Friday, July 3, 2009

UXM #375 & X-MEN #95 – December 1999

Uncanny X-Men #375

I Am Not Now, Nor Have I Ever Been…

Credits: Alan Davis (plot), Terry Kavanagh (script), Adam Kubert (penciler), Batt w/Tim Townsend (inkers), Liquid! & Chris Sotomayor (colors), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (letters)

Summary: The X-Men reunite at the mansion and learn that Wolverine has been killed. Xavier continues to behave erratically, chastising Cyclops for Wolverine’s death. He suddenly declares that Phoenix is controlling Cyclops’ mind and attacks her. Soon, the X-Men split into groups and fight one another. After most of the team dies, Onslaught and Dark Phoenix suddenly emerge. When the final X-Men are killed, the team awakens and learns that the fight was a “psycho-drama” created by Xavier, with the help of Phoenix, Cable, and X-Man. Xavier explains that he was trying to locate an imposter by driving the team apart and staging the fight. Shortly, while performing Wolverine’s autopsy, Beast learns that he was a Skrull duplicate. Meanwhile, Archangel and Psylocke are attacked by an Archangel imposter.

Continuity Notes: Wolverine, or at least the Skrull impersonating him, was killed in the Astonishing X-Men miniseries while defending the Mannites from Apocalypse’s newest Horseman, Death. I’m assuming Cable and X-Man were in the miniseries, explaining their presence in this issue.

Xavier explains that he sensed an imposter amongst the team after their return from space. He hoped that distracting the team with exhaustive training sessions would help him locate the imposter, but it didn’t work. Interrogating each member individually would be too obvious, so he entrusted Storm (whose thoughts “have always been particularly uncluttered and open”), Cyclops, and Phoenix with his secret. He drove the team apart “to limit the damage an infiltrator might inflict”, then recruited Cable and X-Man to help him find the imposter. The fight was designed to expose the team’s “deepest loyalties and most primal emotions”.

Production Note: When originally solicited, Wolverine’s face was blurred on the cover. This actually was a well-kept secret at the time.

Miscellaneous Note: The Statement of Ownership lists average sales for the year at 207,381 with the most recent issue selling 183,330.

Review: The big revelation here is that Wolverine has secretly been a Skrull for the past few months. Since that’s a plot point that takes around two pages to establish, the rest of the issue is a giant X-Men vs. X-Men fight. It doesn’t serve much of a purpose, but it’s the type of thing you often see in oversized anniversary issues, and Davis manages to use it as a very loud cap on the “Shattering” storyline. It’s so ridiculously over the top, as long-established characters are killed off on every other page, it’s obvious you’re not supposed to take it seriously, so it’s easier to just enjoy it as mindless mayhem. The revelation that Wolverine is actually a Skrull was a genuine surprise at the time, and Marvel does deserve credit for keeping it a secret until the issue came out. Xavier’s explanation for his behavior in the previous issues is explained fairly effectively, and I’m glad it wasn’t dragged on for much longer. Some of the art looks rushed, but this is still a fun issue.

X-Men #95

Do Unto Others

Credits: Alan Davis (plot), Chris Claremont (script, uncredited), Tom Raney (penciler), Scott Hanna (inker), Marie Javins (colors), Comicraft (letters)

Summary: A Skrull scientist tells his commander that he can create an army of Skrull Wolverine imposters. The commander kills one of the imposters, telling the scientist to do a better job. Later, the Skrull commander impersonates Havok and kidnaps Polaris. The commander decides that he can use Polaris as a bargaining chip against Apocalypse since she is one of the Twelve. When he returns to Skrull headquarters, Polaris hits him with optic blasts, revealing herself as Cyclops, disguised with an image inducer. The rest of the X-Men attack, as Death sneaks in and plants a bomb. Phoenix and Storm combine their powers to deaden the blast, and Colossus attacks Death. When Death’s mask is removed, he’s revealed as Wolverine. Suddenly, he teleports away.

Production Note: No credit for scripter appeared in this issue. Editor Mark Powers later confirmed that Claremont ghost-scripted three issues during this run, and Claremont mentioned in an interview that he worked uncredited on some comics that were running late, so I’ll give him credit for it. By this point, X-Men #100 was already announced as Chris Claremont’s return to this title, so I’m assuming he worked uncredited to keep the attention on #100.

Continuity Notes: It’s revealed why Xavier’s telepathy couldn’t peg Wolverine as an imposter. The Skrulls’ “ally” (I assume Apocalypse) gave them a complete record of Wolverine’s psyche, enabling them to establish “a comprehensive personality matrix” that can survive telepathic examinations. The Skrull commander thinks the matrix works too well, since the imposter now thinks he really is Wolverine and is too independent. I don’t think it was ever confirmed on-panel, but Apocalypse was supposed to be the behind-the-scenes power in Barry Windsor-Smith’s Weapon X serial, so it’s possible Apocalypse has had a map of Wolverine’s psyche for years.

This is the first appearance of the young Skrull Fiz, who will play a role in future issues. He’s one of the Skrulls that’s been experimented on, in the hopes that the genetic strain of the Warskrulls can be recreated. The Warskrulls were Skrulls who could imitate powers naturally, and first appeared during the Claremont/Lee run of Uncanny X-Men.

Review: It’s interesting that this is one of the issues Chris Claremont ghost-scripted, since it directly mirrors a storyline he was going to do during his initial run. Before Claremont was forced off the titles in 1991, he planned to do a story that had Wolverine killed and later resurrected as a brainwashed Hand assassin (as detailed in this Comic Book Legends column). Bob Harras rejected the story, because the plan was to keep Wolverine dead for a year before his resurrection, which would’ve put a kink in the two other books he starred in, Wolverine and Marvel Comics Presents. Claremont was Editorial Director at Marvel by 1999, so it’s possible that he was involved with the planning of this storyline and suggested resurrecting the basic idea, with a Skrull version of Wolverine used to cover the character while he’s brainwashed. (Then again, other discarded Claremont ideas such as Wolverine losing his adamantium, and Gambit having a connection to Sinister, ended up being used before he returned to Marvel, so it could be a coincidence). It’s interesting that five years after this story, the idea was resurrected yet again by Mark Millar in Wolverine’s “Enemy of the State” arc. This time, Hydra did the brainwashing after “killing” Wolverine. If Claremont really is going to be continuing his originally planned storylines in X-Men Forever, even the ones he’s already spoiled in interviews, it’s possible this idea could show up for a third time in ten years.

This issue is filled with “Claremont Clichés”, and it’s crammed full with dialogue and narrative captions. If Claremont really were writing this at the last minute, you would think the script might’ve been fairly sparse, but that’s definitely not the case. The Skrulls have the majority of the dialogue in the issue, and I guess it’s justifiable to give them long-winded, uptight speech patterns, but they start to get tedious after a few pages. There are some signs this was an eleventh-hour scripting job, as third-person narrative captions unequivocally state the Skrull commander’s captive is Polaris (even describing how her powers affect her sleep patterns), and a few pages later we learn it’s actually Cyclops with an image inducer. Death’s speech patterns are also inconsistent, as he goes from speaking like Wolverine (“Sorry, darlin’ -- but that an’ more won’t even come close!”) to saying things like, “The name you speak -- the man it belongs to -- are no more!” It seems like it was scripted as the pages were coming in and nobody went back and looked too closely at the finished product. The script isn’t all bad, though, as Xavier and Storm have a nice moment together and the narrative captions do tend to have a decent rhythm. The actual plot advances the main storyline effectively, and I like the way the various story threads are coming together. Tom Raney handles the action scenes well, and his interpretation of the Skrulls is pretty cool. Even if we are heading towards another “event”, this is much more coherent than crossovers tend to be.


Matt said...

Huh. So Alan Davis came to the X-Men with issue 85, and left with #99... I always thought he was on board for longer than that. Though I guess since he was plotting both titles, it comes out to be more issues overall, even though he was there for a little over a year.

As cool as the reveal about Wolverine being a Skrull was, I was kind of disappointed that the Wolverine I'd been reading about in Erik Larsen's great run on his solo title at this time had been an imposter for the previous few months! It seemed kind of like a cheat.

(And I say this as one of the fans who honestly wasn't upset when the Spider-Man who'd been around for two decades was "revealed" as a clone in the Spider-titles a couple of years earlier!)

I wonder if Larsen was aware he was writing a Skrull the entire time, or if he learned about it later on...? I know there's an issue that delves into the Skrull Wolverine's time as the book's star, but I've always been unsure if it was planned in advance, or if it was just "damage control" on Larsen's part.

P.S.: The cover of X-Men 95 shows the "neckless Cyclops costume" I mentioned a few days ago. I just think it looks really cool!

G. Kendall said...

Larsen was told beforehand, which is why he says he stopped giving Wolverine first person captions during that run of issues (although I noticed a few...I'm assuming they were added by editorial).

ray swift said...

On UXM #375:
This just blown my mind off.
It's one of the issues you got to read twice to figure what really happened there and find the framing 'clues'.
This was harsh.
I'm also gald the proffesor wasn't just Onslought again, and this plan actually made sense to a certain degree. I think the real drama on this issue is that it claimes to flash out the character's inner loyalties, but it's strength point is also it's weak point. Though Xavier, Cable, X-man and even Cyclops and Jean's irrational behavior is explained (the last too to a lesser extant, since their reaction seems rational enough for me), some of the other X-men, who supposedly reacts truley to their hearts, don't make much sense or comes out with kind of suspicions and thoughts that are totally out of the blue or contradicted by previous issues.
Take Kitty for example: In this issue she was one of Xavier supporters, yet in the previous issues she was the most prominent speaker of Excalibur to oppose the proffesor. Better than that: None of the other X-men had any good reason to side with Xavier or Jean. To me Xavier seems the irrational one, and no one should'v sided him after he attacked Jean without worning first, though after reading it again and judging from previous X-men advantures, he could also be right.
Anyway, the suspicions the characters raise against each other come without a worning. There was never a built up that showed that Nightcrawler suspceted Marrow, or that Collosus didn't trust Rogue. As far that I can tell, the guys who did the fightning were only the guys that were involved in the conspiracy from the first place, so any indication that someone who isn't a telepath: mainly Jean, Cable or the Proffesor is pulling the strings here sounds to me far fetch.

I'm dwelling in this too much.
It was a good issue nevertheless and I'm glad the Xavier-is-a-prick mystery came to a reasnoble end, for a change.

I also want to mention Nightcrawler is such a good guy: He remember to ask Scott to look after Lorna as Havok's brother, going to the last X-men issue where he met her. These kind of things easily forgotten in the X-men stories, so it was a nice touch from Davis to remember to include it, and it shows Nightcrawler in a very bright light.

ray swift said...

The X-men getting the initative - and succeed - was a very nice and welcome surprise I didn't see coming.
Though this issue is indeed slippery in several points:
For starters, the finishing page should'v been the one before the one at the end.
There is way too much talking. Characters talk when they are alone, characters explain things without any reason. A lot of the art would work better without too many word baloons, like the one when Colosus indifferetely throws a skrull that stands in his way to wounded Shadowcat. Also, when "Lorna" is trapped and express her surprise, it's actually kind of a unnessecary cheat to let us belive she is not Cyclops. And it's really awkward to imagine the stiff Scott in this situation. Should'v been Jean.

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