Kings of Pain Part 1 - Pawns of Senescence
Credits: Fabian Nicieza (writer), Guang Yap (penciler), Dan Panosian (inker), Brad Vancata (colors), Joe Rosen (letters)
Summary: The Alliance of Evil breaks into the private school harboring Artie, Leech, and Wiz Kid. The Alliance is joined by the mysterious Harness and Piecemeal. Under Harness’ orders, Piecemeal absorbs the residual energy in the area. Later, as Wiz Kid recovers, he’s visited by X-Force. They track the Alliance to Niagara Falls, but Harness and Piecemeal teleport away before they can be captured. Cable forces Tower to reveal that the Alliance is working for the Genetech Research Facility. X-Force invades the facility looking for answers. Inside, they discover the New Warriors, ready for battle. Meanwhile, two mystery figures play chess.
Wiz Kid knows Boom-Boom from the X-Terminators miniseries.
This story is set in-between New Mutants #100 and X-Force #1. Technically, this is the first X-Force story, even if we are reading it as the final New Mutants annual. For the record, the team never refers to itself as “X-Force” in this issue’s main story but that’s what they are called in future chapters, and in the text piece in the back. In the main story, Boom-Boom says they’re the “New New Mutants.”
Alliance member Timeshadow is missing during the story. Cable remarks that he doesn’t know or care where he’s gone.
Shatterstar tells Cable that channeling energy through his sword is a “tiring act” and advises him not to ask him to do it too often. I believe this is the only time that’s been established, but it would help to explain why Shatterstar so rarely used his mutant power during these days.
I Love the '90s: Boom-Boom compares Cable to Major Dad. She later comments that the interior of Genetech is “more complicated than the insides of my VCR!”
Miscellaneous Note: According to dictionary.com, “senescence” means aging, but it’s also a term for when a cell is “no longer capable of dividing but still alive and metabolically active.”
Review: I can vaguely remember a time when “Kings of Pain” was considered kind of a joke amongst fans, but over the years I think it’s simply been forgotten. I think all of the mini-crossovers of the early ‘90s Marvel annuals have faded from memory. Theoretically, doing smaller crossovers in the annuals as opposed to the line-wide events should’ve allowed the creators more room to have fun while also giving fans the most basic thing they want in a crossover (heroes meeting and/or fighting each other). Why exactly the three-year experiment yielded almost nothing memorable is kind of a mystery to me. (Aside from “Days of Future Present,” have any of the mini-crossovers ever been reprinted?)
“Kings of Pain” begins with a lot of setup and a few mysteries. Consequently, it isn’t that interesting in its own right, but as the first chapter of a crossover I think it establishes enough intrigue to justify reading the next chapter. For fans of the oft-forgotten X-Terminators, or the Alliance of Evil, this must’ve been a nostalgia-fest, assuming anyone was nostalgic for 1987 in 1991. The only real issue with the plot is the New Mutants’ casual arrival as soon as the Alliance hits Niagara Falls. The story established just a few pages earlier that the team doesn’t know how to find the Alliance, and yet they suddenly do when it’s time for a fight scene. Guang Yap’s previous work in New Mutants, a fill-in at the end of “X-Tinction Agenda,” committed the fatal sin of being dull, but in this issue he’s able to add some early ‘90s flair while maintaining the basics of silly things like anatomy and storytelling.
Probably the most intriguing aspect of the issue is seeing how Nicieza handles the future X-Force cast without any input from Rob Liefeld. Consequently, Cable is still a drill sergeant, but he’s not a Punisher clone, Shatterstar is taciturn but not inhuman, and Feral is…essentially a different character. She first appears in the issue smiling, something I don’t think she ever did during a Rob Liefeld issue. She’s playful and “catlike” as in tabby, not tiger. The distinctive jagged word balloons given to her by Joe Rosen in her initial appearances are also gone, making me wonder if this comic actually went into production before New Mutants #99 and #100.
The Killing Stroke Part 1: The First Cut
Credits: Fabian Nicieza (writer), Kirk Jarvinin (penciler), Joe Rubinstein (inker), Mike Thomas (colors), Joe Rosen (letters)
Summary: In Kuwait, Freedom Force arrives to rescue nuclear physicist Reinhold Kurtzmann before the Iraqis can kidnap him. The team discovers Kurtzmann is missing from his safehouse, and are soon attacked. Super Sabre is killed and the remaining members are injured, with only the Blob left standing. Suddenly, Desert Sword emerges with Dr. Kurtzmann.
Continuity Notes: Mystique doesn’t appear in the story, as she’s believed dead at this point in continuity.
Creative Differences: On page 41, it looks as if Pyro’s “Bloody ‘ell!” has been changed to “Bloody ‘eck!”
Approved By The Comics Code Authority: Super Sabre is decapitated by Desert Sword, although his severed head is only shown in one faraway shot.
I Love the '90s: The story is set during Iraq’s occupation of Kuwait in early 1991. Desert Sword is also an obvious play on “Desert Storm.”
Review: You can’t accuse this back-up serial of being filler. The dissolution of Freedom Force, along with the death and mutilation of many of its members, actually has a larger impact on continuity than anything that happens in the main story. Nicieza gets a lot out of the ten pages, working in almost a full issue’s worth of material without compressing too much of the story. Desert Sword are destined to be forgotten at best, or joke characters at worse, but they make an impressive standing in their first appearance. I’ve always liked Freedom Force, for reasons I probably couldn’t explain, so seeing them taken out like this actually did bother me as a young reader. By the standards of back-up stories, this is pretty daring, especially when you consider just how rare superhero bloodbaths were in these days.
Close Encounters of the Mutant Kind
Credits: Judy Bogdanove (writer), Jon Bogdanove (penciler), Hilary Barta (inker), Mike Thomas (colors), Joe Rosen (letters)
Summary: Artie and Leech ride with Wiz Kid in his custom-built UFO. An elderly neighbor thinks they’re actually aliens and creates a media frenzy. The mutants join the search for the aliens, not realizing that they’re the cause of the confusion. Eventually, the mutants meet the neighbor and make peace. Leech immediately bonds with her because she resembles his Morlock foster-mother, Annalee.
Continuity Notes: Cyclops and Marvel Girl make a cameo at the beginning of the story, visiting the kids during their school play.
I Love the '90s: Wiz Kid wears British Knights sneakers.
Review: Wow, X-Terminators fever must’ve been gripping Marvel this month, I guess. (By the way, has the St. Simon’s school for mutants in New Hampshire established in these old stories ever shown up again?) There isn’t a lot to say about this one; it’s sappy in all of the ways you expect, but that’s okay if you’re not utterly heartless. The idea that the kids don’t even realize that they’ve caused the alien craze strains credibility a bit, but then again, it’s a story about small children, so they probably should be a bit oblivious. Jon Bogdanove’s cartooning suits the story well, so at the very least it looks better than your average annual back-up.