Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Year in Review - 1993

1993 marked the thirtieth anniversary of the X-Men, which Marvel celebrated by flooding the market with even more X-product. The X-Men animated series, after months of delays, began airing weekly early in the year, exposing the characters to a new audience. Friends who had mocked my hobby were now trying to find the best lighting to view a holographic cover under and asking me questions about Mr. Sinister. Despite fierce competition from Image and an increasingly gimmick-driven DC, the X-franchise continued to endure.

Uncanny X-Men – Brandon Peterson leaves for Image a few issues into the year. He’s replaced by John Romita, Jr. while Scott Lobdell remains as writer. The Legacy Virus is introduced, and Illyana Rasputin is its first high-profile victim. Magneto’s return is teased for a few issues, finally culminating in the “Fatal Attractions” crossover. After another crossover with the Avengers titles, the rest of the year is spent on small self-contained stories of varying quality. Towards the end of the year, Cyclops and Jean Grey are engaged, which enables Lobdell to produce a few more quiet issues. UXM #309 is the strongest issue of Lobdell’s run; an issue-long examination of Xavier’s character that reveals that he has his own flaws (subconsciously, a part of him resents Cyclops and Jean Grey’s happiness), but allows him to maintain his integrity and still feel heroic.

X-Men volume two – Fabian Nicieza lays on the melodrama, as every issue has elaborate purple prose detailing all of the inner anguish the cast is living with. Colossus’ parents are senselessly murdered, Cyclops is tempted by Psylocke and can’t deal with his feelings, Psylocke is accused of being a sleeper agent, Beast is just moody in general (he hints that he’s turning 30, which is the only clue given), Xavier turns Magneto into a vegetable, and Rogue and Gambit deal with their own multitude of issues. The angst reaches comical levels, but the introduction of Sabretooth as the team’s prisoner at the end of the year gives Nicieza another direction to explore.

X-ForceX-Force improves dramatically, as Nicieza turns the title into an entertaining teen superhero comic. Cable returns, and receives a more thoughtful interpretation that makes him less of a Punisher clone. Greg Capullo leaves to pencil Spawn, and Tony Daniel is brought in to replace him. It’s a step down in quality, but Daniel is usually pretty competent.

Cable – For reasons that were never very clear, Cable receives his own monthly series. Fabian Nicieza and a rotating series of artists go through the motions, but the title never clicks. At the end of the year, Cable’s origin is finally revealed, but the story goes out of its way to present the details in as confusing a manner as possible.

X-Factor – Peter David only lasts a few issues this year, but he does produce X-Factor #87, the acclaimed psychiatric examination issue. Joe Quesada arrives as artist, merging Bart Sears with Todd McFarlane into a kinetic style, but he barely lasts five issues. Scott Lobdell plots half of the issues this year, and while the Legacy Virus makes its first official appearance in one issue, most of the stories are filler. J. M. DeMatteis, after scripting a few of Lobdell’s issues, takes over the plotting and begins his Haven storyline. DeMatteis’ character work is pretty strong, but it seems as if his run never lives up to its full potential.

WolverineWolverine is drawn closer into the rest of line, as the character is sent to the Savage Land to investigate Magneto’s return as an indirect prelude to the “Fatal Attractions” crossover. Magneto rips the adamantium out of Wolverine’s body, which is probably the most flagrant “event” you can conceive, but Hama actually manages to turn the stunt into a character-driven story. No one really believes that Wolverine is going to die, but Hama is able to make the character’s emotional arc feel real. Most of the artwork for the year consists of disappointing fill-ins, but new artist Adam Kubert does manage to do two nice issues.

Excalibur – Alan Davis departs midway through the year, giving Rachel Summers’ “Days of Future Past” reality a happy ending (the most shocking thing you can do for mutants in the future). The book goes back to fill-in mode for a few issues before it’s drawn back into the X-universe by the “Fatal Attractions” crossover. The team moves to Muir Island and now faces opponents like the Upstarts’ Siena Blaze. The stories and art are a mess, and the title languishes until Warren Ellis arrives next year.

X- Men Unlimited – Marvel launches its Unlimited line in 1993, which consists of quarterly double-sized issues on glossy paper. The original edict was that something important was supposed to happen in each issue, which lasted all of one year. The first issue has the X-Men's team leaders pitted against the new villain Siena Blaze, who was apparently supposed to be a big deal at the time, the second is a “Fatal Attractions” prelude with Magneto, and the third has the X-Men taking Sabretooth in as a prisoner/psychiatric patient. Scott Lobdell and Fabian Nicieza trade off on the early issues, and the stories aren’t bad. The dull filler begins next year.

Limited Series and One-ShotsDeadpool receives his first miniseries, written by Fabian Nicieza and featuring early artwork by Joe Madureira. Nicieza gets around the fact that Deadpool is still clearly a villain by pitting him against Black Tom and Juggernaut, which works pretty well. It’s fun, but four issues just feels too long. Larry Hama and Mark Texeira create a manic Sabretooth limited series that’s so over the top it has to be entertaining. The Gambit mini has attractive Lee Weeks artwork, but most of Howard Mackie’s story is just nonsense with the Thieves Guild.

The Events: Illyana Rasputin dies of the Legacy Virus. Magneto returns as a bloodthirsty villain. A distraught Colossus betrays the team and joins Magneto (we soon learn he’s brain damaged). Wolverine loses his adamantium skeleton. Xavier mindwipes Magneto. Someone named Revanche, who may or may not be the original Psylocke, appears. The X-Men team up with the Avengers in Genosha, which is now a Bosnia allegory. Feral betrays X-Force and joins the MLF. Sabretooth is kept prisoner in the mansion as Xavier attempts to cure his bloodlust. Cable is confirmed as baby Nathan and Stryfe is revealed as his clone.

The “What Were They Thinking?” Award: The entirety of Uncanny X-Men #304 could win this award. Magneto crashes the funeral of Colossus’ little sister, kills one of his followers because he didn’t ask permission before he slaughtered a hospice (Magneto has no problems with the murders, just the lack of a permission slip), and Colossus decides to leave the X-Men and join Magneto.

What’s the Appeal? : Well, a lot of things happen this year. Characters are getting killed and mutilated, heroes are betraying their teams, and just general craziness is all around. There is still a sense of forward momentum in most of the titles, and the number of unresolved mysteries and dangling subplots hasn’t quite reached overload yet. The animated series serves as a thirty-minute commercial for the X-line every week, and new readers are introduced to a world filled with death, double-crosses, and mysteries. I can see how a twelve-year-old who wants more X-Men could just immerse himself in all of this.

Were the Critics Right? : It’s obvious at this point that there are too many titles. Quality control was already getting shaky, and now the line adds another monthly, a quarterly, and various miniseries into the mix. The glut just gets worse as the years go on, dividing the line amongst a series of editors as obscure characters like Maverick are given their own books. This year has quite a few highs and lows, probably best represented by Uncanny X-Men. Just a few months after an atrocious story that causally tosses out the previous decade’s characterization of Magneto, Scott Lobdell writes what’s likely the best Xavier story ever. The tiresome gimmick storylines that dominated mainstream ‘90s comics don’t do the titles any favors, but the smaller stories that actually focus on the characters still work fairly well. Looking at the overall line, it seems like only Cable and the post-Davis Excalibur issues are truly dire, but a sense of mediocrity is infecting most of the remaining titles.


Matt said...

I was heavily into X-Men this year, while I never found Uncanny as enjoyable. I loved the dark, mysterious, ominous tones of Nicieza's stories, as exemplified by the Revanche storyline, and the Sabretooth stuff.

You can say what you will about the X-Office's often imperfect execution of their stories, but they sure were great at selling their readers on the mood!

Jeff said...

Same here. I was still into X-Men at this point and didn't love Uncanny. I liked the Kubert artwork and the multi-part stories over the one-and-done character pieces Lobdell was doing and also think that this was far from Romita Jr's best artwork. X-Men is super-melodramatic, but at least it felt like the stories were important.

Peter said...

I don't think it was the X-Office so much as individual writers who were able to capture the mood. Nicieza is fairly versatile like that but rarely gets the chance to be on a high-profile title (since X-Men, I mean ;))

I enjoyed both Kuberts' art as well as Romita's. JRJr has gotten much better of course, but it all still has energy without looking crappy (Liefeld has energy but he looks crappy, but his art then becomes a hoot, like in Cable #75, that was too awesome for words)

I wonder if UXM 304 was really written by Lobdell or by committee. I also wonder if Lobdell was actually a conglomerate of writers rather than his own voice. He was the face, but people like Powers and Harras were inserting their own stuff, which was common practice for editors in the 90s, I believe, to just basically be ghost-writing. The difference between 304 and 309 is so immense, it's rather baffling.

Mike Loughlin said...

This is the year in which I stopped reading X-Titles on a regular basis. The stories were bad, the art was usually horrible (I absolutely hated JR Jr's work at the time, although I've come to appreciate his talents), and the only creators keeping me around (Peter David, Alan Davis) left. I came back from time to time, but I skipped most of the Lobdell years.

wwk5d said...

I guess I'm the opposite...the Uncanny issues (minus # 304, of course) hold up for me much, much better than the X-men issues. Uncanny #309 is a very strong issue, but I also enjoyed the Thanksgiving issue preceding it as well, it was nice to have a fun, angst-free issue every once in a while, something X-men never realized. As you said, there was just too, too much over the top angst and melodrama.

As for the line as whole, it's hard to say. In addition to Uncannty, Wolverine is still very enjoyable, and as you said, X-force picks up in quality, and not just the art (I always thought Nicieza's work on X-force was far superior to his work on X-men). Unlimited's first 3 issues are actually good, and still hold up. X-factor does see a drop in quality, and force feeding Random down our throats is annoying), but it's not as bad as the decline of Excaliber. And Cable is just pointless.

To rank:

The Good:
*Excaliber (the Davis issues)

The OK:

The Crap:
*Excaliber (once Davis leaves)

So overall, the line is ok. Like you, I only thought 2 titles were really bad, the rest range from ok to pretty good.

wwk5d said...

BTW, the whole Revanche/Psylocke retcon is definitely a runner-up in the The “What Were They Thinking?” Award:, and is prob one of the dumbest ideas Nicieza ever came up with.

Austin Gorton said...

I think wwk5d's rank of the titles is spot on.

For me, the gulf between X-Men and Uncanny wasn't great, but Uncanny definitely got the nod. I loved the handful of quieter issues and absolutely adore JRJr's art.

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