Friday, May 29, 2009

UXM #361& X-MEN #81 – November 1998

Uncanny X-Men #361

Thieves in the Temple

Credits: Steve Seagle (writer), Steve Skroce (penciler), Tim Townsend w/Hanna, Hunter, & Candelario (inkers), Shannon Blanchard (colors), Comicraft (letters)

Summary: Storm and Shadowcat respond to Black Tom’s call for help and arrive in South Korea. Black Tom explains that most of Juggernaut’s power has been stolen by a cult, who trapped the Cytorrak magic in a new gem. An enraged Juggernaut briefly goes on a rampage in Seoul, where Storm and Shadowcat soon encounter Gambit. Gambit claims that he’s been hired to steal the new Cytorrak Gem. He accompanies the two X-Men to the Cytorrak Temple, where Shadowcat learns of the cult’s doomsday plans for the gem. Gambit steals it, and decides to give it back to the ailing Juggernaut, rather than his employer. Storm asks Gambit to consider rejoining the X-Men.

Continuity Notes: This issue has a few questionable elements. Black Tom is no longer in his plant form, without explanation. There is a brief comment about him still recuperating from his injuries, but that’s it. A three-page narrative sequence repeatedly describes Juggernaut as a mutant, which he is not. There’s also a claim that he mislead the team and violated their trust in order to enter the mansion, with a footnote pointing towards X-Men #70 (that’s not even remotely what happened). Shadowcat claims that she would've died in a Florida swamp were it not for Storm, even though she wasn't in the group of X-Men with Storm in the previous storyline. This is also supposed to be the first meeting between Shadowcat and Gambit, but it seems like their paths crossed during the “Fatal Attractions” crossover.

Review: And now, apparently because a lot of people demanded it, Gambit returns. It is conceivable that a lot of fans were upset by Gambit’s departure (I imagine a large section of the fanbase only knew of an X-Men team with Gambit), but it didn’t seem as if the hardcore readers missed him that much at the time. This seems to be a commercial for the upcoming Gambit series, which also featured Steve Skroce on art and debuted a few months later. Skroce has entered a phase that has him drawing as many figures, tiny objects, bricks, glass shards, and Ditko-esque leaping heroes as possible. Most artists couldn’t make this work, but I think he manages to pull the reader into the image, rather than overloading them with too much nonsense. The story is just an excuse to give Gambit something to do, and it reads like something written on the fly. The “meanwhile” scenes at the mansion are actually more enjoyable. Marrow steals one of Colossus’ sketches, as we learn that she’s secretly obsessed with beauty. Colossus apologizes for getting angry by giving her a sketch he’s drawn of her. It’s a little sappy, but Seagle does a nice job with the character interactions.

X-Men #81

Jack of Hearts, Queen of Death!

Credits: Joe Kelly (writer), Adam Kubert (penciler), Mark Farmer (inker), Steve Buccellato (colorist), Comicraft (letters)

Summary: The X-Men introduce Marrow to the Danger Room, as Gambit moves in to the mansion’s boathouse. Rogue and Gambit soon travel to Boston, where they discuss what happened in Antarctica. A powerful young woman named Kali appears, declaring that the “voices” want Gambit and Rogue dead. After she’s defeated, Rogue tells Gambit that she still loves him. He doesn’t respond, so she flies away. Suddenly, a woman made of green mist circles Gambit, telling him to stay away from Rogue.

Continuity Notes: The Danger Room has returned without explanation (although future issues show the team receiving shipments from Muir Island, which would be a reasonable rationalization).

The mystery of the Green Mist Lady is resolved in Gambit’s upcoming solo series. I think the original idea was that she saved him in Antarctica, but I seem to recall Fabian Nicieza developing a more complicated resolution.

Miscellaneous Note: According to the Statement of Ownership, average sales for the year were 222,183 copies, with the most recent issue selling 206,491.

Review: And now that Gambit’s returned, Joe Kelly dedicates an entire issue to him and Rogue discussing his inane exit. This issue hammers home the “Rogue left him to die because she absorbed his self-loathing” idea, which was retroactively developed in order to justify Rogue’s decision. Since it absolves her of any guilt, it removes most of the conflict between Gambit and Rogue, leaving them without a lot to talk about in the story. Kelly could’ve revived the team’s indignant response to Gambit’s involvement with the Morlock Massacre, but I get the impression that Marvel doesn’t want to dwell on the idea (especially when Gambit’s solo series is a few months away). The conversation between the characters doesn’t feel particularly deep, and it’s of course interrupted by a fight scene. Kali is another mystery villain with annoyingly vague motivations. Even though Kelly hints that there’s more going on, Kali’s really just played as crazy, attacking Gambit and Rogue because the story needed an action sequence. Adam Kubert’s art helps to sell the fight scene, so at least it doesn’t feel boring. With the combination of Mark Farmer’s inks and some impressive coloring by Steve Buccellato, I’ve always thought that this was a great looking issue. I don’t know if Kubert is well-suited for a long run on a team book, since his art became increasingly stripped down as the months went on during his UXM stint (and quite a few fill-in artists were brought in), but his work here is very strong.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

UXM #360 & X-MEN #80– October 1998

Uncanny X-Men #360

Children of the Atom

Credits: Steve Seagle (writer), Chris Bachalo (penciler), Tim Townsend w/Jordi Ensign, Aaron Sowd, Jon Sibal, & Peter Palmiotti (inkers), Shannon Blanchard & Mike Rockwitz (colors), Comicraft (letters)

Summary: Professor Xavier recruits a new X-Men team (Grey King, Crux, Landslide, Chaos, Rapture, and Mercury) from across the globe. The new team attacks a cruise ship where Shadowcat, Nightcrawler, and Colossus are vacationing. They kidnap Shadowcat and take her to Florida, where Xavier says he needs her help. Shadowcat shuts down a computer virus that was allegedly connected to Xavier by Bastion. Xavier then orders the new X-Men to place her in storage. Meanwhile, the real X-Men travel to Washington, DC to meet with Peter Corbeau. Corbeau is missing from his Pentagon office, allegedly kidnapped by the X-Men. The team meets with Val Cooper, who explains that Corbeau was working on the Benassi Rocket, which is rumored to have a mutant connection. She arranges for a jet to fly them to Cape Citadel, where the rocket is being launched. Elsewhere, the government fakes the assassination of a scientist on the rocket project in order to divert attention away from the rocket’s true purpose (to launch a device that can “track and terminate mutants globally”). Later, Nightcrawler and Colossus arrive at the X-Men’s mansion and meet Cecilia Reyes. Reyes informs them that the rest of the team is headed for Cape Citadel, so Nightcrawler repairs the spare Blackbird jet and departs with Colossus. They arrive in the skies above Cape Citadel as the X-Men are attacked by Xavier’s new team. The team regroups inside the Blackbird, but it’s quickly shot down by the new X-Men’s Aurora aircraft.

Continuity Notes: Apparently, a decent amount of time has passed between the previous issue and this one. Cecilia Reyes has left the team off-panel, and set up her own medical practice in Salem Center. She’s checking on the mansion as a favor to Storm while the team is away on a mission. Colossus comments that Storm’s plants resemble a jungle, which is apparently a clue that the X-Men have been gone for a while.

Reyes comments that Beast has left, but there’s no explanation why. Maggott is also gone without explanation (Beast suggested that he consider joining Generation X in last month’s X-Men, but there’s no follow-up here).

The new team of X-Men are intentionally derivative of other mutants, which is a hint towards their origin.

Gimmicks: This is a forty-eight page issue with a “foil-etched” cover, which brings the cover price up to $3.99. It’s interesting that Marvel tried to phase out the gimmick covers in the mid-90s, but they still popped up occasionally.

I Love the ‘90s: Nightcrawler is impersonating “Leo” onboard the cruise ship “Titania”.

Review: This is the first wave in a series of 35th anniversary issues, which is amusing because I don’t recall the X-Men’s 40th anniversary receiving a lot of attention (Wasn’t it during the Quesada/Jemas “We’re cooler than everybody and only hip young people read our comics” phase?). The story is set on the anniversary of the day Magneto attacked Cape Citadel (and announced the existence of mutants to the public, according to this issue), which is the only real connection to the first issue of the series. I suppose reuniting three former cast members with the team is intended as another nod to the past, as is the “familiar” nature of the new X-Men. As I’ve mentioned before, the editorial influence on the titles is painfully evident in this storyline, as three of the team members are missing with little or no explanation. The real reason they’re gone is so that Shadowcat, Colossus, and Nightcrawler can take their place, but there’s practically no effort put into providing a legitimate explanation for their absence. Cecilia Reyes’ off-hand dismissal that she was an X-Man “for all of five minutes” is particularly annoying, since it undermines the work that was spent on selling her as a real member of the team. Ever since the “Zero Tolerance” crossover, we were supposed to be buying into this character’s journey as a new X-Man. Now, the editors have changed their minds, so Cecilia has decided to leave the team in-between issues. On what planet is this considered competent storytelling?

The X-Men have also ended up in Washington, DC through the sheer willpower of editorial desire. Oddly enough, the script actually draws attention to the X-Men’s lack of transportation, as Wolverine explains to Val Cooper that “we’re a little short on long-range transportation these days…most everything’s running, but not our wings.” Then how exactly did they get to Washington in the first place? I assumed that reintroducing the Blackbird a few issues earlier was done to cover travel if a story required it, but that plane is instead being used to bring Colossus and Nightcrawler to Cape Citadel. In the end, we end up with explanations for how the X-Men get from Washington to Florida, how Colossus and Nightcrawler get from New York to Florida, but no explanation for how the X-Men got from New York to Washington in the first place. This has always annoyed me, especially since it could’ve been covered by a simple line of dialogue (I’m sure Beast could’ve arranged transport with the Avengers, or one of Wolverine’s numerous “old friends” might’ve helped).

Even if you’re willing to ignore the jarring transition from the previous issues, the story’s not particularly impressive. Every page is extremely cluttered, as Bachalo opens with nine-panel grids for the first few pages, and barely decreases the number of panels per page for the rest of the issue. Every tiny panel is as crammed full of word balloons as possible, making this feel as if four issues of material have been shoved into one double-sized special. I don’t have a problem with the villains, since the derivative nature of their powers is an interesting mystery and I like their designs (Carlos Pacheco’s sketches for the characters had been appearing in the issues leading up to this one). It just doesn’t feel as if there’s enough room to showcase the various characters, which makes all of the faux-X-Men rather unimpressive. Bachalo’s art is also a problem, as the multiple inkers change the look from page to page, and the page layouts are so busy it’s often hard to tell what’s going on. Bachalo is also firmly in “draw every character like a little kid” mode, which just doesn’t work with most of this cast.

X-Men #80

Children of the Atom, Part Two

Credits: Joe Kelly (writer), Brandon Peterson (penciler), Art Thibert w/Dan Panosian (inkers), Liquid! (color), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (letters)

Summary: Shadowcat escapes from Xavier’s new team of X-Men and lands in the sewers. There, she meets Peter Corbeau, who tells her about Xavier’s plan to disrupt the launch of the Benassi Rocket. Meanwhile, the X-Men crash land in a Florida swamp. They eventually make their way to Cape Citadel, just as the false X-Men are ambushing Shadowcat. The two teams fight on the tarmac, as Xavier enters the control booth. He stops the launch, enabling the Grey King to remove the mutant-tracking satellite from the rocket. Wolverine confronts Xavier, calling him out as a fraud. Xavier suddenly turns into an energy-form, forces the control panel to launch the rocket, and disappears. Knowing that the rocket has a nuclear core, Rogue absorbs the powers of Nightcrawler, Wolverine, and Colossus, and forces the rocket to crash in the ocean. Meanwhile, the remaining X-Men force the Grey King to drop the satellite. The false X-Men disappear, and are soon reunited with Xavier’s impostor. The energy-form absorbs their bodies, and reveals himself as Cerebro in robot form.

Continuity Note: Rogue’s costume has changed in-between chapters of the story. She’s now wearing the Shi’ar space suit again, for no reason outside of Brandon Peterson getting the wrong reference. If you’ve noticed that Rogue is drawn smaller and with less detail on the cover, it’s because she wasn’t on the original solicited version of this cover (which was used to announce the new team of X-Men).

Gimmicks: This is another double-sized issue with a foil-etched cover. I have the non-enhanced version (which I think was released two weeks after the enhanced one), which costs $2.99.

Review: This is at least easier to read than the first chapter, as Kelly’s script is less verbose and the page layouts are clearer. I seem to recall Brandon Peterson being announced as Pacheco’s replacement on this book, but he pulled out to do a title with Alan Moore for one of Liefeld’s short-lived companies (I think it was supposed to be a Suprema series that never happened). His work here is barely recognizable from his earlier UXM issues, and I can’t say it’s particularly improved. His rendition of Wolverine isn’t bad, but the rest of the cast looks pretty dull (and the spaghetti hair he gives the female characters has always annoyed me).

Kelly continues to excel with the character interactions, as Wolverine is still resentful of Colossus for joining the Acolytes, Colossus is suspicious of Marrow (after encountering Gene Nation in UXM #325), Marrow taunts Colossus with knowledge of his brother, and Storm is forced to hold everything together. The general thinking at the time was that Joe Kelly resented having to work with this lineup (in Kelly’s Deadpool series, this team is referred to as “out with the new, in with the old”), which might’ve been an exaggeration from upset fans, but also seems plausible. There’s a lot of nostalgia in the story, as Nightcrawler and Colossus work in all of their catchphrases, and Wolverine and Colossus even pull a “fastball special” during the climax. It’s not hard to read this as self-aware humor, as if Kelly is just saying, “Fine. If you guys just want the ‘80s all over again, here it is.”

The rest of the story dutifully resolves the main conflict, while setting up a future Cerebro storyline (which I remember everyone just hating). The lack of a real resolution shouldn’t be a shock at this point, but knowing how poorly the mysteries of Cerebro and his false X-Men are resolved, it’s hard to cut the ending a lot of slack. The basic idea for the story is fine, and it does manage to return the three Excalibur members in a credible way, but the shoddy dismissal of the former members and the knowledge of what’s coming next make it hard to have any real enthusiasm for this storyline.

Monday, May 25, 2009

UXM #359 & X-MEN #79 – September 1998

Uncanny X-Men #359

Power Play

Credits: Joe Kelly & Steve Seagle (writers), Chris Bachalo & Ryan Benjamin (pencilers), Tim Towsend/Scott Hanna/Jon Holdredge (inkers), Shannon Blanchard (colors), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (letters)

Summary: Government agent Henry Gyrich watches on with Senator Brickman as Rogue begins Dr. Agee’s cure for mutancy. Mystique, who disguised herself as Brickman’s wife, swaps places with Agee’s nurse and opens fire on him. Rogue saves his life, and takes Mystique away to talk. Mystique argues with Rogue against removing her powers, which leads to Rogue touching Mystique and absorbing her consciousness. Rogue tracks Dr. Agee to the Mutopia building, where Mystique’s presence in her mind forces her to fight the government agents. Rogue absorbs Dr. Agee’s memories and learns that the first mutant he tested the equipment on died, and that his sister was only briefly cured. Knowing that the government would eventually use it on mutants against their will, Rogue destroys Agee’s equipment.

Continuity Note: Phoenix reveals to Cyclops that she has lost her mental powers, and the couple decides to stay in Alaska as she recuperates. This is a reference to the “Psi-War” storyline in X-Men, which I think was supposed to remove every telepath’s power. This is likely an indication that “Psi-War” was supposed to be a larger event, because I definitely don’t remember any character (outside of Psylocke) losing their powers for long. And we now have Cyclops and Phoenix deciding to stay in Alaska, one issue after they abruptly decided to move. I have no idea what the point of this back and forth was supposed to be (I would assume some last minute editorial decisions have happened in-between issues).

Production Note: When Mystique reveals that Dr. Agee’s research is based on the power inhibitor Forge built for the government, the editorial caption reads, “Whatever you want to say – Mark”. I’m sure it was supposed to point us towards the back issues of UXM where this actually happened. There are also a couple of word balloons in this issue that are so poorly printed they’re hard to read. Plus, Dr. Agee’s word balloons are incorrectly pointing towards Mystique during the issue’s climax.

Review: With a questionable plot, rotating artists, and numerous production mistakes, this one feels like a rush job. It might’ve been more tolerable if Bachalo drew the entire issue, or if a more compatible artist had been paired with him. Dan Norton, the cartoony fill-in artist from a few issues ago would’ve been a nice fit, but instead Bachalo’s paired with Wildstorm artist Ryan Benjamin. His early Image look is so hopelessly out of place next to Bachalo’s art, you’ve got to wonder what they were thinking when they made this choice.

We’re starting to enter the editorially driven era of the Seagle/Kelly run, so the Rogue storyline that Seagle’s been toying with for months is quickly resolved so that another brave new direction for the X-Men can begin. Having Mystique appear and talk Rogue out of the procedure is a decent idea, but the delivery here is botched by horrid dialogue and nonsensical plotting. Instead of a believable mother/daughter conversation between Mystique and Rogue, we’re saddled with lines like “Come with me…or perish,” “Don’t try to divert me from my rage, Rogue,” and “Has the momentary promise of your forbidden fruit freed you of your faculties?” A cameo by Alpha Flight’s Shaman (as the doctor examining Phoenix) also brings us this gem, “I no longer use the medicine magic of my people to serve Canada as the hero Shaman, but it was Alpha Flight that brought me to Anchorage.” Both Seagle and Kelly are credited with writing this issue, but I don’t recall such stilted dialogue from either writer in the past.

The actual plotting of the story is as shaky as the dialogue. For some reason, Rogue decides to touch Mystique during their conversation (I guess to validate her claims that the government is behind Agee’s research, although that’s not made clear), which leads to Mystique taking command of Rogue’s body a few pages later. This goes beyond a simple continuity mistake, it’s an outright misunderstanding of how her powers work. Making matters worse, Mystique soon reappears, claiming that Rogue didn’t absorb “enough” of her. So she has enough of Mystique’s consciousness that it overtakes her mind, but not enough to knock Mystique out for more than a few seconds? The story also can’t seem to decide if Dr. Agee’s sister is alive or dead. Agee claims that he “owed the machine’s perfection to her memory” right after Rogue absorbs his memories. This is odd enough, since she isn’t the character that died during his flashback. Two pages later, Rogue tells Agee to leave and take care of his sister. So, I guess she isn’t dead. The sister line is used to justify why Agee won’t rebuild his machine, which assumes that the reader buys into the idea that he’ll be so preoccupied with his sister he’ll lose all interest in his research. It’s a copout ending, and it also makes Rogue pretty callous for not seeking justice for the mutant who died when Agee first tried his treatment. (This reminds me that two skeletons are shown in the flashback to this character’s death. Why?) This is really a mess all around, and a clear sign that something odd was happening behind the scenes.

X-Men #79

Little Morlock Lost

Credits: Joe Kelly (writer), German Garcia (penciler), Holdredge/Mendoza/Alquiza (inkers), Liquid! (colors), Comicraft (letters)

Summary: Callisto enters the X-Men’s mansion, telling Marrow that she needs to stay with the team. Soon, Marrow overhears Cannonball’s plans to go back home, which pushes her over the edge. She races into the city, terrorizing the humans she comes across. Storm, Callisto, and Cannonball track her to Battery Park. Marrow encounters two police officers she put in the hospital months earlier. When they tell their story, Marrow realizes that she has behaved like a monster and apologizes. Storm makes peace with Marrow, as a shadowy figure watches on.

Continuity Notes: The shadowy figure is the same one who’s been looking over Callisto (for ominous reasons) in the previous issues. He claims that he has plans for Marrow, and at the story’s end, says that leaving the X-Men as her only family was his plan all along. It’s widely believed that the mystery figure was supposed to be the Dark Beast, although I don’t know if Kelly ever confirmed it, or if his specific plan was ever revealed.

The stage is being set for next issue’s overhaul of the team. Beast suggests Maggott join the Generation X team (which never happened), and Cannonball receives word that his mother is sick and needs his help.

The two policemen in this issue are supposed to be the ones Marrow knocked out in the opening pages of X-Men #68. These weren’t Prime Sentinels, as it’s emphasized in this issue that they were normal cops doing their jobs.

Review: It’s been widely accepted over the years that the September issues were the last “real” ones of the Seagle/Kelly era. Beginning next month, Excalibur is cancelled and Shadowcat, Colossus, and Nightcrawler join the team. The amount of internal logic in the stories takes a nosedive, as it becomes increasingly obvious that events are happening because the editors just want them to happen. Marrow is the only new member allowed to stay, which might explain why this is an entire issue dedicated to reassuring her place on the team. Marvel is still taking an odd approach to her past continuity, as the two cops she knocked out in a brief scene during the “Zero Tolerance” crossover are brought back to inspire some guilt and repentance. Marrow committed much larger sins than this during her early appearances, but these have been mostly ignored since she was forced on to the team. If you’re willing to go along with the whitewashing of her past, this is an acceptable story about Marrow finally embracing her role as an X-Man. I never bought the selective use of her backstory, though, and still feel as if Maggott or Reyes would’ve been more suitable members.

Friday, May 22, 2009

WOLVERINE #129 – #130, October 1998 – November 1998

Wolverine #129
 Whatever It Takes…
Credits: Todd Dezago (writer), Lenil Francis Yu (penciler), Edgar Tadeo (inker), Jason Wright (colorist), Comicraft (letters)

Summary: Unsure of himself after his fight with Sabretooth, Wolverine returns to the abandoned Weapon X facility to reflect. Inside, he’s attacked by Wendigo. Wolverine slashes his eyes, forcing him to run away. A few minutes later, Wolverine collapses from his wounds.

Continuity Notes: It’s hard to reconcile this with the previous appearances of the Weapon X compound in the preceding years. For one thing, it was actually destroyed during the Maverick one-shot. Aside from that, Dezago shows that the security system is still operational, and has men monitoring the compound at Department H command. This doesn’t seem to fit in with Wolverine’s first return to the Weapon X compound in Wolverine #48, which portrayed it as totally abandoned and forgotten.

Review: This is the beginning of Todd Dezago’s brief run, making it the third fill-in arc in a row (the fourth if you count Tom DeFalco’s two issues). Marvel didn’t seem to know what to do with this book during this era, which reminds me of the state the title was in before the Hama/Silvestri run began. A few months from now Erik Larsen will begin a mostly directionless run, which will occasionally participate in the routine crossovers. Until then, Dezago marks time. This is essentially a Wolverine/Wendigo fight, although Dezago tries to add some depth by having Wolverine reflect on the dividing line between predators and prey throughout the story. He declares himself a predator at the issue’s start, but realizes that he’s Wendigo’s prey by the end. There’s nothing particularly bad about this, but it’s clearly filler.

Wolverine #130

…To Survive!
Credits: Todd Dezago (writer), Lenil Francis Yu (penciler), Edgar Tadeo (inker), Jason Wright (colorist), Comicraft (letters)

Summary: Wolverine recovers from his wounds inside an old barn. A young boy named Jake brings him food and keeps him company. Wolverine eventually realizes that Wendigo is still hunting him, so he flees the barn. He turns back when he considers that Wendigo is tracing his scent, which is still in the barn. Wolverine protects Jake from Wendigo, and eventually defeats him by using kerosene to set him on fire.

Continuity Note: An origin is given for the latest incarnation of Wendigo. After an accident chopping wood, a man was left trapped under a log with his fingers severed. After days without food, he ate the severed fingers, which invited the cannibal curse that creates Wendigo.

Review: The Wendigo fight concludes, as Wolverine declares that he’s found what he was looking for, “Wolverine the man.” He apparently grasps this by using his brains to defeat Wendigo, which he takes a sign that he never needed the Weapon X project to be a fighter. Well, okay then. There’s not a lot going on here, although the scenes with Wolverine and the little kid aren’t bad. Yu produces an amusing splash page that displays the kid’s impression of the X-Men based on Wolverine’s stories, which has Colossus as a robot, Nightcrawler as a Christmas elf, and Rogue as a mummy (because she has to cover her entire body, of course). The rest is pretty forgettable.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

X-MEN #78 & UXM #358 – August 1998

X-Men #78

Stormfront Part 2

Credits: Joe Kelly (writer), German Garcia (penciler), Art Thibert (inker), Liquid! (colors), Comicraft (lettering)

Summary: Powered by Psylocke’s psionic attack, the Shadow King now has access to every mind on earth. He tries to tempt the new X-Men over to his side, while Psylocke unexpectedly reemerges in a shadow form. Realizing that the mystic Crimson Dawn is powering her inside the psionic plane, she rescues Ainet. With her help, Psylocke is able to free Storm from her psychic prison. As Storm rescues the other X-Men, Psylocke faces the Shadow King. When he tries to infect every mind on earth, Psylocke targets his unprotected “nexus point” with her shadow powers. The Shadow King disappears, but Psylocke realizes that if she uses her telepathy again, he could be set free.

Continuity Notes: The Shadow King explains that he was masking his presence from Xavier for months, until Xavier lost his telepathy after becoming Onslaught. He also claims that the psychic feedback caused by Psylocke’s attack “devastated the minds of all unshielded telepaths.” I think that this was supposed to be something of a big deal within the Marvel Universe, but it was only briefly referenced in a few of the X-titles.

Review: This two-parter might turn out to be Kelly’s strongest work on the title. There is a sense that this was probably supposed to be a larger story arc, but the slightly rushed conclusion doesn’t distract from the imaginative use of the Shadow King’s powers and some strong character work. Kelly’s skill with dialogue has previously given the characters some sharp one-liners that also reflect some aspect of their personality. This storyline goes deeper, as the X-Men are forced by the Shadow King to live out their greatest fears or deepest desires. This is a fairly standard route to take with telepathic villains, but Kelly is able to make it more engaging than the cliché “villain invades the hero’s mind” story. Not only is Storm forced to reenact the childhood trauma that created her claustrophobia, but she also expresses her guilt over failing her parents, being forced to “kill” Marrow, and using her powers irresponsibly as a youth. This is only a two-page scene, but it offers more insight into her character than any other '90s issue I can think of.

Psylocke also has her moments, as the previously pointless Crimson Dawn powers are actually used effectively. I wonder if Lobdell was planning all along to do a story where Psylocke loses her telepathic powers and has to embrace her new ones. It’s a pretty obvious way to go, but since Lobdell never even took the idea this far, the Crimson Dawn powers stuck around for years with no discernable purpose. Kelly actually uses the powers to move the character in a new direction, as the shadow powers enable her to redeem herself for last issue’s mistake. I’m sure the story was created with the goal of “doing something” about Psylocke, but Kelly never leaves you with the impression that he resents having to use the character. Making the story as much about Psylocke’s need to redeem herself as it is about stopping the villain gives it more weight, reminding me of the type of stories Claremont told during his original run.

Uncanny X-Men #358

Lost in Space

Credits: Steve Seagle (plot), Joseph Harris (script), Chris Bachalo (penciler), Tim Townsend (inker), Steve Buccellato (colors), Comicraft (letters)

Summary: Bishop and Deathbird are shot down by the alien Chnitt. They meet Karel, an alien from another planet that’s been ravaged by the Chnitt. Karel is collecting weapons to use against the Chnitt on his home planet. Bishop and Deathbird travel with him to the city of Kuth, where they hope to find a warp gate. When the trio arrives in Kuth, it’s under attack by the Chnitt. Bishop volunteers to stay behind and protect the city while the others head for the warp gate. After Bishop defeats the Chnitt, he finally reaches the warp gate. It collapses after Karel escapes, leaving Bishop alone with Deathbird.

Continuity Note: Cyclops and Phoenix have decided in-between issues to move from Alaska. Iceman, Beast, and Archangel are helping them move when Cyclops receives news that the realtor can’t sell their house. A child throws a brick through their window, shortly before Phoenix collapses (due to the events of the “Psi-War” storyline). It looks like Seagle was setting up a story about the town turning against Cyclops and Phoenix, but I don’t recall it going anywhere. I’m not sure why exactly the decision had been made to have them move so quickly. It’s even stranger knowing that Cyclops and Phoenix aren’t a part of the next team of X-Men anyway.

Approved By The Comics Code Authority: The Bullpen Bulletins announces the arrival of a new assistant editor, Zena Tsarfin, coming from High Times magazine. “There will be plenty of high times in the new Slingers book, but probably not the kind Zena is used to writing about!”

Review: After months as a subplot, Deathbird and Bishop are given the main story for an issue. Ideally, this would’ve offered some resolution to their subplot and actually moved their story forward, but instead the characters are essentially left in the same place they’ve been for the previous year – stuck in space with one another. A caption on the last page points readers towards an upcoming one-shot called Team X 2000, which is supposed to continue their story. I have no idea how this storyline was eventually resolved, but I do know that Bishop had his own solo series, set thousands of years in the future, within the next year. Joseph Harris, a new writer finding work at Marvel at the time and the scripter of this issue, wrote the series, so maybe it was already in the works when this issue was published.

Even though this story doesn’t actually resolve their long-running subplot, it’s an enjoyable action story that offers some insight into Bishop’s personality. The fact that he’s made no friends amongst the X-Men and has often stayed in the background is used as a characterization point, as Bishop spends the entire issue lamenting his status as a loner and perpetual outcast. He accepts his role as a loner by the end, declaring that his purpose is “fighting, protecting,” which is at least an attempt to make him seem more heroic. A potential romance with Deathbird is still being teased, but Harris’ script makes it more plausible by portraying Bishop's reluctance, and by casting Deathbird’s interest more as an obsessive crush than true love. Bachalo’s art is well suited for the outer space setting, as he excels at drawing the freakish alien monsters. It’s a little surprising that he ended up on an intermission issue, while he missed some issues that actually moved the main stories along, but his art helps to give the story some weight.

Monday, May 18, 2009

X-MEN #76 - X-MEN #77, June 1998 - July 1998

X-Men #76

A Boykie and His Dinges

Credits: Joe Kelly (writer), Mat Broome (penciler), Sean Parson w/Aaron Sowd (inkers), Liquid! (colors), Comicraft (letters)

Summary: Maggott tells Wolverine a story from his past. In South Africa, Maggott lived in a crowded home with his large family. At the age of twelve, he was no longer able to digest food, causing his family excessive medical bills. Feeling that he was a burden, he drove into the desert, hoping to die. Magneto suddenly appeared and released the two slugs living inside Maggott’s body. Magneto explained to Maggott that he was a mutant and took him back home. There, he discovered that his older brother had been killed by Apartheid soldiers. Magneto took Maggott into the city, where his father was fighting Apartheid. Magneto murdered the soldiers, horrifying Maggott. Magneto left, telling Maggott that one day they’ll fight as brothers.

Continuity Notes: The “mysterious package from Africa” subplot continues, as Storm picks it up from the post office. When she opens it, a mystical statuette appears, telling her that she must come home and stop “Ananasi”. The next issue clarifies that the statuette is of Ainet, a “village priestess” who took Storm in as a teenager.

It’s finally confirmed that Maggott’s slugs act as his digestive system. They feed on matter, and then return the nourishment to him by somehow merging with the hole in his stomach.

Approved By The Comics Code Authority: Letterers are traditionally careful with the word “flick”, as it tends to look like another word when written in all caps. “Flick” is used as a sound effect on page two, and the letterer has made the brave decision not to space the L and I far apart, but to have them actually overlap.

Review: It’s strange to read an entire issue dedicated to Maggott while knowing that Marvel is just a few issues away from consigning him to obscurity. It’s a suitable enough origin story, although it’s another indication that Joe Kelly’s interpretation of Magneto is out of whack (even though he was clearly a villain pre-Claremont, I don’t think he was the type for a casual, cold-blooded slaughter until the ‘90s). While the story does explain Maggott’s connection to Magneto, it still doesn’t resolve the character’s original mystery, which had him searching for Magneto for unspecified reasons. I did find this a satisfactory resolution as a teen though, and thought that Maggott had some potential as a character. However, even then I found the character’s speech pattern annoying. In this issue, Kelly is particularly bad about cramming his dialogue with South African slang (which Kelly pulled from some website) that’s often impenetrable. Mat Broome shows up as guest artist, years after his early X-Force fill-ins. His work on X-Force has aged horribly, but most of his pages here aren’t so bad.

X-Men #77

Storm Front

Credits: Joe Kelly (writer), German Garcia (penciler), Art Thibert (inker), Liquid! (colors), Comicraft (letters)

Summary: Psylocke uses her shadow teleportation powers to take the X-Men to Africa, where Storm finds her old village empty. Ainet appears, possessed by the trickster god, Ananasi. As Storm attacks Ananasi, the rest of the X-Men disappear, emerging inside various fantasies. Psylocke manages to find Storm, telling her that Ananasi is actually a telepath and not a god. They enter the psionic plane together, where Psylocke is goaded by Ananasi into pushing her powers to their limits. Storm realizes that she was never the real target, but is unable to stop Psylocke from stabbing Ananasi with a psychic sword. A psionic event covers the earth, as Ananasi is exposed as the Shadow King.

Review: This is the first part of “Psi-War”, which I think was originally supposed to be a much larger event than it turned out to be. The story mainly consists of getting the X-Men to Africa, a few fantasy sequences, and the last page reveal of the Shadow King. It’s not exactly a shock that a story about Storm returning to Africa would have the Shadow King as the villain, especially after Psylocke reveals that Ananasi is actually a telepath mid-issue, but Kelly manages to get an enjoyable story out of this. He’s aided by German Garcia, who has a nice grasp of most of the cast and an impressive design for Ananasi. Kelly tries to shift the focus to Psylocke, as it becomes more obvious that the story is about telepaths, which is the first time a writer has tried to make some sort of statement about her character in a while. He goes the predictable route by having the Shadow King mock her identity issues, and her redundancy as the X-Men’s third-tier telepath. I think he crosses the line with too much meta-commentary (“You’ve been transmogrified and obliterated and possessed and killed so many times…you’re everyone’s plaything.”), but it’s nice to see someone using this as the starting point for a story and not an excuse to just dismiss the character.

Friday, May 15, 2009

WOLVERINE #127 - #128, August 1998 - September 1998

Wolverine #127

I’m King of the World!

Credits: Chris Claremont (writer), Lenil Francis Yu, Carlos Pacheco, Cary Nord, Jeff Matsuda, Melvin Rubi, & Mike Miller (pencilers), Tadeo/Holdredge/Alquiza/Miller (inkers), Wright & Smith (colors), Comicraft (letters)

Summary: Wolverine learns that Hydra and the Hand have teamed up to take over Madripoor. With the help of various props, he divides their forces and convinces them that Captain America and other heroes have arrived to stop them. Police chief Tai explains to Wolverine that the Hand’s leader, Matsuo Tsurayaba, is positioning himself as the new Prince of Madripoor. Meanwhile, Sabretooth teams up with Shadowcat to keep Hydra and the Hand out of Madripoor. They search for Viper, who was turned over to the Hand by a local crimelord she thought she could trust. Soon, their search leads them to an oil tanker, where Wolverine is tracking Hydra activity. The floor drops underneath them, as Matsuo Tsurayaba unveils his trap.

Continuity Notes: The former Prince of Madripoor was killed in Wolverine #98 (aka the Madripoor bloodbath issue). Police chief Tai was run over off-panel by Tyger Tiger in that issue, but I guess he got better.

For the record, Sabretooth is helping Shadowcat fight the Hand and Hydra because it’s “fun”, and because he wants Madripoor to remain an outlaw nation. Wolverine (who is wearing his ‘80s brown costume for no discernable reason) is also searching for Viper, along with Jessica Drew and Tyger Tiger, who were apparently kidnapped in-between issues.

Review: And now the story is so incomprehensible, it reads as if an entire issue has been skipped. Somehow, all of the characters are suddenly aware that Hydra and the Hand have teamed up to take over Madripoor, Viper (the character who set the story in motion) has been kidnapped off-panel, Jessica Drew and Tyger Tiger have also gone missing off-panel, there’s a political struggle for Madripoor royalty, Shadowcat and Sabretooth are working together, and Wolverine is waging a one-man war on Hydra and the Hand. Where did this stuff come from? Hydra and the Hand had brief cameos in the last issue, but there certainly wasn’t anything to set up what we’re seeing here. What is this story about? Viper marrying Wolverine? Sabretooth gaining adamantium? A power struggle for control of Madripoor? It’s certainly possible that all of these ideas could be connected, but the story hasn’t even come close to doing the job. What’s even more frustrating is the fact that a large portion of the issue consists of ridiculous scenes that have Wolverine impersonating members of the Avengers, X-Men, Fantastic Four, and the Hulk. It’s Silver Age-level silliness that has nothing to do with the actual story, and it eats up pages that could’ve covered all of the off-panel plot developments that have happened since the last issue. The art is also a mess, as six different pencilers with mostly incompatible styles turn in an obvious rush job.

Wolverine #128

Green for Death

Credits: Chris Claremont (writer), Stephen Platt & Angel Unzueta (pencilers), Banning/Mendoza/Candelaro/Hunter/Martin (inkers), Wayne Robinson (colors), Comicraft (letters)

Summary: Matsuo begins the process of brainwashing Wolverine, Sabretooth, and Shadowcat into Hand assassins. Shadowcat breaks free of her restraints and rescues Viper, Tyger Tiger, and Jessica Drew, who are secretly being held by Hydra nearby. Sabretooth escapes from his restraints and immediately attacks Wolverine again. Wolverine convinces him to stop the fight and join forces against Hydra and the Hand. After they’re defeated, Viper attempts to kill Sabretooth, but Wolverine and Shadowcat stop her. Viper declares that she will have vengeance on Sabretooth, and anyone who’s protected him. She assumes the throne of Madripoor, and issues warrants for Wolverine and Shadowcat.

Continuity Note: Viper is installed as Madripoor’s “ruling prince”, a position Wolverine claims “she only occupies as long as our symbolic ‘union’ still stands.” Don’t ask me how this works, because I can assure you it makes no sense. According to the story recap in the gatefold, Wolverine agreed to marry viper “to prevent a bloody gang war…in an effort to unify rival factions.” It would’ve been nice if the story itself ever got around to explaining that.

Review: And now we have the brutal conclusion. Somehow, this issue even manages to top the last issue in terms of sheer incomprehensibility. We’re now told, through a story recap on the inside front cover, that Wolverine and Viper married to create some sort of truce between rival gangs. This also somehow leads to Viper assuming royalty in Madripoor. What? Wolverine owns a bar in Madripoor; he’s not supposed to be some kind of monarch, is he? (And why is Viper the prince and not the princess of Madripoor?) And if her marriage to Wolverine is what gives her power, how does she get away with openly calling for his arrest (or worse)?

The rest of the issue consists of some clichéd brainwashing scenes, which I assume were supposed to call back to the popular “Lady Mandarin” storyline, but instead feel like time-killer. In another example of impenetrable storytelling, the Hand’s magics have briefly given Wolverine, Sabretooth, and Shadowcat elements of each other’s personalities. This isn’t a bad idea for a story, but it’s poorly introduced and really doesn’t go anywhere. Wolverine has to outright say that Sabretooth now has his sense of honor, which contradicts a scene from two pages earlier that had Sabretooth declaring that he has no friends and planning his lone escape. This is supposed to set up the idea that Sabretooth hates Wolverine more than ever, because he’s now lived with Wolverine’s moral center and knows that he can’t live up to who he truly is. Again, this is a perfectly fine idea, but the execution is horribly botched.

The art is actually more of a mess than the previous issue, as Stephen Platt and Angel Unzueta do another last minute job. Platt was supposed to be one of the hottest artists of the ‘90s after his much-hyped run on Moon Knight, but he seemed to disappear after leaving for Image. Wizard loved his stuff due to his McFarlane-esque obsession with detail lines and heavy ink, but what we get here is a generic, stiff, early ‘90s style job without any excessive busyness to distract from the poor drawings. Unzueta’s pages look like a bizarre mix of Carlos Pacheco and Jeff Matsuda, and they’re really not any easier on the eyes. I’d complain about their storytelling skills, but it doesn’t seem as if there was a coherent story to tell in the first place.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

WOLVERINE #125 – #126, June 1998 - July 1998

Wolverine #125

Logan’s Run!

Credits: Chris Claremont (writer), Lenil Francis Yu (penciler), Edgar Tadeo & Gerry Alanguilan (inkers), Jason Wright (colors), Comicraft (lettering)

Summary: Jubilee has dreams that merge her early adventures with Shadowcat’s. She’s awakened by Shadowcat, who explains that six of the people closest to Wolverine (Yukio, Phoenix, Jessica Drew, Rogue, Tyger Tiger, and Psylocke) have been brainwashed by Viper into kidnapping him. Viper tried to brainwash Shadowcat, but she managed to escape. With Gateway’s help, the pair travels with Lockheed to search for Wolverine in Mount Logan, and later Agarashima. Viper’s agents finally abduct Wolverine, but he’s rescued by the Black Widow in Madripoor. Shadowcat phases through Phoenix, which briefly merges their minds and nullifies the brainwashing. Wolverine, who was driven into a berserker rage after Psylocke forced him to relive the deaths of his past loves, is prepared to kill Viper. Jubilee talks him out of it, as Viper explains that Wolverine must fulfill his vow to her. Wolverine explains to the others that Viper is his wife.

Continuity Notes: Mount Logan is where Wolverine lived with Silver Fox, and the place she was killed by Sabretooth (although this had been revealed as a memory implant by this point). Agarashima is the home of Clan Yashida in Japan, and the place Wolverine’s former fiancée, Mariko, was poisoned.

Shadowcat develops a new use of her powers in this issue, which seemed to drive collective fandom mad. She phases Jubilee underground, then remains “at rest relative to the earth”, allowing the planet’s rotation to move them “thirty clicks west”. People hated this scene. Claremont’s defense was that he always intended for Shadowcat to develop these powers one day.

Review: And here we have Chris Claremont’s first return to the X-titles. Claremont returned to Marvel in an editorial role in Fall 1997, with a vaguely defined title I can’t recall (apparently, he worked with Bob Harras to oversee the “big picture” of Marvel Comics). He ended up writing this issue, I believe, because it was an anniversary issue, and someone thought it would be a nice way to announce his return to Marvel (he also ended up on Fantastic Four as a last minute replacement for Scott Lobdell, who wasn’t getting along with Bob Harras). Having Claremont back on an X-title was a big deal at the time, even though a vocal segment of fandom was pretty soured on the experience after his four-issue stint was over.

The kneejerk response some fans had when hearing of Claremont’s return was that he was just going to ignore everything that happened after he left. That’s not very fair, as all of the characters appear in their current status quos, and even Mariko’s death (which was mostly overlooked at the time it happened) is referenced. However, we do have Shadowcat commenting that her natural state is intangibility, Jubilee going back to her 1989 "Girl Wonder" look, and Gateway being called in to take the heroes where they need to go. I don’t really have a problem with Shadowcat’s intangibility issue, since I don’t recall any other writers actually resolving the story. I’m also okay with Jubilee finding her old clothes while digging through her stash at the X-Men’s old base. I think if any other writer had written those scenes, he would’ve been complimented for acknowledging past continuity. Having Jubilee spontaneously call out to Gateway for a teleportation trip doesn’t work at all, though. If she can do that, why didn’t she ask for his help after Bastion kidnapped her (or during any number of her previous adventures)? I understand that this is an anniversary issue that’s supposed to highlight the history of the lead characters, but it seems like logic is thrown out of the window in order to justify his cameo. And Gateway isn’t the only example of this, as the all-female “Wolverine Hit Team/Rescue Squad” forces the reader to make several leaps of logic.

I can understand the point Claremont’s making, that Wolverine tends to make his strongest connections with females, but the execution doesn’t quite work. For one thing, you have to ignore his friendships with Nightcrawler and Colossus and just accept that he’s closer to Rogue and Psylocke. And even if you buy into the all-female conceit, it’s hard to rationalize many of the specific characters chosen. Jessica Drew over Carol Danvers? Psylocke over Storm? Really? There’s also the question of how powerful characters like Rogue and Phoenix could’ve been overtaken by Viper’s poisons, but I’m willing to give Claremont a little slack on this one (the all-powerful Phoenix was mind controlled by the Hellfire Club back in the “Dark Phoenix Saga”, after all). However, you have to wonder why Viper has bothered to gather a half-dozen characters in order to chase down Wolverine. Why not go after him directly? There is a throwaway explanation that she “could think of no other way” to bring Wolverine to her, and that his friends knew “best how to find and capture” him. So it was easier to track down six different people from all over the earth, poison/brainwash them, arrange an elaborate kidnapping plot, and then find Wolverine? On top of this, we also have the unexplained opening that has Jubilee reliving Shadowcat’s first X-Men adventure in her sleep (Why? I'm assuming this is a part of a psychic attack by either Psylocke or Phoenix, but why merge her memories with Shadowcat's?). Plus, Wolverine somehow hopping from Canada to Japan over the course of a few minutes (I guess that’s what’s happened, since Gateway is supposed to be sending Shadowcat and Jubilee to his current locations). What’s frustrating is that the basic premise of the story is interesting. Wolverine getting chased by six of his female friends while Shadowcat and Jubilee rush to his rescue is a fun setup for a story, especially an anniversary issue. However, the story doesn’t do an awful lot to justify the all-female premise, or create motivations that stand up to real scrutiny.

All that said, I really enjoyed this comic as a teenager, and actually had fun rereading it. Despite the rickety plot, the character interactions work very well, as Claremont is able to exhibit what made Shadowcat, Jubilee, and Wolverine so appealing to the audience in the first place. Shadowcat and Jubilee have an amusing chemistry that makes me wish the previous creators had done more with the pair (I wonder how long Claremont had been planning a team-up adventure for the duo). There’s a lovely hallucination scene after Wolverine is stabbed by Psylocke’s psychic knife that has Yu turning to a more shadowy, expressionistic style reminiscent of J. H. Williams III. Watching Mariko die again draws Wolverine into his feral nature, reviving the internal “man vs. beast” conflict that Claremont defined so well for the character back in his original miniseries. He’s brought back down by Jubilee, who gives him a speech about the importance of honor and all of the ideals she’s learned from him. It could be dismissed as pure schmaltz, but it reminds me of the strong moral point of view the X-titles used to convey (before every storyline seemed to turn into an excuse to tear the characters down). So, yes, the plot is filled with holes, but the characterizations are strong enough to carry most of the weight. As for the rest of the storyline...

Wolverine #126

Blood Wedding

Credits: Chris Claremont (writer), Lenil Francis Yu (penciler), Edgar Tadeo & Gerry Alanguilan (inkers), Jason Wright (colors), Comicraft (lettering)

Summary: With the exception of Shadowcat, all of Wolverine’s friends leave Madripoor. She tries to talk Wolverine out of marrying Viper, but he declares that he’s honor bound to do it. After he exchanges vows with Viper, Sabretooth appears and kills the minster. Shadowcat takes Viper to safety as Wolverine fights Sabretooth. Shadowcat watches the fight, suspicious that something was different about Sabretooth. She discerns that his claws and skeleton have been laced with adamantium. Shadowcat shoves Wolverine off a cliff to save him, leaving her alone with Sabretooth.

Continuity Notes: Wolverine says he knew Viper years earlier when he worked with Seraph, the original owner of Madripoor’s Princess Bar. During a fight with Sabretooth, Seraph sacrificed herself to save Wolverine and Viper. Her final request was that Wolverine honor anything Viper asked of him.

Shadowcat claims that phasing through adamantium is physically painful for her, citing an early incident in the Danger Room. I know this is a retcon, but I don’t know if it contradicts any earlier occasions when Shadowcat phased through adamantium (note that the story says it’s painful for her, but not impossible). Shadowcat claims that something felt different when she phased through Sabretooth’s claws this time (which is amusing, since she’s referring to a scene that took place four pages earlier, and the art never showed his claws actually going through her body).

“Huh?” Moments: Wolverine refers to Viper as his wife twice (three times if you count last issue’s cliffhanger), and then proceeds to marry her. I think that usually works the opposite way.

As they prepare for the wedding ceremony, Shadowcat asks Wolverine if he wants to “scandalize the natives” and marry her. His response is that it’s a tempting offer. I get that the characters are supposed to be kidding, but…wow. Shadowcat also refers to herself as an X-Man, which hadn’t been true since 1987. You could cite this as an example of Claremont ignoring other creators’ work, but he’s actually the creator of Excalibur. I suppose you could argue that it’s a characterization point, and perhaps foreshadowing for her upcoming return to the team.

I Love the ‘90s: Sabretooth declares “I’m the king of the world” as he prepares to finish Wolverine. “I’m the King of the World!” is also listed as the title of the next issue, just one page later.

Review: And here’s where things get pretty dicey. Aside from the fact that Wolverine can’t seem to decide if he’s already married or not, the story doesn’t present a real motivation for either character to actually get married. I can see why Viper’s reason might be left mysterious, but it’s strange that Wolverine doesn’t seem that curious as to why she’s doing this. Wolverine’s own motivation is rushed through in a four-panel flashback that’s incredibly vague and unsatisfying. Really, they’re getting married because that’s the gimmick of the story, and apparently Claremont thinks that it’s a strong enough idea that motivations don’t really matter.

Getting past the absurd marriage storyline, this issue also introduces the adamantium-laced Sabretooth. This idea didn’t last for long, but I always thought it had potential. Now that Wolverine’s physically weaker after losing the adamantium, giving it to his deadliest enemy is a legitimate avenue to explore. This could’ve opened the doors to a new kind of Wolverine/Sabretooth fight, one where Wolverine is clearly the underdog and has to find creative ways to survive. It wasn’t meant to be, however, as Wolverine regained his adamantium a year later (I think Sabretooth lost his adamantium off-panel in an issue of Gambit). This issue’s fight between Wolverine and Sabretooth isn’t bad at all, as Claremont uses it as an opportunity to spell out his take on their conflict (Sabretooth views people as prey and Wolverine as a second-rate clone; Wolverine always has to prove himself a worthy opponent, and fight against the animal instincts Sabretooth embraces). Sabretooth’s given motive for crashing the wedding is that he just has to kill any woman Wolverine’s involved with, which is pretty amusing. The fight scene isn’t enough to save the issue, though, as it’s really a distraction from the main story, which still makes little sense.

Monday, May 11, 2009

UXM #356 - #357, June - July 1998

Uncanny X-Men #356

Reunion

Credits: Steve Seagle (writer), Chris Bachalo (penciler), Tim Townsend (inker), Steve Buccellato (colors), Comicraft (lettering)

Summary: Archangel, Iceman, and Beast travel to Alaska to visit Cyclops and Phoenix. Cyclops wants to talk to the others about developing a new version of Xavier’s dream. He confides to Beast that he’s also concerned about Phoenix. Strange birds follow the X-Men around the town, often dropping dead. Iceman is convinced that a man is following them. Meanwhile, Rogue catches Dr. Agee leaving the offices of a company named Mutopia.

Continuity Notes: Rogue is now wearing her original costume, which concerns Wolverine because of its “darker” implications. This is the third costume she’s worn in the past few months (she wore the space outfit last issue, and her standard ‘90s outfit in X-Men #75).

All of this talk about reconsidering Xavier’s dream goes nowhere, making it dropped plotline #248. I seem to recall the original solicitations for these issues actually made a big deal about Cyclops developing a new plan for the X-Men, but I don’t know what Seagle had in mind.

Review: This is another issue that would probably read better if the storylines it introduced actually went anywhere. Without a payoff to the Phoenix or “new dream” storylines, it feels mostly pointless. Seagle does handle the interactions between the characters well enough, so at least the lengthy conversation scenes aren't dull. The conversation between Cyclops and Beast also manages to make Cyclops’ concern over Jean feel more legitimate than it has in the previous issues, in part because it acknowledges the established continuity that Jean never was Phoenix and allows Beast to play devil’s advocate. But, once again, it’s setting up an idea that went nowhere, making the scene more frustrating than anything. Bachalo’s art is getting cartoonier and cartoonier, which looks nice on Beast, Wolverine, and most of the female characters, but also creates bizarre interpretations of Cyclops and Archangel.

Uncanny X-Men #357

The Sky Is Falling

Credits: Steve Seagle (writer), Dan Norton (penciler), Dexter Vines & Scott Hanna (inkers), Steve Buccellato (colors), Comicraft (lettering)

Summary: The city of Ptarmigan Creek is attacked by a murder of crows. The X-Men chase the birds away and soon split up to investigate. They later converge when the crows amass a giant bird form inside the town. Cyclops blasts the bird congregation and it disappears. Iceman claims that he defeated the birds because he knocked out Moon Wolf, the shaman who allegedly summoned them to punish the town for stealing Inuit land. Phoenix thinks that destroying the mechanical crow she found in the murder ended the threat. Archangel and Beast wonder if local pollution caused the problem. Iceman questions why no one believes his theory, as a mystical bird flies out of the eyes of the unconscious shaman.

Continuity Notes: Dr. Agee is discussing Rogue with his sister Rebecca, whose mutation he claims to have cured. Rebecca is finally revealed as an inhuman-looking monster living inside a tube.

Bishop and Deathbird are hurtling into a sun, which doesn’t exactly fit where their subplot left off. Bishop tells Deathbird he loves her in order to convince her to free him, which allows him to pull their ship out of the sun’s orbit. He claims that the nearby planet won’t be so lucky, which I assume is a reference to the planet they were caught in the pull of in their last appearance.

Melissa, the sister-in-law of the local sheriff (who’s also Cyclops and Phoenix’s neighbor), receives a decent amount of attention during this storyline. She stumbles across the team’s secret and shows that she’s trustworthy, while also serving as a potential love interest for Archangel. Seagle likely had plans for the character, which of course means she disappeared very quickly.

Creative Differences: The Bullpen Bulletins acknowledges that the description of the previous issue, “the original five X-Men confront the threat of the PHOENIX reborn”, wasn’t accurate. The writer claims that the X-Creators came up with another great idea for this issue, but “maybe we can convince the X-Writers to do this story after all – it sounds like a goodie to us!”

Seven issues into the new direction, and Marvel’s already dropping hints that things are changing soon. After printing a letter from a fan upset by the new lineup, the response says that the title will undergo another change in issue #360.

Review: This is the most frustrating issue of Seagle’s run so far. Remember last issue’s cliffhanger, which had Cyclops ready to discuss a new direction for the X-Men? Hope you weren’t too intrigued, as the story is dropped in three panels by the second page (Phoenix kicks Cyclops under the table, because there’s no need to “rush the serious stuff”). As horrible as it sounds, that’s actually a more satisfactory resolution for the story than many of the other subplots received during this era. The action sequences consist of what you would probably expect to see in an “X-Men versus birds” fight, although Seagle adds the wrinkle that the team doesn’t want to use its powers in public. This doesn’t exactly work if you can remember all of the times the various X-telepaths used their powers to cloud the public’s perceptions of an open fight, but the story’s really committed to the secrecy angle.

The intentionally vague resolution, which presents three different explanations for why the bird invasion stopped (and another explanation for what caused it), also doesn’t work. If this wasn’t in the middle of a run filled with vague hints and dangling plotlines, it might’ve come across as clever, but that’s clearly not the context the story appeared in. The ending points towards Moon Wolf as the real culprit, although that’s hard to square with the sheriff’s claims that the man takes responsibility for everything, including the Unibomber attacks. Seagle was probably going with the idea that the Inuit god just happened to possess this man who’s insane, but keeping it as an intentional mystery is just annoying. The fill-in art comes from Dan Norton, who turns in a Joe Madureira/J. Scott Campbell pastiche. It’s actually not bad, which leads me to wonder why he didn’t show up on the X-titles more often.

Friday, May 8, 2009

X-MEN #74 – #75, April - May 1998

X-Men #74

Rituals

Credits: Joe Kelly (writer), Carlos Pacheco (penciler), Art Thibert (inker), Comicraft (lettering), Chris Lichtner & Aron Lusen (colors)

Summary: Archangel revisits the scene of the Morlock Massacre, as Marrow attends to the wounded Callisto nearby. Archangel is attacked by the Abomination, who is now living in the sewers. Marrow, who has idolized Archangel since she was a child, helps him defeat Abomination. Meanwhile in Salem Center, Wolverine investigates a series of murders which might’ve been committed by Maggott’s slugs. He’s attacked from behind, and awakens with a scar on his chest. Maggott is standing nearby, asking forgiveness.

Continuity Notes: A mystery man is helping to keep Callisto alive. The implication is that it’s the Dark Beast, but this is another dropped plot.

The X-Men’s favorite tavern, Harry’s Hideaway, makes an odd appearance. It’s now a 50's-style burger joint that’s way off-model from its previous appearances. Harry himself is also off-model, and doesn’t know that Wolverine is a mutant, which contradicts hints Claremont dropped that he was in on the X-Men’s secret.

Wolverine presents the local authorities with a detective’s badge that reads “Jim Logan”. Years later, James was revealed as his real first name, but I refuse to give Bill Jemas and company credit for researching back issues and referencing this one.

Review: Marrow receives her softest portrayal yet, as Kelly picks up on the revelation that she witnessed Archangel’s mutilation during the Morlock Massacre and reveals that she actually idolizes him with a religious fervor. He takes the idea too far by having her pray “to he who was crucified and reborn”, but I can see where he’s going with it. It’s conceivable that a young Marrow, before growing up in a Darwinist alternate dimension, would’ve been enthralled by the sight of an angel and held on to it over the years. It gives her a connection with at least one of the X-Men, and presents a side of her personality outside of “horrifically nasty”. The fight with Abomination is just an excuse to give the two characters something to do together, but it’s excellently delivered by Pacheco, who has been producing solid work throughout this run. The tease for the next issue involving Wolverine and Maggott is also interesting, playing off the fact that Maggott is still a total mystery and might be capable of anything.

X-Men #75

Anatomy of a Monster

Credits: Joe Kelly (writer), German Garcia (penciler), Art Thibert w/Panosian, Hanna, & Holdredge (inkers), Digital Chameleon (colors), Comicraft (lettering)

Summary: Wolverine discerns that Maggott’s slugs weren’t responsible for the murders in Salem Center and heads for the N’Garai cairn near the mansion. He’s joined by Beast, Marrow, and Cecilia Reyes, while the rest of the team tracks down a distraught Maggott. After finding him, they’re suddenly teleported to the Ukraine. They enter the nearby N’Garai cairn and are reunited with the rest of the X-Men inside the N’Garai’s dimension. They soon learn that the murders were actually committed by Pilgrimm, a member of the N’Garai’s former slave caste, the Ru’Tai. The race is powered by the Eye of Kierokk, which Reyes manages to accidentally destroy. The X-Men rescue the Ru’Tai’s human captives and return to Earth. Pilgrimm, however, disguises himself as a human and escapes.

Continuity Notes: When Rogue tries to defend Marrow’s place on the team by mentioning her own criminal past, Storm responds, “You never took a life”. So I guess the X-Men do know that Marrow’s a murderer, which again makes me wonder why they haven’t placed her in custody.

The Ru’Tai were inspired to revolt against the N’Garai after witnessing Wolverine’s slaughter of the N’Garai months earlier. It’s not outright stated, but I assume this is a reference to the Wolverine ’95 annual. The Ru’Tai have labeled Wolverine the “Mai’Keth” and idolize him, although they doubt that he is the Mai’Keth when he stops fighting and berates himself for inadvertently causing the murders in Salem Center. Pilgrimm has been dissecting people because he was given the task of “study(ing) humans for enlightenment”.

Review: This one doesn’t entirely work, but it has its moments. Apparently, Carlos Pacheco is gone by this point (he signs his cover with “see you”), leading German Garcia to come in with a fill-in that the letters column admits was a last minute job. I recall disliking his work as a teenager, but I don’t see any real faults with it today. His work here somehow manages to merge John Romita, Jr. with Mike Wieringo, and while it probably suffers from having to work too many panels into most of the pages, it’s not bad at all. The plot is an entertaining action story with some nice character moments, but it doesn’t exactly work as a resolution to the ongoing storyline. There’s no explanation for why exactly Maggott’s slugs are so attracted to the Ru’Tai, or why they were abandoning Maggott over the past few days (perhaps because they were drawn to the Ru’Tai’s presence in Salem Center, but it’s not confirmed in the issue). And if the Ru’Tai are supposed to worship Wolverine as an idol, it doesn’t make sense for Pilgrimm to have attacked him in the previous issue. I also have no idea why half of the team was transported to the Ukraine, unless this somehow ties into a connection between Maggott and the Ru’Tai. It’s the characterizations that save the issue, as Kelly is able to keep the cast members distinct and maintain sharp dialogue throughout the story. The bits of comedy thrown in, such as Cecilia Reyes getting stuck in one of the Wasp’s old costumes that the Beast borrowed, also keep things fun.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

WOLVERINE #123 – #124, April – May 1998

WOLVERINE #123

“Better Than Best!”

Credits: Tom DeFalco (writer), Denys Cowan & Bill Sienkiewicz (artists), Comicraft (lettering), Jason Wright (colors)

Summary: Wolverine ponders his New Year’s resolution as he’s abducted by Bloodscream and Roughouse, who are working for a crimelord in New York. He escapes his manacles by breaking his wrist, and then faces the duo. The fight destroys their hideout, allowing Wolverine to walk away victorious.

Continuity Notes: This issue ignores the fact that Roughouse reformed during the Goodwin/Byrne issues of the series, and the X-Men Unlimited story that had Bloodscream lost in a mystical vortex with Belasco (Bloodscream was trying to “redeem his humanity” in that story, so that’s two reformations ignored in one issue). Wolverine’s New Year’s resolution, as revealed in X-Men #73, was to “be the best there is at what I do…and to figure out what that is” (which isn’t an exact quote from that issue, but close enough).

Review: I’m not sure why, but it seems like Tom DeFalco became the standard Wolverine fill-in guy during this era (I think he also wrote the Wolverine cyber-comic for Marvel’s website). It’s interesting that someone within the X-titles, like John Francis Moore or new writers like Ben Raab and Joe Casey, weren’t brought in to do these stories. I’m sure even Larry Hama would’ve come back to do a few more issues if he had been asked. I don’t say this to dismiss DeFalco, who has written some enjoyable comics over the years, but he just seems like an odd choice for the title. If you’re willing to overlook the continuity problems with this one, it’s a tolerable fill-in. The plot’s extremely light, but DeFalco gives Wolverine enough personality to keep the story from feeling too generic. Any edge in the comic comes from the combination of Denys Cowan and Bill Sienkiewicz, who predictably make the art as dark and gritty as possible.

WOLVERINE #124

Invisible Destroyers!

Credits: Tom DeFalco (writer), Denys Cowan & Bill Sienkiewicz (artists), Comicraft (lettering), Jason Wright (colors)

Summary: Outside of a public appearance by Captain America , Wolverine suspects something is wrong. He enters the building and is confronted by invisible foes. Captain America joins the fight, as their opponent is revealed as Rascal, who is trying to build a reputation with his men, the Rodents. Wolverine, who was questioning his instincts earlier, is able to see through Rascal’s suicide bluff, which enables Captain America to defeat him.

I Love the ‘90s: There are two separate Spice Girls references in this issue.

“Huh?” Moment: Wolverine’s narrative captions make such little sense on one page, I can only assume that a major typo occurred. After commenting that his instincts were wrong about sensing danger inside (which is blatantly false), Wolverine goes on to say, “Does that mean I should stop doubtin’ myself, I never once questioned my senses until today..Does that mean I should stop doubtin’ myself -- or keep questionin’ my instincts?!” I’m assuming the letterer accidentally retyped the wrong lines from the script, or some lines were changed by editorial but not fully corrected.

Review: And here we have the legendary debut of Rascal and the Rodents. To be fair, Rascal’s motivation for killing Captain America, only for self-serving publicity reasons, is somewhat novel. However, the man’s name is Rascal, and his henchmen are called the Rodents. Unless you’re fighting Adam West in 1960s primetime, this is really inexcusable. This is the type of story that seems tailor made for annoying seventeen year olds who really want to take their superhero comics seriously. Aside from the fact that the story is obviously time-killer, large sections of the dialogue consist of dull exposition (explaining things that have already been made very clear), and awkward banter between the two heroes. The rough, scratchy art isn’t bad, but it’s flagrantly inappropriate for such a Silver Age throwback story.

Monday, May 4, 2009

X-MEN #73 - March 1998 & UXM #355 - May 1998

X-Men #73

The Elements Within Us

Credits: Joe Kelly (writer), Joe Casey (script assist), Jeff Johnson (penciler), Dan Panosian (inker), Comicraft (lettering), Steve Oliff & Digital Chameleon (colors)

Summary: The X-Men receive a letter from Professor Xavier, but Wolverine is suspicious of its origin. Later, Joseph asks to speak to Maggott about his relationship with Magneto. Maggott is reluctant, because he knows Joseph isn’t Magneto after coming across the real Magneto in Antarctica. Their conversation is interrupted by Sabra, who attacks Joseph. Maggott stops the fight by convincing her that he isn’t really Magneto. Joseph abruptly decides to leave with Sabra, hoping that he can learn the truth about his past from her.

Continuity Notes: The continuity in this issue doesn’t work with the events of Uncanny at the time. UXM #353-#354 all feature Joseph, so they must take place before he leaves the mansion in this issue. However, #355 takes places directly after #354 (which ends with Rogue leaving the mansion), and it explicitly says that Joseph has left the team by this point. The only way for this to work is for the final few pages of #354, Rogue’s departure scene, to take place after this issue.

The story takes place on New Year’s Eve, and has the team making resolutions. Beast’s is to cure the Legacy Virus, which Cecilia Reyes bets him he cannot do within the year. This ties in with the house ad that hyped a resolution to the storyline in 1998, but it didn’t happen until three years later.

There are, of course, numerous subplot scenes in this issue. Sebastian Shaw receives a lot of focus in the issue, debating his future, before finally deciding to join forces with a mystical entity. This one is particularly frustrating, since it takes up so much space and is never resolved. The package addressed to Storm is making its way to America, and somehow African tribesmen are in a German post office, ensuring that it gets through (they might be a mental projection, it’s hard to tell). Senator Kelly is searching for Professor Xavier at Bastion’s abandoned New Mexico base, but he isn’t there. Finally, Marrow returns to the mansion after her fight with Wolverine and steals Cecilia Reyes’ doctor’s bag (since Marrow also made cameos in UXM during this time, this makes the continuity even harder to work out).

Review: This one looks pretty rough in retrospect, although I recall liking it at the time. Kelly tries to move some storylines along while still focusing on the characters, so we end up with the X-Men making New Year’s resolutions as a multitude of subplots carry on in the background. None of the resolutions are particularly insightful, (Wolverine’s is to “be the best there is at what I do…soon as I figure out just what that is”, a line I seem to recall Kelly mocking in his writing column for the early Newsarama) but there are a few nice moments with Beast.

Maggott and Joseph’s conversation seems to be a “let’s just get this done” formality, and it somehow turns into a rushed exit scene for Joseph. This is really just awkward all around, as Maggott was given an unexplained motive for finding Magneto in his early appearances, which was quickly dismissed when he joined the team (for equally vague reasons). Joseph was supposed to be Magneto, although no one bothered to explain how he ended up in his current state. Then, suddenly, he wasn’t Magneto, but was left on the team with nothing to do. It seems like the creators just want to ditch him at this point, so he gets the token conversation with Maggott out of the way, and then runs off with Sabra. Sabra’s addition doesn’t make a lot of sense either, as the Mossad agent is now working on her own, determined to kill Magneto. She’s never been concerned about him before, but now she’s hell-bent on killing him after he murdered a counterfeiter (not even in Israel, but in Prague). She claims that she has to do this “for my people” (presumably because she thinks Magneto’s a poor representative for Jews), but that’s not a very convincing motivation. And I have no idea why Joseph thinks she can help him learn about his past, or why he feels the need to leave without even saying goodbye to the others. It just reads as if someone wanted Joseph gone and no one actually worked out the logistics of how it was supposed to happen.

Uncanny X-Men #355

North & South

Credits: Steve Seagle (writer), Chris Bachalo (penciler), Tim Townsend w/Beatty & Smith (inkers), Comicraft (lettering), Steve Buccellato (colors)

Summary: As Wolverine takes the captive Sauron to Manhattan, he’s attacked by Alpha Flight. Meanwhile, Rogue visits Dr. Agee, who claims that he can remove genetic mutations. After her consultation, she flies past Wolverine’s fight. She recruits the other X-Men for help, and Alpha Flight is quickly defeated. Heather Hudson realizes that Department H lied to the team, claiming that Wolverine had killed Alpha Flight member Madison Jeffries. Wolverine shakes hands with Heather and the teams part amicably. Meanwhile, Cyclops expresses his concerns to Phoenix over her decision to wear the original Phoenix costume.

Continuity Notes: This is supposed to represent the X-Men’s perspective during their appearance in Alpha Flight from around this time. This was mentioned in an earlier Bullpen Bulletins, but I don’t see any indication within the issue itself. The reason why Alpha Flight is behaving strangely is apparently because they’re being brainwashed (I never followed Seagle’s Alpha Flight, and it’s my understanding that it’s also filled with unresolved mysteries).

Phoenix is wearing her original costume because she’s “tired of suppressing (her) abilities” and wants to “empower” herself. Cyclops is afraid that this might be a sign that she’s following the original Phoenix’s path. Speaking of costumes, Rogue is back to wearing the space suit she wore during the previous year’s Phalanx storyline for no apparent reason.

Review: This is mostly a commercial for the second volume of Alpha Flight, and it’s not a very good one since most of the characters aren’t very interesting and I don’t really understand what’s going on. I can understand why Seagle thought an Alpha Flight appearance could work as an excuse for a fight scene and as promotion for the title, but it just comes across as pointless. Bachalo’s art saves some of this, but for the most part it’s pretty dull.

The Rogue subplot continues, as she makes the first step in removing her powers. This is pretty much the most obvious story you can do with Rogue (as evidenced by the fact that the original cartoon and the third movie used the same idea), so it’s surprising that the comics themselves had never gone in this direction. Rogue was even targeted with a power-neutralizing gun during the original Claremont run, but he didn't take the obvious bait and have Rogue consider if getting hit would’ve been a good thing. I don’t have a problem with obvious ideas as long as the writer gets decent material out of them, so I can’t hold this against Seagle. Unfortunately, Rogue’s story is barely touched on in this issue, as the Alpha Flight fight takes up most of the space.

The Phoenix storyline is another one that I remember getting a lot of play before being totally ignored. Cyclops’ fears resurrect all kinds of continuity issues that probably should’ve been left alone. At the time, the established continuity was that the Phoenix was a cosmic entity who copied Jean Grey’s form, and that Jean never was the Phoenix. Seagle seems to be going back to the pre-retcon idea that the Phoenix represents Jean’s ultimate potential as a mutant, which makes Cyclops wonder if history is going to repeat itself. I don’t see how this story can work without retconning the retcons, because if you accept that Jean never was Phoenix, there’s not a lot of conflict here. Unless Cyclops thinks that the cosmic entity has returned (which isn’t where Seagle seems to be going with this), that means that he’s upset about his wife changing outfits. And if Jean never was Phoenix, then it’s hard to explain why exactly she’s creating fiery bird imagery and wants to wear the old costume (as for the name change, this was explained years earlier as a tribute to Rachel Summers, who did carry the Phoenix Force for a while). Maybe Seagle did have a plan that made sense within continuity and actually said something about Jean Grey’s character, but it just seems like shock value at this point. And since this turned out to be another dropped plot, it’s even more annoying in retrospect.

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