Friday, January 16, 2015

X-MEN: ODD MEN OUT #1 - September 2008

Odd Men Out
Credits:  Roger Stern (writer), Dave Cockrum (penciler), Joe Rubinstein (inks), Andrew Crossley (colors), Dave Sharpe (letters)

Summary:  When Xavier reads an article about Fred Duncan’s security firm, he decides to pay his old friend a visit.  With Cyclops, Jean Grey, Beast, and Wolverine acting as bodyguards, Xavier and Fred have a chat inside Fred’s home.  Xavier reflects on his time in space with the Shi’ar, while Fred details his final days working as the government’s mutant liaison.  After a run-in with Henry Gyrich, Fred reveals he left to join the private sector.  Xavier and Fred bond over being “odd men out” and renew their friendship.

Continuity Notes:  
  • This story was commissioned as an inventory issue, sometime in late 1991 or early 1992.
  • Xavier isn’t using his hoverchair in the story.  In the early ‘90s, artists used to keep Xavier in a normal wheelchair when appearing in public, but that detail was lost over the years.  There’s no reason for Xavier to keep his hoverchair a secret from Fred, however.
  • Xavier tells Fred that Cyclops is the oldest member of the original team; I seem to recall other stories listing Beast as the oldest.
  • Flashbacks place Fred’s departure from the government happening “behind the scenes” of Uncanny X-Men #150.
  • Let the record show that Fred Duncan’s address is specifically given as 1025 Sindoni Crescent in Hegeman, New York.  

I Love the ‘90s:  Since this story was originally penciled in the ‘90s, Wolverine is allowed to smoke.  Xavier is concerned about receiving secondhand nicotine, but I always thought it was the tar in cigarettes that was dangerous.

Production Note:  With the exception of the credits box, the story appears to be hand-lettered.  The colors are modern digital colors, meaning it wasn’t colored back in the early ‘90s of course.

Review:  “Odd Men Out” comes from the tumultuous period that had John Byrne attempting to write dialogue over the (often erratic) plots of Whilce Portacio and Jim Lee.  Roger Stern heard that the titles were in deadline trouble and pitched this inventory issue, which was accepted and given to Dave Cockrum to pencil.  It’s very possible this story would’ve stayed in the drawer had it been handed to any other artist doing fill-in work for Marvel in the early ‘90s.  At some point, Marvel realized that there was a Dave Cockrum X-Men story just collecting dust…oh, wait…and here’s a New Mutants job!  The two inventory issues were collected after Cockrum’s death in this one-shot.  Oddly enough, the front cover doesn’t feature Cockrum’s name in the title; it’s only barely visible in the credits section.  The back cover pays tribute to Cockrum, true, but it’s strange that the title of the book isn’t X-Men Lost Tales: A Tribute to Dave Cockrum, or something along those lines.  The book’s actual title is disappointing, since it simply recycles the title of the one-shot’s first story.  Maybe the idea is that both of these stories are “Odd Men Out” since they were never published, but it feels lazy.  Also, why isn’t Cockrum’s art on the front cover of this thing?

I’d like to say that the forgotten Roger Stern/Dave Cockrum issue of Uncanny X-Men is a lost classic, but that would be stretching the truth.  Since Stern knows this is a fill-in, he goes for a format often seen in the Bronze Age -- the issue-long recap.  There are legitimate gaps to be filled with Fred Duncan’s story, but the majority of this issue is dedicated to Xavier giving a Xavier-specific history of the X-Men.  Stern tries to smooth over some of the rough parts of past continuity, but there’s only so much he can do with the awkward retcon that revealed that Xavier wasn’t dead, he was just living in the X-Men’s basement preparing for an alien invasion.  This outright dumb story should’ve been forgotten as soon as it was published, but instead it became the modern inspiration for virtually every Xavier story.  Stern has Xavier express remorse over the dimwitted plan ("I developed a successful attack, but I had deceived my X-Men.  I'll always regret that."), but I wish he could’ve used his magic retcon skills to fix the real issues with the story.  In another bit of commentary, Stern has Fred react incredulously to Magneto taking over the X-Men’s school during Xavier’s absence, which isn’t much of a shock.  (Fred says it’s crazier than Xavier’s stories about "alien parasites and cloning.")  Stern’s X-Men vs. Avengers miniseries is filled with cheap shots against the concept of Magneto reforming, and when you consider that this is a story aimed at new readers, it’s a shame that Stern doesn’t even attempt to present any context for why this happened.  Stern just wants you to know that he thought it was a bad idea.

Those complaints aside, I’ll say that Stern’s penned a recap comic that has some personality to it.  The Fred Duncan angle is a clever one, and if you really wanted to know what happened to Duncan, the story provides pretty satisfying answers.  It’s still a recap comic, though, so there’s not much here for existing fans.  For the purposes of this one-shot, the real star is Dave Cockrum’s artwork.  It’s been digitally spruced up by modern color techniques, and in an era that has the major companies hiring artists with diverse art styles, it does look like a comic that could be published today.  Looking at it now as a historical artifact, it’s interesting to see Cockrum’s take on everything from the Jack Kirby to Jim Lee days.  Some of the flashback pages seem to have received more attention than others; I think Cockrum’s biased towards the earliest issues.  Most of all, Cockrum appears to be having fun inventing various alien species for Xavier to interact with during his Shi’ar flashbacks.  

Why didn’t Marvel publish this in 1992?  Hmm… There’s no exaggerated anatomy, no forced perspective, no cross-hatching, and it’s drawn in a traditional grid layout.  No speedlines, but plenty of backgrounds.  It seems like the last thing Marvel was looking for, which is a shame.  I think I would’ve enjoyed this as a kid; I know I would’ve been thrilled had it taken the place of “The Last Morlock Story.”

Think Again
Credits:  Michael Higgins (writer), Dave Cockrum (penciler), Joe Rubinstein (inks), Andrew Crossley (colors), Joe Rosen (letters)

Summary:  The Mad Thinker’s research leads him to an underground lab.  Using the technology he discovers, the Mad Thinker constructs a robot that quickly turns against him.  The robot then travels to the surface to confront the New Mutants.  He absorbs each of their powers and fights the team to a standstill.  Rusty rallies the team and convinces every member to attack the robot simultaneously.  The robot begins to malfunction, and is remotely terminated by its “master” for failing him.

Continuity Notes:  
  • This is a never-before-published inventory issue of New Mutants created around 1989.
  • All evidence points to the robot’s true creator being Apocalypse.  The underground lab has copious files on various mutants, the robot’s face has Apocalypse’s unique lip design, and the patterns painted on the robot’s body resemble the ones on Archangel’s costume.
  • The New Mutants consist of Cannonball, Rictor, Sunspot, Boom Boom, Wolfsbane, Rusty, & Skids.  Apparently, this specific lineup never existed, which creates a major continuity problem.  It’s possible that’s the reason why this story wasn’t used after it was commissioned.

(Hypothetically) Approved By The Comics Code Authority:  Rictor’s thoughts are cut off before he can mentally finish the word “crap.”

“Huh?” Moment:  Cockrum draws Cyclops and Marvel Girl as background characters ice-skating at Central Park with the New Mutants, but they play no role in the story.

Review:  Just think, in some alternate reality, this comic was published instead of the first appearance of Cable.  The content of the story is about what you’d expect from a late ‘80s New Mutants inventory.  The plot’s simple, the characters describe their powers every few pages, a few romantic subplots are referenced, and the teens have a few pages to do “teen” things, like go ice-skating or shopping at Bloomingdale’s.  The major problem is Higgins’ dialogue, which alternates between simply generic and actively horrendous. (“Let’s hurry!  He’s so frightful!”)  Cockrum’s interpretation of the New Mutants is fantastic, although he does seem bored during the fight scene.  The modern production values help the visuals immensely, making sure the linework is properly reproduced and not faded into near-oblivion, as often seen in ‘80s flexographic printing.  There’s no compelling reason for this to be published, outside of paying tribute to Cockrum, although I’m slightly surprised that it wasn’t fished out of the drawer at some point due to its Apocalypse connection.


Matt said...

I grabbed this one-shot when ti was released. I figured I couldn't go wrong with Stern and Cockrum. I was underwhelmed, though. I'm not sure what I was expecting, but this wasn't it.

I totally forgot there was also a New Mutans backup in this issue! I've never been a big fan of Michael Higgins, so that's probably why.

Jason said...

I bought it when it came out too. I liked it well enough.

I remember finding it interesting that the only X-Men featured are the same ones who comprise the team in Morrison's first issue: Xavier, Beast, Cyclops, Jean, and Logan. Odd coincidence.

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