Friday, June 6, 2014

X-MEN: TRUE FRIENDS #3 - November 1999

Claiming the Crown
Credits:  Chris Claremont (writer), Rick Leonardi (penciler), Al Williamson (inks), Shannon Blanchard (colors), Tom Orzechowski (letters)

Summary:  Phoenix briefly breaks free of Shadow King’s control and telepathically gives Shadowcat Lilibet’s location.  Shadowcat leaves with Wolverine and Alasdhair for the Holyrood House.  By the time they arrive, Phoenix is again under Shadow King’s control and chasing Lilibet.  Shadowcat kisses Alasdhair goodbye and follows Lilibet into an underground treasure chamber while Wolverine fights Shadow King’s men.  Using an ancient sword, Shadowcat breaks Shadow King’s hold over Phoenix and forces him to retreat.  Suddenly, they return to the modern world, at a party commemorating the opening of the new Scots Parliament.  They discover Lilibet is now the Queen.

Continuity Notes:  
  • The Queen reveals that Alasdhair died during the war fighting with the Royal Air Force.
  • Destiny and Mystique, in her guise as a male detective, discuss Shadowcat with Wolverine.  (Claremont has toyed with the idea in the past that Mystique was actually born male.)  Destiny directed Wolverine to rescue Shadowcat last issue, explaining his sudden appearance.  She now has a convoluted reason for why Shadowcat must be allowed to decide for herself if she wants to kill Hitler.
  • Baron von Strucker refers to Wolverine’s claws as “blades,” perhaps indicating that Claremont really did intend for Wolverine to have his adamantium claws as far back as 1936.  
  • Claremont also has Wolverine strongly imply that he personally knew Benjamin Franklin this issue, which is just…well, I’m just going to pretend I didn’t even read that.

Production Note:  Despite the date listed in the indicia, this issue shipped several months late.  I distinctly remember buying this issue new off the stands on Christmas Eve 1999.  The first issue shipped in July 1999, and I don’t recall any delays on the second issue, making this one noticeably late.  There are also two pages printed out of order towards the end of the issue, causing the ending to appear even more jumbled than it already is.

Review:  True Friends #3 seemed to be universally panned upon its release, and I don’t think time has been too kind to it.  The first thing anyone has to notice when reading the issue is the sharp decline in Rick Leonardi’s art.  Al Williamson is still here as inker, so it’s hard to say what went wrong, aside from the obvious guess of “deadline issues.”  Leonardi’s art can occasionally be sloppy in a creative, unique way, but for most of this issue it’s sloppy in a rushed, unattractive way.  This is not how you want the final chapter of a story ten years in the making to look.

Regarding the story, it’s still as dense as ever, as Claremont rushes through his period piece to get to the cute ending, the revelation that Lilibet is actually Queen Elizabeth.  Um…okay.  I think the bulk of the audience cares even less about the monarchy than it does the political climate of 1936, so I doubt this had the impact he probably intended.  Before getting there, Claremont resolves the Shadow King plot by having the female cast members conveniently stumble upon a treasure chamber and discover a magic sword that can stop the villain.  It’s rushed and creatively unsatisfying; just as unsatisfying as Kitty’s sudden decision not to kill Hitler, which she abruptly realizes would be wrong after giving a speech to Rachel against killing the Shadow King.  Kitty’s romance with Alasdhair is also shortchanged, as he merely disappears before the story’s climax, allowing his new love to run off into danger while he stays behind and does nothing.  

I can’t say the entire issue is a wash; there is a touching scene that has Kitty futilely trying to contact her relatives in Poland and warn them about what’s coming that's a highlight of the series.  The ethical and metaphysical ramifications of changing the past are briefly touched upon in an intelligent way, as you would  expect Claremont to handle them.  Those brief moments aren’t enough to save the issue, though, which is such a cluttered and bewildering ending it only serves to drag the entire miniseries down. 

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