the Green Mist Lady is resolved in Gambit’s upcoming solo series. I think the original idea was that she saved him in Antarctica, but I seem to recall Fabian Nicieza developing a more complicated resolution.

Miscellaneous Note: According to the Statement of Ownership, average sales for the year were 222,183 copies, with the most recent issue selling 206,491.

Review: And now that Gambit’s returned, Joe Kelly dedicates an entire issue to him and Rogue discussing his inane exit. This issue hammers home the “Rogue left him to die because she absorbed his self-loathing” idea, which was retroactively developed in order to justify Rogue’s decision. Since it absolves her of any guilt, it removes most of the conflict between Gambit and Rogue, leaving them without a lot to talk about in the story. Kelly could’ve revived the team’s indignant response to Gambit’s involvement with the Morlock Massacre, but I get the impression that Marvel doesn’t want to dwell on the idea (especially when Gambit’s solo series is a few months away). The conversation between the characters doesn’t feel particularly deep, and it’s of course interrupted by a fight scene. Kali is another mystery villain with annoyingly vague motivations. Even though Kelly hints that there’s more going on, Kali’s really just played as crazy, attacking Gambit and Rogue because the story needed an action sequence. Adam Kubert’s art helps to sell the fight scene, so at least it doesn’t feel boring. With the combination of Mark Farmer’s inks and some impressive coloring by Steve Buccellato, I’ve always thought that this was a great looking issue. I don’t know if Kubert is well-suited for a long run on a team book, since his art became increasingly stripped down as the months went on during his UXM stint (and quite a few fill-in artists were brought in), but his work here is very strong.


wwk5d said...

You have to wonder if Kali was a dropped plot by Kelly, or just another blunder by editorial. Did Seagle and Kelly know they were off the books by this pooint, and just going through the motions of what editorial was telling them, or was editorial just re-writing everything they were doing?

rob said...

Against my better judgment, I've always kind of liked both issues.
Althought I don't know if that's because I love the art so much in both. Because the group interactions were handled pretty well in both, at this point, I thought the new editorially-mandated Kelly/Seagle run could work.

I don't think the hard-core fans were clamouring for a Gambit return. For me the 1997-98 year without him had been a really refreshing one, and I love the new group dynamics Kelly and Seagle had created.

Matt said...

Once again, a pair of issues from the Seagle/Kelly era that I have absolutely zero recollection of! For some reason, these guys must not have impressed me much...!

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