Wednesday, May 25, 2011

UNCANNY X-MEN & FANTASTIC FOUR ‘98 - September 1998


Credits: Joe Casey (writer), Paul Pelletier & Leo Fernandez (pencilers), Andrew Pepoy, Keith Champagne, Rob Leigh, & Ray McCarthy (inks), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (letters), Serrano/Ramos/Soto/Smith/Schigel (colors)

Summary: Mr. Fantastic and Invisible Woman go out for a night at the opera, a performance also attended by Beast and Cecilia Reyes. Meanwhile, Wolverine forces Cannonball to join him in a poker game with the Thing and Human Torch. Unbeknownst to Mr. Fantastic, his new miniaturizer device is identical to one developed by Stark-Fujikawa scientist, Bradley Beynon. When Beynon is fired for copying Mr. Fantastic’s design, he raids Stark-Fujikawa’s vault and discovers a Psycho-Man robot and an Emotion-Stimulator Box. Beynon sends the robot to the FF’s headquarters and attacks the opera with the Box. The heroes defeat Beynon, but must soon protect him for an enraged Psycho-Man. During the battle, Beynon targets Mr. Fantastic with his miniaturizing device, but accidently sends himself and Psycho-Man to the Microverse.

Continuity Notes: Cannonball is portrayed as a novice poker player who has to be forced into the game, although he outplays everyone and consistently has winning hands. This is virtually identical to the story in X-Men #48, which also featured the Thing and was only a few years old at the time. The only difference is that Scott Lobdell heavily implied that Cannonball was pretending not to know how to play, while Joe Casey treats him as a genuine novice. Perhaps Lobdell should’ve looted a scientific vault and launched an attack on Casey for stealing his idea.

“Huh?” Moment: When Wolverine and Thing race out of Pier-4 to respond to Mr. Fantastic’s signal flare, Wolverine discovers Thing has somehow crushed his motorcycle with the FF’s “flying bathtub.” How exactly this happened isn’t explained at all.

Review: Team-ups were the gimmick for the 1998 annuals, which sounds fine on paper, but I seem to recall almost all of them getting bad reviews. This one certainly isn’t a stellar entry. The “humorous” character subplot is an unintentional rerun of a recent story, the villain has a shaky motive, and for some unexplained reason, the reader has to accept that Stark-Fujikawa keeps a Psycho-Man robot and accompanying device in its closet. It’s no secret by now that Casey has more of an affinity for the Fantastic Four than the X-Men, but the only real highlights in this issue come when he riffs on Joe Kelly’s concurrent X-Men run. While his characterizations of the Fantastic Four don’t go much deeper than a few catchphrases, his portrayal of Beast and Cecilia’s budding romance (a subplot dropped from the main books just as this annual went to press) brings some life to the story. Casey’s depiction of Cecilia’s response to her first brush with mind control -- she’s furious and wants to kill the guy -- also adds a nice touch of reality to the story. The rest of the issue is easily forgettable. Even the art, by the usually reliable Paul Pelletier and Leo Fernandez, is obscured by the rushed inking job.

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