Friday, November 30, 2007

X-FACTOR Annual #8 – 1993

Credits: Peter David (writer), Terry Shoemaker (penciler), Mark McKenna (inker), Lois Buhalis (letterer), Joe Rosas (colorist)

As a child, Charlie Ronalds watched as a mutant murdered his parents. Years later, his friend Guido Carosella accidentally puts Charlie in the hospital when his mutant powers emerged. Charlie spends the rest of his life hating mutants and studying the occult. The devil Cloot gives Charlie mystic powers if he agrees to attack X-Factor and force them into selling their souls. Renaming himself Charon, he recruits the souls of X-Factor’s greatest enemies, the Chalker family. Charon and the Chalkers confront X-Factor, but the team’s never heard of them. All of the Chalkers accidentally killed themselves before they could ever attack X-Factor. The team defeats the Chalkers, and Cloot takes Charon to Hell with him.

This issue comes polybagged with a Charon trading card.

Continuity Note
The mutant who kills Charlie Ronalds’ parents is heavily implied to be Random. Their death scene is an obvious nod to Batman's origin.

Peter David uses the “new character” annual gimmick to finally conclude his Chalker family subplot. Ever since the beginning of his run, various subplot pages were devoted to the Chalkers vowing to destroy X-Factor and then accidentally killing themselves. It’s a funny parody of the “mysterious villain plotting in the background” cliché, but it certainly went on for a long time. Their storyline is tied into the debut of Charon, a character from Guido’s backstory who was briefly mentioned in X-Factor #87. It’s not a bad issue, but even after a lengthy setup, Charon still comes across as a disposable, one-shot villain. He barely knew Guido as a child, so there’s not even a lot for the characters to say to one another when they finally meet again. The Chalkers are predictably weak opponents, but their fight scene with X-Factor isn’t really that amusing, either. The scene with Random killing two innocent people seems odd when you consider the fact that Marvel thought that he had great potential and wanted him to join the team. Even after this issue, a lot of fans were eager for Random to “finally” join the team.

What Have You Got To Hide?
Credits: Skip Dietz (writer), Buzz (penciler), Al Milgrom (inker), Dave Sharp (letterer), Carlos Lopez (colorist)

Val Cooper, for ominous purposes, reviews the histories of each X-Factor member.

This is typical annual back-up material, brief origin recaps of the cast, yet Dietz is able to make it worthwhile. Considering the fact that many of these characters are pretty obscure, it’s surprising that it took almost two years for a story like this to happen. Rather than resorting to bland flashbacks, Dietz adds a human element to the story. The flashbacks address the psychological impact previous stories have had on the characters, while alternating scenes show how the team feels about government employees looking into their pasts. Dietz picks up on Havok’s established insecurity and Peter David’s idea that the team members don’t really understand each other. It’s not bad, especially for annual filler.

Crawlin’ From the Wreckage
Credits: Skip Dietz (writer), Chris Batista (penciler), Jeff Albrecht (inker), Pat Brosseau (letterer), Joe Rosas (colorist)

Guido searches for survivors of a subway wreck, but only finds a small dog. Guido’s lack of tact offends the rescue workers and victims’ families. A dejected Guido walks away with the puppy.

I loved this story as a kid, and still enjoy it today (even if it is pretty gruesome subject matter for a brief annual back-up). It’s actually my favorite story in this issue, reminding me of the better Classic X-Men back-ups. Dietz writes a very human portrayal of Guido that’s still generally consistent with his established personality. I don’t know if Dietz went on to do more work in comics, but I wish he‘d done more work for the X-office in this era.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

X-MEN #20 – May 1993

Digging In The Dirt
Credits: Fabian Nicieza (writer), Andy Kubert (penciler), Mark Pennington & Bob Wiacek (inkers), Bill Oakley (letterer), Joe Rosas (colorist)

Psylocke attempts to seduce Cyclops, and they kiss for the first time. Cyclops quickly pushes her away and leaves. Distraught, he decides to take a break from the X-Men and visit his grandparents in Alaska. Jean decides to confront Psylocke, and Psylocke stabs her with her psychic knife. A second Psylocke appears, wearing her old armor. This Psylocke uses a “psychic katana blade” to debilitate Psylocke. The X-Men arrive, and the armored Psylocke takes off her mask to reveal the original Caucasian face of Besty Braddock.

Approved By The Comics Code Authority
Psylocke licks the side of Cyclops’ face (apparently cleaning up motor oil…classy). Jubilee also refers to Psylocke’s dress as an “I Want Sex” outfit.

“Huh?” Moment
Psylocke is decapitated by her double, although her body is fine in the next panel. I assume that this was only intended to be a symbolic interpretation of what a psychic blade does, but it’s not clear at all.

This is the start of the infamous “Kwannon” storyline, which is Fabian Nicieza’s own “Last Morlocks Story”. Several years after the story was over, he was still taking grief about these issues on Usenet. The actual details of Kwannon/Psylocke’s origin don’t come until a few issues, as this issue only introduces the mystery while advancing the Scott/Psylocke/Jean love triangle. The love triangle subplot began when Jim Lee was plotting the series and I have no idea where he was going with it. It’s possible he just wanted to introduce some romantic tension into the title. Nicieza inherited the plot and folded it into his storyline about the “true origin” of Psylocke’s Asian makeover. Rather than having Psylocke continue to flirt and drop hints at Cyclops, Nicieza has her abruptly lick his face and make out with him in this issue. I guess she got her point across. In the long run, placing Psylocke as the “other woman” in the Jean/Scott relationship didn’t help the character’s popularity (although her constantly shifting origin and powers during this era probably did more damage).

Even if this is a storyline known for everything it gets wrong, I do like the idea of bringing back Psylocke’s original Caucasian body. The introduction of “Ninja Psylocke” during Acts of Vengeance was a great storyline, but no one seemed to know where to go with the character after those issues. Bringing back Psylocke’s original form is an obvious idea, but that doesn’t mean it has to be a bad story. I’ve always thought Psylocke’s old purple armor had a strong design and I was sorry to see it go. Unfortunately, that look only returns for this issue (and the cape is incorrectly colored blue).

Nicieza’s script is still extremely moody and somber, but the narration isn’t as overblown as the earlier issues. He’s able to convey the malaise that’s come over the X-Men without taking it too far. His characterization of Psylocke is odd in this issue, as she goes from just flirting with Cyclops to suddenly licking him, and then literally attacking his girlfriend when she’s confronted about it. Psylocke’s psychic attack is done to show Jean Grey “the truth”, whatever that means, but it is a brutal scene. These scenes may have been intentionally extreme in order to cast doubts on her identity, but it’s still strange. Psylocke, even after changing bodies, did have consistent characterization and neither of these actions really fit. Andy Kubert’s work is still rough, and most of his facial expressions alternate between bizarre and just ugly. Since most of this issue revolves around character drama and not physical action, that’s a big problem.

X-FORCE #23- June 1993

Compromising Positions
Credits: Fabian Nicieza (writer), Greg Capullo (penciler), Harry Candelario (inker), Chris Eliopoulos (letterer), Marie Javins (colorist)

X-Force kidnaps the External Crule in order to learn the location of Gideon and Saul. While the rest of the team is away, Cannonball consults Professor Xavier about the Externals. Cannonball is conflicted because he promised not to interfere with their affairs in exchange for Sunspot’s life months earlier. X-Force crashes into Gideon’s home, attacking so quickly Gideon and Saul can’t use their powers against them. Because Cannonball isn’t joining them, he’s technically kept his word. X-Force rescues their teammates, but Saul tells them that without studying Cannonball’s genetic make-up, the Externals may die. Meanwhile, Domino and Grizzly escape from Weapon PRIME with Hammer’s help. They soon travel to Massachusetts and save Vanessa from Deadpool and Sluggo. Vanessa tells Domino she knows where to find X-Force.

After last issue’s cliffhangers, neither the Externals nor Weapon PRIME confrontations amount to anything. Weapon PRIME were laughably feeble opponents in their first appearance, and don’t fare any better in this issue. Grizzly and Domino shoot at them for a few pages and then run away, which isn’t very exciting. Capullo does at least make this version of the team look a lot better, and I’ve noticed that “Tygerstryke” is now spelled “Tigerstryke”, so he's slightly less embarrassing. New members Double Trouble and Killjoy debut. Double Trouble are a pair of “symbiotic plasma discharging” twins, while Killjoy is a generic ‘90s guy with claws. His design is really something; his dreadlocks with tiny lightning bolts on the end must’ve been the hottest fashion trend of 1993.
The External plotline also fizzles out. The fight scene between X-Force and these powerful immortal mutants lasts exactly one page. We’re supposed to believe that these guys have been secretly ruling the world for thousands of years? They can't even handle Rictor and Sunspot! I don't know why these characters are treated so lightly, unless someone has already decided to bury the Externals storyline. Cannonball’s dilemma about getting involved is also given a very obvious and unsatisfying out. I don’t know if there were any last minute plot changes on this issue, but I doubt that Nicieza intended on such an anticlimactic conclusion when he started this arc. As always, Capullo’s art is excellent (making even characters like Grizzly look cool), but it can’t save a disappointing issue.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

UNCANNY X-MEN Annual #17 - 1993

The Gift Goodbye
Credits: Scott Lobdell (writer), Jason Pearson (penciler), Mark Farmer (inker), Chris Eliopoulos (letterer), Kevin Tinsley, Ericka Moran (colorists)

Iceman, Bishop, and Jean Grey are trapped in a fantasy world created by Mastermind. While his mysterious illness was being studied at Muir Island, he sent a note to Jean Grey. When the X-Men arrived, he used his illusion powers to place them under his influence. When they begin to question their fantasy worlds, things turn violent. When Jean discovers what’s happening, she saves the other X-Men and decides to comfort Mastermind during his final moments. Meanwhile, the X-Cutioner, a human determined to execute lethal mutants, arrives to assassinate Mastermind. Colossus, Storm, and Archangel try to stop him. Mastermind asks Jean to forgive him for manipulating her years ago, sends her out of his mind, and dies. After facing Storm’s lightning attack, X-Cutioner teleports away, but the X-Men discover that he’s gravely injured Colossus.

This issue comes polybagged with an X-Cutioner trading card.

Continuity Notes
Early X-Factor villain Tower is killed by X-Cutioner in his introduction scene.

This issue is the first appearance of the X-Cutioner. Bishop’s sister, Shard, also appears for the first time during his fantasy sequence.

Mastermind says that the closest he ever came to a relationship was his time spent manipulating Phoenix. Later stories establish that he has two daughters, but I don’t know anything about their mother(s).

Most likely in an attempt to keep up speculator interest, Marvel’s theme during its 1993 annuals was to introduce a new character with each issue. This is the type of gimmick that you know from the beginning isn’t going to work, but this issue puts out an honest effort. The X-Cutioner, this annual’s new character, isn’t a bad concept. The X-Men really don’t have enough credible villains, and a human who uses stolen technology to execute mutants who have committed murder has potential. Unlike most of the X-Men’s other human antagonists, he’s not blindly opposed to all mutants, so his character has a more reasonable point of view. The X-Men are opposed to the same people he faces, yet wouldn’t approve of his methods. It’s like the Punisher if he focused exclusively on mutants. Unfortunately, he’s only given a few pages to actually confront the X-Men in this issue, and just teleports away at the end. It seems like the creative team already had the Mastermind story planned for this annual, and X-Cutioner had to be tacked on to fit this year’s theme. Years later, Fabian Nicieza and Steve Skroce would do a lot of work with X-Cutioner in the Gambit solo series, which was a nice surprise. The main focus of this issue, the death of Mastermind, is handled very well. Having the villain make amends before dying isn’t something you would expect to see during this grim era in comics.

Unlike most annuals, this isn’t a rushed looking mess. Jason Pearson, who would go on to gain recognition at Image and Dark Horse, does a great job on the artwork. His exaggerated style doesn’t really look anything like anything else going on in the early ‘90s. It reminds me of the type of art that became popular at Marvel and DC around 2002, before ugly “realistic” Photoshop comics became so popular.

Of Kings and Queens and Promises
Credits: Scott Lobdell (writer), Tom Grummett (penciler), Al Milgrom (inker), Steve Dutro (letterer), Glynis Oliver (colorist)

Trevor Fitzroy saves Sienna Blaze from a police standoff and offers her a position in the Upstarts.

Continuity Note
This is the first appearance of Sienna Blaze, a character that the X-office heavily promoted as a major villain for a few months, and then quickly forgot about.

This is back-up is mainly done to promote X-Men Unlimited #1, where Sienna Blaze will confront the X-Men for the first time. This story was obviously intended to be the introduction of a major character, but the Upstarts and Sienna Blaze will soon fade into obscurity. Tom Grummett, who was mainly doing DC work at this time, does a fine job on the artwork, though.

UNCANNY X-MEN #300 – May 1993

Credits: Scott Lobdell (writer), John Romita, Jr. (penciler), Dan Green (inker), Chris Eliopoulos (letterer), Steve Buccellato (colorist)/Scott Lobdell (writer), Brandon Peterson (penciler), Dan Panosian (inker), Richard Starkings (letterer), Glynis Oliver (colorist)

The X-Men travel to France to find the Acolytes and the kidnapped Moira MacTaggert. Forge drops off a device for Nightcrawler that will help Cerebro penetrate a “dead zone” on the northern coast of France. Elsewhere, the Acolytes are using Milan’s mutant abilities to search through Moira MacTaggert’s memories. They want to use the technology she once developed to brainwash the X-Men to create new followers. The young Acolyte Neophyte begins to lose faith in Fabian Cortez after speaking to Moira. When he overhears Cortez bragging to Gamesmaster about killing Magneto, Cortez fries his powers and sends Neophyte flying out of their headquarters. When a young human attempts to help him, Cortez’s personal guards murder her. Nightcrawler joins the X-Men as they infiltrate the Acolytes’ base. The X-Men rescue Moira, and Wolverine slashes Cortez before fellow Acolyte Amelia Voght can teleport him away. After he recuperates in the hospital, Voght teleports him to another secret base. There, the Gamesmaster tells him that his points for murdering Magneto have been revoked, due to “recent complications”. Back at the X-Men’s mansion, Colossus looks after his sick sister while Xavier and Moira discuss the virus that has been killing Genoshan Mutates. Moira MacTaggert questions if pain and suffering is the “legacy” of all mutants. This causes Xavier to recall Stryfe’s continuous use of the word in his files.

This issue has a cardstock, holographic cover.

Continuity Notes
This issue marks the debut of Acolytes members Amelia Voght, Milan, Scanner, Neophyte, Sanyaka, Spoor, Katu, and Seamus Melloncamp.

Xavier says that Amelia Voght was a candidate to join his original students, although later stories place her age closer to his own. She tells Xavier that she lost her family and everyone she loved to “flatscans” (humans).

According to Bishop, no one’s heard of Fabian Cortez in the future.

During a flashback scene, Xavier considers recruiting Colossus, Nightcrawler, and Storm with the original X-Men, but doesn’t because of citizenship issues.

Looking back, I’m surprised to see that this is the fourth self-contained issue of this series in a row. According to a Marvel Age interview at this time, Lobdell was making a point of telling complete stories with each issue in order to make the title more reader friendly. I had totally forgotten about this, but it seems like this was his standard non-crossover format for a few years. Anything’s better than “The Last Morlock Story”, I guess. In the same interview (issue #122), Lobdell makes fun of the X-Cutioner’s Song confusing ending while Nicieza says that the X-books are going to tell clearer stories that don’t drag on for so long. Peter David also seems to be under the impression that he’s going to be writing X-Factor indefinitely. Oh, well.

It seems like this issue wants to be an important anniversary issue, even though nothing significant really happens in the story. Nightcrawler returns for no apparent reason and contributes nothing to the story. Lobdell tries to capture the idealistic dialogue Claremont routinely gave the character, but falls flat with clunkers like “So speak to me Cerebro…point me in the direction of the newest mutant. Tell me he or she may be the one to bridge the gap between humans and mutants. Even if it is not the truth, tell me there is still a reason…to hope.” The end of the story implies that Magneto isn’t dead, but doesn’t offer any more information than that. As typical of the titles during this era, Magneto can’t just return in one issue, his return has to be teased for several months until he can come back in the summer crossover. So, instead of the 300th anniversary issue of The Uncanny X-Men offering the return of the team’s oldest foe, it just hints that he might be coming back while the X-Men fight some of his followers. It’s not very exciting. I do like the idea of the Acolytes using Moira’s scientific knowledge to recruit new followers, but there’s a big flaw in Cortez’s plan. Cortez is trying to cover up from the Acolytes the fact that he killed Magneto. Moira knows that Cortez killed him, but Cortez is still having her memories projected on large screens for all of his followers to see. How does he know that this memory isn’t going to pop up? And since Moira knows about his plan, why doesn’t she concentrate on that memory while her mind is being scanned?

John Romita, Jr. returns for a second stint as artist (he also penciled UXM #200, almost ten years before this issue was published). He does a solid job, but I prefer the work Scott Williams did over his pencils in an earlier fill-in. His art carries a lot of the bland story in this issue. He’s asked to draw a lot big action scenes and pulls them off very well. His versions of Nightcrawler, Colossus, and Wolverine look great and he’s able to make the Acolytes look less ridiculous.

X-FORCE #22 – May 1993

Ordnance Weighed In Blood
Credits: Fabian Nicieza (writer), Greg Capullo (penciler), Conrad/Candelario (inkers), Chris Eliopoulos (letterer), Tinsley/Moran (colorists)

The Professor sends Cannonball and Sunspot on an escape pod, while Lila Cheney teleports everyone else away from Graymalkin’s explosion. The Professor tells Cannonball that when the escape pod lands, this extension of his self will be terminated so that no one will gain access to his programming. After arriving at X-Force’s Camp Verde headquarters, Lila Cheney says goodbye, while X-Force receives a message from Externals Gideon and Saul. They want Cannonball to trade himself for his captured teammates. Meanwhile, Grizzly and Domino attempt to download Department K’s information on Cable, only to be confronted by the new Weapon PRIME. In Boston, Deadpool threatens his old girlfriend Vanessa, while another mercenary, Sluggo, kills her friend Tina.

Approved By The Comics Code Authority
Vanessa’s friend, Tina, has a giant hole blasted through her body.

Greg Capullo has eliminated most of Boomer’s yellow shirt on the last page, so the colorist has to make her chest yellow to keep things Code-approved.

This is the type of comic that fell out of fashion once stories began to be tailored for trade paperbacks. There is no main plot to this issue, as it resolves the main story from the previous issue while advancing three subplots. I’ve always enjoyed this type of “soap opera” storytelling, probably because it was so common in the early comics I read. I like the way these issues give you the impression that a lot of important things are happening at once. It’s certainly an improvement over last issue, where the ongoing threads just seemed to stall.

Monday, November 26, 2007

X-FACTOR #91 – June 1993

Scott Lobdell (writer), Jan Duursema (penciler), Al Milgrom (inker), Richard Starkings (letterer), Tom Smith (colorist)


X-Factor fights a group of Genoshan Magistrates in the sewers while searching for the missing Mutate. The Magistrates want to terminate the infected Mutate and apprehend X-Factor for disobeying orders. Madrox finds the dying Mutate and creates a double to help him perform CPR. The Mutate explains to Madrox that he only wanted to die with dignity. With the Mutate returned to quarantine, the Genoshan president apologizes for X-Factor, while Madrox appears to be ill. Meanwhile, Val Cooper continues to deceive Quicksilver and keeps him away from the team.

Production Note

Joe Quesada is incorrectly credited as the artist of this issue.

Creative Differences

The original solicitation for this issue gives some insight for Peter David's plan for this issue. "New genegineer Sasha Ryan unveils a plan to rid the Earth of all mutants! Meanwhile, X-Factor battles Armageddon."

Continuity Note

Madrox says that he can’t create a duplicate while wearing his containment suit. When he needs to make a dupe, he takes his glove off and beats the wall, creating a duplicate wearing his regular costume. Marvel was still going with the idea that Madrox‘s duplicates only appear with clothes because he’s wearing unstable molecules, while the current explanation is that a field surrounds his body, letting him duplicate anything he’s wearing or holding (including a weapon).

Commercial Break

There’s an ad for the X-Men Sega Genesis Game, which came out during the peak of the X-Men’s animated popularity. It was by far the best X-Men game at that point, although I was disappointed that you could only use certain characters for “special help”. The ad surprisingly features abstract painted art, which doesn’t fit in with the look of the game or comics.

The Genoshan storyline lingers on for yet another issue. The X-Patroits are completely ignored in this issue; their story arc never receives a conclusion. Most of this issue is dedicated to X-Factor fighting the Genoshan Magistrates, who are consistently portrayed as incompetent fools, so you never buy into the idea that anyone’s actually in danger. This story mainly exists to set up Madrox’s future death, which happens in the 100th issue. Marvel, for whatever reason, really wanted to kill off Madrox during this time. Peter David has said that he tried to explain to them that Madrox, of all of the members, would have the least convincing death (due to his ability to create duplicates), but Marvel was apparently adamant. Lobdell tries to beef up a mediocre plot with witty dialogue, but it falls way short of what David was doing a few issues earlier. Jan Duursema does a passable imitation of Joe Quesada, so it's a smooth transition from the previous issues and doesn't look that bad.

X-FORCE #21 – April 1993

War Machines
Credits: Fabian Nicieza (writer), Greg Capullo (penciler), Harry Candelario (inks), Chris Eliopoulos (letters), Marie Javins & Steve Buccellato (colors)

X-Force battle SHIELD and War Machine inside Graymalkin. The battle causes internal damage to the base and the Professor begins a self-destruct sequence. Cannonball is surprised to discover that Cable granted him the ability to override the Professor’s commands. In order to save Graymalkin, Cannonball attempts to dump as much mass as possible, sending Cable’s weapons depot and other gear to their Arizona headquarters. He dumps Cable’s time travel device into the Pacific Ocean. Suddenly, Graymalkin explodes. Meanwhile, the remaining members of X-Force on Earth (Siryn, Boomer, and Warpath) are ambushed by an External.

Creative Differences
War Machine was referred to as “Iron Man” in the last issue. Now, he’s called “War Machine”, with every use of his name obviously relettered. I’ve read before that the Iron Man creative team just used the title “War Machine” as a cover blurb, but didn’t incorporate it into the comic until fans started using the name.

Continuity Note
According to the Professor, Cable considers Cannonball and Sunspot to be his “spiritual children” and has a history with them that goes back thousands of years.

I Love the ‘90s
Boomer has a Malcom X baseball cap. The very blonde, very white Boomer has a Malcom X baseball cap.

It's a letdown after the previous issue. The opening fight scene isn’t bad, but a lot of this issue consists of Cannonball talking to the Professor, trying to figure which pieces of Graymalkin to drop to Earth. This isn’t exactly great drama, plus the Professor has annoying typographic lettering that’s a chore to read. Some plot elements don’t hold up to a lot of scrutiny. I don’t understand why Cannonball is dumping Cable’s time travel device into the ocean. I realize that everyone thinks he’s dead at this point, but why the ocean? Why not send it home with him with the rest of Cable’s technology? Cannonball also seems to think that the time travel device won’t work outside of Graymalkin, but I don’t know how he came to that conclusion. How exactly dropping all of this junk to Earth is going to help isn’t clearly explained, either. Having to drop weight from an airplane to keep it airborne is a common plot device, but I don’t really see how it’s going to keep a spacecraft from blowing up. I also don’t really understand why Lila Cheney appears and re-appears in the story. This is either an intentional mystery, or we’re really supposed to believe that she’s a coward who teleports away when trouble starts. Claremont did a similar trick during one of his final stories, only to have Cheney return with a large arsenal and back-up to help the X-Men. I don’t really get what Nicieza is trying to do here. It is still a nice looking comic, even if Capullo isn’t up to his usual standards.

Friday, November 23, 2007

UNCANNY X-MEN #299 – April 1993

Credits: Scott Lobdell (writer), Brandon Peterson (penciler), Dan Panosian (inker), Chris Eliopoulos (letterer), Marie Javins (colors)

In Kuwait, the remains of Asteroid M are discovered. Forge and Henry Gyrich search inside and find that a chrome replica of Magneto has been broken open. Professor Xavier goes on a late night talk show to discuss the mutant issue with Senator Kelly and Graydon Creed. Kelly is revealed to have reasonable thoughts on the mutant issue, while Creed is vocally anti-mutant. After the show, Professor Xavier leaves with the X-Men to travel to France to face the Acolytes.

Continuity Notes
Professor X and Senator Kelly meet for the first time. Kelly has a telepathic mutant aid working for him, later retconned into being an agent of Landau, Luckman, and Lake.

Graydon Creed appears for the first time in an actual story. His group, the Friends of Humanity, is referenced but don’t appear. The members of the Upstarts are revealed to be Fabian Cortez, Fitzroy, Shinobi Shaw, Graydon Creed, and one mystery member.

The Gamemaster says that the winner of the Upstarts competition will inherit the “resources and servitude of all four of his fellow Upstarts”, claiming that this is close to “omnipotence”.

Bishop recognizes a waitress in a bar from his own timeline, but doesn’t know why. This mystery is ignored for years, until it’s revealed that the woman is Fatale, an agent of the Dark Beast (two characters who haven’t been created yet).

Another issue that’s light on plot, as Magneto’s return is teased for the 300th issue (even though it didn’t actually happen until a few issues later). Senator Kelly returns, with a surprisingly thoughtful portrayal. I like the idea of Kelly as a more sympathetic character with a legitimate concern about rogue mutants. It probably doesn’t fully reconcile with his earlier appearances, but it’s conceivable that his beliefs have mellowed over time. Claremont was always very good at showing various points of view in the title, often making the villains sympathetic, so it’s a nice reminder of the philosophical debates from his run. Having a human that isn’t rabidly anti-mutant, but also willing to address the real problems mutants would cause, is a surprising move for an era not known for subtlety. Graydon Creed takes the place of Sen. Kelly as a human foil for the X-Men, with a harsh stance against mutants and his own paramilitary organization. Creed is portrayed as such an idiot in this issue, though, that it’s hard to buy him as a credible threat. I always thought the Friends of Humanity had potential as villains, even though the group never caught on. It’s an idea that’s grounded in reality and fits into the title’s central concept very well. I’d rather see the FoH as villains than Mojo, really.

X-MEN #19 – April 1993

A Skinning of Souls Part Three – Harvest of the Innocent
Credits: Fabian Nicieza (writer), Andy Kubert (penciler), Pennington, Wiacek, Panosian, Williamson (inkers), Joe Rosas (colorist), Bill Oakley (letterer)

Russian troops arrive with Illyana, as Colonel Vazhin tries to convince Colossus to let them use her powers against the Soul Skinner. Colossus fears that aging her to gain access to her powers could kill her. Soul Skinner arrives and reveals to Colossus that the troops killed his parents while kidnapping Illyana. When he looks into Colossus’ mind, he sees that they’ve lived with similar pain, and decides to use Illyana’s powers to kill himself and everyone around him. Colossus has Psylocke connect the town’s innocent children to the Soul Skinner’s mind, which overwhelms him and causes him to turn off his own mind. Colonel Vazhin then shoots his comatose body in the head.

Approved By The Comics Code Authority
Psylocke and Cyclops are nude in bed together in her fantasy.

Continuity Notes
The Soul Skinner’s origin is revealed. He once had a normal life, until his daughter became gravely ill. His wife was a secret agent hired to monitor him due to his powerful mutant abilities. To keep her cover, she refused to use her government contacts to help save their daughter. When the Soul Skinner discovered this, he “shredded her body and soul” and turned to villainy.

According to the Soul Skinner, Colossus’ parents were killed because the government knew Illyana would die stopping him. This doesn’t make a lot of sense, unless he’s implying that they were killed so that no one would report Illyana missing (which doesn’t work either since these are government agents who could stop any investigation in the first place).

Beast implies that he’s about to turn thirty. For a few issues, he acts depressed, although the subplot goes nowhere.

The Soul Skinner arc finally concludes. This is a classic example of a story that isn’t interesting on it own merits and only exists to put pieces in place for another story. It seems as if no one cared how exactly Colossus’ parents were killed, they just wanted more bad things to happen to him to justify him joining Magneto in a few issues. This could’ve been accomplished in any number of ways, but it’s handled in the clumsiest way imaginable. Omega Red’s presence in the storyline is another disappointment. He seems to be there simply because the story takes place in Russia. He doesn’t contribute anything to the story, and is only in a few panels in this issue before disappearing behind the scenes. What exactly Soul Skinner is planning in the end, and how the X-Men recover from their vegetative state, are all unclear. And the less said about any plot point that depends on the “innocence of children”, the better. It’s a poorly done storyline, although I do like Soul Skinner’s origin. It was probably one of the most disturbing things I had read in a comic when I was a kid. Showing that the Soul Skinner is sympathetic towards Cyclops and Colossus is another nice touch.

X-FACTOR #90 – May 1993

A Green and Tender Place
Credits: Scott Lobdell (writer), Joe Quesada and Buzz (pencilers), Al Milgrom (inker), Richard Starkings (letterer), Tom Smith (colorist)

Polaris tries to comfort Wolfsbane after she learns that she was bonded to Havok while she was a Mutate. Havok discovers hidden monitoring devices that he feels are being used to gather information to create more Mutates. He confronts Genosha’s president and fights her Mutate bodyguard. The President agrees to tell X-Factor the truth; that there’s been a deadly virus outbreak amongst the Mutates, and that the government is gathering information on the epidemic. One of the Mutates escapes the hospital, and X-Factor chase after him to prevent the Gengineer, Sasha Ryan, from having him terminated.

Continuity Notes
This is the first real appearance of the Legacy Virus. Its existence was hinted at during the final page of X-Cutioner’s Song, but this is the first storyline to fully introduce the idea. The name “Legacy Virus” still hasn’t shown up, though.

According to Polaris, Wolfsbane is sixteen.

I Love the ‘90s
Val Cooper holds Socks the Cat. There’s also an ad for a Meteor Man comic book. You’ve got to wonder how exactly Marvel got talked into that cross-promotion.

It’s the first post-Peter David issue, and his storylines are already being ignored. The X-Patriots, the reason why X-Factor traveled to Genosha in the first place, don’t appear at all in this issue, as the Genoshan story arc is hijacked to introduce the Legacy Virus. The Legacy Virus was a blatant AIDS metaphor, an idea that some readers found tasteless. Even as a kid, I always thought it was a cheat that the only characters to actually die from the disease were minor ones. The plotline was ignored for years and finally resolved during Scott Lobdell’s fill-in arc in 2001. Colossus was killed off in order to give the resolution more importance, but he was resurrected after a few years anyway, making it all seem rather pointless.

The disease itself is given a decent introduction in this issue. The image of sickly Mutates strapped into hospital beds while doctors in armored suits monitor them is disturbing, and it gives you the idea that this is a very serious problem. The rest of the issue is hit or miss. Polaris and Wolfsbane have a nice scene together that draws upon Polaris’ troubled backstory, but Havok is given an awful chapter that doesn’t make a lot of sense. He discovers monitoring devices in the President’s garden and assumes that it’s being done to gather info on creating new Mutates. Huh? It’s obvious that Genosha already knows how to make Mutates, so it’s strange that he would jump to that conclusion after spotting some Kirbytech in a bush. He also seems quite willing to kill the President’s Mutate guard, which is wildly out of character. Even if it’s a dumb scene, Quesada does a great job drawing it. It’s unfortunate that this is his fourth issue, and the third one in a row that needed a back-up artist.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

X-FORCE #20 – March 1993

Assault on Graymalkin
Credits: Fabian Nicieza (writer), Greg Capullo (pencils), Harry Candelario (inks), Chris Eliopoulos (letters), Steve Buccellato (colors)

Stark Enterprises employees discover Graymalkin, Cable’s orbital space station. SHIELD strikes an agreement with Stark Enterprises head James Rhodes to investigate the space station. GW Bridge, believing that Cable is involved, temporarily rejoins SHIELD. X-Force, along with Lila Cheney, view a news report about the space station’s discovery and teleport inside. They soon confront Nick Fury, Bridge, and two other SHIELD agents. After defeating them, the team is confronted by Iron Man. Meanwhile, Vanessa unwillingly morphs into her best friend, Domino continues to search for X-Force, and the sickly External Nicodemus bursts into flames.

Continuity Note
Cable’s sentient computer system, The Professor, is confirmed to be Ship from X-Factor. The Professor knows nothing about this and claims that he first went online in 3761 AD.

Miscellaneous Note
The Statement of Ownership has average sales at 759,125, with the most recent issue at 550,900.

I don’t think I’ve read these issues since they were first published, but I remember really liking this story arc. I’m sure a lot of it had to do with Capullo’s artwork, which is pretty remarkable in this issue, but I was also into the story. Nicieza gets things off to a quick start by jumping from one conversation to another to get the exposition out of the way. It’s a clever idea that he pulls off very well. I don’t know why exactly Nicieza had Bridge quit SHIELD last issue only to rejoin in this one, but I’ll overlook it. The one-page subplot scenes with the leftover Liefeld characters also help to build suspense for future issues. Even if the book is going in a different direction, Nicieza isn’t throwing everything out of the window, which is admirable.

Capullo’s new costumes make their full debut in this issue, with some mixed results. They’re all improvements over the Liefeld designs, but some of them still have the worst elements of that early ‘90s look. I guess it took a few years for everyone to figure out how bad giant shoulder pads looked. Capullo handles the action scenes very well, but he also makes the conversation scenes look interesting. X-Force remains an action-heavy title, but the action is now centered around better stories with competent artwork, which goes a long way.

X-MEN #18 – March 1993

A Skinning of Souls Part Two – The Crops Mature
Credits: Fabian Nicieza (writer), Andy Kubert (penciler), Mark Pennington with Dan Panosian (inkers), Chris Eliopoulos (letterer), Joe Rosas (colorist)

The mystery villain from the last issue is revealed to be the Soul Skinner. He defeats Omega Red and places him under his control. The X-Men travel with Colonel Vazhin to Neftelensk to investigate what’s happened to its citizens. While there, they’re attacked by Omega Red. With the Soul Skinner’s help, the team is defeated, while Colossus and Vazhin escape. They discover a group of children hidden in a building, not affected by the Soul Skinner’s power. Vazhin explains to Colossus that the Russian government was planning on accelerating his sister’s age so that she can use her mutant teleportation powers to stop the Soul Skinner. Meanwhile, armored soldiers break into Illyana’s home, kill her parents, and take her away. In Japan, the mysterious Kwannon prepares to face Psylocke, in order to prove herself to the crimelord Nyoirin.

“Huh?” Moments
In the Siberian cold, Psylocke is wearing a jacket while her legs (and most of her buttocks) are still exposed.

Colossus' parents are murdered for no apparent reason.

Miscellaneous Note
The Statement of Ownership has average sales at 967,808 with the most recent issue at 717,000.

The Soul Skinner arc continues with an action-oriented middle chapter. Kubert’s art is well suited for characters like Omega Red and the Soul Skinner, so it’s a better looking issue than last month’s issue. Nicieza’s script is still in that annoying faux-Claremont style, though. Paul O’Brien already pointed out some of Soul Skinner’s more ridiculous dialogue when he indexed this issue, so I won’t dwell too much on lines like “such physicality, bordering as unto a primal force of nature, you might be in body, but in mind, you are as unto a gentle summer rain…and as such I let you wash over me…”. The entire issue is filled with these gems. A fairly bad comic, but I like some of Kubert's action pages.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

X-FORCE #19 – February 1993

The Closed Fist
Credits: Fabian Nicieza (writer), Greg Capullo (pencils), Harry Candelario (inks), Chris Eliopoulos (letters), Steve Bucellato & Marie Javins (colors)

X-Force remain prisoners in the X-Men’s mansion, as Cannonball argues with Xavier for their freedom. Boomer spends her free time designing new costumes for the team, while Warpath and Siryn secretly make copies of the X-Men’s files. Cannonball finally convinces Xavier that they are adults and should be free to make their own choices. He reluctantly allows the team to leave. Meanwhile, G. W. Bridge quits SHIELD after being censured for Weapon Prime’s failure.

It’s another quiet post-crossover issue (which means that only X-Men skipped one after X-Cutioner’s Song). After tying up Liefeld’s loose ends, this issue is a necessary step in establishing a new focus and direction for the series. Nicieza moves the series away from its past by giving the entire team new costumes, and by taking a few shots at the earlier issues (Warpath makes fun of his old shoulder pads; Siryn comments that she joined the team because she felt “dead inside” like the other members). Cannonball’s speech to Xavier implies that X-Force is going to find the middle road between Xavier’s, Magneto’s, and Cable’s methods. This isn’t a bad idea for a new direction for this series, but I don’t remember it going anywhere. A lot of his speech becomes moot when the kinder, gentler post-Liefeld Cable debuts. He doesn’t shoot a lot of people in the back at this point. This makes X-Force a less nasty book to read, but I think it loses a lot of its identity in the coming months. Eventually, the characters will just move back into the X-Men’s mansion, essentially becoming the X-Men under a different name. I do think the characters become more likable and the stories greatly improve during this era, but without their own mission or point of view, this spinoff doesn’t really offer anything unique. Once Generation X debuts as the new New Mutants, the series seems even more redundant.

NEW WARRIORS #31 – January 1993

Credits: Fabian Nicieza (writer), Darick Robertson (penciler), Larry Mahlstedt (inker), Joe Rosen (letterer), Joe Rosas (colorist)

Cannonball, Warpath, and Firestar travel to Nova Roma (an ancient Roman city hidden in the Amazon) to tell former Hellions Empath and Magma about the deaths of their teammates. While there, Firestar realizes that Empath is using his powers to control Magma. When she attempts to investigate, she’s attacked by the mind-controlled Cannonball and Warpath. She creates a microwave pulse to undo Empath’s influence, which frees the entire city. Empath reveals that Nova Roma was founded by the mutant Selene, not ancient Romans, and populated by her kidnapped victims. Her mind control was wearing off, so Empath took over. He releases his control, and the surviving Hellions move on.

Continuity Note
The White Queen is in a coma, which contradicts earlier issues that referred to her as a corpse. Someone probably realized that killing off so many established villains in just a few issues was a mistake, so she’s been resurrected very quietly. Empath is also alive and well in this issue, which means he couldn’t have been killed with the rest of the Hellions in Uncanny X-Men #281.

Nova Roma’s status as an actual Roman City has since been re-established, I believe. Nicieza’s only basis for this issue’s retcon seems to be his belief that Nova Roma is just a dumb idea.

I wasn’t a regular reader of New Warriors, so this crossover issue was successful in bringing in at least one X-completist. This issue seems to be aimed at long-time New Mutants readers familiar with Firestar and Warpath’s past with the Hellions, characters that had been casually disposed of a few months earlier. Nicieza seems more interested in retconning an old New Mutants idea he didn’t like than in actually providing an actual sendoff to the Hellions, though. As a story, it’s not very interesting and parts of it don’t work. If Cannonball and Warpath can see that Empath is controlling Magma, why didn’t they call him out on it right then? Why would they leave, go to bed, and give him a chance to zap them? It’s nice that someone bothered to address the senseless death of the Hellions, but I doubt this was really what the old-school New Mutants fans wanted to see.

Monday, November 19, 2007

X-MEN #17 – February 1993

A Skinning of Souls – Part One: Waiting For The Ripening
Credits: Fabian Nicieza (writer), Andy Kubert (penciler), Mark Penington (inker), Chris Eliopoulos (letterer), Joe Rosas (colorist)

In Siberia, Illyana Rasputin is being monitored by a secret agent of the Russian government. Two other government agents, Darkstar and Alexi Garnoff, investigate a small town where every citizen’s mind has been erased. An unseen force attacks both of them. Colonel Vazhin decides to send an expendable agent, Omega Red, to investigate, but he also disappears. The X-Men arrive in Siberia with Colossus to visit his family. Once Colonel Vazhin learns that the X-Men are in Russia, he wants to use them to find out what happened to Darkstar, Garnoff, and Omega Red. Meanwhile, a woman with purple hair fights a street gang in Tokyo.

Creative Differences
During their brief scene together, much of the dialogue between Cannonball and Xavier has been re-lettered. This scene establishes that government agent Val Cooper has asked Xavier to keep X-Force confined to the mansion, but he’ll look the other way while they take care of some business. This leads into a New Warriors/X-Force crossover.

I Love the ‘90s
Jubilee thinks that being exposed to the “dude from that MTV Sports show” will speed up young Illyana’s hormones.

This is the first part of a storyline that puts pieces in place for the next crossover. As you might’ve noticed, this is also the first issue of X-Men since the last crossover. Welcome to 1993 (or 2007). Colossus has now begun to express regrets over joining the X-Men after his brother’s suicide, which will tie into his future decision to abandon the team for the Acolytes. Illyana has also been re-introduced, so that she can soon die and push Colossus further over the edge. It’s obvious that’s there’s a lot of planning ahead at this point (Jubilee and Illyana are already becoming close, tying in to another future issue), but it’s all attached to a dull story.

I never liked this arc as a kid, probably because it was too hard for me to follow (especially with all of those Russian names). Except for the Rasputins, I had no idea who any of the Russian characters in this issue are, and there’s nothing in the story to make you care about them. Nicieza also makes the odd decision to have Omega Red’s recruitment and battle with the mystery villain take place off-panel. I think the next issue covers some of this territory, but I don’t understand why Nicieza decided to skip over it in the first chapter. Nicieza’s also still in the early days of his X-Men run, where he’s doing an exaggerated Chris Claremont impression on each page. As I’ve said before, his work in X-Force doesn’t read this way, so someone somewhere must’ve decided that this title should have a Claremontian feel. Andy Kubert is also still in a rough place, drawing some odd facial expressions and, for some reason, as much smoke as he can on each page. He’s also turned Colonel Vazhin from a scrawny middle-aged man into a muscular he-man.

X-FACTOR #89 – April 1993

Dark Homecoming/Cabin Fever
Credits: Peter David (writer), Joe Quesada (penciler), Al Milgrom (inker), Glynis Oliver (colorist), Richard Starkings (letterer)/Peter David (writer), Chris Batista (penciler), Al Milgrom (inker), Glynis Oliver (colorist), Lois Buhalis (letterer)

X-Factor arrives in Genosha with the X-Patriots and meets the new president. The president gives them a tour of the new Genosha, and asks the X-Patriots to represent the Mutates who are now adjusting to a normal life. Wolfsbane meets up with her foster mother, Moira McTaggert, who runs tests to determine why she’s been behaving oddly. Dr. Sasha Ryan and Moira determine that when Wolfsbane was turned into a Mutate, she was bonded to her master, Alex Summers. Sasha Ryan leaves to meet with a mystery man who wants all mutants dead. Meanwhile, Torq, a man claiming to be a tabloid reporter, shows Quicksilver pictures of his wife dating another man. Quicksilver threatens to kill him if he publishes the photos. Another mystery man tells Torq that he’s succeeded in making Quicksilver suspicious and in stimulating his “homicidal impulses".

Approved By The Comics Code Authority
Crystal, covered by strategically placed tree branches, shares an outdoor shower with Quicksilver.

Creative Differences
The last seven pages of the main story appear to have been re-lettered. Peter David has commented that the scene where Wolfsbane compares herself to a group of dogs is not what he actually wrote.

I Love the ‘90s
There’s an ad for a Sega CD game that lets you edit your own Kriss Kross and C&C Music Factory videos. Doesn’t that sound like fun?

X-Factor finally arrives in Genosha, seven issues after Havok declared that they were going in #82. I guess he never said when exactly. This story still doesn’t feel as if it has a lot of momentum. The X-Patriots hardly appear in this issue, and the last seven pages are devoted to an unrelated Quicksilver solo story. Wolfsbane’s storyline is advanced, but it’s hard to tell if this is the actual story David set out to write. Revealing that Wolfsbane is “bonded” to Havok wouldn’t explain her sudden intense attraction to Madrox, for example. This is a mid-storyline issue to a storyline that was completed by a different writer and folded into a large crossover. It's unfortunate that this is Peter David's last issue. There’s not a lot going for it, except for the Quicksilver back-up, which is able to move from “very funny” to “very sad” over the course of a few pages.

Friday, November 16, 2007

UNCANNY X-MEN #298 - March 1993

“…For The Children!
Credits: Scott Lobdell (writer), Brandon Peterson (penciler), Al Milgrom (inker), Chris Eliopoulos (letterer), Marie Javins (colorist)

Bishop, feeling that his methods aren’t appropriate for the X-Men, offers his resignation to Professor Xavier. Xavier declines and harshly tells Bishop not to give up. While Jean Grey, Bishop, Archangel, and Gambit train in the Danger Room, Xavier and Storm meet Detective Charlotte Jones to receive a coroner’s report. Miles away, other associates of the X-Men, Tom Corsi and Sharon Friedlander, are working undercover at a school to watch over a mutant child with Down’s Syndrome. Sharon Friedlander is brutally attacked by the Acolytes. Xavier senses the attack and alerts the team. The X-Men arrive and attempt to protect the school from the Acolytes. When the Acolytes discover that the mutant child has Down’s Syndrome, they declare him unfit and leave.

Continuity Notes
Sharon Friedlander is apparently killed off in this issue, although it's not made clear until a later issue. Tom Corsi’s fate is also ambiguous. Years later, he'll show up in the Generation X spinoff, so he obviously did survive.

Frenzy, a former follower of Apocalypse, appears as an Acolyte in this issue. Gambit knows her from his mysterious past. New Acolytes Unuscione (implied to be the daughter of Unus) and the Kleinstock brothers appear for the first time. One of the Kleinstock triplets is killed by Tom Corsi.

Gambit has been featured for two issues consecutively, even though he’s a cast member of the spinoff X-Men series. The Blue Team/Gold Team era begins to end with these issues, as the team members regularly switch between titles.

Miscellaneous Note
The Statement of Ownership in this issue lists average sales at 731,425, with the issue closest to filing date at 605,900.

With time to kill before the next crossover, Uncanny delivers a self-contained action story. This isn’t a very good issue, but I like the fact that the conflict is clear and the story is resolved by page twenty-two instead of being needlessly dragged out. I don’t like the way Tom Corsi and Sharon Friedlander are given ambiguous deaths in this issue. Lobdell seems to be attempting to add weight to a thin story by throwing in some deaths, but at the same time doesn’t appear to have enough commitment to the idea to firmly establish that they are dead.

Lobdell debuts his “edgy” characterization of Xavier in this issue. Xavier was initially a harsh father figure in the early issues, but I think that’s more of a reflection of society in the early 1960s than Xavier as a character. When the X-Men became grown-ups, portraying Xavier as manipulative and condescending didn’t work, and it’s something that was mostly avoided by Claremont. Lobdell now has Xavier acting very curt with Bishop, just one issue after his warm and fuzzy moments with Jubilee. Lobdell could’ve tied in Xavier’s mood swings with his recent near death experience, but there’s no mention of any recent events. He’s just moody in this issue.

The Acolytes return for the first time since their debut with an all-new lineup. The Acolytes never really became major villains, probably because so many of them would eventually be introduced without giving most of them anything resembling a personality. They’re just a sea of purple goons praising Magneto. This story takes place in the brief period where Magneto was believed to be dead, setting up the Acolytes to do the things they think Magneto might have wanted them to do. Years later, Grant Morrison would use the idea of Magneto’s strength as a symbol, and not specifically as a character, in New X-Men. The X-Men try to explain to the Acolytes that Magneto wouldn’t approve of their extreme actions. It’s an interesting idea, but it only works if Magneto is given consistent characterization. Since Marvel’s attitude at this time was to make him a more ruthless villain, it’s hard to argue that he wouldn’t approve of the Acolytes’ actions.
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