Wednesday, July 1, 2009

UXM #374 & X-MEN #94 – November 1999

Uncanny X-Men #374

Beauty & the Beast Part Two – You Can’t Go Home Again

Credits: Alan Davis (plot), Jay Faerber (script), Tom Raney (penciler), Scott Hanna (inker), Liquid! (colors), Comicraft (letters)

Summary: Mikhail explains that he can combine his reality warping power with Colossus’ memories of Illyana and recreate her. When Colossus doubts his plan, Mikhail attacks him. Meanwhile, Marrow realizes that Callisto is actually a phantom image, and that she’s in the strange dimension she was transported to as a child. Phantom images reenact her childhood battles with her fellow Morlocks, as she hoped to prove herself to Mikhail. She finds Colossus and helps fight Mikhail. When Mikhail pushes his powers too far, it’s revealed his body has been inhabited by an inter-dimensional symbiote. Colossus encourages him to fight against it, and Mikhail manages to teleport back to Earth with Colossus and Marrow. Elsewhere, Deathbird is double-crossed by her employer.

Continuity Notes: Deathbird boasts that she has fulfilled her duty and returned the Living Monolith to his followers. Instead of receiving payment, she’s knocked unconscious. When Deathbird falls to the ground, she’s surrounded by the feet of Apocalypse and a few Skrulls. This is actually going somewhere.

Why exactly Marrow is seeing images of the past is unclear to me, and I guess it just has to be chalked up to the odd nature of this dimension. The flashbacks portray Callisto as opposed to Mikhail’s rule, but previous stories had her as Mikhail’s queen in this world.

Commercial Break: Marvel’s anti-pot “Fast Lane” insert begins running this month. It’s a Spider-Man vs. Mysterio comic that features Zane Whelan, an actor who promotes smoking pot, and a few impressionable Daily Bugle interns. Marvel was apparently paid to run these inserts as a part of a government program (some people were outraged that Marvel didn’t label the story as government funded, but I assumed it was from the beginning). It seemed like these things ran forever. Internet fans, of course, complained loudly, so much so Tom Brevoort ended up screaming at people to shut up about it on Usenet.

Review: The Colossus/Marrow two-parter concludes, with Mikhail Rasputin in place for his role in “The Twelve” storyline. Mikhail really had no personality traits outside of “he’s crazy”, and this issue manages to dismiss his one defining element by revealing that he was driven mad by a symbiote during his previous appearances. The revelation feels like it’s been tacked on at the last second, but I don’t have a problem with the idea in theory. Too many villain motivations during the Lee/Portacio/Lobdell era came down to “the bad guy’s crazy”, so it’s not as if Mikhail is losing a unique personality trait. With his sanity restored, this at least opens the door for future creators to take him in new directions. I don’t recall anyone actually doing anything with the character after Davis left the books, but the option’s there.

Another goal of the story seems to be redeeming Marrow. I think this is the third story that’s tried to pull the idea off since she joined. Davis has her confront the literal ghosts of her past, as her flashback revives her original, ugly design. As Marrow watches her younger self fight viciously to win Mikhail’s approval, she realizes how twisted her childhood was and finally confronts Mikhail. It’s competently handled, but Marvel’s still ignoring the things that should really make her feel guilty. Mikhail is also trying to redeem himself for inadvertently killing the people in the first alternate dimension he visited, as revealed in his early appearances. He thinks that using his powers to create life will absolve him of his past mistakes, which is at least a human motivation for the character. Colossus is able to give Mikhail one of his “soul of a poet” speeches, explaining the difference between interpreting life through art and actual life. Jay Faerber (who scripted this as a fill-in while working on Generation X) is able to convey the ideas more naturally than Terry Kavanagh often does, so it works pretty well.

X-Men #94

Hidden Lives Part 2 – Pandora’s Box

Credits: Alan Davis (plot & pencils), Terry Kavanagh (script), Mark Farmer (inker), Marie Javins (colors), Comicraft (letters)

Summary: Rogue convinces Sunfire she isn’t Mystique, as Shadowcat discovers a diary Destiny left for her in Mystique’s apartment. Sunfire explains that a metamorph killed four Yakiba agents in Japan, and the evidence points towards Mystique. Rogue shows Sunfire a magazine that proves Mystique was disguised as model Ronnie Lake in Switzerland when the murders occurred. Sunfire senses that they’re being watched and traces the electronic signal to a nearby warehouse. Rogue and Sunfire investigate and discover imposters of Mastermind and Mesmero. During the fight, Mesmero destroys the warehouse. The next morning, Nightcrawler says goodbye to Polaris, unaware that someone is spying on her. After Rogue says goodbye to Mystique, Shadowcat shows her the diary.

Continuity Notes: Mesmero tells Mastermind that “the boy” must not be hurt. Before the explosion, Sunfire says he felt a forcefield pushing him out of the warehouse. It’s soon revealed that Mastermind and Mesmero were Skrull imposters working for Apocalypse, who wants Sunfire as one of the Twelve. They’re responsible for the murders in Japan, and “positioned” Mystique to take the blame in order to cover their tracks.

This is the first reference to Destiny’s Diaries. It’s revealed that, before her death, Destiny wrote various cryptic clues describing her visions of the future. The entries in this issue have vague references to the Twelve, Xavier being betrayed, and Apocalypse’s new Death. The X-Men’s search for the rest of the diaries was the original premise for the unfortunately titled X-Treme X-Men series.

Miscellaneous Note: The Statement of Ownership lists average sales for the year at 200,070 copies with the most recent selling 178,799.

Review: I think this run of issues shows just how strong a writer Alan Davis is. He constructs a straightforward story that reunites Rogue with Mystique, gives Rogue some action sequences, introduces Sunfire, who will play a role in the next storyline, and offers hints about the behind-the-scenes villain’s identity. He mingles character work and plot extremely well, all while setting up the pieces for the next “big event” storyline. Those stories often just read like a mess, but it’s obvious that Davis has a plan and he’s working towards specific goals. He also manages to tie in Polaris’ mourning of Havok with a hint towards the next storyline, as she casually mentions the Living Monolith while talking about Havok’s past. Plus, we have the introduction of Destiny’s Diaries, which is a strong concept on its own that also manages to set up the next few issues. It’s too bad Marvel was infected with “event” mania during this era, and Apocalypse wasn’t allowed to just show up as the villain for a couple of issues. Shoehorning the revelation of the Twelve into the story, and dragging in a few ancillary titles, just pulled everything down.

Test to Destruction

Credits: John Byrne (writer, penciler, & letterer), Tom Palmer (inker), Greg Wright (colors)

Summary: Years in the past, the original X-Men investigate a ship they’ve confiscated from the Sentinels. Suddenly, the team is attacked by Blob, Toad, Juggernaut, and Magneto. After an intense fight, Cyclops figures out that the villains are actually mental projections created by Professor Xavier. Xavier calls off the impromptu training sequence, leaving the X-Men to wonder why he’s behaving oddly.

Continuity Notes: This story takes place right after UXM #66, following the revelation that Professor Xavier faked his death in order to prepare for an alien invasion. Xavier is now acting cold and snappish with the X-Men, for unknown reasons.

Review: Since Uncanny X-Men #94 is considered a classic issue (the beginning of Claremont’s run, and the first appearance of the “all-new” X-Men in their regular series), someone decided to make X-Men #94 a “double-sized spectacular” and throw in a preview of John Byrne’s new series, X-Men: The Hidden Years. Byrne’s return to the X-Men was supposed to be something of a big deal, but he maintains to this day that Marvel (perhaps intentionally) botched the marketing of it. When Joe Quesada replaced Bob Harras a year later, this was one of the first titles cancelled. The series was intended to show the adventures of the X-Men during the era the series was in reprints, and Tom Palmer was even brought back to ink it. I liked the premise and tried to give the book a shot, but couldn’t make it past the sixth issue. This preview has all of the elements that drove me away from the book; retro dialogue, slanted, oddly designed panels, and ugly lettering. Opening the book with a “what’s wrong with Xavier?” story that’s virtually identical to the one currently going on in the main titles, and was just used a few years earlier during “Onslaught”, didn’t exactly reel me in, either.


Matt said...

I remember those "Fast Lane" inserts -- I don't think I ever actually read them, but I recall they were there. I'm curious what there was for people to get mad about, though -- I just flipped past them, and continued the story!

I have to disagree with your thoughts on Hidden Years -- I loved that series! It strongly evoked the feel of the Byrne/Claremont years, with the X-Men all separated and wandering the world. And I liked that the first twelve issues all took place in the span of like two days or something!

I do agree that the slanted panels were kind of odd, and I was never a fan of Byrne's lettering -- but I liked the retro dialogue! I wish writers still scripted like that!

wwk5d said...

I assume the slanted panels was a way to emulate the Thomas/Adams issues, where Adams was using lots of slanted and diagonal panels...

Peter said...

No, I think Byrne just thinks slanted panels are cool. Alan Davis does it as well, but he knows how to pull it off. Byrne doesn't, he just draws normal panels and angles them, which doesn't add anything to the lay-out nor the storytelling. When Davis does it, it conveys something extra, the diagonal makes the page more energetic. Byrne manages to make the page look stiffer by comparison, which is unique in its own right, I guess, to use a technique designed for action and turn it into something dull. (and I'm a fan of Byrne/Austin's art, so I'm not just arbitrarily knocking him, I honestly don't like his recurring bad use of slantiness in Hidden Years, Doom Patrol, 21st century Action Comics, Marvel: The Lost Generation...)

As for the Davis-written issues, just like when he was on Excalibur the man proves that he knows what a good comic is all about. No pandering, just straightforward storytelling with various plots simmering and then coming to a boil. No exaggerated violence but a definite level of ominous threats (e.g. "The Ghost Of Braddock Manor" in Excalibur #56, that was classic). I'm sure having worked with Alan Moore hasn't hurt him in the ways of learning how to create an exciting and fun story. I really wish that he'd get a book like Fantastic Four as writer/artist, or any title really, and I'd be onboard in a heartbeat.

For a while there it looked like he was going to be rebooting Green Lantern, and as much as I like Geoff Johns, I would've liked him better still. Something high-profile from him would be nice. I enjoyed the heck out of his recent FF: The End mini and the Truth of History one-shot, so anything new would be appreciated.

Robin said...

I had an idea for a Mikhail 1 shot/mini a couple of years later. Basically dealing with his guilt being the only surviving member of his family but being the one who caused the most suffering. Setting him up using his powers on Genosha rebuilding after the Sentinal massacre with Kitty Pryde, getting some closure from the person closest to his brother in life.

Too bad they've had to bring everyone back to life and ignore Genosha entirely the last few years.

ray swift said...

Like I said about X-men #93, this one is also enjoyable. Both the plot and the side-plots are sharp, not too complicated but has enough material for interesting 2 issues story.

I still have 3 things to remark:
1. Again, like in the last issue, Rogue oblivious and forgiving nature towards Mystique is new and quite as illogical as off-character. I find it hard to belive Rogue truley thinks Mystique isn't capable of murder at this point. Mystique is a known terrorist and a cold blood murderer. I did like the feeling at the end that Rogue came a long way since her early X-men days and now became somewhat a more whole, confident, proud person. It's a nice arc for the character.

2. Lorna. Now that's another ambiguous problem, but I think the negative side is bigger here then in Rogue's case. Sure, this characterization here matches the Lorna Dane we saw in the Claremont era and before that: a weak woman, half of the time mind controled and on the other half only evaluated by her relationship with her male half. But since then we have Peter David, and he showed us a way different version of Lorna: a strong, independent, powerful woman. The X-factor writers that came after that, even Mackie - continued this line of characterization. So hearing Lorana say that she only joined the X-family and fought for their cause because that's what Alex wanted is a major stepback for the character.
I did like her quirry, almost disturbing moment with his suit and the locks in the end.

3. Mesmero.
He might had always been the most pathetic and coward mutant with a mind controling power in the excistence. There is no other way to explain how someone with such an awesome power (remember UXM #111?) always being second wheel and serves other people's plans, except for his own spineless nature. Which is a cool character trait - after all, the fact that you have a superpower doesn't mean by all means you also have the suitable guts to use it. And excally because of that, him killing Mastermind comes in such a surprise. But give me a break! Do you really tell me Mesmero couldn't handel Rouge and Sunfire? At all? Come on!

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