Friday, December 5, 2014

X-MEN FOREVER Annual #1 - June 2010

The Last Waltz
Credits:  Chris Claremont (writer), Sana Takeda (art and colors), Tom Orzechowski (letters)

Summary:  Nick Fury asks the X-Men to investigate a resort town in the South Pacific.  Wolverine and Jean Grey volunteer, posing as a newlywed couple.  During their stay, they begin to grow closer.  Suddenly, they’re kidnapped by the Hand and strapped to a mind-control device.  Concerned for their safety, a team of X-Men arrives to rescue the duo.  Shadowcat’s phasing power disrupts the Hand’s force matrix, freeing Wolverine and Jean.  Wolverine remains brainwashed, until Jean uses her powers to restore his personality.  After the X-Men leave, Wolverine and Jean share a kiss on the beach.

Continuity Notes:  
  • This story is set before X-Men #1, while the mansion is still in ruins.  Jean again remarks that no one knows why Xavier is once again a paraplegic.  Wolverine claims that X-Factor’s battle on the moon with Apocalypse had a “happy ending,” so he doesn’t know why Cyclops is in a bad mood.
  • Fury says that the X-Men should take this mission in order to engender good will with the authorities, following “some of the bad feelings and suspicions created by recent events.”  I have no idea what this is supposed to be referencing.  The Shadow King stirring up anti-mutant sentiment in Uncanny #278, perhaps?
  • The Hand are somehow able to block telepathy on the island.  Presumably, Jean’s able to use her powers at the story’s end because Shadowcat has destroyed their “force matrix.”  Jean acts as if she’s never lost her telepathy before, even though at this point in continuity, she’s only recently regained the power.  In fact, she even made a reference to her recently returned telepathy in X-Men Forever: Alpha's back-up story.
  • The X-Men rescue team that appears consists of Psylocke, Jubilee, Shadowcat, and Nightcrawler.  There’s no explanation for how these specific characters got together, although Shadowcat and Nightcrawler are members of Excalibur at this time.

“Huh?” Moment:  Psylocke is able to create her psychic blade, even though she complains in the same scene about not having access to her telepathy.

Review:  I’m going to sound like an old man complaining about the prices of these durned funny books, but I don’t care.  This is a forty-page comic, with only twenty-six pages of story content.  So, only four extra pages of content, but also four more pages for advertisements.  For $4.99.  That would seem to be an insanely inflated price in my mind.  I can’t imagine four extra story pages bump the price of the book up a dollar, especially when there are extra ads to compensate for them.  I guess I shouldn’t complain because I received this issue fairly cheap as a part of an eBay lot, and I imagine most people reading it today are getting it at a lower price via Comixology, but it’s hard not to comment on such a thin book going for five bucks.  

There is a solid premise behind this annual, even if the execution is a bit mangled.  Fans were not exactly thrilled with Claremont’s continuity games during the early issues of this series, so doing a flashback tale to dramatize some of the “untold” events leading up to the first issue makes sense.  Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of answers to be found here.  The story provides some justification for Wolverine and Jean’s secret romance, but only more vague hints regarding the “true” outcome of “The Muir Island Saga,” and the retconned status of the final X-Factor/Apocalypse battle in X-Factor.  No answers on pre-teen Nate, no details on where the missing X-Men are, and no explanation on how Xavier’s been crippled again in this reality.  In fact, the lineup of the X-Men chosen to appear here causes even more problems for continuity purists.  A quickie dialogue exchange could’ve established that Psylocke and Jubilee were visiting Excalibur in England and decided to check on Wolverine and Jean, but not even that bone is tossed.  What’s frustrating is that Psylocke and Jubilee are good choices for this story, given their past with the Hand in the original “Lady Mandarin” arc.  And I’m sure their inclusion was at least partially influenced by online complaints that those characters had been ignored so far, so I’ll give Claremont credit for paying attention to fan concerns.  But if you’re in the target audience for this book, it’s hard to just suspend disbelief and accept a team of X-Men that never existed.

Judged on its own merits, the story is fairly entertaining, assuming the reader doesn’t think too deeply.  We’re never told how SHIELD discovered anything suspicious on this resort, nor what exactly the Hand are doing on the island.  Surely they weren’t just waiting around for Wolverine to show up so they could kidnap and try to brainwash him again.  The reader also just has to accept that the Hand suddenly know how to block telepathy, and for the sake of goodwill, assume the MacGuffin device Shadowcat’s disrupted allowed Jean’s powers to return in time for the climax.  And, yeah, more Claremont Mind Control.  To be fair, he’s restrained himself for most of this book’s run, but it’s amusing that he’s still going there when he has to know he's going to get crap for it.  

The real goal of the annual seems to be justifying the opening splash page of X-Men Forever #1, which is also the final splash page of this comic.  To that end, Claremont’s somewhat successful.  I like the idea that Jean’s forced to face her repressed feelings for Wolverine in the process of de-programming him from the Hand’s brainwashing.  That leaves open the possibility that Jean and Logan’s brief affair would’ve been avoided had the Hand not interfered, which adds some plausibility to the concept.  Also, this issue's plot is similar to one of Claremont's abandoned storylines from the early '90s, which had Jean going undercover in the Hand to rescue Wolverine and developing a psychic bond with him in the process.  If only the book featured more of Claremont's "could've been" stories, instead of Kitty's claw and Rogue's elf makeover.

The earlier scenes that have Wolverine and Jean faking it as a newlywed couple are less successful, largely because the scripting is so sparse.  This is a perfect opportunity for Claremont to truly develop the characters and sell the romance, but there isn’t a lot of depth in these scenes.  Regrettably, it’s yet another issue hindered by the modern storytelling techniques of minimal panels per page and numerous splash pages.  The art is lovely, however.  The watercolor effect highlights just how impressive modern computer coloring can be, and Takeda’s art does a fantastic job merging manga with a more traditional superhero look.  Sure it’s soft and overly pretty in places, but the overall style suits the story well.  It’s a shame she wasn’t able to do any work in the ongoing series.

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