Monday, June 29, 2009

UXM #373 & X-MEN #93 – October 1999

Uncanny X-Men #373

Beauty & the Beast Part One – Broken Mirrors

Credits: Alan Davis (plot), Terry Kavanagh (script), Adam Kubert & Rob Jensen (pencilers), Batt, Dan Panosian, & Vince Russell (inkers), Liquid! (colors), Comicraft (letters)

Summary: Marrow dreams of her harsh childhood before waking up in a hotel room outside of Boston. Her travelling companion, Colossus, asks her to view one of his paintings that is on display nearby. At the art gallery, an artist named Zone flirts with Marrow. When she loses control of her bone growths, he’s revolted. She tries to leave with Colossus, but they’re suddenly teleported away. They arrive in what appears to be the Morlock Tunnels. Marrow spots Callisto and runs after her. Colossus is greeted by Mikhail Rasputin, who tells him that with their combined efforts, their sister Illyana can be revived. Meanwhile, Deathbird arrives in Egypt, declaring the return of the Living Monolith.

Production Note: Marvel’s cover format changes again this month. The Comics Code seal is now tucked into the corner, and the cover dates are gone. There was a rumor at the time that Marvel dropped cover dates because it was embarrassed by the large number of late Marvel Knights titles, but I have no idea if this is true. The first page indicias still list the date, for what it’s worth.

Review: Marvel might’ve hyped “The Shattering” as a big event, but it really turned out to be an excuse for Alan Davis to do traditional stories about teammates going off in groups and having brief adventures together. This title focuses on Colossus and Marrow, while Nightcrawler, Rogue, and Shadowcat have an adventure in X-Men. These types of stories were common in UXM in the ‘80s, but by this point, I guess they had to be done under the banner of a “massive event that changes everything!”

This storyline is designed to showcase Marrow’s new status quo and to bring her closer to Colossus. From a story perspective, I’m not sure why she was getting closer to Colossus at the same time she was forming a bond with Gambit, but there is an unexplored continuity connection between the duo. Colossus’ brother, Mikhail, is the ruler of the Darwinist world Marrow grew up in, so it makes sense to bring them together in a story that uses him as the villain. I’m sure no one had this in mind when Colossus and Marrow were placed on the team together, but the fact that Davis saw the connection at least shows that he was using the characters as more than just ciphers. He also has portrays Colossus as sympathetic towards Xavier's apparent breakdown, due to his own past, which uses a sketchy area of continuity to the story's advantage.

Mikhail Rasputin was never that great of a villain (he was introduced during the chaotic string of issues Whilce Portacio and Jim Lee plotted), but if Colossus’ brother is out there in continuity, someone probably should do a Colossus story with him. This is mostly set-up, but there are a few nice moments between Colossus and Marrow, and Kavanagh’s scripting is more believably human than it has been in the past. Rob Jensen, a name I don’t recognize, draws half of the issue. He’s the second fill-in artist in a row with a style compatible with Kubert’s, so at least the transition isn’t jarring.

X-Men #93

Hidden Lives Part One – Open Wounds

Credits: Alan Davis (plot & pencils), Terry Kavanagh (script), Mark Farmer (inker), Glynis Oliver (colors), Comicraft (lettering)

Summary: In Manhattan, Mystique narrowly escapes a ninja attack. Nearby, Nightcrawler, Rogue, and Shadowcat are having dinner. Shadowcat and Rogue go dancing, while Nightcrawler visits a church and prays. There, he meets Polaris. She asks for his help, claiming that someone is following her. Mystique tracks Rogue to the nightclub and asks for her help. At her apartment, Mystique explains to Rogue and Shadowcat that armed ninjas have been chasing her. Soon, Rogue investigates a ransacked apartment Mystique keeps under another alias. More ninjas appear and she fights them off. Suddenly, Sunfire enters and attacks.

Continuity Notes: The cover copy is just outright wrong, since Sabretooth isn’t hunting Mystique. He’s not even in this issue; Mystique adopts his form while fighting the ninjas.

A one-page scene reveals Japanese agents, the Yakiba, are in a nearby submarine spying on Mystique. They’ve hired the ninjas, and it’s implied that Sunfire is also working for them. Another subplot scene has “Mastermind” and “Mesmero” (their shadows reveal them as Skrulls) discussing Mystique. She’s been spying on them, but the Skrull disguised as Mastermind is content to let the Yakiba deal with her.

Rogue picks up a new costume from Mystique’s apartment. It’s a green and black outfit that’s very reminiscent of her late ‘80s costume. Marvel should’ve stuck with it, since it’s better than any costume I’ve seen her in since this issue.

For the sake of nitpicking, I’ll point out that Rogue mentally refers to herself as a “Louisiana river rat”. She’s actually from Mississippi. I’ll also mention that Mystique has a photo of her and Rogue taken while Rogue was a young girl. This seems to be going back to the idea that Mystique took care of Rogue before her mutant powers even surfaced (which was contradicted by the infamous X-Men Unlimited #4).

This is Polaris’ first appearance since Havok’s “death”, which is how the X-Factor series ended. She’s convinced that he isn’t dead, which is accurate. He’s been shifted to another reality in Mutant X. Except for one line of dialogue a few issues earlier, this is the first time Havok’s death was even mentioned in the main titles. Even if the readers know he’s not dead, it’s ridiculous that none of the X-Men (especially Cyclops) were given a reaction.

Review: Even more than the UXM storyline, this arc reminds me of Claremont’s early work, or something Davis would’ve done in Excalibur. Most of the story consists of vague hints for upcoming events, but it also leaves plenty of room for characters to interact with one another, or to have long inner monologues. The characters are more important than the specific story, which is something that gets lost along the way when an “event” has to happen every few issues.

Something interesting is actually done with Mystique for the first time in ages, as it’s revealed that she maintains multiple identities in her free time. This issue we learn that she’s secretly billionaire financier B. Byron Biggs and supermodel Ronnie Lake. That’s a great idea that opens the door for a multitude of stories (I don’t know if it was picked up on in her solo series, but it should’ve been). Her relationship with Rogue is handled well, as they discuss Destiny’s death and their past together (since Destiny helped raise Rogue as well, it seems like she should’ve had more of a reaction to it over the years). We also have Nightcrawler expressing his condolences to Polaris over Havok’s apparent death, which helps to revive the “family” feel the various X-characters once had with one another. Towards the end of the issue, Rogue gets a Claremontian inner monologue that has her reflecting on her relationship with Mystique, the fact that she’s still unable to control her powers, and her place with the X-Men. Like most of this issue’s script, it’s an improvement for Kavanagh, whose work is usually more wooden. A tolerable script combined with Davis’ typically excellent artwork means this issue isn’t bad at all.

Friday, June 26, 2009

UXM #372 & X-MEN #92 – September 1999

Uncanny X-Men #372

Dreams End Chapter One - Rude Awakenings

Credits: Alan Davis (plot), Terry Kavanagh (script), Adam Kubert (penciler), Batt (inker), Liquid! (colors), Comicraft (letters)

Summary: Professor Xavier awakens the team in the middle of the night to test their reaction time. They spend hours training in the Danger Room, as Xavier grows more demanding and distant. When Gambit feels that Xavier is pushing Marrow too hard, he storms off. Later, Xavier agrees to speak only to Storm in his study. She emerges, telling Nightcrawler to call Jean Grey. Elsewhere, Renee Majcomb and Nina hide out in a hotel room. Nina begins to cry and disappears. She’s greeted by the Mannites. Meanwhile, Bishop and Deathbird discover a giant fossilized mutant in space.

Continuity Notes: Storm’s new costume debuts. It only lasted a few months because all of the X-Men received new costumes during the 2000 revamp. Alan Davis revived the costume when he returned in 2004, and she wears a modified version of it today (in the current version, her legs are bare).

Review: This is the beginning of the “Shattering” crossover, although the actual title inside the book is “Dreams End” (a phrase that really does get used a lot). This really just hammers home the idea that Xavier is acting strangely and alienating the X-Men. It’s capably handled, but there’s nothing exciting going on. You could conceivably do anything with a Danger Room sequence, but we only see the team fighting generic robots for page after page. Adam Kubert seems to lose interest in these scenes, as they become less detailed and energetic as the issue goes on. The rest of the issue consists of subplot scenes, ones that actually do tie into the main story eventually. It’s nice to see that Bishop hasn’t been totally forgotten, although I have to wonder why Nina is showing up again. I don’t hate her as much as some fans do, but it does seem as if the X-office thought a lot more of the character than anyone else did.

X-Men #92

Dreams End Chapter Two – Pressure Points

Credits: Alan Davis (plot), Terry Kavanagh (script), Jeff Johnson (penciler), Cam Smith (inker), Javins, Becton, & Hicks (colors), Comicraft (letters)

Summary: Cyclops and Phoenix arrive at the mansion. Upset with Xavier, Gambit quits the team, while most of the others plan vacations. Xavier speaks to Cyclops and Phoenix separately, and then berates the team when he learns most of them are leaving. Wolverine offers to stay, but Xavier abruptly tells him to leave too. Storm is sent to contact X-Force about replacing the missing members. Meanwhile, Nina enters the mind of her fellow Mannite, Beautiful Dreamer, where she sees an image of a monster. Nina tries to telepathically contact Xavier, but her plea is picked up by Phoenix. In space, Bishop is shot in the back by Deathbird while they’re examining the fossilized mutant.

Continuity Notes: Deathbird betrays Bishop because she “got a better offer”. This is foreshadowing for the upcoming Apocalypse storyline. Bishop awakens in the barren desert, next to a sign pointing towards Las Vegas. An editor’s caption says the upcoming Bishop: The Last X-Man solo series has the answers.

The story of Cyclops, Phoenix, Nina, and the Mannites is continued in the Astonishing X-Men miniseries. I’ve never read it, but it’s widely viewed as terrible. A typical line of Mannite dialogue reads like this, “That’s why Glub bringed you. You been eb’rywhere, you know eb’rybody”, so I’m sure they added a lot to the series. The letters column in this issue is dedicated solely to people’s responses to the Astonishing X-Men teaser image Marvel ran online. I seem to recall Marvel hyping it months in advance, positioning it as a possible third major X-Men title.

Review: I don’t want to beat up on Terry Kavanagh too much, but this is another issue that’s held back by poor dialogue. The idea behind “The Shattering” is that the X-Men are falling apart, and this is mostly a conversation-driven issue that’s supposed to split the team in different directions. Even if a conversation has a strong start, it’s only a few lines before a metric ton of backstory is awkwardly shoved in. It’s not enough for Phoenix to say, “Every time we come back, no matter how long we’ve been gone” as she and Cyclops arrive at the mansion. The next line, she has to throw in, “This is the only home either of us knew for so many years, since the moment our mutant powers first manifested…the moment we had to begin hiding what we were from humanity, our friends and our family.” Cyclops can’t just respond, “Do we have a choice? Professor Xavier’s in bad shape, according to Storm.” He has to add, “Frustrated and worn down by the strain of the past few months -- his imprisonment, Cerebro’s betrayal, Magneto’s rise to power in Genosha -- the X-Men’s failure to save the Skrull homeworld from Galactus must have been the last straw.” I get that every issue is (allegedly) someone’s first and all of that, but is this really the best way to treat past continuity? The characters don’t sound real, so it’s hard to buy into the drama the story’s trying to sell. Cyclops has a few nice lines, questioning if the X-Men will always prevent him from having a normal life, but the rest of the characterizations are just flat.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

X-MEN #91& '99 Annual – August 1999

X-Men #91

Technical Difficulties

Credits: Alan Davis (plot), Terry Kavanagh (script), Andrew Robinson & Dan Panosian (art), Marie Javins (colors), Comicraft (letters)

Summary: Major Sole unveils a new Deathlok, despite Nick Fury’s objections. Meanwhile, Shadowcat, Nightcrawler, and Colossus follow Douglock’s trail to the nearby SHIELD helicarrier. Douglock overtakes the craft by mentally controlling the crew. Nick Fury goes into hiding and plots a way to fight back. Later, Douglock tries to resist the Red Skull, who is controlling his body.

Review: Most of this is M-Tech setup, so it’s not particularly engaging. Davis keeps the action scenes on Muir Island, while the rest of the cast has some downtime at the mansion. Rogue (who wasn’t with the team when Ejulp kidnapped them) is just returning from the Magneto Rex miniseries. She apparently feels guilty about “chasing after the Magneto she remembered” (I’m paraphrasing because I don’t feel like retyping her phonetically spelled accent), and wants to make it up to Gambit with a night out. Instead, she gets stuck listening to recaps of the past few issues of this storyline, and then runs away when Wolverine demands she tell him what’s going on in Genosha. The story toys with the idea that Rogue’s jealous of Gambit’s new relationship with Marrow, but nothing really comes of it. This is the only real character work in this issue, and it only works if you buy the meeker interpretation of Rogue, the girl who just can’t quit that rascal Gambit. This issue is probably most notable for the bizarre fill-in art. Andrew Robinson has an extremely cartoony style, which results in some facial expressions that are better suited for Saturday morning television than a superhero comic. He pulls off a few nice Rick Leonardi-style panels, but most of his pages are just distracting. Dan Panosian apparently drew the last few pages of the story, and his sketchy, more angular style doesn’t match Robinson’s look, although I guess both artists could be labeled “cartoony”.

X-Men Annual ‘99

Metal Works

Credits: Alan Davis (plot), Terry Kavanagh (script), Rick Leonardi (penciler), Bob Wiacek (inker), Joe Rosas (colors), Bullpen/D.S. & P.T. (letters)

Summary: Nightcrawler, Shadowcat, Colossus and Nick Fury develop a plan to stop the Red Skull. Meanwhile, the Red Skull forces Major Sole to develop neural implants similar to the ones Douglock has created, which will enable him to command an army. Douglock, unable to free himself from the Red Skull’s control, commands Deathlok to kill him. Shadowcat arrives and tries to talk Douglock out of suicide. Elsewhere, Colossus and Machine Man free the imprisoned SHIELD agents, while Nightcrawler and Nick Fury confront the Red Skull. When Nightcrawler teleports the Red Skull’s techno-organic hand away, his hold over Douglock disappears. The remaining X-Men arrive and help most of the crew escape. However, Red Skull manages to escape with a few SHIELD agents under his command.

Continuity Notes: This story takes place after Captain America (vol. 3) #19. The Red Skull’s final wish from the Cosmic Cube was to be taken “somewhere safe…far away from people…to find a power that can control the world”. He was sent to Muir Island, where he was discovered by Douglock. After touching him, the Red Skull’s left hand became techno-organic, and he was granted control over Douglock. I have no idea if this specific storyline, which has him escaping in the SHIELD helicarrier, was ever resolved.

Commercial Break: This issue has ads for both the R-rated American Pie movie, and the Disney Channel original movie Smart House. There’s also a Kool-Aid on the back that declares “Grown-ups have to pay for stuff…but kids have the Kool-Aid ticket to fun”. Pre-Quesada, Marvel’s entire line consisted of all-ages material, even though the majority of its audience was probably over eighteen. I’m not sure if Kool-Aid or the Disney Channel actually knew this, but it’s interesting that Marvel was able to get away with advertising adult material and kids products at the same time. You would think having a broad appeal to advertisers would’ve been attractive to Marvel, but they’ve made a decision to target most of their titles towards older fans and move the all-ages material over to its own separate line.

Review: And now the M-Tech material is almost unbearable. With the exception of Shadowcat’s brief attempt at talking Douglock out of suicide, there’s really no characterization here, so you’re left with a fairly generic action story with the X-Men plugged inside. The Red Skull does have potential as an X-Men villain, since it’s logical that he would hate mutants as much as any other minority group, but the story doesn’t use him very effectively. Leonardi’s art is fine, and the plot is more bland than truly objectionable, yet the final product is just a chore to finish. Kavanagh’s script is so wordy, packed with unnecessary exposition and techno-babble, that it’s absolutely no fun to read. To make matters worse, for some reason this issue was lettered internally at Marvel’s Bullpen. It’s a rather crude attempt at computer lettering, which often has letters within the same word spaced far apart from one another. A text-heavy comic with ugly text is just inexcusable, period. If the goal of this storyline was to build up excitement for the M-Tech line, I’m afraid it might’ve had the opposite effect.


Monday, June 22, 2009

X-MEN #90 & UXM #371, July 1999 – August 1999

X-Men #90

Eve of Destruction

Credits: Alan Davis (plot & pencils), Terry Kavanagh (scripter), Mark Farmer (inker), Gloria Vasquez & Marie Javins (colors), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (letters)

Summary: Xavier enters his psi-form and tries to dissuade Galactus from consuming the Skrull’s planet. Meanwhile, Shadowcat rescues Wolverine from a Skrull army, with the help of her new allies, the Skrull versions of Thunderbird, Adam Warlock, and Captain Marvel. Nearby, Marrow emerges from her healing pod, and is now beautiful and in control of her powers. The team reunites, as Galactus sends Xavier’s consciousness back into his body. While Galactus consumes the planet, the team escapes in a spaceship. Shadowcat places the X-Men in suspended animation as they travel home. They arrive outside of Earth a few days in the past, as Magneto is creating an electro-magnetic pulse. A disruption knocks their ship off-course.

Continuity Notes: The Adam Warlock Skrull was “engineered to be a telepath”, which is an attempt to get around the idea that Skrulls can’t actually mimic powers. Shadowcat explains that Adam Warlock’s Skrull telepathically read her mind and realized she was telling the truth, explaining why these Skrulls changed sides in-between issues. Adam Warlock’s duplicate is critically injured in the fighting, but he telepathically teaches Shadowcat how to fly a Skrull spaceship before dying.

Creative Differences: Alan Davis’ redesign of Marrow debuts this issue. It looks as if her outfit was supposed to be a two-piece bone bikini (you can even see her navel), but editorial added a blue bodysuit for modesty.

Review: And here’s another thing that made people mad -- the debut of Marrow’s new look. I can see two reasons why Davis might’ve gone in this direction: one, just to see how Marrow would react if she got to be as pretty as the “beautiful people” she disdains; and two, as a meta-commentary on how female characters always grow more attractive over the years. Marrow was introduced as a hideously ugly villain, but already had a makeover when Marvel decided to add her to the X-Men (and no one seemed to notice). Now, her attractiveness is something the characters can’t just ignore, so it has to be a plot point. In hindsight, neither idea really came through in the stories, so I could be totally wrong about Davis’ motivations (assuming this wasn’t another editorial decision anyway). I almost wonder if she was made more attractive as a part of her “growing closer to Gambit” subplot. Was she supposed to be a potential love interest for Gambit? I’ll admit that it’s unlikely, and hopefully no one working on the books was shallow enough to think Marrow had to be made even prettier to be a viable love interest.

As for the main story, it’s another issue of misadventures in the Skrull world. Davis’ art is perfectly suited for this story, as he produces page after page of slick-looking Marvel heroes in their iconic costumes. The Skrulls’ imminent doom adds some drama to the story, and there’s some nice material with their internal battles over spaceships and the redemption of Shadowcat’s Skrull allies. Galactus gets to reiterate his role as a cosmic force that’s “beyond good or evil” as Xavier tries to talk him out of doing what he knows he has to do. There’s not a lot of attention paid to this plot point, but Galactus actually saves Xavier (who he knows shouldn’t be in this time period) by sending him back to his body, giving him enough time to escape. The scene reinforces the idea that Galactus doesn’t act out of maliciousness, which is one of the character’s unique traits I’ve always liked. I wish the script could’ve gone deeper into these ideas, but Kavanagh mainly seems interested in recapping story points and re-explaining the X-Men’s powers. His dialogue isn’t as clunky here as it has been in the past, but the majority of the script is just dull.

Uncanny X-Men #371

Crossed Wires

Credits: Alan Davis (plot), Terry Kavanagh (script), Jimmy Cheung (penciler), Mark Morales (inker), Liquid! (colors), Comicraft (letters)

Summary: Xavier dreams he is surrounded by the bodies of his dead students. He awakens with a scream, and learns from Shadowcat that the Skrull’s ship placed the team in cryo-stasis for eight days to protect them from Magneto’s electro-magnetic pulse. Meanwhile, SHIELD agents abduct Machine Man and use his technology to create a new body for an injured agent. Nick Fury is angered that Major Sole ordered the project without his permission. Sole has also ordered agents to investigate a strange occurrence on Muir Island. The X-Men park their Skrull craft on Muir Island, and leave behind Colossus, Shadowcat, and Nightcrawler, who want to visit Douglock. They soon discover Douglock, his powers out of control, attacking a pair of SHIELD agents.

Continuity Notes: It’s revealed months later that the Wolverine who returns home with the X-Men is actually a Skrull. There aren’t any overt hints at this point, though.

Xavier is now acting cold and snappish with his students again. He initially doesn’t want Colossus, Shadowcat, and Nightcrawler to stay behind on Muir Island, but Storm talks him into it. Wolverine comments that Xavier is losing his mind. These are teases for the next few issues (and they’re actually paid off!).

Review: This is the first part of “Rage Against the Machine”, a crossover designed to set up the ill-fated M-Tech line of books. Marvel wasn’t shy about admitting that the X-books were used to set the line up because they felt they offered the best chance for commercial success, but the days of fans blindly following anything X-related were long gone by this point. Douglock received his own title as Warlock, so working him into the storyline isn’t much of a stretch. However, new books for Machine Man and Deathlock also had to be set up, which isn’t the easiest fit. Davis does his best with the situation, though, and uses the M-Tech material as the superhero action for a few issues while the character subplots continue. Marrow reacts to her new look, Gambit continues to feel guilty about hurting her, Xavier behaves strangely, and Wolverine begins to cast doubts about Xavier. Davis manages to weave it all in comfortably, so the M-Tech setups aren’t as distracting as you would expect them to be. Jimmy Cheung, who was doing X-Force at the time, shows up as guest penciler and does a very nice job. His style fits in with Kubert’s cartoonier look, and he manages to handle the multiple figures and complicated technology very well. I’m surprised he didn’t do more issues during this era.

Friday, June 19, 2009

X-MEN #89 & UXM #370, June 1999 – July 1999

X-Men #89

Yesterday’s News

Credits: Alan Davis (plot & pencils), Terry Kavanagh (script), Mark Farmer (inker), Marie Javins (colors), Comicraft (letters)

Summary: Outside of the facsimile New York City, Nightcrawler spots the long-dead Thunderbird. He explores the area with Shadowcat, and they discover more duplicate heroes around the city. Shadowcat abducts her duplicate and has Nightcrawler teleport her to Xavier. She then explores the city’s underground, and is discovered by Thunderbird, Captain Marvel, and Adam Warlock. Meanwhile, Storm and Wolverine are attacked by Human Torch and Thing duplicates while searching for medical supplies for Marrow. Elsewhere, Xavier scans Shadowcat’s duplicate and learns she’s a Skrull. Realizing that they’re on the Skrulls’ planet in the past, the X-Men wonder if Galactus is coming.

Review: I’ve always liked this story arc. It’s not particularly deep, but it has some sharp ideas and the art is fantastic. The story is reminiscent of something Davis would’ve done in Excalibur, as the X-Men find themselves stuck on the Skrull’s planet, running into bad impersonations of Marvel superheroes circa 1981. Meanwhile, Galactus is coming to eat them all. The Skrulls have to monitor Earth’s media reports in order to learn about the heroes, so we end up with a Spider-Man inspired by Daily Bugle articles (“I am en route to perpetrate a meaningless crime even now, fellow outlaws, but I can spare time to assist your own campaign first.”) and a group of X-Men who don’t know where their headquarters is, or even who their leader is supposed to be. Not only are these scenes legitimately funny, but they’re also realistic. How would the Skrulls know which member leads the X-Men? The media reports about the team are so inconsistent, the Skrulls have no idea what to think. I remember people complaining that this wasn’t a “real” X-Men story, but it’s the type of story I wish we’d seen more often.

Uncanny X-Men #370

History Repeats

Credits: Alan Davis (plot), Terry Kavanagh (script), Adam Kubert (penciler), Tim Townsend (inker), Liquid! (colors), Comicraft (letters)

Summary: Gambit heads for the Skrull’s Shi’ar simulation city, hoping to find better medical care for Marrow. Meanwhile, Wolverine learns from Nightcrawler that Shadowcat is missing. Wolverine leaves on his own to search for her. He soon meets his Skrull doppelganger and steals his costume. However, security cameras expose him to the Skrulls. Meanwhile, Xavier attempts to warn the Skrulls about Galactus’ arrival. As the team follows Gambit to the Shi’ar city, the disbelieving Skrulls attack. Gambit manages to place Marrow inside a healing pod, but he’s soon discovered by the Skrulls. In the skies, Galactus’ ship arrives.

Review: It’s more running around in the Skrull world, which is fun. The gimmick doesn’t work quite as well in this issue, because Adam Kubert’s style doesn’t fit in with the look of early ‘80s Marvel, but it has its moments. The Skrull imposters of Thunderbird, Captain Marvel, and Adam Warlock tell Shadowcat that they gave up their true forms to “avoid the pitfalls of detection that have foiled our previous attempts to infiltrate other races”. Because the heroes they impersonate have now died, they live in exile, “our loyalty rewarded with a death-sentence”. It’s another example of Davis actually trying to apply logic to the Skrull’s world, and it’s pretty clever. There’s not a lot of character work here, but everything’s moving at a brisk pace and the story’s hook is strong enough to keep it interesting.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

X-MEN #88 & UXM #369, May 1999 - June 1999

X-Men #88

A World Apart

Credits: Alan Davis (plot & pencils), Joe Casey (script), Mark Farmer (inker), Marie Javins (colors), Comicraft (letters)

Summary: The X-Men arrive in a monster-infested dimension, where the walls between realities are breaking down. The alien who teleported them, Ejulp, explains that they’re needed to stop Juggernaut. Black Tom appears and confirms Ejulp’s story. The physics of the other-dimension affect the X-Men’s powers, causing Gambit to accidentally blast Marrow, and Storm to enter a trance when she summons the weather. Xavier leaves his physical body in his astral form, and accompanies the X-Men on their search for Juggernaut. When Xavier’s astral form touches Wolverine, their bodies merge. Xavier experiences Wolverine’s bloodlust firsthand as he fights an army of demons. Finally, the team discovers a gigantic Juggernaut. Meanwhile, Storm somehow meets a younger version of herself in Africa.

Continuity Notes: Black Tom explains that after Juggernaut was given the second Cyttorak Gem (UXM #361), he grew more powerful than before. On a mindless rampage, he managed to punch his way into another dimension. Black Tom claims that the second gem was “imbued with the evil spirit of its creator”, who is the “eternal nemesis” of the Trion. The Trion are described as “the sentient manifestations of the forces that compose this dimension.” Years later, Kurt Busiek would use the Trion to finally conclude an Avengers subplot that preceded this issue’s publication (he wanted to use a trinity-deity all along apparently, and it was pointed out to him that one already appeared in this storyline).

Review: Alan Davis’ “Salute to Steve Ditko” storyline begins here (Ejulp’s name is even “Ditko” in code, and we later learn that the alien race's name is Oktid, “Ditko” spelled backwards). I remember people complaining that this was a generic superhero story with the X-Men shoved in, which I never quite understood. It has the X-Men facing Juggernaut, which already makes it an X-Men story as much as the Avengers battling Ultron is an Avengers story, and Spider-Man fighting Scorpion is a Spider-Man story. Character subplots continue to be introduced and advanced, as Gambit accidentally injures Marrow (setting the stage for the two of them to grow closer), Storm meets a mystical version of herself as a child, and Xavier and Wolverine continue their conflict. The next installment explores Juggernaut’s characterization and his relationship with Xavier, which as much of an X-Men story as you can get. I guess it’s a little odd that the backdrop of the story is a tribute to an artist who never touched the X-Men, but I don’t feel as if the same story could’ve been told with just any superheroes. Placing Xavier inside Wolverine’s mind is a clever gimmick, which I don’t think anyone had really tried before. It advances their conflict from the previous storyline, as Xavier now witnesses firsthand Wolverine’s “kill or be killed” attitude, and is unable to make an argument against it as he fights to save their lives. Outside of the increasingly gimmicky stories that involved changing Wolverine’s physical form in some way, it’s hard to think of the last time Wolverine was really used as an actual character outside of his solo series.

Uncanny X-Men #369

Collision Course

Credits: Alan Davis (plot), Terry Kavanagh (script), Adam Kubert (penciler), Tim Townsend (inker), Liquid! (colors), Comicraft (letters)

Summary: Storm follows a child version of herself into the African desert. There, she encounters the Triune, who put her in a trance in order to protect itself from her elemental powers. Meanwhile, Professor Xavier and Wolverine enter Juggernaut’s mind on the Astral Plane. Xavier encourages Juggernaut to fight against the entity that is possessing him. Juggernaut fights against his fears, and returns to normal size. However, the explosion of Cytorrak energies causes the dimension to unravel. Storm awakens from her trance and uses her elemental powers to repair the damage. Ejulp tries to send the X-Men home to New York, but the team soon realizes the sky has two moons.

Continuity Notes: The entity possessing Juggernaut is the “dark force” of this dimension, which reached out to the destructive power of the Cytorrak. Storm learns the Triune’s secret while in her trance. She claims that the Triune attempted to “purge itself of evil” by imprisoning wickedness inside a black orb. Without the capacity for evil, the dimension grew sterile, leaving only the Oktids as “pets, distractions, (and) servants”. The Triune summoned the X-Men to stop the Juggernaut, because they felt that humans were already tainted by evil.

Review: This is Terry Kavanagh’s first issue as scripter. Kavanagh was Alan Davis’ editor on Excalibur, and someone he apparently holds in high esteem. Davis specifically asked for Kavanagh to script his plots, and the editors agreed. Allowing the writer of the legendarily awful X-Man to work on the main books didn’t exactly instill a lot of confidence in the hardcore fans. Kavanagh just doesn’t have an ear for dialogue, so it’s not surprising that the majority of this issue’s script consists of dull recaps of the previous chapter and a long-winded origin for the Triune. The basic idea behind the Triune is that a pious deity thought it could overcome evil, but only succeeded in hiding it away, which eventually lead to bigger problems. I suppose this was supposed to be a commentary on the idea that evil is an unfortunate side effect of free will, but the script doesn’t go into any deep philosophy. It’s too bad the script is so bland, because Adam Kubert's rendition of the Triune’s psychedelic dimension is fun, and the basic idea behind the story is fine. There are a few nice moments between Xavier, Wolverine, and Juggernaut inside the Astral Plane, but the rest of the characterizations are just flat.

Monday, June 15, 2009

X-MEN #87 & UXM #368, April 1999 – May 1999

X-Men #87

No Surrender!

Credits: Alan Davis (plot & pencils), Fabian Nicieza (script), Mark Farmer (inker), Comicraft (lettering), Javins/Vasquez (colors)

Summary: The X-Men arrive at Magneto’s fortress as he battles Joseph. They pull Magneto away, while Xavier and Storm attempt to help Joseph repair the damage Magneto’s done to the magnetosphere. Joseph’s body begins to burn itself out as he fixes the environment. He says goodbye and disappears in a flash of light. Astra berates the X-Men for ruining her plan and teleports away. UN representative Dr. Alda Huxley arrives, offering Magneto sovereignty over Genosha if he agrees to stop his attacks. Wolverine, angered, tries to kill Magneto, but Xavier puts him to sleep. Magneto accepts the offer, and is soon left alone with his robot Ferris. Magneto tries to grab his helmet with his powers, but realizes they are gone.

Continuity Notes: Astra tells Nightcrawler “you grew up as handsome as I expected you would,” which shocks him. He tries to get answers from her, but she teleports away. This was never followed up on, and I have no idea what the intention was (Wiki says that the original X-Men Forever mini revealed that she just caught a glimpse of him as a child).

Alda Huxley has made brief appearances throughout the storyline. In this issue, she destroys information that shows the damage Magneto caused was dissipating, because she’s determined to give him Genosha. I know there were two “Magneto in Genosha” miniseries after this, but I don’t know if her character was ever fleshed out.

Review: “Magneto War” is now over, accomplishing its three goals of giving Joseph an origin, killing him, and placing Magneto as ruler of Genosha. Allowing Magneto to rule Genosha actually isn’t a bad idea, and the titles got some mileage out of it over the next two years. The delivery of the overall crossover doesn’t exactly work, as too much time is spent on the Acolytes, leaving the final chapter feeling too rushed and anticlimactic. This installment does try to give Joseph an honorable death, but it’s obvious by this point that the editors just want to get rid of the guy. The basic idea of Joseph had a lot of potential, exploring whether or not Magneto is inherently a good person twisted by fate or someone destined for evil, but none of the storylines ever did much with the character. Davis makes an effort to work some character moments in, as Wolverine fights against Xavier and tries to kill Magneto. The X-editors specifically said in interviews at the time that they wanted to bring Wolverine’s “edge” back, and I assume this was a part of that plan. Davis works with the conflict in the next storyline, which does bring a nice issue-to-issue continuity to the series. This isn’t that great of a storyline, but I think it does set the stage for some entertaining stories in the future.

Uncanny X-Men #368

Mansions in Heaven

Credits: Alan Davis (plot), Joe Casey (script), Adam Kubert (penciler), Tim Townsend (inker), Liquid! (colors), Comicraft (letters)

Summary: Wolverine refuses to attend Joseph’s wake, and instead spends hours fighting Magneto simulations in the Danger Room. Professor Xavier delivers a eulogy, and touches everyone who knew him with a memory of Joseph. The X-Men return to the Danger Room to talk to Wolverine. Suddenly, an alien appears and teleports them to another world.

Review: This is an epilogue for the “Magneto War” crossover, with a brief setup for the next storyline. Wolverine is now acting as the group’s rebel again, plotting an assassination of Magneto while the rest of the team seems to believe that nothing can be done. The story manages to pull this off without making it seem like an arbitrary character reversion. Wolverine’s personal history with Magneto, after losing the adamantium, was addressed fairly well during the “Magneto War” crossover, but there’s also the idea that giving Magneto his own nation violates everything Xavier’s dream is supposed to represent. This ties in to the later issues of Claremont’s run, which had Wolverine as an unlikely, but sincere, protector of Xavier’s dream. Now, Wolverine is pitted against Xavier himself, with Wolverine demanding drastic action and Xavier unwilling to do anything about the situation. It’s a good conflict that enables the characters to interact in a way they haven’t in years. Adam Kubert debuts as regular artist, turning in a more sparse, angular look. The majority of the pages still look fine, but it seems as if the increased stylization is occasionally used to simplify drawings when multiple figures appear.

Friday, June 12, 2009

X-MEN #86 – UXM #367, March 1999 – April 1999

X-Men #86

Thanks for the Memories

Credits: Alan Davis (plot & pencils), Fabian Nicieza (script), Mark Farmer (inker), Liquid! Graphics (colors), Comicraft (lettering)

Summary: Astra, a former member of the original Brotherhood of Mutants, holds Joseph captive. She explains that she created Joseph as a clone of Magneto, designed to kill him. When a desperate Magneto hit Joseph in the head with heavy machinery, he fell to Earth and was later discovered in Central America. In the arctic, the Acolytes watch as the X-Men freeze outside. Xavier attempts to mentally contact them, but the Acolytes refuse to help. Nearby, the Russian navy launches a nuclear attack on Magneto. He tries to contain the blast, but miles away, the fallout reaches the X-Men.

Continuity Notes: This is the first full appearance of Astra. She’s retconned as one of the founding members of the original Brotherhood of Mutants, who left the group before their first appearance. In order to repay Magneto for his “emotional” abuse, she created Joseph as a younger, more powerful weapon to kill him. It’s also revealed that she repaired Magneto’s mental damage before cloning Joseph, because she wanted to be certain Joseph wasn’t a vegetable. Obviously, none of this was planned out when Joseph was created. It’s possible to reconcile most of the retcons with the original story; however, Davis has forgotten that Joseph was originally wearing the clothes Magneto was wearing on Avalon before it crashed. In this issue’s flashback, Joseph’s wearing body armor when he is discovered in Central America.

Review: And now we have the infamous origin of Joseph. After over three years of mystery, the audience finally learns Joseph’s secret, and it turns out he was just a clone after all. By this point, Joseph was really just an afterthought in the books anyway, so it’s not as if a cherished character was somehow being desecrated. A decision had been made over a year earlier to bring the original Magneto back, so Joseph was already redundant by this point. However, revealing that he was created by a new character, who can not only clone Magneto but restore the mental damage inflicted by Xavier, just feels like a copout. The fact that Astra only appeared in this specific storyline and then disappeared after fulfilling her anointed purpose just makes her seem like even more of a plot device. I can understand why the creators felt the need to give Joseph a relatively straightforward origin, and “clone” is a pretty easy way out of the mystery, but more of an effort should’ve been put into making Astra a legitimate character in her own right (and the teenage girl speech pattern Nicieza gives her doesn’t exactly make her more endearing).

Uncanny X-Men #367

Disturbing Behavior

Credits: Aland Davis (plot), Fabian Nicieza (script), Lenil Francis Yu (penciler), Livesay & Vines (inkers), Liquid! (colors), Comicraft (letters)

Summary: Professor Xavier uses his powers to provoke the Acolytes into attacking the X-Men, hoping to lure them out of their ship. During the fight, the Acolytes realize that Xavier mentally coerced them into extending their ship’s shields to protect the X-Men during the nuclear wash. Soon, the last Acolyte is defeated and the X-Men commandeer their ship. Meanwhile, Astra takes Joseph to kill Magneto. After she destroys the machines Magneto is using to augment his powers, he is forced to absorb Earth’s electromagnetic field. Joseph vows to stop Magneto from causing more damage.

Continuity Notes: Magneto tells Astra that he never killed Joseph because he wanted the world to think he was Joseph while he worked on his current plan.

Approved By The Comics Code Authority: The new Acolyte Vindaloo reveals his powers for the first time. He emits a brown “gel-like liquid” that ignites into napalm. Vindaloo is actually a type of spicy curry, and it's widely believed that the character’s name was a diarrhea joke.

“Huh?” Moment: Colossus somehow picked up a leather jacket (for one panel) while stranded in the North Pole.

Review: It’s another “X-Men vs. Acolytes” issue, which is just so thrilling. The majority of the issue is spent on getting the X-Men onboard the Acolytes’ ship, which takes much longer than it needs to. And if Xavier is using his mental powers on the Acolytes in the first place, why doesn’t he just force them to give up? I can understand his reluctance to use his powers on normal people, but I can’t believe he would hesitate to freeze the Acolytes in place for a few minutes while the X-Men confiscated their ship. The X-Men just leave them to survive in the Arctic at the end, so it’s not as if they’re portrayed as overly concerned for their wellbeing anyway. This is really just time-killer before the final chapter, although Yu’s art is much improved over the previous issue.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

X-MEN: THE MAGNETO WAR #1 & UXM #366- March 1999

X-Men: The Magneto War #1

Savior Complex

Credits: Alan Davis (plot), Fabian Nicieza (script), Lee Weeks (penciler), Dan Green (inker), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (lettering), Marie Javins & Monica Kubina (colors)

Summary: Fabian Cortez and his group of Acolytes sneak on to the mansion’s grounds. New member REM-RAM searches the X-Men’s dreams, looking for information on Magneto. Xavier senses his presence and orders the X-Men to attack. When Cortez harms REM-RAM while attempting to amplify his powers, the Acolytes turn against him. Cortez escapes, and the Acolytes ask Xavier for sanctuary. Xavier refuses, secretly hoping that following the Acolytes will confirm Magneto’s return. Meanwhile, in Israel, Quicksilver reconciles with Joseph. In the Netherlands, Magneto asks Amelia Voght to look over Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch.

Continuity Notes: According to the narrative captions, the Acolytes are divided into different camps. Cortez’s followers include the Kleinstock brothers, Senyaka, Spoor, Projector, and the new members REM-RAM (who can enter, and apparently manipulate, people’s dreams), Static (who can disrupt mutant powers), and Barnacle (who turns body moisture into a “carapace shell”). Another group of Acolytes is following Magneto himself. I believe the Quicksilver series used the Acolytes for a few issues, and inadvertently resurrected a few of the dead members.

When Wolverine is shown sleeping in bed, he’s drawn with metal claw housings on his hand. They’re actually supposed to be on his gloves, not his actual hands (a mistake the ‘90s cartoon often made in the early episodes).

Production Note: This is a thirty-two page one-shot with no ads and slick paper. The cover price is $2.99, which is reasonable.

Review: This kicks off the “Magneto War” crossover, a storyline that was so obviously generated by editorial, it was actually solicited without a writer. Alan Davis, who was originally supposed to pencil X-Men for six issues, ended up plotting it, and if I recall the Newsarama interviews correctly, Fabian Nicieza volunteered to script it. I have no idea what was happening behind-the-scenes at the time, but if the rumors are to be believed, Alan Davis agreed to plot the titles for an indefinite amount of time, working off a list of “objectives” the editors wanted to accomplish. I remember a friend of Davis’ posted online that his storylines weren’t being dictated to him, so what I suspect happened is the editors gave Davis a vague list like “Give Joseph an origin. Reveal The Twelve. Do something with Apocalypse.” and he went from there. I recall online reviews of this era being extremely harsh, which always seemed unfair to me. The perception at the time was that Seagle and Kelly were forced off the books by overbearing editors, and that Alan Davis threw his weight around to get a high-profile gig. I don’t doubt that Seagle and Kelly were being heavily rewritten and left in frustration, but I think Alan Davis received a bad reputation as some sort of “other woman” in the scenario. Regardless of the backstage circumstances, once you’ve reached the point where storylines are being solicited without writers, it is hard to believe that the finished product is the work of a strong creative vision. Even the most hardcore of X-fans began to feel that the titles had just become a bland, blatantly commercially conceived, product.

Judging this one-shot on its own merits, it’s a perfectly okay superhero comic with nice art. I’m not sure why some of the Acolytes are spying on the X-Men, hoping to find Magneto, while another group has already joined up with him, but that’s the only quibble I have with the plot. The dream sequences take up a lot of space, but they’re used to make statements about the characters’ internal conflicts, and their connections to Magneto. Xavier of course views Magneto as a threat to his dream, Rogue still views him as a potential suitor (even if she doesn’t consciously admit it), and Wolverine sees him as a tormentor. The fight is a traditional superhero brawl, and the ending sets the stage for the rest of the storyline. The story does what it’s supposed to do, it doesn’t drag, the characterizations feel right, and it has Lee Weeks art. It might not have been produced under the best of circumstances, but this is far from a bad comic.

Uncanny X-Men #366

The Shot Heard Round the World

Credits: Alan Davis (plot), Fabian Nicieza (script), Lenil Francis Yu (penciler), Livesay/Townsend/Tadeo (inkers), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (lettering), Liquid! Graphics (colors)

Summary: Magneto’s group of Acolytes continues to attack genetic research laboratories. After the X-Men confront them in Canada, the Acolytes intentionally lead them on a chase north. Meanwhile, Magneto sends his robot Ferris to the UN to announce that he’s created another electromagnetic pulse, and that it will not stop until Magneto’s given a mutant sanctuary on Earth. The X-Men are caught in the pulse and crash in the arctic. In Israel, Mossad’s tests confirm that Joseph is a copy of Magneto. As Joseph ponders the revelation, he’s kidnapped by a mysterious woman.

Continuity Note: Joseph is revealed as a clone in this issue, although Nicieza tries to dance around the word “clone” throughout the storyline (the Spider-clone fiasco was still relatively fresh at the time).

Creative Differences: A teaser image of this storyline appeared in X-Men #80. It featured Storm in a different costume (the regal purple one she wore briefly during Claremont’s 2000 run), and various world landmarks in the arctic snow. This never happens in the actual storyline. As confirmed by a Comic Book Legends column, Storm was also supposed to die during this story, back when Seagle and Kelly were still scheduled to write it.

Production Note: Starting this month, the recap gatefold covers are gone. Apparently, they cost Marvel too much money.

Review: This doesn’t work as well as the one-shot special, probably because so much of the story is wasted on having the X-Men chase after the Acolytes. The Acolytes are suffering from their typical lack of a personality, so seeing half of the issue dedicated to them isn’t very exciting (and these aren't even the same Acolytes the X-Men were supposed to be following at the end of the previous chapter). Nicieza throws in a brief reference to one of his later X-Men stories, the one that had a few of the Acolytes following Cyclops while stranded in the desert, but it’s not nearly enough to make you care about the villains. It actually serves, unintentionally, of a reminder of a story that actually gave the Acolytes some depth. Nicieza’s script has a few clever lines, such as Ferris’ “inexhaustible supply of patter” and his rather polite interactions with the UN guards, but the script isn’t able to sell the significance of Magneto’s release of the EM pulse. It might not feel like the appropriate big deal because Magneto already did this in another crossover five years earlier, which is one of the larger problems with the storyline. Lenil Francis Yu shows up for another issue as guest artist. It’s an inconsistent job, as he seems to excel at drawing goofy scientists studying Joseph, but delivers some flat action scenes. Some of the pages look extremely rushed, and his odd tendency not to draw pupils is on full display.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

More Secrets Revealed!

I recently completed an interview about this blog with David Gutierrez for the Examiner website. You can check it out here.

Monday, June 8, 2009

UXM #365 & X-MEN #85– February 1999

Uncanny X-Men #365

Ghost of X-Mas Past!

Credits: Steve Seagle (writer), Chris Bachalo (penciler), Thibert/Townsend/Sowd (inkers), Liquid! & Monica Kubina (colors), Comicraft (letters)

Summary: A voice calls out to Colossus on Christmas Eve night. As he wanders the mansion investigating, his sketches disappear from his drawing table, and return with a fairy tale written on them. Finally, Colossus follows the voice to the attic, where a teleportation ring takes him to a ghost world. There, he meets the ghost of his sister, Illyana. She asks him to “remember” and then disappears. Colossus realizes that he’s left her photos unpacked with the rest of his belongings. He pulls out her picture, and the voice finally says goodbye. The next morning, Marrow reveals that she wrote the fairy tale because she wanted to collaborate with him.

Continuity Note: Obviously, this story was written when Illyana was still dead. She tells Colossus that “the powers in charge” won’t let her outright tell him what she wants him to do. If she speaks about it directly, she’ll lose her “chance to move on”. I don’t know if these were meant to be hints for a future storyline, or just generic references to the afterlife (it’s hard to tell in comics, after all).

Review: It’s a one-shot Christmas story, so it’s not surprising that this is a sentimental, quiet issue. Most of the story consists of conversation scenes between the team members, reminding me of the “quiet” issues of Lobdell’s run. While Lobdell seemed to be content with just the conversation scenes, Seagle tries to work a short story around the conversations. It’s not particularly deep, but it’s a nice acknowledgment of Colossus’ past, and helps to make him feel like a real member of the team and not an editorial add-on. Revealing that Marrow, and not the ghost, was the one stealing his sketches is another nice touch. This is the final issue for both Seagle and Bachalo, although the only acknowledgement of this comes from a cartoon of the creators on the bottom of the final page. Bachalo’s work here isn’t as strong as his previous Generation X run, but it is a marked improvement over his more recent issues of this series. Seagle’s exit caused quite a stir online at the time, as most fans were convinced that he was chased away by overbearing editors. It’s hard to judge his run as a whole since it mostly consists of setups for storylines that were never resolved, and the stories that were resolved were rushed and unsatisfying. I’m sure he had the potential to do greater work, but I have to admit that the stories become more coherent after his exit.

X-Men #85

A Tale of Two Mutants

Credits: Joe Kelly (writer), Alan Davis (penciler), Mark Farmer (inker), Liquid! Graphics (colors), Comicraft (letters)

Summary: Magneto disguises himself as a civilian and talks to “average citizen” William Jones in order to learn his thoughts on mutants. Magneto is surprised to discover that William is unwilling to condemn all mutants by the actions of a few. When William turns the conversation towards Hitler, an enraged Magneto lashes out and reveals himself. Terrified, William responds to Magneto’s prodding and tells him that he wants him dead. Magneto, satisfied by the response, returns to the North Pole and enacts his new plan. Meanwhile, the X-Men rescue babies from a burning hospital, but are targeted by the local police. Xavier fears that he must control the officer’s minds, but Storm manages to calm them down, reviving Xavier’s faith in his dream.

Review: This is a transition issue, as Joe Kelly exists while Alan Davis debuts. Kelly goes out on what is likely his strongest issue, with a simple, yet clever, Magneto piece that’s vastly superior to most of the post-Claremont Magneto stories. The final result has Magneto firmly as a villain again, but at least the story attempts to justify his point of view, rather than presenting him as the one-note psychopath he’s become by this point. The portrayal of the average citizen not as a bigot, but as someone with real fears, is also a nice twist.

The Magneto story is intercut with a fairly mundane “X-Men rescue civilians” story, which predictably has Xavier regaining faith in his dream after briefly doubting it. Kelly adds a little edge, as Xavier is reassured of his belief in humanity while Magneto’s negative point of view is confirmed (at least in his mind). This is really an entire issue used to tease the next crossover, but the execution is very well done. Alan Davis’ art is great as usual, and it will remain one of the selling points of the book for the next year.

Friday, June 5, 2009

UXM #364 & X-MEN # 84, January - February 1999

Uncanny X-Men #364

Escape From Alcatraz

Credits: Steve Seagle (plot), Ralph Macchio (script), Lenil Francis Yu (penciler), Tim Townsend & Edgar Tadeo (inkers), Liquid! Graphics (colors), Comicraft (letters)

Summary: In Florida, the animated Cerebro that impersonated Professor Xavier destroys its headquarters and flies away. In Alcatraz, the X-Men and Brotherhood continue to fight the Cerebro unit that Xavier calls “Cerebrite Beta”. During the fight, Toad, Mimic, and Shadowcat are blasted by Cerebrite Beta and disappear. Xavier senses that they aren’t dead, so the remaining X-Men are intentionally hit by Cerebrite’s ray in order to investigate. Nightcrawler, who was separated from the team, witnesses the incident and assumes his teammates are dead. He flees in their jet and heads for Tajikistan.

Continuity Notes: The Cerebro unit in Florida reveals (while talking to itself, conveniently enough) that the imposter X-Men from a few issues ago were a “holographic creation…based on existing profiles written by Professor Xavier.” I’m not sure if a more specific origin is given later, but the idea is that Cerebro mixed and matched info on various mutants in order to create new X-Men. However, that doesn’t explain the opening scenes of UXM #360 that had Xavier recruiting each member in real life.

The Cerebro unit (or Cerebrite Beta, as I guess it’s now known) in San Francisco is no longer drawn as a robot, which is how it appeared in the last issue and on this issue’s cover. It now resembles the energy form of the Cerebro unit fighting the other team in X-Men. A less obvious design change comes from Professor Xavier, who suddenly goes from a red jumpsuit to a tucked-in dress shirt and black pants for one page.

Production Note: An uncredited artist draws the last six pages of the story. Some of the pages resemble Pascual Ferry’s work, which is likely since he also works on the next chapter in X-Men.

Review: And now the crossover goes from dull to atrocious. Judging by the cover dates, this crossover was shipped bi-weekly during the final chapters, which would help to explain why this comes across as such a rushed mess. Lenil Francis Yu arrives as the fill-in artist, turning in a job that starts off fine but deteriorates as the issue goes on. Whenever Yu penciled one of the main X-team books during this era, his work seemed to suffer. This one is particularly rough, which I’m sure had something to do with deadline issues. Ralph Macchio shows up for another random fill-in job, turning in a script that mostly consists of characters talking to themselves, describing their powers, and reciting the storyline so far. When they’re not repeating info that’s on the recap page, the characters have lines like, “Ugh! It’s enough to make me puke the way you upworlders fall all over yourselves like the Knights of the Round Table trying to prop up a stricken King Arthur!”

Even if the dialogue were tolerable, there’s only so much you can do with the thin plot. It’s twenty-two pages of Cerebrite Beta fighting the X-Men and Brotherhood, when they’re not busy arguing over who gets to leave with Xavier. You’d think that Xavier would have something to say about this, except that he only speaks in this issue when he has some exposition to spit out. It’s honestly hard to tell if he’s supposed to be unconscious during certain scenes, or if Macchio just didn’t want to give him anything to say. (He’s often drawn with his eyes closed and mouth open, but that doesn’t stop him from speaking a few times.) The action scenes might’ve saved this, but since every page is covered in bland exposition and Yu’s art suffers whenever multiple characters appear, the fight is just boring. This one really is terrible.

X-Men #84

Dream’s End!

Credits: Joe Kelly (writer), Adam Kubert & Pascual Ferry (pencilers), Matt Banning & Pascual Ferry (inkers), Richard Isanove & Monica Kubina (colors), Comicraft (letters)

Summary: Nightcrawler rescues the remaining X-Men in Tajikistan and uses the Aurora jet’s tracking system to find Xavier and the others. As Cerebro is explaining its plan to create peace by “cataloging” humans, the X-Men arrive. Convinced that he needs to use his telepathy to connect with Cerebro, Xavier asks Nina to reactivate his telepathic powers. Xavier connects Cerebro with every human mind on earth, revealing the uniqueness of the human race. Cerebro realizes the error of its ways and dissipates. Reunited, the X-Men return home.

Continuity Notes: The Aurora jet is the vehicle used by Cerebro’s imposter X-Men in UXM #360 and X-Men #80. The real X-Men confiscated it at the end of the storyline.

It’s revealed that by “cataloging” people, Cerebro is placing them inside a cocoon. Cerebro claims that it was created when Bastion attempted to download its files. A failsafe sent its central programming “into a secondary vessel”, which somehow lead to it becoming a sentient being after it passed through Bastion’s “complicated neural network”.

Review: And again, the X-Men chapter is more enjoyable than the UXM installment. Kelly’s script still has some personality, and Kubert’s art is up to his usual standards. Pascual Ferry’s half of the issue looks a little rushed in comparison, but it’s not bad either. The crossover finally ends, as Xavier has his powers restored and is reunited with the team. I wonder if that was always supposed to be Nina’s role, and if she was an editorial creation in the first place (it seems unlikely Larry Hama would’ve created such an enigmatic character for the purposes of a one-shot comic). Overall, it’s not a very satisfactory conclusion, but it has its moments. I think the major problem is Cerebro, who just isn’t an interesting villain, personality-wise or from a design sense. After introducing the idea of Cerebro as a villain, it seems as if the storytellers didn’t know where to go with it, as details of Cerebro’s plan are inconsistent from chapter to chapter, and the storyline ends with him getting the warm fuzzies and disappearing. It’s never very clear why he was kidnapping mutants in the first place, or why he abandoned some (like the X-Men in Tajikistan), but ruthlessly pursued others (like Pyro in the first chapter). This might’ve worked better if the storyline were cut in half, but reading issue after issue with such a dull villain becomes a chore.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

UXM #363 – January 1999

Uncanny X-Men #363

When You’re Unwanted

Credits: Steve Seagle (writer), Chris Bachalo (penciler), Art Thibert & Tim Townsend (inkers), Liquid! Graphics (colors), Comicraft (letters)

Summary: Wolverine, Shadowcat, Nightcrawler, and Marrow follow Professor Xavier’s trail in San Francisco. Nearby, a Cerebro robot attempts to “catalogue” a latent mutant, but he’s ordered by a mysterious voice to follow new instructions. In Utah, a Cerebro robot steals samples of Bastion’s nanotechnology from a government facility. In Chinatown, Black Crane, a friend of Wolverine’s with mystic abilities, directs the X-Men to Alcatraz. When they arrive, they’re attacked by a new Brotherhood of Mutants, consisting of Blob, Toad, Mimic, and Post. Professor Xavier emerges and stops the fight, declaring the Brotherhood his new students. Xavier claims that they’re united against a common enemy, as a Cerebro robot suddenly bursts in.

Continuity Notes: Toad is now apparently insane, and speaks in rhyme. Post claims that the Brotherhood broke Xavier out of his New Mexico prison, not knowing that his telepathic powers were gone. A narrative caption says that the Cerebro robots were created by Bastion, a claim later repeated by Professor Xavier.

Miscellaneous Note: The Statement of Ownership lists average sales for the year at 233,656 copies, with the most recent issue selling 218,895.

Review: This is the crossover’s second weak issue of UXM. Like the previous issue, this is just dull. The X-Men go where the story needs them to go, fight the Brotherhood, find Xavier, and then the real villain appears. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the plot, the execution just fails to make it interesting. The X-Men have been separated from Xavier for over two years at this point, yet his return doesn’t feel like that big of a deal. Bachalo’s art might have something to do with this, as his cartoony style just doesn’t seem to convey any drama. I didn’t have that problem with his previous work, but the character designs in these issues are so exaggerated it’s hard to buy into the story (Liquid!’s extremely bright color palette is also a part of the problem, as the interior of Alcatraz is often portrayed as a shiny yellow). The selection of these characters as the new Brotherhood did seem odd at first, but Blob, Post and Mimic’s connection to Xavier/Onslaught actually works in the story’s favor. Toad, on the other hand, doesn’t have that connection, and is now insane for no obvious reason. I guess it’s the latest in his ongoing series of personality changes, but this switch has always annoyed me.

X-Men #83

Tomb of Ice

Credits: Joe Kelly (writer), Adam Kubert (penciler), Livesay/Wiacek/Llamas (inkers), Richard Isanove (colors), Comicraft (letters)

Summary: In Tajikistan, the X-Men fight off the animated Cerebro. They flee with Nina and Renee Majcomb, who explains that she and Nina traveled to this monastery after escaping from Bastion. Months later, the animated Cerebro arrived to kidnap Nina, killing dozens of monks in the process. Nina was able to use her telepathic and reality bending powers to keep it away, until she was distracted by the X-Men’s arrival. The animated Cerebro returns and possesses Colossus’ body. During the fight, Cerebro blasts Storm and she disappears. The remaining X-Men are left unconscious as Cerebro flies away with Nina.

Continuity Notes: Renee Majcomb and Nina ended up in this monastery because Nina picked the memory from Xavier’s mind. Xavier spent time with these monks as a “youth”, which was presumably during the time he spent traveling the world. It’s revealed that Nina “imprinted” on to Xavier like a duck does its mother, explaining why Cerebro reads her as Xavier.

For the record, the Cerebro in UXM is a robot, while the one in X-Men is an energy form that wears the standard Cerebro headpiece, and appears to have a metallic spine. Another Cerebro is directing their orders from the “Liberty Electric Authority”, which is presumably in America.

Production Note: One page in this issue is clearly drawn by another artist. The page is a quick cutaway that recaps events that occurred in San Francisco during the previous chapter of the crossover. The dialogue is also pretty stiff, leading me to believe that Joe Kelly didn’t write it, either.

Review: The X-Men chapter is once again more enjoyable than the UXM installment, although this isn’t as strong as the previous issue. Kelly doesn’t give you the impression that he’s simply going through the motions, but it’s still not that interesting of a story. There is one nice character moment, as Nina gives Rogue a telepathic play-by-play of the X-Men getting devastated by Cerebro while she’s trying to fly her away. The story ties up some of the loose ends from the previous issue, as the dead monks are explained, and we’re told why Cerebro detected Xavier in Tajikistan. The explanation doesn’t make an awful lot of sense, but that’s true of most of the story elements that surround Nina. Adam Kubert’s art is as strong as ever, even though I dislike the design of the animated Cerebro. Having him possess Colossus doesn’t exactly improve the look, either.

Monday, June 1, 2009

UXM #362 & X-MEN #82 – December 1998

Uncanny X-Men #362

Meltdown

Credits: Steve Seagle (writer), Chris Bachalo (penciler), Art Thibert & Tim Townsend (inkers), Liquid! Graphics (colors), Comicraft (letters)

Summary: Pyro, whose powers are out of control due to the Legacy Virus, is causing havoc in the Midwest. He asks for Professor Xavier, so Nick Fury summons the X-Men for help. Wolverine is finally able to confront Pyro, just as a mystery figure attempts to kidnap him. Pyro forces it to teleport away. His powers then explode, and Nick Fury takes his unconscious body away. The X-Men return home and try to locate Xavier with the Cerebro unit recently mailed to them by Moira MacTaggert. Shadowcat finds two identical readings for Xavier, one in San Francisco, and the other in Tajikistan.

Review: This is the beginning of the “Hunt for Xavier” crossover, which isn’t exactly considered a highlight of the Seagle/Kelly issues. This issue has a rather thin plot, but somehow Seagle manages to fit an excessive amount of word balloons into every page of the story. Bachalo is also cramming almost every page with small panels, which is apparently a quirk that he enjoys. In the end, you’re left with very tiny X-Men buried under a weight of word balloons. The story is already pretty dull, and the cramped look of almost every page doesn’t exactly encourage you to keep reading. Seagle does work in a few nice character moments, such as Marrow’s cynical attitude towards the Professor and Cecilia Reyes’ introduction to Gambit, but this one is mostly boring.

X-Men #82

The Hunt for Charly!

Credits: Joe Kelly (writer), Adam Kubert (penciler), John Dell & Jesse Delperdang (inkers), Richard Isanove (colors), Comicraft (letters)

Summary: Storm, Rogue, Colossus, and Gambit arrive in Tajikistan, where they find a hidden monastery in the snow. After breaking through the door, they discover dead bodies covering the ground. When Colossus touches a mirror, his finger goes through it. The X-Men investigate and find themselves inside a “non-logic” world. By concentrating on their deepest feelings, they’re able to return to reality. They’re greeted by Nina and Renee Majcomb. Nina apologizes for attacking the team, because she mistook them for a monster. She then tells the team that they’ve allowed a real monster to come in, as an animated Cerebro enters.

Production Note: All of the scenes inside the “non-logic” world are digitally painted by Richard Isanove. This is the first time the technique has been used in an X-book (it will show up a few times in the next year, I think exclusively in Adam Kubert’s issues).

Review: This is much more cryptic than the previous chapter, but it’s more fun to read. The combination of Kubert’s art and Isanove’s intricate colors creates a visually stunning issue. Even if much of the story details are left vague, Kelly’s script is strong enough to make the characters interesting, and he uses the “non-logic” world as a way to offer insight into each cast member. None of it is particularly new (Storm feels deeply about the X-Men as a family, Colossus misses his sister, Rogue is still fixated on her night with Gambit months earlier in Antarctica, and Gambit is wrapped up in another mystery -- the Green Mist Lady), but it’s another example of Kelly’s ability to make the story about the characters. Unfortunately, all of the things I like about this issue really have nothing to do with the main story, which is a bad omen for what’s ahead.

WOLVERINE #131 – November 1998

Wolverine #131

It Fell to Earth

Credits: Todd Dezago (plot), Brian K. Vaughn (script), Cary Nord (penciler), Scott Hanna w/Rob Hunter (inkers), Kevin Tinsley (colorist), Comicraft (letters)

Summary: Viper tells Wolverine that Madripoor is threatened by the outbreak of a new virus. Wolverine searches the Himalayas for the missing Hydra agents she allegedly ordered to find a virus sample for an antidote. Wolverine finds one surviving Hydra agent, who tells him that Viper staged the outbreak in Madripoor in order to trick him into searching for this particular virus. The “virus” turns out to be an alien spider, which Wolverine eventually kills. He destroys the spider’s remains and tells the Hydra agent to go into hiding.

Miscellaneous Note: According to the Statement of Ownership, average sales for the year were 184,335 copies, with the most recent issue selling 170,500.

Production Note: This is the infamous “kike” issue. The story goes that Vaughn’s script described Sabretooth as an “assassin” in a flashback scene, which a hand-written editorial note changed to “killer”. The Comicraft employee who lettered this issue saw the correction and misread it as “kike”, unaware that it was a slur against Jews. Marvel asked retailers to return copies in exchange for a corrected version, which many comic shops didn’t bother doing, making it a brief collector’s item on eBay.

Review: More filler. I suppose this issue has the distinction of being an early job by Brian K. Vaughn, whose script is competent enough, but nothing here really stands out. The plot is tolerable as far as time-killers go, but I’m not sure why exactly Viper is now commanding Hydra agents again (they just kidnapped and tried to brainwash her a few issues ago). Cary Nord’s art helps to give the story a unique look, which is always appreciated in a fill-in. I probably would’ve enjoyed this more if it hadn’t followed such a long series of filler.