--Can Also Set Us Free!
Credits: Chris Claremont (writer), Graham Nolan (pencils), Scott Koblish (inks), Guillem Mari (colors), Tom Orzechowski (letters)
Summary: Fabian Cortez is shot by Consortium agents during their shootout with Fury’s team. Sabretooth leads the team to an exit, but the Consortium soon catches up to them in the subway tunnels. While rescuing Daisy, Sabretooth’s right hand is severed by a train. The rest of the X-Men arrive in the Blackbird and save Fury’s team. While on his deathbed, Fabian Cortez tells the X-Men the identity of the Consortium’s secret leader. Simultaneously, Tony Stark is debriefed at the Consortium’s headquarters.
Continuity Notes: Cyclops is now wearing that merged ‘70s and ‘90s costume he wore on the cover of issue #18. Rogue and Nightcrawler have also swapped color schemes on their uniforms.
Review: The pacing picks up a bit this issue, but it’s hard to ignore the fact that the reader has been saddled with two consecutive issues of the team fighting armed goons. They’re visually dull and not a real threat to the team; at least, readers have been trained not to think of armed goons as being genuine threats. Claremont tries to add some gravity to the fight by severing Sabretooth’s hand, a move that brings us yet another physical alteration of an established character. This is something of a Sabretooth spotlight issue, as Claremont makes a point of establishing that the “real” Sabretooth is more honorable, in his own way, than the clone that’s faced the X-Men over the years. (This is Claremont’s premise for the book, as made clear in later issues.) Regrettably, Sabretooth’s been burdened with that awful yellow and blue costume during the arc, and Graham Nolan doesn’t have much of a handle on the character either. Nolan’s actually unrecognizable this issue, penciling in a more angular, sparse style. I’m assuming deadline problems are the reason, since it’s unlikely he would’ve radically changed his drawing technique in-between issues on a whim. I really wish Sal Buscema could’ve inked this issue, because he excels at taking this style and adding real depth to it.
I can understand what Claremont’s going for -- seeing the normally invulnerable Sabretooth continually lose body parts is a dramatic representation of Burnout, but it’s not as if all of those other physical changes to the cast have been truly explored by now. Events like this contribute to the What If…? feeling that surrounds the title. Speaking of which, teasing that Tony Stark is now the leader of a rabid anti-mutant conspiracy is another exploitation of the alternate reality concept that’s just going too far. I don’t know if anyone really thought Claremont was sincerely making Stark the villain, everything about the reveal has the scent of a fakeout, but this is a book known for outrageous plot twists. Unfortunately, the plot twists are leaning more towards “delirious” than “daring.”