Monday, July 8, 2013

X-MEN Episode Twenty-Six - February 19, 1994

Reunion - Part Two  
Written by Michael Edens

Summary:  The X-Men arrive in the Savage Land and immediately realize their powers have been neutralized.  The Nasty Boys and Savage Land Mutates kidnap the team, but Wolverine manages to escape.  He meets Ka-Zar, and after an initial misunderstanding, teams up with him to stop Sinister.  They reach Sinister’s citadel and distract him long enough for the X-Men to break free and destroy his machines.  Sinister is blasted into pieces after Morph fights against his brainwashing and aids the X-Men.  Magneto departs peacefully, while Sauron secretly plots his own plans for the Savage Land.

Continuity Notes:  
  • Gambit tells Rogue that he loves her while they’re being held captive.  He also kisses her without consequence when their powers are neutralized.
  • Sinister’s motivation is to “take mutantkind to the ultimate expression of their power.”  His dialogue implies that he himself is a mutant, although Marvel instead makes him a human mad scientist when his origin is later revealed.  He of course isn’t dead at the episode’s end; somehow, particles making the shape of his face wash up on the shore.
  • Sinister’s master plan is to use his technology to power up one mutant with another’s powers.  He absorbs Magneto’s powers and uses them to supercharge Vertigo.
  • More vague talk from Sinister:  He tells Cyclops that he “can’t, won’t” leave him and Jean alone.  He claims, “The world needs…” before he’s silenced by Cyclops’ blasts.

Review:  The second season draws to an end, after hitting on as many ‘90s continuity points as possible in a thirteen-episode span.  This season touched on everything from Graydon Creed to Omega Red to the Thieves Guild to Cable to the X-Ternals to the Russian guys in gold armor that killed Colossus’ parents.  So, arguably, it could be viewed as something of a mess.  I still think it holds together rather well, though, even if some of the areas explored never should’ve left the comics (or been introduced in the comics in the first place.)  

The basic structure of the season is a strong one, as the opening two-parter introduces a subplot that carries throughout all of the episodes, while the main stories are free to do character-driven plots for most of the X-Men until it’s time for the season finale.  Jubilee’s episode gets absorbed by a Colossus story for some reason, and Cyclops and Jean aren’t given time alone outside of their interactions with Sinister, but the rest of the cast is fleshed out and given something to do outside of the team.  I’m sure every kid had his or her own favorite X-Man, so doing spotlight stories was a great way to keep them involved in the show, while routinely cutting away to the Savage Land kept some momentum going.  

This episode draws the Sinister/Savage Land story to a close, hitting on most of the things you might expect to find in a Savage Land story.  Wolverine fights dinosaurs.  Wolverine fights Ka-Zar.  Ka-Zar rallies the Fall People to help the X-Men.  And the united Nasty Boys/Savage Land Mutate pairing actually provides one of the strongest challenges the team has faced so far.  Add in a happy ending for Morph and a classy departure for Magneto and it’s a solid episode.  Not as memorable as the first season’s finale, but still one of the better episodes of the series’ run.  

Credit to for the screencaps.


yrzhe said...

As a kid, I remember being kinda disappointed that we just got a big fight out of this two-parter instead of a clearer explanation about who Sinister is or what he's trying to do.

Little did I realize, the comics hadn't come close to touching on that yet.

Anonymous said...

Re: Sinister's motivations- again, I am reminded of my naivete as a young reader and television viewer. Mark Waid may have found it infuriating, but I was so entrenched in the Bob Harras method of keeping everything as deliberately impenetrable as possible that I was not expecting any revelations about Sinister. New characters were just SUPPOSED to be enigmatic, contradictory, and arbitrary in their actions. Never mind the fact that I had only read a handful of his appearances in the comics (circa X-Cutioner's Song), not realizing that long-suffering fans had been beating their heads against the wall since the late '80s.

I know AKOM gets a lot of shit for this series, but I thought the big brawl at the climax was one of their better efforts. It's a mess of bodies flying all over the place and difficult to follow lest you view the whole thing at half speed, but is actually pretty well-choreographed. I dare say the amount of characters on screen actually doing things, simultaneously, is downright Justice League-esque.

(OK, Justice League Lite. Just saying, it was impressive for 1993.)

Season 2 was a vast improvement over the first in basically every way, and this was a fitting send-off. With its mix of everything I loved about the show, this episode instantly became my favorite to date. That's a distinction it won't hold for long. The third season gets even more ambitious and wildly over-the-top in its excesses, but wow did I ever eat that shit up.

Matt said...

cyke68 -- "I was so entrenched in the Bob Harras method of keeping everything as deliberately impenetrable as possible..."

Ha! That's the best description of the Bob Harras era as I've ever seen, and is exactly what I liked about that era. Don't ask me to explain why; I'm not even sure I know the answer. I just loved that thick fog of arbitrary mystery.

Anonymous said...

That one always stuck with me from an infamous Mark Waid quote following Bob Harras' ouster in 2000. He described Harras as, "the man who always went the extra mile for ten years to keep the industry's highest-profile books COMPLETELY IMPENETRABLE TO A NON-FANATIC AUDIENCE--an ESPECIALLY grievous crime this summer of ALL summers--*AND* taught his lackeys to do the SAME. (The "X-Men Sampler" piece of shit in TV GUIDE is something I will use forevermore in my classes and teachings as an example of HOW NOT TO DO COMICS THAT CAN BE UNDERSTOOD BY NON-FANS.)"

I have mixed feelings about the whole approach. On the one hand, Harras as EiC was under tremendous pressure to prop up Marvel's bottom line via revenues, the publishing division being the company's only lifeline after the Heroes World debacle and Ron Perelman's strip mining. You do that by churning out product, something for which Harras had a proven track record. On the other hand... it's a strategy with a limited shelf life, and the bloom was definitely off the rose by 2000.

Harras (and Tom DeFalco before him) enjoyed the benefits of a market that would support ANYTHING and they wisely milked that for all it was worth. Lose your writer of 17 years who built the franchise from the ground up? Hey, we've still got a stable of superstar artists and the books are still selling, so who cares who's writing them? Oh the artists are leaving too? Books are still selling? Tell people we've got better talent, the books are still good, the stories are important, and they will believe it. And we did! If a buyer believed even one of those statements, you were sitting pretty. Comics consumers were made up by a lot more than just actual comics readers back then, so you didn't have to bank of the goodwill of your built-in audience alone to sell books.

Harras just excelled at that kind of brand management and capitalized on the fact that the speculator bubble could not distinguish between substance and hype. It was reflected throughout all aspects of the product. Look at Nicieza's hyperbolic scripts. Kubert's histrionic poses. Hell, all of the animated series!

Every story had to be important, had to be an event. If it was a character-focused one, well, you then have to build a mythology around said character to impart that same kind of weight (Cable, Gambit, Sabretooth, etc.) Unfortunately, they rarely actually FINISHED any of these stories. It was the same thing, over and over. Licensing concerns scuttled any intentions of actual progression, so hello illusion of change.

I guess that's inevitable once the term "iconic" is introduced into the equation. The books stop being mere comics and start being looked at as brands and the characters stop being regarded as people and start being looked at as trademarks.

None of this really bothers me, per se. It's what got me hooked too! But it's interesting to chart that progression (and what brought me to this blog). Harras was a good steward for his time. While it does raise a "chicken or the egg" dilemma, I have to wonder how effectively he could have parlayed the success of the film into comics dollars. His failure to "cash in" on that is cited as a playing a big role in his dismissal, but when has movie money EVER translated? Though you could argue, if ever if was worth trying, the summer of 2000 was the time to do it.

Matt said...

I remember reading the TV Guide X-Men story. Chris Claremont wrote it, though I don't recall who drew the thing. I didn't think it was impenetrable. Granted, I was one of those fanatical fans who knew everything, but trying to read it from an outsider's perspective, I thought the story did a good enough job of introducing the X-Men and their foes. It was just incredibly bland.

I've said many times that I liked the X-books and then Marvel as a whole under Bob Harras. He had plenty of misfires, but Marvel also put out a lot of good stuff under him (the crown in the jewel for me being Busiek & Perez's Avengers). His record was, in my opinion, really no worse than the various EiCs of the 70's, the later Jim Shooter era, or the DeFalco era.

I do agree, though, with your assessment that he was good "for his time". He's not exactly setting the world on fire over at DC these days. But whether that's due to the marketplace and the readership moving on from his style, or due to the fact that he's just not as good a fit as he was with Marvel, I don't know. After all, Marvel of today does still seem to be running a lot of his plays with their annual crossover events and succession of important stories.

I wonder what would happen if Harras and Axel Alonso just swapped jobs one day...?

cyke68 said...

He had plenty of misfires, but Marvel also put out a lot of good stuff under him (the crown in the jewel for me being Busiek & Perez's Avengers).

Right? That Avengers run was SO GOOD. He also presided over quality books like Thunderbolts, Heroes for Hire, Deadpool, and Waid's Ka-Zar and Cap. There was certainly a lot of dreck, but such was life. With the sheer glut of product on the stands, they can't all be winners. (DeFalco probably had more clunkers under his watch since his tenure was at the height of the speculator boom. Marvel was getting quite a bit leaner post-Onslaught/Heroes Reborn.)

It's crazy, but we can kind of thank Youngblood for paving the way for Starman (or whatever experimental critical darling). A book like that never would've gotten out of the gate--or if it did, its lifespan would've been tremendously abbreviated--had it not been for such an overheated market.

As for DC, it sort of seems like Harras is up to his old tricks. Swapping out creators with reckless abandon even after solicitation, assigning just whoever to a title, and generally flipping through his Rolodex from the '90s. Although you have to wonder if he realizes this is poor form, doesn't care, or doesn't have a choice either way due to the management structure of the company. We also have DiDio, Lee, and Johns to consider, so day-to-day decision making is hard to pin down to one voice (or hatchet man, as is frequently the case).

G. Kendall said...

Salvador Larroca drew the X-Men TV Guide comic. I've never understand what exactly Mark Waid found so confusing about it. It read like a standard, terrible "these are the heroes" introductory story. Larroca's panel-to-panel continuity was always a little off, but I don't recall any glaring storytelling mistakes in it.

Teebore said...

The basic structure of the season is a strong one

I think that really gets to the heart of this season's success: even moreso than the first, there was definitely a sense that we were building to something, and that sensation was enough to gloss over some of the bumpier patches and ridiculous 90s one-off characters.

Heck, it's something lifted directly from the comics: keep something simmering in the background, and I'm a lot more forgiving of a short term sub-par effort in the foreground...

@cyke68 I was so entrenched in the Bob Harras method of keeping everything as deliberately impenetrable as possible..

@Matt: Ha! That's the best description of the Bob Harras era as I've ever seen, and is exactly what I liked about that era. ... I just loved that thick fog of arbitrary mystery.

I'm right there with you guys (as you well know Matt). Something about that fog of mystery, the idea that there was information out there yet to learn or be revealed to me, was absolutely fascinating to me. I started reading X-Men (and comics in general) and arguably one of its most impenetrable-to-new-readers time of all, yet that fog was, in part, enough to hook me and make me a lifelong fan.

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