Wednesday, May 19, 2010

PSYLOCKE & ARCHANGEL: CRIMSON DAWN #1-#4, August-November 1997

Before the Break of Dawn

Credits: Ben Raab (writer), Salvador Larroca (penciler), Thibert/Martinez/Parsons/Hack Shack (inkers), Comicraft (letters), Lichtner/Lusen/Liquid Colors (colors)

Hey, it’s an X-miniseries about actual members of the X-Men! Psylocke was written out of the book shortly after her misguided power revamp, and Archangel was an original X-Man who had been mostly ignored for years, so they weren’t a bad choice to star in one of the numerous ‘90s miniseries. The Crimson Dawn remained an unexplored mystic plot device, one Raab had already fleshed out a bit in Excalibur, so using it as the source of the superheroic action is understandable. Raab spends much of the issue establishing the main characters, dedicating a few pages to establish the state of their relationship, and having Wolverine stop by so Archangel can conveniently recap his origin and Psylocke’s origin. Raab picks up on the idea that the Crimson Dawn made Psylocke cold and distant, an UXM subplot that was never resolved, and explores Archangel’s feelings about his girlfriend’s personality change. Meanwhile, a new villain, Kuragari, is targeting beings associated with the Crimson Dawn. He’s killed Tar, and sent Undercloaks after Psylocke. This is all setup, but Raab dedicates enough room to the characters to make it work. Salvador Larroca could be pretty inconsistent during these days, but the figures don’t look so awkward now and the storytelling is mostly clear.

“-- When the Devil Comes A Callin’!”

Credits: Ben Raab (writer), Salvador Larroca (penciler), Thibert/Martinez/Parsons/Hack Shack (inkers), Comicraft (letters), Liquid Colors (colors)

As Gomurr disposes of Tar’s body, Archangel and Psylocke face the Undercloaks. They leave behind a ring, which Psylocke refuses to get rid of, despite Archangel’s warnings. While asleep, Archangel feels Psylocke’s psychic presence in his dreams. I like this scene, and it shows that Raab has given some thought as to what it would be like to sleep next to a telepath (of course they would end up in your dreams). Gomurr suddenly appears, warning of danger. Psylocke, for unknown reasons, has actually put on the ring, which enables Kuragari to enter their apartment and take her away. It’s a fun issue, and Raab seems to have a pretty firm handle on the characters. Archangel even wonders if being “twisted into harbingers of death and destruction” isn’t enough to base a relationship on, which could be a metacommentary on the almost arbitrary way they were paired together in the first place.

The Dark Side

Credits: Ben Raab (writer), Salvador Larroca (penciler), Thibert/Martinez/Parsons/Hack Shack (inkers), Comicraft (letters), Liquid Colors (colors)

Archangel spends the first three pages recapping the story thus far, and then suddenly remembers that Kuragari threw Gomurr out of the window last issue. Exposition used to be so important in comics, it was literally more valuable than human life. After Archangel finally checks on him, Gomurr reveals that Archangel must go save Psylocke. (Gomurr will be busy preventing the Crimson Dawn from invading our world, an idea you might remember from Raab’s first Excalibur arc.) Kuragari spends the issue romancing Psylocke through a martial arts fight. He finally beats her, allowing the Overcloaks to take Psylocke away for a Claremont-style conversion to the dark side. Gomurr sends Archangel to the Crimson Dawn realm, where he’s greeted by an evil, pupil-less Psylocke.

Throughout the action, Raab still keeps some focus on the characters. If Archangel’s “heart isn’t true” he won’t be able to save Psylocke, which plays into the (reasonable) doubts he’s had about their relationship in this series. Kuragari also taunts Psylocke about her thirst for action and desire to break away from her proper upbringing. This was the last internal conflict Psylocke had before becoming the character with different powers or a new identity every few years, so I’m glad Raab remembered it.

The Dawning Dusk

Credits: Ben Raab (writer), Salvador Larroca (penciler), Thibert/Martinez/Parsons/Hack Shack (inkers), Comicraft (letters), Lichtner/Lusen/Liquid Colors (colors)

Lots of mystic nonsense this issue. The spirit of Tar returns, naming Gomurr the new Proctor of the Crimson Dawn. He returns to the Crimson Dawn to aid Archangel, telling him that he must repay what he took from the Dawn to save Psylocke’s life. I have no idea what this means, but it inspires Archangel to declare his love for Psylocke again, which apparently weakens Kuragari’s power and allows Psylocke to fight his control. After defeating Kuragari and returning home, the characters nonchalantly discuss Archangel’s exchange in the Crimson Dawn, which will allow the Dawn to take his life at any time. The characters act as if all of this had already been established in the story, but I didn’t pick up on it at all. (I guess the idea is that Archangel had to give up a portion of his life in exchange for what he took from the Crimson Dawn to save Psylocke, although it’s not very clear.) Nonetheless, Archangel is happy for whatever time he has left, because he’s decided he really loves his Asian supermodel ninja girlfriend. Not that great of an ending, but this has been a pretty entertaining mini. Unlike most of the limited series from this era, I think this one had a strong enough premise to actually justify its existence, and it never feels as if the stars are just being shoehorned into a generic action story.


The Estate of Tim O'Neil said...

I always thought this was one of the better relationships in the books. It actually seemed like these two characters had a reason to gravitate towards each other, moreso even than the fact that they both share the experience of being transformed against their wills into killing machines. (And let's be frank, the fact that this is such a common plot device in the X-Universe is kind of creepy.) No, the real reason these two characters went together well is a reason I don't think I've ever seen explicitly discussed: of all the X-Men, they are both from very high socio-economic backgrounds, much higher than anyone else on the team. Considering that the X-books *do* actually touch on issues of class occasionally (a nice change from most other superhero books, where class is elided or ignored entirely), this is a nice bit of detail work.

Anonymous said...

Anything with Psylocke in it is good enough for long as they keep drawing her all Asian and sexy.

Though...the action figure of her was complete weak sauce. It just look ugly.

SORELY disapointed!

Matt said...

"Asian supermodel ninja girlfriend"

You forgot something -- British Asian supermodel ninja girlfriend. If only there was some way to work "telepathic" in there too -- but that would just sound silly.

Anyway, I picked up this series because I had enjoyed Raab's Dragons of the Crimson Dawn story in Excalibur. I was kind of disappointed the Dragons didn't show up here.

Also, I never got the final issue for some reason. I assume my local shop was out of copies when I went by, or I just totally forgot to look (back in those days, I collected lots of books, but the shop I used didn't do "pull lists," so I had to go on memory as to what issues I needed -- which was especially hard with limited series). To this day, I've never read issue 4, though I have read summaries of it.

ray swift said...

I tried to read it, following the positive review, but all the Chinese spiritual crap and the fact I'm not giving a damn about both protagonists since decades (both didn't have a persnoality since the days of Jim Lee) kept through me off.

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