Friday, October 12, 2012

Uncanny X-Men #375, X-Men #95, Wolverine #145 - December 1999

In case anyone missed these the first time around, I'm reposting the reviews that cover the "main" titles from this era, back when I was blissfully unaware of the details of Astonishing X-Men. That way, anyone who cares won't have to search the archives to see how and when the X-Men discovered Wolverine was Death, when the adamantium returned, etc...

UXM #375 & X-MEN #95 – December 1999

Uncanny X-Men #375
I Am Not Now, Nor Have I Ever Been…
Credits: Alan Davis (plot), Terry Kavanagh (script), Adam Kubert (penciler), Batt w/Tim Townsend (inkers), Liquid! & Chris Sotomayor (colors), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (letters)

Summary: The X-Men reunite at the mansion and learn that Wolverine has been killed. Xavier continues to behave erratically, chastising Cyclops for Wolverine’s death. He suddenly declares that Phoenix is controlling Cyclops’ mind and attacks her. Soon, the X-Men split into groups and fight one another. After most of the team dies, Onslaught and Dark Phoenix suddenly emerge. When the final X-Men are killed, the team awakens and learns that the fight was a “psycho-drama” created by Xavier, with the help of Phoenix, Cable, and X-Man. Xavier explains that he was trying to locate an imposter by driving the team apart and staging the fight. Shortly, while performing Wolverine’s autopsy, Beast learns that he was a Skrull duplicate. Meanwhile, Archangel and Psylocke are attacked by an Archangel imposter.

Continuity Notes: Wolverine, or at least the Skrull impersonating him, was killed in the Astonishing X-Men miniseries while defending the Mannites from Apocalypse’s newest Horseman, Death. I’m assuming Cable and X-Man were in the miniseries, explaining their presence in this issue.
Xavier explains that he sensed an imposter amongst the team after their return from space. He hoped that distracting the team with exhaustive training sessions would help him locate the imposter, but it didn’t work. Interrogating each member individually would be too obvious, so he entrusted Storm (whose thoughts “have always been particularly uncluttered and open”), Cyclops, and Phoenix with his secret. He drove the team apart “to limit the damage an infiltrator might inflict”, then recruited Cable and X-Man to help him find the imposter. The fight was designed to expose the team’s “deepest loyalties and most primal emotions”.

Production Note: When originally solicited, Wolverine’s face was blurred on the cover. This actually was a well-kept secret at the time.

Miscellaneous Note: The Statement of Ownership lists average sales for the year at 207,381 with the most recent issue selling 183,330.

Review: The big revelation here is that Wolverine has secretly been a Skrull for the past few months. Since that’s a plot point that takes around two pages to establish, the rest of the issue is a giant X-Men vs. X-Men fight. It doesn’t serve much of a purpose, but it’s the type of thing you often see in oversized anniversary issues, and Davis manages to use it as a very loud cap on the “Shattering” storyline. It’s so ridiculously over the top, as long-established characters are killed off on every other page, it’s obvious you’re not supposed to take it seriously, so it’s easier to just enjoy it as mindless mayhem. The revelation that Wolverine is actually a Skrull was a genuine surprise at the time, and Marvel does deserve credit for keeping it a secret until the issue came out. Xavier’s explanation for his behavior in the previous issues is explained fairly effectively, and I’m glad it wasn’t dragged on for much longer. Some of the art looks rushed, but this is still a fun issue.

X-Men #95

Do Unto Others
Credits: Alan Davis (plot), Chris Claremont (script, uncredited), Tom Raney (penciler), Scott Hanna (inker), Marie Javins (colors), Comicraft (letters)

Summary: A Skrull scientist tells his commander that he can create an army of Skrull Wolverine imposters. The commander kills one of the imposters, telling the scientist to do a better job. Later, the Skrull commander impersonates Havok and kidnaps Polaris. The commander decides that he can use Polaris as a bargaining chip against Apocalypse since she is one of the Twelve. When he returns to Skrull headquarters, Polaris hits him with optic blasts, revealing herself as Cyclops, disguised with an image inducer. The rest of the X-Men attack, as Death sneaks in and plants a bomb. Phoenix and Storm combine their powers to deaden the blast, and Colossus attacks Death. When Death’s mask is removed, he’s revealed as Wolverine. Suddenly, he teleports away.

Production Note: No credit for scripter appeared in this issue. Editor Mark Powers later confirmed that Claremont ghost-scripted three issues during this run, and Claremont mentioned in an interview that he worked uncredited on some comics that were running late, so I’ll give him credit for it. (EDIT: Also, Marvel's trade paperback of this storyline now lists Claremont as one of the writers.) By this point, X-Men #100 was already announced as Chris Claremont’s return to this title, so I’m assuming he worked uncredited to keep the attention on #100.

Continuity Notes: It’s revealed why Xavier’s telepathy couldn’t peg Wolverine as an imposter. The Skrulls’ “ally” (I assume Apocalypse) gave them a complete record of Wolverine’s psyche, enabling them to establish “a comprehensive personality matrix” that can survive telepathic examinations. The Skrull commander thinks the matrix works too well, since the imposter now thinks he really is Wolverine and is too independent. I don’t think it was ever confirmed on-panel, but Apocalypse was supposed to be the behind-the-scenes power in Barry Windsor-Smith’s Weapon X serial, so it’s possible Apocalypse has had a map of Wolverine’s psyche for years.

This is the first appearance of the young Skrull Fiz, who will play a role in future issues. He’s one of the Skrulls that’s been experimented on, in the hopes that the genetic strain of the Warskrulls can be recreated. The Warskrulls were Skrulls who could imitate powers naturally, and first appeared during the Claremont/Lee run of Uncanny X-Men.

Review: It’s interesting that this is one of the issues Chris Claremont ghost-scripted, since it directly mirrors a storyline he was going to do during his initial run. Before Claremont was forced off the titles in 1991, he planned to do a story that had Wolverine killed and later resurrected as a brainwashed Hand assassin (as detailed in this Comic Book Legends column). Bob Harras rejected the story, because the plan was to keep Wolverine dead for a year before his resurrection, which would’ve put a kink in the two other books he starred in, Wolverine and Marvel Comics Presents. Claremont was Editorial Director at Marvel by 1999, so it’s possible that he was involved with the planning of this storyline and suggested resurrecting the basic idea, with a Skrull version of Wolverine used to cover the character while he’s brainwashed. (Then again, other discarded Claremont ideas such as Wolverine losing his adamantium, and Gambit having a connection to Sinister, ended up being used before he returned to Marvel, so it could be a coincidence). It’s interesting that five years after this story, the idea was resurrected yet again by Mark Millar in Wolverine’s “Enemy of the State” arc. This time, Hydra did the brainwashing after “killing” Wolverine. If Claremont really is going to be continuing his originally planned storylines in X-Men Forever, even the ones he’s already spoiled in interviews, it’s possible this idea could show up for a third time in ten years. (EDIT: He didn't. Although he did kill Wolverine in a different manner, and seemed adamant about keeping him that way.)

This issue is filled with “Claremont Clich├ęs”, and it’s crammed full with dialogue and narrative captions. If Claremont really were writing this at the last minute, you would think the script might’ve been fairly sparse, but that’s definitely not the case. The Skrulls have the majority of the dialogue in the issue, and I guess it’s justifiable to give them long-winded, uptight speech patterns, but they start to get tedious after a few pages. There are some signs this was an eleventh-hour scripting job, as third-person narrative captions unequivocally state the Skrull commander’s captive is Polaris (even describing how her powers affect her sleep patterns), and a few pages later we learn it’s actually Cyclops with an image inducer. Death’s speech patterns are also inconsistent, as he goes from speaking like Wolverine (“Sorry, darlin’ -- but that an’ more won’t even come close!”) to saying things like, “The name you speak -- the man it belongs to -- are no more!” It seems like it was scripted as the pages were coming in and nobody went back and looked too closely at the finished product. The script isn’t all bad, though, as Xavier and Storm have a nice moment together and the narrative captions do tend to have a decent rhythm. The actual plot advances the main storyline effectively, and I like the way the various story threads are coming together. Tom Raney handles the action scenes well, and his interpretation of the Skrulls is pretty cool. Even if we are heading towards another “event”, this is much more coherent than crossovers tend to be.

WOLVERINE #145 – December 1999

Wolverine #145

On the Edge of Darkness
Credits: Erik Larsen (writer), Lenil Francis Yu (penciler), Dexter Vines (inker), Marie Javins (colors), Comicraft (letters)

Summary: In the past, Skrull agents invade the X-Men’s ship after the team is knocked unconscious by Magneto’s electromagnetic pulse. They take Wolverine, and leave a Skrull imposter in his place. Wolverine is brought to Apocalypse’s headquarters, where he’s forced to fight Sabretooth. After Wolverine proves himself the strongest, Apocalypse removes Sabretooth’s adamantium skeleton and attaches it to Wolverine, who is brainwashed into becoming Apocalypse’s Horseman Death. Later, he’s sent to kill Apocalypse’s previous agent of War, the Hulk. After a lengthy battle, Wolverine begins to hesitate. The Hulk realizes the fight is over and leaves.

Continuity Notes: Hulk was transformed into War back in Incredible Hulk #456.

Gimmicks: An enhanced $3.99 version of this issue has foil claws on the cover. There's also a version with silver claws, and a reprint with gold claws.

Review: Seventy issues after it was taken away, Wolverine’s adamantium skeleton returns. You would think Marvel would’ve waited until issue #150, but #145 was designated the twenty-fifth anniversary of the character, so it was given the honor. I was a reader of Savage Dragon at the time Erik Larsen’s Wolverine run began and wanted to give him a chance, but I gave up on the run after a few issues. Even while the issues were being released, Larsen was very upfront about editorial rewrites of his script, which often resulted in clunky, exposition-filled dialogue and redundant narrative captions. This issue isn’t as bad as some of the issues I’ve read from his stint, but it does have more than its fair share of dry, repetitive captions.

The story intercuts Wolverine’s battle with Sabretooth in the past with his current fight with the Hulk, which prevents either fight from being too tedious. Lenil Francis Yu keeps the action pretty energetic, and his hyper-realistic style actually works very well on the Hulk. As a straightforward action story, all of this is fine, but it doesn’t feel like a satisfactory conclusion to such a long-running storyline. Hama began dropping clues about how Wolverine’s adamantium might be returned almost as soon as it was taken away, but the event didn’t happen until years after Marvel removed him from the book. It feels as if the event has had no setup at all, and it’s only happening now in order to make the latest Apocalypse storyline seem like a bigger deal. Wolverine losing his adamantium was an event-driven, gimmicky idea, but Hama took the story seriously and used it as an opportunity to do something with Wolverine’s character. This issue might be an entertaining action comic, but its lack of depth just makes it forgettable.


Dan Lichtenberg said...

What a strange arc the adamantium thing was. Who on Earth would have thought it would last as long as it did? I know I didn't. I don't think he ever needed it back, really; I liked the bone claw look and the stories proved Wolverine was still pretty powerful without the metal. Still, after that awful tease that was #100 (and what was the point of all that, besides to tease?), I suppose Marvel kind of owed readers a conclusion like this one. They could have handled it in a dumber way I suppose (perhaps a deal between Logan and Mephisto), but of course, now Wolverine has a tie to Apocalypse. I don't think they ever did another thing with that, though, so who cares. How many times did Wolverine and Apocalypse even meet face to face, anyway? It doesn't seem like the two ever had much to do with each other besides this story.

Dan Lichtenberg said...

BTW, not to clutter things up, but since you mentioned it in the old review... What are the chances of you covering the two X-Men Forever series that Claremont did a couple years back? I know they're newer, but the story takes off from 1991 and I think they'd be of interest to a lot of readers here.

G. Kendall said...

"What are the chances of you covering the two X-Men Forever series that Claremont did a couple years back?"

It's not impossible, but I have other books I want to get to first, and I don't own a full run of X-Men Forever.

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