Friday, February 27, 2009

UNCANNY X-MEN #342 – March 1997

"Did I Miss Something ?!"

Credits: Scott Lobdell (writer), Joe Madureira (penciler), Tim Townsend (inker), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (lettering), Steve Buccellato &Team Bucce! (colors)

Summary: The X-Men are transported inside a spaceship that’s flying out of control, approaching an asteroid belt. Beast recalibrates the ship, and Joseph protects the team from the asteroids. They enter a stargate and travel to the Shi’ar Empire. On the way, Rogue comforts Bishop, who feels lost after Xavier’s transformation into Onslaught. The team reaches a Shi’ar space station, and is shocked when the ship’s computers claim that all of its occupants are dead. While searching the wreckage, Beast realizes that the power core is gone. Meanwhile, Bishop discovers Deathbird, who is barely alive.

Continuity Notes: The team change into new outfits after boarding the spacecraft. Rogue’s new uniform has a “low-field force field” that enables her to almost touch someone. Marvel tried to make this Rogue’s new costume after the storyline was over (while ignoring the force field bit), but it didn’t catch on.

“Huh?” Moments: Three pages after a computer scan shows “0.00” bodies alive inside the space station, Bishop finds Deathbird. I guess you could argue that the scan missed her because she was clinging to life, but this always bothered me for obvious reasons.

A brief scene has Storm, Cyclops, Phoenix, and Wolverine returning home after their adventure in X-Men #60 and #61. Those were the issues that took place on the day Graydon Creed was killed (or at least on the day of his funeral, depending on which scene you believe), which was Election Day in November. This story explicitly takes place on Christmas day. So, apparently, it took over six weeks for these X-Men to get from Manhattan to Westchester.

Gimmicks: For some reason, this issue has an alternate Rogue cover.

Commercial Break: There are four pages in this issue dedicated to selling the final issues of Ghost Rider; the ones that gave him a bright outfit that made him look like a clown. These are the “extra pages” Marvel used to justify the higher price after dropping the nicer paper stock.

Review: I guess this was Lobdell’s attempt at doing one of the “X-Men in Space” stories that occasionally showed up in the Claremont run. My memory is that this storyline went on forever. In fact, I’m pretty sure that this title was unable to participate in the “Operation: Zero Tolerance” crossover because the space storyline went on longer than expected (I know a separate story involving Marrow had to be presented for one issue in order to justify at least one tie-in). Judged on its own merits, this issue isn’t so bad. The opening sequence with the out of control spaceship doesn’t really work, since it has no plot significance and comes across as Lobdell trying too hard for an “action” opening (what exactly is wrong with the spaceship is never even made clear). The issue improves as it moves along, though, providing some decent character moments amongst the cast.

Lobdell offers some variation on the “innocent civilian unfairly dragged into the hero’s adventure” cliché, as Trish Tilby acts thrilled to be in on the action, while also keeping her fears to herself, which at least makes her characterization more believable. Bishop has an inner monologue that finally gives his take on the resolution of the “X-traitor” storyline. He not only wonders what his role in this time is, but questions if he has any friends on the team. This could be another meta-commentary on the lack of connection between the cast by this point. There have been plenty of scenes with the romantic couples on the team in recent years, but little effort on showing Bishop forming relationships of any kind with the rest of the cast. Bishop was written out of the book after this storyline was over, so maybe this was intended as foreshadowing. I wonder how much of an interest was left in the early ‘90s characters within Marvel at this point. Bishop did get his own series a few years after this, but Marvel was giving everyone in the X-universe their own series by 1999. Reading this scene, it almost seems to be an acknowledgment on Lobdell’s part that Bishop just hasn’t worked out as an X-Man.

Outside of the character moments, you’re mostly left with a setup issue. In that regard, the characters move to where they need to be quickly enough, and the behind-the-scenes threat hovering over the team seems appropriately ominous. I’m sure this would be a lot duller with a different artist, which is how I often feel about the Lobdell/Madureira issues, but it mostly works as the opening chapter of a new storyline.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

X-FACTOR #131 – February 1997

Credits: Howard Mackie (writer), Jeff Matsuda (penciler), Art Thibert (inker), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (lettering), Glynis Oliver & GCW (colors)

Summary: Inside the remains of the Morlock Tunnels, Havok makes plans to form his own Brotherhood. Elsewhere, the Dark Beast is assaulted by two of the guards looking over him in custody. A female guard named Barnes orders them to back off, even after the Dark Beast severs one of their thumbs. Soon, Havok breaks into the facility, searching for the Dark Beast. Barnes takes him away in an escape pod, which Havok blasts to the ground. He recruits Fatale, who is also in custody, to teleport him to the craft’s location. Havok frees Dark Beast from his restraints, and offers him a role in the new Brotherhood. Dark Beast shows his gratitude by attempting to kill Barnes, but Havok stops him. He claims that the new Brotherhood won’t kill humans, but will take the initiative to help mutants.

Review: We’ve now arrived at my final issue of X-Factor, ending a complete run of over sixty issues. Like most issues of this era, this one is a poorly written mess that can’t hold up to any real scrutiny. After a dream sequence, Havok decides that he’s lived as the pawn of other people for too long, and is going off in his own direction. It’s an odd characterization shift that never worked for me, and it’s an extremely weak rationalization for making him a villain. Havok’s insecurities about living up to his brother’s reputation, and his past experiences with mind control, are used to justify the new characterization. The mind control angle seems silly to me, as comic book heroes are often mind-controlled, and Havok was never been under someone else’s influence for more than a few issues, so it’s never defined him in the past. His insecurities involving his brother are just normal human emotions that were supposed to make the character seem more real, not drive him towards villainy. It’s extremely forced, and even though last issue’s letter column promised that this story would explain Havok’s new motivation, it’s just as unconvincing as the previous chapters of this storyline.

It seems as if Marvel’s already responding to negative fan reaction to Havok going bad, as he backs off of the maliciousness he’s exhibited in the more recent stories. According to one of the extensive narrative captions, Havok was still under Dark Beast’s influence when he tried to crash a commercial airplane a few weeks earlier in Uncanny, which is obviously a quickie way to dismiss that story (even though that issue went out of its way to sell the idea that this was the “real” Havok). Now we’re really really seeing the real Havok, and Marvel means it this time. Even if he’s not an outright villain now, it’s obvious they’re serious about making him an ongoing antagonist, so his actions end up making even less sense than usual. Havok now claims that he doesn’t want any humans to die, and prevents Dark Beast from killing his guard. Even if you buy the retconned explanation for his behavior in Uncanny, it’s hard to justify why he would recruit the bloodthirsty Dark Beast as a teammate. What does he think is going to happen? And if he’s so angry about being manipulated so many times, why is he recruiting the man who brainwashed him just a few issues ago?

Even if you have a lax attitude towards continuity and characterization, I don’t see how this issue can work. The scripting is often bland and clunky (Havok apparently can’t use contractions, giving us lines like this: “Everything that has happened in the past month is going to give the world even more reason to lash out at mutants all over again!”), many of the pages are bogged down with too many captions, and most of the characters are devoid of anything resembling a personality. Matsuda’s artwork works in a few places, especially in the opening dream sequence, but the storytelling and anatomy seem to deteriorate as the issue goes on. His manga-influenced designs also go too far when he gives Barnes, the morally superior guard who risks her life to protect Dark Beast, a bizarre hairstyle that resembles Bugs Bunny’s ears. I can’t imagine why Marvel thought this art style was appropriate for the darker, grittier tone they wanted for the series. Of course, it’s hard to justify anything Marvel did to the title by this point.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

UNCANNY X-MEN #341 – February 1997

When Strikes A Gladiator!
Credits: Scott Lobdell (writer), Joe Madureira (penciler), Tim Townsend (inker), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (lettering), Steve Buccellato & Team Bucce! (colors)

Summary: Cannonball, Gambit, Bishop, Joseph, Rogue, Beast, and Trish Tilby gather in New York on Christmas Eve. Joseph leaves with Rogue and shows her a device he’s constructed from Xavier’s “Z’noxx (sic) Chamber”. The large construct protects him from Rogue’s powers, enabling him to kiss her on the forehead. Meanwhile, Cannonball is suddenly attacked by Gladiator while Christmas shopping. The other X-Men in the city notice the spectacle and arrive, just as Cannonball fights him to a standstill. Gladiator admits that he staged the fight in order to gain the X-Men’s attention. He reveals that the Shi’ar Empire needs help, and he’s been ordered not to interfere. He sends transit spheres to teleport the group away.

Continuity Notes: Cannonball manages to channel the kinetic energy from Gladiator’s punch and direct it towards his forcefield, which is the first time he’s had that level of power. A footnote says that the Imperial Guard miniseries explains why Gladiator isn’t able to help the Shi’ar.

The “Z’nox Chamber” is the psi-shielded chamber Xavier used to prepare for the arrival of the alien Z’nox way back in UXM #65. It also showed up during the buildup to the Onslaught crossover. It’s odd that a long-forgotten area of continuity would show up twice in six months after being forgotten for almost thirty years. The explanation for how it blocks Rogue’s powers is that it can filter powers in either direction (Joseph claims it “clothes” the mind she touches, which doesn’t make a lot of sense to me).

I Love the ‘90s: Marvel debuts its second official website, (it redirects to today). Also, Joseph and Rogue’s kiss takes place on top of the World Trade Center.

“Huh?” Moment: Gladiator refuses to send Cannonball with the rest of the team, because it would be dishonorable to send a young person “into such danger”. Aside from the fact that Gladiator just spent ten pages fighting him, he also sent non-powered civilian Trish Tilby into the alleged danger.

We Get Letters: A letter writer correctly points out that Colossus and Gambit have never had a scene together, and the editor’s response just acknowledges that it’s true without offering much of a defense. Come to think of it, I can’t even remember a dialogue exchange between the characters at this point.

Review: This is another issue that’s light on plot, but is saved by Madureira’s energetic artwork. The majority of the issue is dedicated to a gratuitous Cannonball/Gladiator fight that ends up having no story significance at all. I guess having Cannonball defeat a Superman analogue was supposed to finish the long-running “Cannonball feels insecure about being an X-Men” subplot, but the idea’s not really emphasized in this issue, and it seems like it had already been dropped by this point anyway. The small character moments, such as Cannonball trying to shop on Christmas Eve, and Joseph and Rogue floating over the city in a horse-drawn carriage, are nice enough, but don’t have a lot of depth. It’s still enjoyable in an almost mindless way, but most of the issue would’ve been pretty dull with another artist.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

X-MEN #61 – February 1997

Credits: Scott Lobdell (writer), Cedric Nocon (penciler), Hunt & Miller (inkers), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (lettering), Joe Rosas & GCW (colorist)

Summary: Undercloaks from the Crimson Dawn dimension attack Psylocke in the apartment she shares with Archangel. When he arrives to help, the apartment is empty and Psylocke is meditating. Gomurr appears, telling them that a price must be paid for the Crimson Dawn. Meanwhile, Storm faces Jamil, who is apparently possessed by the Shadow King. After she freezes him in a blizzard, the Juggernaut appears. Storm deduces that this is Jamil changing forms. Soon, Jamil impersonates Cable and blasts Candra with the red gem. Storm decides that Jamil’s forms aren’t coming from her mind or Candra’s. When Candra recovers, Storm reveals that Jamil never existed, and was always a creation of Karima’s mutant power. Storm tosses the ruby gem in the air, as Cyclops arrives to blast it. Candra disappears, and Storm leaves with Karima. Meanwhile, Sebastian Shaw schemes in Hong Kong.

Continuity Notes: The Archangel/Psylocke scene is a tease for their upcoming miniseries, which or may or not make as much sense as what we see here (I only read the first issue).

Storm reveals that Achmed knew that Candra was after his mutant pupil, so he ordered Karima to use her power to give “form and function to desires pulled from the minds of others” to create Jamil. Jamil was created by projecting Candra’s desire to find the gem and Karima’s own desire for companionship.

The opening narration claims that this story takes place on the night Graydon Creed died, even though last issue had a brief scene with Cannonball on the day of his funeral. I guess you could say that only the Archangel/Psylocke scene took place on that night, and the rest of the story happened a few days later.

As Cyclops, Wolverine, and Phoenix arrive to help Storm, Phoenix turns the corner and is suddenly alone. She wonders why Manhattan is abandoned for a few panels, and then everything is back to normal. This is obviously some type of foreshadowing, but it's never resolved.

“Huh?” Moment: Storm decides that Jamil isn’t pulling memories from her mind because “his creations would have been more focused on their goal of destroying me”. I have no idea what this means. If she’s saying that Jamil isn’t trying hard enough to kill her, I’ll give her that much, but that still doesn’t eliminate the possibility that he’s pulling images from her mind. Storm’s odd deduction directly leads her to the revelation that Jamil is actually a creation of Karima. Huh? How does Karima know about the Shadow King, Juggernaut, or Cable?

Creative Differences: Some awkward re-lettering shows up sporadically throughout the issue. It mostly interrupts exposition, such as the explanations that Psylocke is a ninja, Candra is an External, and Sebastian Shaw is a mutant.

Review: What is this? Last issue was a bland story about Storm and Candra fighting over a plot device. Now, the story veers off in an utterly nonsensical direction, revealing that two minor characters from a 1994 X-Men Unlimited issue weren’t who we thought they were. Well, that’s a load off my mind. I’m so glad an entire issue of this series was dedicated to resolving something that no one found confusing in the first place. The revelation that Jamil was always Karima’s projection almost makes sense, but the thought process that Storm goes through to reach this conclusion certainly doesn’t. I’ll give Scott Lobdell the benefit of the doubt and assume that someone somewhere had some last minute rethinking and the final result isn’t the story he set out to tell. Lobdell can be an inconsistent writer, but I don’t think he intentionally set out to produce something this disjointed. The alternating subplots are also frustratingly vague, making this issue an even larger mess.

X-FORCE #62 – January 1997

Human Nature
Credits: John Dokes (writer), Kevin Lau w/Adam Pollina (pencilers), Andrew Pepoy w/Norman Lee (inkers), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (lettering), Leeann Clark (colorist)

Summary: Shinobi Shaw has kidnapped Nga Coy Manh and Leon Coy Manh, the siblings of former New Mutants member Karma. Shaw’s scientists are experimenting on them, hoping to find a way to neutralize the mutant x-gene (which will give Shaw power over other mutants, including his father). X-Force infiltrate Shaw’s base and are confronted by his henchmen, Clear-Cut and Mindmeld. While Clear-Cut duels with Shatterstar, Mindmeld forces Domino into Caliban’s mind and Meltdown into Sunspot’s mind. The team is taken into custody, as Domino and Meltdown’s unconscious bodies are taken away for experimentation. After Spiral takes Nga and Leon away, Shaw reveals that he knows Clear-Cut is a double agent. Mindmeld possesses him, which inadvertently returns Domino and Meltdown back to their own bodies. Domino uses the key Clear-Cut slipped her to free the others, and the team soon destroys Shaw’s headquarters and frees Clear-Cut. After escaping, Clear-Cut tells the team that his debt to Cable is paid.

Continuity Notes: Final Fantasy rejects Clear-Cut and Mindmeld appear for the first time. Clear-Cut claims that Shaw didn’t detect the mutant gene in his body because not everyone with special powers is a mutant (he has a magic sword that spontaneously appears, which is apparently his power). I’m assuming that his past with Cable has never been revealed. Mindmeld, who is outright androgynous, can possesses minds and transfer them to other bodies. Domino refers to Mindmeld as a she, but Meltdown refers to her as “Mr. or Mrs.”.

Spiral shows up for literally one panel to take the Coy Manh kids away, which is presumably a setup for the Beast miniseries that’s mentioned on the last page.

Review: Did you want more filler? I know I did. There are a few decent ideas here, but the story’s cluttered with too much nonsense and bad artwork. Kevin Lau returns with more of that generic manga look that gives virtually every character the same face and body type. I have no idea if Mindmeld is supposed to be androgynous, or if Lau just draw an extremely effeminate man and the writer decided to have fun with it. Adam Pollina is credited as co-artist, but none of the actual drawings look like his work. Some of the page layouts and poses on the final pages are definitely his, so I’m assuming he provided some last minute layouts, or very rough breakdowns.

The basic idea of the story has potential; a one issue story that has the cast trapped in one another’s bodies while an inside agent tries to stop Shinobi Shaw is fine. However, there are too many characters in the story, and no one is properly introduced. The mutants Shaw is experimenting on didn’t have to be Karma’s siblings (who were long forgotten at this point, although the story acts as if they’re recurring supporting cast members), unless this story only existed to setup the Beast mini in the first place. Clear-Cut and Mindmeld are treated as if they’re established characters that we’re already familiar with, and Spiral shows up with no explanation of who she is or what her connection to Shaw is supposed to be. Even if you’re already familiar with all of the continuity elements, the story still comes across as needlessly convoluted. This is the stereotypical “too complicated” X-story, the type that critics used for years to condemn the entire line.

Monday, February 23, 2009

X-MEN #60 – January 1997

Credits: Scott Lobdell (plot), Ralph Macchio (script), Cedric Nocon (penciler), Chad Hunt (inker), Comicraft (lettering), Joe Rosas & GCW (colors)

Summary: In her greenhouse, Storm is attacked by Cyclops. Candra reveals that she is possessing him, and gives Storm a message. Storm pulls a red gem out of storage and leaves before Cyclops can inform the others. Storm flashes back to the day she stole the gem from a mansion near Cairo as a child. Her mentor, Achmed, held it for years and returned it to Storm when she left Egypt. At a museum in New York, Storm meets Candra. Candra demands that Storm return the gem to her, or else her hostage Karima will die. Jamil, Candra’s young follower, appears and uses his psychic powers against Storm. When she fights back, Jamil tricks both Storm and Candra and steals the gem. The Shadow King shows himself, revealing that he’s possessed Jamil.

Continuity Notes: Jamil and Karima first appeared in X-Men Unlimited #7 as two street kids under the care of Storm’s former mentor. Candra says that she’s only recently learned that Storm stole her gem (which she refers to as her “heart”) through Jamil’s telepathic powers.

The story implies that the red gem is the same one Storm wore on her original costume. Chris Claremont also had Storm receive a red gem (called the "cameo crystal") from M'Rin in the backup story in Classic X-Men #22. This could still work in continuity if you figure that the initial gem Storm wore was Candra’s, and she later swapped it with M'Rin’s (assuming you believe that Storm ever wore M'Rin's gem in the first place).

Candra claims that an External can be killed by “running a blade through the heart in order to absorb the arcane energy within”. That’s not how Selene was killing Externals just a few months earlier in X-Force, and I seem to recall early issues of that series implying that Externals could only be killed through decapitation.

Miscellaneous Note: The Statement of Ownership lists average sales for the year at 432,119 copies with the most recent issue selling 389,626.

Review: This is more filler, and it’s pretty lame. It’s not as offensively bad as Graydon Creed’s assassination, or the payoff of the Onslaught mystery, or Havok’s turn as a villain, but it’s still a chore to read. The art looks like early Image work, with thousands of ugly lines everywhere, weird faces, and awkward poses. I remember hating the artwork in this issue when I first read it, which probably means that the early ‘90s style was really, really dead by this point. The story involves the increasingly dull Candra fighting Storm over an inane plot device until another villain decides to show up. It reminds me of the filler that used to run in Marvel Comics Presents, only this kills twenty-two pages instead of eight. Ralph Macchio’s script doesn’t help things either, giving all of the characters very stiff (and boring) speech patterns. I had been able to tolerate filler storylines in the past, but I found this one particularly grating as a teenager.

Friday, February 20, 2009

X-MAN #20-#22 (October 1996 – December 1996)

#20 (Kavanagh/Skroce/LaRosa/Comicraft/Morsehead/Malibu) X-Man’s new logo debuts with this issue, and if I were cynical, I’d say it’s been redesigned to trick readers with poor eyesight into thinking it’s a more popular title. This issue reveals that the shadowy figure Threnody ran into in the last issue is the Abomination. Conveniently enough, Threnody actually has a past with him. When she was younger, the group of outsiders that Abomination leads took her in. Her powers went out of control, accidentally killing two of his people, forcing Abomination to kick her out of their home. I’m not quite sure where the idea that Abomination leads a group of outcasts comes from (is this what Peter David decided to do with him after the “Hulk Smash” era ended?), but this issue certainly runs with it. When the group learns that Threnody has taken a leather jacket that belonged to a deceased member, she’s attacked. X-Man finds her and saves her, and then spends the rest of the issue fighting the Abomination. X-Man learns about Threnody’s past from Abomination’s memories, but decides to trust her because she doesn’t deny what happened. There’s a slight variation on X-Man’s powers, as he mentally tricks Abomination into thinking that he won a physical fight him, allowing him to escape with Threnody. This is at least preferable to seeing his powers explode for the five hundredth time. This is a mediocre issue, but X-Man doesn’t behave like a total idiot in it, and the art has its moments, so it’s above par by X-Man standards.

#21 (Kavanagh/Cruz/LaRosa/Comicraft/Thomas/GCW) – This begins a new direction for the title, as X-Man and Threnody move to New York and Roger Cruz debuts as artist. Cruz’s art is extremely inconsistent, but you can see some promise on a few pages. Moving X-Man to New York seems like a waste, since the character could live anywhere and NYC is already overpopulated with Marvel heroes. However, Kavanagh manages to use the city well in this issue. X-Man actually uses his powers creatively, by conning the con artists in Central Park, and connecting to the normal people around him in a human way. He spends a nice day with Threnody until he accidentally uses his telekinetic powers in public, which of course causes a riot. X-Man surprisingly doesn’t behave childishly, declaring instead that he’s actually going to grow closer to humanity. This seems like a deliberate attempt to address some of the more egregious problems with this series, and it’s a stronger story than I would expect from Kavanagh at this point.

The Selene subplot continues, as she proposes reuniting the Hellfire Club with Sebastian Shaw. Trevor Fitzroy, who is now serving Selene, makes the argument that the time is right for mutants to unite because of the threat of Operation: Zero Tolerance. It’s implied that Fitzroy knows Bastion’s plans because he’s from the future, which isn’t a bad way to use the character. Forcing disparate mutants to unite in the face of OZT has a lot of potential, and it’s too bad the actual crossover did little with this. For the record, the Statement of Ownership in this issue lists average sales for the year at 227,315 copies, with the most recent issue selling 243,916.

#22 (Kavanagh/Cruz/Clark/LaRosa/Geiger/Comicraft/Thomas/GCW) – Not an awful lot going on in this issue. X-Man kills a few pages stopping an arsonist, and then travels to Central Park, where he’s developed a following. He charges for his services and uses his telepathic powers in positive ways, such as helping the mother of a kid fighting cancer find her inner courage. I like this direction, as it gives the character some type of purpose and answers the basic question of “how does he afford food and shelter?”. There’s an inordinate amount of time spent on X-Man and Threnody shopping for clothes and looking for an apartment, which unfortunately drags the issue down towards the end. The alternating scenes have Selene introducing Madelyne Pryor to Sebastian Shaw, teasing the idea that Madelyne will help them defeat the X-Men. It seems like every issue has Selene/Madelyne subplot pages, and they never go anywhere. Last issue’s scenes had promise, but now it looks like the characters are just being gathered to fight the X-Men (who, you know, aren’t the stars of this book). There's also a one-page scene that teases a Bastion appearance in Silver Surfer of all places. Overall, this isn’t too impressive, but the new direction has promise.

WOLVERINE #111 – March 1997

Credits: Larry Hama (writer), Anthony Winn (penciler), Dan Green (inker), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (lettering), Dana Moreshead & Graphic Color Works (colors)

Summary: Wolverine returns to the mansion, as Iceman prepares to leave the X-Men. The team throws Iceman a party, but Wolverine feels uncomfortable. A package from Zoe Culloden arrives for Wolverine. A holographic display of Zoe tells him to take care of the artifact she’s sending him, and that dark times are coming. The next day, Wolverine trains in the Danger Room. A mystical entity appears, overriding the computer program. He tells Wolverine that he can resurrect his deceased fiancée Mariko, but he has to do a favor for him. Mariko’s corpse suddenly materializes, dragging Wolverine into the ground. Wolverine stabs the mystery man with his own sword, forcing him to retreat. Stick suddenly appears, and forces Mariko back into the ground. Stick tells Wolverine that it’s time for him to move away from the places that protect him and the people he loves. The next day, Wolverine leaves his new motorcycle with Cannonball for safekeeping. He tells him that he’ll be away from the mansion for a while.

Continuity Notes: The artifact Zoe gives Wolverine is a tiny box with Xs written on the sides. I’m pretty sure it appears again, but I don’t recall a payoff for all of her cryptic comments. I assume the mystery figure that approaches Wolverine in this issue (the character on the cover who is never named) ties in with the artifact in some way. I don’t recall his cryptic comments being resolved, either. Stick claims that he sent Elektra to help Wolverine stay on “the path” because of this mysterious entity.

Anthony Winn is still drawing Wolverine normally, even though last issue’s fill-in artist went back to the more feral design. The image inducer explanation doesn’t work here, as Wolverine has no motive to disguise his appearance when he’s with his friends, or alone in the mansion.

Review: This is intended to set up a new status quo that doesn’t last for long -- Wolverine living outside of the mansion and making new friends in New York City. It’s similar to the early issues, which had Wolverine spending time away from the X-Men in Madripoor, and it’s a reasonable direction to take the series. However, Hama only had a few issues left as writer, and the subsequent writers quickly abandoned the idea. All of the mysterious comments feel annoying, simply because the X-office’s reputation for paying anything off is shot by this point, but it does work as a nice character piece.

The entire issue is Wolverine narrating his feelings about the X-Men, which is something you rarely see in his solo series. The repeated theme in this issue is that Wolverine is still a loner by nature, and isn’t bound to Xavier’s school the same way most of the X-Men are (he even disses Harry’s Hideaway, the X-Men’s classic hangout). Hama has Wolverine acknowledge that he isn’t close with most of the current X-Men, which almost comes across as a meta-commentary on the post-Claremont era’s inability to recreate the “family” feeling amongst the team. When Wolverine tries to console Iceman about his father, Iceman’s response is that he barely knows him and it’s too late to start being pals. It’s rough, but it’s true. Wolverine and Iceman have barely had anything to do with one another, even though they’ve been teammates since 1991. It reminds me of the Archangel/Jubilee exchange in UXM #319, although in that scene, Lobdell seemed to be drawing attention to the problem and not doing much else with it. Hama at least uses it to make a statement about Wolverine as a character. It’s too bad the ideas established here never go anywhere, since the new direction Hama’s going in seems to have promise.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

EXCALIBUR #105 – January 1997

Hard Truths
Credits: Keith Giffen (writer), Bryan Hitch (penciler), Paul Neary w/Bryan Hitch & Robin Riggs (inkers), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (lettering), Ariane Lenshoek & Malibu (colors), based on a story by John Acrudi

Summary: Even after viewing Doug Ramsey’s corpse, Kitty Pryde remains convinced that Douglock is Doug. They travel to a pizzeria the New Mutants used to frequent, where Kitty is stunned to learn that Douglock doesn’t like Doug’s favorite pizza. Meanwhile, the Mutant Liberation Front continues their assault on Muir Island. Moira and Nightcrawler try to close the vault doors that guard the Xavier Protocols, but are unsuccessful. When Nightcrawler teleports away to fight the MLF, Moira shuts down the forcefield that’s keeping the villains outside. Nightcrawler is forced to abandon the fight when the MLF use Meggan and Captain Britain as hostages. As the MLF approach the Xavier Protocols unit, the lack of security makes them suspicious. They throw the unconscious bodies of Meggan and Captain Britain in front of the unit as test subjects. Moira reactivates the forcefield, now that the entire team is inside its range. Moonstar, looking for a way to botch the MLF’s mission, declares that Excalibur now has the advantage and orders the team to teleport away. Elsewhere, Kitty visits Doug Ramsey’s home. When she sees that Doug’s parents have turned his bedroom into a den, she realizes that he really is gone. She returns to Doug’s grave to say goodbye, finally accepting the truth.

Continuity Notes: This issue raises the question of why Douglock takes Doug Ramsey’s form, but doesn’t give an answer. I don’t recall the initial Phalanx storyline explicitly spelling this out, but I’m fairly certain it ties into the early appearances of the Phalanx, which had them mimicking the forms of deceased associates of the X-Men (like Archangel’s dead girlfriend, Candy Southern). Douglock was their version of Doug Ramsey, yet he managed to break free of his programming in his earliest appearances in this title.

I Love the ‘90s: The letters page in this issue solicits responses in the form of email, which is the first time I’ve seen that happen in an issue I’ve reviewed. They don’t actually give an email address, though, they ask people to submit letters through the “Marvel: Online” site (without telling anyone how to actually access the site).

Review: The filler issues continue, as Keith Giffen is brought in to finish last issue’s story. It is an improvement over last issue’s script, as Giffen manages to give the characters personalities and write a few sharp lines. It’s a little too jokey in a few places, but it’s definitely preferable to the generic, dull script of the previous issue. I’m not aware of the behind-the-scenes circumstances that lead to Giffen finishing off another writer’s story, but he actually seems to be enjoying himself. When an emotional Kitty accuses Douglock of planting the body in Doug’s grave, Giffen has Douglock check off all of the reasons why her allegation is ridiculous. Rather than dwelling on it, Kitty acknowledges that she acted like a jerk and the characters move on. Kitty’s portrayal in this story is a tricky thing to pull off, since discovering Doug’s body is the most definitive confirmation of his death you’re likely to find, yet she still has to stay in denial until the end of the issue. Giffen manages to make Kitty appear more desperate than truly delusional, and uses the story to make the broader point that Kitty has a hard time letting go of the past (she’s shocked to learn that an employee at the pizzeria is gone, even though she hasn’t visited in over a year).

There are some plot points that bother me, such as the two most powerful members of the team getting easily knocked unconscious by the MLF, the MLF totally forgetting about last issue’s plans to steal Moira’s Legacy Virus research, and the nonsensical scene that has Moira dramatically ripping out the forcefield’s wiring, yet being able to just turn it back on a few pages later. The issue has its flaws, but it’s an enjoyable read, and it’s much better than I remembered it being. This turned out to be my final issue of Excalibur, as my local newsstand vendors dramatically reduced the number of comics they ordered. I visited the comic shop in a nearby town every month or so, but was so disenfranchised with the direction of most of the X-books, I made no effort to search the back issue bins for any of the titles I had been regularly buying.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

X-FACTOR #130 – January 1997

A Mother’s Eyes – The Assassination of Graydon Creed
Credits: Howard Mackie (writer), Eric Battle (penciler), Al Milgrom (inker), Comicraft (lettering), Glynis Oliver & GCW (colors)

Summary: On the eve of Election Day, X-Factor arrives in Atlanta to protect Graydon Creed from Mystique. Mystique uses her shapeshifting powers to get close enough to point a gun at Creed. Polaris stops her, and Mystique is placed in custody. As Val Cooper rides away with her, Mystique claims that she was actually trying to stop the assassination. The gun she was using was actually a forcefield generator that was going to protect Creed. Meanwhile, X-Factor apprehends Pyro, as Creed addresses his supporters. Suddenly, a blast of energy reduces Creed to literal ashes. X-Factor regroups in their van, where a message appears on the monitors. It claims that Creed was the first and Mystique is next.

Continuity Notes: Val Cooper apparently refers to Creed as “Senator”, which is a mistake. It’s possible that Creed’s running mate, who is a senator, was supposed to be in the scene, but the artist left him out.

Mystique is now able to impersonate Val Cooper, after spending months hacking into Forge’s programming and working on her inhibitor transplant. She also claims that she knows about the secret government conspiracy that’s manipulating X-Factor.

Review: And now we’ve come to the end of the latest “What was the point?” storyline, the assassination of Graydon Creed. The death of the character is spoiled in the actual title of the issue, so I’m assuming the creators themselves weren’t even that interested in building suspense over his fate. And killing him off in such a cartoonish way doesn’t exactly add to the drama. I half-expected to see Daffy Duck’s bill on top of the pile of ashes. It seems like the creators were waiting for a decent story to emerge from the subplot, but as the real life Election Day approached, they realized it had to come to some sort of a conclusion (judging by the dates in the Bullpen Bulletin, this issue already shipped over a week after the 1996 election). Aside from serving no discernable purpose for months, outside of indirectly leading to Iceman’s departure, the storyline ends with yet another vague mystery. “Who killed Graydon Creed?” was another mystery that stuck around in the background for a few months before disappearing (I recall reading online that the X-Men Forever mini eventually revealed that Mystique did kill him after all, but I don’t even want to think about the mechanics of that). I guess turning Graydon Creed into a martyr for anti-mutant forces was supposed to lead into Bastion’s rise in “Operation: Zero Tolerance”, but I don’t recall much of a connection between the two storylines.

The actual mechanics of this specific issue feel as poorly thought-out as the rest of the storyline. An inordinate amount of time is spent on selling the idea that Mystique is impersonating Val Cooper, but it doesn’t have any real impact on the story. Mystique impersonates Val for a few pages, and then morphs into a variety of different people before getting close to Creed. The plot twist that Mystique suddenly wants to save Creed’s life makes no sense, given that she’s been talking about killing him for the past two issues. Also, Mystique is now suddenly in on the numerous conspiracies surrounding X-Factor, even though nothing in the previous issues indicated this. And, really, the last thing this title needs is more shadowy government conspiracy stories. To make matters worse, the eye-searing artwork often fails to tell the story, and it looks like it was drawn with markers instead of a pencil. This is the conclusion to a storyline that began over a year earlier, and it’s handled by a subpar fill-in? This turned out to be my next to last issue of X-Factor, and I don’t think anyone could blame me for bailing.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

X-MAN ’96 – November 1996

Sins of the Father
Credits: Terry Kavanagh (writer), Alan Davis (penciler), Mark Farmer & Robin Riggs (inkers), Comicraft (lettering), Tom Vincent & Malibu (colors)

Summary: X-Man discovers a flickering reality warp and traces the source to Genosha. There, the Sugar Man is using the remaining energies of the M’Kraan Crystal within him to create a “fargate” that will transport him into the past of the Age of Apocalypse. The Genoshan Mutates he’s using to power the device aren’t enough, but when X-Men enters and attacks, he generates enough energy to charge the fargate. Sugar Man jumps through to the Age of Apocalypse, and X-Man follows. X-Man drops into Niagara Falls, and is rescued by a younger Magneto. He meets Forge, who already knows X-Man, even though they hadn’t met by this time. Forge explains that X-Man has already passed through time and spoken to him in the past. Elsewhere, Sugar Man is experimenting on Mastermind. One of Sugar Man’s scientists reveals himself as Morph and rescues Mastermind, shortly before X-Man, Forge, and Magneto enter. After defeating him, Forge recreates Sugar Man’s fargate. Mastermind uses his illusions to trick X-Man into energizing the fargate. The fargate drags X-Man back into our reality. Forge reveals that the last time X-Man traveled through time, he told him to do this because X-Man knew that he wouldn’t want to leave. X-Man returns to New York, knowing that he will find this reality’s Forge one day.

Continuity Notes: Sugar Man traveled to this world by jumping through the M’Kraan Crystal in X-Men Omega, which explains why he has the Crystal’s energies within him (assuming you buy the comic book pseudo-science). Forge returns him to this reality at the end of the story because he needs the M’Kraan Crystal energy within Sugar Man to power the fargate. The last remnants of the Crystal’s energies are used to send X-Man back to this reality, which conveniently prevents Sugar Man from creating any more portals to the AoA. Forge is adamant about returning X-Man to this world because he knows the Age of Apocalypse shouldn’t exist, and wants X-Man to ensure that Apocalypse never rules in the mainstream reality.

Sugar Man’s goal is to develop a waterborne strain of the plague Apocalypse used to decimate the human race (he also wants an antidote, presumably to provide to his followers). When he returns to this reality, he’ll use the plague to conquer Earth. At the story’s end, X-Man isolates the virus’ microbes from the water supply, and Magneto encases them in metal and takes them to a cold environment.

In the course of the fight, Forge loses his left eye to Sugar Man, which is used as the explanation for the cybernetic eye he wore during the AoA storyline. He tells X-Man that he never told him about his past conversations with the time-traveling X-Man because he wasn’t ready to learn about them.

Review: We all remembered that Alan Davis drew an X-Man annual in the ‘90s, right? Aside from having Davis on art, this issue is also significant for featuring the first return to the Age of Apocalypse timeline. It’s not an easy thing for the story to pull off, as the plot reiterates that the AoA wasn’t just an alternate timeline, but a reality that actually replaced the “real” world. The solution makes about as much sense as you could expect it to make, as Sugar Man duplicates the means of his arrival here and has to go to the past, since the AoA doesn’t coexist with our world. This doesn’t exactly fit with the idea that the entire AoA had to be erased in order for the mainstream reality to return, but I’m willing to live with “M’Kraan Crystal energies” as a plot cheat, since the M’Kraan Crystal affects reality itself.

After the plot goes out of its way to justify the AoA’s return, we’re left with an average story about stopping a plague and sending the hero back to where he was when the story started. It’s actually successful in making X-Man more sympathetic, which is something his monthly series rarely pulls off. Magneto and Forge are also given a decent conflict, as Magneto wants to use X-Man to fix their world, but Forge senses that their world shouldn’t exist in the first place and that X-Man is better off elsewhere. This is all fine, but it’s not enough to justify the gimmicky nature of the story. The real appeal of the issue is Davis’ art, and assuming you were a fan of the original storyline, seeing the Age of Apocalypse again. This actually could’ve been a much larger story, with the same premise being used as a proper setup for an AoA sequel, so it seems odd that it was tossed out as an X-Man annual.

Credits: Ralph Macchio (writer), Terry Dodson (penciler), Rachel Pinnock (inker), Comicraft (lettering), Joe Andreani & Malibu (colors)

Summary: Tessa, suspicious of Selene’s offer to reform the Hellfire Club with Sebastian Shaw, decides to investigate her protégé, Madelyne Pryor. Tessa enters Madelyne’s mind while she sleeps, and sees visions of the X-Men and the child Madelyne had with Cyclops. Madelyne awakes and attacks Tessa for invading her privacy. Tessa loses the psychic duel, but Madelyne refuses to kill her because she doesn’t want to anger Sebastian Shaw. Madelyne realizes that Tessa’s psi-probe has unlocked her memories, which revives her hatred of Mr. Sinister.

Review: I assume this was done to set up future issues of X-Man, although I have no idea if any part of the story was paid off. It’s actually the best Madelyne Pryor story I’ve read since her resurrection, even though I realize that’s very faint praise. Madelyne could work as a jilted friend with a legitimate beef with the X-Men, which is one of the reasons why I’ve always thought “Inferno” was better than the overwhelming majority of comic crossovers. Without that backstory, though, the character served no purpose, so I’m glad this story revived her memories. Madelyne decides at the very end that she’s finally going to get revenge on Sinister (the man who created and used her in the first place), which is a story you should do with Madelyne if you’ve already gone through the effort to resurrect her. I have a feeling that nothing came of this, but it is a legitimate direction to go with the character. The art is by Terry Dodson, and even if it isn’t his best work, it’s still light years ahead of what you’d expect to find in an annual back-up.

Monday, February 16, 2009

UNCANNY X-MEN #340 – January 1997

Credits: Scott Lobdell (writer), Joe Madureira (penciler), Tim Townsend (inker), Comicraft (lettering), Steve Buccellato & Team Bucce! (colors)

Summary: Iceman watches over his father in the hospital, as Storm and Gambit arrive to visit. Iceman tells Storm the details of the past day. While riding in Graydon Creed’s limo, Creed pointed Iceman (still disguised as a campaign worker) towards the nearby woods. As Creed flew away in his private jet, Iceman discovered the battered body of his father. Creed’s men had tracked down his father after his earlier outburst, and connected him to Iceman. Meanwhile, in Atlanta, Creed begins to question Cannonball. Phoenix later asks him if he wants to abandon the undercover mission, but Cannonball decides that Creed no longer suspects him. In New York, Creed’s henchmen prepare to attack the X-Men gathering around Iceman’s father, but Wolverine stops them. While watching over his father, Iceman tells Storm that he’s leaving the team in order to spend more time with him. After Storm and Gambit leave, Iceman’s father begins to regain consciousness.

Miscellaneous Note: According to the Statement of Ownership, average sales for the year were 455,570 with the most recent issue selling 426,229 copies.

Review: Well, it’s an entire issue built around Iceman’s father getting beaten. Take on its own, it has some nice moments, but it doesn’t exactly work if you’re familiar with Lobdell’s earlier interpretation of the character. There is a brief attempt to justify his change of heart, but it doesn’t go any deeper than the senior Mr. Drake declaring that Creed threatened his family, and he couldn’t have that. If Iceman’s father had only been portrayed by Lobdell as just a normal bigot, and not a super-bigot, this would’ve been more palatable. Knowing that future stories just ignore his father’s condition (unless this is one of the forgotten plots Mike Carey’s picked up), also dampens the impact of the story, making it feel like a quickie justification for writing out Iceman, rather than an important event.

I do like the conversation between Storm and Iceman, which has Iceman struggling with his feelings over a verbally abusive father, and Storm mourning the parents she barely knew. It’s a pairing of two long-time X-Men who’ve barely ever spoken to each other, and Lobdell makes it work. The art is Madureira’s typical blend of manga and Western superhero comics, and it’s as strong as usual. Rather than distracting from the quiet scenes, Madureira’s stylized characters help to sell the story and keep the visuals interesting.

WOLVERINE #110 – February 1997

Lesser Beasts
Credits: Tom DeFalco (writer), Joe Bennett (penciler), Joe Pimentel (inker), Comicraft (lettering), Andreani/Becton & Graphic Color Works (colors)

Summary: In the Canadian wilderness, Shaman asks Wolverine to track down a pair of armed robbers. Shaman is in the area because a dream warned him that an evil ancient spirit would soon be released. Nearby, a bickering family stumbles across the criminals in the woods. Wolverine saves the family, just as a spirit-possessed bear appears. Wolverine fights against his animal instincts and knocks the bear unconscious, rather than killing it. Shaman casts a spell and removes the bear’s evil spirit. Wolverine follows the scent of the robbers and finds them threatening the same family nearby. Wolverine subdues one of the criminals, while the emasculated father finds the courage to knock the other one unconscious. Shaman asks how the unhappy family can keep going, and Wolverine replies that he asks himself the same question every day.

Continuity Note: Wolverine is back to his more-feral appearance, apparently because this fill-in artist was given the correct reference.

Review: Tom DeFalco would occasionally show up as a fill-in writer on Wolverine during this era, and this is his first issue. It’s not as bad as I remembered it, but it is clearly filler. DeFalco tries his best to tie the story into the ongoing arc involving Wolverine’s fight against his feral instincts, which makes the issue just regular filler instead of totally pointless filler. It’s not that bad of a story, but the dialogue often sounds like something out of any generic superhero comic from the mid-70s. Casting the wife as an overbearing harpy, and not redeeming her in any way, does give the story a small amount of edge, I suppose. The art is by a young Joe Bennett, who produces a competent cartoony style on a few scenes, but many of the pages just look sloppy. It’s the type of thing I’m sure a more experienced inker could easily fix, but Marvel was still shying away from anything that might look “old fashioned” during this time period.

Friday, February 13, 2009

X-FACTOR #129 – December 1996

Playing With Fire
Credits: Howard Mackie (writer), Jeff Matsuda (penciler), Art Thibert (inker), Comicraft (lettering), Glynis Oliver & American Color (colors)

Summary: Val Cooper demands that Forge turn over the mutant suspects X-Factor was ordered to arrest. Forge reveals that the mutants were actually Madrox, the Multiple Man, which shocks Val. Mystique morphs into Madrox and turns herself into the authorities. Meanwhile, Shard and Wild Child watch over Madrox in a secret safe house. Madrox reveals that only his body with the Legacy Virus died, but the shock of his death gave the rest of his bodies amnesia. He began work as a secret government agent while his memory returned. Madrox eventually grew uncomfortable with his government work and wanted out. Havok recently offered to help him escape, but he left on his own. He claims that the government invented charges against him in order to retrieve him. Meanwhile, Mystique escapes from custody and meets with Pyro. X-Factor searches for her, but she moves beyond the range of her tracking device.

Continuity Notes: The story mentions that Madrox had two other duplicates when he died in issue #100. Madrox claims that he was unaware that he had a “twin” for a while (what exactly happened to this duplicate isn’t revealed). Since the original Madrox was the one with the Legacy Virus (as far as we know), this means that the character that exists today is actually a duplicate of the original. Biologically, they’re all supposed to be the same, so I guess it doesn’t make a real difference.

I Love the ‘90s: Madrox and Wild Child are playing Super Mario 64 on the Nintendo 64, which was brand new at the time.

Review: The “mutant militia” era of the title continues, as we get closer to the final issue of X-Factor I purchased. The goal of this issue is to get Mystique in place for the upcoming “Assassination of Graydon Creed” story, while the rest of the issue is dedicated to justifying Madrox’s resurrection. I’m not thrilled with the execution of either element, but I do think this is more readable than the past few issues. Using Mystique to fool the government agents isn’t a bad idea, and her escape is nicely handled. It’s the idea that Forge can’t track her because she’s “out of range” that bothers me, since it’s a very obvious cheat that allows the character to remain free for the next issue. Forge is supposed to be the world’s greatest inventor, yet he can’t invent a tracking device that reaches more than a couple of miles? The explanation for Madrox’s non-death is very predictable, but I prefer it over an excessively complicated retcon. Adding even more evil government agents to his story doesn’t work, though, since it’s a tired cliché that’s already being overused in this title by now. Despite those complaints, I’ll give this issue credit for at least reaching a level of coherence. I seem to recall the next storyline sends everything off the rails again, though.

WOLVERINE #109 – January 1997

Credits: Larry Hama (writer), Anthony Winn (penciler), Dan Green (inker), Comicraft (lettering), Joe Rosas (colors)

Summary: Wolverine aids the Noodle Vendor against the Cyber-Ninjas, and after intimidating him, he learns where his ward Amiko is being held. On Akatora’s island, Amiko is brainwashed into believing that Wolverine killed her mother. Wolverine arrives on the island with Pale Flower, Yohei, and the Noodle Vendor. They crash Akatora’s movie set and defeat more cybernetically enhanced ninjas. Wolverine fights Akatora to the ground, as his companions rescue Yukio and Amiko. Akatora brags that one of his friends is a Hand sleeper agent; not expecting Wolverine to use his enhances senses to detect the scent of blowfish toxin on one of their swords. Wolverine throws the Honor Sword into Yohei’s chest and he dissolves, exposing him as the Hand agent. Akatora escapes, and Wolverine leaves with Amiko. Akatora brags to his aides that the real assassin, Amiko, is now in place.

Production Note: A production error caused the lettering on the first page of this issue to disappear. This means that the issue has no credits or title.

Continuity Notes: This issue reveals that Akatora created a series of Godzilla-style movies, which he produces on his private island. His production company is actually a front for the Hand’s criminal activities. Akatora claims that he doesn’t even know why the Hand wants Wolverine dead, but he hopes to learn one day. The mystery introduced last issue involving Pale Flower's emergence as a mutant and the missing government agent is totally ignored.

Review: This is the conclusion to the latest “Wolverine fights ninjas in Japan” arc, which is probably memorable only for introducing the bizarre “Wolverine’s young daughter is brainwashed as a Hand sleeper agent” plot. I know that the next time Amiko shows up in Wolverine #150 (in Steve Skroce’s impressive debut as a writer) this subplot is ignored, and I imagine it’s stayed that way. I have no idea where Hama was going with this, unless he wanted to do a comedy story about Wolverine fighting a nine-year-old. Aside from that odd element, this is a straightforward action story that’s not very different from the previous two issues. It’s fun, but obviously not very deep. I like the revelation that Yohei is a double agent, but the delivery is too rushed to really work. Wolverine’s reunion with Yukio and Amiko also feels hurried, and lacks any real sentiment. That’s unfortunate, since Hama normally handles the “softer side” of Wolverine very well.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

GENERATION X #20 – #22, October 1996- December 1996

#20 (Lobdell/Bachalo/Buckingham/Starkings/Buccellato/Malibu) – This is another quiet issue that focuses on the characters while building a few ominous subplots. Bastion and his assistant Daria (who only seemed to appear in this series, while Harper was his aide in the other titles) investigate the airport incident from Gen X #1 and learn that Frost Enterprises purchased Chamber’s ticket to America. Meanwhile, the Gen X kids hang out and have the small talk Lobdell seemed to enjoy writing, Franklin Richards is dropped off at the school, and Skin and Chamber continue their road trip. Their original motive of finding Xavier is dropped without explanation (I know that he turned into Onslaught in the meantime, but how did Skin and Chamber know this?), and they’re suddenly in California. Howard the Duck offers them a ride, which revived his creator Steve Gerber’s feud with Marvel. (I seem to recall Lobdell saying that a Hulk supporting cast member was written in his script, but Bachalo drew Howard the Duck because he felt like it.) This is a fun issue, even if none of the plots really go anywhere.

I initially thought the Statement of Ownership in this issue revealed that this series was the highest-seller of the line, which seemed odd. Looking closer, the date listed under the header is October 1, 1995. For that period, average sales for the year were 349,843 copies and 358,529 for the most recent issue. The next issue prints the 1996 Statement of Ownership, which lists average sales for the year at 247,828 copies and 254,532 for the most recent issue. Assuming these aren’t typos, this title lost 100,000 readers in one year. It’s amazing how many readers the industry continued to bleed after the speculator bubble burst.

#21 (Lobdell/Bachalo/Pimentel/Starkings/Buccellato) – Beast guest stars, fulfilling one of the promises made when the series debuted, that the X-Men would show up to teach the students. Large segments of the pages are dedicated to Bachalo’s renderings of the doodles on the edge of Jubilee’s test paper, which is a cute touch. The final page reveals that M is autistic, which is the explanation for her sporadic “space-outs”. I’m no expert on autism, but I don’t think the symptoms quite match up with the way M has been portrayed in the past. The other story in this issue involves Skin, Chamber, and Howard the Duck getting into a bar fight. Skin sneaks out of the bar and visits his own grave, hinting again that he faked his death but not offering any real information on the mystery. A female gang leader with a connection to Skin, Tores, is introduced, but she also remains a mystery. It’s another enjoyable issue, but it feels like too many plot details are being left ambiguous.

#22 (Lobdell/Wright/Bachalo/Vey/Hanna/Starkings/Buccellato) – This is the Halloween issue, which is used to justify several pages of the cast hanging around a Halloween festival. There’s a forced attempt at adding some “touching” moments, but it’s mainly an excuse for Bachalo to draw whatever freaky things he feels like. The rest of the issue has Nightmare bothering Emma Frost for unclear reasons. Frost doesn’t believe him when he claims a mysterious “she” has overtaken the dream world. He then claims that he’s testing Emma to see if “she” can enter the dream world through Emma’s powers. He later shows Emma a horrific vision of the future in her dreams. I have no idea if any of this is supposed to mean anything. Michael Wright, whose name I don’t recognize, is credited as co-writer. It’s possible he wasn’t on the same page as Lobdell, which might’ve added to the confusion. The final result is the third issue in a row with a pretty thin plot. The previous two issues still managed to work, but this one is too cryptic and lackadaisical for its own good.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

EXCALIBUR #104 – December 1996

Buried Secret
Credits: John Acrudi (plot), James Felder (script), Bryan Hitch, Rob Haynes, & Scott Koblish (pencilers), Paul Neary, Scott Koblish, & Rick Ketchum (inkers), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (lettering)

Summary: Following his dismantling and reconstruction, Douglock begins to dream of Doug Ramsey’s funeral. After Douglock interrupts a conversation between Kitty and Peter Wisdom, Wisdom interrogates him about his identity. Kitty is still convinced that Douglock is Doug Ramsey, but he denies it. Agitated, Douglock jumps out of the window to avoid the conversation. Kitty decides to take Wolfsbane and Douglock with her to investigate Doug Ramsey’s grave. Later, Muir Island is attacked by the Mutant Liberation Front, who want to steal Moira MacTaggert’s Legacy Virus research. MLF member Selby learns of the Xavier Protocols, which detail how to kill the X-Men. When Moonstar confronts Moira, she reveals her true identity. Meanwhile, Kitty phases inside Doug’s grave, and is shocked to discover his body.

Continuity Notes: Mutant Liberation Front member Selby debuts. His power is the ability to “intuit binary language”.

Review: This is the beginning of a filler run that’s bidding time until Ben Raab’s debut as writer. I believe this is the next to last issue of Excalibur I purchased, so don’t expect too many posts on this particular series in the future. I assume the goal of this storyline is to give Douglock a definitive origin, which is something the initial Phalanx storyline had already covered rather conclusively. Kitty’s sudden belief that Douglock is Doug Ramsey doesn’t really work, as previous stories have already shown her accepting the fact Doug is gone. There is some justification for the story’s impetus, as it’s pointed out that Douglock has been reconstructed after Black Air’s dissection and his personality is off, but it feels like a stretch. The dialogue reads like something out of the 70s, as most of the cast members have long inner monologues that recap their entire histories and their current character arcs. Nothing’s advanced, of course, but we’re treated to more pages of Colossus questioning his place in the world and Moira agonizing over her Legacy Virus infection. Most of the scripting is terribly awkward, creating gems like, “Dani! You were one of Xavier’s young pupils – his New Mutants. I can’t believe it…has the world gone mad?! Bryan Hitch’s art rises this above the level of your average fill-in, but that’s all this issue has going for it.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

TEAM X/TEAM 7 – November 1996

All Sold Out
Credits: Larry Hama (writer), Steve Epting (penciler), Klaus Janson (inker), Comicraft (lettering), Steve Buccellato & Team Bucce! (colors)

Summary: In the past, in the Sultanate of Numidia, both Team X and Team 7 are sent on separate missions to investigate the country’s escalating super-soldier program. Leni Zauber, Mystique’s latest alias, is sent as an inside operative for Team X, while Mirielle Duplessis is working undercover for Team 7. Omega Red is inside the facility, representing the Soviet government, who licensed the program to Numidia in exchange for oil concessions. Both Team X and Team 7 make it inside and face Omega Red and the Numidian soldiers. When Team 7’s government superior decides that he can’t get the information he wants from the mission, he orders Mirielle to trigger a static nuke and kill everyone inside. Mystique kills her before she can trigger the bomb, and Team 7 combine their powers to destroy the warhead. The teams are rescued by John Wraith, and soon agree to forget each other’s secrets.

Production Note: This is a forty-eight page, bookshelf format comic with no ads. The paper is the regular, non-glossy stock Marvel was using at the time. The cover price is $4.95.

Continuity Notes: Since this is an inter-company crossover, its place in continuity is dubious at best. This is the first time the “Team X” name is used, and I think it has become the official name for Wolverine’s Cold War-era black ops group. Team X consists of Logan, Creed, and North (who will become Wolverine, Sabretooth, and Maverick in the future). Team 7 features the Wildstorm characters Lynch, Cray, Dane, Cash, and Chang (I guess the other two members are their boss Craven, and his assistant Gabriel).

According to this issue, the Weapon X project already exists at this time, and Logan, Creed, and North are already undergoing experimentation. This doesn’t seem to work with the original Weapon X serial, which had Wolverine as a government agent who was abducted and experimented on by the Weapon X project. It’s possible that Wolverine left the project and was then forced back into it, I suppose.

Review: This is one of the many Marvel/Image crossovers that occurred after the “Heroes Reborn” deal was finalized. A few years earlier these crossovers would’ve been unthinkable (I think Marvel’s lawyers at one point even killed an X-Force/Youngblood cover for Wizard), so this was something of a big deal at the time. Not only did we get an actual X-Force/Youngblood crossover special (I assume this was published, although I don’t recall ever actually seeing it), but Spider-Man and Wolverine met Badrock, Gen 13, and a few other Image characters in various one-shots. I suspect the market was oversaturated with these crossovers, as I was able to purchase this one for fifty cents a few years ago. I can’t think of any independent comic book characters deemed popular enough to interact with the Marvel Universe today, outside of Red Sonja and the Transformers, who teamed up with Spider-Man and the New Avengers recently. And since Red Sonja and the Transformers began life as Marvel characters, it’s hard to compare them to new properties like Gen 13, which really was a phenomenon briefly in the ‘90s.

I know nothing about Team 7, outside of the fact that it was one of the very few military comics published in the ‘90s, and it apparently filled in the backstory for most of the Wildstorm line. By the time the series began, the market was already flooded, so it doesn’t have the novelty of being one of the original Image titles, nor was it able to break out the way Gen 13 and Witchblade did in the mid-90s (Seven members and not one Playmate in a thong? Outrageous!). I don’t know if there was a huge demand to have Wolverine’s retconned covert ops squad meet Deathblow’s retconned covert ops squad, but here we are. The story consists of a lot of action, macho dialogue, double-crosses, and obscure military jargon. It’s a Larry Hama comic. I had fun reading it, even though I occasionally had no idea what was going on. The art is capably handled by Steve Epting, who can draw military hardware as well as the more traditional superhero action. I don’t know if this fulfilled the expectations Team X fans had for an intercompany crossover, but it’s a decent action comic with nice art.

CABLE #37 – November 1996

True Lies
Credits: Jeph Loeb (writer), Ian Churchill (penciler), Scott Hanna (inker), Comicraft (lettering), Mike Thomas & Graphic Color Works (colors)

Summary: G. W. Bridge and a team of SHIELD agents investigate Canada’s Weapon X facility. The employees and patients inside have trashed the building, and all of the records are missing. Meanwhile, Cable and Domino arrive in San Francisco to visit Kane. The theatre Kane has been living in has been destroyed by an anti-mutant mob. Cable’s surprised to see Kane so distressed. Copycat, Kane’s girlfriend, enters. Domino is angry that Kane would become involved with the spy who impersonated her for a year. Tensions rise, and Cable has to stop a fight between Domino and Copycat. The Psycho Man enters, abducting Kane and shrinking down to an imperceptible height to escape. A giant spaceship suddenly appears, asking Cable and Domino to board. Kane emerges, revealing that Psycho Man actually abducted Copycat. He says that they have to board the ship to save her.

Continuity Notes: I’m assuming that the Weapon X facility here isn’t the same one in the Maverick one-shot. That was the original facility that altered Wolverine, and was established as abandoned going back to Wolverine #48.

According to the narrative captions, Copycat’s shapeshifting skills prevent telepaths from detecting her. This would actually make her more powerful than Mystique, which seems silly. Most likely, Loeb added that line because he seems to think that Cable has always been a telepath, and that’s the only way to justify Copycat’s time undercover in early X-Force issues. I’ll again point out that Cable’s telepathic powers didn’t emerge until the “Child’s Play” crossover, which was almost three years into X-Force’s run.

I don't recall Kane ever being described as a mutant, so I'm assuming the anti-mutant mob targeted the theatre because of Copycat.

Review: Like most of the Loeb/Churchill issues from this run, this is competent but not particularly great. There’s not a lot to criticize, since the story gives just enough information to build suspense around Psycho Man’s plan, and the characters are given just enough room to showcase their personalities. Pitting Cable against a traditional Fantastic Four villain has some novelty appeal, and emphasizing that Domino still hates Copycat is a nice use of past continuity. I’ll also give Loeb credit for not stretching out the mystery villain’s big reveal, which is something the titles often had trouble with during this era. It’s still just a setup issue, though, and even if it’s not quite boring, it’s still bland. The story does what it needs to do, but unless you already have a deep investment in all of these characters, it’s hard to care that much. It’s not quite killing time, but it’s not doing anything interesting with the characters, either.

Monday, February 9, 2009

X-FORCE #61 – December 1996

Ask Me No More Questions and I’ll Tell You No More Lies
Credits: Jeph Loeb (writer), Kevin Lau (penciler), Andrew Pepoy (inker), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (lettering), Marie Javins (colors)

Summary: Cable and Shatterstar fight Mojo’s troops as the world watches on television. Mojo sends the ambient energy the viewers generate to Mojoworld. During the broadcast, Mojo kills Shatterstar, as X-Force watches in horror. Spiral appears, and says she can save Shatterstar with Longshot and Siryn’s help. They leave, as the rest of X-Force faces Mojo’s arriving army. Spiral blocks Mojo’s signal and teleports Cable and Shatterstar’s body out of Mojo’s broadcast. In “another time”, Longshot, Siryn, Cable, and Shatterstar arrive with Spiral at the Weisman Institute. Siryn leads them to the room of Benjamin Russell, who is now a comatose adult. Cable hands Shatterstar’s body to Longshot, who then transfers Shatterstar’s soul into Benjamin’s body. Shatterstar awakens inside Benjamin’s body, which now has Shatterstar’s facial markings. Mojo suddenly arrives, and Spiral quickly teleports everyone back to Mojoworld. On Longshot’s order, Caliban breaks the television set inside Mojo’s palace. Breaking the connection between Earth and Mojoworld causes Mojo to get lost in the transmission signal. Shatterstar declares that he is whole, as the Gamesmaster looks on and laughs.

Continuity Notes: In the previous issue, Cable and Shatterstar were inside a cartoon show. Now, their bodies are inexplicitly back to normal and they’re fighting in Shatterstar’s future. Cable claims that this isn’t reality, but a recreation.

According to Spiral, Benjamin Russell was “hurled into a coma” when his mutant powers manifested. How exactly he ended up in the Weisman Institute for the Criminally Insane isn’t explained.

Spiral also says that both Shatterstar and Benjamin Russell “mean more than all the world to me”. As far as I know, their connection has never been revealed. She’s helping X-Force defeat Mojo in this issue because she doesn’t want him to grow more powerful. Why she aided Mojo in the previous issue is unexplained.

Siryn is brought along to find Benjamin because of her time undercover at the Weisman Institute. However, she only saw a flash of Benjamin’s face on a computer screen, she never actually met him.

“Huh?” Moments: The entire issue qualifies for this tag, obviously. More specifically, one scene has Cable using his telepathic powers like Ben Kenobi in Star Wars. He has Dr. Weisman repeat “There’s no need to detain you, go on ahead” so the team can easily enter her institute. However, the art depicts Siryn repeating Cable’s line, not Dr. Weisman. Siryn even makes a remark in the next panel that she hopes Cable never uses his telepathy in that manner on her. There’s also the fact that Shatterstar’s body turns into a glowing orb that represents his soul once Longshot touches it, which is a nonsensical element that’s a major plot point.

Creative Differences: Jeph Loeb has apparently contended that this issue was heavily rewritten and is not the story he wanted to tell. It’s also his last issue on the title, which may or may not be a coincidence.

Review: Well, what can you say about this one? It’s largely unreadable, never answers the questions it set out to answer, and doesn’t even make sense in the context of the two issues that preceded it. Plus, the art style abruptly shifts into a full-on manga look, so now the cast suddenly has giant eyes, tiny noses, and pointy chins. I guess there is some significance here, as this is the first time an X-book was drawn in a direct manga style without being filtered through a traditional superhero sensibility. I hated the art in this issue as a teenager, and my opinion is only slightly less negative today, but this issue clearly has bigger problems.

The actual resolution to the Shatterstar/Benjamin Russell mystery is so bungled, even the editors have to cop to it in a future letters column. With all of the goodwill in the world, you can’t make any sense of this. Even if you ignore Shatterstar’s memories of being created in a lab in the future, the explanation of his connection to Benjamin makes no sense. If Shatterstar and Benjamin are the same person, how did they coexist? If we assume that the scenes at the Weisman Institute take place in the past, how do you explain all of Shatterstar’s appearances before his soul joined Benjamin’s body? Is this supposed to create a time loop, like the birth of John Connor in the first Terminator movie, where Shatterstar exists in the future because his soul was placed inside the body of Benjamin Russell in the past? If that’s the case, it’s certainly not explained here. Besides, a time loop would only work if Shatterstar went directly from Benjamin’s hospital room to a hundred years in the future, before he time-traveled to meet X-Force. And even then, you’d have to assume that Shatterstar had some type of amnesia that prevented him from remembering his time with X-Force (the more I think about this, the more I wonder if this actually was the original plan). Assuming that the Weisman Institute scenes don’t take place in the past, then the story makes even less sense. And what exactly is the Gamemaster’s role in all of this? Was Shatterstar really from the future or not? If not, how did Mojo get footage of him a hundred years in the future in the previous issue?

Even if you ignore the confusing continuity elements, you’re still left with a terrible Mojo story. His plan consists of drawing energy from couch potatoes on Earth, and he’s defeated when someone literally unplugs a TV set. The giant army X-Force is supposed to be fighting on Mojoworld appears and disappears in-between panels, and there’s no explanation of how Mojo finds Spiral and the others at the Weisman Institute, even when the story explicitly shows that she severed his broadcast a few pages earlier. It’s a mess all around, and it’s not even enjoyable as a trainwreck. It’s a dreadful storyline that’s deserves every bit of its reputation.

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