Tuesday, March 31, 2009

X-MEN #66 – August 1997

Start Spreadin’ the News…
Credits: Scott Lobdell (writer), Carlos Pacheco (penciler), Art Thibert (inker), Comicraft (lettering), Liquid! (colors)

Summary: A stabbing victim is brought into Our Mother of Mercy Hospital, where he’s treated by Dr. Cecilia Reyes. After he flatlines, he suddenly returns to life as a Prime Sentinel. More Prime Sentinels emerge in the hospital and attack Cecilia. She’s forced to use her mutant ability to create forcefields to protect herself. Iceman arrives and saves her, leading her to safety inside the Morlock Tunnels. Meanwhile, Bastion visits Professor Xavier in his New Mexico prison. He shows him a hologram of his captives, Storm, Cyclops, Wolverine, Cannonball, and Phoenix.

Continuity Notes: Cecilia Reyes says that she wanted to become a doctor after she held her father in her arms “as he bled to death on the sidewalk”. She says she was six when this happened nineteen years ago, making her twenty-five. Three years ago, Xavier offered to train her, but she refused. Iceman says that he was assigned to protect her if the X-Men’s files were ever compromised.

Review: This is an issue-long introduction for Cecilia Reyes, a character who was quickly dismissed during the early Quesada years, even though she seems to have developed something of a following. Her gimmick is that she wants nothing to do with supervillain fights and just wants to be normal. That’s an idea that’s certainly conveyed in this issue, because she keeps repeating it. It is a rare angle to take with an X-character, but it’s hard to pull off without making her seem whiny. I do recall liking her during the Seagle/Kelly run, so I can’t deny she has potential. Unfortunately, too much space is devoted to introducing her in this issue, causing the overall plot to drag. The X-Men are in the exact same spot they were in last issue, and the only new element is that Iceman and Reyes are on the run from Prime Sentinels. Still, Pacheco seems to be having fun with the action scenes, and the story manages to maintain a reasonable level of excitement.

Monday, March 30, 2009

UNCANNY X-MEN #346 – August 1997

“The Story of the Year!”
Credits: Scott Lobdell (writer), Joe Madureira w/Humberto Ramos (pencilers), Tim Towsend (inker), Comicraft (letters), Steve Buccellato (colors)

Summary: Peter Parker is sent on a mission for the Daily Bugle to photograph Henry Gyrich as a part of its Zero Tolerance investigation. His limo is suddenly attacked by Callisto and Marrow, which forces Parker to intervene as Spider-Man. Marrow is willing to kill Gyrich and his guards, but Spider-Man and Callisto try to talk her out of it. Gyrich’s guards suddenly turn into Sentinels and attack. They wound Callisto, which forces Spider-Man and Marrow to fight together. Gyrich, who didn’t know his guards were Sentinels, returns with reinforcements and shoots them down. Spider-Man talks Gyrich into letting Marrow leave with Callisto, who needs medical attention. Meanwhile, Bastion offers J. Jonah Jameson the information he’s decrypted from the X-Men’s files. He burns the disc, claiming that he won’t work with a murderer. Elsewhere, Gambit wakes up alone in a mysterious location.

Continuity Notes: Notice that Marrow is much more attractive in this appearance. I’m not sure if this is the first time she showed up with better looks (I’ve never read the Cable issue she appeared in a few months before this), but it becomes her standard look. I’m assuming there were already plans to add her to the team, and making her easier on the eyes was the first step.

This issue portrays Gyrich as being conflicted over Operation: Zero Tolerance, which is in sharp contrast to his appearance in the previous issue of X-Men. It’s possible that he was adamantly in favor of OZT in that issue because he was doing a television interview, but it’s still jarring to read the issues within a few days of each other.

According to Gyrich, his bodyguards were the same ones who were protecting Graydon Creed when he was killed. Presumably, this was supposed to finger Bastion in the assassination, but the clue was never paid off.

Some type of zebra-creature is standing behind Gambit in this issue. Paul O’Brien says that it’s a Kymellian, an alien race from the pages of Power Pack. This is totally ignored in the next issue.

Production Note: Marvel’s new cover design format debuts this month. Each comic now has a two-page foldout in the front cover, which has profiles of the characters and a recap of the current storyline. It’s a nice idea, but it lasted less than two years due to the added costs. The letters pages have also thankfully dropped the ugly computer-designed graphics in the background for just plain white.

Review: It wouldn’t shock me to learn that this issue was mainly just an excuse to have Joe Madureira draw Spider-Man. It certainly works on that level, since I remember looking over it again and again just for the art, which still looks impressive today. It is a fun action-oriented story that recaps the events of the current crossover while offering strong portrayals of Spider-Man and J. Jonah Jameson. My memory is that the Spider-titles were just overwhelmingly boring during this era, so this issue seemed like a welcome relief from the blandness. In terms of continuing the story from the preceding issues, all we get is one page of Gambit doing absolutely nothing, which doesn’t exactly work. I really have no idea why this storyline was allowed to drag on for so long, especially when the other titles were participating in a crossover. Since this is the first time the resurrected (and prettier) Marrow appears in UXM, the issue does have some added significance. I’ve never understood why exactly she was added to the team, especially if we’re to believe that Bob Harras was never a fan of reforming villains. She was clearly intended to be a bad bad guy (she was outright shown killing someone in cold blood in her first appearance), so giving her a makeover and having her join the X-Men seemed odd. The future writers tried to make this work, but I could never swallow it. Her appearance here is fine, since it’s only raising the idea that she’s capable of changing and there aren’t any X-Men here to question her about her past, but I never felt that her character arc had a meaningful resolution.

X-FORCE #68 – August 1997

Girl Talk
Credits: John Francis Moore (writer), Pop Mahn (penciler), Mark Morales & Al Milgrom (inkers), Comicraft (letters), Marie Javins (colors)

Summary: X-Force and the MLF join forces against Bastion’s Prime Sentinels. Domino sacrifices herself and sets off an explosion, enabling X-Force to escape with Moonstar and Forearm. The team escapes from the rest of the Zero Tolerance soldiers, as Domino’s unconscious body is recovered by Commander Ekatarina Gryaznova. Through a video-link, she lies to Bastion and tells him that Domino is missing. Later, Domino is awakened by Gryaznova, who blames Domino for nearly killing her years earlier. Gryaznova’s body was repaired by Zero Tolerance, turning her into a Prime Sentinel without her knowledge. She straps Domino to a table and prepares her for an operation. Elsewhere, Forearm rejects Moonstar’s offer to team up with X-Force, while Sledge sends Warpath on a mission into an alternate reality.

Continuity Notes: Sledge says that Warpath is ideal for this mission because of his enhanced senses (which appeared in Loeb’s run for no readily apparent reason), and superhuman strength. He wants Warpath to rescue a friend of his, who is apparently one of the few people to learn of alternate realities from Reed Richards.

According to Ekatarina Gryaznova, Domino rescued Dr. Rebecca Schuyler, a “neuro-cybernetic specialist” from a rogue CIA operation three years ago in El Salvador. Domino set off an electromagnetic pulse to stop a combat droid, which inadvertently put Ekatarina Gryaznova, who was mentally controlling the droid, in a coma.

Review: The OZT crossover continues, and Moore manages to integrate it smoothly into the ongoing storylines he had just begun. The Zero Tolerance troops fill the role of villains for an action scene, while the addition of Ekatarina Gryaznova is used to actually connect a cast member to the larger story. I think some level of backlash against crossovers must’ve begun by this point, since it seems like Marvel is really trying to make the books as independent as possible while a larger story plays in the background. This is my personal preference for crossovers, since it enables each title to continue with its own storylines while still playing into the “shared universe” concept that so many readers enjoy. I like the way Moore uses OZT as a way to segue into a story about Domino’s past. There’s still a lot of room in her backstory to fill in at this point, so watching Gryaznova unveil a montage of stories that may or may not be true about her is kind of interesting. Pop Mahn, a manga-style artist who began doing work for Marvel after Joe Mad became hot, shows up as fill-in artist. It’s not as distracting as the previous manga-style fill-ins, but it’s still a jarring transition. Some of the pages look really nice, but many of the faces fall into the stereotypical “everyone’s ten-years-old” manga look.

Friday, March 27, 2009

WOLVERINE #-1 – July 1997

A Whiff of Sartre’s Madeleine!
Credits: Larry Hama (writer), Cary Nord (penciler), Scott Hanna (inker), Joe Rosas (colors), Comicraft (lettering)

Summary: James Hudson sends Wolverine to Washington, DC to meet Dr. Myron MacLain, the inventor of adamantium. When he arrives, he’s spotted by Hydra agents, who are searching for the former members of Team X. Dr. MacLain examines Wolverine, but can’t explain where his adamantium skeleton came from. Meanwhile, MacLain’s secretary informs a mystery man that Wolverine’s arrived. Soon, Sabretooth barges into the MacLain’s office. He takes Wolverine, who doesn’t recognize him, away. In a back alley, Sabretooth prepares to shoot him in the back of the head, but he’s interrupted by Hydra agents. Wolverine is rescued by Nick Fury and Carol Danvers, who try to fight off Hydra. Russian agent Black Widow finishes off the Hydra agents, claiming that her government doesn’t want Wolverine joining a terrorist group or any government agency. Sabretooth returns and takes aim at Wolverine, but quickly loses the fight. Wolverine takes Sabretooth’s cowboy hat and walks away. Fury decides to ignore his orders and let Wolverine leave.

Continuity Notes: This is a story set in Wolverine’s past that guest stars three-fourths of the Marvel Universe. It has a little bit of continuity. Wolverine is still just “Logan” at this point. The story takes place shortly after the Hudsons discovered him in the woods. Ben Grimm, not yet the Thing, is Wolverine’s pilot to America. He gives him the nickname “Canucklehead”. Sabretooth is still wearing civilian clothes at this time, and claims that he’s working for the government. Nick Fury, who doesn’t have an eye patch at this point, has met Wolverine before and is shocked he doesn’t remember him (due to his memory blocks, of course). He’s been ordered to recruit Wolverine for government work, while Sabretooth claims that his Federal bosses want Wolverine dead. Carol Danvers is a CIA agent and is meeting Wolverine for the first time. Dr. Myron MacLain is working out of the Department of Agriculture, which previous Wolverine issues have established as a front for top-secret operations. Madame Hydra, who is secretly Silver Fox, is watching the events from a distance.

Miscellaneous Note: I did a quick Google search, but didn't see any references to the odd title of this issue. I assume it's a reference to French writer and philosopher Jean-Paul Satre, but I don't know what its significance to this story is supposed to be.

I Love the ‘90s: A Bullpen Bulletins article about Marvel’s website ends with this gem: “Now, if only someone would explain to us how we can download those great pictures of Terri Hatcher…!”

Review: Since an early Alpha Flight backup established that the Hudsons discovered Wolverine shortly before the Fantastic Four were created, it was easy for Hama to know where Wolverine was supposed to be during the Flashback period. (Kurt Busiek has joked for years that the “X-guys” screwed up when Wolverine could’ve gotten his adamantium, since it didn’t exist until a Thomas/Buscema issue of Avengers. Well, it was actually John Byrne, who was no longer an X-guy.) Marvel had already produced quite a few stories set during Wolverine’s past by this point, but I don’t know if his early days with the Hudsons had ever been explored. Unfortunately, they’re ditched early on in the story, as Wolverine goes on to have a rather pointless adventure in America. The story is filled with so many needless cameos, I half-expected a teenage Peter Parker to show up on a school field trip (“If Flash Thompson weren’t such a doofus, he’d appreciate the beauty of our nation’s capital! Hey, what’s all that commotion over there? I’d better go hide! Excitement and Peter Benjamin Parker do not mix!”). It is fun as an action story, but the relentless cameos strain credibility so far it’s hard not to view the issue as anything other than a gimmick. I didn’t like Cary Nord’s art the first time I read this issue, but he has a Mignola-esque style that looks pretty interesting today. His interpretation of Sabretooth as a redneck CIA agent is pretty cool.

X-MAN #-1 – July 1997

Breeding Ground
Credits: Terry Kavanagh (writer), Roger Cruz (penciler), Bud LaRosa & Wellington Diaz (inkers), Mike Thomas (colors), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (lettering)

Summary: In an abandoned orphanage in Nebraska, a young Nathan Grey emerges from one of Mr. Sinister’s devices. While Sinister speaks to McCoy via videoscreen, Nathan disappears. Sinister searches the orphanage for Nathan, who is psychically pulling up images from the building’s past. Sinister eventually finds Nathan, and shows him footage of America in the Age of Apocalypse. When Nathan sees video of a genetic processing plant, he creates a psychic replica inside the orphanage. Sinister triggers a telepathic failsafe in Nathan’s mind and stops the illusion. He creates a teddy bear to placate Nathan, and then places him back inside his mechanical cocoon. Sinister decides that Nathan is too powerful, and makes plans for a genetic time bomb he can use to kill him if necessary.

Continuity Note: Obviously this story takes place in the Age of Apocalypse’s past, but it’s hard to discern when exactly. Since Fantastic Four #1 didn’t exist in X-Man’s world, I’m assuming this title isn’t following the rule that the Flashback titles take place pre-FF #1. Aside from that, I have a hard time believing that it took Mr. Sinister the equivalent of 35 years worth of comics to age Nate Grey from childhood to teen-hood. The orphanage in the story is the one Cyclops grew up in, which is a lab Sinister is keeping secret from Apocalypse in this world.

Review: This is probably the most awkward of the Flashback titles - a Silver Age-style story for an alternate reality character who debuted in 1995. He has no association with the early days of Marvel, didn’t exist in the main Marvel Universe until recently, and, chronologically, was only created in a lab a few years ago. Stan Lee can’t even come up with a clever intro to the comic; he’s left explaining the AoA concept and recapping X-Man’s “dead by twenty-one” dilemma. The story really has nothing for X-Man (or X-five-year-old) to do, so he spends the entire issue wandering around, displaying his powers, and then going back into gestation. The end of the story teases another genetic problem for X-Man, which I assume was a setup for a future X-Man storyline. It’s not entirely boring, but it’s obviously padded, and literally goes nowhere. Cruz’s art helps to liven things up. This is his strongest work at this point, as a lot of the busyness and sloppiness is gone. It’s a cleaner, more attractive look that suits his cartooning influences well.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

X-MEN #-1 – July 1997

I Had a Dream
Credits: Scott Lobdell (writer), Carlos Pacheco (penciler), Art Thibert (inker), Chris Lichtner & Aron Lusen (colors), Comicraft (lettering)

Summary: Charles Xavier returns to America for the first time since his legs were shattered. He’s staying at his father’s home with Amelia Voght, the nurse he met in the hospital. She thinks his plan to stop human/mutant conflict is insane, and Xavier responds that he can’t just wait for “him”. Elsewhere, Magneto speaks to his two newest recruits, Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch. They travel to the concentration camp Magneto grew up in, where they find Xavier and Amelia waiting. Xavier tries to convince Magneto to turn away from his crusade, or else more concentration camps are going to be built. Magneto claims that he could kill Xavier now, and Xavier responds that he could shut off his mind. Magneto leaves, saying that their conflict can only have one conclusion. Xavier tells Amelia that he hopes Magneto can remember the sins of the past and not repeat them.

Continuity Note: A third-person narrative caption repeatedly refers to “Erik Lensherr” as Magneto’s name as a child. This is contradicted just a few months later during Joe Kelly’s run, when it’s revealed that Erik Lensherr was a false identity Magneto adopted.

Review: After a few pages of an amusing Stan Lee framing sequence (which mainly consists of him joking about the number of mutants he can’t keep track of), the tone shifts dramatically as Scott Lobdell presents an extended conversation scene between Xavier and Magneto. I’m convinced that the X-office had no idea what to do with Magneto during the ‘90s, but this story is at least tolerable. Lobdell tries to straddle the line between Claremont’s sympathetic portrayal of the character and the original ranting psychopath Magneto from the Silver Age. In the context of modern continuity, it works pretty well, but it’s hard to imagine the Magneto who existed just prior to 1963’s X-Men #1 having anything close to a reasonable discussion with Xavier.

Claremont’s retcon explanation for Magneto’s various characterizations was that his powers caused mental instability, which is as good an explanation as any. (He also wrote a Classic X-Men backup that took place shortly before his first appearance, which had Magneto going over the edge after a woman he was involved with was needlessly killed. This was supposed to set up his mental state for his Silver Age appearances). Of course, Claremont’s attempts at making Magneto sympathetic were a part of his larger plan to have Magneto genuinely reform. Later creators seemed to like the idea of a more complex Magneto, but apparently hated the idea of him ever reforming. So, they took what they liked from Claremont’s run and ignored the rest. In essence, this remakes Magneto yet again. He’s a villain again, but he’s now able to present a somewhat justifiable point of view.

Lobdell’s interpretation doesn’t portray Magneto as insane, but instead casts him as a ruthless man who’s willing to do anything to protect mutants. This seems to be what the creative teams were going for during his ‘90s appearances, but couldn’t quite pull off (why exactly did he crash a little girl’s funeral again?). I still don’t think Lobdell writes a compelling enough Magneto to really justify a full conversation issue between him and Xavier, but the story has its moments. Showing that neither Xavier nor Magneto are willing to fight one another at this point is a nice move, and I liked the inclusion of Amelia Voght. Pacheco’s art, which has to deal with pages of conversation scenes and the restrictive grid layout of the Flashback titles, remains strong. Overall, this is a decent issue, which is more than I would expect from a ‘90s Magneto appearance.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

UNCANNY X-MEN #-1 – July 1997

The Boy Who Saw Tomorrow!
Credits: Scott Lobdell (writer), Bryan Hitch (penciler), Paul Neary (inker), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (lettering), Steve Buccellato (colors)

Summary: A young Jean Grey watches a falling star from her window. The “star” flies towards South Dakota, where it reveals itself as the time travelling Rachel Summers. She’s following Sanctity, a mutant she found while lost in the timestream. Rachel discovers Master Mold, in the early stages of construction, near the home of Dr. Bolivar Trask. Rachel deduces that Sanctity has traveled back to this time to prevent the creation of the Sentinels. She talks to Sanctity and tries to convince her not to interfere with the timestream. When Sanctity fades away, Rachel realizes that she’s been speaking to a mental projection. Inside, Sanctity reveals to Trask that she is his missing daughter, Tanya. Before she can convince Trask to abandon his anti-mutant crusade, she realizes that Rachel has frozen his mental capacity so that he can’t hear her. Sanctity finally listens to Rachel and agrees to go home. Shortly after they leave, Trask’s son, Lawrence, finds his father recovering in his lab. Unbeknownst to everyone, Sanctity inserted a program into Master Mold, named “XII”.

Continuity Notes: This serves as an origin story for future Askani member Sanctity. It’s revealed that she is Tanya Trask, the daughter of Bolivar Trask, who has the power to “phase out of synch with time”. Because she had no control over her powers, she’s been missing for years. She met Rachel Summers while she was lost in the timestream (following Excalibur #75), in an “untold tale” according to an editor’s note. A narrative caption towards the end of the issue says that Rachel will “ultimately be betrayed” by Sanctity. I have no idea if this was ever resolved (it might just be a reference to the fact that Sanctity disobeyed Rachel and inserted info into Master Mold without her knowledge).

The “XII” program Sanctity inserted into Master Mold is a listing of “The Twelve”. I’ll be honest and admit that even discussing the Twelve bores me to death. Essentially, Master Mold once claimed in an old issue of X-Factor (while he was malfunctioning) that twelve mutants will shape the future. This wasn’t elaborated on, but it lead to years of fan speculation. Marvel apparently decided that this should be resolved, over ten years later, and this was the first step in reintroducing the concept. So if you wanted to know how Master Mold learned of the Twelve, this issue tells you. Sanctity, while making a list of horrible events she can prevent, says, “humanity waited so long for the Twelve…they so sorely disappointed us”. If you disliked the 1999 crossover “The Twelve”, you can insert your own joke here.

Young Jean Grey is described as eleven years old, while a few pages later a narrative caption says that the Sentinels will debut in “approximately three years”. This would make Jean fourteen or younger when she joined the X-Men, which doesn’t seem right. While I’m nitpicking, I’ll also point out that Marvel has apparently abandoned Mark Gruenwald’s rule that time travel can’t affect the main reality by this point.

“Huh?” Moment: Why is Master Mold wearing a domino mask on the cover? Is he afraid the other robots will recognize him?

Review: This is the start of “Flashback Month”, a gimmick that had every Marvel title doing a story that predated not only the first issue of its individual series, but the 1961 first issue of The Fantastic Four. It’s probably best known now for a behind-the-scenes fact; many fans viewed the “-#1” issues as an excuse to skip an issue of a series but maintain a full run, which makes it one of the few “event month” gimmicks to ever cause sales to decrease. (I remember the first issue of X-Force I chose not to buy was the #-1 issue. I was already getting burned out on the X-titles, and didn’t feel the need to buy a comic about Warpath’s childhood). Stan Lee appeared in all Flashback titles as the narrator (I believe he wrote his own dialogue, but can’t find any confirmation in this issue), mirroring his role in an earlier issue of Generation X. The art style on the covers was changed to reflect a ‘60s look (which might’ve added to the dent in sales), and artists were encouraged to go back to a simpler grid-style panel arrangement. Comicraft also altered the lettering fonts, presumably to make the word balloons look hand-lettered. Plus, the letters pages and Bullpen Bulletins switched back to simplistic layouts with plain white backgrounds (which thankfully made them easier to read). A lot of effort clearly went into this, and I can’t help but feel like the Marvel staff was a lot more excited about this than the actual readers were.

Strictly in terms of content this seems like a bad idea, since most of these characters weren’t involved in any type of superhero adventures before FF #1 (hence FF #1’s role as the start of the Marvel Universe). This automatically harmed a lot of titles, especially the Spider-Man books, which were left with issue after issue to fill with stories set during Peter Parker’s childhood (I’ve only read the Untold Tales of Spider-Man issue, which had to go all the way back to his parents’ days as government agents). Aesthetically, the event forced the entire line to devolve back to a 1960s look that the majority of Marvel’s audience probably dismissed as boring. I don’t want to pile on Bob Harras, but I wonder if this event is another example of him putting his nostalgia over the current audience’s expectations (he is the one who wanted the X-Men, Spider-Man, and the Hulk to revert to their “classic” status quos, after all).

The actual story in this issue is rather mediocre, although the art features Bryan Hitch’s strongest work yet. If I cared more about the various continuity elements, I imagine I would’ve gotten more out of this. Sanctity was one of those characters that I could never remember from appearance to appearance when these issues were first released, so learning that she has a connection to a group of Silver Age characters I knew nothing about didn’t make her more endearing. Lobdell’s description of her powers does actually sound interesting, but I have a hard time getting over her connection to the Askani, a concept that I’ve grown to intensely dislike over the years. The story doesn’t directly tie in to the Zero Tolerance crossover, but since it does feature a prequel story with the Sentinels, there is at least a small connection (which I’m sure didn’t escape Lobdell). Even if this one isn’t great, it’s still passable, which puts ahead of many of the other Flashback issues.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

X-MEN #65 – June 1997

First Blood
Credits: Scott Lobdell (writer), Carlos Pacheco (penciler), Art Thibert (inker), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (lettering), Lichtner/Lusen/Liquid (colors)

Summary: Phoenix is suddenly transported to an unknown location, where she is greeted by Iron Man. Before he can explain to her that he isn’t an imposter, she’s abruptly sent back to her reality. Her consciousness returns to the skies over Colorado, where the X-Men’s private jet is being attacked by Operation: Zero Tolerance. Cannonball flies towards Zero Tolerance’s ship, and is shocked to discover a new breed of human-sized Sentinels. Footage of the X-Men’s battle airs on television, as Bastion arrives at Xavier’s vacant mansion in New York. He watches a holographic display of the X-Men being detained by his Sentinels before entering the mansion. He sends a holographic message to Xavier, boasting that all of his secrets will be revealed. Elsewhere, Iceman watches footage of the X-Men’s battle on television and makes his exit.

Continuity Notes: Future X-Man Cecilia Reyes makes her first cameo appearance as a doctor watching footage of the X-Men on television. She says that something must be done about mutants, which ties into the upcoming revelation that she’s hiding her powers. One of her coworkers claims that meeting Storm years earlier turned his life around. A footnote points us towards Uncanny X-Men #122, the “Cry for the Children!” issue that had Storm meeting drug addicted teens in Harlem.

Bastion tells Xavier that he learned about the mansion’s location from probing Jubilee’s mind, during their interrogation scenes in Generation X.

Wolverine's back to his normal appearance, with no explanation. I'm pretty sure the "devolved" look never shows up again.

Production Note: The Iron Man cameo was apparently a last-minute idea, as a bonus page presents Carlos Pacheco’s pencils for the original first page of this issue (which has the team reacting to their jet taking a hit). I have no idea what the significance of the Iron Man scene was supposed to be, other than the fact that Lobdell was writing the Heroes Reborn Iron Man series, and someone perhaps wanted to drop a hint that the heroes would be returning to the Marvel Universe.

I Love the ‘90s: The Bullpen Bulletins page claims that the new Alpha Flight series will be the hottest thing to come out of Canada since Alanis Morisette.

Review: If we’re to believe the Bullpen Bulletins’ checklist, this was supposed to be the first post-Onslaught issue if Mark Waid had stayed on the title. Instead, readers had to endure almost a year of filler stories before anyone bothered to advance another plotline. I’m not bitter or anything, but watching something actually happen in this issue just makes the last few months seem even more pointless. This is Pacheco’s best issue yet, so the action scenes are particularly impressive. Some elements don’t make a lot of sense (like the fact that Phoenix is using her telekinesis to keep the jet together, rather than just flying the team safely to the ground), but there’s enough energy for the action to coast on. Watching Bastion invade the X-Men’s headquarters feels a little eerie, and it helps to set him up as a major villain. He never amounted to much, but there is some potential there. We’ve seen Mr. Sinister and the N’Garai disturb the team’s home before, but Bastion’s lofty ambitious actually make this invasion feel like it could have consequences. Overall, it’s a credible start for the storyline.

GENERATION X #28 – June 1997

Oh, Now I Get It…
Credits: Scott Lobdell (writer), Chris Bachalo (penciler), Al Vey (inker), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (lettering), Joe Andreani (colors)

Summary: On a mysterious ship, each member of Generation X finds themselves inside their own fantasy, with a talking seagull as narrator. Chamber’s body is back to normal, which enables him to sing a song for Husk. Synch owns a daycare center with his girlfriend Jubilee. M spends time alone with her brother Marius, who is no longer Emplate. Skin refuses to give in to the fantasy, which forces Glorian, Shaper of Dreams to reveal himself. Skin tells him that he only sees his team on the surface, and doesn’t understand what they truly want. Glorian demands to know what Skin really wants, and he reluctantly reveals what it is. The team suddenly materializes in Los Angeles, revealing Skin’s desire was to return home. Meanwhile, Jubilee continues to resist Daria’s offer of food.

Continuity Note: Glorian, Shaper of Dreams is an obscure character who once appeared in Fantastic Four and Incredible Hulk. He can alter reality, just like his mentor, the Shaper of Worlds.

Review: I guess this is one way to write yourself out of a hole. There’s no way the “lost at sea” cliffhanger could’ve been resolved without at least a little cheating, and bringing Glorian into the story is, if nothing else, something no one could’ve seen coming. This could’ve been a dull story that only served to move the characters out of an impossible situation, but I found myself enjoying it. Giving every cast member their own fantasy is an old cliché (one that showed up a few months earlier in X-Force), but Lobdell does add a twist to it. Glorian only knows the characters on a surface level, so he assumes that Husk wants to be protected, Chamber wants his past life back, Synch just wants to nurture, and M only wants to change someone else. Rather than using the fantasy sequences to make obvious statements about the characters, Lobdell at least raises the idea that they’re deeper than they appear. Bachalo’s art adds a lot of charm to the story, and using a seagull as narrator is the type of goofiness his cartooning can easily pull off.

Ye Double Feature
Credits: Scott Lobdell (writer), Bryan Hitch (penciler), Paul Neary (inker), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (lettering), Joe Andreani (colors)

Summary: Emma Frost scans Banshee’s memories for information on Krakoa, the sentient island he believes Black Tom sent his students to. On their way there, Banshee comforts Emma, who still feels the loss of the Hellions. They’re shocked to discover an old ship where Krakoa is supposed to be. After a scan reveals no life inside, they respond to Cyclops’ distress call and leave. Meanwhile, Jubilee lashes out at Daria. This forces Daria to create a nanotech defense against her.

Continuity Note: Emma still refers to herself as the White Queen, which is odd. This issue also goes out of its way to suggest that Daria isn’t serving Bastion willingly.

Review: This is a ten-page backup story that presumably exists because Bachalo wasn’t able to do the full issue. It pays off the previous issue’s suggestion that Banshee knows where the kids are, but doesn’t offer any details on why exactly he thinks Krakoa is involved. I think this was my last issue of Generation X, so I have no idea if Banshee and Emma actually do anything to help the X-Men (I don’t recall them showing up in the main crossover titles, and I also seem to remember Jubilee getting rescued in Wolverine). Hitch does a nice job during the opening flashback scene, but some of the later pages look stiff. This probably would’ve worked better as an alternating subplot with the main story, but Hitch’s art is so incompatible with Bachalo’s, I can understand why it shows up as a backup.

Monday, March 23, 2009

X-FORCE #67 – June 1997

Stand-Off
Credits: John Francis Moore (writer), Adam Pollina (penciler), Mark Morales (inker), Comicraft (lettering), Steve Buccellato (colorist)

Summary: The Mutant Liberation Front invades a cancer research center in St. Louis. Wildside claims that the lab is actually a front for a government project that’s recreating the Legacy Virus. Agents from Zero Tolerance arrive, as a media circus grows outside. Domino, Sunspot, and Siryn disguise themselves as a TV news crew, and are spotted by Moonstar. She suggests bringing the news crew inside, claiming that it will keep Zero Tolerance at bay. The remaining members of X-Force wait in a van outside, and are soon dispatched by the Zero Tolerance troops. When the incognito members enter the building, they’re quickly recognized by Dragoness, who outs them. After a brief fight, the MLF realizes that the information Wildside was fed was a plant. Moonstone knocks Wildside out when he attacks one of the scientists, and reveals to the rest of the MLF that she’s been working undercover for SHIELD. Three of the scientists suddenly reveal themselves as a new breed of Sentinel, working for Zero Tolerance. Meanwhile at the mansion, Cable watches over Caliban. In the middle of the night, Ozymandias appears in front of Caliban’s sleeping body, telling him that he’ll have no choice but to return to Apocalypse.

Continuity Notes: Wildside, who is the MLF’s new leader, and Dragoness are now a couple. Tempo has rejoined the team, allegedly because she’s concerned about growing anti-mutant sentiment. Locus also appears, but abandons the team after Wildside slaps her for suggesting a retreat.

Sunspot is now able to change back into his human form, which he was unable to do during Jeph Loeb’s run (he claims going out at night helps, as his powers are fueled by the sun).

Cable recognizes that Caliban has “regressed emotionally”, which is the first time his out-of-character behavior in Loeb’s run is mentioned on-panel. Cable wonders if there’s a connection between Archangel regaining his feather wings and Caliban’s recent regression. I have no idea if this was ever resolved.

Review: The MLF returns to the title, and Moore makes good use of the characters. I’ve mentioned earlier that the MLF seemed to be dismissed too quickly, probably because they’re so closely tied to the Liefeld run. I think they work fine as pro-mutant extremists, and Nicieza’s addition of Moonstar and Feral to the team gave them the potential to reach the level of “archenemies” for X-Force. It’s too bad the team was virtually ignored after Nicieza left, because there’s nothing inherently wrong with the concept. I’m not sure how familiar Moore was with these characters before he took over the book, but he seems to be working in a lot of things that longtime readers wanted out of the title. Caliban isn’t just out-of-character anymore, it’s now a plot point. Risque’s mystery is resolved, and the Camp Verde storyline is revived. Moonstar isn’t in limbo anymore, as she returns and her MLF arc is actually resolved. Things actually happen, which automatically sets the book apart from most of the other X-titles of the era. Pollina’s art also brings some stability to the series, although it seems like he only provided rough breakdowns for much of the issue. The final few pages have some bizarre anatomy and inconsistent linework, which are problems he seemed to have conquered by this point.

Friday, March 20, 2009

UNCANNY X-MEN #345 – June 1997

Moving On
Credits: Scot Lobdell (plot), Ben Raab (script), Joe Madureira & Melvin Rubi (pencilers), Townsend/Vlasco/Candelario (inkers), Comicraft (lettering), Steve Buccelato & Team Bucce! (colors)

Summary: In Guatemala, Sister Maria is attacked by a talking cybernetic gorilla. He wants to know where Joseph went after he left her orphanage, but she refuses to answer him. She’s saved by a mystery mutant (Maggott) who is also looking for Joseph. Meanwhile, the X-Men celebrate their victory with Lilandra. As Gambit secretly buries the dead, Beast discusses his relationship with Trish Tilby. He wants to move forward, but she’s reluctant. The next day, the team leaves on a craft escorted by Deathbird. Bishop studies Deathbird’s history and tries to discuss it with her, but she wants to escape her past. Soon, their ship is caught in the wake of a much larger vessel, which is also headed for Earth. The two crafts try to enter a stargate at the same time, which causes the X-Men’s ship to fall apart.

Continuity Notes: This is the first appearance of Maggott, although he’s only visible for one page, and isn’t named either. He speaks with an Australian (or English, it’s hard to tell) accent, which is something later writers dropped. Why exactly he’s after Joseph/Magneto isn’t answered until Joe Kelly’s run, which is still months away. And I have no idea what the cyborg gorilla is supposed to be.

The narrative captions continue to drop non-subtle hints about Gambit’s past, saying that he had an “unholy alliance” with a “sinister” foe, and that he had a “shameful role in one of the greatest tragedies his kind…has ever endured”.

I Love the ‘90s: An actual line from the Bullpen Bulletins: “Editor Kelly Corvese may have thought he won Rosie O’Donnell’s heart in February, but alas for him – another Marvel male had captured that precious organ two weeks earlier!” The item goes on to discuss editor Jay Gardener sending in Generation X merchandise to be showcased with other “G” products on her G-rated talk show.

Review: Oh joy, they’re still in space. I’m not sure why exactly Lobdell kept the space storyline going for yet another issue, especially when the other titles were in the middle of a crossover event back on Earth. If the X-Men actually had something interesting to do in space, I wouldn’t mind this so much, but it seems like the majority of this issue is killing time until it gets to the cliffhanger. I seem to recall that the mystery about the other ship (which is given its own two-page spread) is never resolved, and the cast just spends the next few issues wandering around in vaguely defined locations.

I’m sure Lobdell was also setting something up with Maggott, but he never got around to resolving this storyline either. If memory serves, Joe Kelly once had an internet column, and he discussed creating Maggott’s origin in one piece. If Lobdell had specific plans for the character, he apparently didn’t tell his editors, as Kelly claimed that his editors knew nothing about Maggott. This gave him a blank slate to create an origin story, which had Magneto helping a younger Maggott deal with his powers (however, the scene in this specific issue was never fully explained). The opening scene with Sister Maria and Maggott is actually fun, as it gives Madureira something cool to draw and opens the story in an unexpected place, but it’s frustrating to know that it’s more cryptic storytelling that never amounted to much.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

X-MAN #23 - #25, January 1997 - March 1997


#23 (Kavanagh/Cruz/Clark/LaRosa/Comicraft/Thomas) - Even by X-Man standards, this one is surprisingly aimless. X-Man spends a few pages recapping his issues with Threnody (he likes her, but is still afraid that Mr. Sinister is playing both of them), then has a visit from Bishop and Rogue (they’re concerned about him, but he’s still unwilling to trust the X-Men). Meanwhile, Madelyne Pryor spars with Scribe and Mountjoy in order to earn the role of Black Rook in the Hellfire Club. Finally, X-Man has a vision of the Age of Apocalypse, which leads into the X-Man ’96 annual. The end. Cruz’s art is still improving, so at least most of the issue has somewhat attractive cartooning, but the story is obviously filler. And reviving the Hellfire Club in a lower-tier spinoff just feels wrong to me.

#24 (Kavanagh/Cruz/LaRosa/Comicraft/Thomas/GCW) – Remember when Marvel decided that Spider-Man and X-Man were going to be best pals? This issue takes place after an X-Man guest appearance in Amazing Spider-Man, which I assume ended with X-Man being attacked by a shadowy figure. The mystery villain turns out to be Morbius, whose bite is transforming X-Man into a vampire. (Morbius’ powers don’t actually work this way, but it’s explained that X-Man is “telempathic”, which forces him to follow Morbius’ example. I suspect that the story was plotted out before someone realized that Morbius doesn’t actually turn people into vampires, and a quickie explanation had to be found). X-Man wants to be near Threnody, so Spider-Man helps him find her. Threnody is across town at a hospital, feeding off the death energies of terminally ill patients. I’ll give Kavanagh credit for using her powers in creative ways, and for finding a Spider-Man villain with a thematic connection to her.

Eventually, Morbius meets up with Threnody in a graveyard and entices her over to his side. Spider-Man and X-Man arrive, X-Man fights off Morbius’ influence, and Morbius flees (into the pages of Peter Parker, Spider-Man according to the footnote). X-Man realizes that Threnody needs help and tells her to stay away until she’s willing to admit it. The story’s “X-Man is a vampire” gimmick doesn’t work, but some interesting things are done with Threnody, and the Spider-Man guest appearance isn’t totally gratuitous. The Madelyne Pryor subplot in this issue has her drawing closer to Sebastian Shaw (and healing his mysterious scar), as Tessa watches on in disgust. The issue ends with Madelyne tracing X-Man’s steps on the final page, which finally moves her extremely long-running subplot into the title character’s direction.

#25 (Kavanagh/Cruz/Jones//LaRosa/Martin/Comicraft/Thomas/GCW) – The Madelyne Pryor mystery receives some resolution in this anniversary issue, but questions still linger. Askani member Sanctity contacts Jean Grey, telling her to kill X-Man. She refuses to kill him, but she does track him down, shortly after he’s reunited with Madelyne. Just in case you didn’t think their relationship was disgusting enough in the previous issues, X-Man and Madelyne share a long, open-mouthed kiss before they’re interrupted by Jean. Madelyne attacks Jean, which eventually leads to X-Man and Jean combining their mental powers against her. X-Man finally learns that he created Madelyne after he subconsciously longed for Jean Grey (you know, his mother figure) when he first arrived in this reality. This explains why the Askani want him dead (his ability to psionically create people from thin air is deemed too dangerous), but many other questions are left unanswered.

It’s not stated in the issue, but since Madelyne has access to all of her memories, I assuming that he pulled her soul out of…somewhere…and gave it physical form. Why exactly he became sexually attracted to the woman he created to replace his need for a maternal figure isn’t even brought up, which is a shame since it should’ve at least been played for a joke. When X-Man tries to erase Madelyne, he can’t, because she’s somehow independent of his consciousness. The story doesn’t explain this either, and even has Madelyne comment that it raises “so many more questions without answers”. The story ends with her teleporting away (she can do that now, I guess) and rejoining Sebastian Shaw in Hong Kong. It’s heavily implied that she’s now sexually involved with Shaw, which makes the hook-up connections amongst the various X-characters even more tangled.

The extremely brief scene with Shaw is the only appearance of the Hellfire Club in the story, which makes me wonder why exactly the group has been receiving so much attention in this title. Even the double-sized anniversary issue doesn’t bother to resolve their storyline, or answer all of the questions surrounding Madelyne. I haven’t read any issues of this series after this one, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say that most of these plot threads never had a real resolution. Not only does X-Man still have no real reason to exist, but it’s also copying the worst traits of the various X-titles. It’s hard to believe that the series went on for another three years before someone decided to reboot it.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

X-MEN #64 – May 1997

Games of Deceit & Death – Part Three
Credits: Scott Lobdell (plot), Ben Raab (script), Carlos Pacheco (penciler), Art Thibert (inker), Comicraft (lettering), Chris Lichtner, Aron Lusen, & Liquid (colors)

Summary: The Kingpin unveils Cannonball as his captive. He demands the X-Men tell him who sent them, or else Cannonball will be injected with the untested cure for the Legacy Virus. Cyclops promises to leave Kingpin alone, provided he releases Cannonball and the Elixir Vitae. Kingpin releases Cannonball, but continues to taunt the team with the possibility that he’s cured the Legacy Virus. Sebastian Shaw suddenly enters and threatens the Kingpin. Kingpin calls in the Si-Fan Ninjas for protection. Storm ends the standoff, declaring that Kingpin would rather destroy the Elixir Vitae than ever give it up. She creates a lightning storm, which eradicates the Elixir Vitae. As the team flies back to America, they’re suddenly attacked by Operation: Zero Tolerance.

Review: The previous two issues of this storyline were tolerable, assuming you didn’t think about the plot too much and skipped over the dull exposition. The conclusion, however, is a total mess. A major plot point in the issue involves Kingpin holding on to the Elixir Vitae vials as he taunts the team. This overlooks the fact that one of the team members is telekinetic, and could easily snatch the elixir away from him. The story acknowledges Phoenix’s TK a few pages earlier, as she protects Cannonball’s body from the needle with the Legacy Virus cure, which makes the sloppy ending even more ridiculous. Having Storm create a lightning storm to destroy the elixir also raises the question of why she didn’t just generate a gust of wind to blow it back into her hands. And, really, does anyone believe the X-Men couldn’t have just physically taken the vials from Kingpin even if Storm and Phoenix weren’t there?

Some of the other weak plot points could probably be explained by disconnects between the plot and script. The previous issue never did explain why exactly the X-Men invaded the Fujikawa building, which is something the Kingpin wants to know in this issue. It’s implied that Sebastian Shaw told them about the Kingpin’s research (I guess during their largely off-panel conversation in the previous issue), which doesn’t work since Cannonball was already sneaking into the Fujikawa building before the X-Men met up with Shaw. It’s possible that they learned about Fujikawa’s involvement when Clive Reston sent them on the mission in the first chapter of this storyline, but it’s never explained in the actual story. There’s also the question of why the Kingpin was sending ninjas to kill Shang-Chi, and later the X-Men, in the first place. Did he already know about their mission? If so, how? And why was he delivering a monologue in the first chapter about the importance of keeping Hong Kong independent of China? I’d also like to know why the first chapter of the storyline provided a list of the various crime families in Asia, and made a point of mentioning that one of the leaders has been missing for weeks. I assume it ties into the idea that the Kingpin has been making his mark in the Asian underworld, but it would’ve been nice to see the plot points actually connect.

Once the story is over, you’re also left wondering why exactly Shang-Chi got dragged into this. I get the connection between his father’s magic elixir and the Legacy Virus, which is a fine start for the story, but by the time you get to the final issue, he’s left with literally nothing to do. He stands around in the background for the entire issue, never contributes to the action, and finally delivers a token “the heroes will find a solution…their way” monologue to the villains at the end. He then exits the story off-panel, leaving only Cannonball to reflect on one of his pearls of Asian wisdom about the nature of evil. The last three pages then shift into a setup for the next crossover, confirming that the last seven or eight issues of this series have only been filler between crossovers. It’s hard not to feel cheated.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

X-FORCE #66 – May 1997

Tragic Kingdom
Credits: John Francis Moore (writer), Adam Pollina (penciler), Mark Morales (inker), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (lettering), Marie Javins & Team Bucce! (colors)

Summary: Caliban tracks Risque down to the Wackyworld amusement park in Florida. When he finally catches up to her, he has another seizure. Risque considers leaving, but turns back to offer help. The remaining members of X-Force soon arrive and grab her. She agrees to take them to Warpath, who is in Detroit. Meanwhile, Warpath finally awakens. He’s greeted by a freakish looking man named Sledge, who shows him footage of Michael Whitecloud, a member of his tribe who was believed killed in the Camp Verde massacre. Sledge offers to hand Whitecloud over to him, if he’ll return a favor. X-Force soon arrives with Risque. Warpath refuses to speak to Risque and walks away from her. Elsewhere, Domino is recruited by G. W. Bridge to help an undercover SHIELD agent. She’s shocked to learn the agent is Dani Moonstar.

Continuity Notes: Risque claims that she owed Sledge because he helped her out of a “bad situation”. Blob and Mimic are working for him because he “provided…the means” to help them better control their powers. Sledge has the technology to block Cerebro, in case you were wondering.

I Love the ‘90s: The title of this issue is a reference to the No Doubt album, which was huge during this time.

Review: This is an entire issue dedicated to selling Risque as a character, and while Moore does create a sympathetic portrayal, I don’t recall Risque really taking off (she was eventually killed off off-panel by Grant Morrison). The extended chase scene with Caliban takes up a lot of space, but it remains entertaining and comes across as more than just time-killer. With the exception of a horrendous interpretation of Caliban on page two, Pollina produces some very impressive artwork that helps to sell the story. He does a great job with the cartoony figures from the theme park, which is something most superhero artists probably wouldn’t be able to pull off. The story doesn’t fully resolve Risque’s mystery, but it doesn’t feel like too much of a cheat. Moore is at least advancing the Risque subplot and using it to transition into a story about the Camp Verde massacre, a mystery that predates even X-Force #1. And, the long-running Dani Moonstar plotline is also advanced. The book finally has a forward momentum, which is nice to see.

GENERATION X #27 – May 1997

The Last X-Man
Credits: Scott Lobdell (writer), Chris Bachalo & Pop Mhan (pencilers), Al Vey & Scott Hanna (inkers), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (lettering), Marie Javins (colors)

Summary: Bastion presents Jubilee with Cyclops’ battered visor, claiming that he’s dead. Jubilee doesn’t believe him, but her thoughts begin to drift back to Cyclops. Daria and Bastion monitor Jubilee’s thoughts, and witness the conversation she had with Cyclops after Illyana died. Bastion then shows Jubilee footage of Wolverine being tortured. Jubilee begins laughing after she hears Wolverine beg for mercy, which she knows he would never do. Bastion punches Jubilee, and orders Daria to target the X-Men in Hong Kong. Meanwhile, Banshee declares that he knows where the rest of the students must be.

Continuity Note: When Jubilee questions his definition of humanity, Bastion’s memories suddenly appear on the monitors. Bastion’s memories consist of a robotic hand being covered in flesh, which is the most obvious hint about his origin yet.

Review: Chris Bachalo thankfully returns as artist, which saves a lot of this issue. The interrogation scenes with Jubilee aren’t bad at all, but they’re needlessly padded in order to fill up the entire issue (“writing for the trade” years before Marvel released that many trades). The first four pages of the comic only have seven panels (consisting of three splash pages), and the pace doesn’t exactly pick up from there. Lobdell, as usual, writes Jubilee very well, and I especially like the flashback scene with her and Cyclops, but there’s not enough story here to fill up even half of the issue.

Monday, March 16, 2009

X-MEN #63 – April 1997

Games of Deceit & Death – Part Two
Credits: Scott Lobdell (plot), Ben Raab (script), Carlos Pacheco (penciler), Art Thibert (inker), Comicraft (lettering), Chris Lichtner, Aron Lusen, & Liquid Graphics (colors)

Summary: In Hong Kong, The X-Men and Shang-Chi fight the armored ninjas. When the team tries to interrogate one of them, Sebastian Shaw enters. He requests a peaceful conversation in private. Meanwhile, Cannonball sneaks into a Fujikawa Enterprises delivery truck. Later, inside the Hong Kong chapter of the Hellfire Club, Shaw explains that he’s searching for a cure to the Legacy Virus to benefit all mutantkind. He claims that the Elixir Vitae will be the key to curing the virus. He steps into a private room and meets with Dr. Rory Campbell, who reluctantly gives him information on the Legacy Virus. That night, the X-Men infiltrate the headquarters of Fujikawa Enterprises. When Cannonball tries to shut down the building’s security, he runs into a shadowy figure. The X-Men soon enter, and are confronted by the new chief operating officer of Fujikawa Enterprises, the Kingpin.

Review: And more time is killed. Actually, the return of Kingpin was probably a big deal at the time, since the character had been exiled years earlier in Daredevil. Bringing him back in an X-book was an attempt on Bob Harras’ part to bring more cohesion to the Marvel Universe, which was an admirable goal that I don’t think lasted for very long. And, honestly, it seems to me that Kingpin’s return really should’ve been in Daredevil in the first place.

There’s nothing notable about the story itself, and the only thing that truly stands out is the ridiculously awkward dialogue that often crosses over into self-parody. Not only does Shang-Chi clumsily drop the title of the storyline into one of his extensive inner monologues, not only does Wolverine work in a “I’m the best there is…” quote, but almost every line of dialogue in this issue is some form of heavy-handed exposition. I’m not one of those fans who gripes every time a character’s power or motivation is recapped for new readers, but cramming every page with this stuff is just annoying (and plot details that actually matter, such as how the X-Men know to investigate Fujikawa, how their conversation with Shaw ended, and who the ninjas were working for, are just ignored). Instead of giving readers credit for having at least half a brain, every cast member explains in detail what their powers are as they’re actually using them for the entire issue. And Shang-Chi helpfully offers commentary on each member of the team during the fight, so we’re treated to such priceless insights as, “The X-Men’s leader – Cyclops – possesses the bearing of a warrior-born”. It often reads like one of those promotional comics you get with the kid’s meal at Burger King. Sometimes characters just spontaneously blurt out random aspects of their past continuity, such as Rory Campbell, who reminds us, “Short of installing that bloody laser field at Muir Island that cost me my leg…this could very likely be the biggest mistake of my life”. It’s the exact opposite of the “for diehards only” modern comic that assumes you know everything about the characters, but I’m not convinced that really bad exposition is better than none at all. In some ways, this reads like a parody of an early ‘80s “spell everything out” Marvel comic from Shooter’s reign.

Friday, March 13, 2009

X-MEN #62 – March 1997

Games of Deceit & Death
Credits: Scott Lobdell (plot), Ben Raab (script), Carlos Pacheco (penciler), Art Thibert (inker), Comicraft (lettering), Chris Lichtner & Liquid Color (colors)

Summary: In Scotland, Shang-Chi arrives at the home of his friend, British secret agent Clive Reston. He’s attacked at the front gates by the Si-Fan, ninjas he thought had disbanded after his criminal father’s death. Wolverine arrives as the fight winds down. He spars with Shang-Chi, but Storm and Cannonball stop the fight. The X-Men explain that they were contacted by Clive Reston, who is also Wolverine’s friend. Inside, Shang-Chi senses the presence of two others, Cyclops and Phoenix, who thought that they were masked by Phoenix’s telepathy. Clive Reston enters, and explains that Shang-Chi and the X-Men must work together to stop the Elixir Vitae from falling into the hands of Sebastian Shaw. Cyclops believes that Shaw wants to use the Elixir Vitae to create a cure for the Legacy Virus, which he will then exploit for his own purposes. The group leaves for Hong Kong, where they’re soon confronted by a group of armed ninjas.

Continuity Notes: The Elixir Vitae is described as a “near-mythical” potion. Looking online, it dates back to the original Master of Kung Fu series. Apparently, his father used it to extend his life span. Clive Reston is a supporting cast member from that title. He walks with leg braces now, which shocks Shang-Chi. Reston claims that since the death of Shang-Chi’s father, his criminal empire has been divided into the Sleep Dragon Clan, the Steel Lotus group, the Wild Tiger mob, and the Coiled Serpent syndicate. The leader of Coiled Serpent, Mao Liu-Cho, disappeared a few weeks ago.

The devolved version of Wolverine is back, even though his most recent appearances in the main titles and his own series had him in his human form.

I Love the ‘90s: Hong Kong is described as “months away” from returning to Chinese sovereignty, which happened on July 1, 1997.

Production Note: My copy of this issue has bright orange type on the cover, unlike the version I've seen online.

Review: This is the start of another unremarkable fill-in arc. I don’t remember it turning out as bad as the previous Candra story, but I remember thinking it was pretty dull. Some aspects of the story don’t make a lot of sense, which may or may not be related to the fact that Ben Raab is scripting over someone else’s plot. After Wolverine helps to scare off the ninjas, Shang-Chi repays him by kicking him in the face for no reason. A few pages later, Storm chides Wolverine for fighting someone who has “done nothing to provoke us” (huh?), and Wolverine explains that he’s attacking Shang-Chi because he thinks he can get some answers out of him (I thought it was because he was kicked in the face three pages earlier?). Cyclops and Phoenix are also hiding from Shang-Chi for no clear reason. The X-Men have already been in contact with Clive Reston, so why weren’t they told that Shang-Chi would be joining them on the mission? And why are they already inside when the rest of the team is just arriving? Who knows. Somewhere between the plot, art, and script, I suspect some of the details got mangled.

Marvel seemed to be going through a ‘70s nostalgia craze during this period, as Shang-Chi joined Howard the Duck, Devil Dinosaur, Satanna, and various other characters in their escape from limbo (judging from some of Tom Brevoort's comments, I’m assuming Bob Harras was the person behind a lot of this). The story seems to assume that the audience already knows who Shang-Chi is and thinks he’s really cool. I was sixteen at the time and had no idea who this guy was, or why he kept going on about his dad. I couldn’t have cared less about a “who would win?” fight between him and Wolverine. The dialogue is certainly filled with enough exposition, but it fails to explain little things like what the “Elixir Vitae” is supposed to be. If you’re already familiar with these characters, it probably is fun to see them again, but there’s not enough in the story to draw a new reader in (And I had been reading comics for almost ten years at this point, so I was hardly “new”. Shang-Chi really was in the depths of obscurity at the time). The art by Pacheco does redeem the issue somewhat, but it’s still an awkward start for the storyline.

X-FORCE #65 – April 1997

Lower East Side Story
Credits: John Francis Moore (writer), Adam Pollina (penciler), Mark Morales (inker), Comicraft (lettering), Marie Javins & Team Bucce! (colors)

Summary: Risque and Warpath continue to spend time together. Siryn walks in on them kissing and realizes that she is jealous. After Warpath and Risque leave for the city, Siryn and Shatterstar train in the Danger Room. They’re interrupted by a beautiful piano solo. They head to the living room, where they discover Caliban playing Chopin. When he realizes he’s being watched, he suddenly has a seizure. Meanwhile, Warpath and Risque are attacked at a nightclub by Mimic and Blob. After fighting them off, they escape to an apartment owned by Risque’s friend. Risque gives Warpath a drink filled with tranquilizers. When he collapses, she reveals that Mimic and Blob are after her for not completing her job, which was to kidnap him.

Continuity Notes: Risque tells Warpath that her real name is Gloria Munoz. According to the letters page, her father is Cuban and her mother is Seminole. It’s also revealed that her implosion powers only work on inorganic material.

Review: This is the true beginning of John Francis Moore’s run, and it isn’t bad. Virtually the entire issue is dedicated to resolving a dangling plotline from Jeph Loeb’s run, yet it doesn’t read like the halfhearted conclusions you often get when one writer finishes up another’s story before he moves on with his own. Moore has a nice grasp on the characters and he’s able to make the scenes that reestablish Warpath’s relationship with Risque come across as more than just exposition. In an era when writers often didn’t finish their own story arcs, it’s refreshing that Moore actually bothered to offer X-Force readers a genuine conclusion to someone else’s ongoing subplot. Adam Pollina returns as artist, after too many issues of subpar fill-ins. All of his figures and layouts look dynamic, and even though his oversized rendition of the Blob is ridiculous, I still like it. Now, he truly looks freakish instead of just fat. It’s too bad it took so many issues to get to this point, because this book had been struggling for a while.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

WILDC.A.T.S/X-MEN: THE SILVER AGE #1 – June 1997


Credits: Scott Lobdell (writer), Jim Lee (penciler), Scott Williams w/Sal Regla (inkers), Joe Chiodo & Martin Jimenez (colors), Comicraft (lettering)

Summary: Years in the past, Nick Fury recruits Grifter from prison to fight the Brood/Daemonite alliance. Meanwhile, Marvel Girl leaves the X-Men for a modeling assignment. While on her flight, she mentally connects to an undercover SHIELD agent, who is under psionic assault by the Brood and Daemonites. Grifter arrives at the airport to meet up with the agent, who is soon killed by the aliens. Marvel Girl reads the agent’s final thoughts and learns about the alien alliance. Grifter and Marvel Girl combine their powers and escape to safety. Grifter kisses Marvel Girl to show his gratitude, but she reluctantly rebuffs him. Soon, following the clues in the deceased agent’s mind, the duo attends a party on a cruise ship. Pike arrives with more Brood/Daemonite hybrids. The plan is to kidnap the world leaders at the party and bring them below deck, where Mr. Sinister is waiting. Grifter and Marvel Girl’s fight with Pike leads them to Sinister’s lab, where he’s experimenting on Zealot. The remaining X-Men follow Jean’s message and arrive, forcing the villains to retreat. As the X-Men fly away, Zealot proposes a partnership to Grifter.

Production Note: This was published through Image/Wildstorm, not Marvel. It has 48 pages with a cardstock cover and slick paper. The cover price is $4.50.

Continuity Notes: Since this is an intercompany crossover, attaching continuity to it is a little silly since it can’t really be referenced in the future. For the sake of nitpicking, I’ll point out that Marvel Girl is shown flying, which I’m almost positive she wasn’t able to do until she became Phoenix. The X-Men also didn’t meet the Brood until years after the Silver Age ended, of course. One significant aspect of Marvel continuity is addressed here, as Sinister takes a sample of Marvel Girl’s DNA when she’s briefly unconscious (which explains how he had the genetic material needed to clone Jean in the first place). I’m sure no one at Marvel decided this “counts”, but it’s amusing that Lobdell threw it in. Some Wildstorm continuity is also established, as Grifter receives his trademark red mask from SHIELD, and Zealot and Grifter meet for the first time (I’m sure none of this counts in Wildstorm continuity either).

Review: This is another one of the Marvel/Image crossovers that was published after the “Heroes Reborn” deal. I had no idea this comic existed when it was released, which is odd since it seems like Jim Lee drawing the X-Men again would’ve been treated like a big deal (I don’t remember ever hearing about any of the X-Men/WildC.A.T.S crossovers, but it turns out there were enough of them to fill a trade paperback). Judging by the cover date, I’m assuming that Lee began work on this after he finished his six-issue commitment to Fantastic Four. It’s a nice looking comic, with a lot of energetic artwork and vibrant colors. It’s supposed to take place during the Roy Thomas/Neal Adams run of the title, which explains why Jean Grey is working as a fashion model and the team believes Xavier is dead. Lobdell only seems interested in the basic status quo, though, as the Brood and Mr. Sinister show up as villains, and even Gambit makes a cameo as Grifter’s fellow prisoner in the opening. It’s as if the creators want to show some reverence to the time period, but are openly acknowledging that the “good stuff” only came years later.

Just to make the timeline more confusing, the story drops hints that it takes place in the late 60s, as Jean wears a vintage miniskirt and younger versions of John Lennon, Mick Jagger, and Ronald Reagan make cameo appearances during the party scene. It’s obvious the goal is to have fun, so obsessing over the details seems pointless (although I would like to know why exactly Sinister is working with the Brood). The story doesn’t succeed in making me care about the Wildstorm characters that much, and the “romantic tension” between Grifter and Jean is forced, but it does turn out to be an entertaining action comic. It’s sad that the comics market has shrunk to the point that creator-owned characters don’t have the popularity to star in these types of stories anymore.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

WOLVERINE #114 – June 1997

For The Snark Was A Roojum, You See!
Credits: Larry Hama (writer), Lenil Francis Yu (penciler), Edgar Tadeo (inker), Comicraft (lettering), Joe Rosas (colors)

Summary: While chasing down Helen, Wolverine runs into Damion Hellstorm. Hellstorm warns him that the artifact must be guarded at all times. As soon as Hellstorm leaves, Lady Deathstrike leaps from the shadows and attacks Wolverine. She demands that he turn over the artifact to her. Because he recognizes her family’s markings on the box, he offers to return it to her after he speaks to Zoe Culloden. Meanwhile, Storm and Phoenix continue to guard the artifact box. When it begins to glow, Storm opens it. Phoenix suspects that the force inside the box has traveled throughout various dimensions. A possessed Helen suddenly enters, dressed in her military uniform and brandishing a machine gun. Phoenix enters her mind and fights the spirit that’s possessing her on the Astral Plane. She defeats the spirit and saves Helen. Wolverine enters with Deathstrike, who is soon targeted by the spirit. After it possesses Deathstrike, she jumps out of the window and disappears. Wolverine finally recognizes the spirit as his former mentor, Ogun.

Continuity Notes: When Phoenix fights Ogun in the Astral Plane, he’s revealed as the same spirit Wolverine faced in the Danger Room in issue #111.

According to Kirstin, her boyfriend Clive was crippled by a “psycho in a costume”, which I’m sure was foreshadowing for a story Hama never got to. Helen is revealed as a Gulf War vet who was tortured by Iraqis and discharged for being psychologically unstable. Afraid of becoming a victim again, she kept an arsenal in her apartment. I’m pretty sure Clive’s backstory gets mixed up with Helen’s during Warren Ellis’ brief run.

Production Note: My copy of this issue has a gold background, unlike the purple one I see online.

Miscellaneous Note: The title of this issue is a Lewis Carroll reference (although it's "boojum", not "roojum", in the poem). It's significance to this issue isn't very obvious to me, unless it's simply that Ogun is supposed to be the "boojum" that's being chased.

Commercial Break: This is the month Marvel began running ads for Oreck vacuum cleaners. There’s not even an attempt to make the ad “edgy” or “extreme”…it’s just a middle-aged woman in high-waisted pants holding up a vacuum cleaner against a white background. Oddly enough, ads for household cleaning devices never caught on in comics.

Review: I had a vague memory that the ending of this story made no sense, and I wasn’t far off. After three issues of build-up, the mystery of the box continues to deepen until it’s totally forgotten about in the last few pages of the story. What exactly happens when Storm opens the box isn’t even clear. The story cuts away for a few pages, and when it returns to this thread, Phoenix and Storm are calmly discussing “it” possibly traveling through multiple dimensions. What? Since the box was introduced in the same issue Ogun reappeared, I’m assuming that there’s supposed to be a connection between them. It seems like the climax of this issue is going to reveal the link, but instead Ogun just possesses Lady Deathstrike and runs away. The box, from what I can remember, is never seen or spoken about again. It’s an extremely awkward ending that reeks of a last-minute rewrite. Aside from the weak ending, the story also has its fair share of clunky dialogue and gratuitous narrative captions and thought balloons. I would be curious to know how much of this was in Hama’s original draft.

UNCANNY X-MEN #344 – May 1997

Casualties of War
Credits: Scott Lobdell (writer), Melvin Rubi (penciler), Joe Weems w/Hanna/Alquiza/Candelario/Townsend (inkers), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (lettering), Steve Buccellato & Team Bucce! (colors)

Summary: The X-Men watch in hiding as Lilandra is tortured by the Phalanx. Deathbird and Bishop are sent to “The Nest”, where the Shi’ar offspring are birthed, to protect the embryos from the Phalanx. Joseph begins to flash back to the Holocaust as he reflects on the carnage the Phalanx have created. His powers begin to flare out of control, blowing the team’s cover. As the rest of the X-Men fight, the Beast finishes building a weapon that separates the organic portions from the Phalanx’s bodies. He unleashes the device, which shreds the Phalanx apart. Trish Tilby is ecstatic that the threat is over, but Gambit isn’t optimistic. Meanwhile, Senator Kelly expresses concerns over Operation: Zero Tolerance to Henry Gyrich.

Continuity Note: According to Gyrich, Congress hasn’t sanctioned Operation: Zero Tolerance, but Bastion “has people sympathetic to him inside the House, the Senate, and every other ruling party in the world”.

Review: The previous chapters of this storyline were able to coast quite a bit on Madureira’s artwork, but now we’re treated to an entire issue of Melvin Rubi’s terrible Jim Lee impression. The early ‘90s look had almost disappeared from the titles by the end of 1995, but many of the fill-in artists were returning to the early Image look by late 1996 (Coincidentally or not, Marvel had turned over four titles to Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld by this time. I think it’s possible that someone at Marvel made a conscious decision that this was the style of art the kids really wanted). I can live with a competent Jim Lee impersonator, but Rubi’s deformed faces and relentless crosshatching are just hard on the eyes. The story doesn’t do a lot to redeem the issue, either. The goals of the issue are apparently to pair Bishop and Deathbird together and to finish off the Phalanx. Both objectives are accomplished with no real excitement, and the Phalanx’s defeat is particularly annoying. After two full issues of fight scenes, the villains are defeated by a macguffin the Beast whips up in a few panels. The Phalanx were the major villains in a multi-part crossover a few years prior, and now they’re taken out with the press of a button. It’s extremely anticlimactic, and it’s one of the reasons why this storyline always felt like a giant waste of time.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

GENERATION X #26 – April 1997

Adrift

Credits: Scott Lobdell (writer), Joe Bennett (penciler), Joe Pimentel (inker), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (lettering), Marie Javins (colors)

Summary: After emerging from Black Tom’s bio-pod, the members of Generation X are stranded in a large body of water. M flies ahead to find help, and later returns exhausted. She tells the team that they’re as good as dead. Meanwhile, Banshee runs a computer scan but is unable to find his students. Inside an Operation: Zero Tolerance base, Jubilee fights against Bastion’s First Strike team. When she accidentally harms one of them, she risks capture and performs CPR on him. After she escapes the building, she runs out into a snowstorm and collapses. A man in a parka takes her back inside.

Continuity Note: Nightmare speaks to Emma Frost again, telling her that his vision has come true (which is a stretch, since his vision in #22 was a lot more gruesome than what actually happened in the last issue). He still wants her to work with him, but she refuses. I’m under the impression none of this was ever resolved.

Review: For some reason, a local drug store started selling this title after it stopped carrying the rest of the X-titles. Since the next few issues lead into the Zero Tolerance crossover, and my collection of the spinoffs gets spotty at this point, I’ll do full reviews for the next two or three issues. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot to say about this one. Half of the issue is devoted to establishing that the team is stranded in the middle of nowhere, which worked great as a cliffhanger last issue, but the story doesn’t advance at all over the course of the issue. The Jubilee subplot isn’t bad, but it also ends exactly where it began. There’s a hint that Bastion is actually impressed by Jubilee’s respect for human life, which may or may not tie into the ending. Because Joe Bennett’s art is so generic, it’s impossible to tell if the man in the parka who saves her in the end is supposed to be Bastion (of course, this raises the question of why Bastion would need a parka). It’s always strange to see someone outside of Chris Bachalo draw these characters, but Bennett’s combination of early Image art and the faux-manga look really doesn’t work.