Friday, August 31, 2012

THE BOOK OF FATE #2 - March 1997


Carnal Beckoning
Credits: Keith Giffen (writer), Ron Wagner (penciler), Bill Reinhold (inker), Gaspar (letterer), Mike Danza (colorist)

Summary: Jared discovers that he no longer needs sleep, forcing him to kill time in the middle of the night with Arnold. Arnold gives him advice on how to deal with the artifacts, and reveals that he’s created a Fate website. When Jared leaves Arnold’s home, he’s confronted by Sentinel, who places a “message from the Conclave” inside Jared’s head. Sentinel then confronts the nearby agent of Chaos, only to be possessed by the entity. The possessed Sentinel violently breaks into Jared’s home. Meanwhile, an agent of Order appears in India.

I Love the ‘90s: Jared describes the sudden movement of his face emblem as “Whoop! There it is!” (And I have no idea what he’s talking about, since the emblem’s in the same place it was in the previous issue.)

Total N00B: So, at some point Alan Scott dropped the Green Lantern title and went by Sentinel? Is he also de-aged at this point, because he certainly appears younger here than he was in Justice Society of America. Also, Jared already knows Sentinel somehow, and they have some connection to something called “the Conclave.”

“Huh?” Moment: Jared is horribly embarrassed to be purchasing “Cocoa Buffs” (later called by their real name) cereal as a favor to Arnold. Why? The story treats this as totally emasculating, but I’ve never heard of any stigma attached to grown men buying sugary breakfast cereal.

Review: Oh, more stuff that makes no sense. The book is still assuming that everyone has a full run of Fate, which puts this reader at a severe disadvantage. I’d love to read a good ol’ fashioned Jim Shooter ravaging of this comic, because large sections of the story are just opaque. Who is Arnold? How does he know Jared? How does Arnold seem to know so much about the occult? Or is he just guessing about this stuff? Why did he start a website? Why does Jared not to seem to care that Arnold’s setting up an online business on his behalf without his consent?

At the very least, Jared and Arnold do have some kind of chemistry going, so their conversation scene isn’t a total loss. Unfortunately, it’s followed by a pointless fight with a new incarnation of Alan Scott I’ve never seen before, which ties in to their connection with a mysterious group (?) known as the Conclave. And then, an unnamed monster attacks Alan Scott and possesses him, setting up another fight with Jared, who I guess I’m not supposed to be calling Dr. Fate yet. As a subplot, an unnamed figure in white reflects on India and the great monument he’ll build there. Finally, in the letters page, an editor’s note refers to the lead character as a “small time black marketer,” an idea that hasn’t clearly been expressed in the actual comic yet. That’s followed by a series of letters making obscure references to the previous Fate series that I’ve never read. Seriously, if I wasn’t already a fan of the art (and kind of obligated to keep writing about the series), why would I want to buy the next issue?

GUNFIRE #10 - March 1995



The Hong Kong Shuffle
Credits: Len Wein (writer), Ed Benes (penciler), Brian Garvey (inker), Clem Robins (letterer), Martin Thomas (colorist)

Summary: Gunfire arrives with Yvette in Hong Kong, unaware that his V.H.I. business associates are plotting against him. His search for Billy leads him to a factory that’s actually a front for the mobster Komodo. In his mansion, Komodo realizes that Billy is a victim of mistaken identity. However, Komodo decides Billy must be the one to pay his brother’s debt of honor. Meanwhile, Gemini searches for Ben in New York, while Lacey informs Ragnarok that Gunfire is in Hong Kong.

I Love the ‘90s: The story opens with a soliloquy on Hong Kong, reflecting on its unknown future after China regains control in 1997.

Review: Hong Kong is a great setting for an action/adventure story, even if Ed Benes is utterly incapable of selling the environment. I’m not saying I expected him to pull out a Geof Darrow, but I never saw Benes’ idol Jim Lee slack off so much when asked to draw a foreign environment. Unfortunately, Benes has replicated far more of Lee’s weaknesses than his strengths. Not that the story is a great inspiration, anyway. It’s nice to see Gunfire and Yvette travel to a new location, but the story does little to take advantage of anything that makes Hong Kong (a.k.a. “Libertarian Island”) unique. Really, we’re just getting more Asian mobsters and familial blood debts. The subplots are also dragging, with five full pages wasted on the Gemini twins getting into a bar fight and an Aunt Lacey/Ragnarok conversation scene. This wouldn’t be riveting with any artist.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

THE BOOK OF FATE #1 - February 1997



Lament
Credits: Keith Giffen (writer), Ron Wagner (penciler), Bill Reinhold (inker), Gaspar (letterer), Mike Danza (colorist)

Summary: Explorer Jared Stevens discovers the Tomb of Nabu when an old man leads him through an invisible entrance in the desert. Jared discovers the old man is the previous Dr. Fate, Kent Nelson. When Jared takes the Artifacts of Order, Kent and his wife Inza are restored to their youth and disappear. Soon, Jared is caught in a battle between Order and Chaos that leaves his body badly burned. Using the cloak of Dr. Fate as a bandage, Jared’s skin is healed. He returns home, only to discover his employer Marsh doesn’t believe his story.

Irrelevant Continuity: This series is a follow-up to the previous Dr. Fate ongoing, Fate.

Total N00B: Judging by the letters page, Jared Stevens is apparently an established character from the Fate series, even though he remains skeptical about the existence of Dr. Fate during the story’s opening. I also don’t know if the characters Jared mentions repeatedly throughout the issue -- his ex-wife Holly, her father (?) Marsh, and his “alleged best friend” Arnold Burnsteel -- have already appeared. The story certainly acts as if we should know who they are.

Review: My knowledge of Dr. Fate is limited to his Super Powers action figure and his appearances on the ‘90s Superman cartoon. Consequently, I have no idea what this is. On a basic level, I get it. Unlikely hero finds mystic artifacts and gains super powers, sure. But there’s a sense that as a reader, I should already know all of these characters and attach some kind of significance to Jared Stevens becoming the new Dr. Fate, (if in fact that’s the title he’ll go by in this series) and that’s the real failing of the story. It’s far too cryptic to truly be enjoyed, and as a main character, Jared Stevens is too much of a clich√© at this point to be engaging. He’s Ben Grimm without the charm and a PG-13 potty mouth; he’s no hero, but maybe, just maybe, he’ll learn about true heroism as the months pass.

File:Fate 0038.jpg

I do have some faith in Giffen’s ability to make this work; it’s just such a tired formula, even for 1997, that I’m not thrilled with the set up. The art, however, is everything I hoped it would be. Not to oversell it, but the combination of Ron Wagner and Bill Reinhold almost resembles Joe Kubert inked by Klaus Janson. Even when the story itself doesn’t make a lot of sense, the visual storytelling is always clear, and the figures look recognizably human and natural. This may not be the most appropriate art team for a goth Dr. Fate reboot, but so far they’re the highlight of the series.

Monday, August 27, 2012

THE BOOK OF FATE - Another Casualty



DC’s late ‘90s revamp of Dr. Fate didn’t last very long, but I doubt the internet will ever let DC forget about it. In case you didn’t know, this was the series that re-imagined Dr. Fate as Gambit. Or perhaps Grifter. Or Ravage 2099. So, yes, it’s an easy target for ridicule, but my main interest in picking up this series is the creative team. I tend to enjoy Keith Giffen as a writer, and as for Ron Wagner…he’s the man who brought us this and this. I will always be a Ron Wagner fan.

So, 1997’s The Book of Fate #1, coming soon.

Friday, August 24, 2012

X-MAN #58 - December 1999



The Heart of Darkness
Credits: Terry Kavanagh (writer), Mike Miller (penciler), Bud LaRosa (inker), Mike Thomas (colors), Comicraft (letters)

Summary: X-Man regains consciousness and rescues Threnody from an army of zombies. Taking her back to their old loft, X-Man learns that Threnody was almost killed by Madelyne Pryor, but revived by her powers when she was sent to the morgue. The dead are now attracted to her death energy and can no longer be controlled. After he saves her from another horde of zombies, Threnody reveals that she was only attracted to X-Man’s unique death energy and never truly loved him. She abandons him, then returns to her hiding place and cares for her baby.

Continuity Notes: A shadowy figure stalks X-Man throughout the issue, because this is X-Man and that’s what is supposed to happen every issue.

Review: Did Terry Kavanagh always intend to drag this Threnody mystery out over three-plus years, or did he know by this point that his time on X-Man was nearing its end? Regardless, this thing has stretched out over thirty-four issues, and it turns out Kavanagh still can’t bring himself to give us all of the answers. The issue opens with Threnody still pregnant, calling out to X-Man for help (even though the zombies surrounding her last issue weren’t bothering her at all). By the time he reaches her, she’s back to her normal unrealistic female comic book proportions. The story leads you to believe that maybe she’s absorbed too much “death energy” and is literally bloated from it at times, yet the issue ends with her returning home and picking up a baby. And, because this is Terry Kavanagh, we never actually see a baby, just the wrapped up blanket that may or may not contain a baby. This is what passes for a “big revelation” issue in X-Man. On the bright side…well…I guess Kavanagh actually tried to resolve something this issue, and Mike Miller’s zombies don’t look so bad. It’s X-Man, folks.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

GAMBIT #10 - November 1999



Waiting for the Princess
Credits: Fabian Nicieza & Steve Skroce (story & art), Rob Hunter (inker), Shannon Blanchard (colors), Comicraft’s Troy Peteri (letters)

Summary: In 1943, Gambit’s father Jean Luc helps Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos prevent Baron von Strucker and Candra from obtaining a magical jewel called “the Momentary Princess.” Today, the jewel is scheduled to materialize again in Germany. Gambit answers his father’s request to retrieve it, which leads him to a society party attended by Fenris and Sekmeht Conoway. Gambit correctly discerns where it will appear, but is too distracted by Conoway and Fenris to retrieve it. Meanwhile, Courier takes Silent Bill to meet New Son, and Fontanelle invades Archangel’s nightmare about the Mutant Massacre.

Continuity Notes:
· According to the narrative captions, Jean Luc Lebeau was a young boy undergoing his Ceremony of Tilling when the Princess first appeared in 1887.
· Two scenes set in the future continue the story of the Princess. In 2028, a married Gambit and Rogue retrieve it while hiding from Sentinels. In 2084, the Witness’ team of scientists is using the Princess to study time travel.

Review: Not to be outdone by John Francis Moore’s X-Force, Fabian Nicieza is determined to cram as much story as possible into Gambit. The story of Gambit futilely searching for a plot device could easily be dismissed as filler, but Nicieza gives you the sense that the Princess truly is a Big Deal, and the selection of characters he’s placed in the jewel’s path is interesting. (I can’t honestly say that the Momentary Princess really did amount to anything, though.) The main draw of the story is watching Nicieza effortlessly merge modern X-characters Candra and Jean Luc, Claremont-era X-characters Fenris, and Silver Age classics like Nick Fury and Baron Strucker into the same plot.

The subplots also offer some promise, as Nicieza continues to handle material the main X-titles have foolishly ignored. Less than a year after revealing Gambit’s connection to the Mutant Massacre, Marvel expected readers to buy Gambit’s reunion to the team as if it was no big deal. The members of the X-Men who were maimed and/or horribly tortured during the Mutant Massacre -- Nightcrawler, Colossus, Shadowcat, and Archangel -- apparently just shrugged their shoulders and accepted it. And let’s not forget Marrow, who’s a) a psychopath, and b) an orphan due to Gambit’s actions. Ignoring the ramifications of the Gambit/Marauders retcon was sheer incompetence on the part of the editorial staff. Nicieza isn’t able to make all of this right, but he does thankfully put in a real effort in the coming months.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

GENERATION X #58 - December 1999


Something Wicked
Credits: Jay Faerber (writer), Darick Robertson (penciler), Rod Ramos & John Czop (inkers), Kevin Tinsley (colors), Comicraft’s Jason Levine (letters)

Summary: The team searches the woods for Penance, who they believe has harmed a human student, while M stays behind with her visiting father. Gen X soon discovers that an escaped sasquatch was behind the attack. With Penance’s help, the sasquatch is subdued. Emma uses her telepathic powers to force the military to forget about the sasquatch, and Banshee calls Alpha Flight in to take care of the beast. Penance carves a note into a tree indicating her desire to stay with the team. Meanwhile, after visiting his son Emplate, M’s father announces he’s withdrawing her from the school.

Continuity Notes: Emplate tells the story of the day his powers surfaced, revealing that he killed his mother by feeding upon her. (She held on to Emplate to comfort him as his powers surged; whether or not he killed her on purpose remains unclear.)

Review: Oh, yeah…M, Penance, Emplate, and the St. Croix twins do have a father, don’t they? In retrospect, not using him during the M/Penance origin storyline was an oversight, even if it’s a fairly minor gaffe in comparison to the rest of that arc. Faerber doesn’t get a lot of material out of Mr. St. Croix in this issue, I suspect he’s mainly here to set up a story about M being forced to leave the school, but it’s nice to see some kind of response from M’s family to all of this insanity.

The main story exists to tease the reader into thinking this new Penance, whatever she is, is a villain, which apparently isn’t so. For an extended red herring, it isn’t so bad, and I don’t think anyone saw a sasquatch coming. Bringing in Alpha Flight as guest stars, based solely on the idea that “the” Sasquatch would know how to properly treat a “normal” sasquatch, is kind of clever. I question if Darick Robertson is an appropriate fill-in artist for the book, though. He’s apparently obsessed with detail lines at this stage (to the point that every character’s teeth are meticulously rendered), which doesn’t work for characters who are normally drawn as caricatures. I think the last thing Chris Bachalo was thinking of when designing this cast was “realism.”

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

MUTANT X #14 - November 1999


Homecoming!
Credits: Howard Mackie (writer), Cary Nord (penciler), Andrew Pepoy (inker), Gina Going (colors), Chris Eliopoulos (letters)

Summary: Cyclops and the Starjammers learn from the Skrulls, who are monitoring humans with connections to the Goblin Queen, that Havok is alive. Cyclops and his team travel to Earth, just in time to protect Havok and Scotty from Gladiator and a Kree hit squad. The Watcher suddenly appears to defend Havok and Scotty, declaring that Earth is under his protection now that the Goblin Queen is dead.

“That’s Crazy Because They’re Different”: The Scott Summers of this world is a devil-may-care adventurer who’s often chided by his teammates for not taking life seriously. Apparently, in this reality, Cyclops’ parents were killed when the Shi’ar came to Earth, and Cyclops took Corsair’s place as their captive. Cyclops also dresses like Corsair, oddly enough.

Continuity Notes: This reality’s Starjammers consist of Binary, Nova, Lockheed, and “Surfer,” who appears to be Silver Surfer without the board.

Better Than X-Factor?: Not particularly. Mackie goes for the second most obvious alternate reality rendition of Cyclops you can do (making him a villain is the first), and doesn’t really get anything out of it. Considering that Cyclops has believed his brother to be dead since he was a child, this should be an emotional reunion, but given that Howard Mackie is so often unable to convey even basic human emotions, all we’re left with is an issue of Cyclops making bad jokes while Havok runs around making dumbfounded expressions. And bringing in the Watcher as a quicky plot resolution is just lazy. I’ll give Cary Nord a lot of credit for making the visuals work, though. He’s evolved into an impressive cartoonist.

Monday, August 20, 2012

X-FORCE #95 - October 1999



Magnetic Distraction
Credits: John Francis Moore (story), Jim Cheung & Nelson DeCastro (art), Mark Morales/Rod Ramos/Rob Stull (inkers), Marie Javins (colors), Chris Eliopoulos (letters)

Summary: As X-Force tries to escape with the cybernetic brain Archie, Magneto arrives to block their exit. Moonstar’s new quantum powers are the team’s only advantage. When her powers short out, Cannonball is forced to call Jesse Bedlam, who’s waiting at a nearby power plant. Using his powers, Jesse creates a massive blackout, which enables the Magistrates to penetrate the capital. Magneto is forced to abandon X-Force, and with Quicksilver’s help, the team escapes. Archie is connected to a Life Model Decoy, and Cannonball is given another Memory Box. Absorbing the memories, he realizes his father and uncle might be guilty of murder.

Continuity Notes: Jesse Bedlam drops a vial of his pills near Domino. He’s forced to admit that he takes electro-neural inhibitors because his powers interfere with his brain chemistry.

Review: So, as it turns out, Peter Wisdom and his friend the sentient brain don’t serve any great purpose, although this storyline does inadvertently set up Wisdom’s role in X-Force’s upcoming relaunch. One disadvantage to John Francis Moore’s dense plotting is the occasional lack of gratifying payoff when a story’s concluded, which is what Wisdom’s story falls victim to. Moore does establish Archie as an old friend of Wisdom’s and gives them a reunion scene (and something of a happy ending for Archie) at the conclusion of the issue, but their story has been so rushed it’s hard to care. I get that Moore’s trying to make Archie more than just a plot device, but cramming his history with Wisdom into a couple of panels isn’t a very effective way of pulling the idea off.

Overall, though, this is still a decent arc. X-Force’s past with Magneto is acknowledged in a brief flashback, and although Moore’s writing Magneto as the villain Marvel wanted him to be during this era, he’s not as irrational and aggressive as he often appeared during these days. He’s actually able to maintain a conversation with X-Force and present his point of view somewhat reasonably. And Jim Cheung undeniably draws a great Magneto, so the fight scenes look fantastic. This has largely been a diversion from the big story Moore’s been building for months, but it’s entertaining in its own right and unlike some of the previous issues, doesn’t come across as flagrant time killer.

Friday, August 17, 2012

X-MEN -CHILDREN OF THE ATOM #1 - December 1999



Childhood's End

Credits: Joe Casey (writer), Steve Rude (penciler), Andrew Pepoy (inker), Paul Mounts (colors), Jim Novak (letters)

Summary: As the public learns of mutants, activist William Metzger recruits young people into an anti-mutant militia. FBI agent Fred Duncan is assigned to investigate mutants, which brings him to the attention of Professor Xavier. With Duncan’s help, Xavier works undercover at a school with a suspected mutant population. At the school, new student Scott Summers is ostracized, Hank McCoy is a football hero, and Bobby Drake is overcome with mysterious chills. Meanwhile, Warren Worthington has begun his career as the vigilante Angel. When he’s attacked by a Sentinel, Magneto saves his life from the shadows.

Continuity Notes:
· This series was intended as a prequel to 1963’s X-Men #1, with Joe Casey picking and choosing which retcons he would acknowledge. The idea that Cyclops, Beast, and Iceman all went to the same high school is new to this series, and contradicts numerous stories.
· The timeline of Angel’s vigilante career is also a continuity problem. He’s inspired by newspaper reports of other heroes like Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four, yet the newspaper with Captain America on the cover doesn’t fit, since Cap wasn’t revived until a few months after the X-Men were formed. Also, the Sentinels weren’t created until several months after Xavier recruited the X-Men.
· Chris Claremont’s retcon that Xavier mentored Jean Grey before forming the X-Men is left intact. Xavier visits her parents this issue, asking their permission to send Jean away to his new school.

I Love the '90s: A Marilyn Manson analogue named “Charlie Monroe” appears on a MTV parody station during one of the media montage sequences.

Review: Marvel’s obsession with revamping origins and altering the past predates the days of Joe Quesada and Bill Jemas; one of Bob Harras’ most infamous misfires was Spider-Man: Chapter One, a year-long retelling of the early Stan Lee/Steve Ditko Amazing Spider-Man issues by John Byrne. Previously, Marvel’s strict rules on continuity prevented such projects. As Mark Gruenwald used to say, Marvel didn’t need to reboot their characters because they got them right the first time (Frank Miller and John Romita, Jr.’s Daredevil: Man without Fear was apparently never supposed to be canon, according to people who worked for Marvel at the time). Chapter One was vilified by the fan press and online fandom, not simply because it was a bad comic, but because it was utterly pointless and clearly a violation of the old Marvel spirit preached by people like Gruenwald. So, why on earth was Marvel doing the same thing to the X-Men?

Joe Casey used to promote Children of the Atom by swearing that it was not a Chapter One project; he didn’t even want to hear those words. He seemed cagey over whether or not Children of the Atom would openly contradict any previous comics at first, but eventually had to admit that the old X-Men backup strips that told the origins of the original cast were out-of-continuity (except for Angel’s, which he apparently liked). Casey defended the decision by citing the lack of times those backups have ever been reprinted or even referenced in other comics. I understand his point, and I’m not going to defend those goofy comics, but this set a dangerous precedent. A story can’t count if it hasn’t been reprinted? Any story can be erased if enough people don’t know about it? If you’ve reached that point, you should just abandon the idea of “continuity” altogether.

Judging the book on its own merits, this is an acceptable opening issue. Steve Rude’s doing a lot to support a rather thin story, but Casey also adds enough personality to the plot to keep it from becoming a bland origin retelling. FBI agent Fred Duncan, a forgotten character from the past, mostly serves as the reader’s point-of-view character, and he’s thankfully given an opportunity to live up to some of his squandered potential. Duncan doesn’t seem to have strong views either way on the mutant issue, which is one reason why Xavier finds it necessary to form a partnership with him before it’s too late. Casey portrays Duncan as a cynic, but not a bigot, using him as a plausible spokesman for the average citizen who’s just discovered that seemingly normal teenagers might have horrific powers. Hardcore fans know that Duncan serves as the X-Men’s government contact in the early issues, but Casey adds one mystery that existing X-trivia won’t be able to solve -- why is Duncan constantly talking to an imaginary friend named “Bill”?

Unfortunately, the story isn’t immune to some of the common mistakes found in these origin retellings. Those original backup strips might seem silly by today's standards, but they don’t expect the audience to believe anything as implausible as three mutants attending the same high school. Even in the days of new mutants popping up everywhere, I don’t think anyone tried to stretch credibility this far. The early issues of X-Men established only a few dozen mutants across the entire globe -- placing three in the same high school during this era is an insane choice. It’s the kind of plot convenience you see in the lesser movie adaptations of comic book properties; doing it in an actual comic comes across as especially lazy. Casey could’ve used any number of contrivances to get Beast, Cyclops, and Iceman into the same high school (especially when you consider that the man recruiting the team is a telepath) without resorting to a massive coincidence. And, honestly, I wonder how much is to be gained by making three of the original X-Men classmates. More John Hughes jocks vs. geeks, rebels vs. preps material?

Overlooking this mistake, and my general distaste for prequels and origin updates, I am interested enough to see what happens next. At this point, Casey and Rude are smart enough to keep the momentum going, and to throw in some action scenes. The closing Angel/Sentinel battle, which has an incredible sequence with a Sentinel plowing its way through a row of parked semi-trucks, is more than enough to warrant a second issue.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

GENERATION X #57 - November 1999



A Night to Remember
Credits: Jay Faerber (writer), Terry Dodson & Chris Renaud (pencilers), Rachel Dodson, Scott Elmer, & John Czop (inkers), Kevin Tinsley (colors), Comicraft’s Saida Temofonte (letters)

Summary
: A weakened Emplate stalks the team as they prepare for the school dance. Emplate makes his presence known during the dance, distracting Gen X from his real goal of abducting Penance, who’s targeted by Emplate’s followers in the dorms. Half of the team stops Emplate’s flunkies, only to discover that Emplate has converted the other half in their absence. Synch pushes Jubilee into breaking Emplate’s influence, which leads to her destroying the social hall. In the wreckage, the St. Croix twins are discovered yet again next to Penance’s body. As the twins recuperate, Penance regains consciousness and escapes the school.

Continuity Notes: Because this is very important, the following people pair up for the dance:
Husk pays off her debt to Tristan and takes him as her date, Jubilee and Synch go “as friends,” M goes with Skin, and Chamber is paired with a goth human student. When the team suggests Banshee take Emma, she recruits Iceman as her date during his training session with Gen X to avoid being asked.

I Love the '90s: Skin on his physical appearance before developing mutant powers: “I wasn’t no Ricky Martin, but I did okay.”

Approved By The Comics Code Authority: Chamber refers to Emplate’s follower Vincent as a “wanker.” Apparently, Jay Faerber knew “wanker” as a British insult, but didn’t realize that it’s not generally used in “all ages” material.

Review: A double-sized five-year anniversary issue? That’s unusual, especially just a few issues after a double-sized fiftieth issue. That fiftieth issue was partially squandered on an X-Man crossover, so I wonder if perhaps this was originally Faerber’s plan for the double-sized fiftieth issue. “The big dance” isn’t really a strong enough concept to justify a double-sized story, but adding the return of Emplate into the mix creates a packed issue that balances the character scenes and action quite well.

Unfortunately, the return of Emplate also means the return of the M/Penance/Emplate sibling fiasco, and yet another wrinkle is added to the mystery this issue. The first time the St. Croix twins spontaneously appeared after a giant explosion wasn’t exactly a highlight for the series, and I’m not enthused to see the idea resurrected. We’ve already had a conclusion to the M/Penance/St. Croix twins storyline; it was mostly nonsense, but the story did create a clear status quo for the characters moving forward. M has her own body back and the twins are magically combined into the form of Penance. Now, the twins are back in their own bodies, yet somehow Penance endures. Add this to Emplate’s unexplained illness, and we’re left with -- hooray -- more St. Croix family mysteries.

The character moments, as always, are the real highlight of the story. The drama leading up to the dance, as each character deals with the internal high school politics of who-asks-who to go, is executed masterfully. Husk uses this as an opportunity to finally go on that blackmail date with Tristan, only to discover that she likes the guy. Synch asks Jubilee to go as a friend, not realizing that she honestly has feelings for him. M is too pretty and intimidating for anyone to ask out, so she’s stuck going with Skin. He never considered asking her; she only asked him after Artie and Leech asked on his behalf (following his revelation to them that having a beautiful date would help his self-esteem). When Skin finds out he was her pity date, he’s annoyed, while she refuses to admit that she might be capable of feelings like “pity” in the first place. And Chamber is stuck with an anonymous goth girl. So, there’s still a lot of humor and genuine character work, even if the main story is potentially moving into a dodgy area.

Monday, August 13, 2012

MUTANT X ‘99 Annual - May 1999



A World Gone Mad!
Credits: Jay Faerber (writer), Paschalis Ferry (penciler), Andrew Pepoy & Paschalis Ferry (inkers), Joe Andreani & Jason Wright (colors), Chris Eliopoulos (letters)

Summary: Havok is rescued from Goblin Queen’s attack by the last remaining Avengers, Yellowjacket and Stingray. They’re soon joined by Leonard Sampson, who helps the team invade Goblin Queen’s headquarters. From Brute, Havok learns of her plot to control the Nexus of All Realities. They travel to Florida, where the Goblin Queen’s forces are already attacking the Nexus’ guardian, Dr. Strange. Havok decides the only way to stop Goblin Queen from ruling the Nexus is to destroy it with his powers. Meanwhile, vigilantes Vendetta and Firestar fight the Sentinels in New York. Vendetta convinces Firestar to take him to the White House, where he enters President Kelly’s mind to remove Goblin Queen’s influence. Later, President Kelly names Reed Richards as the new President.

“That’s Crazy Because They’re Different”: In this reality, Yellowjacket is female, Stingray has cybernetic wings that resemble Archangel’s, Dr. Leonard Sampson has green skin like the Hulk, and Dr. Strange is actually Man-Thing.

Continuity Notes:
· This story is set in-between Mutant X #8 and #9, resolving the cliffhanger from issue #8.
· According to Yellowjacket, Bruce Banner is no longer the Hulk in this world.
· Following their battle, Dr. Strange, Yellowjacket, Stingray, and Leonard Sampson form a new team called the Defenders.
· Robert Kelly is not the established President in this world, President Starr is. Kelly’s the Vice President. The art depicting Robert Kelly is also extremely off-model, more closely resembling President Starr.

Better Than X-Factor?: I suppose. It’s hard to rationalize this with the monthly Mutant X series, though. I am glad to see that Mutant X #8’s cliffhanger was actually resolved somewhere, even if this issue’s claim that Goblin Queen blasted Havok all the way into the Hudson River is a stretch, and the story ends with Havok stranded in Florida, which doesn’t fit Mutant X #9 at all. It’s obvious that Mackie and Faerber really had no idea what the other was doing while writing these comics, right down to Faerber getting the President’s name wrong. And I have absolutely no idea what the point of the Vendetta/Firestar/Kelly subplot was supposed to be, anyway. If Vendetta freed Kelly of Goblin Queen’s influence, why is another one of Goblin Queen’s flunkies named as his replacement? How exactly could get Kelly away with ignoring the Constitution and just naming whomever he felt like as his replacement? Plus, as of issue #12 of the regular series, there’s been no mention of Reed Richards as President. Why is any of this material in the book?

Regardless of these complaints, I have to say that this issue is far more enjoyable than any of the “Goblin Queen Takes New York” issues of the regular series. Faerber is able to pull from numerous corners of the Marvel Universe and use a batty cast of characters to his advantage. Yeah, there’s no compelling reason to make Man-Thing this world’s Dr. Strange, but it’s inevitable that Dr. Strange would be changed in some manner in this reality. This was an unexpected way to go, and Ferry’s art sells the concept. It’s unfortunate that the best creative team to work on this series is relegated to the annual, but considering the lax standards Marvel seemed to apply to this book, it’s not a big surprise.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

ASTONISHING X-MEN: TORN on DVD

I'm not sure what the thinking is behind the recent series of limited animation adaptations of Marvel storylines, but I guess there's a precedent for such a thing. Torn is the third adaptation of Joss Whedon/John Cassaday's Astonishing X-Men run; the arc you might remember as "Emma betrays the team, things get weird, things get normal again." Torn is reminiscent of Mark Millar's more "outrageous" work, with a shocking cliffhanger or ridiculous stunt occurring every few minutes, yet Whedon has enough sense to set things right with a plausible hand-wave at the end. It's certainly a much more enjoyable work than the previous installment, Dangerous, which I consider the nadir of modern X-storytelling.

I've never watched any of the Marvel motion comics before, but Astonishing seems like a natural fit for the line. Whedon's stories read like plays, with action only rarely interrupting the conversations, which means the limited animation is mainly concentrated on moving lips instead of trying to sell a convincing fight scene. And John Cassaday's art, with Laura Martin's coloring, looks amazing when digitally reproduced on television. The voice acting, and music, also help to sell the material, occasionally reminding me of my favorite comics-to-TV adaptation, The Maxx. If you've already read the comic, there might not be enough here to draw your attention, but it could serve as a nice introduction to Whedon's comics work for any of his fans who only know the TV or movie projects. Also, checking Amazon, I see that this new DVD is selling for less than the Torn trade paperback, which is several years old. Reading, clearly, is for suckers.

Friday, August 10, 2012

HULK #8 - November 1999



Death Match
Credits: Erik Larsen (writer), Ron Garney (penciler), Sal Buscema (inker), Steve Buccellato (colors), John Workman (letters)

Summary: Wolverine attacks the Hulk, temporarily blinding him, only to have the Hulk crush the claws on his left hand. During their fight, Tyrranus regains control of the Hulk, forcing him to grow more ferocious. Wolverine leads Hulk into an abandoned mine, where the Hulk inadvertently releases a gas that reverts him into Bruce Banner. Banner explains that Tyrranus is the person responsible for the Hulk’s recent rages, and Wolverine agrees to let Banner go in order to stop him.

Continuity Notes: Apocalypse’s newest Horseman of Death watches the fight via videoscreen. This is, of course, the real Wolverine. The mystery man standing next to Death mentions that Hulk once served as Apocalypse’s Horseman of War, and orders Death to take care of him.

Review: Hulk #8 ended up directly crossing over with Wolverine after Erik Larsen was given the job at the last minute. Former writer John Byrne and new editor Tom Brevoort had a mysterious disagreement (some of the rumors that went around online were hilarious), that ended with Byrne leaving the book. As I recall, Marvel’s official line was that Byrne quit, while Byrne claimed he had been fired. Regardless, Hulk was up for a new writer, and world’s biggest Hulk fanboy Erik Larsen eagerly campaigned for the job. He didn’t get it, but he was given one issue to fill in; I believe Wolverine was always supposed to guest star this issue, so it made sense.

The issue is, not surprisingly, an extended fight scene. Larsen does throw in a bit of human interest in two scenes, one that has a series of narrative captions describe the life of the fifteen-year-old girl the Hulk is close to killing, and a TV news montage that shows various reactions to the Hulk, but this is clearly all about the fighting. Hulk fans seemed to hate this issue, apparently because Hulk “wasn’t strong enough” (a complaint Hulk fans seemed to make a lot in this era) during the fight. Larsen allows Wolverine to hurt Hulk temporarily by stabbing his eyes and clawing him in the groin, which seems reasonable to me, but it certainly seemed to make people angry. What the fans chose to ignore is the overall flow of the battle, which often has Wolverine running away from Hulk and avoiding his giant fists.

The action is effectively rendered by Ron Garney (with great inks by Hulk legend Sal Buscema), so even if the fight feels a little long, it certainly looks nice. The main problem with the story is the ending, which not only has a mysterious gas conveniently reverting Hulk into Banner, but Wolverine casually walking away after Banner explains Tyrranus’ plan to him. Wolverine’s discovered that a bloodthirsty supervillain is mind-controlling the Hulk, and his response is to wish Banner luck and go along on his merry way? I’m not saying I want an extended, editorially mandated Wolverine/Hulk crossover, but surely Wolverine would’ve done something to help out.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

GAMBIT #9 - October 1999



To Thine Own Self Be True
Credits: Fabian Nicieza (writer), Mat Broome (layouts), Anthony Williams (pencils), Parsons/Lanning/P. Palmiotti (inkers), Vasquez/Going (colors), Comicraft (letters)

Summary: Sabretooth agrees to take Gambit and Courier to Sinister’s headquarters, hoping that Sinister can heal him of his wounds. After entering Sinister’s lab, the trio is attacked by more Marauder clones. When the fighting stops, Sinister enters and agrees to revive Sabretooth’s healing factor and give Gambit a psi-scanner that will expose any imposters amongst the X-Men. In exchange, Gambit has Courier give Sinister one of his fingers. Later, after Courier’s re-grown his finger, Gambit has Courier kill the detached finger’s cells before Sinister can analyze them. Meanwhile, Fontanelle visits the Tithe Collector’s dreams, which are set in 1800’s London.

Continuity Notes:
· Sabretooth is near-death following the removal of his bones’ adamantium lacing. Sinister hints that the culprit is a threat to both him and the X-Men (it’s Apocalypse, of course).
· Gambit is ready to exchange the vial Sinister gave him in Uncanny X-Men #350 for his help. Sinister refuses, saying that the vial was “as much for the protection of humanity…as it was for yours.”
· Gambit theorizes that Sinister can’t create Sabretooth clones because of the damage the X-Men inflicted on his genetic laboratory in X-Men #34.

Review: The two-part divergence into the Shattering/Twelve crossovers concludes, and to Nicieza’s credit, he does manage to tie all of this into a tidy bow. We learn that Gambit stole Xavier’s files last issue to discover the source of his odd behavior, and in the process, learned that Xavier suspects an imposter has infiltrated the team. Gambit isn’t sure if Xavier is right, or if this paranoia is an indication that Xavier is dealing with serious issues…like the resurgence of Onslaught, for instance. As a “Shattering” tie-in, this works quite well, and it serves as yet another example of Nicieza using assorted X-continuity to his advantage.

Nicieza also has Gambit debate abandoning his mission and just destroying Sinister’s entire genetic laboratory while he has a chance, which Gambit feels is the only way his old friend Scalphunter will ever be able to rest in peace. It’s a brief scene that Nicieza doesn’t dwell on; he just throws the idea out there and uses it as yet another example of the ethical dilemmas Gambit always finds himself facing. To quote this issue’s narrative captions: “Remy is the poster-child for intrapersonal conflict. He’s tired of it.”

Even if Nicieza is able to get something out of the crossover material, this is still clearly a rush job. There are a lot of artists in this issue (and even two colorists), and the only pages that look halfway decent are the ones that actually look like Anthony Williams’ work. And even those pages resemble something Gary Frank might’ve rushed out in the late ‘90s. The book regains its unique style next issue when Steve Skroce returns, and we’re back to densely plotted one-issue stories with odd guest stars.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

CABLE #72 - October 1999



Broken Pillars
Credits: Shon C. Bury (writer), Chap Yaep (penciler), Marlo Alquiza (inker), Mike Rockwitz (colors), Comicraft’s Saida Temofonte (letters)

Summary: Cable responds to a telepathic prompt and heads to the Morlock Tunnels. There, he’s attacked by Post, who still blames Cable for ruining his life when Cable saved him from the Mandarin. When Cable makes a peace offering, Post decides to make amends for his past betrayals. He leaves, telling Cable he’ll look for answers within himself.

Continuity Notes:
· Cable remarks that his telepathy has been slowly returning since his encounter with Rachel Summers last issue. I believe this makes Cable the final mutant to regain his telepathic powers following the “Psi-War” storyline.
· A flashback reveals that Cable sent Post to live with Xavier following his escape from the Mandarin. Cable and Xavier have already had their pasts retconned together, but this implies an even stronger relationship. Going by the timeline established from Cable #-1 on, it looks as if Xavier was mentoring Post before he even formed the X-Men.
· Post’s ability to communicate telepathically with Cable and to block his psi-scans are allegedly “gifts” provided to him by Onslaught.

“Huh?” Moment: In one of Post’s flashbacks, Cable and Xavier are visiting a gravesite. I have no idea what the relevance of this is supposed to be.

Review: Rob Liefeld needed a fill-in after one issue? How on earth did this happen? I don’t think the most virulent Liefeld-haters even expected a fill-in after just one issue. Anyway, with one issue to fill, guest writer Shon C. Bury goes all the way back to Cable #33 for a follow-up to Post’s origin story. We all remember when Post was revealed as Cable’s old friend from his mercenary days, right? Because that revelation certainly added so much to the character…

I’m not saying Post is totally useless as a character; Bury’s actually on the right track with this story. He tries to reveal more about Post’s past and justify how exactly he fell in with Onslaught, but unfortunately all he comes up with is a clich√© “spy is betrayed by his government” story, and Post’s past with Xavier is relegated to a one-panel flashback. Instead of fleshing Post out and trying to legitimize him as more than a retcon, the issue spends most of its time having Cable and Post yell at each other and make melodramatic hand gestures. The ending also assumes that Post has gone through some significant emotional catharsis throughout the story, which is a pretty generous assumption on Bury’s part. The only redeeming aspect of the issue is Chap Yaep’s art; Yaep isn’t a fantastic artist or anything, but he’s perhaps the best penciler to come out of Liefeld’s studio. I would prefer Yaep “fill in” for the rest of this run.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

X-FORCE #94 - September 1999



Artifacts & Apocrypha
Credits: John Francis Moore (writer), Jim Cheung (penciler), Morales/Stull/Ramos/Koblish (inks), Kevin Tinsley (colors), Comicraft (letters)

Summary: X-Force arrives in war-torn Genosha, at the request of Peter Wisdom. Cannonball demands Wisdom reveal the origin of the “memory box” Wisdom mailed him. Wisdom introduces X-Force to Delphi, a native Genoshan who captures memories in boxes. In exchange for a memory from each member, Delphi gives them a box that contains information they need for their mission. Wisdom reveals that he’s called the team to retrieve a crashed Black Air satellite named the Faraway. After a brief confrontation with Quicksilver, Wisdom leads X-Force to its location. He picks up a sentient brain, which triggers an alarm. Meanwhile in Brazil, Sunspot rescues Selene from two Deviants.

Continuity Notes:
· The remnants of the Genoshan magistrates are still fighting with the Mutates as the story opens.
· Wisdom tells X-Force that following Excalibur’s disbanding, he’s worked with former Black Air members to make amends for their previous actions. This issue also marks the debut of his infamous eye patch. According to Wisdom: “I lost this eye trying to stop a reactionary KGB cell in Siberia from unleashing a viral bomb the Reagan Administration developed.” A year later, Warren Ellis will reveal in X-Force that the eye patch was a scam Wisdom used to pick up women.
· The concept of sentient, disembodied brains (this one is named Archie) showed up earlier during John Francis Moore’s Factor X run.
· The memory box Wisdom mailed to Cannonball belongs to someone from his hometown. Cannonball sees himself as a child running from a fight between two superbeings.
· The memory Meltdown gives Delphi is when she first used her powers as a teenage runaway to stop a street punk named Tiger. What happened to Tiger is left vague; if Moore’s idea is that Meltdown killed him, it’s possible this is the “dark secret” from her life as a runaway she’s always kept hidden.

Review: How much plot did John Francis Moore manage to cram into this issue? I’d say around four issues. If you’re feeling generous, you might say five. In this issue, we’re introduced to Delphi and the memory box concept, reintroduced to Peter Wisdom, dumped into Genosha’s latest civil war, witness to a Quicksilver/Cannonball fight, discover a (somewhat) dark secret from Meltdown’s past, discover another bizarre secret from the past of Cannonball’s small town, and catch up with Sunspot, who’s deportation subplot has branched out to include Selene and (of course) the Deviants. Insert your own Brian Michael Bendis joke here.

If you don’t remember what comics were like in those faraway days known as the “eh-tees,” this could easily be viewed as too much for anyone to grasp in one issue. It isn’t of course; anyone with the reading level of a nine-year-old and the honest motivation to read shouldn’t be lost by Moore’s dense plotting. None of this is confusing, there’s just a lot of it.

There is an argument to made, however, that the compressed plotting doesn’t do Jim Cheung any favors, since much of his work in covered in balloons and captions. That’s understandable, although people like Jack Kirby had larger chunks of text thrown on top of their work, often to elucidate stories much simpler than this one. Someone might also argue that the Delphi and the memory box concept is a distraction from the main story, but I think it works very well here. Moore isn’t shortchanging the reader on concepts; he could’ve had Wisdom hand out manila file folders with the needed information, but instead he’s introduced a new character and an intriguing new concept into the mythos. I doubt anyone’s actually used the memory boxes since he left, but clearly there’s a lot of potential there. If this story had been published during a healthier period of X-titles’ history, I think the idea wouldn’t have sunk into obscurity so quickly.

Monday, August 6, 2012

WOLVERINE #144 - November 1999



First Cut!
Credits: Erik Larsen & Eric Stephenson (writers), Mike Miller (penciler), Vince Russell (inker), Marie Javins & Joe Rosas (colors), Comicraft (letters)

Summary: Wolverine dons his costume for the first time to go on a trial mission for Department H. He’s suddenly kidnapped during the test by the Leader, who’s also abducted Hercules and Karkas. Leader explains his plan to use them against the Hulk, not counting on Wolverine to sneak out of his bonds. Wolverine, Hercules, and Karkas defeat the Leader, and after Wolverine eventually returns to Canada, he’s eager to accept his first official mission -- stopping the Hulk. In the present day, Dum Dum Dugan sends Wolverine on yet another mission against the Hulk.

Continuity Notes:
· The Leader’s appearance in this flashback is set shortly after Marvel Feature #11.
· Unlike the Guts and Glory one-shot, this story understands that Wolverine’s first mission in costume was his battle against the Hulk and Wendigo, detailed in Incredible Hulk #180-181. The story has to label that fight his first “official” mission in order for these events to fit, however.
· Wolverine comments that Alpha Flight was behaving oddly during his previous encounter with them, and that he might need to investigate in the future. This was likely a line thrown in to give Larsen/Stephenson some room for a few retcons following complaints about the previous arc.

Review: I think this issue comes the closest to capturing the Bronze Age feel Larsen tried to bring to Wolverine during his brief stint. It’s fun to read, not only because the story pits Wolverine against an unlikely opponent with even more unlikely allies, but also because the character’s voice feels more natural, and the art isn’t cluttered or rushed. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t consider Mike Miller a welcome replacement for Leinil Francis Yu, but it’s obvious he understands how to choreograph complicated fight scenes in a way Yu can’t grasp. He also isn’t inconsistently lavishing great detail on a few characters while leaving sketchy stick figures in the background; every page of the comic is well-constructed and all of the figures look appropriately fleshed out. Is there a point to doing a prequel to Wolverine’s first fight with the Hulk? Not really, unless you count a mini-crossover with Hulk #8 enough justification for another Wolverine flashback story, but it is honestly entertaining.

Friday, August 3, 2012

X-MEN Episode Four - January 23, 1993

Deadly Reunions
Written by Don Glut

Summary: Magneto attacks a chemical plant, hoping to attract Professor Xavier. Leaving Jubilee behind to guard Sabretooth, the X-Men travel to the plant. During the battle, Rogue is forced to give Cyclops CPR, leaving her with uncontrolled optic blasts. The fight ends when Xavier telepathically forces Magneto to relive his past, which compels him to escape. Meanwhile, Sabretooth tricks Jubilee into loosening his restraints. He’s prepared to kill her, but Wolverine emerges to stop him. When Sabretooth is blasted out of the building by Jubilee, he runs away into the night.

Continuity Notes:
· Senator Robert Kelly announces his Presidential bid on television. This subplot was probably intended to tie in with the 1992 election, although production delays forced the series to officially debut in 1993.
· As Xavier mentally examines Sabretooth in the episode’s opening, we see cameo appearances by Deadpool, Shiva, Maverick, Omega Red, and Janice (from the flashbacks in X-Men #5).
· Storm’s claustrophobia is revealed for the first time on the series when a section of the chemical plant falls on top of her.
· In the cartoon’s continuity, Magneto’s helmet clearly doesn’t protect him from Xavier’s telepathic probes.
· Sabretooth reveals that he was hired by Magneto to infiltrate the school in the previous episode.

Approved By Broadcast Standards
: Wolverine is visibly cut in the stomach by Sabretooth before he makes his escape. Apparently, the censors will grow more sensitive about the use of claws on flesh as the series progresses.

“Huh?” Moment: I realize he’s in shackles, but leaving Jubilee to guard Sabretooth was not Xavier’s smartest command decision.

Review: You might recognize the name Don Glut from everything from the original He-Man cartoon to the Empire Strikes Back novelization, or perhaps from a few Marvel comics in the ‘70s. I believe this is the only time he’s touched the X-Men though, and while there is a glitch or two (Magneto making a toupee joke being the most egregious), this remains a solid episode. Even though the stakes are lower, Magneto’s assault on the chemical plant feels more callous than his attack in the previous episode, largely because his targets are now totally helpless, and the fire he’s started threatens the plant workers and the X-Men alike. Having Rogue gain Cyclops’ uncontrollable powers in the middle of the battle adds more tension to the fight, and using this fight scene as an opportunity to introduce Storm’s claustrophobia is a nice touch.

The scenes with Sabretooth are the real highlight, though. Even though this is his third appearance on the show, this episode marks the first time Sabretooth actually speaks. We discover that his tantrum at Beast’s hearing in the previous issue was an act staged by Magneto, which is a smart way to tie the two plotlines together. Glut (or perhaps the producers) has taken the recent Wolverine/Omega Red arc from X-Men #4-7 as inspiration for Sabretooth’s relationship with Wolverine, obliquely referencing his senseless murder of Wolverine’s love interest Janice during those flashbacks. Wolverine makes one of the series’ most explicit references to murder when he claims Sabretooth “wasted some friends of mine for no reason.” If there was another way to get around the censors and establish Sabretooth as a serial killer, I couldn’t think of it. I watched this fight between Wolverine and Sabretooth several times as a kid; it’s fairly tame by today’s standards, but at the time I was amazed that a Saturday morning cartoon was actually doing a Wolverine/Sabretooth fight and maintaining most of the violence from the comics. The end of the fight is a copout (both fights in the episode end with the villain running away in defeat while the X-Men do nothing), but the episode’s already done more than enough to establish Sabretooth as the psychopath from the comics. If this Sabretooth ever lost a fight to the Black Cat, at least the producers never told the kids watching.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

X-MEN Episode Three - November 27, 1992


Enter Magneto
Written by Jim Carlson & Terrence McDonnell

Summary: Magneto tries to free Beast from prison, but he refuses to leave. Later, during Beast's bail hearing, Sabretooth interrupts the proceedings and is injured by the guards. Against Wolverine’s wishes, Cyclops takes Sabretooth to the mansion. Afterward, Magneto attacks a missile facility, using his powers to launch the nuclear missiles he hopes will spark a human/mutant war. When Xavier connects Storm’s mind with Cerebro, she’s able to use her powers to deactivate the missiles.

Continuity Notes:
· Xavier reveals in a flashback that he met Magneto as a hospital volunteer as a young man. The story of their first meeting is based on the events of Uncanny X-Men #161.
· This story is treated as the X-Men’s first encounter with Magneto; Storm even asks, “Who is this Magneto, Professor?” However, later episodes will show the original X-Men fighting Magneto in a flashback.
· Cameron Hodge is Beast’s lawyer during the bail hearing. Hodge was originally portrayed as an anti-mutant sleeper agent in the X-Factor series. After the first season, he’ll disappear from the cartoon for years before returning in the series’ adaptation of “The Phalanx Covenant.”
· Within a year of this episode’s broadcast, the comics will also have Sabretooth living in the X-Men’s mansion against Wolverine’s wishes.

Saban Quality: Beast is reading his copy of Animal Farm backwards in his prison cell. Presumably, this was animated in a country where print goes right to left rather than left to right. Also, this reality’s version of Animal Farm is around five times thicker than ours.

Approved By Broadcast Standards: Xavier explains that Magneto lost his family during “a war,” and that remnants of that regime were the ones who attacked the hospital where they worked. This is of course a reference to WWII and the Nazis, which were considered taboo for Saturday morning TV.

Review: After only two episodes, X-Men was popular enough to merit a “special presentation” during Thanksgiving weekend of 1992. Kids picked up ballots at McDonalds to vote for their favorite animated FOX shows, and X-Men ranked high enough to be added to the holiday schedule. This means that another episode that wasn’t quite ready to air was broadcast, although this one only required minor corrections during the reruns.

The producers claimed in interviews at the time that since the comic seemed to have five different interpretations of Magneto, their approach to the character was essentially to create an amalgam of all of them. He still has a tragic past (although the specifics are left very vague) and carries himself with a certain nobility, yet his motivations remain unchanged from his first appearance -- he wants to eradicate all humans. The show can’t elaborate on what the true consequences of a nuclear assault would be (and not even the X-Men seem appropriately concerned when you consider the magnitude of this attack), which does blunt the impact of the final fight scene to a certain extent. However, Magneto exchanges some great dialogue with the team (“Better to die on your feet than live on your knees.”), and it’s hard to fault David Hemblen’s rendition of Magneto. He isn’t a ranting lunatic or a mustache-twirling Hanna-Barbara villain; Hemblen brings integrity to the role and knows just how “dramatic” these lines should sound. It’s very easy to imagine Hemblen’s voice when reading the dialogue Chris Claremont gave the character.

While the main story largely serves to introduce Magneto and set him up for the next episode, the show keeps the audience’s attention with a few subplots. The X-Men comics obviously got a lot of mileage out of juggling an ongoing series of subplots, so it makes sense for the cartoon to follow their lead. Ongoing storylines were extremely rare for children’s television at the time, though, so going in this direction was not an obvious move for the producers (and it’s one that they drop by the end of the third season.)

The audience is introduced to Wolverine’s mysterious past with Sabretooth, a concept that still seemed fresh in the comics at the time, and will serve as the basis for a few more episodes. The conflict between Wolverine and the team apparently spoke to Bob Harras, since the X-comics will follow a storyline similar to this one in the future. Meanwhile, Beast is still dealing with the ramifications of the first two episodes. He’s adamant about standing trial for his crimes, even though he knows he’s unlikely to receive a fair trial, and he’s already been wrongly accused of orchestrating Magneto’s breakout attempt. Beast’s faith in doing the right thing is very true to the character, and it’s interesting to see that the series isn’t letting him off the hook so quickly. When Beast is finally pardoned in the season finale, it feels like a true victory for the character. There’s a subtext to the episode that the X-Men’s “terrorist” activities are okay while Magneto’s are not, which might seem simplistic for adult readers of the comics, but once again, this was pretty daring for kids’ TV. Giving Beast enough integrity to avoid the easy way out and stand trial for his crimes brought a certain level of sophistication to the show, although the show’s not quite sophisticated enough to dwell on the fact that Beast is legitimately guilty of at least a few crimes.

Credit to http://marvel.toonzone.net/xmen/ for the scans and screencaps.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

X-MEN Episode Two - November 07, 1992


Another variation on Ty Templeton’s X-Men pose, this one created by an unknown artist for the first VHS release of the series.

Night of the Sentinels (Part Two)
Written by Mark Edward Edens

Summary: Wolverine detects the guards’ trap, enabling Storm to sweep the men away. The X-Men finish destroying the files, but are ambushed by an army of Sentinels while making their escape. Morph is apparently killed and Beast is captured during the battle. Later, Cyclops lures a Sentinel to Jubilee’s foster parents’ home, and after he damages it, the X-Men follow it to the Sentinel manufacturing plant. They rescue Jubilee, but Trask and Gyrich escape.

Approved By Broadcast Standards: The story points out on numerous occasions that the Mutant Registration Program is not an official government agency, even though it has received government funding in the past. The President calls Henry Gyrich to her office (yes, “her,” you horrible sexist) and orders him to scrap the program when she fears mutant civil liberties are being violated. Keep your faith in government, kids!

I Love the '90s: Cyclops agrees to surrender to a Sentinel…"NOT!"

Review: Death on Saturday morning was pretty much unthinkable at the time, so you’ve got to give the producers a lot of credit for being willing to test FOX’s Broadcast and Standards so early on in the series’ run. FOX Kids president Margaret Loesch (a former executive at Marvel’s animation studio) was adamant that the X-Men cartoon reflect the comics, which does mean the occasional casualty. The words “killed” and “death” are never uttered, but it’s painfully obvious what’s happened to Morph. During the fight, the scene abruptly cuts to Jean and Xavier, who are observing events telepathically at the mansion. “It’s Morph. Can’t you feel it?” Jean asks. Xavier picks up Cerebro and responds, “I don’t feel…anything.” Soon, the disoriented team returns home to have their worst fears confirmed. Wolverine, adamant about going back, tries to convince the others that Beast and Morph could still be alive. “Beast is,” replies Jean. This is harsh material for Saturday morning, and it generates some of the voice cast’s best material.

A flashback to the events reveals that Cyclops ordered the team to retreat in the heat of battle. Morph had taken a direct hit by a Sentinel, while Beast was blasted into an electric fence. Outnumbered and sustaining casualties, he saw no other option. Wolverine, of course, was willing to fight over this, forcing Rogue to use her powers and subdue him. This is quintessential X-drama, isn’t it? It’s easy to imagine these scenes playing out in the comics, right down to Wolverine’s punch into Cyclops’ gut after they exit the plane (it’s a little odd that he isn’t mad at Rogue, though). According to interviews, Bob Harras and Stan Lee had a great deal of input into the early episodes (Lee didn’t just attach his name to show, he apparently wrote extensive notes for the first six or seven episodes of the series), which probably explains where much of this melodrama is coming from. In spite of the happy ending that has Jubilee escaping harm, making peace with her foster parents, and joining the team, this is a fairly brutal introduction to the X-Men. The series will rarely reach this level of intensity again, but it’s done more than enough in these opening episodes to show a new generation of fans what to expect from X-Men stories.

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