Not a Cloud in the Sky
Credits: John Francis Moore (writer), Steve Epting (penciler), Dan Green (inker), Comicraft (letters), Brad Vancata (colors)
Summary: Joseph awakens to learn that Iceman is a teen idol, Rogue can touch Gambit, Beast has cured the Legacy Virus, and Cyclops has control of his optic blasts. When he realizes Jean Grey is missing, he convinces Rogue and Gambit to help him find her. With Cerebro, they track her to a nearby department store. They soon learn Gamesmaster kidnapped her while she was shopping; with Xavier in government custody, the X-Men’s remaining telepathic defense has been removed. Gamesmaster explains that he’s psionically granted the X-Men their greatest desires, and manipulated the population into abandoning mutant prejudice. He offers to keep the scheme alive if Joseph joins him. Joseph instead frees Jean, who battles Gamesmaster in the Astral Plane. Gamesmaster abandons the fight, leaving his motives a secret.
Continuity Notes: This story has to take place shortly after "Operation: Zero Tolerance," since the team hasn’t been splintered by their extended outer space adventure yet. Gamesmaster explains that he’s able to telepathically turn off Rogue’s powers, which is another hint her problems are psychological in nature. Why exactly Gamesmaster wants Joseph to join is left as a mystery.
Review: Gamesmaster returns, joining the ranks of Gene Nation in the “Villains Who Were Supposed to Be Huge, But Now Headline Annuals” Club. Aside from overseeing the early ‘90s Upstart massacres, I’m convinced (based on the “Child’s Play” crossover) Gamesmaster was supposed to be the original antagonist of Generation X when that series was in the planning stages. Now, he’s threatening the X-Men in an untold tale from the recent past. What the story has going for it is John Francis Moore, who was doing solid work on X-Force at the time, and has apparently given Gamesmaster more thought than his creators ever did.
It’s obvious from the opening that this is a fake-out, but I was genuinely surprised to see the mysterious utopia isn’t a dream or hallucination, but instead the actual Marvel Universe. Could an “omnipath” like Gamesmaster eliminate mutant prejudice and solve the X-Men’s problems? Would the X-Men be willing to let him do it? Those are intriguing questions, and while we all know the heroes won’t go through with it, the dilemma suits the type of story you need for a one-shot annual. I also like the fact that Moore has kept Gamesmaster inside the store, a thinly veiled Target parody, where he kidnapped Jean Grey. Seeing the X-Men fight mind-controlled department store employees could’ve been too ridiculous, but the story doesn’t dwell on it for too long, and it’s a nice break from where we usually see action scenes in these books. So, this is a step above the typical annual filler of the time; and Steve Epting provides the art, so the readers are even spared the horrible fake manga or bad Image impersonators that often marred the annuals.