Wednesday, November 6, 2013

X-FACTOR #68 - July 1991



Finale
Credits:  Whilce Portacio & Jim Lee (plot), Chris Claremont (script), Whilce Portacio (penciler), Art Thibert (inker), Dana Moreshead (colors), Mike Heisler (letters)


Summary:  The Riders of the Storm attack X-Factor with the brainwashed Crystal and Medusa.  The team is taken captive, until the Inhumans arrive as reinforcements.  Askani helps Beast and Marvel Girl free Nathan from Apocalypse’s crèche.  They discover he’s been infected with a virus.  Nathan drags Marvel Girl into the Astral Plane, where she faces Nathan’s mental recreation of Apocalypse.  She pulls Cyclops into the Astral Plane for help, and in the physical reality, mentally guides him.  With an intense optic blast, Cyclops eradicates Apocalypse.  Askani offers to take Nathan to the future, where he can be cured of the strange virus.  Cyclops reluctantly agrees.


Continuity Notes:  
  • Apocalypse claims that killing Nathan will, somehow, seal the fate of the Twelve.  Images of the Twelve flash during the story, but the only characters that can be clearly made out are Cable, Xavier, and Storm.
  • After taking X-Factor captive, Apocalypse tells them that he can now pursue what has always been his true goal:  stealing their powers so that he can become a celestial menace.
  • Marvel Girl still claims that her telepathy is gone, and is relying on Nathan’s powers during the story.
  • Askani tells Cyclops that she’s the only one in her clan who can travel back in time, and that this is the final time he’ll see Nathan.  Why she’s so confident that she’ll never be able to time travel again isn’t clear.
  • Ship tells X-Factor that he’s “intermerged (his) substance with Nathan’s” in order to slow down the virus’ growth.  When Cable is finally revealed as Nathan, we learn that Ship traveled with him in the future and later became his computerized companion, the Professor.
  • The virus is never actually referred to as a “techno-organic virus” this issue, but the art does make it clear that some cybernetic technology is taking over Nathan’s body.
  • The Watcher delivers a soliloquy on the final page, as images from other X-titles appear around him.  One of them features Cable, which inspired a lot of the early fan speculation that baby Nathan is now Cable.  Apparently, Jim Lee had already decided that Cable should be Nathan at this point, while Rob Liefeld had plans to reveal Cable as a future version of Cannonball.


Review:  Combine the dense plotting of Whilce Portacio and Jim Lee with the dense scripting of Chris Claremont and you get an issue-long fight scene that feels like it takes an hour to read.  As an excuse to write out an infant character that was now considered a nuisance, this is actually much better than it has any right to be.  Casting Cyclops as narrator of the story is a great decision, especially when you consider that the plot leaves virtually no room for the characters to actually interact with one another and process what’s going on.  At least all of those captions can sell some emotion.  As much as some fans would like to believe that Claremont “hated” Cyclops, I think he always had a firm grasp of the character and knew how to make the stoic Cyclops genuinely sympathetic.  


As the story races through numerous fight scenes and abrupt plot developments, Claremont keeps Cyclops’ voice as a steady presence, reminding us of his love for his son and his guilt for not being the father he wishes he could’ve been.  Claremont does a lot of the heavy lifting this issue; what easily could’ve been a ridiculous two-page scene that has Cyclops shipping his baby off into the future, never to be seen again, manages to be a be appropriately sweet and sad.  And the bizarre decision by Portacio/Lee to give the only conversation scene in the issue to Cyclops and Charlotte Jones is deftly handled by Claremont, as he allows Cyclops to rationalize his decision to a layperson who hasn’t seen a lot of time travel or techno-organic viruses in her day.


Aside from completing the mercenary act of getting rid of baby Nathan, the basic plot of the issue is easily forgettable.  Tons of characters, lots of fighting, but barely any room for any impact to be felt or plot threads to be resolved.  Why waste time on showing how Crystal and Medusa are freed from their brainwashing when those pages could be spent on more fight scenes?  The only hint that the plotters appreciate the significance of the issue comes on the final page, as the Watcher appears to deliver a one-page monologue, much as he did in the final chapter of “The Dark Phoenix Saga.”  And, once again, Claremont rises to the occasion, mirroring the Watcher’s original speech while also finding some poetic justification for Cyclops’ decision this issue.  The words are pretty enough to save the issue, but if you take the time to contemplate the story, it's a little too Image-y to be an approriate ending for this era of the franchise.

10 comments:

Teebore said...

Images of the Twelve flash during the story, but the only characters that can be clearly made out are Cable, Xavier, and Storm.

Ah, more hints about the Twelve that are ultimately ignored. Grrr...

When Cable is finally revealed as Nathan, we learn that Ship traveled with him in the future and later became his computerized companion, the Professor

It's amazing how much stuff from this story turns out to be setup for later reveals, almost entirely on accident. A nice bit of serendipity.

As much as some fans would like to believe that Claremont “hated” Cyclops, I think he always had a firm grasp of the character and knew how to make the stoic Cyclops genuinely sympathetic.

Definitely. You read Claremont's Cyclops for any length of time and it becomes clear he has a great deal of affection for the character.

Teebore said...

Forgot to add, that as a in-retrospect pretty obvious bit of deck clearing (get rid of Cyclops' son so the character can be reverted to his classic status quo in time for the big "return to the traditional X-Men" relaunch), the story doesn't read that way - the end result of Nathan getting sent into the future feels both genuinely tragic and unavoidably within the context of the story, rather than the plot device it really is.

So kudos to the creators for that.

wwk5d said...

"Apocalypse tells them that he can now pursue what has always been his true goal: stealing their powers so that he can become a celestial menace."

Which...ugh. Adios, interesting old Apocalypse, hello boring and generic Apocalypse. Although it is interesting that it might have inspired the X-offices when they did their crap version of The Twelve...

"Apparently, Jim Lee had already decided that Cable should be Nathan at this point, while Rob Liefeld had plans to reveal Cable as a future version of Cannonball."

Interesting, I never knew Jim Lee came up with that idea. Is that where the idea of Cable being Nathan came from?

Honestly, what really makes this storyline work in Claremont's scripting. The plot just meanders all over the place and could have benefited from being an issue shorter, and whatever storytelling skills Portacio has he loses half-way through and resorts to pin-ups in the place to story boarding action sequences (the fight ends with Cyclops blasting Apocalypse? Um, ok...).

Overall, the story does accomplish what it sets out to do, getting rid of Nathan (and Ship, too) so that X-factor is in place to re-join the X-men. And another thing it accomlishes: it gets rid of another old villain, which we saw with Shaw and will see with the Reavers, White Queen, and Hellions soon...

Jason said...

"Why she’s so confident that she’ll never be able to time travel again isn’t clear."

I haven't read the issue in a while, but isn't it because she's dying?

I love the psychic duel in this issue, and its reference to the Mastermind swordfight from the Byrne run: "That duel, I lost ... this one, I WON'T."

Hey! What will Cyke68 say about the Cyke-narrated ish 68? :)

cyke68 said...

There was absolutely a time when I was sure Claremont actively hated Cyclops and wanted nothing more than to wash his hands of him. It's been my belief that the character came to embody all of Claremont's frustrations with the editorial mandates that squelched his original plans of packing Scott off to start a new life as a husband and father. It seemed like Claremont ran with the horrible characterization of Scott in early X-Factors as a passive-aggressive "fuck you" to editorial. From her own reckoning, Louise Simonson's nudging those characters back towards the direction of being decent human beings probably helped to gradually smooth things over.

There's this story as evidence of Claremont not hating Cyclops after all. Though it's funny that he subsequently writes him as rather dickish in X-Men #1-3, then not at all or only very sparingly when Claremont comes back in the early 2000s.

So, I think what we have is a case of a writer feeling exasperated at the notion of revisiting a character he wanted to be done with years earlier, then rediscovering some affection once he sets out on the task of actually getting inside said character's head. It's like a relative you have some bad history with: you try not to think about this person in your day-to-day life, and the prospect of seeing him again reflexively fills you with dread. Then, to your shock, you find yourself setting aside the past and enjoying warm interactions over Thanksgiving dinner (or whatever).

Here, Claremont is finding his contributions to the mythos increasingly marginalized. Rather than take that out on the characters, however, he tries to make the most of it by turning the changes he is asked to make--all the while against his own desires--into redemptive character moments. It's not progress, rather, inertia: irresistible all the same. Claremont executed orders from on high with gusto once before, with catastrophic consequences for the characters. He made Scott's intro to X-Factor "work," just at the expense of his humanity. Now, Claremont seems to be a little more at peace with the reality of his situation, and imbues the characters with a similar grace. I view this arc (and the period in general) as Claremont turning a corner, shoring his reserves by reaching out to nearly every character he created or significantly developed as if to say, "We're in this together." He's inviting them all back to the table.

Too bad it was so short lived. Nonetheless, it is clear that Claremont's love for these characters did not end with his tenure as writer. There's something to be said for that at least.

cyke68 said...

@Jason-

I'm found out! I first purchased these issues (my comics Holy Grail for a good while; not sure why they were so hard to come by) around the time I was first getting acquainted with the Internet. I was like 14. And lo, a username was born.

(Alright, so how many decisions did YOU make at 14 that seem like good ideas now? It's silly, and an "origin" I wouldn't cop to if the opportunity hadn't presented itself, but I guess the name stuck.)

You win... my undying love of your Chris Claremont retrospectives?

And speaking of, you've made mention of the fact that first-person narration in Claremont scripts were a rarity. Off-hand, we saw them for Wolverine, Magneto, and Forge (of all people), so I'm delighted that Scott got to join the ranks on Claremont's way out. I will echo sentiments that it was the best way to go for the comic that Lee and Portacio have structured. While we can point to better Cyclops stories, this is perhaps the most iconic, offering up plenty of little quotable moments of truth (in the same way that Uncanny #274 gives us Claremont's definitive Magneto).

Indeed, the callbacks to the Phoenix Saga are lovely, and actually don't feel as cliched as those evocations ought to by now. Very simply, that was Jean's story. This is Scott's. It employs similar settings and themes, but puts forth the character's growth from that earlier experience as the key difference. (Never mind that it's setting him on a regressive path. Let's just call that "coming full circle.")

I completely overlooked that bit about Apocalypse wanting to steal everyone's powers. It makes some sense out of the plot of "The Twelve" way on down the line (not much), whereas I always thought that being Apocalypse's big scheme was an out-of-nowhere swerve. Though his designs on Nathan Christopher remain elusive, in the context of that later crossover and the story itself. He views the baby as a threat, so the plan is to... kill him? With a virus? Couldn't this be accomplished a lot more efficiently? Or maybe the virus is to "test" his mettle. I think that was the rationale behind subsequent retcons. So why all the talk of eliminating him? It just doesn't really hold up on any reading.

@wwk5d, this was definitely the first suggestion of any kind that Cable and the baby were one and the same. There may have been some internal back-and-forth over whether Cable or Stryfe would get the nod, but they ultimately went ahead with the original plan. I've heard about the Cannonball thing too. (Then there's always Ahab...)

As for Cyclops annihilating Apocalypse with such ease: it's uncertain from the plot, but I always read that as it being some combination of Nathan's and Jean's powers all rolled up into Scott's head upon their exit from the astral plan (due to the screwy mechanics of Jean trying to direct Nate's powers, and Nate acting on survival instincts rather than conscious intent). It's an allusion to Scott's "family" coming together for one last gasp only to be blown apart. Or Claremont's script moving mountains to create that impression, at least.

wwk5d said...

Not counting Uncanny #201, CC did a great job writing Cyclops in his pre-X-factor days. Check out Uncanny #175 to see one of, if not the best, depictions of Cyclops. Writing Cyclops as a jerk for 1 issue isn't exactly pissing all over the character...

CC also wrote Cyclops again during Inferno, and actually writes him rather well during those issues, overall, I have to say. Even in the X-Men #1-3, Cyclops comes off ok. Dickish is pretty harsh, I think.

"then not at all or only very sparingly when Claremont comes back in the early 2000s"

Is this his first return? Because Cyclops wasn't being used by anyone at that point, since he was dead/merged with Apocalypse at that point...

I wonder if the whole reason people thinks CC "hates" Cyclops is because he had the nerve and gall to have Cyclops lose a fight to a powerless Storm?

"some combination of Nathan's and Jean's powers all rolled up into Scott's head upon their exit from the astral plan"

So they Z'noxed him? ;)

cyke68 said...

Far from hating him, I think it's safe to say that Cyclops was one of Claremont's favorites pre-X-Factor. That's probably why having the rug yanked out from under him was so hurtful. Nowadays, my stance is that Claremont never truly hated the character, just hated what was done to him and didn't really enjoy writing him anymore in the aftermath.

Love me some Uncanny #175 (and Paul Smith doesn't hurt).

I was thinking more in terms of Claremont's 2004 return to Uncanny. That run in general is better than his first return, but still problematic. Granted, it's been awhile since I've read any of that, but his cast (mostly characters ported over from X-Treme, plus a few inherited mainstays) comes off as kind of... I dunno, cliquey. Just seems like he divides the characters into "camps" (Team Scott/Emma and Team... Jean?) rather quickly, an attitude that really wasn't necessary post-Morrison.

Mind you, I don't think some ancient editorial fiat is still coloring Claremont's opinion on Scott (or anyone else for that matter). For a more recent positive portrayal, see X-Men Forever, of all things. Cyclops comes off as incredibly sympathetic throughout the series(well, what I've read of it. I don't know where he went with that second volume, so it would be pretty funny if Scott went all Dark Phoenix or something). Jean and Logan consummate their "bond" and it actually plays out like the sneaking around that it is rather than some great romantic, unrequited love. (Kitty finds out and thinks something like, "Poor Scott!" and it actually rings true. That is saying something.) Certainly a different take on the love triangle and not the direction you would expect Claremont to go with it.

I wonder if the whole reason people thinks CC "hates" Cyclops is because he had the nerve and gall to have Cyclops lose a fight to a powerless Storm?

Not me. I actually think that story would have been fine as part of the original story Claremont wanted to tell. As a study of a stubborn guy fighting through his denial, it's great. He lost because he wasn't up to the task after so long a time away, nor was his heart even in it anymore. (Not because Madelyne psychically stunted him to prove how evil she always was.) Presumably, he'd disappear from the book, commit to a civilian life, and be much more at ease with his retired/reserve status the next time we saw him. The duel with Storm reads badly since it was a set-up for X-Factor rather than this final step towards closure.

Speaking of camps, seems like you also have to be exclusively Team Cyclops or Team Storm. Can I just say I love both of them as leaders? (Wolverine, on the other hand...)

Jason said...

"You win... my undying love of your Chris Claremont retrospectives?"

I'll take it!

(And I think it's a perfectly good username, by the way. I confess, the first time I saw it, I assumed it was a reference to X-Factor 68. Is that weird?)

"I actually think that story would have been fine as part of the original story Claremont wanted to tell. As a study of a stubborn guy fighting through his denial, it's great. He lost because he wasn't up to the task after so long a time away, nor was his heart even in it anymore. (Not because Madelyne psychically stunted him to prove how evil she always was.) Presumably, he'd disappear from the book, commit to a civilian life, and be much more at ease with his retired/reserve status the next time we saw him. The duel with Storm reads badly since it was a set-up for X-Factor rather than this final step towards closure."

I must tell you, I really adore this read on issue 201.

Harry Sewalski said...

@cyke6:Far from hating him, I think it's safe to say that Cyclops was one of Claremont's favorites pre-X-Factor.

Apologies if you've heard this and I'm telling you something you already know, but I remember reading somewhere that Claremont's plans for Cyke were to have him retire with Madelyne, and quit the X-Men for good. He'd come back for the occasional anniversary issue and whatnot, but for the most part he'd just be a civilian living an ordinary life. (I'm pretty sure that Madelyne was basically supposed to be his 'second chance' with Jean, since she was obviously supposed to be dead for good.)

So yeah, and then apparently Claremont got pissed off that Cyke was being brought out of retirement for X-Factor, and subsequently wrote him as a jerk. I don't have a source for any of this off the top of my head, but I'm pretty sure it shouldn't be too hard to find through the magic of Google.

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