Wednesday, July 31, 2013

UNCANNY X-MEN #274 - March 1991



Crossroads
Credits:  Chris Claremont (script), Jim Lee (plot/pencils), Scott Williams (inks), Pat Brosseau (letters), Joe Rosas (colors)

Summary:  Magneto, Rogue, and Ka-Zar defeat members of the Savage Land Mutates, who now serve Zaladane.  Eventually, they meet Nick Fury and his SHIELD team, who have arrived to stop Zaladane from erecting more of her magnetic towers.  Rogue convinces Magneto to stay with the SHIELD team, even though one member is the father of a sailor killed by Magneto years earlier.  Meanwhile, Lila Cheney brings the X-Men to a mysterious location, where they’re quickly captured by a tentacle monster.  Deathbird appears, announcing that she needs the team to kill Charles Xavier.

Continuity Notes:  
  • Cyclops and Marvel Girl meet Guido for the first time, in a brief scene that has him recapping what happened at the end of the last issue.
  • Rogue has lost her powers, following her trip through the Siege Perilous.  Magneto has attempted to revive them by “(reintegrating) her bio-matrix,” but she remains powerless.
  • Magneto sunk the Russian submarine Leningrad in Uncanny X-Men #150 after being fired upon in retaliation for his scheme to rid the world of nuclear weapons.
  • This issue marks the first hint of a romance between Magneto and Rogue, as he feels an unusual “connection” to her after she wakes him up from a nightmare.
  • Magneto is straining to use his powers, but keeping it a secret from his companions.  I don’t recall Claremont stating a reason for Magneto’s weakness at the time, but years later he’ll address it in X-Men Forever.

“Huh?” Moment:  Magneto suddenly carries around a hologram generator for the purposes of this story.

Miscellaneous Notes:  The Statement of Ownership lists average sales for the year at 412,961 copies, with the most recent issue selling 404,300.

Review:  I would be curious to know how Jim Lee received a plotting credit this issue, while Chris Claremont is relegated to merely “script.”  The standard belief is that Jim Lee demanded more plot input as his run continued, and according to some sources, would often ignore Claremont’s plots in favor of whatever he felt like drawing that month.  If this issue was plotted entirely by Lee with no input from Claremont, that would make it one of the very few issues of Uncanny X-Men during his run that had him scripting over someone else’s plot (and putting Jim Lee in the odd company of Bill Mantlo and Tom DeFalco).

Jim Lee as a plotter isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though.  He’s not overly ambitious at this point, which works in his favor.  He’s assembled an engaging cast of characters and he’s giving them room to bounce off of each other, and he’s resolving a plot line that’s been dangling for several months.  With the exception of Magneto spontaneously generating a hologram of himself, none of this feels as arbitrary or sloppy as those early Image comics.  Structuring the story so that Magneto keeps running into victims of his past behavior, starting with the Savage Land Mutates and ending with the father of a young sailor he killed, is quite ingenious.

The highlight of the issue, however, has to be Claremont’s first-hand narration of Magneto.  Perhaps if Claremont plotted the issue alone, he would’ve diverged from the simple setup and developed a more elaborate scheme for Zaladane, or jumped back and forth between five different subplots.  When left to narrate a relatively simple story of Magneto and an ad hoc team of allies tracking down Zaladane, he’s free to get inside Magneto’s head and continue the rather remarkable exploration of the character he began a decade earlier.  Magneto as the repentant villain, the Holocaust survivor, the father, the man whose life is stained by blood; this is fascinating material.  Even when Lee draws a simple panel of Magneto electromagnetically bombing a group of Zaladane’s brainwashed followers, Claremont uses it to elucidate his guilt and reflect on the mercy Magneto wishes he could receive, the peace of forgetting the actions of his past.  This was heavy material for a ten-year-old, but I wasn’t intimidated by it.  Issues like this made the characters feel real to me, and I appreciated the fact that I wasn’t being spoken down to.

Monday, July 29, 2013

UNCANNY X-MEN #273 - February 1991




Too Many Mutants! (Or Whose House IS This, Anyway?)
Credits:  Chris Claremont (writer), Whilce Portacio, Klaus Janson, John Byrne, Rick Leonardi, Marc Silvestri, Michael Golden, Larry Stroman, & Jim Lee (pencilers), Scott Williams (inker), Tom Orzechowski (letters), Joe Rosas (colors)

Summary:  Following the Genoshan battle, the united X-teams regroup in the underground complex beneath Xavier’s mansion.  Storm, Cyclops, and Marvel Girl debate what to do next, while Cable makes his case for leading the united teams.  Later, Marvel Girl uses Cerebro to locate the missing X-Men.  She’s ambushed by the Shadow King and narrowly rescued by Psylocke.  Eventually, the X-Men emerge in new uniforms, ready to follow Storm.  Shortly after Cyclops and Marvel Girl say goodbye, Lila Cheney arrives and teleports the team away, claiming Xavier needs their help.

Continuity Notes
  • Gambit “officially” joins the X-Men this issue, in the sense that Storm refuses to leave with him, so he decides to stick around.  At the end of the story, he’s wearing an X-uniform with the rest of the team.  Gambit’s casual decision to stay probably ties in to Claremont’s rumored original plan to reveal Gambit's a spy for Mr. Sinister.
  • This is the issue that ignited the long-running fan speculation that Gambit was a reincarnated Longshot.  While Wolverine and Gambit are sparring in the Danger Room, Wolverine remarks that his moves are similar to Longshot’s.  On the next panel, a hologram of Lady Deathstrike emerges and attacks Wolverine.  In an altered word balloon, Jubilee questions who turned that sequence on.   The scene then cuts to Gambit smiling with his left eye glowing, much like Longshot’s.
  • Wolverine is barely able to keep up with Gambit during their duel, which continues Claremont’s subplot regarding Wolverine’s slow recovery after the Reavers’ attack in Uncanny X-Men #251.
  • Marvel Girl, yes still “Marvel Girl” at this point, only has telekinetic powers and must rely on Psylocke to rescue her from Shadow King.  Her telepathy will return a few months later in X-Factor.
  • Wolfsbane and Havok are still in Genosha following “X-Tinction Agenda.”  Forge is working on a way to reverse the “Mutate transmodation” Wolfsbane’s endured.  He speculates that the longer she’s a Mutate, the harder it will be to cure her.
  • Psylocke says the Hand used “magic as well as science” to physically alter her into their assassin.  The readers will receive a much, much more complicated explanation years later.

Creative Differences:  With eight pencilers, it’s not surprising to learn this issue had deadline problems.  John Byrne had this to say on his website years ago:
"Bob Harras, then the X-Editor, called and asked if I could do six pages for this issue. I was up to my eyeballs in work, so I declined. So he asked if I could do three. I agreed, and they sent me a plot. I drew the three pages
and sent them in. Then Bob called and said 'You drew three pages! That plot was for one page!'

Woulda bin a real time saver if they'd updated me on that before they sent me the plot! "

Approved By The Comics Code Authority:  When Marvel Girl takes a shower (right in front of Psylocke), Joe Rosas colors in the steam to match the contours of her body.  This is the first time I ever saw a colorist attempt to make comic art racier than originally intended.  Within five years, colorist-added nipple pokes will be all the rage.

Review:  Is this the first “quiet” post-crossover X-comic?  I believe it is.  Just think of all of the variations of this issue the X-office published in the ‘90s following Claremont’s departure.  Everyone knows that the numerous subplots and mysteries were inspired by Claremont’s work, but it’s easy to forget that even the downtime issue that followed almost every crossover has its genesis in Claremont’s initial run.  I can’t imagine Claremont thought he was starting a trend; he was probably just looking at the cast following “X-Tinction Agenda” and asking the same question the characters ask this issue -- what to do with all of these mutants?

I thought it would be interesting to look back at the era post-“X-Tinction Agenda,” as it paves the way for the 1991 revamps of the titles (the revamps that nudged me towards X-completism).  What stands out about this issue is Claremont’s ability to write the characters as rational adults, people capable of having a thoughtful conversation about how they’ve reached this point and how to go forward.  Storm acknowledges that faking the X-Men’s death was likely a mistake.  Cyclops is bothered that no one’s truly replaced Xavier and mentored the third generation of mutants.  Marvel Girl is concerned that Magneto has apparently reverted to villainy (not that she ever bought his conversion.)  Cable’s annoyed that the others can’t see that they’re in the middle of a war, and throws his hat in for leadership of all of the X-teams.  And as absurd as this might sound in a recap, Claremont handles the scene remarkably well.  Claremont writes Cable as more of a grouch than Louise Simonson has so far, but he's still rational, falling in more with Claremont’s “noble warriors” than the cheap Punisher clone he’ll soon turn into.  Cable’s position doesn’t come across as unreasonable at all, and even Storm questions if he’s right.

When the story isn’t focused on the main philosophical debate, Claremont has some fun with the rest of the cast.  Iceman and Boom-Boom get into a prank war, Archangel and Cannonball introduce the Danger Room to anyone not around since issue #225 or so, Gambit gets to outmaneuver Wolverine (something that almost never happened in these days), and a few of the ongoing subplots get touched upon.  As much as this issue might be remembered as “downtime,” there are three action sequences and a cliffhanger ending.  Two of those action scenes even advance ongoing subplots, which is a reminder of just how tight a plotter Claremont can be.  And even the pages that don’t tie in with the dozen or so subplots Claremont’s juggling are entertaining in their own right, as he’s clearly having fun writing characters he hasn’t touched in years.

Regarding the artist jam, the pages do have some level of consistency, since Scott Williams was somehow able to ink the entire issue.  I definitely thought this was a strange looking issue as a kid, but I never thought it looked rushed or shoddy.  The oddest pages to me were Michael Golden’s Gambit/Wolverine fight, although today they’re my favorite.  It’s also cool to see Scott Williams giving Rick Leonardi and Marc Silvestri highly polished inks, considering how rarely they’re inked in that style.  Compare this comic to some of the jam issues the ‘90s will later bring us and it’s practically art.  This is an issue that could’ve easily been a mess, but I enjoyed it a lot as a kid and I think it holds up very well.

Friday, July 26, 2013

BATMAN #502 - December 1993



Phoenix in Chaos
Credits:  Doug Moench (writer), Mike Manley (pencils), Mike Manley & Joe Rubenstein (inks), Ken Bruzenak (letterer), Adrienne Roy (colorist)

Summary:  Batman chases Mekros, but loses him.  Mekros, responding to Batman’s claim that the mobsters never intended to pay him, goes back to them and demands more money.  Meanwhile, federal agent Skyler is sent to bring back Mekros.  After handing an incriminating recording of the mobsters to Commissioner Gordon, Batman trails Skyler and eventually finds Mekros.  Mekros kills Skyler, and several civilians, after Batman chases him inside a supermarket.  As Batman defeats Mekros with his own grenade, Mayor Krol informs Gordon that he should embrace Batman’s new techniques.

Irrelevant Continuity:  

  • Batman begins to make rumblings about designing a new costume.  He doesn’t get around to it until months later.
  • Gordon, only now, believes that this Batman is not the original.

I Love the ‘90s:  Mekros’ armor generates roller blades when he needs to make a fast getaway.

Review:  Here’s something we rarely see during the AzBats era -- Jean-Paul actually using his brain.  Yes, he has “The System” within him, which enables him to go on Rain Man binges and design new equipment, but rarely does Jean-Paul come across as genuinely bright during his adventures.  Having Jean-Paul lie to Mekros about the mobsters' scheme not to pay him, thus inspiring him to confront them in person and enabling Jean-Paul to record their conversation, is pretty clever.  And it’s a welcome break from the genre standard, which has the hero always somehow unable to prove anything against a gangster.  I also like the new setup for Gordon this issue; he knows this new Batman is dangerous, yet he’s under political pressure to support him.  It’s an interesting dilemma to put the character in, and it’s a decent use of the otherwise generic Mayor Krol.  Finally, as much as I would’ve preferred to see Jim Aparo remain on one of the Bat-books, I have to give Mike Manley credit for continually rising to the occasion.  These are exceptionally nice-looking issues.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

BATMAN #501 - November 1993





Code Name: Mekros
Credits: Doug Moench (writer), Mike Manley (artist), Ken Bruzenak (letterer), Adrienne Roy (colorist)

Summary:  Batman saves gangster Mercante from a mob hit.  He tells Mercante that he owes him now.  Leaving the scene, Batman soon alienates Robin and Commissioner Gordon even further with his brusque attitude.  Later, Mercante hires the infamous assassin Mekros.  Mekros’ first target is rival mobster Santos Varona, who he easily kills.  Mekros then takes aim at Batman during his meeting with Mercante.  When Batman suspects Mercante has set him up, he quickly ducks out of the way of Mekros’ bullet.  Mercante is killed instead.

Irrelevant Continuity:  Mekros is a rogue government assassin that’s undergone hypnosis and mental conditioning in order to become the greatest contract killer alive.  He wears a suit of armor that looks exactly like something out of Terry Kavanagh and Alex Saviuk’s run on Web of Spider-Man.

Review:  The first issue of Batman following the fall of Bane, Doug Moench uses the opportunity to explore how Gotham’s underworld responds to the new vacuum of leadership.  And, predictably, they all want to kill each other.  This turns out to be the only story to address what happens to Gotham’s underworld following Bane’s arrest (or the only one reprinted in the second Knightfall collection), which is surprising given how much time was spent on making Bane the city’s newest, and strongest, crimelord.

And since this is 1993, any mob hitman has to at least wear a suit of cybernetic armor, if not be an outright cyborg himself.  The latest Generic Armor Guy is Mekros, who Moench obviously intends to be an ex-CIA assassin, even though he goes out of his way never to refer to the CIA by name.  Mekros’ gimmick is that he’s a self-created sleeper agent, which means he only speaks in a peculiar combination of old Christian hymns and self-help slogans.  There’s not a lot behind the concept, but the action in the issue is great.  Mike Manley, whose style during this run is a mix of Jim Aparo and Klaus Janson, knows how to draw a shootout.  He’s also one of the few artists that can manage to pull of AzBat’s ridiculous costume.  Speaking of Jean-Paul, he’s still annoying, but this issue does a good job of making his interactions with the rest of the cast enjoyable.  His casual dismissal of Robin, who’s broken into the Batcave a second time, is actually kind of funny.  This kind of humor was sorely missing from the rest of the storyline, which is probably one reason why Jean-Paul wore on the nerves so quickly.


Monday, July 22, 2013

SHADOW OF THE BAT #20 - Early November 1993




The Tally Man
Credits:  Alan Grant (writer), Vince Giarrano (art),  Todd Klein (letterer), Adrienne Roy (colorist)
 

Summary:  The Tally Man flashes back to his past as he pursues Batman.  He remembers the “tally man” of his youth, the loan shark who brutalized his mother.  As a prepubescent, the Tally Man murdered his mother’s abuser, and after his release from prison, discovered his mother hanging from a rope.  Eventually, Batman gets the better of Tally Man.  He tries to fight against the lethal instincts programmed inside him, but barely leaves Tally Man alive when their fight is over.

Review:  Another story intended to show us that our new Batman is Not Quite Right.  Gosh, I hope this doesn’t get old soon.  I would be curious to know where “The Tally Man” ranks amongst other Shadow of the Bat arcs, because this is pretty dreadful.  There is one good idea in the story, the irony of Jean-Paul being targeted over a case of mistaken identity (Tally Man assumes he’s the original Batman), even while Jean-Paul doesn’t know who he truly is.  The rest of the arc consists of utterly mindless violence and a gratuitous “dark” origin for the throwaway villain.  And the origin never explains why Tally Man is seemingly made out of smoke, which leads me to believe Vince Giarrano took his creative license a little too far and just made the villain some kind of a ghost even though the script never called for it.  Looking at all of the stories left out of this collection, I’ve got to wonder who thought it was a good idea to include this arc.

Friday, July 19, 2013

SHADOW OF THE BAT #19 - Late October 1993



The Tally Man
Credits:  Alan Grant (writer), Vince Giarrano (art),  Todd Klein (letterer), Adrienne Roy (colorist)

Summary:  Batman stops a robbery next to a New Age store’s warehouse.  Intrigued by a poster, Batman enters a sensory deprivation tank and explores his subconscious.  Meanwhile, the Tally Man kills the mobster Big Mike.  Next on his list is Mike’s brother, Johnny Mahoon.  Tally Man searches for Johnny at his hideout, the New Age store’s warehouse.  Batman has already incapacitated Johnny and his friend by the time the Tally Man arrives.  After killing Johnny, the Tally Man targets Batman.

Irrelevant Continuity:  

  • This arc apparently continues an ongoing storyline involving a mobster named Buto that was killed, allegedly because Big Mike sold him out to Batman.  The Tally Man has been hired by Buto’s brother to kill Big Mike, Mike’s brother Johnny, and Batman.
  • While exploring his subconscious, Jean-Paul sees visions of his father programming him to become an assassin during his sleep as a child.  I’m assuming this is material already covered in Sword of Azrael, but most of the details of Jean-Paul’s past have been left vague in the main titles.

Review:  The first coincidence in this story, that Batman would stop a robbery next door to a warehouse with sensory deprivation tanks, one with posters advertising the tanks even though it’s a warehouse and not a store, isn’t so bad.  What Grant wants to do is to have Jean-Paul learn about sensory deprivation and be inspired to try it out.  Fine.  The second coincidence, that the New Age store’s warehouse is also a mobster’s hideout, one that just so happens to be on the same hit list as Batman...it’s a harder pill to swallow.  There might be some context in the previous issues that makes this less ridiculous (apparently Batman was in this neighborhood in the first place investigating Buto’s murder), but it’s hard to get past the idea of mobsters hiding out in an active warehouse filled with New Age equipment.  It’s absurd, but never played as absurdly funny this issue, so it just comes across as a lethargic plot convenience.  

Regarding Jean-Paul’s journey to the center of his mind, I have no problems with Alan Grant using Jean-Paul’s mental state as an excuse to explore sensory deprivation, but Vince Giarrano’s art fails the scene spectacularly.  Giarrano’s rendition of the boneless, smoke-like Tally Man is tolerable, and I like some of his Gotham cityscapes, but the bulk of his art resembles a bad Erik Larsen impression.  That anatomy is atrocious, sketchy lines appear everywhere for no reason, and the human characters just look ugly.  It’s amazing that prestige format books like Excalibur and Shadow of the Bat often ended up with subpar fill-in work during the ‘90s.  I would think editorial would’ve been much more discerning when finding replacement artists for these titles.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

DETECTIVE COMICS #668 - November 1993



Runaway
Credits:  Chuck Dixon (writer), Graham Nolan (penciler), Scott Hanna (inker), John Costanza (letterer), Adrienne Roy (colorist)

Summary:  Batman spins the canopy of his car around and uses its jet engine to escape the oncoming train.  Meanwhile, Tim Drake receives his driver’s license in the mail.  He sneaks into the Batcave to retrieve the car Bruce Wayne promised him, the Redbird, and is ambushed by Batman.  Elsewhere, “Dirty” Dan Doyle lays out the plans for a subway robbery to the Trigger Twins, while the Joker contacts a Hollywood producer.

Irrelevant Continuity:  Tim Drake isn’t sixteen, but he’s been granted a special driver’s license due to his father’s disability.

I Love the ‘90s:  When Tim’s housekeeper is disturbed by a news report, he asks her if Tom Brokaw is off tonight.

Review:  I still don’t understand the appeal of a Bat-subway car, but I have to admit Dixon comes up with a clever way out of last issue’s cliffhanger.  The rest of the issue is spent touching on some subplots and setting up a Batman vs. Robin fight, a fight that doesn’t appear to have a resolution.  I know that these Knightfall trades skip numerous stories, but surely they didn’t skip the issue that resolved this cliffhanger -- Batman strangling Robin.  I’d kinda like to see how that turns out. 

While this fight scene is presumably irrelevant in the larger scheme of things, it does look very nice. I haven’t spoken enough about the art while reviewing these issues, but that’s because most of the artists do consistent, non-flashy work each time. I prefer Eduardo Barreto inking Graham Nolan to Scott Hanna, but this remains one of the better-looking issues of the storyline. Robin hasn’t been in action (outside of his solo book, largely left out of these collections) in a while, so it’s fun to see him facing off against the new Batman. Nolan and Hanna do a great job on his ‘90s costume, which has certainly aged better than AzBats’.


Monday, July 15, 2013

DETECTIVE COMICS #667 - October 1993

 
Wild, Wild East
Credits:  Chuck Dixon (writer), Graham Nolan (penciler), Scott Hanna (inker), John Costanza (letterer), Adrienne Roy (colorist)

Summary:  The new Batman rescues a family in the park from muggers, but is unsympathetic towards the anxious father.  Meanwhile, long-lost twin brothers Tom and Tad meet during a bank robbery.  They come to Gotham and are soon employed by “Dirty” Dan Doyle.  In the Batcave, Batman discovers a hi-tech subway car designed by Harold, as Robin learns his entrance to the cave has been blocked off.  Batman takes the subway car into the city, but carelessly drives into the path of an oncoming train.

Irrelevant Continuity:  
  • This issue marks the modern debut of the Trigger Twins, two cowboy-themed crooks.
  • Somehow, the Batcave has a hidden path that leads directly into Gotham’s subway system.  Batman wonders if his predecessor even knew about this.
  • Jean-Paul has his first vision of St. Dumas, who will continually appear and give Jean-Paul vague messages about transforming from angel to demon, embracing the darkness of Gotham, etc., for several months.

Review:  The era of Azrael as Batman truly begins, as Bruce Wayne is shuffled totally off-panel during his vague “quest” subplot (which is barely acknowledged for months at a time in Batman and Detective).  With Azrael as the focus, and without Robin as a sounding board, the narrative captions now try to elucidate his point of view in a more theatrical style than I’m using to reading in Dixon’s work.  (Actually, I can barely recall Dixon ever using third-person captions.)  The point is made that a) Azrael craves action, b) Azrael is exceedingly reckless, and c) Azrael is still under the influence of the System.  And we’ll see these ideas repeat themselves in virtually every issue for the next few months.  

Dixon alleviates the dark tone with some divergences into Silver Age silliness, such as the post-Crisis debut of the Trigger Twins.  Their origin is absolutely ridiculous, but as the story points out, not entirely implausible.  There are numerous instances of twins separated at birth who end up following remarkably similar journeys in life.  And the absurdity of two grown men dressed as cowboys hitting up Gotham’s underworld is a welcome break from Azrael, who’s rather flagrantly being treated as a borderline ‘90s parody by now.  As for the introduction of the Bat-subway car, I have to admit that I don’t get the appeal.  Not only is the premise that the Batcave somehow leads directly into the Gotham subway system questionable, but I don’t understand the need for an alternative to the Batmobile.  Is it really so important that Batman make his way into the city a few minutes faster by subway?  Isn’t sharing the subway tracks with other trains more of an inconvenience than highway traffic?  What does he get out of this?

Friday, July 12, 2013

X-MEN Episode Twenty-Eight - August 5, 1994



Out of the Past - Part Two
Written by Len Wein
 
Summary:  The spacecraft is revealed as a prison cell containing a gaseous monster called the Spirit Drinker.  It proceeds to absorb the life essences of Jubilee, the Morlocks, Lady Deathstrike, and the Reavers.  Professor Xavier summons the rest of the team, and with their help, examines the ship.  When the X-Men fight to keep the Spirit Drinker away from the surface, Wolverine discovers the electrified third subway rail can harm the alien.  Gambit throws his metal staff on the railroad track and electrifies the Spirit Drinker.  Its victims return to normal as the alien dissipates.
 
Continuity Notes:  
  • The Spirit Drinker, also known as the Soul Drinker, first appeared in Uncanny X-Men #107 during the initial Shi’ar storyline.
  • Xavier has visions of the Shi’ar after he touches the interior of the ship.
  • A teaser added to the end of the episode (featuring animation clearly done by a different studio), announces that “The Phoenix Saga” is coming soon.

 

Review:  As a gaseous monster with no clear motives or coherent consciousness, the Spirit Drinker isn’t the most interesting villain in the canon.  The story manages to get some emotional weight out of the concept by allowing the alien to absorb Jubilee, however, which gives Wolverine some additional angst to deal with.  Plus, it’s just nice to see the united X-Men in action when animated by a credible animation studio.  The X-Men vs. Spirit Drinker fight just might be the nicest looking action sequence in the entire run of the show.  

 

For hardcore fans, the real highlight of the episode is the teaser for “The Phoenix Saga,” although it might take some effort for anyone reading this today to remember a time when the Phoenix concept hadn’t been run into the ground in every imaginable format.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

X-MEN Episode Twenty-Seven - July 29, 1994



Out of the Past - Part One  
Written by Michael Edens
 
Summary:  Lady Deathstrike and the Reavers invade the Morlock Tunnels.  She forces Leech to contact Wolverine, whose help she needs to open an alien spaceship that’s trapped in the tunnels.  When Wolverine arrives, he’s shocked to discover Lady Deathstrike is his former girlfriend, Yuriko.  Gambit and Jubilee secretly trail Wolverine and interfere with his fight with Lady Deathstrike.  When Deathstrike misses Wolverine and strikes the spaceship, she’s trapped by the energy it emits.  Wolverine uses his claws to free her, but instead unleashes a mysterious alien.
 
Continuity Notes:  
  • This episode marks the animated debuts of Lady Deathstrike and the Reavers.  Although Lady Deathstrike has a crazy ex-girlfriend motive grafted on, the cartoon keeps her original role as the daughter of the creator of the adamantium-bonding process intact.  While she hates Wolverine for receiving the treatment she believes was rightfully hers in the comic, in the cartoon she blames Wolverine for her father’s death.  Wolverine denies this.
  • Wolverine is seen wearing his Team X uniform during a flashback to the last time Lady Deathstrike saw him.  Maverick makes a cameo as the helicopter pilot dropping him off on his mission.  
  • The basketball game between Wolverine, Gambit, and Jubilee is clearly inspired by the opening scene in X-Men #4.  The characters are even wearing the same clothes.

 

“Um, Actually…”:  

  • Lady Deathstrike is not Wolverine’s former lover.  The producers have apparently decided to merge her with Mariko Yashida.  
  • Macon, Cole, and Reese of the Reavers are cyborgs even before meeting Wolverine, which contradicts the original comic book continuity.
  • In the cartoon’s continuity, Wolverine was abducted and forced into the Weapon X project after getting set up on a Team X mission.  In the original Weapon X serial, he was kidnapped in a parking lot by plainclothes agents.

 
Creative Differences:  Lady Deathstrike’s scenes had to be sent back to the Philippines, because the animators didn’t draw a shirt in the middle of her costume.  (Which is actually true to the comics, but too risqué for kids’ TV.)
 
"Actiiing!":  Professor Xavier screaming “Powwerrr!!!!  Incredible power!!!” when he telepathically contacts the alien inside the spacecraft always makes me laugh.
 
Approved By Broadcast Standards:  The word “kill” is used at least twice in the episode.  Usually, censors forced the writers to use terms like “waste” or “eliminate” when discussing death.
 
Review:  I think everyone who watched this show first-run remembers this two-parter.  For starters, these episodes aired in prime time, during FOX’s experiment of putting its popular Saturday Morning material in front of a more mainstream audience.  It’s my understanding that the prime time ratings weren’t great (I believe FOX aired this on Friday night, hoping its audience could cross over with The X-Files), but even if adults didn’t tune in, I’m sure every faithful kid viewer was excited to see X-Men put on the air at night, just like a real show.  
 
This two-parter is also notable for using a new studio, Philippine Animation Studio, Inc.  X-Men is simply not known for quality animation.  The character designs would look fine in a comic book, but were far too detailed and “realistic” to work with the show’s limited budget, often creating a look that could be charitably called “clunky.”  These episodes, however, have an incredibly smooth look, and an eye-catching color scheme that’s a noticeable contrast to the series’ standard drabness.  This is how I wanted X-Men to look every week, but unfortunately this studio will only animate a handful of episodes.  Some fans have theorized that FOX put more money into these episodes because they knew they would air in prime time, but that assumes FOX had its schedule marked out a year or so in advance, which is highly unlikely.
 
Regarding the story, this two-parter introduces the third season by delving even deeper into X-lore.  The first season introduced the basics of the concept, and the second season opened up the world a bit by fleshing out the cast’s origins and exploring more outlandish concepts such as Mojoworld and the Savage Land.  The third season finally incorporates the cosmic storylines from the early days of The All-New, All-Different X-Men, but the producers shrewdly decide to slowly build up to the introduction of Lilandra, the Shi’ar, and the Phoenix Force.  
 
The season opens very unexpectedly with Lady Deathstrike and the Reavers, committing their own kid-friendly version of the Morlock Massacre.  They want to loot a mysterious spaceship (one that’s somehow landed deep in the tunnels under New York without being noticed by anyone on the surface), and the key to unlocking it just so happens to be Deathstrike’s ex, Wolverine.  Just examining the basics of the plot, it’s hard to discern why the producers decided to reveal Wolverine and Lady Deathstrike were a couple.  Due to his connection to her father, Deathstrike is already aware of his existence, which is all that’s really needed to bring him into the story.  I presume Deathstrike and Mariko were merged in order to give Wolverine juicier flashbacks during the episode, which I guess is justifiable (Wolverine flashbacks were still rare enough to matter at this point, both in the comics and the cartoon).  Like I’ve mentioned before, the animation is extremely polished, making the fight scenes far more entertaining than usual, and as a fan of the comic, it’s just fun to see more characters from various eras of the book thrown together into one story.  No one’s characterization is sacrificed in order for this to work (the Reavers probably would like to loot a Shi’ar spacecraft), and the science fiction elements are introduced just slowly enough to make them fit into the existing reality of the show.  This is certainly an unusual way to tease the introduction of the Shi’ar continuity, but I think it works.

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 http://marvel.toonzone.net/xmen/ for the screencaps.
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