One Step Back -- Two Steps Forward
Credits: Fabian Nicieza (writer), Andy Kubert w/Steven Butler (pencilers), Inks-R-us (inks), Joe Rosas (colors), Tom Orzechowski (letters), Lois Buhalis (lettering assist, not credited)
Summary: Xavier arrives on the remains of Muir Island to discover Marvel Girl has telekinetically protected her teammates from Legion’s explosion. The possessed Legion attempts to kill Xavier, but is chased away by Storm. The heroes split in two -- one group will sever Shadow King’s link to the physical realm and the other will protect Xavier as he fights Shadow King in the Astral Plane. During Xavier’s battle in the Astral Plane, Shadow King shatters Xavier’s back, crippling him. Meanwhile, Forge forces Psylocke to use her psychic knife on Polaris, which breaks Shadow King’s connection to the physical realm. Shadow King disappears, but Legion is left in a coma.
According to Xavier, there “isn't much left of Muir Island." Not that any giant explosion has ever had a real impact on Muir Island.
Colossus has suddenly arrived on Muir Island in-between issues. Rogue is also wearing a different outfit once again, as she’s back to her tattered clothing from UXM #274 (!).
Xavier arrives with two SHIELD psi-operatives, DeMarco and Heacock. They’re killed by the possessed Legion.
Rogue comments that Polaris has shrunk after she’s rescued from the Shadow King’s “psychic magnifier” device. This ends her period as a super-strong female bodybuilder, which has never received an in-continuity explanation as far as I know (even though we do have some idea of Claremont’s original plan.)
Review: Considering the behind-the-scenes chaos that was going on at the time, this is a better conclusion than I would’ve expected. The story does get dragged down by more repetitive scenes of the heroes fighting brainwashed heroes (including another uninspired Wolverine vs. Gambit rematch), but that isn’t as large a part of the issue as I remembered. In reality, Nicieza does a credible job bringing everything to a close, keeping track of most of the massive cast while also leaving enough room for Xavier to be the star of the issue. His first-person narration isn’t quite a match for what Claremont was able to accomplish in the previous issue, but the sentiment feels genuine and the scripting is true to Xavier’s character. Nicieza’s strongest moment is when he introduces Xavier’s fear that Legion legitimately enjoys being under the Shadow King’s thrall, and that it might just be Shadow King who’s cured Legion of his schizophrenia. That’s the kind of character work that’s usually forgotten in these densely packed crossovers, and it’s a relief to see such a Claremont-esque idea show up so soon after his departure.
What doesn’t work about the issue isn’t too hard to guess. There are too many characters, many aren’t properly introduced, and the conclusion to this giant battle that’s been teased for literally years occurs over the course of a few panels. Apparently, all that was needed for the Shadow King to fall was Psylocke to stab Polaris with her psychic knife -- which means Psylocke was so weak as a telepath that she couldn’t fight off the Shadow King’s influence, but did possess enough power to ultimately defeat him. Okay, then. The most irritating aspect of the issue would be the crippling yet again of Professor Xavier, which is such an obvious play to nostalgia that it’s hard not to roll your eyes. This is an early sign of the Bob Harras “Back to Basics” approach, which sees nostalgia trump even rudimentary plot development. There’s no great story following Xavier’s injury -- he just goes back to living in a chair (albeit in a space-age one designed by Jim Lee.) There’s no compelling reason for the X-Men and X-Factor to rebuild the school and live together again -- it’s not as if they show even the slightest interest in treating it as a school for the next few years. There was never much of a reason for the fully-grown Peter Parker to suddenly act like a teenager again in the late ‘90s either; but hey, those old stories are classics, which means they must be milked for all eternity. There is a time for “Back to Basics,” as evidenced by the late ‘90s revamps of books like The Avengers and Captain America, but there has to be more to the concept than simple nostalgia.