Monday, July 6, 2015

ADVENTURES OF THE X-MEN #1 - April 1996


Bring Us a Leader - The Green Revolution Part 1
Credits:  Ralph Macchio (writer), Ben Herrera (penciler), Mike Christian (inks), Adam Wallenta (colors), Ul Higgins (letters)

Summary:  Wolverine goes camping in the Rockies, but his vacation ends when the Hulk suddenly appears.  Wolverine provokes him into a fight, which is interrupted by the arrival of X-Factor.  X-Factor takes Hulk and Wolverine captive and transports them to the Hulkbuster base.  Wolverine soon breaks free of captivity and sends a message to Storm.  He then searches for the Hulk.  When he discovers the Hulk is being experimented on by a group of scientists, an incensed Wolverine attempts to free him.  Suddenly, the Leader bursts through the wall, announcing he’s come for the Hulk.

Continuity Notes:  
  • Adventures of the X-Men is not set in official Marvel continuity, but in the continuity of the ‘90s animated series.  
  • Wolverine accuses X-Factor of being mutant hunters, which is a bizarre claim.  The very first incarnation of X-Factor pretended to be mutant hunters, but that’s the “original X-Men in disguise” team, not the government-sponsored superhero team.  And that gimmick only lasted for the first few issues of the X-Factor series, an era that ended almost ten years before this issue was written.
  • General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross and Major Glenn Talbot appear this issue.  According to the Leader, General Ross is under his hypnotic control.
  • Wolverine mentions that he’s previously “tangoed” with the Hulk.  A footnote says this event has yet to be shown in X-Men Adventures continuity.

“Um, Actually…”:  X-Factor consists of Havok, Polaris, and Wild Child.  Their government liaison is Val Cooper.  Wild Child never appeared with X-Factor in the cartoon, and their liaison was Forge during their one real appearance on the show.  Val Cooper ceased to be X-Factor’s government representative years earlier in the comics.  More importantly, Havok knows that Cyclops is his brother, information that neither character learned over the course of the TV series.

How Did This Get Published?:  Over half of Havok’s dialogue is simple exposition.  “I’m Havok, leader of the government-sanctioned organization called X-Factor.  We’ve come to the Rockies in search of that public menace standing next to you, Wolverine.  And we’re empowered by Congressional authority -- to take Hulk into custody.  Any interference will be deemed unlawful, and that perpetrator will be taken in as well.”  

I Love the ‘90s:  The computer-rendered logo created for this series hasn’t particularly aged well.

Review:  Having a network animated series based on one of your properties was still something of a big deal in 1992, which is why both Marvel and DC launched companion titles for X-Men and Batman: The Animated Series.  While DC immediately created new stories for its Batman Adventures tie-in, Marvel was content to leave X-Men Adventures as a straightforward adaptation of X-Men.  Attempting to do a full episode of X-Men in a twenty-two page monthly story was always problematic, however.  The plot of the average X-Men episode was often too dense to be crammed into the standard twenty-two page format, causing the comic to devote numerous issues to one episode of the series.  And that led to the comic falling months, often several months, behind the show’s continuity.  I purchased the first few issues of X-Men Adventures to get an idea of what the cartoon was going to be like, but after the series began airing, I quickly dropped it.  If you’ve already seen the episodes, I have no idea what the appeal of X-Men Adventures was supposed to be.

By early 1996, Marvel was experimenting with 99-cent comics, in an effort to pursue a younger and/or more casual readership.  X-Men Adventures amazingly still sold well enough to exist, but someone eventually realized that the format just wasn’t working.  Following the lead of Batman Adventures, Marvel commissioned new stories set in the animated universe’s continuity.  Marvel was desperate for X-material for the 99-cent line, so it isn’t too hard to see why someone thought a Marvel-ized version of Batman Adventures could be an easy sell to a more general audience.  

Batman Adventures was a critically acclaimed hit, however.  A book that followed the unique visual style of the animated series, and under artists like Mike Parobeck, produced work that even surpassed many episodes of the series.  X-Men was always designed to just look like the comics, an aesthetic that X-Men Adventures loyally followed.  Someone realized that the relaunch of the title as Adventures of the X-Men was an opportunity to update the look, which explains why Ben Herrera was hired as the initial artist.  I’m sure the editors wanted to go in a cartoonier style, but Herrera is “cartoony” in a way the show never was (except for those last six episodes, of course).  He leans more towards anime than Bruce Timm or Disney, so it’s hard to reconcile this comic with the standard action cartoon of the time.  While not every page is a beauty, Herrera is a welcome break from the early Image style that’s normally associated with the series.  Someone should’ve told whoever was in charge of the covers about the new look, however.  If Marvel was serious about a friendlier, cartoonier style that could attract a mainstream audience, hiring Dwayne Turner probably wasn’t the best way to go.

From the first issue, X-Men Adventures was scripted by Marvel editor Ralph Macchio, which I suppose was the genesis of Macchio becoming the routine last-minute fill-in guy for the main X-books in the ‘90s.  (At the very least, he had to know the characters’ names, right?)  Given his history with the animated universe, he would seem to be a natural choice to pen new adventures in the show’s continuity.  Which is why it’s a shame that he’s already getting so many facts wrong.  Perhaps it isn’t fair to judge a story based on the continuity it screws up, but if you’re going to go through the effort to debut a new series set in an alternate continuity, shouldn’t you get the details straight?  This is the first issue and already Macchio seems unaware of X-Factor’s place in the show’s reality.  He also seems to have transferred some very old continuity from the comics into the animated universe.  In fairness, the concept of X-Factor as government-sponsored mutant hunters could be a specific springboard for a plot point, but it reads as an outright screw-up this issue.  

I will say that the basic idea behind the story is fine, though.  For the most part, the plot does read as something that could’ve been an episode of the TV series.  Wolverine’s random run-in with the Hulk is of course an outrageous coincidence, but it feels excusable within the overall context of the story.  I think fans of the cartoon genuinely wanted a Wolverine/Hulk confrontation and if the show couldn’t deliver it, then doing the story here is a logical move.  (I believe either FOX or UPN wouldn’t allow the Hulk’s 1996 cartoon to cross over with X-Men.)  Macchio could’ve wasted the entire issue on their fight scene, but instead it serves as a catalyst for a much larger story.  X-Factor makes sense as the group assigned to take on the Hulk (let’s ignore that this is a streamlined version of the Howard Mackie X-Factor), which immediately puts them into conflict with Wolverine, who doesn’t want to see Hulk harassed even if he personally enjoys his own fights with the beast.  Introducing the Leader as the story’s villain on the final page is also a decent surprise, giving the audience a villain they haven’t seen a thousand times in the X-Men series, TV or comics.  And there are a few character moments that indicate Macchio has put some thought into selecting his cast.  Wolverine is driven over the edge when he sees the Hulk being experimented on, due to his own past, and Havok is facing an interpersonal crisis over X-Factor’s activities, in addition to his own insecurities over what his brother would think of him.  At times, the issue actually does manage to evoke some of the better elements of the cartoon.  The comic format also allows the story to be more violent than the series could ever be.  There’s nothing graphic, but it’s clear that no BS&P department is here cutting down the action scenes or dictating that no one make a closed fist.  The real failing, aside from the continuity problems, is Macchio’s dialogue.  Macchio’s tendency for cut-and-paste exposition is maddening, and it’s a shame because he seems to have a handle on the cast when they’re not spontaneously spelling out plot details or reciting their origin.  The wooden dialogue, and ‘90s style imitation manga, make the issue easy to dismiss, but I am curious enough to progress to the next issue.

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