Chapter One: Picking Up the Pieces
Credits: Fabian Nicieza (writer), Chris Renaud (pencils), Rod Ramos/Scott Elmer/Rich Perrotta (inks), Kevin Somers (colors), Sharpefont (letters)
Summary: Rictor and Shatterstar are recruited by Verschiagen Industries after a fight with Rictor’s gun-running family. They arrive prepared to train against Verschiagen Industries’ test subject, V-2, or to rescue her if she’s being held against her will. Suddenly, a young man named Hanransha enters. While trying to stun V-2 long enough to free her, he accidentally kills her with his mutant powers. Rictor and Shatterstar escape with Hanransha and discover that V-2 was his half-sister. Hanransha is trying to find the rest of his siblings that were also bred in labs. His next lead is Martin Strong in Colorado.
Continuity Notes: This story resolves, of all things, the cryptic subplot from X-Force #43 that had a mystery man sneaking into a mystery lab. According to Hanransha, this was his father, who was killed while trying to rescue him.
Review: In response to overwhelming reader demand, or at least a letters page worth of requests in an issue of X-Force, Rictor and Shatterstar return, along with Fabian Nicieza. Nicieza left quite a few dangling plotlines when he was forced off the book, and probably the most annoyingly cryptic of them was that subplot scene in X-Force #43. Considering that Marvel annuals were firmly dismissed as filler by the late ‘90s, what better place to wrap up a five-year-old storyline that barely anyone remembered? It’s possible that a few of the fans that really wanted to see Rictor and Shatterstar again also remembered this unresolved mystery, and most X-Force readers have fond memories of Nicieza’s run on the book, so this actually sounds like a decent use of the annual format. As a lapsed X-completist, I was probably in the prime demographic for this issue, even though I skipped it at the time. I didn’t have a lot of interest in Rictor or Shatterstar, wasn’t regularly buying X-Force, and didn’t care for the art. I can’t say that I missed out on a great comic, but the lure of unresolved X-continuity might have drawn me back in had I known that an old mystery was being resolved.
Chapter Two: Strong Attractions
Credits: Fabian Nicieza (writer), Guz Vazquez, Rod Ramos, and Rich Perrotta (art), Kevin Somers (colors), Sharpefont (letters)
Summary: Rictor, Shatterstar, and Hanransha arrive at the StrongH.O.L.D. headquarters, where they face Martin Strong and Neurotap. They’re shocked when X-Force enters and defends Neurotap. They explain to their former teammates that Strong is providing for the medical care of Neurotap’s family. Strong reveals that Hanransha’s powers will continue to go haywire while he’s separated from his mother, who is none other than Hanna Verschiagen. Neurotap leaves with Rictor, Shatterstar, and Hanransha for Germany, where they’re soon abducted by Hanna Verschiagen.
Continuity Notes: Rictor is given the new ability to use his vibratory field to fly, so long as he straddles a large piece of wood. And, yes, Nicieza wrote this as an intentional joke, playing off the fan speculation that Rictor and Shatterstar were gay.
Review: Everyone remembers Martin Strong and Neurotap from X-Force Annual #2, right? Actually, I don’t even remember X-Force Annual #2, aside from the pulse-pounding debut of Adam-X, the X-Treme. This issue reminds us that Martin Strong is a mutant fish-man that uses genetic research in order to gain a new body, and to find a way to eradicate mutantcy. Neurotap is his reluctant assistant, who works for Strong because he pays for her family’s medical treatments, treatments they need because she nearly killed them when her powers first surfaced. Presumably, this story is supposed to resolve her character arc and offer her some resolution, but in practice, it reads as yet another plot point jammed into an already packed comic. Not helping the story at all this chapter is the art, which resembles a bad Humberto Ramos impression.
Chapter Three: X-P8
Credits: Fabian Nicieza (writer), Ken Lashley and Rod Ramos (art), Kevin Somers (colors), Sharpefont (letters)
Summary: X-Force arrives and rescues their teammates. While fighting X-Force, Hanna Verschiagen continues to drain power from her children, unconcerned that she’s killing them. Shatterstar listens to their pleas and cuts their conduit lines to Verschiagen. The children, including Hanransha, die. As he dies, Hanransha thanks Shatterstar for ending their mother’s evil.
Continuity Notes: Neurotap decides to leave Martin Strong’s service at the end of the story. Cannonball gives her Professor Xavier’s card, promising that he can help her family. She promptly disappeared into obscurity, but luckily she escaped Frank Tieri’s routine mutant genocides in the pages of Weapon X.
Review: The final page asks readers to write in if they want to see more of Shatterstar, Rictor, and Neurotap. Specifically, they want people to write, “We want our Triple-X!” Hopefully, in large print on the back of a post card that your local mail carrier can easily read.
Nicieza was apparently serious about using this story to sell Neurotap as a character, which makes me wonder why so much of the story was spent on Hanransha, his siblings, and Hanna Verschiagen and her evil corporation. I actually don’t have a problem with Neurotap; her core conflict automatically makes her a little sympathetic, and her powers are non-generic and interesting enough. She’s also one of the few minority female mutants, so an editor looking for more diversity within the X-line (or a producer working on the X-Men movies seeking a part for, say, Rosario Dawson) might consider her worth a look. But this specific story doesn’t center on her in any meaningful way, and the core story it does present is rather dull. The plot also doesn’t really do an awful lot with Shatterstar and Rictor, even though they’re nominally the stars. But, hey, that one page from X-Force #43 finally got resolved.