Friday, February 29, 2008

X-MEN #28 – January 1994

Devil in the House
Credits: Fabian Nicieza (writer), Andy Kubert (penciler), Matt Ryan (inker), Bill Oakley (letterer), Joe Rosas (colorist)

Jubilee has nightmares about Sabretooth living in the mansion. When Jean Grey finds out, she calls a meeting with Cyclops, Beast, and Storm to discuss Xavier’s decision to treat Sabretooth in the mansion. Jean and Beast disagree with Xavier, but Cyclops trusts his judgment. Sabretooth grows more belligerent, assaulting Psylocke and taunting Gambit and Rogue when they bring food to his cell. Jean Grey confronts him, demonstrating her superior power and refusing to give him a telepathic fix to ease his pain. The next day, Jubilee brings Sabretooth his breakfast, hoping to ease her fears, but she discovers that they’ve only gotten worse.

Continuity Notes
Gambit tells Sabretooth that the last time he helped him out, he needed thirty-seven stitches. Sabretooth hints at a past encounter with Gambit in Paris, the details of which will be revealed in an upcoming issue.

It’s an entire issue dedicated to the X-Men’s reactions to having Sabretooth live in the mansion. The creators were certainly determined to sell Sabretooth as a frightening villain, and they got a lot of mileage out of having him live with X-Men during the first few months of the storyline. Like a lot of ideas in this era, it petered out without any real payoff, but so far it’s introduced some drama into the series and opened the doors for some interesting questions. If Xavier could cure Sabretooth, does he have an obligation to do so? Are the X-Men putting someone like Jubilee in jeopardy with this decision? Can someone like Sabretooth ever truly change? Kubert’s art does a decent job on the conversation scenes, with one noticeable exception. On the page where Jean confronts Xavier about his decision, Kubert continually gives Jean an angry scowl, but the expression doesn’t fit the more subdued dialogue. Nicieza’s able to the give the characters a reasonable conversation, even if Xavier isn’t given a lot of room to explain his point of view. If the X-Men are to be pitted against Xavier, I would prefer to see it in a story like this, where both sides have legitimate points. Unfortunately, it seems as if the standard approach to writing Xavier now is to continually reveal that he’s been keeping dark secrets from his students that end up blowing up in his face. At least in these issues, Xavier sincerely wants to help someone and has a defendable position.

CABLE # 9 – March 1994

The Killing Field: In Humanity
Credits: Fabian Nicieza (writer), M. C. Wyman (penciler), Jason Gorder (inker), Chris Eliopoulos (letterer), Marie Javins (colorist)

Cable goes to Muir Island to investigate his mental link with the current Phoenix, Rachel Summers. They discuss their relationship as siblings, while the Acolytes search for Omega Red in London. The Acolytes offer to show Omega Red a way to “retard the flow of the Death Spore Virus” inside his body. On Muir Island, Moira McTaggert is examining Cable’s techno-organic body parts when Omega Red arrives. He knocks her out with a limited exposure to his virus and steals a device from her lab. Cable tries to stop him but Omega Red activates the lab’s “cybernetic damper”, crippling Cable. Later, he’s revived by Phoenix and Kitty Pryde. Pryde tells Cable about Omega Red’s plan to steal the various items he needs to cure the spores that ravage his body. If he cures himself, his virus will then be released into the environment. Kitty reveals to Cable that she got this information from the Acolytes, who also want to stop him.

Continuity Notes
Cable and Moira McTaggert have already met in the past. She says that when she previously examined him, his mechanics were “standard bionics”, but they now appear to be techno-organic. Cable tells her that he was masking the “synthetic-organic components” of his body from people of this timeline. When Moira asks why half of his body looks like a machine if he can cover all of it in synthetic flesh, he tells her that “it never hurts to remember where you’ve been.”

Rachel Summers is inferred to be Mother Askani when Cable recognizes her as he regains consciousness.

After three months of flashbacks and origin stories, Cable tries to tell a straightforward action story. It’s not particularly interesting, but it’s easier to follow and not as cluttered as the previous issues. Omega Red and the Acolytes are brought in, rather than introducing another new villain for Cable to fight. This early in his series, Cable should have been developing his own rogues gallery, but using established villains fits in with Marvel’s apparent attempts to make the X-books more homogeneous during this time. Nicieza uses Cable’s fight with Omega Red to offer some insight into the character, basically reiterating the idea that Cable fights for peace and not just mindless violence. Wyman’s art fits into the house style of the early ‘90s X-books. The first few pages remind me of Andy Kubert’s early X-Men issues, but the art gets sloppier and uglier towards the end of the issue.

Cable meets Rachel Summers, his sister from another timeline, again. Nicieza has the characters point out the fact that both of them have traumatic childhoods, which is a logical way to build a connection, but it also reminds me of how redundant Cable really is. In terms of personality, he doesn’t really resemble Rachel, but he’s another Summers child from a dystopian future sent to our time to prevent his timeline from happening. When Cable’s origin was finally hashed out, did anyone at Marvel notice that the other Summers child had a virtually identical origin?

There’s another attempt to clear up some of Cable’s continuity during his conversation with Moira McTaggert. The final Liefeld issues of X-Force had Cable with a half-robotic face fixing his mechanical arm with a torque wrench. This left two unanswered questions – if half of his face was covered with synthetic flesh, why doesn’t he cover all of his body with it? And if his arm is actually infected with a techno-organic virus, how can he fix it with tools? Nicieza offers passable answers, but introduces another mystery by giving Cable and Moira a shared backstory. I really have no idea what this was supposed to accomplish. I can understand the commercial reasons for tying a popular character like Wolverine to Cable’s past…but Moira McTaggert? Really? It seems like every X-character had to have some hidden history with at least one other X-character during this era (even Omega Red is revealed to be the killer of one of the Acolytes’ family in this issue).

Thursday, February 28, 2008

UNCANNY X-MEN #308 – January 1994

Mixed Blessings
Credits: Scott Lobdell (writer), John Romita, Jr. (penciler), Dan Green & Al Vey (inkers), Chris Eliopoulos (letterer), Steve Buccellato (colorist)

Scott and Jean reflect on their past together while the rest of the X-Men rake leaves and play football. Jean tells Scott about a session with Professor Xavier, where she learned that her teenage desire to reach out to Scott caused the psionic safeguards Xavier placed in her mind to weaken. They also reflect on the first time Jean learned Scott’s real name, Dark Phoenix’s death on the moon, and meeting Rachel Summers for the first time. Jean asks Scott to marry her, and they announce their engagement at Thanksgiving dinner. Meanwhile, a man leaves his family to join a group of people in a van labeled “Phalanx”.

Continuity Notes
Bishop claims that he spent his childhood with his sister in “constant flight from the ‘Emplates'”, fearing that they would “suck the marrow” from their bones. Later, the Generation X series would introduce a villain named Emplate. Both of these stories are written by Scott Lobdell, so I assume this isn’t a coincidence.

Production Note
One of the word balloons during Jean’s proposal scene is totally blank. I believe it’s supposed to say, “I’ve been waiting”. It’s a pretty big screw-up for such an important scene, and there’s a correction in an upcoming letters column.

This is one of the better “quiet” issues of the era. The goal of this issue is obviously to set up Scott and Jean’s wedding, which is a few issues away (and already being promoted by ads running in all of Marvel’s books). There’s no compelling reason for the pair to suddenly get married, as Jean just decides that she’s tired of waiting and Cyclops agrees. Considering the characters’ long history together, which stretches back to the earliest issues of the series, that’s convincing enough, really. It is strange that Scott and Jean are getting married so soon after a year-long subplot had Scott lusting after Psylocke. It almost seems as if Marvel realized that pairing the characters with other love interests was a tough sell, so they decided to finally marry them instead. Some of the dialogue in the story suggests that the marriage was done as a positive story to counteract a year’s worth of depressing storylines. I never had a problem with the pair getting married, and since it didn’t alter the dynamic of their relationship at all, it mainly served to confirm their role as the stable love story in the X-mythos.

Lobdell invents two brief flashback stories for this issue, which serve to provide some context for their relationship. Cyclops was so firmly established as the confident leader of the team by this point, a lot of readers probably didn’t know about the skinny, awkward Cyclops of the Lee/Kirby issues – the guy who was so shy he couldn’t even speak to Jean. Jean was the confident, pretty girl who didn’t understand why her classmate was so insecure. Lobdell captures this dynamic with a short flashback scene set in the Danger Room. Romita does a great rendition of the original Cyclops and Marvel Girl, capturing Cyclops’ thin physique and even remembering to keep the black areas of the costumes black and not blue. The other flashback ties into a retcon established during the Claremont years, the idea that Professor Xavier had to limit Jean’s powers before she joined the team. It’s a sweet scene that realistically shows how a teenage crush could affect someone with psychic powers. The rest of the flashbacks are spent on established stories, like the Dark Phoenix Saga. This flashback makes a vague reference to Jean actually being in a cocoon when the story’s taking place, but doesn’t actually explain what they’re talking about. I can understand not wanting to get into the tangled Phoenix continuity, but claiming that Jean wasn’t really there as the characters flashback to a scene actually featuring Jean was probably more confusing to new readers than a brief explanation of the Phoenix would’ve been.

The rest of the issue is devoted to small character scenes with the other X-Men. Most of these scenes aren't bad, but Bishop comes across as an annoying man-child during his moments. Within the course of a few pages, we learn that he doesn’t know what scarecrows or footballs are, and has to have the concepts explained to him like a small child. Is Bishop a hardened soldier from the future or Jessica Simpson? Other than that complaint, the character moments in this issue are nice and I think that Lobdell does a good job of creating a family feel for the team.

X-FORCE #30 – January 1994

Something Worth Fighting For
Credits: Fabian Nicieza (writer), Tony Daniel (penciler), Conrad/Holdredge/Gorder (inkers), Chris Eliopoulos (letterer), Marie Javins (colorist)

Adam X (X-Treme) explains to Shatterstar that Arcade threatened to kill a young woman if he didn’t agree to fight him. When the woman is revealed to Shatterstar, he recognizes her as Windsong, his wife from his homeworld. Shatterstar convinces Adam X that Windsong would rather die than live as a captive, so they team up to find Arcade. After facing his guards, the pair confronts Arcade and his assistant, Ms. Locke. Locke threatens to detonate the explosives in Windsong’s manacles if they attack. Shatterstar stabs himself in the chest, unwilling to risk Wingsong’s life or fight Adam X any longer. When Arcade prepares to escape, Shatterstar appears from behind and stabs him, revealing Arcade to be a robot. Windsong is exposed as a hologram and Ms. Locke tells Adam X and Shatterstar who hired Arcade to abduct them. Shatterstar explains to Adam X that he avoided hitting any internal organs with his suicide ruse, and that he knew Windsong was a hologram all along. Meanwhile, Warpath and Siryn prepare to visit her home in Ireland, while Black Tom reclaims his castle from the Cassidy family lawyer.

Continuity Notes
A man named “Mr. Milbury” hired Arcade to test Adam X. “Milbury” is a pseudonym for Mr. Sinister. This is the first hint that Adam X might be the third Summers brother, due to Sinister’s interest in Summers DNA.

Shatterstar claims that he’s never met Windsong, and that their genetic material would have been used to create more warriors at the proper time. He also tells Adam X that his body has “restorative abilities”.

Creative Differences
On page fifteen, Black Tom has a few added word balloons, explaining that the person he attacked is his family lawyer.

“Huh?” Moment
Windsong is mis-colored as Ms. Locke on page 26, panel two. Considering that it appears as if the villain is saying, “Please, love, we can be together again!”, someone probably should’ve noticed this.

It’s an entire issue of two “MTV warriors” fighting each other, then fighting some other people, then going home. Nicieza does a nice job with Arcade’s dialogue, but the Murderworld setting is mostly wasted in this issue, as all of Arcade’s elaborate set-ups and traps are missing. Some of the story elements don’t make a lot of sense, either. Adam X is willing to fight Shatterstar to keep a woman alive, but based on Shatterstar’s claim that she’d rather die than be held captive, Adam X suddenly decides to team up with him. Even in if Adam X believed him, wouldn’t he still feel guilty if Arcade decided to kill her as soon as they stopped fighting? Early in the story, Shatterstar is able to recognize Windsong as a hologram, but there’s no explanation given for why. At the end of the issue, Shatterstar knows that Windsong is again a hologram (this time with a reason, she claims to know him when they’ve never met), but he still feigns suicide to save her life. If he knew she was a fake and that no one was actually in danger, why would he stab himself in the chest? Arcade’s no physical threat to Shatterstar or Adam X, so why go through such an elaborate and painful ruse? Tony Daniel shows up as artist, a welcome improvement over the previous issue. His work suffers from multiple inkers again, but it’s not bad. Most of the storytelling is clear and he’s able to pull off a decent cartoonish look on quite a few pages. His work is a little McFarlane-esque, so it’s not surprising that he’ll end up on Spawn in a few years.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

WOLVERINE #78 – February 1994

Credits: Larry Hama (writer), Adam Kubert (penciler), Mark Farmer & Mike Sellers (inkers), Pat Brosseau (letterer), Steve Buccellato (colors)

Bloodscream and Cylla track Wolverine in the Northern Alberta woods. Wolverine heads to the mountains so he can track their scent better, while Bloodscream tells Cylla about his past. He was once a pirate whose life was saved by a necromancer’s potion. He must feed off of living blood to survive, and nothing can kill him except for “metal not made by man.” Fearing that the potion will wear off, Bloodscream searches for Wolverine’s blood because he saw that he didn’t age over the course of fifty years. Wolverine reflects on the Clan Yashida’s Honor Sword, said to be hammered from meteorite iron. He uses the sword’s magnetic charge to find north during a snowstorm. When Bloodscream and Cylla finally get close to Wolverine, Bloodscream steals Cylla’s life essence to prepare himself for Wolverine. Wolverine slices Bloodscream with the Honor Sword, apparently killing him.

Continuity Notes
Bloodscream is given an origin in this issue, and he begins speaking with a Shakespearean accent, which I don’t remember from his initial appearances. He also transforms into some type of monster during the final pages, which I don’t really understand.

Production Notes
The first few pages of this issue are surrounded by a lot of white space. This may be intentional to mirror the snowy setting, but on some pages, it just looks like the art wasn’t reproduced large enough. On page seven, when the old man drops his pipe, most of the pipe is cut off, even though there’s over an inch of gutter space on the bottom of the page.

I had totally forgotten that this entire issue builds up to one single sword stroke. It’s an interesting approach to an action comic, and since I don’t remember feeling cheated by it as a thirteen year old, I’d say it’s pretty effective. The goal of the issue seems to be creating a contrast between Wolverine and Bloodscream while both of their narratives play out. Bloodscream is motivated by his quest for eternal life, while Wolverine has accepted his inevitable fate. Bloodscream is ruthless, murdering his own partner to gain health, while Wolverine’s compassion for a wounded, mad wolf is highlighted. Wolverine still has to kill the animal, putting it out of its misery and taking its pelt for warmth, emphasizing his own survival instinct. Wolverine’s willing to do what it takes to survive, but he also realizes that death is inevitable and refuses to cross the same lines Bloodscream does. Like a lot of Hama’s issues, this issue isn’t very plot heavy, but it attempts to define the characters by the situations they’re placed in.

I liked Adam Kubert’s art a lot during this time, and it still holds up. He’s drawing in a heavily detailed style that reminds me of Jim Lee, but it’s looser and more open for expression. He can handle the action very well, but he’s also great at drawing all of the real world elements like snow-topped trees, old country diners, and a Harley Davidson. The characterization on Wolverine’s face on the final page is also well done. Kubert’s one of the artists who figured out how to adapt to the visual changes the Image founders brought to comics, without sacrificing the fundamentals of good drawing.

X-FACTOR #98 – January 1994

Into Oblivion
Credits: J. M. DeMatteis (writer), Greg Luzniak (penciler), Al Milgrom (inker), Matt Webb (colorist), Lois Buhalis (letterer)

Havok and Forge attempt to arrest Haven, but Polaris fights against them, dividing the team. Haven refuses to fight back and vanishes, although Forge says it felt as if everyone else “ceased to exist” for a second. Forge reveals to X-Factor that Haven believes that a Golden Age between humans and mutants will occur in seven hundred years, after the Mahapralaya, a series of natural and man-made disasters. Haven is trying to speed up the Golden Age by causing these disasters today, inciting political revolts, even wars, and using science to alter the Earth’s weather patterns. Polars is skeptical, but is willing to listen to Forge’s evidence. Meanwhile, Madrox discovers that two of his duplicates cannot be reabsorbed. Random tells Guido and Wolfsbane that he’ll join their side after the secret government agency after Polaris turned against him. Finally, Val Cooper is revealed to be Haven’s latest follower.

The Haven storyline continues, going at a pretty leisurely pace. I liked these issues when they first came out, and they still hold up, but it seems as if the storyline was padded out a little to climax with issue #100. Haven’s motivations are revealed, reminding me of the Batman enemy Ra’s al Ghul, placing her as a well-intentioned but ruthless opponent. DeMatteis still doesn’t offer any clear answers, though, as Polaris casts doubts on Forge’s claims. I like the fact that the characters can come into conflict with one another while staying true to their characterizations, and DeMatteis is able to give everyone a point of view without making anyone seem like an idiot.

DeMatteis also has a nice handle on Madrox, making Marvel’s insistence that the character die even more confusing. In this issue, Madrox creates a duplicate for “every stray thought…every unconscious fear…every single voice in my head…you’ve all got form and shape and substance.” I had totally forgotten that DeMatteis briefly went in this direction years before Peter David did in the new X-Factor series. Unfortunately, this scene only lasts for a few pages and the idea is left unexplored until David follows a similar path years later.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Fight The Power!

I realize this is off-topic, but it's worth bringing up. Stuart Green has started a petition to send to Marvel, protesting the misguided decision to erase Spider-Man's twenty year marriage. You can find the petition here. Please take a few moments to sign it. If you think that fan response doesn't make a difference, just remember that there aren't a lot of Chuck Austen comics on sale right now.

If you're smarter than me, maybe you can even add this image to your blog template with a hyperlink.

Monday, February 25, 2008

X-MEN UNLIMITED #3 – December 1993

The Whispers Scream
Credits: Fabian Nicieza (writer), Mike McKone (penciler), Mark McKenna & Steve Moncuse (inkers), Joe Rosen (letterer), Dana Moreshead (colorist)

Sabretooth is on a killing spree, tracking down the participants in a drug trade from years earlier and murdering them. Maverick tries to find Wolverine to help him stop Sabretooth's rampage, but discovers that he’s left the X-Men. Beast, Gambit, Bishop, and Rogue accompany Maverick to find Sabretooth’s remaining targets. After failing to stop him in Germany, the X-Men trail Sabretooth to Japan. An elderly psychic living with the Clan Yashida places Beast inside Sabretooth’s mind, where he relives killing an entire family after the father threatened to expose a drug trade route. Sabretooth escapes again, heading to the X-Men’s mansion. Sabertooth attacks Xavier, hoping that his telepathic powers will kill him. Xavier enters Sabretooth’s mind to learn the source of his bloodlust. Xavier determines that Sabretooth has escaped the authorities too many times and killed too many people. He reveals that Sabretooth will stay as a prisoner at the mansion and receive psychic therapy.

Continuity Notes
Sabretooth tells Maverick that it was always Birdy’s psychic “glow” that kept his bloodlust in check, which would place her pretty far back in his history. Birdy was killed in the Sabretooth miniseries.

Maverick tells Gambit that he “knows a lot” about him. I doubt this went anywhere, but I guess every character had to reference Gambit’s mystery past at some point during this era.

Creative Differences
There are quite a few re-lettered word balloons in this issue. Some of the more notable include…
On Page 15, a re-lettered balloon suggests that the priest involved in the drug deal was only posing as one. I guess this is less controversial than saying that an actual priest would be involved with drugs.
On page 45, an altered balloon has the Beast calling Sabretooth a “monster” after a flashback implies that he killed a child. Maybe the original dialogue explicitly spelled out what Sabretooth did?
On page 58, an added word balloon has Xavier say, “Sabretooth stays here”. I don’t know why it’s there since the other dialogue makes Xavier’s intentions clear. Xavier’s reasons for keeping Sabretooth at the mansion, on the same page, also appear to have been re-lettered.

It’s another issue from the brief period when X-Men Unlimited impacted the continuity of the other titles. After one more issue, it slinks into the background for the rest of its existence. This is a pretty good issue, even if its origins lie in an arbitrary editorial decision. According to legend, editor Bob Harras wanted Sabretooth to join the X-Men, based on his enormous popularity at the time. This was fought by the writers at the time, who rightfully understood that the X-Men wouldn’t allow a murderous assassin to join their team. Harras relented, so Sabretooth only ended up in the X-mansion as a prisoner, not a teammate. The idea of Sabretooth joining the team must’ve gone pretty far, though, because there was at least one trading card (bound in some of the actual comics) that showed Sabretooth as a member of the X-Men’s Blue team. Hints dropped in the letters pages and Marvel Age also indicated that Sabretooth was actually becoming a member of the team. This would have been a horrible move that would’ve crippled the X-Men’s credibility, so I’m glad things didn’t work out that way. (However, years later, editorial did force Marrow on the team, which bothered me for the same reasons listed above. I guess I’ll get to those issues later).

In order to get Sabretooth into the mansion, he’s given a retconned mental illness that Xavier thinks he can cure. The Sabretooth miniseries already laid the groundwork for this, so the idea at least doesn’t come out of nowhere. Considering all that we really knew about Sabretooth before this was that he was extremely nasty and liked to kill people, revealing that he has an uncontrollable bloodlust isn’t a stretch. Nicieza’s able to pace the story very well, taking advantage of the double-sized format, so the story doesn’t feel cramped or padded. Sabretooth’s presence as a Freddy Kreuger-type monster is sold convincingly, giving the story the feel of a horror movie at times. The X-Men chosen to face Sabretooth are interesting, as Rogue and Gambit are both reformed criminals, Bishop is a soldier who simply wants to eliminate Sabretooth, and Beast is an intellectual who believes in rehabilitation. It’s a good example of taking an editorially mandated idea and actually staying true to the characters while building a decent story around the idea.

Mike McKone pencils the entire issue without any of the pages looking rushed, thankfully. His style doesn’t fit in with the standard work being done in the X-books at the time, and I can remember not liking it as a kid. I guess I didn’t know how to react to smooth lines and a lack of unnecessary rendering at the time. It certainly holds up a lot better than most of the other artwork of the era.

X-FORCE #29 – December 1993

Toy Soldiers
Credits: Fabian Nicieza (writer), Matt Broome (penciler), Bud LaRosa (inker), Chris Eliopoulos (letterer), Marie Javins (colorist)

Shatterstar is kidnapped by Arcade, and must defend an innocent family from Mojo V’s soldiers. After defeating them, Arcade reveals to Shatterstar that he was hired by Mojo V’s “master programmer” Major Domo to ensure that he never returns to threaten them. Arcade decides to pit Shatterstar against another mutant he’s been hired to test, X-Treme. Meanwhile, Cable asks Tempo to stay with the team but she refuses. Warpath confronts Siryn about her drinking, Cannonball and Boomer go to Kentucky, and Domino agrees to join the team.

Continuity Note
Mojo V rules the future world Shatterstar comes from.

I Love the ‘90s
Tempo sarcastically suggests watching “Beavis and Butthead” (sic) with X-Force.

“Huh?” Moment
On page 29, Major Domo is revealed to be the mystery client…except he’s not anywhere on the page. Shatterstar has a dramatic response to a revelation that’s totally off-panel.

This is mainly an attempt to develop Shatterstar as a character, and it does raise a few decent ideas. Shatterstar never had much of a personality and he existed, by his own admission, solely to fight. The early issues of X-Force treated this as a really cool personality trait, but Nicieza realized that it needed to be addressed once he began plotting the book. Rather than radically altering Shatterstar, Nicieza tries to use his one-dimensional attitude as a starting point to develop his character. Shatterstar now knows that he should find a cause to fight for, but he doesn’t know what that is. This could have been an interesting character arc, but Nicieza was forced off of the title before it could go anywhere. I can remember liking Shatterstar as a kid (although I might’ve lost interest in him by this point). I think I was mainly drawn in by his swords, and the fact that he had a mutant power that he never felt the need to use.

This is an action-heavy issue, and it’s not helped by Matt Broome’s poor artwork. It’s not as bad as his previous issues, but it’s still ugly to look at and the action scenes don’t really work. The off-panel revelation of Major Domo that I mentioned above is really sloppy and distracting. Broome’s art always seems to drag the coloring down as well, because the unfinished linework gives the colors a blurry look.

Friday, February 22, 2008

CABLE #8 – February 1994

Fathers and Sons Part Three, Dayspring
Credits: Fabian Nicieza (writer), Aron Weisenfield (penciler), Holdredge/Vey/Sellers/Minor/Hanna/Conrad/Banning/Hudson (inkers), Chris Eliopoulos (letterer), Marie Javins (colorist)

Stryfe confronts Tyler, who is still holding the Askani captive. When Stryfe learns that the Askani’s presence was sent back in time to warn Jean Grey of his return, he shoots at her, destroying her containment field. The Askani’s memories are then channeled through Tyler, who shows Stryfe the details of his creation. Shortly after being cloned from Cable, Apocalypse’s soldiers break in, ravaging the Askani. The Askani Boak escapes with Cable, but the others are killed before Stryfe can be saved. Apocalypse takes Stryfe and raises him, taking advantage of his mutant powers. In Arizona, Zero reveals that Stryfe’s body was destroyed in the temporal vortex, but his consciousness was able to live in Cable’s body, taking control of it when “specific frequency alignments occur”. Zero teleports Xavier, Domino, Cyclops, and Jean Grey to Tyler’s base. Jean Grey links their minds to Styfe’s, and the Askani tries to talk Stryfe into letting go of his hatred. Stryfe gives Cable back his body, but says that he’ll continue to wreak havoc after death.

Continuity Notes
The Askani were largely destroyed shortly after Cable was cloned, but a few members carried on.

Tyler says that his mutant ability is the power to “telepathically affix myself to someone’s memories and visually display them”.

This issue marks the first time Cable and Xavier meet, although Xavier has “the oddest feeling” that they’ve met before.

Xavier says that Cable might be the key to curing the Legacy Virus.

Creative Differences
Quite a few word balloons have been poorly re-lettered towards the end. The altered lettering has Jean say that she tried to get info on the Legacy Virus from Strfye, even though it was futile. Xavier’s feeling that he’s met Cable before is also in a re-lettered balloon.

The dangling mysteries involving Cable and Stryfe are resolved, but the resolutions are presented in such a cluttered way they don’t really feel like much of a payoff. One problem would be the number of characters involved in the story. Tyler doesn’t serve much of a role throughout the storyline (even disappearing “behind the scenes” at the end), and he mainly ends up as a distraction. Even though it’s confirmed that he was Tolliver, there’s no explanation for why he posed as an arms dealer in the 1980s in the first place. There’s also no real reason for Stryfe to kill him (other than simply wanting Cable’s son dead, I guess). There’s really no reason for Zero, Domino, Rictor, and Siryn to be brought into all of this, either. There’s also a tacked on explanation of how Cable and Stryfe survived the X-Cutioner’s Song, which distracts from the simultaneous flashbacks about Stryfe’s childhood. The basic idea behind the story, giving the answers about Cable and Stryfe in one place after years of vague hints, is fine. The delivery doesn’t work though, with so many characters and even more mysteries introduced before the story’s even over. The art doesn’t help things, either. This issue has eight inkers, which would average out to less than three pages per inker. It’s a rushed, ugly-looking mess.

WOLVERINE #77 – January 1994

The Lady Strikes
Credits: Larry Hama (writer), Adam Kubert (pencils), Farmer/Sellers/Pennington (inks), Pat Brosseau (letterer), Steve Buccellato (colors)

Lady Deathstrike attacks Wolverine in Heather Hudson’s home, causing a gas explosion and wrecking her house. When Wolverine tells her that he no longer has the adamantium, and that she’s sacrificed her humanity for revenge, she begins to question her actions. She leaves, but two other Wolverine adversaries, Cylla and Bloodscream, have been sharing information with Deathstrike and are still trailing him. Wolverine gives Heather all of the money he has to pay for the damage and heads to Buffalo Wood.

Continuity Note
Lady Deathstrike’s father created the adamantium bonding process used to lace Wolverine’s skeleton with the metal. She wants revenge because she feels that she should have her father’s legacy. As shaky as that sounds, this really was the character’s main motivation for ten years.

Creative Differences (?)
The last few pages of this issue aren’t lettered by Brosseau, but it doesn’t seem as if it’s because of editorial rewrites. It’s possible that another letterer helped out for deadline reasons.

Production Note
The cover and the art on page sixteen are exactly the same.

This is mostly a “big fight” issue, although Hama creates a few human moments. Forgiveness was a theme that showed up again and again in Hama’s G. I. Joe work, and it makes its way to this series as Wolverine forgives Deathstrike after her multiple attempts to kill him. It’s not really what you would expect to find a Wolverine comic. When Heather Hudson comments on this, Wolverine’s response is “you can’t understand another person’s loss until ya got some o’ the same yourself.” In one strange scene, Wolverine even offers to give his life to Deathstrike if she promises not to kill Puck and Heather Hudson. This leads Deathstrike to declare that she won’t lose her honor and run away, so it’s possible that this was just a feint to get rid of her. The story isn’t clear, though, and it’s possible that Hama was trying to portray Wolverine’s acceptance that he couldn’t defeat her now, or even a suicidal streak. Losing the adamantium wasn’t just a cosmetic change for the character, as Hama shows a willingness to move Wolverine away from his stereotypical portrayal. He’s able to pull it off without making Wolverine seem like an entirely different character.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

EXCALIBUR #73 – January 1993

Memories Are Made of This
Credits: Richard Ashford (writer), Terry Shoemaker (penciler), Randy Elliott (inker), Pat Brosseau (letterer), Matthys & Garrahy (colorists)

Siena Blaze arrives on Muir Island to kill the remaining Excalibur members and steal a disc with Proteus’ genetic matrix recorded on it. Phoenix uses her powers to undo the damage to the environment Blaze creates, and makes her telepathically feel the environmental pain her power causes. Blaze briefly gains the upper hand when Phoenix is distracted, but teleports away. Meanwhile, a new member of Moira McTaggert’s research team, Dr. Rory Campbell, arrives. Kitty Pryde checks in on Meggan, only to find that she’s turned into a monster.

Creative Differences
Entire pages of this issue have obviously been re-lettered, along with a few stray narrative captions that were also plainly added later. In one scene, Siena Blaze is triumphantly standing over Phoenix while she screams in pain, but Phoenix’s thought balloons claim that Blaze is teleporting away.

Yeah, this one is a mess. Lots of confused action, awkward dialogue, sloppy lettering and washed out colors. The issue becomes totally irredeemable during the scene I described above, when Phoenix claims that Blaze is teleporting away when she’s clearly not. That’s actually the climax of the issue; Blaze has the ultra-powerful Phoenix on the ropes, is thiiiis close to accomplishing her goal…and a thought balloon claims that she’s suddenly teleported away. No explanation’s given, and Blaze isn’t seen again in the issue. It shouldn’t be a shock that this entire page was obviously re-lettered, too. Come to think of it, the art doesn’t really resemble Shoemaker’s work, either. I didn’t really have high hopes for this issue, but it’s still shocking to see something so incompetent.

Even overlooking Blaze’s awkward exit, the rest of the issue isn’t much better. The dialogue in this issue isn’t in the faux-Claremont vein, but it’s deeply reminiscent of the Silver Age instead. Some examples include: “I wonder what he thinks about me? I think I’ll attend to his recovery…personally!”, “You’ll find Excalibur is not an easy target!”, “Cable! Time-lost brother...why the look of pain on his face?” and “I love this teamwork stuff!” Some fans don’t mind this type of throwback dialogue, but even as a kid it bothered me. There a couple of lines of dialogue that just don’t make any sense, whether it’s continuity confusion (Phoenix referring to her telekinetic powers when she’s describing telepathy), or botched jokes like “You look like a reject from a ‘Bring Back the 70’s meeting”. That’s Siena Blaze talking to Nightcrawler, whose outfit never struck me as being representative of the 1970s at all. Even if he was created in 1975, it’s not like he’s wearing bell-bottoms or an open polyester shirt. I hope the rest of the pre-Ellis run isn’t this bad, but I’m not getting my hopes up.

CABLE # 7 – January 1994

Fathers and Sons – Act Two, Illuminated Knights
Credits: Fabian Nicieza (writer), Aron Wiesenfeld (penciler), Al Vey & Jon Holdredge (inkers), Chris Eliopoulos (letterer), Marie Javins (colorist)

Tyler probes the memories of the Askani, learning that Stryfe was a clone created of Cable when it looked as if he wouldn’t survive. Stryfe heads to X-Force’s headquarters to steal weaponry, attacking Siryn and Rictor. A wounded Domino arrives at the X-Men’s mansion, asking for help against Stryfe. Xavier, Cyclops, and Jean Grey travel to X-Force’s headquarters with Domino. Stryfe is gone, but they help Rictor and Siryn. Domino finds a taped message from Cable, questioning why he suddenly grew a goatee. Zero arrives, asking Cyclops if he’s willing to kill his son in order to put an end to a “weapon of war and destruction”. Stryfe infiltrates Tyler’s headquarters, prepared to kill him.

Continuity Notes
A flashback scene reveals what exactly happened to Cable after he was sent to the future as an infant. Mother Askani wants to clone him, fearing that he’ll die soon, but the other Askanis object. One claims that “eugenics is for El Nabin Sur, the Son of the Morning Fire” and that cloning would make them as guilty of “forfeiting the value and meaning of life” as Apocalypse is. Mother Askani demands that he be cloned because the “chosen one” must live. She also gives him the name “Dayspring”.

Tyler wants to know why Cable was never told the truth about his parents, but the Askani can’t answer. Tyler says that the Askani was crushed by the “Canaanite hordes”, and speculates that this is why Cable never learned about his past.

Commercial Break
The upcoming wedding of Scott and Jean is spoiled by an ad from “Entertainment This Month”. They’re not even engaged yet in the actual comics. Things like this happened all the time in the ‘90s.

Creative Differences
A few word balloons have been re-lettered, especially on page 21, when Xavier questions why Stryfe would go to Cable’s home.

Approved By The Comics Code Authority
Domino is covered in blood (or is it mud? It’s hard to tell) on page sixteen. On page twenty-three, virtually all of Siryn’s breasts are visible.

Cable’s origin continues, and it’s not really that entertaining. Most of this information had already been heavily hinted at in previous stories, so having characters outright say some of this stuff is just dull. Maybe I’m prejudiced against the “big reveals” because I’ve already known them for almost fifteen years, though. It does seem as if nothing can be fully revealed in the X-books of this time. Even though we finally see what happened to baby Nathan in the future, the Askani are given more cryptic dialogue that hints at more untold stories. Tyler asks some basic questions (why wasn’t Cable told anything about his parents?) that aren’t answered at all. Plus, we see that Tyler is learning all of this information for the first time from the Askani. Last issue, he gave information about Cable to Mr. Sinister, and Sinister soon told Cable that he wasn’t a clone. I assumed that he got this info from Tyler, but Tyler only learns it in this issue. So how does Sinister know if Cable’s a clone or not?

The only scenes that really work for me are the ones between Scott and Jean. The tangled soap opera involving Madelyne Pryor and Nathan Summers was rarely brought up until this issue. Nicieza’s successful in creating an emotional moment between Scott and Jean where they actually talk about these things. It’s the only part of the story where you actually care about what’s going on. The latest rotating artist is Aron Wiesenfeld, still going for that early Image look. The amount of detail lines suddenly disappear by half towards the end of the book, as if the second inker didn’t want to be bothered with all of the unnecessary crosshatching.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

X-MEN #27 – December 1993

A Song of Mourning, A Cry of Joy
Credits: Fabian Nicieza (writer), Richard Bennett (penciler), Bob Wiacek/Scott Hanna (inkers), Bill Oakley (letterer), Joe Rosas (colorist)

Rogue, Iceman, and Beast visit Infectia, who’s dying of the Legacy Virus, in a Los Angeles hospital. They speak to a Dr. Nathan Milbury before Infectia tells them that she came to Los Angeles to get help from a mutant researcher named Gordon Lefferts. The X-Men investigate Lefferts’ lab and discover a group of homeless people living there. Rogue tracks one of them, Threnody, because she suspects that she might have information on the lab. Rogue finds Threnody just as Mr. Sinister offers to help her. Rogue figures out that Mr. Sinister was actually Dr. Milbury before Threnody’s power erupts. Sinister reveals to the X-Men that Threnody translates emotion into plasma energy, and that she only absorbs pain from mutants dying of the Legacy Virus. Sinister wants to use to her to track more mutants because he also wants to cure the disease. Beast reluctantly agrees to let Sinister take Threnody with him. Later, at the hospital, Beast releases Infectia from her quarantine and holds her as she dies.

Creative Differences
Paul O’Brien's index on this issue talks about a page that was awkwardly re-edited, although I never really noticed it. I only notice two word balloons that have been obviously re-lettered in this issue, which isn't uncommon at all during this era.

Continuity Notes
Infectia is a very obscure villain from the early issues of X-Factor. She’s the only type of character the Legacy Virus ever seemed to kill.

At the end of the story, Threnody detects another mutant with the Legacy Virus nearby. Sinister refuses to tell Rogue who it is. The implication seems to be that Sinister has the Virus, even though this mystery is never referenced again. Of course, Sinister was revealed not to be a mutant a few years after this issue was written (although, later on, human Moira McTaggert somehow contracted the disease as well).

“Huh?” Moment
When the X-Men discover a group of homeless people, Beast tells Rogue to “assuage their fears” because she is most “normal in appearance” of the three X-Men. This overlooks the fact that Iceman can revert to human form at any time.

I Love the ‘90s
In the Bullpen Bulletins page, it’s jokingly suggested that Marvel might change its name to “Marvel Grunge Productions”, “Marvel Technoraves”, or “Marvel Fresh Hip Hop Jams”.

This is the introduction of Threnody, another new character from 1993 who never caught on. She did become a cast member in the X-Man series, though, so she’s probably made more appearances than any of the other new characters from this year. Her powers are frankly ridiculous and obviously exist for plot convenience. It’s one thing to have a mutant who turns emotional energy into “plasma energy”. That’s fairly dumb, but it can work in the context of a superhero comic. It’s another thing to suggest that this power only works on mutant emotions, more distinctively, on mutants with a specific disease. That’s ludicrous. Why would her power only single out this one disease? If a mutant dies a painful death of AIDS, nothing happens; but if the mutant dies of an AIDS allegory, suddenly she explodes? I understand the need to introduce a mutant who can find other mutants infected with the Legacy Virus. Figuring out a convenient way to find those infected with the disease would be a logical step in developing the storyline. But revealing that one mutant has a power that only allows her to feel the pain from Legacy Virus victims is way too much of a stretch.

As he often does, Nicieza gives the heroes an ethical dilemma to contemplate. Despite my objects to how specifically Threnody’s powers are defined, he does create a strong question for the team. Is it okay to allow Sinister to take advantage of Threnody’s power, which causes her to live in constant pain, in order to help all mutants? Nicieza’s able to give the X-Men an answer without making them appear unsympathetic. More moral ambiguity is applied to Xavier, which seems to be a trend during this era. Rogue implies that Xavier is using her rather than helping her control her powers. This doesn’t work as well for me, since a) Rogue came to Xavier for help, not the other way around, b) Rogue’s using her powers to actively help people, not for any ominous purposes, c) it’s already been established that Xavier wants to cure Rogue and is concerned for her condition, and d) being cured of her condition wouldn’t prevent Rogue from being an X-Man since she wants to control her powers, not necessarily be totally rid of them. I don’t really know why the “let’s reveal that Xavier secretly has dark motives” theme keeps cropping up, even to this day. Why is Xavier specifically singled out for this? Xavier started a school to train mutants on how to use their powers and to stop mutants who use their powers to harm humans. Where’s the hidden darkness in that?

This is another issue that’s hard to look back on, as so much of it is spent on building up the Legacy Virus storyline. It’s still hard to believe that Marvel spent so many months selling this storyline, only to totally drop it a few years later. Nicieza is successful in giving the team an interesting question to deal with, but it’s hard to get past the way he got there. Fill-in art comes from Richard Bennett, which I thought looked great at the time, but it certainly hasn’t aged well. He does a few more jobs for Marvel before leaving for Jim Lee’s studio.

CABLE #6 – December 1993

Fathers and Sons – Act One, Sunset Breaks
Credits: Fabian Nicieza (writer), Dwayne Turner (penciler), Jon Holdredge & Harry Candelario (inkers), Chris Eliopoulos (letterer), Marie Javins (colorist)

Tolliver reveals to Zero that he is actually Cable’s son, Tyler. Tyler gives this information to Mr. Sinister in order to serve his own interests. Cable visits Madelyne Pryor’s grave with Domino. They’re approached by Mr. Sinister, who reveals to Cable that he’s not Stryfe’s clone, but the actual son of Scott Summers and Madelyne Pryor. He releases Stryfe’s personality from Cable’s body, saying that it will be “the final step in losing him forever”. Stryfe, now possessing Cable, attacks Domino and begins to plot the murder of Cyclops and Jean Grey. A member of the Askani arrives in the present day and observes the X-Men. Tyler and Zero arrive and kidnap her, while Jean senses Stryfe’s return.

Continuity Notes
This storyline is intended to be a definitive origin for Cable and Strfye, and as such, it involves quite a bit of continuity. This is the issue that confirms that Tolliver is Cable’s son, Tyler. It also confirms that Cable isn’t Stryfe’s clone.

Sinister tells Cable that he is the “the perfect blend of genelines and bloodties…the savior, perhaps of his people, and in turn, the planet.” This goes back to the Inferno storyline, where it’s revealed that Sinister created Madelyne Pryor, a clone of Jean Grey, to mate with Cyclops and create powerful offspring.

Sinister also tells Cable “do not think of time as your enemy, but rather, think of yourself as its master. Do not lose yourself to the vagaries of time -- of what may or may not be, what should or should not happen…” Sinister is still implied to be a time traveler, although the origin he’ll be given in a few years doesn’t involve time travel at all. I believe the idea that Sinister has knowledge of the future recently came up again during the Messianic Complex crossover, though.

The Askani are an organization founded in the future by Rachel Summers.

The Cable series finally gets around to doing something, at least. Cable’s origin certainly needed some clarification at this point, and considering his own past motives, Mr. Sinister had to be brought into the series at some point, too. The first part of the storyline is mainly setup and doesn’t give a lot of answers. A lot of the dialogue and narrative captions are intentionally cryptic, and it gets old pretty quickly. It’s not a very good issue, but I like Nicieza’s choices for the cast. Putting Sinister, Tyler, the Askani, Cyclops, Jean Grey, and Stryfe together in one story does kill a lot of birds with one stone, even if might give some readers a headache. Dwayne Turner is the “guest artist”, even though there’s been nothing since the third issue to indicate that this series has a regular artist in the first place. His work here is stronger than his earlier Wolverine fill-ins, but some of the pages still looked rushed.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


#61 (Davis/Farmer/Eliopoulos/Oliver) – Phoenix returns to fight Galactus, generating some of Davis’ strongest artwork in the series. Galactus reveals to the Phoenix Force that it draws energy from life that’s yet to be created, which is treated as a major revelation but it didn’t seem to have any lasting effects on continuity. The rest of the issue is spent on building subplots and a few characterization pieces. After a few chaotic months, the series is back to a clearer focus. I should again point out that Glynis Oliver’s work with mostly flat colors still looks impressive fifteen years later.

#62-#63 (Davis/Farmer/Eliopoulos/Rosas/Moreshead/Thomas/Oliver) – Davis incorporates even more Marvel UK continuity into the series by bringing back RCX and the Warpies. The Warpies were briefly mentioned during the Claremont/Silvestri run on Uncanny X-Men, but had been largely ignored in the American comics. This storyline attempts to explain where they went, while also reintroducing some of Nightcrawler’s more obscure powers. Cerise gives some information on her background (she was never a child and emerged from something called “The Source”) that makes the upcoming Shi’Ar retcon even more nonsensical. There’s quite a bit of continuity in these issues, but the stories are straightforward and Davis doesn’t get bogged down by the backstory.

#64-#65 (Davis/Farmer/Eliopoulos/Oliver) – The Warpie storyline concludes, lasting an issue or two longer than it probably should have. Davis reveals that some of the Marvel UK characters have been in suspended animation for “five years”…which is the amount of time in real life since they were last seen. Did Davis think the Marvel Universe was operating in real time? More X-continuity is established for Phoenix and Nightcrawler. Nightcrawler finally gives a an explanation for his ability to become invisible in shadows (the entrance to the dimension he teleports through constantly surrounds him, distorting light so that he appears invisible in darkness and in shadow in the light). This is a long-forgotten power that Marvel had retroactively decided that Nightcrawler didn’t even have! The references to his shadow invisibility were taken out of the Classic X-Men reprints because Marvel felt that Dave Cockrum had given Nightcrawler just too many powers during his early appearances. Years later, not only does Alan Davis bring the power back, but he even provides a justification for it. The Phoenix Force leaves Rachel in issue #64, but she somehow still has access to the power. This doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. The Phoenix Force leaves this plane of existence because it was drawing energy from life that doesn’t exist yet. If the Phoenix Force is gone from this plane of existence, how does Rachel still have access to the power? I guess the idea is that the Phoenix Force isn’t inside of her anymore, although Rachel can still tap into its power -- but that doesn’t seem like much of a difference to me. At any rate, these are decent issues but certainly not the highlight of Davis’ run.

#66 (Davis/Farmer/Eliopoulos/Moreshead) – Excalibur does its own variation on “Days of Future Past” with “Days of Future Yet to Come”. I believe this is the second sequel to the original story (the first sequel was the “Days of Future Present” annuals in 1990). I don’t think this storyline has ever been reprinted, and its one of Excalibur’s contributions to X-continuity that seems to have been forgotten. It would be interesting to see Marvel reprint all of the variations on the “Days of Future Past” story in one trade paperback. Having Rachel return to her own future is a logical move, and it’s surprising that it took so long for someone to do this story. For some reason, Davis only devotes two issues to this storyline, while the previous Warpies arc lasted almost four issues.

#67 (Davis/Farmer/Chiang/Moreshead/Thomas) – And the Davis run comes to an end. Basically, Rachel Summers goes back to her timeline and reprograms the Sentinels, giving the character something of a happy ending. She refuses to stay in the future because of her connection to Excalibur, even though Marvel will write her out of the book in less than a year. Having Rachel stay in her own time probably would’ve been a more satisfying conclusion for this story, and a more preferable way of writing her out of the series. This doesn’t really feel like the ending of a prolonged run, more like a conclusion to Rachel’s lengthy character arc. Davis doesn’t do any homages to past issues, or work in any goodbye messages. The letters page doesn’t even acknowledge that he’s leaving. It is anticlimactic, but like Davis’ entire run, it’s an entertaining story with striking artwork.

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