Wednesday, September 28, 2011

X-MEN UNLIMITED #22 - March 1999

Cat & Mouse

Credits: Brian K. Vaughan (writer), Patrick Gleason (penciler), Tom Nguyen (inker), Matt Webb (colors), Comicraft (letters)

Summary: The X-Men learn from Marrow that Flag-Smasher and ULTIMATUM are planning an attack in the sewers. They investigate and discover ULTIMATUM planting a bomb under the UN. The team attempts to defuse it, but a suspicious Marrow leaves to find the real bomb. Shadowcat follows and learns she’s right --Flag-Smasher is planting a bomb under Wall Street. Convinced that Flag-Smasher won’t deactivate the bomb, Shadowcat prepares to risk her life and bury it underground. Marrow knocks her unconscious and forces Flag-Smasher alone with the bomb. Her gamble pays off as Flag-Smasher chooses survival over ideology and defuses the bomb.

Production Note: The indicia list this as the January 1999 issue while the cover date is March 1999.

I Love the '90s: Colossus (or perhaps Gambit, the lettering is unclear) has never seen a Metrocard before and wonders what happened to subway tokens.

Review: From “Children of the Atom” to “Magneto War,” the main X-titles took a noticeable dip in quality as the creators struggled with the editorially mandated new/old cast and forced crossovers. Joe Kelly spent a lot of time selling Marrow as an X-Man in the early days of his run, but she didn’t seem to fit the dynamic of the ‘80s retro-team. Actually, it’s hard to say what the dynamic was supposed to be, since the books were something of a mess until Alan Davis hit his stride after “Magneto War.” In the midst of the chaos, this story quietly sneaked through in X-Men Unlimited, giving us an idea of how Marrow could be incorporated into the retro team, and reviving memories of why so many people enjoyed Joe Kelly’s take on the character.

The story opens with Marrow dropping a dead rat on Shadowcat’s bed. Marrow says she’s noticed her “trying to fatten up for winter” and was just helping out. Ouch. The story’s narrated by Marrow, allowing the reader insight into her largely negative opinions of her teammates, and reaffirming just how much she still hates humans. Marrow’s so nasty in this story it could be read as Vaughn backpedaling Kelly’s gradual development of the character, but since she never fully reformed during his run, I think it’s a legitimate interpretation. The basic plot is rather thin, but Vaughn uses it as a means to split the characters up and give Marrow and Shadowcat plenty of scenes together. They work off of each other well, as Shadowcat refuses to believe that Marrow’s as heartless as she lets on, and Marrow maintains her stance that Shadowcat is just too pretty to understand her life as a Morlock.

The climax hinges on their disparate views of human nature, as Shadowcat declares that humans can care enough about a cause to die for it, while Marrow asserts that humans are too selfish to give up their lives for anything. Marrow wins the argument, although from her perspective she really had nothing to lose; she’d prevented her fellow mutant from risking her life and didn’t care if the human killed his own kind or not. It’s a memorably dark ending, but it’s so dark it again raises the question of why exactly Marrow is an X-Man. I also wonder why Vaughn has Shadowcat pass out in the end (after she’s recovered from Marrow’s sock to the head). Maybe it’s there to add some cheap drama as the train races towards them, or to give Marrow an opportunity to show some concern for Shadowcat, but either way the scene is needlessly confusing. Regardless, this is one of the strongest stories to feature this particular cast of X-Men, and it’s too bad it had to be published long after Unlimited had been dismissed as filler.


Scott Church said...

I love that Kitty is afraid she could get hurt by the bomb when she can phase through electronic items and disrupt them to not work. I'm not sure if the bomb in this issue was supposed to be built that way, but that would be the easiest thing to do for her.

The other thing is just have her fingertips become tangent to be able to touch it and phase it down into the ground far enough so it wouldn't hurt anyone. With the powerset that we know that she has, this story really has not base to stand on.

X-Men Unlimited really switched to stories to clean up titles at this time. It usually pertained to the current arc's being told, which is a nice change from some of the crap they did on it where it felt like it was an extra story someone left and they wanted to get their money out of it.

Adam Farrar said...

I only recently read this comic after realizing it had early work by two of my favorite creators. It’s a simple story by two people who would go on to do bigger stuff so while the comic itself isn’t the best, it’s a great artifact.

This was one of Brian K. Vaughn’s early comics and you get the sense that he’s interested in the making the characters and their relationships work. This is also the first comic drawn by Patrick Gleason and his only Marvel work. He would do some of the first issues of Jay Faerber’s Noble Causes before DC picked him up to do a few little issues before going onto the Aquaman Sub Diego relaunch, then the Green Lantern Corps and now he’s on Batman. His art here is cartoony and seems rushed as the book goes on, but he was very consistent after that. His storytelling is clear and easy to follow, the characters are expressive and his environments are always appropriately moody.

This is a fine issue but had I read it live I doubt I would have been as excited about it as I was when I finally tracked it down this year.

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