Friday, January 29, 2010

EXCALIBUR #108 - #109, April - May 1997

The Old Way

Credits: Ben Raab (writer), Salvador Larroca (penciler), Scott Koblish (inker), Kevin Tinsley & GCW (colors), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (letters)

Summary: Colossus bumps into Amanda Sefton as she abruptly leaves Muir Island. She mysteriously refuses to say goodbye to Nightcrawler. Peter Wisdom receives a message from a “Peckham,” which upsets him. Meanwhile in London, Brian Braddock is attacked by the Dragons of the Crimson Dawn. Meggan is briefly knocked unconscious during the fight, but comes to and rescues Braddock when one of the Dragons drops him from the sky. Spiral tries to sneak away, but is warned by the Dragons that she still has work to do. The Dragons teleport away with Braddock, leaving Meggan to ask Spiral for help.

Continuity Notes: Shadowcat and Wolfsbane travel to Dublin for a brief vacation. They visit the world famous hairdresser Molly Fitzgerald, who is secretly the hero Shamrock. She’s using crutches, which she claims she needs after slipping in “the loo.” The story doesn’t identify her as Shamrock, and the letters page essentially dares the readers to identify who she’s supposed to be.

The Dragons of the Crimson Dawn consist of Ra’al (the female leader with a deadly kiss), Barak (the big strong man who can grow larger), and the flier, A’Yin.

Review: The storylines keep moving, albeit slowly. The main goal of this issue is to introduce the Dragons of the Crimson Dawn with a lengthy fight scene. Unfortunately, Larroca’s storytelling isn’t really able to create a truly energetic fight at this point. Plus, the villains are all otherworldly mystic characters with vague motivations, so it’s hard to care that much this early on. All of this is standard team comic material, as the hero loses the first round of the fight before the rest of the team is brought in, while a few subplots involving the remaining cast build in the background. Nothing really stands out as good or bad, but I am slightly intrigued by the Shamrock cameo. I can’t imagine the character showing up for anything other than camp appeal or comedic relief, but I wonder why Raab saw fit to put her in crutches. That just has to be a setup for something in the future, because surely no one would go out their way to establish such a minor character was injured without having some justification. And “slipping in the bathroom” just stands out as a rather obvious lie.

Dragon Moon Rising

Credits: Ben Raab (writer), Salvador Larroca (penciler), Scott Koblish (inker), Kevin Tinsley & GCW (colors), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (letters)

Summary: Spiral arrives at Muir Island with Meggan, and is promptly attacked by Excalibur. When Meggan eventually recovers from the disorienting effects of Spiral’s teleportation, she explains to the team that Spiral is actually helping her. Spiral claims that she came across the Dragons while exploring the mystical Wildways. The Dragons used their superior magic to draw Spiral to their side, forcing her to locate Psylocke’s more powerful brother, Brian Braddock. Meanwhile in Hong Kong, Braddock awakes. After he fails to defend himself, Ra’al enters Braddock’s mind.

Review: So, what’s accomplished this issue? We learn the reason why Spiral joined the Dragons of the Crimson Dawn, although the story acknowledges that she isn’t the most reliable source on Earth. (And if their magic is so much more powerful than hers, why do they need her to find Brian Braddock in the first place?) The team then leaves with Spiral to locate Captain Britain, which only advances the plot one millimeter since the last issue ended with Spiral and Meggan leaving to recruit Excalibur. I guess if you really wanted to see Excalibur fight Spiral for several pages, there’s plenty of action here to entertain you, but the main story is dragging. This is also the second issue in a row that has Meggan conveniently knocked unconscious for most of the story, which is a cheat if you consider that she’s supposed to be the most powerful member of the team. I do like the way Raab is tying the Crimson Dawn into the other mystical realms of the Marvel Universe, such as the “Wildways” introduced in the Longshot miniseries, but I wish the pace wasn’t so slow.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

JUGGERNAUT #1 - April 1997

A Night in Spite…

Credits: Joe Kelly (writer), Duncan Rouleau (penciler), Steve Moncuse (inker), Chris Eliopoulos & Visual Calligraphy (letters)

Summary: In a New Mexico bar, Juggernaut meets a wild woman named Alex. After he joins her crime spree, Black Tom suddenly appears and reveals that Alex is actually Spite, the demon Juggernaut previously faced inside the Crimson Gem of Cyttorak. After Black Tom goads Juggernaut into striking him, he reveals himself as D’Spayre in disguise. Spite has been manipulating Juggernaut into fighting her brother D’Spayre, while D’Spayre wants to drain the Cyttorak energy within Juggernaut. Juggernaut calls upon his inner rage to defeat D’Spayre, and Spite rewards him by restoring the powers D’Spayre drained from him. The locals throw a festival in honor of Juggernaut for saving their town.

I Love the ‘90s: Juggernaut is listening to the country song “Blue” on the jukebox, which was recently covered by Leann Rimes at the time. Tawny Kitain is cited as an example of an attractive female. The local sheriff is upset he’s missing Walker, Texas Ranger, and doesn’t want to deal with Feds like “Agent Scullery.”

Review: If the Imperial Guard can get a miniseries, I guess Juggernaut can get a one-shot. I wonder if this was originally an X-Men Unlimited issue that was released as a one-shot after Marvel made the decision to radically increase the amount of X-specials in late 1996. It does have the same editor, and the story is essentially a sequel to Unlimited #12. This is an early Joe Kelly story, and it does demonstrate that he had a pretty good idea of what he was doing from the beginning (I haven’t read anything he’s written in years, but apparently he’s now lumped in the “Worst Writers” category). Kelly plays off Juggernaut’s irrational jealousy of his brother, as he’s drawn into D’Spayre and Spite’s sibling rivalry. He also doesn’t make Juggernaut too sympathetic, as his main motivation in helping Spite is so that he can personally kill her later. Kelly shapes the story around Juggernaut’s own personality and existing motivations, which prevents it from feeling like a gratuitous one-shot that’s just there to eat up the competition’s shelf space. My main issue is the art, which is so warped and unsightly it’s a major distraction. I like Duncan Rouleau’s later artwork, but his early stuff is just too hard on the eyes. It resembles a lot of the early Image artwork; not even the stuff put out by the original founders, but the really egregious material pumped out by the second or third-tier imitators. Aside from the unattractive figures, the page layouts are often confusing, and it’s hard to tell which order to read the word balloons. Kelly writes some clever dialogue throughout the issue, but it often takes a few seconds to process what exactly the characters are talking about because the page is such a mess.

Monday, January 25, 2010

X-FACTOR #134 - #135, May - June 1997


The Child

Credits: Howard Mackie (writer), Eric Battle (penciler), Art Thibert (inker), Glynis Oliver & GCW (colors), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (letters)

Summary: Bowser loads a disc of what he believes to be Forge’s secrets into a government computer. The disc releases a virus that gives X-Factor access to all government databases. The team travels to Bowser’s home, where Mystique interrogates him over the whereabouts of Trevor Chase. Trevor emerges from a back room, releasing monsters created by his reality-warping powers. One of the monsters consumes Bowser and disappears. Meanwhile, Guido awakens from his coma. After causing a ruckus, he’s placed under arrest.

Review: Is it too much to ask for two issues in a row that actually make sense? Just one issue after a story mostly dedicated to the heroes faking their deaths, they reveal to the government that they’re actually alive. So, what was the point? Allowing the team to live as “ghosts” opens up a lot of possibilities and ties into the new “underground” direction of the book. Going out of your way to set the idea up and abandoning it the very next issue doesn’t make sense. Even if the team just had to invade Bowser’s home, Mystique could’ve easily impersonated anyone she wanted to and completed the mission. Aside from the squandered opportunities, the story is essentially the same as most of the issues of this run. There’s some alleged “humor” at the expense of Wild Child falling over himself on the team’s jet, the dialogue is clunky, and characters are often saying and doing things that make little sense (Shard repeatedly refers to her future as “alternate.” Technically, it is, since Onslaught killed the X-Men in her timeline. However, would she really think of her own timeline as “alternate”?). The fill-in art comes from Eric Battle, who has vastly improved from his previous issue, but is still turning in a subpar Matsuda impression.


A Virtual Reality

Credits: Howard Mackie (writer), Jeff Matsuda (penciler), Art Thibert (inker), Glynis Oliver & GCW (colors), Comicraft (letters)

Summary: Mystique drops Trevor Chase off at his parents’ home, but Trevor is upset that Mystique is leaving him to rejoin X-Factor. Meanwhile, X-Factor learns that Madrox is planning on retrieving Guido from government custody. Because Madrox is unaware that Guido still has a weak heart, Forge orders the team to stop him. Madrox does rescue Guido from the government agents, but Guido collapses with more chest pains. X-Factor saves Guido and gets him help, while a distressed Madrox disappears.

Continuity Notes: Mystique knew Trevor Chase’s grandmother, but says it’s too painful to talk about her. This might be a hint that Destiny is supposed to be the grandmother.

I Love the 90s: Trevor Chase has a Tom Cruise “Mission Impossible” poster, and a Nintendo 64.

Review: So, this issue, X-Factor is back to playing dead. I guess the disappearance of government agent Bowser in the last issue gives them cover, but it’s not as if they knew he was going to disappear when they revealed themselves at his home. Plus, shouldn’t they be concerned about finding this guy? Aside from that, how long does Forge expect X-Factor to stay “dead” when his computer virus sent out a message bragging that he was hacking into the government’s databanks? Why would he need to know this if he was dead? There’s not a lot to say about this one, as it’s typical X-Factor. The shadowy government agents in this issue appear to be working for Bastion, which I guess is a step up from keeping them in total obscurity. Wild Child and Madrox are treated as comedic relief, although neither has anything particularly amusing to say. Another forced romance subplot is introduced, as Forge begins to have feelings for Mystique again, apparently because she’s growing more compassionate. (I'll say it again...Marvel really had no idea what to do with this character in the ‘90s. She went from reformed villain, to “crazy,” to outright villain, to amoral government agent over the course of five years, and is now heading back to “reformed villain.”) Using Trevor Chase, a jealous kid with god-like powers, as a budding villain at least has potential, but he’s only a small part of a story that’s virtually identical to the previous issues.

Friday, January 22, 2010

CABLE #42 - #44, April - June 1997

Tolerance

Credits: Todd Dezago (writer), Randy Green (penciler), Scott Hanna (inker), Mike Thomas & GCW (colors), Comicraft (letters)

Summary: Following a tip from Thornn, Cable and Storm investigate a possible terrorist attack by Callisto and Marrow at a Lila Cheney concert. Cable and Storm fight the terrorists, and with the help of Thornn, locate the bomb. Lila teleports it far away into space, while Callisto and Marrow escape in the confusion. Meanwhile, an agent of the Askani hides out in a monastery. Sanctity chastises him for not completing his mission to find Cable.

Continuity Notes: The Askani disciple refers to Cable as the “Gatherer of the Twelve,” which is an idea the series plays with until the end of Joe Casey’s run in 1999. It’s ignored during the actual “Twelve” crossover. Marrow appears for the first time since her resurrection in the Storm miniseries (which only happened because the artist was given the wrong reference). She’s still using her original, Yoda-esque, speech patterns.

Review: This is Todd Dezago’s third issue, and it still feels like he’s writing one-shot inventory stories. There is a brief subplot scene about the Askani searching for Cable, but the rest of the story could’ve easily run as a fill-in or an annual. Dezago’s choice of characters does have potential, since Storm has a history with Callisto and Marrow, Thornn is a forgotten Morlock who could’ve used an appearance, and Cable and Storm have that “potential love interest” thing going on at this time. Unfortunately, no one’s given much of a personality, plus Callisto is acting extremely out of character. This is at least acknowledged in the dialogue, so maybe Dezago was going somewhere with this, but as the story stands, she’s suddenly a bloodthirsty terrorist with no explanation. I also wonder how any opponents could just “slip away” if Cable’s supposed to be such an all-powerful telepath. I do like Randy Green’s art, though. It’s stylized enough for the ‘90s, but he never makes the characters look ugly or goes too far with the exaggerations.

Broken Soldiers

Credits: Todd Dezago w/ Brian Vaughan (writers), Randy Green & Chap Yaep (pencilers), Scott Hanna (inker), Mike Thomas (colors), Comicraft (letters)

Summary: In a monastery in the Alps, the Askani disciple speaks to his recruits. He tells the story of Cable, two thousand years in the future, fighting Apocalypse’s forces shortly after the death of his wife. He rescues a young soldier from Apocalypse’s men, then convinces the recruit not to kill his incapacitated enemies. In the present, Cable rescues a young mutant from a mob. The mutant uses his powers to flood his attackers’ minds with nightmares. Cable encourages the boy not to give in to hate. Meanwhile, Phoenix ponders the resurrection of Madelyne Pryor.

Review: Doesn’t this feel familiar? Todd Dezago’s first issue ended with Cable convincing Abyss not to kill his attackers, and now, the same story is repeated twice in one issue. Granted, it’s an intentional parallel this time, but it’s still glaring that Dezago is using an old chestnut so often after only a few issues. Setting one of these stories in Cable’s past doesn’t exactly work anyway, since it contradicts the original “kill ‘em before they kill you” personality he exhibited during his early appearances. It’s Cable’s relationship with X-Force and the X-Men that softened him; he’s not supposed to have his current personality during flashbacks. I’m not sure what happened behind-the-scenes, but this marks Dezago’s final issue (I don’t know how Vaughan participated, but I’m guessing he scripted a few pages). Just as Jeph Loeb’s closing issue ended with a setup for a new storyline, we have a one-page scene setting up the next issue with Madelyne Pryor. I don’t know if Dezago wrote this page and was still planning on staying with the book, or if it was another last-minute addition by editorial designed to smooth out the transition.

Temptation in the Wilderness

Credits: James Robinson (writer), Randy Green & Allen Im (pencilers), Scott Hanna w/Scott Koblish (inkers), Mike Thomas (colors), Comicraft (letters)

Summary: While in a telepathic trance, Cable is contacted by his biological mother, Madelyne Pryor. She mentally escorts him through Mr. Sinister’s original lab in London, Cyclops’ childhood orphanage, the Alaskan home she shared with Cyclops, and the site of her death. She asks Cable to give her life meaning and help her destroy mutantkind. Cable responds that Jean Grey is his true mother. Before breaking out of his trance, he tells Madelyne that her former home in Alaska could be a neutral meeting place. Meanwhile, the Askani monk has an epiphany and contacts Sebastian Shaw.

Continuity Notes: This takes place shortly after Cyclops and Phoenix encountered Madelyne Pryor in X-Man #25. She was resurrected months earlier as some sort of psychic projection by X-Man.

Review: James Robinson’s brief run begins here, resolving one of the lingering implications of Madelyne Pryor’s resurrection. If Madelyne Pryor really is going to be walking around in the X-Universe, there’s got to be some acknowledgment in her son’s title. Robinson takes the position that Madelyne wants revenge on all mutantkind because she’s still angry with Cyclops, which doesn’t exactly fit with her appearances in X-Man. (In that series, she was a virtual blank slate who was attracted by the power offered to her by the Hellfire Club.) At any rate, Robinson actually handles her irrational personality fairly well, and he manages to keep her conversation with Cable interesting throughout the issue. Todd Dezago dropped hints that Cable would have to pursue his mission against Apocalypse soon, which is a thread Robinson adopts and even works into his conversation with Madelyne. She questions why Cable hasn’t killed Apocalypse even though he’s been in this timeline for years, a question Cable can’t answer. Of course, the real reason is because this is Cable’s retconned motivation (his original arch-nemesis from the future was supposed to be Stryfe), but Robinson at least tries to make it a story point. This is another issue with a standalone main plot and only brief hints of an ongoing storyline, but it doesn’t feel as aimless. A plot thread from another title that needed to be acknowledged is addressed, and Robinson does a little character work with Cable along the way. Not bad.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

EXCALIBUR #106 - #107, February - March 1997


Previously…in Excalibur: Warren Ellis left and there were a couple of fill-ins.

A Portrait of the Artist

Credits: Ben Raab (writer), Randy Green, Casey Jones, Rob Haynes, & Aaron Lopresti (pencilers), Martin/Haynes/Ketcham/Pinnock/Simmons/Lopresti/Jones (inkers), Araine Lenshoek & Malibu (colors), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (letters)

Summary: Colossus receives a message from the Acolytes, who want him to join Exodus in rebuilding Avalon. He travels with Excalibur to the X-Men’s former Australian base, where the Acolytes are located. After intentionally setting off all of the security landmines, Colossus is locked in a room with Scanner and Unuscione. Colossus tries to convince them not to join Exodus. His words almost sway Scanner, but Unuscione forces her to leave. As Excalibur flies home, Peter Wisdom tries to comfort Colossus.

I Love the ‘90s: Colossus is listening to Prodigy’s “Firestarter” while painting a portrait of Meggan in the opening scene.

Review: Ben Raab’s run begins with this issue, and if I’m to believe the conventional wisdom of the internet, we’re in for a rough ride. Raab was a Marvel editor who began picking up freelance work during this time, and I believe this was his first regular assignment. To Raab’s credit, he has found work with DC and several independent publishers, so clearly he’s been able to convince more than just a few people at Marvel that he’s able to write. I can’t find anything particularly wrong with his work in this issue, aside from a few questionable uses of Moira and Peter Wisdom’s accents. In his first issue, Raab picks up on the idea that Colossus is supposed to be redeeming himself with Excalibur. There’s a nice scene that has him walking through a minefield in order to clear a path for the team, which uses his powers effectively and helps to establish his state of mind. Connecting Colossus’ shame over betraying the X-Men and Wisdom’s conflicted feelings about his black ops work is another interesting angle that could be explored. The Excalibur tradition of multiple artists per issue continues, as four pencilers and numerous inkers are brought in. Green, Jones, and Haynes all meld together fairly well, but Lopresti’s style is closer to Alan Davis or Terry Dodson, which creates an awkward transition at the end.

Focus

Credits: Ben Raab (writer), Salvador Larroca (penciler), Scott Koblish (inker), Kevin Tinsley & GCW (colors), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (letters)

Summary: Following Charles Xavier’s example, Nightcrawler reveals his plans to use Cerebro to locate British mutants. Meanwhile, Moira MacTaggert and Douglock research the Legacy Virus, as Brian Braddock and Meggan visit London. The public’s backlash against the Onslaught disaster, and the satanic attack on London, leads Braddock to renounce his role as Captain Britain. While shopping for an engagement ring for Meggan, Spiral appears, wearing the mark of the Crimson Dawn. She warns Braddock of a threat to his family, the Dragons of the Crimson Dawn.

Continuity Notes: It’s stated repeatedly in this issue that only telepaths can use Cerebro, even though non-telepaths have been shown using it in the past (various stories over the years have contradicted one another on this). My No-Prize explanation for this has always been that telepaths are just better at using it. Even though there are no telepaths on the team, Nightcrawler doesn’t explain how exactly he plans on using Cerebro.

Review: Raab was supposed to begin his run with Salvador Larroca but filled in an issue early, so this is the true beginning of his stint. I don’t know if titling this issue “Focus” was a joke or not, since it mainly consists of unconnected subplots and setups for future storylines. Raab, being an editor on the X-line, is understandably familiar with the status quo of the books, so we get references to Onslaught, the demonic attack in issue #100, Rory Campbell getting a prosthetic leg, and Psylocke’s makeover by the Crimson Dawn. He also revives a few forgotten storylines, such as Moira’s curiosity over X-Man’s genetic similarity to Cable, the hint that Cable could somehow cure the Legacy Virus (Douglock was also supposed to be a key for the cure, so I’m sure it’s not a coincidence he’s used in this scene), and Captain Britain and Meggan’s engagement. This is mostly setup, so it’s hard to offer much judgment, but Raab is able to make a fairly smooth transition into the book. I do have to point out that his British accents are often horrendous, and his characterization of Brian Braddock seems odd. Would he really renounce his role as Captain Britain, which he only regained a few weeks earlier, because of some snotty comments overheard on the street? It comes out of nowhere and doesn’t seem to fit the character at all.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

IMPERIAL GUARD #1-#3, January - March 1997

Imperious Wrecks!

Credits: Brian Augustyn (writer), Chuck Wojtkiewicz (penciler), Ray Snyder (inker), Brad Vancata (colors), Jon Babcock (letters)

This is a bit of a curiosity. Terry Kavanagh is credited with editing this comic, even though he left Marvel’s staff years earlier. It was mentioned in the Bullpen Bulletins around this time that Kavanagh returned for a few weeks to help during the holiday rush, but it doesn’t seem like he would’ve been there long enough to oversee a three-issue miniseries. Chuck Wojtkiewicz is a penciler who I believe showed up as a fill-in artist on comics Kavanagh edited in the early ‘90s, and this mini is hand-lettered, which was already rare at Marvel by this time. Connecting this deeper to the early ‘90s is a Malcolm X baseball hat worn by a random pedestrian. However, the story explicitly takes place after the Onslaught crossover, and ties in to the Shi’ar/Phalanx storyline that was running in Uncanny X-Men at the time. So, was this mini sitting in a drawer for a few years or not? It’s possible that it was, and a few tweaks were made to fit it into continuity. Or maybe I’m just thinking too much.

This is a rare Marvel job for Brian Augustyn, so maybe it’s fitting that he’s writing a team of Legion of Superhero stand-ins. With the exception of Mentor (who’s clearly supposed to be LoSH’s Brainiac 5), Augustyn actually isn’t playing up their similarities, but he is keeping the tone similar to that of a less-crazy Silver Age DC comic. It certainly doesn’t feel like anything the X-office was producing at the time. The story has the Imperial Guard assigned to Earth, on a mission to observe, and protect us backwards creatures if necessary. Gladiator is upset that the Shi’ar Empire has been attacked while they’re away, but he respects Lilandra’s order to stay on Earth. This leads directly to his appearance in Uncanny X-Men #341, which had him sending the X-Men to help the Shi’ar in his place. While on Earth, the Imperial Guard face the Underground Militia, an anti-superhero paramilitary group. The story ends with Gladiator mysteriously losing his powers during the fight. Augustyn isn’t doing anything momentous here, but it’s an entertaining action comic, and the Guard is at least given hints of a personality. Wojtkiewicz’s art, which resembles an early McFarlane without the elaborate detail lines, is distractingly ugly, though.


Up From the Depths

Credits: Brian Augustyn (writer), Chuck Wojtkiewicz (penciler), Ray Snyder (inker), Brad Vancata & Graphic Color Works (colors), Phil Felix (letters)

Following last issue’s cliffhanger, the rest of the Imperial Guard succumb to the radiation that overpowered Gladiator. Only the newest member, the Kree soldier known as Commando, is able to endure, due to a mysterious rush of energy. Later, Commando has a sudden burst of inspiration that tells him that the Underground Militia is actually a group of pink-skinned Kree Freemen. They want revenge on Earth’s superheroes, due to the events of “Operation Galactic Storm.” Apparently, the Avengers are somehow responsible for the destruction of the Kree’s planet, although this is really the biased account of the villains. (The post-Onslaught status quo of the Marvel Universe is an awkward place to set this story, since most, if not all, of the Avengers involved in that story are believed dead during this time.) Tying this deeper to the mainstream Marvel Universe is a Rick Jones cameo. After it’s helpfully pointed out that he used to hang with the Avengers, he suddenly has a cosmic vision that ends with him developing blue skin. This, obviously, has very little to do with the X-Men. The Imperial Guard first appeared in Uncanny X-Men, but so did Alpha Flight and the modern-day Ka-Zar. That doesn’t mean their corner boxes should have giant “X” logos either.


A Mad God Awakens

Credits: Brian Augustyn (writer), Chuck Wojtkiewicz (penciler), Ray Snyder (inker), Brad Vancata & Graphic Color Works (colors), Janice Chiang (letters)

Primus, the leader of the Kree Freeman, unleashes his plan to expose Earth to radiation he harvested from the remains of the Kree’s planet. A mysterious voice grants Rick Jones power, which he uses to aid the Imperial Guard against Primus. After Gladiator disposes of the reactor and Rick absorbs the radiation, the Kree Supreme Intelligence reveals himself. He’s been manipulating all of these events so that he can reemerge on Earth. Commando’s character arc is completed, as he rejects the Supreme Intelligence and sides with his teammates in the Imperial Guard. This is all traditional superhero material, right down to the churlish new member who eventually warms up to his teammates and becomes a true hero at the end. Even though there aren’t any surprises here, Augustyn does a competent job throughout the mini. It’s too bad Wojtkiewicz’s art never finds its footing, though. And, really, labeling this an X-book wasn’t exactly fair to the readers. It was already hard enough to be an X-completist during this era; grouping an unrelated miniseries under the X-banner while a thousand other limited series and one-shots were being released was extremely shortsighted and greedy.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

WOLVERINE ’96 - 1996

The Last Ronin

Credits: Jeph Loeb (plot), Ralph Macchio (script), Ed McGuiness (penciler), Nathan Massengill w/Norman Lee (inkers), Gloria Vasquez (colors), Comicraft (letters)

Summary: In Japan, Bastion encourages the government to use the Red Ronin robot as an anti-mutant mechanism. Meanwhile, Silver Samurai convinces Wolverine to help him break Sunfire out of a government facility, where he’s been kept ever since his powers went haywire months earlier. When Wolverine and Sunfire reach Red Ronin, they run into Yukio, who is trying to find a way to deliver the robot to the highest bidder. On the government’s command, Red Ronin is activated when the intruders are detected. Wolverine disables the robot, but Sunfire’s powers go out of control during the fight. After Wolverine calms him down, he takes Sunfire to Canada to train with Mac and Heather Hudson.

Continuity Notes: It’s revealed that Sunfire lost control of his powers due to Magneto’s electromagnetic pulse in X-Men #25.

Review: Is this the first Loeb/McGuiness collaboration? It does follow their future path of minimal plots that revolve around giant robots and gratuitous action scenes. There’s barely anything to this story, but it does take advantage of a few existing continuity points. I remember some fans were convinced that Sunfire was killed in X-Men #25, due to the brief scene that had him consumed in a flash of light as Magneto’s electromagnetic pulse swept the planet. Picking up on that scene and using it to justify his lack of appearances since then (I’m assuming he didn’t appear in-between these two stories) is a nice use of the past. Showing Bastion’s actions overseas also helps to develop him as a more credible villain, and pitting Wolverine against an obscure character like Red Ronin is fun. For whatever reason, Red Ronin is only operational for a few pages, and McGuiness doesn’t really get to do much with him, so it’s a bit of a wasted opportunity. Ralph Macchio, one of the routine fill-in scripters of this era, delivers another mid-70s style script. Everything is spelled out in great detail, so over half of the script consists of exposition or descriptions of events that are clearly depicted in the art.

The Golden Temple

Credits: Joseph Kelly (writer), Tommy Lee Edwards (penciler), Rich Case (inker), Paul Becton (colors), John Workman (letters)

Summary: Amiko runs away to find the Golden Temple, where she hopes to find the samurai who once saved her life. She’s joined by a grizzled homeless man who helps her on the journey. When they reach the temple, Amiko is disappointed to see it’s been abandoned. The homeless man reveals himself as Wolverine, the “samurai” she’s been searching for the entire time.

Review: This has Tommy Lee Edwards art, and John Workman even hand-lettered it, so it’s a little “arty” for a mid-90s annual backup. I assume Joseph Kelly is Joe Kelly, making what might be his debut on an X-title. It’s an adequately told story about a child’s imagination, believing in yourself, and accepting change. Wolverine’s Japanese supporting cast never really received the attention they deserved, so I’m glad someone decided to do a character-driven piece with Wolverine’s adopted daughter. This might also be the only Wolverine story set in Japan that doesn’t feature the Hand, so it probably deserves an award just for that.

Monday, January 18, 2010

X-FACTOR #132 - #133, March - April 1997

Previously…in X-Factor: Havok declared that he was sick of being manipulated by others and formed a new Brotherhood team. Because this title rarely makes sense, he recruited the Dark Beast, the man who brainwashed him just a few issues earlier. Meanwhile, Mystique has somehow learned info on the shadowy government organization that’s conspiring against X-Factor.

Breakaway

Credits: Howard Mackie (writer), Jeff Matsuda (penciler), Art Thibert (inker), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (lettering), Glynis Oliver & GCW (colors)

Summary: Forge resigns X-Factor from government service, as Madrox arranges to meet with Shard in a cemetery. Upon learning that Wild Child was spying on their conversation, Madrox leaves in anger. Unbeknownst to Madrox, Shard arranged the incident with Wild Child to draw Madrox closer to her. Later, Mystique checks on the home of mutant child Trevor Chase. She learns that he was kidnapped from his parents by a mystery man with a grudge against her. When armed men attack her outside of the home, Forge tries to drive her to safety.

Review: Going “underground,” or breaking away from the government, is probably the most obvious story you can do with a government-sponsored mutant team. Casting the government itself as an enemy is another obvious route, which is the direction this title had been moving in for the previous year. I don’t necessarily mind using the old clichés, but Mackie really isn’t adding a new spin or making the characters engaging enough to keep the story interesting. There’s also the ridiculous idea that Forge is personally going to be looking after Mystique and Sabretooth from now on, independent of the government, which is stretching credibility too far. The rest of the story has more mystery men with vague motivations ordering attacks through telephones, and a rather ridiculous romantic subplot that expects us to believe that both Madrox and Wild Child are falling for Shard, the hologram.

Down Under

Credits: Howard Mackie (writer), Jeff Matsuda (penciler), Art Thibert (inker), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (lettering), Glynis Oliver & GCW (colors)

Summary: Forge and Mystique’s getaway car is destroyed in the chase. Val Cooper and government agent Bowser investigate the wreckage but find no survivors. Bowser insists on following Cooper after he hears reports of an explosion at X-Factor’s headquarters. The duo investigates the explosion with six masked guards. Most of the guards are killed by Forge’s defenses, and the surviving two accidentally unleash a chemical biohazard. Cooper and Bowser escape and seal off the remains of the headquarters. The deceased guards return to life, revealing themselves as the members of X-Factor in disguise. Meanwhile, Madrox visits Guido in the hospital. He’s greeted by Havok, who offers him a role in the Brotherhood, which Madrox declines.

Production Note: Eric Battle is incorrectly credited with penciling this issue.

Review: For the first time in ages, X-Factor has a twist ending that actually works. Reading through the issue, I didn’t like the way Forge’s defenses were casually killing soldiers, or Val Cooper’s somewhat nonchalant reaction. Revealing that no one died (and that Cooper was in on it all along) redeems the story, and it’s even a legitimate surprise. This is a much better example of how to deal with the tired “heroes vs. government” story than the previous issue. The subplot, however, is a disappointment. Mackie’s attempts at “humorous” Madrox dialogue all fall flat, and “new attitude” Havok is just as dull and pointless as ever. Plus, Havok’s already tried to recruit Madrox into the new Brotherhood, so I have no idea why this scene even exists in the first place.

Friday, January 15, 2010

GENERATION X ‘96 - 1996

Everyday People

Credits: Michael Golden (writer), Jeff Johnson (penciler), Dan Panosian (inker), Cabrea/Lazellari & GCW (colors), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (letters)

Summary: On a trip to New York City, Banshee leaves Skin and Synch to park the van while the team escapes a traffic jam. In the parking garage, Skin and Synch run across Fenris stealing a mutagen wave generator. Meanwhile, a depressed man runs into a chronically late woman. He agrees to go to work with her to explain why she’s late. The woman’s boss leaves that day with money embezzled from the company. As Generation X fights Fenris, the villains turn on the generator, which causes their powers to go haywire. Synch is able to destroy the device, inadvertently creating havoc in the nearby area. Jubilee accidentally generates a fire in the garage, allowing Fenris to escape. The embezzler is forced to flee traffic, and runs into the police. His employee learns that her office is being closed and the company is transferring her to a better job.

Review: Michael Golden drew the covers to the ’95 and ’96 annuals, which I guess somehow lead to him writing this issue. I’ve never read a comic written by Golden before, and while this isn’t perfect, I enjoyed it. Golden has a nice grasp on the characters, and is able to make a multi-page “stuck in traffic” sequence feel like it isn’t dragging. The dialogue is occasionally clunky, and he definitely overuses Skin’s Spanish exclamations, but most of the script is strong. The unnamed “everyday people” feel real, which is essential for the story to work. It’s obvious that at some point their lives will intersect with the superhero action, but Golden doesn’t go the obvious route of having the characters meet the heroes, get caught in an explosion, or get taken hostage. The late woman learns she worried about nothing because her office was closed during the confusion, and her boss gets caught in a related traffic jam and just so happens to run into the police when he leaves his car. (The first normal person, the depressed guy dealing with a breakup, doesn’t receive a lot of attention at the end, which is odd since the story seemed to mainly focus on him in the beginning. I guess his happy ending is meeting the late girl, but that would’ve happened with or without Gen X’s fight.) I’ve always liked stories that ground superhero action in the real world, and I think Golden’s devised a clever way to make a one-shot annual story stand out.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

SABRETOOTH & MYSTIQUE #1-#4, December 1996 - March 1997

Old Sins Cast Long Shadows

Credits: Jorge Gonzalez (writer), Ariel Olivetti w/Pier Brito (art), Comicraft (lettering), Kevin Somers & GCW (colors)

Spinning out of the opaque mess that was X-Factor comes Sabretooth and Mystique. Howard Mackie’s run on the book during this era is generally regarded as terrible, but Jorge Gonzalez is at least able to employ some of the ideas into a promising start. Mystique is on a mission to destroy the life’s work of Catalyst, a deceased Hydra agent she despised. This leads to her and Sabretooth faking their deaths to escape the government, then stealing a capsule from a corpse on the SHIELD helicarrier (apparently it has a morgue). Following the tradition of miniseries dedicated to villains, the pair is pitted against another set of villains, AIM. AIM also wants the capsule, leading to a series of chase scenes and action sequences. The idea that Mystique can morph into inhuman forms had recently been introduced in X-Factor (sans explanation, of course), and Gonzalez goes out of his way to shove it into this story. Over the course of a few pages, Mystique morphs into Gargoyle from the Defenders, Wendigo, and a few other monsters. It’s an alteration of her powers I’m not personally fond of, but it doesn’t hinder my enjoyment of the issue that much.

Torture

Credits: Jorge Gonzalez (writer), Ariel Olivetti (art), Comicraft (lettering), Kevin Somers (colors)

I remember Scott Lobdell once defending on Usenet his stance that Mystique couldn’t father a child. This lead to someone bringing up this miniseries, and Lobdell had an interesting response. Aside from questioning if it should even be considered canon, he seemed to express sympathy for editor Kelly Corvese for having to deal with the project (or just Marvel in general during this period). The continuity does get murky here, as a flashback to their secret agent days shows Sabretooth wearing his current furry outfit, and Mystique using her powers to grow functional wings (which would mean her new powers in X-Factor weren’t new at all, yet we never saw her use them before). There’s also a scene in the present that has Mystique morphing into Forge while nullifying Sabretooth’s tracking device, even though the story states repeatedly that she can’t take someone’s powers while impersonating them. The main story soldiers on, as Sabretooth and Mystique travel to a Hydra base to find notes Catalyst left behind. Mystique is confronted by Dismember and Corrosion, two Hydra lab experiments that have appropriately ridiculous designs by Ariel Olivetti.

Willing Victims

Credits: Jorge Gonzalez (writer), Ariel Olivetti w/Pier Brito (art), Comicraft (lettering), Kevin Somers (colors)

Mystique is taken into custody, and to the shock of absolutely no one, learns that Catalyst is still alive. After another flashback to the day Catalyst tortured Mystique, Destiny, and Sabretooth, he spells out his master villain plan. Using Access, his computer program that grants him contact with every existing database on Earth, he’ll become the new Supreme Hydra. Sabretooth catches Catalyst’s scent and tracks him down. He frees Mystique and is ready for a fight when AIM begins its own takeover of the base. Although much of this is predictable, it is pretty fun, due in large part to Olivetti’s ability to sell the action scenes.



Dead Ends

Credits: Jorge Gonzalez (writer), Ariel Olivetti (pencils) Pier Brito (inks), Comicraft (lettering), Kevin Somers & GCW (colors)

As the mini draws to a close, Mystique chases down Catalyst while Sabretooth faces Cypher (an AIM officer, not the New Mutants member). Virtually the only hint of characterization appears here, as Cypher appeals to Sabretooth’s shred of humanity to cover her escape. She’s used the Access technology to launch a missile attack against Russia that will create another world war (That’s a very ‘80s master plan, isn’t it?). Sabretooth can either fight her, or destroy Hydra’s technology and stop the launch. Whether or not Sabretooth actually has any desire to be human is debatable, but it’s only a brief scene and Gonzalez manages to pull off. Having Sabretooth save the world in a mission no one will ever know about is also a clever idea. Meanwhile, Catalyst flees capture, but ends up falling off the edge of a mountain. Destiny, who earlier predicted her face would be the last he would see, stands over the ledge as he falls. Of course, Destiny is actually Mystique in disguise. Finally, Mystique convinces Sabretooth to put his restraint collar back on and the duo heads back to X-Factor’s headquarters.

That last scene is an obvious reminder that all of this can be lumped under “illusion of change.” Compare this to the 1993 spurt of limited series, which revealed legitimate continuity points about Sabretooth, Deadpool, Mystique, and to a lesser extent, Gambit. Now, we don’t particularly learn anything about the characters’ pasts, their status quos aren’t impacted in any way, and everyone just goes home in the end. As a fast-paced action story, it’s actually an entertaining mini, but there’s nothing here that couldn’t have worked as an annual, one-shot, or fill-in arc. Actually, given X-Factor’s level of quality at this point, it would’ve been a welcome break.

Monday, January 11, 2010

XSE #1 - #4, November 1996 - February 1997

Time Lost

Credits: John Ostrander (writer), Chris Gardner (penciler), Terry Austin & Tom Palmer (inkers), Derek Bellman & Graphic Color Works (colors), Comicraft (letters)

The first Bishop miniseries was a deluxe format series on slick paper with high production values and Carlos Pacheco art. This is not. Aside from the awkward combination of computer colors and low-grade newsprint that marred many of Marvel’s titles during this era, the art comes from a not-ready-for-primetime Chris Gardner. At least Terry Austin and Tom Palmer are brought in to ink, and while some pages are almost reminiscent of Rick Leonardi (thanks to Austin’s inks), they’re not enough to save the comic. John Ostrander returns as writer, setting the story up as a flashback conversation between Bishop and Shard. Bishop wants Shard to join the X-Men, which somehow leads to a retelling of their life story. There’s actually a lot of Bishop continuity established here, and I have no idea if Marvel’s made any effort to keep it consistent over the years (based on Paul O’Brien’s review of the recent Bishop mini, I’m not sure if Marvel’s even consistent with his actual first appearances in Uncanny X-Men). In this issue…

- More about the Summers Rebellion, which briefly united humans and mutants against the Sentinels, is revealed (the XSE is later formed to police mutants in exchange for humans shutting down the mutant camps similar to the ones in “Days of Future Past”);

- We see Bishop’s grandmother, who may or not be Storm;

- The Exhumes, an anti-human mutant group, is introduced;

- We learn that Bishop met Fitzroy as a boy after he was recruited into the XSE;

- Several minor characters like Hecat’e (an XSE drill sergeant Shard admires) are introduced;

- And we learn the story behind the M on Bishop’s face (Bishop and Shard were two of the last mutants given the M in the mutant camps, the other members of the XSE earn them when they graduate).

Another one of the vague hints dropped by Lobdell in Uncanny X-Men is addressed, as Ostrander introduces the Emplates, a street gang with powers similar to Generation X villain Emplate. The story ends with the Emplates targeting young Bishop and Shard on an early XSE training session. That’s a lot for a first issue, and with the exception of the hint that Storm is Bishop’s grandmother (which is just wrong for numerous reasons), I can’t say that any of these are bad ideas. Unfortunately, it feels more like a checklist of continuity points than an actual story. The only real characterization comes from Shard, who resents living in Bishop’s shadow. That’s not particularly engaging, and it’s something the X-titles have already thoroughly explored with Cyclops and Havok.

Future Intense

Credits: John Ostrander (writer), Deodato Studios & Mozart Cuto (art), Derek Bellman & Graphic Color Works (colors), Comicraft (letters)

The final few pages of the previous issue had a sudden style shift, as the art suddenly turned into a generic ‘90s Jim Lee knock-off. I suspect Deodato Studios also did uncredited work on that issue, since they were the kings of that look circa 1996. This issue actually opens with a softer, Pacheco-style, but we get to the generic ‘90s look soon enough. The story picks up from the previous issue, revealing that young Bishop became the youngest cadet to become an XSE officer due to his performance in the Emplate attack. Bishop and Shard continue their conversation from the first issue, leading to a flashback featuring Malcolm and Randall, Bishop’s created-to-die partners from his early appearances. We learn that Randall was a lighthearted extrovert from a human/mutant commune, while Malcolm was a by-the-book rich kid desperate to prove himself. Bishop recounts the day the Exhumes massacred Randall’s commune, which cemented his bond with Malcolm. Like the art, this is all pretty generic, and Ostrander isn’t doing an awful lot to humanize the characters.

Future Betrayed

Credits: John Ostrander (writer), Deodato Studios & Mozart Cuto (art), Shannon Blanchard & Malibu (colors), Comicraft (letters)

And now we have a series of flashbacks that leads up to Shard’s death. Bishop previously claimed that he killed Shard, but it turns out he was really just a big drama queen. It’s revealed that Bishop and Shard’s relationship was often strained, mainly due to Shard’s jealousy. As a teenager, she even dates Trevor Fitzroy just to make Bishop jealous. Years later, after Fitzroy is apprehended, he gives Bishop info on an Exhume hideout. Bishop passes the report on to Shard, hoping that a large bust will give her another promotion and help her forgive him after a recent fight. Shard asks Bishop to stay behind, eager to prove herself. Instead of finding the Exhume terrorists, she’s blindsided by a group of Emplates. Fitzroy, by the way, has his backstory fleshed out. He’s the illegitimate son of Anthony Shaw, Black King of the Hellfire Club. Fitzroy kills his half-brother William but his father’s influence keeps him out of jail. He then forms a group of wealthy mutants called Hellions and causes chaos. So, over five years after Fitzroy’s introduced, and four years after he’s used on a regular basis, someone finally gets around to resolving a few of the vague comments he made in his first few appearances.

Conflagration

Credits: John Ostrander (writer), Deodato Studios & Mozart Cuto (art), Shannon Blanchard & GCW (colors), Comicraft (letters)

With Shard now transformed into an Emplate, Bishop must decide whether to follow XSE protocol and kill her. He of course can’t go through with it, and instead brings her unconscious body to the headquarters of Stark/Fujikawa. Apparently, the Witness (the mysterious old man who may or may not be Gambit) heads the corporation, and grants him permission to record Shard’s brainwaves and turn her into a hologram. Witness’ condition is that Bishop work for him for a year, which he agrees to. What exactly Bishop does during that year isn’t explained (Bishop “isn’t ready” to talk about it yet), but it conveniently brings us to the end of the miniseries. After his year with the Witness, Bishop rejoins the XSE and goes on the mission that sends him back to this timeline. Since the first Bishop mini was essentially a four-issue long fight scene, I am glad that Ostrander at least used this opportunity to fill in the gaps in Bishop’s history. Unfortunately, it came several years too late. Aside from being released in the middle of a glut of superfluous X-miniseries, it was also published years after most readers seemed to care about Bishop (I wonder how much of his early popularity was owed to fans who were just excited to have the first appearance of an X-Man). By the time you get to late 1996/early 1997, Scott Lobdell is already making references to how out of place Bishop is with the rest of the team in Uncanny X-Men, and setting up the storyline that writes him out of the series for several years. I can’t say this is a terrible book (well, some of the art is extremely weak), but I’m not entirely sure why it was published in the first place. I have a feeling I’ll be repeating that several times as I go through all of these limited series.

Friday, January 8, 2010

PRYDE & WISDOM #1- #3, September - November 1996

Mystery School

Credits: Warren Ellis (writer), Terry Dodson (penciler), Karl Story (inker), Ariane Lenshoek & Malibu (colors), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (letters)

Warren Ellis’ run on Excalibur occasionally turned into a Pryde and Wisdom team-up book, so it’s fitting that this mini ran during his final days on the series. The story has Kitty Pryde and Pete Wisdom searching for a mutant serial killer who’s targeting ministers and priests. They’re brought into the case by Mr. Jardine, one of Wisdom’s friends who’s worried about his daughter, a photojournalist who is also investigating the case. The duo gets into contact with the Mystery School, the police department that investigates unusual deaths. The victims’ bodies have strange markings, which Wisdom believes only his family could identify. Throughout the story, men in black try to kill Pryde and Wisdom, providing the standard action sequences. Ellis leaves a lot of room in the story for the lead characters to interact, playing up the “good girl/bad boy” relationship while moving the plot along and throwing in some action. The characters have enough personality to make this work, and Terry Dodson delivers his usual high-quality artwork.

Mystery Walk

Credits: Warren Ellis (writer), Terry Dodson & Aaron Lopresti (pencilers), Simmons, Pinnock, Lopresti , & Martin (inkers), Ariane Lenshoek & Malibu (colors), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (letters)

The issue opens with the introduction of Harold Wisdom, Pete Wisdom’s father. He’s a deranged, paranoid old man who’s played for comic relief. Ellis writes British, old, and crazy very well, so it is pretty funny. Harold suggests they contact Pete’s sister if they want to know what the markings on the bodies mean. After leaving his father’s house, Wisdom has one of his spontaneous “softer” moments and tells Kitty about his mother’s death (he feels guilty because she was waiting by the window for him to visit, which he had no plans of doing, when a spree killer suddenly shot her).

After returning to their hotel, Pryde and Wisdom fight off more attackers, then make out on the couch. Wisdom’s sister, Romany, abruptly enters. They escort her to the Mystery School, where she uses her occult knowledge to converse with one of the victims. After reading the symbol on his body, she discerns that the killer believes himself to be Cain, humanity’s first murderer. When Wisdom casually mentions John Gideon, an agent he briefly met last issue, the Mystery School staff suddenly races to a nearby pub in a panic. There, a woman pulls a gun on them. Ellis is doing a good job of building the mystery, dropping in just enough vague clues and cutaway scenes without making them an annoyance. Even if you’re not interested in trying to piece together the pieces of the mystery, the main story has enough humor and action to keep things entertaining.

Mystery Train

Credits: Warren Ellis (writer), Terry Dodson & Aaron Lopresti (pencilers), Simmons, Pinnock, Lopresti , Martin, & Martin (inkers), Ariane Lenshoek & Malibu (colors), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (letters)

The armed woman in the pub is never named, but she identifies herself as Britain’s answer to Charles Xavier. She wants mutants to keep a low profile in Britain for their own protection (she also confesses to sending people to kill Pryde and Wisdom in the previous issues to keep them off the case), and wants to be the one to take down the mutant serial killer. A conversation between her and the Mystery School police reveals that the killer is John Gideon. Gideon is an unhinged Mystery School agent who called in to work earlier from the pub, bragging that he met a woman. After Kitty knocks out the Xavier wannabe, everyone travels to Gideon’s home. There, they discover Mr. Jardine’s daughter, Amanda, who placed herself as bait in the pub. Harold Wisdom has also arrived, after deducing the killer’s identity. Gideon uses his powers on Harold, fossilizing his left arm. Kitty chases Gideon into the subway (or “tube” as it’s apparently called), which of course leads to a train collision. Gideon refuses Kitty’s help and apparently dies in the crash. Later, Wisdom has a tense goodbye with his family members and threatens to kill Kitty for suggesting he meet her family.

Intercut with the serial killer storyline are more revelations about Pete Wisdom’s family. Just to drive the point home that Wisdom is secretly a softie, it’s revealed that he refused to see his mother earlier because she told him she never loved him, and that he’s been secretly paying his father’s rent for years. When Gideon threatens Wisdom’s father, he of course steps up to the plate and defends the man he doesn’t like very much. I don’t mind the occasional glimpses of humanity, but I do think revealing that he disliked his mother because she openly hated him is a little much. That virtually absolves him for not visiting her the day she waited by the window, making it a less significant part of his backstory. I also wonder what the point of “Britain’s Xavier” was supposed to be, outside of serving as a throwaway explanation for most of the earlier action sequences. It seems like Ellis had plans for her (for no real reason, he throws in that she’s an alchemist who's older than she seems), but her appearance is so rushed it’s hard to get a feel for the character. Aside from those minor complaints, this is a fun series that’s on the level with Ellis’ best Excalibur issues. Actually, because it’s only three issues long, the pace moves along faster and the gratuitous padding that occasionally made its way into Excalibur is absent. The basic idea of a serial killer who thinks he’s Cain, writing an apology letter to God on dead bodies, is a great starting point, and Ellis manages to use it as a nice introduction for the Wisdom family.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

UNCANNY X-MEN ‘96 - September 1996

Destiny’s Child

Credits: Terry Kavanagh & Howard Mackie (writers), David Perrin & Nick Gnazzo (pencilers), Art Thibert & Harry Candelario (inkers), Kevin Somers & Malibu (colors), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (letters)

Summary: Preacher is targeted by government agents who want access to his precognitive powers. They discover one of his paintings of Shard and recognize her as the “ghost” in X-Factor’s headquarters. Preacher follows his visions to Las Vegas, where Bishop is meeting the current holographic incarnation of Shard. The government agents send the Hound to attack, abducting Shard and Preacher. Wild Child follows Hound’s scent to a secret facility where Shard is being dissected for her future technology and knowledge. Knowing that the true Shard would sacrifice her life for the mission, Bishop is prepared to annihilate her holographic form against Wild Child’s objections. Shard chooses to destroy her own projection gauntlet and end her life to keep the information out of the government’s hands. The agents escape and program the lab to explode. As Bishop exits, he realizes that the hologram really was Shard. Suddenly, Shard appears in the Blackbird, revealing that the lab’s experimentation apparently granted her life independent of the holographic projector. Meanwhile, Bastion keeps Preacher in isolation and studies his paintings.

Continuity Notes: The rogue government agents are the same ones who infiltrated X-Factor’s headquarters in X-Factor #123. Bishop’s birthplace is revealed as Las Vegas, and flashbacks show him living on the streets with Shard and another mutant named Hancock before being recruited into the XSE. Preacher first appeared in the previous year's annual.

I Love the ‘90s: “Destiny’s Child” can’t be a reference to the singing group since it hadn’t appeared yet. Bishop’s childhood takes place in the faraway future of 2013 (which didn’t even make sense in 1996, since it’s stated in this issue he’s born fifty years from the present).

Review: The basic idea for this issue isn’t bad, and it’s the type of story that is probably best suited for an annual. I’m not sure why exactly Shard was chosen as an X-Factor member, but since she’s Bishop’s “dead” sister, there should be a story that explores his feelings about her. Doing it in an annual instead of just running the typical filler is a smart move. It also allows the monthly titles to go along their way without having to address the issue.

Kavanagh and Mackie introduce a little conflict by having Bishop express the opinion that she’s just a hologram and not his sister at all. He actually doesn’t want anything to do with her, which is pretty cold but fitting with Bishop’s character. Of course, by the end of the story he’s seen the light predictably enough, but the scenes that show his willingness to kill Shard work fairly well. If the story actually ended with Bishop killing Shard, or Shard killing herself, maybe it would’ve had more of an impact. Instead, there’s a tacked on happy ending that reveals that Shard is now some sort of an “independent hologram” and everything’s okay. If this was supposed to make readers think of hologram-Shard as more of a “real” character, I don’t think it worked. Aside from the happy ending, I also have issues with the generic shadowy government conspiracy villains (who were already overdone in X-Factor), and the treatment of Preacher. The X-Men just forget about him getting kidnapped and go home at the end. I know Preacher’s a forgettable character who never amounts to anything, but the characters in the book shouldn’t be acting this way.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

CABLE #40 & #41, February - March 1997

Into the Dark

Credits: Todd Dezago (writer), Scott Clark (penciler), Chris Carlson (inker), Mike Thomas & GCW (colors), Comicraft (letters)

Summary: Moira MacTaggert sends Douglock to retrieve the mansion’s information on Mutant Underground member Renee Majcomb. He joins Cable and Domino on their search for Majcomb, which leads them to an isolated home in the woods. Bastion’s First Strike soldiers are there, targeting Majcomb. The soldiers are attacked in the dark by a mystery figure who later reveals himself as Abyss. Cable convinces Abyss not to kill the First Strike soldiers, then sends them back to Bastion with a message to leave Xavier’s allies alone. Majcomb reveals to Cable that Abyss is aiding her in her research on the Legacy Virus because he is also a victim.

Continuity Notes: Douglock appears to retrieve Xavier’s files on Renee Majcomb because the X-Men previously erased his files to keep them out of Onslaught’s hands in Onslaught: X-Men. Abyss first appeared in the Age of Apocalypse reality as one of Apocalypse’s Four Horsemen. He appears here in the official reality for the first time, where it’s revealed that he’s a former Genoshan Mutate.

Review: I had no idea Todd Dezago was the regular writer on Cable following Jeph Loeb. Since his brief run was followed by the James Robinson/Joe Casey/Ladronn issues, it is understandable that he would’ve been overshadowed by a more high profile run, but it’s still surprising that there was a run on Cable from this era I knew nothing about. Dezago picks up on some of the dangling plot threads surrounding the X-Universe and uses them to piece together this one-shot story. Xavier’s Mutant Underground hadn’t been mentioned for a while, Renee Majcomb was a minor supporting cast member who was supposed to be doing something important with the Legacy Virus, Xavier’s files had been erased, Bastion was still growing as a threat, and some of the new AoA characters still hadn’t turned up in the “real” universe. This issue doesn’t advance a lot of storylines, but it at least checks up on some things that needed attention. In terms of actual content, there’s nothing exciting going on, unless you haven’t read a thousand stories that end with the hero convincing the victim not to give in to hate and kill his attackers. Like most of Loeb’s run, I can’t say it’s truly bad, but it’s just sort of there. The only real screw-up comes from naming one of the First Strike soldiers “Nils,” when Abyss’ real name is Niles. Nils is the soldier that Abyss takes out first, leading to pages of characters asking about Nils, followed by several pages of characters calling Abyss “Niles.” It’s needlessly confusing, and I wonder why Dezago would gave the soldier that name when she could’ve been called anything.

The Depths of Time

Credits: Todd Dezago (writer), Steve Crespo (penciler), Scott Hanna (inker), Mike Thomas & GCW (colors), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (letters)

Summary: Cable and Bishop respond to an intruder alert within the damaged Time Displacement Core. Inside, they discover Sinsear, who plans on repairing the core and returning to his future timeline. His battle with the heroes damages the core, causing it to build chronal energy that will cause time itself to collapse. Cable tricks Bishop into searching for a device, giving Cable enough distance to enter the core and sacrifice himself without Bishop’s interference. Suddenly, Sinsear immobilizes Cable. Viewing this as an opportunity to regain his humanity, he takes the tool Cable was going to use to shut down the core and leaps inside the time machine. Cable theorizes that Sinsear is now spread throughout time. Later, he discusses future prophesies with Bishop and asks Storm to tell him about his sister.

Continuity Notes: Sinsear is a cyborg from the future who hates Cable for not mercy-killing him in the battlefield. He last appeared in Cable #5. The Time Displacement Core is what Cable used to travel through time in his early appearances. It’s been in the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, inactive, since his space station Graymalkin exploded in X-Force #22.

Review: Last issue, we had the cliché “real heroes don’t kill” ending; this issue we have a cliché “hero inspires villain who in turn saves the day” ending. This isn’t exactly brilliant material. Dezago is still showing an ability to use the existing X-Universe to his advantage, as Bishop and Cable discuss how their futures might intersect (which I don’t think anyone had bothered to do by this point), and Cable starts to show some interest in his sister, Rachel. However, the final result is a story more dull than the last. I’ve never heard of Steve Crespo before, but his art is clean and attractive; much preferable to the standard mid-90s fill-ins we usually saw on the X-books. I would take him over the Scott Clark of this era any day. “New penciler” Randy Green is set to debut next issue, but his run is extremely short. I don’t know what happened behind-the-scenes, but this new era of Cable was certainly brief.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

CABLE & X-FORCE ‘96 - 1996

Transmission

Credits: John Francis Moore (writer), Luke Ross (penciler), Rob Hunter & Matt Ryan (inkers), Shannon Blanchard & Malibu (colors), Comicraft (letters)

Summary: Pulse, a cyberorganic construct created by Kree rebels, crash lands on Earth after he's shot down by the Shi’ar. Pulse is drawn to the Danger Room, the only location on Earth that is also constructed with Shi’ar technology. The Danger Room’s defense systems interfere with his programming, forcing Pulse to lose his identity and take on the forms of cyberorganic beings in the Danger Room’s databanks. After X-Force places him in custody, Shi’ar soldiers arrive to arrest Pulse. Cable is reluctant to release Pulse because the Shi’ar refuse to name his crimes. Meanwhile, Siryn and Warpath arrange for Pulse to escape through the mansion’s subspace communications relay. As the Shi’ar leave, Cable reluctantly endorses Siryn and Warpath’s decision.

I Love the ‘90s: The team relaxes at the end of the issue by watching The X-Files.

Review: This is fairly typical annual filler; the kind that pays lip service to some of the ongoing storylines but doesn’t actually advance any of them. It’s possible that someone was planning to do a Shi’ar/Kree/Silver Surfer storyline involving the X-books, since this issue ends with Pulse contacting the Silver Surfer (who also guest starred in X-Men Unlimited around this time), but I don’t think anything came of it. Maybe the Silver Surfer series picked up on the ideas. Like the X-Men Unlimited issue, this story portrays the Shi’ar as morally dubious, self-serving imperialists. I don’t particularly like the idea of casting the Shi’ar as villains, since it makes the X-Men look bad for associating with them in the first place. Plus it just reminds me too much of the questionable motivations that seem to have been attached to almost every outer space kingdom, secret society, or cosmic alliance in comics over the years. The major problem with the issue is really the art, though. Large sections of the story just consist of X-Force running around different Danger Room environments, which should be a great opportunity for an artist to show off. Instead, this is Ross in his early Image imitation days, so most of the locales are unconvincing, plus the cast often suffers from ugly faces, clumsy poses, and just bad anatomy.

Denouement

Credits: Terry Kavanagh (plot), Ben Raab (script), Ed Benes (penciler), Joe Pimentel (inker), Mike Thomas & Malibu (colors), Comicraft (letters)

Summary: Cable and Cyclops investigate Apocalypse’s abandoned stronghold in Egypt. While searching for any signs of activity, they discuss the losses Apocalypse has inflicted on their family.

Review: This follows the events of Wolverine #100, which was only a few months old at the time. Killing off minor (and extremely forgettable) villain Genesis wouldn’t immediately seem to have any real ramifications, until you remember that he’s actually Cyclops’ grandson. All of the strange connections that can be made amongst the various X-characters can be either a great strength or horrible hindrance to the franchise, depending on how they’re handled. This story doesn’t really go anywhere, but the basic idea is sound. It also has Cyclops and Cable behaving proactively by investigating Apocalypse’s resurrection, which is something we rarely see the X-characters do.

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