Credits: Joseph Harris (writer), Adam Pollina (penciler), Mark Morales (inker), Marie Javins (colors) Comicraft (letters)
Summary: X-Force makes a wrong turn into “Almost Reno,” Nevada. Nuclear testing in the 1960s has left the current generation with mutant powers, and many of the children are dying young. Mary, a young telepath, is targeted by SHIELD agents, and resists X-Force’s efforts to help her. Meltdown eventually has a civil conversation with Mary at the park and offers her hope for the future. Mary uses her powers to knock out the SHIELD agents, and X-Force leaves town.
Continuity Notes: Sunspot feels the locals are harassing him because he’s Latino. It’s my understanding from his original appearances in New Mutants that Sunspot is half-black/half-white. Perhaps he would still consider himself Latino because he’s from Brazil, but his ancestry doesn’t seem to fit the standard use of the term. (I’m reminded of stand-up comedian Louis C.K., who’s originally from Mexico, chastising people for assuming everyone in Mexico is Hispanic.)
Review: This fill-in story has two odd distinctions going for it. The first is rather obvious, as the logo has been replaced with a softer, non-traditional (for superhero comics) font. I have no idea why the logo was suddenly classed up for a fill-in story, but I guess the advent of computer lettering made it easier to try this kind of stunt. Although I never felt compelled to buy this issue in the past, the sudden logo switch did stop me in my tracks when flipping through the back issue bins, so I can’t deny it’s an attention-getter.
The other peculiarity is the fact that the regular writer later pens a sequel to this story. How often to do fill-ins get sequels? In the follow-up, John Francis Moore addresses one of the flaws of this story, the stereotypically eeeeviiilll SHIELD agents, while he ties the idea of “Almost Reno” into a larger story arc he’s developing. The portrayal of SHIELD is one of my major problems with the issue, as I dislike the way the organization is always depicted as the bad guy when it appears in other Marvel Universe titles (I imagine I’ll get into this again as Joe Casey’s Cable run develops). The other is the treatment of dusty little “Almost Reno.”
Assuming that these books are supposed to be about tolerance and judging people as individuals, why is it okay to have X-Force refer to the residents of the tiny town as “these people”? Why does Sunspot speculate that the citizens “probably don’t even wash their hands!” when the electric hand dryer in a public bathroom doesn’t work? Why is virtually every local a dimwitted, close-minded bigot? (For that matter, why did Siryn tell the team last issue to be extra careful about exposing their powers in Texas? Isn’t this its own form of discrimination and stereotyping?) There’s no immediate plot purpose for any of this, either, unless Harris is trying to stress that the locals are chasing away outsiders in order to keep their mutant kids a secret. If that was even what he was going for, the execution is pretty muddy. The children’s deaths are being reported by the media, so if this is a secret, it’s not being kept well. The residents just come across as indiscriminately nasty, and outright hostile towards minorities like Sunspot.
The story itself is typical of what you see in “quieter” fill-ins. The ending is a little lazy, as X-Force just leaves the girl behind, but I’ll cut it some slack since this was intended as a standalone fill-in. It’s not as if Harris could’ve inducted the girl into the cast, and I guess he did create a basic concept interesting enough for the regular writer to return to later. Meanwhile, Adam Pollina’s art is continuing its unique evolution. A letter writer notices that he’s sneaking Norman Rockwell references into the art, which leads the editors to reveal that Pollina’s spending a lot of time studying Rockwell’s work. How many comic artists are assigned to draw sleepy small towns and actually don’t dismiss the assignment as boring? The rustic setting could’ve easily been hacked through in a hurry, but Pollina cares enough to make the scenery graphically interesting. I also like his development of human faces, as some characters are given a stylized, cartoony look while others appear photorealistic. I don’t think Pollina lasts for too many more issues, and I don’t know why he’s rarely shown up over the years, but I’m glad he’s stuck around this title for so long.