Monday, August 26, 2013

UNCANNY X-MEN Annual ‘99 - February 2000

Utopia Perdida
Credits:  Ben Raab (writer), Anthony Williams (penciler), Troy Hubbs & Scott Koblish (inkers), Colorgraphix (colors), Jon Babcock (letters)

Summary:  Jake and Sophia, a mutant/human couple in Genosha, face bigotry.  Magneto unexpectedly enters and defends their love, causing the citizens to change their mind.  Meanwhile, Wolverine, Archangel, Nightcrawler, Shadowcat, and Jubilee receive a distress signal from Genosha while on their way to Egypt.  They land and meet Madrox, who called for help after Magneto kidnapped Forge.  Wolverine frees Forge from captivity and buys him the time he needs to reverse the effects of the mind-control device that’s forcing Genosha into tranquility.  As the X-Men battle Magneto, he drops the charade and reveals himself as Exodus.  Exodus claims that he’s renounced all prejudice and merely wanted to bring peace to Genosha.  When the public’s free will returns, Jake and Sophia are targeted again and murdered.

Continuity Notes
  • This group of X-Men is flying to Egypt to face Apocalypse, following the events of Wolverine #147.
  • According to Madrox, Xavier sent him and Forge to work undercover in Genosha after Magneto was granted authority by the UN.
  • The High Evolutionary makes a cameo at the end, observing the murders of Jake and Sophia.  He blames the aberration of mutants for the conflict, setting up his role in the next mini-event for the X-titles.

I Love the '90s:  Jubilee blesses us with a “What’s the dillie-o?” and one bizarre reference to Homey the Clown.

Review:  Overlooking the cover, which is one of the most egregious cover spoilers I’ve ever seen, this annual serves as a nice example of how to write a story that fits within the edges of continuity without coming across as filler.  In fact, it’s hard to think of a Magneto-era Genosha story that’s any better than this one.  Ben Raab could be an inconsistent writer during this period, but the ropey plotting and corny dialogue that often dragged Excalibur down can barely be found here.  Anthony Williams also produces much stronger work than was evident in his numerous fill-ins during the late ‘90s, leading me to believe he wasn’t given a last minute deadline to deal with this time.

Rather than presenting Genosha as the island of horrible mutant oppression, Raab explores the idea that the formerly oppressed mutants could be just as prejudiced as the humans.  There’s no peace in Genosha because neither group can trust the another, creating an interesting hook for the story.  How would Magneto react to a human/mutant romance?  Is he so far gone at this point that he’s going to prevent humans from touching precious mutants, or would he make a real stand for equality?  The truth is, the story doesn’t give us an answer, because Magneto doesn’t appear.  (Presumably because Apocalypse has already kidnapped him for the main crossover.)  Instead, a disguised Exodus takes his place, and decides to abuse his telepathic powers and simply force everyone to get along.  Madrox is allowed to briefly present the counter argument, essentially saying that this might be what it takes to have peace in Genosha, but of course he’s quickly rebuffed by Forge.  The heroes do the right thing and restore the public’s free will, which inevitably ends in the death of two innocent people.  A depressing ending, of course, but it works as a reminder of what a nightmare Genosha is supposed to be.  Compare this to say, Magneto Rex, and it’s easy to see how poorly the status quo was usually handled.


cyke68 said...

Yeah, this issue's actually not bad in getting across a very basic "no easy answers" message. At this time, the X-books -- and by extension, all mainstream superhero comics -- were a lot more pat in their resolution to these kinds of moral dilemmas. Our heroes may have been faced with tough decisions, but their calls were invariably presented as the right ones ultimately (If you're Spider-Man, you Rise Above and refuse to Stoop to Their Level, beat the bad guy via non-lethal methods, and go home with your head held high. If you're Rob Liefeld's X-Force, you execute the defenseless, surrendering bad guy and go home with your head held high. As readers, we're apparently expected to accept either position as OK.) Here, they make the case for an ethical choice, perhaps on the basis of principle more than anything, and it leads to a rather obvious, tragic outcome that arguably could have been avoided if they HAD looked the other way. This kind of damned if you do, damned if you don't scenario resonates a lot more true to life and is rife with narrative possibilities.

if this sort of thing happened a lot more frequently, I could see it organically leading some traditional/archetypical heroes down a more ambiguous path. It's easy to see how someone like, say, Storm could be incensed over such a consequence and grow increasingly frustrated by a precedent of doing the "right" thing blowing up in her face. She takes a position of moral superiority that remains sympathetic, is in keeping with her character, but her actions are nonetheless dodgy, with slippery-slope implications. Where do you go with that? There's a risk in escalating the drama too much for a pay-off that is disproportionate to the carefully orchestrated rising action, but I say go for broke. I'd be OK with leaving the characters on the shelf for a few years for the sake of a really compelling story with meaningful long-term developments.

It's similar to what they did with the X-Tinction team in recent years, I suppose. In that case, Scott's position actually started off sympathetically enough, so good on that. Unfortunately, the climax necessitated a whole load of characters on both sides of the argument behaving like complete morons. Where Schism was like Civil War done right, AvX was like Civil War redux. But I way, way digress at this point.

These guys never made it to Egypt, did they? Kind of crazy how botched the ending of the Twelve crossover was, given the heavy editorial oversight that characterized the entirety of the post-Kelly/Seagle era. They really had no excuse this time. The conflict wasn't so much resolved as it was vaguely shuffled off-screen and a good chunk of characters simply missed the ending of the story that had dominated much of their appearances for months. Unreal.

G. Kendall said...

"These guys never made it to Egypt, did they?"

That's a good question. I'm almost positive they didn't. WOLVERINE picked up on the "Ages of Apocalypse" mini-event, but no story ever established his team actually arriving in Egypt. And they weren't there when reality returned to normal the next month. It's a pretty big screw-up.

cyke68 said...

The Ages of Apocalypse thing was totally screwy. One of the clues that it was a fabrication by Apocalypse is that it was supposed to feature only the characters who were present/viable following the big fight in Egypt. (Hence, the original X-Men minus Cyclops and Angel, but with Gambit and Storm.) Except... Wolverine got a chapter, a bunch of randoms like Ghost Rider, Hulk, and an Avengers team were included, and we even saw a new character in the X-Men: Unlimited issue. It either didn't play by its own rules, or didn't have any rules, instead making completely arbitrary changes.

The Wolverine Rescue Squad just kept getting distracted. Not sure if it was before or after this Annual, but they also had to race off to prop up the sales for the new Machine Man book (launched with that horrible M-Tech imprint). I believe the characters even complained about all of these less important demands on their time. I'm sure we never actually saw them arrive in Egypt.

Matt said...

Ooh, M-Tech. I actually liked X-51, but I didn't bother with either of the others.

Say, J. Kendall -- any thoughts on looking at M-Tech here? Seems like a good fit for your mission statement!

wwk5d said...

"but they also had to race off to prop up the sales for the new Machine Man book (launched with that horrible M-Tech imprint)."

No, that was like a year ago after the team returned to Earth after the time-traveling Skrull adventure.

cyke68 said...

I think we're referring to the same thing? (By 'new' I meant that the book was only like seven issues in, but yeah it debuted earlier in 1999). The X-51 guest spot seems like it would've taken place right in the middle of the Apocalypse/The Twelve crossover. The only reason I remember it at all is because it featured this specific group of characters (Wolverine, Nightcrawler, Psylocke, etc.)

wwk5d said...

No. The M-tech line was introduced before the Twelve crossover. Quite a bit before. The M-tech line (and the relevant X-issues) were introduced right before "The Shattering", just before the Twelve storyline was building up. After the X-men arrived back on Earth after the time-travel visit to Skrull world, they do a little detour to promote the M-tech line, and then the Shattering begins, more or less.

wwk5d said...

Unless you are referring to a separate cross-over with just Machine Man? Which would make it even more ridiculous that TWO stop-overs would derail them from appearing at the end of the Twelve storyline.

Matt said...

You guys are talking about two different things. wwk is talking about the "Rage Against the Machine" mini-event which launched the M-Tech line, circa Uncanny #371 (cover dated Aug 1999). cyke is talking about the X-Men's guest appearance in X-51 #8 (cover dated March 2000), which did feauture Wolverine's team and did coincide with "The Twelve".

cyke68 said...

Ah-ha! I knew I wasn't losing it. What's hilarious to me is that if they'd blown off Genosha and X-51, they probably could have made it to Egypt in time AND actually made a material difference in the outcome. For all Apocalypse knew, Wolverine was still his agent and this could have been turned to our heroes' advantage. Not to mention Archangel having a potentially exploitable history with Apocalypse, and Psylocke's maybe-useful new pseudo-mystic powers.

...But then again, I'm sure the whole world would've gone to shit if nobody popped in on Genosha and X-51 when they did. Priorities.

Matt said...

Now that you mention it -- I don't think I considered it at the time, but it really is pretty inexcusable that this huge showdown with Apocalypse -- the X-Men's first major battle with him since "X-Cutioner's Song" eight years before -- did not include Archangel as a central character.

cyke68 said...

Seriously! It was an easy in to work him (and by extension, Psylocke) back onto the cast. Like all crossovers, The Twelve had loads and loads of characters, but most of them had pretty legitimate reasons for being there that weren't really capitalized on. Which is a shame, considering the lengths they went to in streamlining the team down to eight members a year before. Apocalypse should've had major beef with Warren for letting him die on the floor like that in X-Cutioner's Song, barfing and hemorrhaging motor oil. Instead, the most attention Archangel got was in a random issue of Wolverine, making nice with a c-list former flunky. And getting cool new powers that were immediately yanked away.

I believe it was official editorial policy to neuter and marginalize Archangel as much as possible in the '90s.

Anonymous said...

"Apocalypse should've had major beef with Warren for letting him die on the floor like that in X-Cutioner's Song, barfing and hemorrhaging motor oil. Instead, the most attention Archangel got was in a random issue of Wolverine, making nice with a c-list former flunky. And getting cool new powers that were immediately yanked away.

I believe it was official editorial policy to neuter and marginalize Archangel as much as possible in the '90s."

I feel exactly the same way, especially considering Archangel and Apoc had some pretty neat moments during X-CS that they could have built on in The Twelve.

Also, I've always thought the energy wings were cool, and a way to make him more than just "The Guy Who Flies" without just resorting to giving him the metal wings again.

cyke68 said...

Yeah, wasn't everyone's complaint (fans and pros alike) that Warren couldn't really "do" anything once he got the feather wings back? I think Kurt Busiek was the only writer during that time to find any truly innovative ways to use him (in Thunderbolts). The additional (albeit inexplicable) changes he went through in those Wolverine issues offered a solution to the problem, but editorial apparently made the conscious decision to keep him lame and useless.

The more I think about it, the return of the original wings strikes me as just monumentally stupid. I can only imagine it was borne out of one of those marathon story summits, with a hapless, bleary-eyed, exhausted, and possibly hung-over writer blurting out, in a show of defeat, "Hey guys, what if Angel's old wings grew back!?" OK... so... then what? It's not a story. It's barely even an idea. As evidenced by the next several years the character would spend languishing in obscurity.

I was under the impression that Archangel was one of those edgy kewl bad-ass antiheroes, just perfect for '90s sensibilities. Except conceived a lot more convincingly than Cable, Bishop, Shatterstar, and the like. I don't know how well-received the transformation was initially, but didn't he emerge as one of the more popular characters once all was said and done? Why squander all of that appeal for the sake of lightening him up?

wwk5d said...

The only appeal for Angel and his original wings is a visual one, I believe. Quite a few artists prefer drawing him that way. And I agree, while it may be a nice visual...tactically, it makes him useless.

I wonder if Lobdell actually had a long term plan for the return of the wings that was just dropped, or if it was an editorial mandate. Maybe a combination of the 2.

cyke68 said...

Scott Lobdell has never opened up about any long-term plans for the series or specific character arcs, has he? I can recall some vague hints about upcoming plots that didn't actually see print while he was still writing the books (MODOK having some sort of involvement in Scott and Jean's psychic rapport being severed is one that comes to mind). And the new status quo in the immediate aftermath of O:ZT, which was basically going to be the X-Men on the run, deprived of all resources and advanced technology. Obviously didn't happen since O:ZT ended up being his last story. But a full-blown retrospective expounding upon where he wanted to take the franchise long-term, a la Claremont? Nada.

A lot of this probably goes back to his writing style. Lobdell can't talk about his long-term plans because he didn't truly have any long-term plans. It all kept changing on the fly. This is not a knock against him by any means. While it brought about some dodgy stories, this really was the only way to write the books to the established formula. Trying to impose any sort of grand ambition back then was asking for... well, the Mark Waid run. It just wasn't possible in the events-centric machine of the '90s X-Office and would've driven any writer trying to plot more than six issues at a time completely mad.

Teebore said...

@wwk5d: And I agree, while it may be a nice visual...tactically, it makes him useless.

Yeah, while there's ways to use Angel in an intelligent, tactical way, those ways are different than the usual "punch/hit/blast stuff" approach of superhero comics.

I've always thought Angel would make a great recon guy, flying high above a target but able to see him with precision (because his eyesight is heightened), or observing during a fight, calling out targets to someone like Cyclops or Wolverine, or something like that.

Instead, he always just flies and punches people, two things many, many other X-Men can do better/easier.

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