Monday, May 4, 2009

X-MEN #73 - March 1998 & UXM #355 - May 1998

X-Men #73

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.

Uncanny X-Men #355

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.


wwk5d said...

Looking back, it seems like the Kelly issues hold up better than the Seagle issues. I do remember also hearing that Seagle did want to retcon things so that Phoenix was Jean, not just copying her.

rob said...

#73 is a decent issue. I tried to ignore the continuity problems back then. Kelly is at least trying to build some sort of dynamic between the new and old team members. The Shaw stuff just irks me. I do agree there's an air of 'let's just get this out of the way' about Maggott/Joseph's confrontation. Even when we do learn Maggott's connection to Magneto, it's pretty boring.

355 is an okay issue. The better material is in the details (the phone call open and close, Scott and Jean, Sauron in a bag, Rogue's story) than the main fight. There's some good moments here between Wolverine, Puck, and Heather, but most of it is pretty blah. It's a crossover shoehorned in to a run still trying to find it's feet. And I don't love Bachalo's art on a busy, costumed fight scene.

When these runs were coming out, I adored Seagle's issues (probably because they were darker and seemed different than the previous few years), and felt Kelly's was fun, but light and inconsequential. With every reread of them, Seagle still has some good issues, but Kelly's run far exceeds them.

Matt said...

Count me in this group too! I distinctly remember enjoying Seagle's work more back then, but in retrospect, it seems that Kelly holds up a lot better!

"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"Weird, I've always loved that line. Amid the sea of dreck that was X-Men Origins: Wolverine, hearing Hugh Jackman say the full line actually gave me a minor chill!

Teebore said...

Here's how I always read the Phoenix/Cyclops subplot: The original Phoenix copied Jean's body, became powerful, had that power corrupt her, and sacrificed herself thanks to Jean's innate humanity.

Now, the real Jean has taken to wearing the costume of the Phoenix entity and is talking about empowering herself.

So Scott is worried the original Phoenix story (increased power leading to corruption and finally self-sacrifice) will play out again, only with Jean herself, and not her cosmic doppelganger, in the starring role.

Of course, it's possible I'm overlooking something that debunks that interpretation. And it's a fairly moot point, since, as we all know, the Seagle/Kelly subplots get dropped and forgotten pretty quickly.

Jeff said...

I have to agree with everyone who originally liked the Seagle issues but now thinks Kelly's are a lot better. Also, I'm not complaining about them getting rid of Joseph as quickly as possible.

G. Kendall said...

"Weird, I've always loved that line. Amid the sea of dreck that was X-Men Origins: Wolverine, hearing Hugh Jackman say the full line actually gave me a minor chill!"

Kelly was referring to the "soon as I figure out just what that is” line that's tagged on to the end in this issue. If I'm remembering correctly, he cited it as an example of overthinking a once-clever line and taking it in a direction it was never meant to go. He also told his readers not to focus too much on who actually wrote this scene, which is either self-deprecating humor, or a hint that someone else wrote the line.

And, yeah, the X-Men movie franchise is pretty much a mess now, isn't it?

ray swift said...

I didn't like UXN #355 for two reasons:
1. Wolverine is overpowered. I hate when they treat him like this. Sure, he is a powerful mutant, but in the Claremonet days he would never be able to hold against the entire Alpha Flight. The thing that makes Wolverine special isn't his strength but his attitude. This issue makes him hold up against the entire team, just one issue after he was totally bashed by Sauron alone. It makes no sense. From the begging of the title, the X-men always had to walk on a narrow line regarding the power of the team: When one team member can discard an enemy alone yet you show the entire cast fightning said enemy together, there is a feeling of cheat, like the whole fight is a filler and the stakes aren't high enough.
This issue suffer from this said credibility problem: Wolverine alone is enough to handel the entire Alpha Flight. Then enter the other X-men - and the fight is still the same! You couldn't feel Wolverine is in a real danger when he was alone and you couldn't feel that bringing the other X-men changed the tide of the fight.
Speaking of bringing the X-men, am I suppose to belive Rogue just flew "in a second" to bring the X-men from America to Canada? That doesn't make any sense! Maybe if she went to called Scott and Jean who ALREADY IN CANADA, I would give it a pass, but that didn't happen...

2. Jean and Phoenix costume story just make Jean look stupid. It's clrearly an offensive costume and Scott has every reason to be nervous seeing it again, considering what happened the last time he saw it. Jean explanation about self-esteem and excepting herself and all the nonsense just makes her look bad. She could easily just make a new costume (X-men do it all the time) to express her inner changes. Reverting to the old Phoenix one (One she didn't even wear in the past, judging on behalf of the old Phoenix retcon) has to bring bad memories to her too.
This is just bad character writing.

ray swift said...

As for X-men #73 - I think most of the continuity protblems are not Kelly's fault. He is trying to work with the cards he got, and he got some really clustered s**t to begin with. Judging by that, I think Kelly is doing a damn fine job. He got the characters right, he is making them more interesting then they were in years. That's actually the first time for me in a long time that I'm effortlessly and sincerely enjoying an X-men comics (for a long time I mostly enjoyed only some of the spinoffs). That's what the X-men suppose to be: fun, intriguing, with a lot of things going on, with different, interesting characters that each of them get his little spotlight and isn't ignored.
Sabra is badass. She really had a definitive presence in this issue. The fact that they already flashed her out in the Zero Tolerance crossover makes her appearance here more subtle and reasonable.
I also seem to remember that in said crossover, or in the last few issues, she had a talk with Gabrielle Haller were they said the Mossad got new leads on Magneto and his real origin. That's vague, but it is somehow an explanation of why they only go after him now - some new information of importance came out, and it changed the picture about Magneto. I'm willing to buy it.

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