Wednesday, May 20, 2009

X-MEN #78 & UXM #358 – August 1998

X-Men #78

Stormfront Part 2

Credits: Joe Kelly (writer), German Garcia (penciler), Art Thibert (inker), Liquid! (colors), Comicraft (lettering)

Summary: Powered by Psylocke’s psionic attack, the Shadow King now has access to every mind on earth. He tries to tempt the new X-Men over to his side, while Psylocke unexpectedly reemerges in a shadow form. Realizing that the mystic Crimson Dawn is powering her inside the psionic plane, she rescues Ainet. With her help, Psylocke is able to free Storm from her psychic prison. As Storm rescues the other X-Men, Psylocke faces the Shadow King. When he tries to infect every mind on earth, Psylocke targets his unprotected “nexus point” with her shadow powers. The Shadow King disappears, but Psylocke realizes that if she uses her telepathy again, he could be set free.

Continuity Notes: The Shadow King explains that he was masking his presence from Xavier for months, until Xavier lost his telepathy after becoming Onslaught. He also claims that the psychic feedback caused by Psylocke’s attack “devastated the minds of all unshielded telepaths.” I think that this was supposed to be something of a big deal within the Marvel Universe, but it was only briefly referenced in a few of the X-titles.

Review: This two-parter might turn out to be Kelly’s strongest work on the title. There is a sense that this was probably supposed to be a larger story arc, but the slightly rushed conclusion doesn’t distract from the imaginative use of the Shadow King’s powers and some strong character work. Kelly’s skill with dialogue has previously given the characters some sharp one-liners that also reflect some aspect of their personality. This storyline goes deeper, as the X-Men are forced by the Shadow King to live out their greatest fears or deepest desires. This is a fairly standard route to take with telepathic villains, but Kelly is able to make it more engaging than the cliché “villain invades the hero’s mind” story. Not only is Storm forced to reenact the childhood trauma that created her claustrophobia, but she also expresses her guilt over failing her parents, being forced to “kill” Marrow, and using her powers irresponsibly as a youth. This is only a two-page scene, but it offers more insight into her character than any other '90s issue I can think of.

Psylocke also has her moments, as the previously pointless Crimson Dawn powers are actually used effectively. I wonder if Lobdell was planning all along to do a story where Psylocke loses her telepathic powers and has to embrace her new ones. It’s a pretty obvious way to go, but since Lobdell never even took the idea this far, the Crimson Dawn powers stuck around for years with no discernable purpose. Kelly actually uses the powers to move the character in a new direction, as the shadow powers enable her to redeem herself for last issue’s mistake. I’m sure the story was created with the goal of “doing something” about Psylocke, but Kelly never leaves you with the impression that he resents having to use the character. Making the story as much about Psylocke’s need to redeem herself as it is about stopping the villain gives it more weight, reminding me of the type of stories Claremont told during his original run.

Uncanny X-Men #358

Lost in Space

Credits: Steve Seagle (plot), Joseph Harris (script), Chris Bachalo (penciler), Tim Townsend (inker), Steve Buccellato (colors), Comicraft (letters)

Summary: Bishop and Deathbird are shot down by the alien Chnitt. They meet Karel, an alien from another planet that’s been ravaged by the Chnitt. Karel is collecting weapons to use against the Chnitt on his home planet. Bishop and Deathbird travel with him to the city of Kuth, where they hope to find a warp gate. When the trio arrives in Kuth, it’s under attack by the Chnitt. Bishop volunteers to stay behind and protect the city while the others head for the warp gate. After Bishop defeats the Chnitt, he finally reaches the warp gate. It collapses after Karel escapes, leaving Bishop alone with Deathbird.

Continuity Note: Cyclops and Phoenix have decided in-between issues to move from Alaska. Iceman, Beast, and Archangel are helping them move when Cyclops receives news that the realtor can’t sell their house. A child throws a brick through their window, shortly before Phoenix collapses (due to the events of the “Psi-War” storyline). It looks like Seagle was setting up a story about the town turning against Cyclops and Phoenix, but I don’t recall it going anywhere. I’m not sure why exactly the decision had been made to have them move so quickly. It’s even stranger knowing that Cyclops and Phoenix aren’t a part of the next team of X-Men anyway.

Approved By The Comics Code Authority: The Bullpen Bulletins announces the arrival of a new assistant editor, Zena Tsarfin, coming from High Times magazine. “There will be plenty of high times in the new Slingers book, but probably not the kind Zena is used to writing about!”

Review: After months as a subplot, Deathbird and Bishop are given the main story for an issue. Ideally, this would’ve offered some resolution to their subplot and actually moved their story forward, but instead the characters are essentially left in the same place they’ve been for the previous year – stuck in space with one another. A caption on the last page points readers towards an upcoming one-shot called Team X 2000, which is supposed to continue their story. I have no idea how this storyline was eventually resolved, but I do know that Bishop had his own solo series, set thousands of years in the future, within the next year. Joseph Harris, a new writer finding work at Marvel at the time and the scripter of this issue, wrote the series, so maybe it was already in the works when this issue was published.

Even though this story doesn’t actually resolve their long-running subplot, it’s an enjoyable action story that offers some insight into Bishop’s personality. The fact that he’s made no friends amongst the X-Men and has often stayed in the background is used as a characterization point, as Bishop spends the entire issue lamenting his status as a loner and perpetual outcast. He accepts his role as a loner by the end, declaring that his purpose is “fighting, protecting,” which is at least an attempt to make him seem more heroic. A potential romance with Deathbird is still being teased, but Harris’ script makes it more plausible by portraying Bishop's reluctance, and by casting Deathbird’s interest more as an obsessive crush than true love. Bachalo’s art is well suited for the outer space setting, as he excels at drawing the freakish alien monsters. It’s a little surprising that he ended up on an intermission issue, while he missed some issues that actually moved the main stories along, but his art helps to give the story some weight.


Jeff said...

X-Men #78 does remind me of a (good) Claremont comic, which I never really realized until you mentioned it in the review. I love the effects the Shadow King has on the world and the nightmares the X-Men must overcome are just right. Also, how satisfying is it to have a major story that has lasting repurcussions for the characters, has a clear and decisive ending and is only two issues long? The X-Titles hadn't had one of those since 1992 or so. I really like this one.

Teebore said...

I'm trying to remember where I heard it, but my recollection is the same as yours: Psi War was supposed to be a bigger deal with repercussions felt throughout the MU, but it was cut back/ignored by other writers.

Still, I remember those two issues fondly.

Matt said...

I remember the White Queen suffering from the Psi-War in Generation X, but that's about it...

When did Cyclops and Phoenix return to the X-Men, anyway? I know they were around during the Alan Davis run.

Chris said...

Cyclops and Phoenix came back to the team at the start of "The Shattering", if I remember correctly.

Morgan said...

Ahhh, the Psi-War.
Best use of Psylocke during the entire 90s. This was a great one.

At the time I was reading the entire Marvel Universe I can say that the effects of this issue were mentioned in alot of comics.

Avengers, Captain America, Spider-Man ect. I dont remember the specifics but I do know it was mentioned in those titles.

As far as X-Titles, Cable and X-Man were effected. Its a shame this blog doesnt cover the Cable series anymore. Cable was amazing in 1998.

As for Cyclops and Phoenix im pretty sure they dont come back till the end of "The Shattering" storyline. Astonishing X-Men mini series I think.

rob said...

#78 is a strong conclusion to the story. I agree that Kelly doesn't write this as if he feels saddled with Psylocke's character, he really injects some weight to her actions and sacrifice and also does his usual strong work with the rest of the team. Really like Garcia's art too.

#358 is an odd one, but I've always enjoyed it. Bishop gets a somewhat sympathetic portrayal here and the writers do a good job creating the world ravaged by aliens. Bachalo's art is also a nice fit for the unique story.

wwk5d said...

It's funny people mention how great he handled Betsy, and with how much respect, as he really wanted to just write her out of the books lol Let's just say, she wasn't his favorite least she left on a high note.

Matt said...

Of course! How could I have forgotten Cyclops's dramatic line when they returned? It was the last issue of one of the main books right before The Astonishing mini-series started. Cyclops and Jean have shown up at the mansion and been told that the X-Men disbanded.

Then somebody (don't remember who) shows up, asking for the X-Men's help. Jean says, "I'm sorry, but the X-Men are --"

Before she can finish, Cyclops cuts in and says, "-- Right here. WE are the X-Men!"

I'm not afraid to admit that page gave me goosebumps (and I even got a slight chill retyping it here). I'm a sucker for stuff like that!

rob said...

that was a GREAT line and a great scene ... too bad the mini-series that directly followed it was utter shit.

G. Kendall said...

"It's funny people mention how great he handled Betsy, and with how much respect, as he really wanted to just write her out of the books lol Let's just say, she wasn't his favorite character..."

I remember Seagle commenting that he didn't "get" the character during a Wizard interview, but I don't recall Kelly ever putting Psylocke down. As I mentioned earlier, he does incorporate some of the complaints about the character into the dialogue, but he doesn't treat Psylocke herself as a joke.

Jeff said...

"that was a GREAT line and a great scene ... too bad the mini-series that directly followed it was utter shit."

Hahaha! That mini-series really is Howard Mackie at his best. I try to pretend that it doesn't exist. What makes it look even worse is that the issues of the regular series and satellite titles that deal with the Shattering are pretty solid.

PeterCSM said...

You're right, the immediate Bishop and Deathbird storyline does wrap up in Team X 2000. I liked 358 and found Bishop and Deathbird's chemistry fun.

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