The Elements Within Us
Credits: Joe Kelly (writer), Joe Casey (script assist), Jeff Johnson (penciler), Dan Panosian (inker), Comicraft (lettering), Steve Oliff & Digital Chameleon (colors)
Summary: The X-Men receive a letter from Professor Xavier, but Wolverine is suspicious of its origin. Later, Joseph asks to speak to Maggott about his relationship with Magneto. Maggott is reluctant, because he knows Joseph isn’t Magneto after coming across the real Magneto in Antarctica. Their conversation is interrupted by Sabra, who attacks Joseph. Maggott stops the fight by convincing her that he isn’t really Magneto. Joseph abruptly decides to leave with Sabra, hoping that he can learn the truth about his past from her.
Continuity Notes: The continuity in this issue doesn’t work with the events of Uncanny at the time. UXM #353-#354 all feature Joseph, so they must take place before he leaves the mansion in this issue. However, #355 takes places directly after #354 (which ends with Rogue leaving the mansion), and it explicitly says that Joseph has left the team by this point. The only way for this to work is for the final few pages of #354, Rogue’s departure scene, to take place after this issue.
The story takes place on New Year’s Eve, and has the team making resolutions. Beast’s is to cure the Legacy Virus, which Cecilia Reyes bets him he cannot do within the year. This ties in with the house ad that hyped a resolution to the storyline in 1998, but it didn’t happen until three years later.
There are, of course, numerous subplot scenes in this issue. Sebastian Shaw receives a lot of focus in the issue, debating his future, before finally deciding to join forces with a mystical entity. This one is particularly frustrating, since it takes up so much space and is never resolved. The package addressed to Storm is making its way to America, and somehow African tribesmen are in a German post office, ensuring that it gets through (they might be a mental projection, it’s hard to tell). Senator Kelly is searching for Professor Xavier at Bastion’s abandoned New Mexico base, but he isn’t there. Finally, Marrow returns to the mansion after her fight with Wolverine and steals Cecilia Reyes’ doctor’s bag (since Marrow also made cameos in UXM during this time, this makes the continuity even harder to work out).
Review: This one looks pretty rough in retrospect, although I recall liking it at the time. Kelly tries to move some storylines along while still focusing on the characters, so we end up with the X-Men making New Year’s resolutions as a multitude of subplots carry on in the background. None of the resolutions are particularly insightful, (Wolverine’s is to “be the best there is at what I do…soon as I figure out just what that is”, a line I seem to recall Kelly mocking in his writing column for the early Newsarama) but there are a few nice moments with Beast.
Maggott and Joseph’s conversation seems to be a “let’s just get this done” formality, and it somehow turns into a rushed exit scene for Joseph. This is really just awkward all around, as Maggott was given an unexplained motive for finding Magneto in his early appearances, which was quickly dismissed when he joined the team (for equally vague reasons). Joseph was supposed to be Magneto, although no one bothered to explain how he ended up in his current state. Then, suddenly, he wasn’t Magneto, but was left on the team with nothing to do. It seems like the creators just want to ditch him at this point, so he gets the token conversation with Maggott out of the way, and then runs off with Sabra. Sabra’s addition doesn’t make a lot of sense either, as the Mossad agent is now working on her own, determined to kill Magneto. She’s never been concerned about him before, but now she’s hell-bent on killing him after he murdered a counterfeiter (not even in Israel, but in Prague). She claims that she has to do this “for my people” (presumably because she thinks Magneto’s a poor representative for Jews), but that’s not a very convincing motivation. And I have no idea why Joseph thinks she can help him learn about his past, or why he feels the need to leave without even saying goodbye to the others. It just reads as if someone wanted Joseph gone and no one actually worked out the logistics of how it was supposed to happen.
North & South
Credits: Steve Seagle (writer), Chris Bachalo (penciler), Tim Townsend w/Beatty & Smith (inkers), Comicraft (lettering), Steve Buccellato (colors)
Summary: As Wolverine takes the captive Sauron to Manhattan, he’s attacked by Alpha Flight. Meanwhile, Rogue visits Dr. Agee, who claims that he can remove genetic mutations. After her consultation, she flies past Wolverine’s fight. She recruits the other X-Men for help, and Alpha Flight is quickly defeated. Heather Hudson realizes that Department H lied to the team, claiming that Wolverine had killed Alpha Flight member Madison Jeffries. Wolverine shakes hands with Heather and the teams part amicably. Meanwhile, Cyclops expresses his concerns to Phoenix over her decision to wear the original Phoenix costume.
Continuity Notes: This is supposed to represent the X-Men’s perspective during their appearance in Alpha Flight from around this time. This was mentioned in an earlier Bullpen Bulletins, but I don’t see any indication within the issue itself. The reason why Alpha Flight is behaving strangely is apparently because they’re being brainwashed (I never followed Seagle’s Alpha Flight, and it’s my understanding that it’s also filled with unresolved mysteries).
Phoenix is wearing her original costume because she’s “tired of suppressing (her) abilities” and wants to “empower” herself. Cyclops is afraid that this might be a sign that she’s following the original Phoenix’s path. Speaking of costumes, Rogue is back to wearing the space suit she wore during the previous year’s Phalanx storyline for no apparent reason.
Review: This is mostly a commercial for the second volume of Alpha Flight, and it’s not a very good one since most of the characters aren’t very interesting and I don’t really understand what’s going on. I can understand why Seagle thought an Alpha Flight appearance could work as an excuse for a fight scene and as promotion for the title, but it just comes across as pointless. Bachalo’s art saves some of this, but for the most part it’s pretty dull.
The Rogue subplot continues, as she makes the first step in removing her powers. This is pretty much the most obvious story you can do with Rogue (as evidenced by the fact that the original cartoon and the third movie used the same idea), so it’s surprising that the comics themselves had never gone in this direction. Rogue was even targeted with a power-neutralizing gun during the original Claremont run, but he didn't take the obvious bait and have Rogue consider if getting hit would’ve been a good thing. I don’t have a problem with obvious ideas as long as the writer gets decent material out of them, so I can’t hold this against Seagle. Unfortunately, Rogue’s story is barely touched on in this issue, as the Alpha Flight fight takes up most of the space.
The Phoenix storyline is another one that I remember getting a lot of play before being totally ignored. Cyclops’ fears resurrect all kinds of continuity issues that probably should’ve been left alone. At the time, the established continuity was that the Phoenix was a cosmic entity who copied Jean Grey’s form, and that Jean never was the Phoenix. Seagle seems to be going back to the pre-retcon idea that the Phoenix represents Jean’s ultimate potential as a mutant, which makes Cyclops wonder if history is going to repeat itself. I don’t see how this story can work without retconning the retcons, because if you accept that Jean never was Phoenix, there’s not a lot of conflict here. Unless Cyclops thinks that the cosmic entity has returned (which isn’t where Seagle seems to be going with this), that means that he’s upset about his wife changing outfits. And if Jean never was Phoenix, then it’s hard to explain why exactly she’s creating fiery bird imagery and wants to wear the old costume (as for the name change, this was explained years earlier as a tribute to Rachel Summers, who did carry the Phoenix Force for a while). Maybe Seagle did have a plan that made sense within continuity and actually said something about Jean Grey’s character, but it just seems like shock value at this point. And since this turned out to be another dropped plot, it’s even more annoying in retrospect.