Friday, February 7, 2014

UNCANNY X-MEN Annual #15 - August 1991

Kings of Pain Part 3 - Queens of Sacrifice
Credits:  Fabian Nicieza (writer), Tom Raney (penciler), Joe Rubenstein & Co. (inks), Brad Vancata (colors), Joe Rosen (letters)

Summary:  X-Force and the New Warriors arrive on Muir Island and are promptly attacked by its Shadow King-influenced inhabitants.  When Cable explains to Moira MacTaggart that Harness and Piecemeal are absorbing her son’s energy, she stops the fight.  The teams unite and travel to Edinburgh to stop Harness and Piecemeal.  During the battle, Harness’ armor is damaged, revealing Harness as a female.  The teams are even more shocked to discover Harness is Piecemeal’s mother.  Soon, Piecemeal absorbs so much energy he disappears in a fog; in his place is a shadowy figure claiming to be both Proteus and Piecemeal.  Suddenly, the energy explodes.

Continuity Notes:  
  • Who exactly is supposed to be on Muir Island at this point is hard to keep track of.  Madrox and Siryn are now there, following the Fallen Angels miniseries, but characters last seen on the Island like Amanda Sefton, Sharon Friedlander, and Tom Corsi are gone.
  • Shatterstar uses his energy-blasting powers yet again this issue.  Feral is also still in a developmental stage, as she’s deferential to Cable during battle.   The Feral we’ll see in the ongoing X-Force series is relentlessly nasty and would only grudgingly obey any orders.

Creative Differences:  Some added word balloons on page thirty-three clarify what Silhouette’s powers are.

Approved By The Comics Code Authority:  Both Namorita and Polaris have gratuitous thong shots this issue.

I Love the '90s:  Harness is totally going to surrender to the Edinburgh police…“NOT!”

Review:  So, how did this end up as the Uncanny X-Men annual?  Well, during the “Shattered Star” period that had the X-Men split across the globe, most of them suffering amnesia, the closest thing Marvel had to a united X-team was the collection of minor characters on Muir Island.  (Many of them not even mutants.)  I seem to recall the Muir Island team was actually listed as the X-Men on some piece of merchandising Marvel released circa 1990; Marvel couldn’t really point to another group of characters and call them the X-Men, so they had to make do.  

By the time of the 1991 annuals, however, there was a united X-team; a large lineup that famously posed together for the cover of Uncanny X-Men #275.  Figuring out how to cram that team into a story that’s taking place before the big crossover set on Muir Island was problematic, however.  Plus, it’s possible that work began on these annuals long before the specific lineup in the monthly title was nailed down (at one point, Guido used to make it into group shots of the X-Men on promo images).  So, working in one final appearance of the Muir Island team before “The Muir Island Saga” makes sense, plus it gives Nicieza an opportunity to use Moira MacTaggart in the story.  This might not be the X-Men that people actually wanted to see in an Uncanny X-Men annual, but I can understand the logic behind the decision.

Much of the story is spent recapping the previous installments, along with the original Proteus storyline from the late ‘70s in Uncanny X-Men.  The plot also has to address the fact that the Muir Island team is currently possessed by the Shadow King, which gets hand-waved fairly quickly after a pointless fight scene.  (And even Bob Harras’ footnotes seem to indicate he’s not entirely sure what’s supposed to be going on at Muir Island.)  Given the circumstances of the plot, this should be an opportunity for Nicieza to do some heavy, emotional work with Moira, but she spends the bulk of the issue merely barking out orders to the teams or spouting pseudo-scientific gibberish.  There are around two dozen characters in this story by now, and because they spend most of this story fighting one another, there really is no room for something thoughtful and quiet, like Nicieza’s previous portrayal of Moira in Classic X-Men #36.  That’s not to say the characters are entirely generic, though.  The idea that Piecemeal is being exploited because of his powers ties in with an early (and quickly ignored) theme of the X-Force series; that this team isn’t going to take mutant oppression lightly.  And Nicieza is still able to work in some fun interactions amongst the New Warriors cast, so it’s not a complete loss.  

Visually, Tom Raney’s art is all over the place, which is probably a combination of him being a new artist and being inked by an unknown number of unnamed inkers.  The best pages show Raney has a real talent for drawing multiple characters and complex designs.  I also remember being genuinely grossed out by his portrayal of the corpulent Piecemeal as a kid.  That stuff is disturbing.

The Killing Stroke Part Two - The Razor’s Edge
Credits:  Fabian Nicieza (writer), Jerry DeCaire (penciler), Joe Rubenstein (inker), Mike Thomas (colors), Joe Rosen (letters)

Summary:  The surviving members of Freedom Force flee with Dr. Kurtzmann.  When Blob and Pyro are cornered, they decide to kill Dr. Kurtzmann to prevent Desert Sword from taking him.  Meanwhile, Crimson Commando and Avalanche are severely injured by landmines outside the Kuwait International Airport.

I Love the ‘90s:  I would say most of the members of Desert Sword are too politically incorrect to appear today, at least not without a few indignant internet editorials.

Review:  The dismantling of Freedom Force continues, and this time the tiny page count actively works against the story.  Because everything feels rushed, Pyro’s decision to kill Dr. Kurtzmann and the possible death of more Freedom Force members just lack any real drama.  And once Desert Sword exits the shadows and makes a real appearance, it’s obvious that most of these guys are Marvel Comics Presents material at best.  Jerry DeCaire’s art is very attractive, though, reminding me of Kerry Gammill’s work from this era.  Despite its flaws, this is still more entertaining than most annual backups.

The Origin of the X-Men
Credits:  Len Kaminski (writer), Ernie Stiner (penciler), Don Hudson (inker), Kevin Tinsley (colors), Joe Rosen (letters)

Summary:  Major Domo presents the history of the X-Men to Mojo.  Mojo refuses to believe it, however, telling him to do more research.

Review:  It’s another history lesson back-up.  There’s little here for anyone who already knows the history, but the Mojo angle thankfully isn’t used as an excuse for a thousand Hollywood references this time.  Ernie Stiner’s art is reminiscent of early Mike Mignola, which helps to alleviate some of the boredom.

The Enemy Within
Credits:  Len Kaminski (writer), Kirk Jarvinen (penciler), Brad Vancata (inks/colors), Mike Heisler (letters)

Summary:  In a nightmare, Wolverine is stalked by his adamantium skeleton.

Approved By The Comics Code Authority:  Wolverine is nude throughout the story, covered by tastefully placed shadows.

Review:  I’ve always liked this back-up, mainly due to Kirk Jarvinen’s art.  He’s the first non-Jim Lee artist that I thought could draw a Jim Lee-style Wolverine right.  The visual of an animated adamantium skeleton forcibly merging with Wolverine also creeped me out as a kid.  The story’s too short to really work as a psychological piece, but Kaminski gets the basic idea across.  Not a bad way to close out the annual at all.


Jason said...

"(And even Bob Harras’ footnotes seem to indicate he’s not entirely sure what’s supposed to be going on at Muir Island.)"

I find these smarmy Harras captions from around this time rather irksome, taken in toto. In addition to this, you've got the one in 270 about Stevie Hunter, "last seen ... even WE can't remember when!" And there's a citation to Spider-Woman in an early Wolverine issue that gets the issue number, but he signs it Bob "Before My Time" Harras or something like that.

Great, Bob, we get it. You couldn't care less about old stories or new stories whose direction you don't like. It's a great attitude, and I'm sure it won't drive away any talent that you work with on the X-books, nor will it drive away any DC creators when you take over as editor of that company 20 years later.

Matt said...

Jason -- I don't necessarily think there's anything wrong with signing a footnote "Before My Time", but I agree that some of the others are a bit much. Though I thought the "even WE can't remember when" note was a very Stan Lee-ish sort of thing, so I like it.

My favorite of these early nineties non-footnotes, though, is from a Scott Lobdell-written Maverick back-up in X-Men #10 or 11 or thereabouts, where Warhawk (UXM #110 among other places) pops up and makes some reference to a past story. The footnote attached to his word balloon reads "Hmmmmm?" It simultaneously annoyed and cracked me up when I was younger.

Jason said...

"Jason -- I don't necessarily think there's anything wrong with signing a footnote "Before My Time", but I agree that some of the others are a bit much. Though I thought the "even WE can't remember when" note was a very Stan Lee-ish sort of thing, so I like it."

That's why I made a point of saying "in toto." None of those footnotes are problematic in isolation, and they are even amusing, I agree. It's seeing them accumulated that they start to feel, to me, very self-indulgent. Your mileage may vary, of course.

(I do remember the "Hmmmm?" one, now that you mention it! What was up with that one? Was it a reference to something that had never actually occurred in a published story, or ... ?)

G. Kendall said...

I think Lobdell was just inventing some new Warhawk continuity on the spot, and "Hmmmm?" was a vague acknowledgement that this is new information. The mystery was, of course, never resolved. (Unless it's one of the things Mike Carey decided to pick up on years after I stopped reading the books.)

wwk5d said...

Did Warhawk ever appear again in-between his appearance in Uncanny and the Jim Lee series? I think you're right in that Lobdell was adding some new continuity if he didn't, and they didn't quite know where to place all that in the reference.

This is where the cross-over begins to nosedive. The fight between the New Warriors/X-force and the Muir Island X-men feels even more gratuitous and takes up pages that could have gone to some better character work (especially for Moira, as you point out). As for the's very inconsistent. Some pages and panels look really good, some others just look...meh.

"Plus, it’s possible that work began on these annuals long before the specific lineup in the monthly title was nailed down (at one point, Guido used to make it into group shots of the X-Men on promo images)."

As did Havoc a couple of times. I can only imagine what was going on behind the scenes at the X-offices at this point.

Matt said...

I just dug out the issue (or specifically a reprint) and checked on Warhawk's dialogue. The "Hmmmm?" In question is attached to a line from Warhawk stating that Maverick's enemy, Barrington, rendered Warhawk's body "practically useless after [his] failed encounter with the X-Men."

So possibly Lobdell didn't realize that Warhawk was later revealed to have been working for the Hellfire club and thought he was explaining something? But Warhawk did, in fact, appear after UXM #110, in some issues of Power Man and Iron Fist. Which tells me Harras's footnote either means "What are you talking about, Scott? Warhawk worked for the Hellfire Club." or "What are you talking about, Scott? Warhawk had other appearances after UXM #110. Even if you're trying to imply he started working for Barrington after leaving the Inner Circle's employ, you make it sound like it happened immediately, but that's not possible"

Or possibly just "Who the heck is this guy, Scott?" Though I honestly find that one the least likely, as it's pretty well established Harras was a big fan of Bronze Age Marvel.

Scott Church said...

Can I just point out that the Warhawk thing drove me crazy as a kid. I was already a huge X-Men nut and had about every issue from around 200 to current yet I couldn't find out who this character was. There was no internet to just hop on and find out and unless you had his 110 appearance you had no idea who he was. Which really sucked, a good editor would have pointed this all out.

I loved the backups with Freedom Force. I loved that group and was horrified as a kid to see them get destroyed in this way. This was a team on par with the X-Men. I think I was more horrified when Avalanche and Crimson Commando later showed up in X-Factor as these Cyborg looking characters that had none of their original personalities.

I believe Avalanche is considered fully human again but I don't remember where CC ended up after that X-Factor run.

I read these backups over and over, seeing the team getting taken out, thinking how bad it was for them to split up and how Avalanche should have just used his power to move all the road/street in front of him in order to set off any explosives that were in their path.

Also CC and Avalanche had what looked like bullet holes in them and were bleeding all over the place, it was just an amazing visual.

These plus seeing Stonewall and Destiny die earlier were tough to stomach. I really liked this team and wanted so much more from them. It's sort of like how the Reavers were taken out around the same time at the start of Uncanny 281. It's like these great teams of villains were just dismantled and not replaced.

cyke68 said...

Yeah, Freedom Force's last stand here is almost Suicide Squad-esque in a way that makes me want to read more of their adventures doing government-sponsored dirty work (at least by Nicieza). Genuinely shocking both in terms of its visceral storytelling and the nihilistic dismantling of a major piece of the X-Men mythos.

Speaking of... this whole issue is high on outright body horror. You have the gruesome brutality of the Freedom Force stuff. (Although it seems like editorial can't quite make up their minds on how badly Crimson Commando is supposed to be maimed. It initially appears that the blast takes off half his face, an arm, and BOTH legs, but then his legs seem to be intact once Avalanche carts him away. Hmmm.) In the main story, the outrageously bloated child, Piecemeal, in agony, literally FUCKING EXPLODES, complete with little flaps of skin blowing around him like confetti. And you've got that Wolverine fever dream as the cherry on top. The reading experience leaves you with a real squicky feeling on the whole.

Austin 'Teebore' Gorton said...

@Scott: Can I just point out that the Warhawk thing drove me crazy as a kid ... There was no internet to just hop on and find out and unless you had his 110 appearance you had no idea who he was.

I'm right there with you. I remember being SO FRUSTRATED by that footnote, because I WANTED to go track down whatever issue they were talking about, yet couldn't.

And to make things worse, they skipped over X-Men #110 in Classic X-Men which, at the time, was how I was able to read the old Cockrum/Byrne stuff, so there was no easy way to even read Warhawk's last X-Men appearance even if you could figure out it was in issue #110.

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