Monday, August 10, 2009

The Year in Review - 1998

1998 sees the cancellation of Excalibur and X-Factor, as Marvel begins to rethink the X-line. The number of titles doesn’t actually decrease, but the new feeling is that solo books are the way to go. After the members of Excalibur rejoin the X-Men, a Gambit solo series soon takes its place on the schedule, while X-Factor is remolded into Mutant X, which Marvel markets as Havok’s adventures in a new world. The ancillary titles very rarely cross over with one another, which theoretically should make the individual books stronger, but also eliminates the “family” feel that was so prominent earlier in the decade. When Havok is believed dead at the end of X-Factor, it’s a year before his brother makes any acknowledgement of it in one of the main titles.

Uncanny X-Men – Steven Seagle’s run begins in earnest, as Chris Bachalo arrives as regular artist. Seagle’s run is very difficult to judge, since the main plots are rather thin, but the ongoing subplots are at least promising. A Wizard review from this time praised the book for going back to basics, presenting stories with actual endings, and developing a more sophisticated narrative style. I assume the reviewer meant the main action stories, which are short and do have relatively clear endings. Scott Lobdell’s main stories usually had endings, too; it’s the subplots and mysteries that are the problem. There’s nothing that interesting about the X-Men’s encounters with Sauron, Alpha Flight, and a flock of birds in Alaska. Seagle is just using them as an excuse for action pieces while the real storylines grow in the background. And, the problem is, they never grow to fruition because Seagle leaves the book after growing tired of editorially mandated storylines. The only long-running subplot that’s actually resolved is Rogue’s desire to erase her powers, and that concluding issue reads like a heavily rewritten mess. After a few months of insignificant “events” (a fight against Cerebro’s faux team of X-Men, and Xavier’s return), Seagle leaves. His final issue is a nice character piece with Colossus, which showcases what Seagle could’ve accomplished with the title.

X-Men volume two – Carlos Pacheco unfortunately leaves early on, but Joe Kelly remains and does a solid job for most of the year. Kelly’s run works better than Seagle’s in hindsight because he spends more time on direct character development and less on building up subplots and mysteries. When Kelly does focus on the superheroic action, we get “Psi-War,” which is much more satisfying than the action stories in UXM. Kelly’s charged with making the unlikely trio of Cecilia Reyes, Maggott, and Marrow credible X-Men, and he actually manages to get some decent stories out of the idea. Of course, it doesn’t last, as Reyes and Maggot are quickly tossed aside so that Nightcrawler, Shadowcat, and Colossus can rejoin. The book spends the next few months crossing over with UXM, and while the overall stories aren’t exactly great in the first place, Kelly’s chapters are always more satisfying. Kelly is aided by Adam Kubert towards the end of his run, who produces some impressive looking issues.

Wolverine – Without a regular writer, the series goes into perpetual fill-in mode for months. Tom DeFalco kills time with two issues, one’s okay and the other’s just embarrassing, and then Chris Claremont returns for a brief run. The original plan was for Claremont’s arc to be a three-part crossover between UXM, X-Men, and Wolverine, but for some reason it turns up as four incomprehensible issues in one title. The first issue in the storyline has some plotting problems, but the character work is strong enough to distract from most of them. Soon, however, the story devolves into a mess that has Wolverine marrying Viper for unclear reasons, Sabretooth gaining adamantium for unclear reasons, and Hydra and the Hand invading Madripoor for unclear reasons. After the unholy affair, Todd Dezago shows up for a few bland fill-ins. Erik Larsen starts off as a fill-in writer, but stays on until he’s replaced in early 2000. He tries to tell a traditional superhero outer space adventure with Wolverine, but the storyline drags and Jeff Matsuda’s cartoony art doesn’t exactly work (I didn’t make it to the end of the storyline, which concluded my run as a Wolverine completist).

The Events: Excalibur is disbanded and Shadowcat, Nightcrawler, and Colossus rejoin the X-Men. Gambit also rejoins the team after everyone decides to put the past behind them. Bastion inadvertently animates Cerebro, which leads to Xavier hiding out from it with the Brotherhood. He’s reunited with the X-Men, and the adorable plot device Nina restores his mental powers.

The “What Were They Thinking?” Award: Wolverine’s nonsensical marriage to Viper should probably win this award, but I think the casual dismissal of Cecilia Reyes from the X-Men is even more annoying. For a solid year, the titles did story after story about Cecilia saying goodbye to her old life and accepting her role as an X-Man. Then, suddenly, she’s quit the team in-between issues after a committee decision is made to revamp the lineup. Who needs to invest in any storyline when we can have the editors tell us what we really want?

What’s the Appeal? : Seagle and Kelly did revive a bit of interest in the main books, and many critics who normally dismissed the titles did give their issues positive reviews. Like always, there’s a stable of popular artists on the books, including Chris Bachalo, Adam Kubert, and Lenil Francis Yu.

Were the Critics Right? : I remember thinking at the start of the year that the X-books (the ones I still bought at least) were definitely on an upturn and headed in the right direction. By the end of the year, I was wondering if I should give up on the entire line. The lack of direction or payoff for any storyline returns, and it’s even more obvious now that the lead writers barely last a year before quitting. Halfway through the year, it looks as if Seagle and Kelly are just executing someone else’s ideas, as plot threads that are only a few issues old are totally abandoned. It’s a rough year for the books, made even more frustrating when you consider what could’ve been.


Morgan said...

Ive said it before and Ill say it again. Its a shame you stopped reading Cable as it has become one of if not the best X-Title of the year (1998).

rob said...

I've always had a few of Joe Casey's Cable issues and liked them ... I recently picked up a bunch for free and would really have to agree with the above comment - great stuff.

The dumping of Cecilia always bugged me, especially since I actually really liked her development in the year since they introduced her. In the long run, they actually got some decent material out of Marrow, but they took so long to do anything with Kitty/Nightcrawler/Colossus that I wished they never forced the lineup change on us.

Matt said...

I never realized Chris Claremont's return to Wolverine was originally supposed to run through three titles. I don't even remember reading that in your reviews of the issues in question (though I wouldn't be surprised if it was there and I missed it)!

As I commented at the time you were reviewing these stories, I have virtually no memory of the Seagle/Kelly era. 1998 seems to be the year that never happened for me...

G. Kendall said...

"I never realized Chris Claremont's return to Wolverine was originally supposed to run through three titles. I don't even remember reading that in your reviews of the issues in question (though I wouldn't be surprised if it was there and I missed it)!"

He mentioned it in a Wizard X-Men special from the time. I only recently reread it.

wwk5d said...

It's hard to judge Uncanny and Vol 2, given the editorial tinkering and knowing many of these sub-plots go nowhere. I never liked Seagle's Uncanny, and I still fail to see what all the fuss is about (same with Casey's Cable...better than many of the previous runs, but that's not saying much). I was meh about Kelly's run, but looking back, it holds up pretty well, and I do wish he had stayed on the title.

X-force was still going strong back then. I'm not sure if the Road Trip issues started then, but they are some very good issues, and worth checking out. As for Excaliber and X-factor, I honestly didn't care much that they were axed.

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