Wednesday, April 30, 2008

UNCANNY X-MEN #315 – August 1994

Credits: Scott Lobdell (writer), Roger Cruz (penciler), Green/Rubinstein/LaRosa/Barta (inkers), Chris Eliopoulos (letterer), Steve Buccellato & Marie Javins (colorists)

The Acolytes are placing Neophyte on trial for betraying them in France. If he is found guilty, the sentence is death. Colossus is defending him, while Amelia Voght represents the prosecution. As Exodus is speaking to Magneto’s comatose body, Scanner enters and tells him that the trial is beginning. When she catches a quick glimpse Magneto’s face, Exodus punishes her until she asks for forgiveness. Exodus oversees Neophyte’s trial, as Milan uses his power to replay Neophyte’s recruitment into the Acolytes. As the questioning continues, Voght allows Neophyte to explain why he turned against the Acolytes and decided to follow Charles Xavier’s way. Speaking the name of Xavier causes a fight to break out, as Colossus tries to protect Neophyte. Exodus stops the fighting and tells the Acolytes that he will consult with Magneto and let him decide Neophyte’s fate. As they wait, Voght tells Colossus that she’s realized that the true path lies somewhere between the ways of Xavier and Magneto. When Exodus returns, Colossus gives a final defense for Neophyte’s life. Exodus tells the Acolytes that Magneto has spared Neophyte’s life, but has banned him from Avalon. As the Acolytes leave, Exodus questions if his followers are losing faith in him, while Magneto appears to smile in the background.

Another standalone story shows up in the month before the Phalanx crossover. Roger Cruz does his first work for the X-books by turning in a passable Jim Lee impression. Cruz will regularly work on the X-books until the late ‘90s, and now pencils the X-Men First Class title. This issue appears to be another attempt to redeem Colossus after the events of “Fatal Attractions”. I’ve mentioned before that it seems as if Marvel regretted having Colossus betray the team as soon as it happened, since the stories immediately following the event tried so hard to rationalize his decision (in the final part of the crossover, it was even revealed that he had brain damage). Towards the end of this story, Colossus has a monologue where he realizes that it was his own unwillingness to sacrifice for Xavier’s dream, and not the dream itself, that failed him. This seems to be the final step in having the character redeem himself, even if it seems as if the writers were in no hurry to use him again. Looking back, the whole “Colossus is a traitor” plotline has to be seen as a dud, since it never added anything to his character and was forgotten about as soon as he returned to an X-team. Between Gambit, Psylocke/Kwannon, Colossus, and Xavier/Onslaught, I think there were more than enough “traitor” storylines in the ‘90s.

This issue continues with the idea that Colossus is staying with the Acolytes to teach them about the “true” Magneto. The “true” Magneto he’s referring to would be the Claremont interpretation of the character, the one that “Fatal Attractions” so thoroughly eviscerated. That’s the main problem with this story, as we see Colossus trying to teach the Acolytes about what a compassionate, caring man Magneto was. The Magneto featured most recently in the titles wasn’t a kind, sympathetic man, he was a murderous loon who crashed a little girl’s funeral and casually killed one of his followers for no reason. After witnessing all of this first hand, why would Colossus want to teach anyone about what a good man Magneto was?

The idea of the Acolytes even bothering to put someone on trial is also weakened by Magneto’s previous actions. As one of the Acolytes points out, Magneto killed Senyaka for going against his orders (more specifically, for not asking his permission before an attack). If Magneto was willing to kill someone for acting without orders, what do you think he’d do to someone who betrayed him? It’s bizarre that the writers wanted to continue to present a morally complicated view of Magneto after portraying him as such a hysterical killer in his previous appearance. And the thing is, if Magneto had never behaved so out of character in “Fatal Attractions”, this wouldn’t be a bad story. Colossus trying to teach a group of religious zealots about their leader’s true message of peace isn’t a bad idea; it only falls apart when that leader is just as violent and crazy as his followers are. Reviving Magneto as a heartless villain actually weakens the entire concept of the Acolytes, since the whole idea is that they’re misinterpreting what Magneto stood for (or at the very least, following an example he later regretted). Having Magneto act just as badly as they do just makes them mindless followers, and much less interesting characters.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

X-MEN #35 – August 1994

Sunset Grace
Credits: Fabian Nicieza (writer), Liam Sharp (penciler), Robin Riggs (inker), Bill Oakley (letterer), Digital Chameleon (colorist)

Cyclops and Phoenix awake inside the SHIELD helicarrier. Their minds have just returned to their bodies in St. Barts after being sent into the future. Nick Fury briefs them on a local mutant named Sunset Grace who has opened a rift to another dimension. He sends them on a mission to rescue the SHIELD technicians who are trapped inside the strange world. Cyclops and Phoenix enter the rift and discover that it resembles a child’s fantasy land. Phoenix sees that the technicians are okay and sends them back through the rift with Cyclops’ help. They explore the strange dimension and meet Sunset Grace. She tells them that she first entered this dimension when she was fifteen, but eventually lost interest in it as she grew older. Years later, her family was in a car accident. Grace used her powers to send her husband and son to the other dimension as their car fell from a cliff. However, Grace wasn’t able to follow them because the entrance only opened out of her own desperation. After so many years away, she couldn’t find a way to enter it again. She became catatonic, and a young Professor Xavier was sent to treat her, healing her mind and closing off access to her powers. Her powers didn’t reemerge until Cyclops and Phoenix, not far from her on the beach, were sent into the future by Rachel Summers. The psychic cry Phoenix released apparently awakened her powers. Phoenix uses her powers to reunite Grace with her husband and son inside the dimension, and then leaves with Cyclops. She tells Cyclops that Grace’s husband and child actually died in the car accident, and that she was only being reunited with the memories that she’s kept locked inside for years. Cyclops wonders if it’s right to allow her to stay inside her dream world, but Phoenix replies that her happiness is worth it.

Continuity Notes
This is return of Cyclops and Phoenix to our timeline after their miniseries. The amount of time they say they were (mentally) gone alternates between ten years and twelve years. Nick Fury says that the systems inside the X-Men’s mansion seem to have been disconnected, which is a reference to the upcoming Phalanx storyline.

Production Note
This is the second issue in a row that’s only twenty pages.

It’s more time killing before the Phalanx crossover begins. This story has no bearing on any of the ongoing storylines, although Nicieza does try to connect the loss of Sunset Grace’s family with Cyclops’ reunion with Nathan. It’s kind of a stretch and doesn’t really work. The twist ending isn’t that bad, but it’s not enough to save a mediocre issue. Liam Sharpe’s fill-in art is inconsistent, but I like a few of the pages and he creates some interesting designs for the fantasy dimension. More entertaining than anything in the actual story is a letter in the letters column from a girl in the Philippines who considers herself Gambit’s wife. Her friend Mona is Mrs. Gambit #1 and she’s Mrs. Gambit #2, so not only is she fantasizing about a fictional comic book character, she’s content to be the second wife in their imaginary polygamist marriage. Don’t you miss letter pages?

EXCALIBUR #80 – August 1994

Out of Time
Credits: Scott Lobdell (plot), Chris Cooper (script), Amanda Conner (pencils), Harry Candelario, Randy Elliott, Keith Champagne (inks), Dave Sharpe (letterer), Chris Matthys (colors)

Britanic questions Zero about the cure for the Legacy Virus as Stryfe’s underground base self-destructs. Zero tells him that the knowledge is inside of him but he’s unable to interpret it. The other members of Excalibur protect the human family from the explosions as Zero and Kitty search Stryfe’s computers for a way to stop the self-destruct sequence, or for any way to unlock the Legacy Virus info. Zero decides that the information inside of him is inaccessible and tells Excalibur to rescue the family while he stays behind to manually direct the blast sequences. After getting the family to safety, Douglock goes back to save Zero. Kitty points out to him that acting selflessly goes against his programming for self-preservation. While connected to the base’s computer system, Zero receives a recorded message from Stryfe. He tells him he’ll remove the last of his programming blocks so that he can have full access to the data that could lead to a Legacy Virus cure, but only in the final seconds he has to live. Douglock arrives, and Zero transfers the information to him. Zero is apparently destroyed in a final explosion as Douglock escapes. Back on the surface, Excalibur discovers that they’re inside the Pentagon. Meanwhile, Amanda Sefton tells Rory Campbell that she also saw the image of him as Ahab while in the timestream, and Moira McTaggert tells Professor Xavier that she is the human with the Legacy Virus.

The Zero storyline is finally, finally over. Not only was Zero wrongly shoehorned into this title in the first place, but the actual storyline is extremely tedious and doesn’t add up to much of anything. If the purpose was to have Douglock join the team, shouldn’t the previous three issues have focused on him and not Zero? Douglock having the key to cure the Legacy Virus doesn’t go anywhere, and I honestly don’t remember if it was brought up again. Giving Moira the Legacy Virus is another storyline that’s suddenly introduced and then goes nowhere. I assume she was given the virus to set the stage for more humans contracting the disease, but I’m almost positive that no other humans were diagnosed. Having humans catch a fatal disease from mutants would have greatly escalated the human/mutant conflict, so maybe that’s why Marvel decided to hold off on the idea. An unrecognizable Amanda Conner shows up as the fill-in artist, turning in a fairly awful job. Having three guest inkers probably doesn’t help things, either. Everything about Excalibur at this point feels rushed, half-hearted, and pointless. I knew this stuff was bad as a kid, but I had already decided that I needed Excalibur to be a true X-completist.

Monday, April 28, 2008

X-FORCE #37 – August 1994

The Young and the Restless
Credits: Fabian Nicieza (writer), Paul Pelletier (penciler), Harry Candelario, Scott Hanna, & Charles Barnett (inkers), Chris Eliopoulos (letterer), Monica Bennett (colorist)

Saul, Gideon, and Absalom visit Cannonball and Boomer in Kentucky. Saul tells of the time he met Apocalypse in the twelfth century. Apocalypse, still called En Sabah Nur, traveled to Mongolia to see if Saul was indeed immortal. When Saul showed him the alien spacecraft his tribe discovered fifty years earlier, En Sabah Nur stabbed him in the back and took control of the craft. Absalom tells Cannonball of his past in Wyoming in the late 1800s. When he was hanged for murder, his mutant powers surfaced. He was shot down by the frightened townspeople, but awoke two days later inside a coffin. He vowed not to become the person he once was, but tells Cannonball that he’s never lived up to who he would like to be. He’s now dying of the Legacy Virus and is searching for a meaning to life. Gideon tells the story of his arrival in America. He was a deckhand on the Pinta as Christopher Columbus sailed to America. Gideon died of scurvy on the boat, but awoke the next day. He arrived in the New World and vowed to make the most of his opportunities. These three immortals have come to Kentucky because their fellow External, Burke, used his precognitive powers to see that Cannonball is in some way connected to a cure for the Legacy Virus. Cannonball tells them that he doesn’t know what they’re talking about, and chides them for behaving like frightened children now that death might be coming for them. Angered, Absalom’s powers flare. Gideon assumes that the Legacy Virus is finally killing him, but Absalom holds on to life. Cannonball tells the Externals that they should make their remaining moments matter, regardless of how much time they have left. They leave peacefully, and Cannonball tells Boomer that they’ll live day by day from now on.

Continuity Notes
Absalom lists Selene as one of the Externals, which is the first time she was connected to the group, I believe. He also says that both Nicodemus and Burke have recently died of the Legacy Virus. The alien ship Apocalypse stole from Saul turns out to be Celestial starship X-Factor later used as a base.

Cannonball says that he is twenty, which would make at least one X-Force member no longer a teenager. I wonder if this was done to make the upcoming Generation X characters seem younger. The idea that Cannonball somehow has the key to the cure of the Legacy Virus was never resolved, but I wonder if it was intended to coincide with the Zero storyline going on in Excalibur.

With one issue to kill before the Phalanx crossover, Nicieza decides to go back to the Externals storyline, which already seemed forgotten at this point. Reading any story with the Externals is strange, knowing that Marvel will completely toss out the plotline in a few months. It’s hard not to read these issues and get the feeling that it’s all pointless. The Externals are given an interesting dilemma, facing death for the first time at the hands of the Legacy Virus, even if none of their flashback scenes are that exciting. I do like the fact that Nicieza doesn’t portray them as one-dimensional villains and leaves open the possibility that they could change. Cannonball receives a nice portrayal here, but hearing him talk about the importance of making today matter over and over again gets old. This probably would’ve worked better as a subplot, because it doesn’t feel like there’s enough material to be the main story of the issue. Paul Pelletier does a fine job on the fill-in art, making me wish that more traditional artists like him were used more often in these days.

WOLVERINE # 84 – August 1994

Things That Go Bump In The Night!
Credits: Larry Hama (writer), Ron Wagner (breakdowns), Reinhold/Younger/Palmer/Milgrom (finishes), Yancey Labat & Matt Banning (art assist), Pat Brosseau (letters), Steve Buccellato (colors)

More and more Hunters in Darkness invade the arctic research station. Dr. Smith dies of her wounds, as Wolverine and James and Heather Hudson plan their next move. Harry Tabeshaw is convinced that the Hunter he captured was the last living one, wondering if these others might have been displaced in time. Biologist Dr. DeLong speculates that the Hunters are following the oldest, wisest Hunter and are developing a strategy. Wolverine decides to go outside and find the loading suit that Sverdrup was wearing when he was killed. The others pop flares and thermite to cover him from the nearly blind Hunters as he runs outside. Meanwhile in another section of Canada, the android Albert runs a search for Wolverine and discovers the Hunter in Darkness’ pheromone signature. He questions how the Hunter could still be alive, since Albert and Elsie Dee last saw him in the eighteenth century. Elsie Dee tells Bloodscream the story of how they traveled through time. They discovered a skeleton with adamantium claws in a Siksika burial ground, which tested out to be over two hundred years old. Spiral agreed to send the pair back in time to save Wolverine, but they were unable to find him in the eighteenth century. They befriended the Hunter in Darkness there, who apparently has a special bond with Wolverine. Back in the present, Wolverine puts on the loading suit and fights the Hunters. The oldest Hunter and Wolverine recognize one another, although Wolverine doesn’t understand why he looks so old now. The Hunter stares into his eyes and then leaves, and the others soon follow. Later, Harry Tabeshaw takes Wolverine to visit Silver Fox’s grave.

Continuity Notes
Wolverine first met the Hunter in Darkness in a flashback in Wolverine #34. He saved the Hunter from a bear trap in the woods, during the period when Wolverine was running wild in the wilderness before the Hudsons discovered him.

There are a few moments I like in this issue, but overall it’s fairly weak. The extremely inconsistent art is a major problem, with four inkers doing a rush job over Ron Wagner’s breakdowns, and two more artists brought in to finish the subplot pages. For the most part, it’s just a mess. I do like the fact that Hama tries to ground the Hunters in reality by giving them hunting patterns and biological traits, and Wolverine’s final confrontation with the oldest Hunter isn’t bad. The final scene at Silver Fox’s grave is also nicely done, allowing Wolverine to be sensitive but remain in character. The Elsie Dee subplot is definitely dragging, though. Aside from following up a previous storyline with Spiral and Mojo that didn’t make a lot of sense in the first place (Wolverine #51-#53), it also relies on events that happened “behind the scenes” of previous issues, making things even more convoluted. I know that there’s at least one more issue dedicated to this storyline, but I don’t remember Hama ever getting around to finishing Elsie Dee and Albert’s story arc before leaving the book.

Friday, April 25, 2008

X-FACTOR #105 – August 1994

Final Sacrifice
Credits: J. M. DeMatteis & Todd Dezago (plot), Todd Dezago (script), Bryan Hitch (pencils), Andy Lanning (inks), Glynis Oliver (colors), Starking/Comicraft (letters)

The Nasty Boys fight Malice, as Mr. Sinister grabs the unconscious Polaris. Guido and Wolfsbane arrive and try to stop the Nasty Boys, refusing to believe Sinister when he tells them that Malice is possessing Havok’s body. Polaris recovers and stops their fight with the Nasty Boys. Malice releases Havok’s power, seriously injuring Guido, Wolfsbane, and the Nasty Boys. Polaris fights back, and Sinister orders a weakened Malice to leave Havok’s body and take over Polaris’. Polaris reluctantly agrees, realizing that this is the only way to free Havok. Malice threatens to take over Polaris’ body forever as punishment for interfering. As she leaves Havok’s body, he realizes what’s going on and fights to keep her out of Polaris. The conflict tears Malice apart, as her spirit form dissolves, leaving behind only her choker. Sinister tells Havok that he saved their lives for his own reasons, as he teleports away with the Nasty Boys. Meanwhile, a man who resembles Jaime Madrox enters X-Factor’s headquarters. He goes through their home and is shocked to discover a photo of Madrox with the team.

Continuity Note
Sinister tells Malice that he’s well aware of what Threnody is doing behind his back, which is a reference to the recent story X-Men #34.

The Malice storyline finally ends, after dragging for at least an issue too long. The resolution is clever, but it all seems anticlimactic after such a long buildup. Bryan Hitch pencils the first of several fill-in jobs he’ll do for the X-books during the ‘90s. I don’t know if he was considered too slow for a monthly or if Marvel was just content with their regular artists, but his work here is strong. For some reason, I didn’t care for Hitch’s fill-ins when I first saw them as a kid, but they hold up a lot better than most of the art from this era.

What’s really notable about this issue is the return of Jaime Madrox…just five issues after his death. He returns so quickly, the letters column is only now printing letters about his death issue! I really have no idea what Marvel was thinking with Madrox’s death. It’s something they wanted to do since the Peter David issues, and they went through with it less than a year after he left as writer. Since Madrox would have the least convincing death of any member, I don’t know if Marvel chose him due to the ease of brining him back, or if they really thought that the audience would buy it. Bringing him back just five issues later leads me to believe that his return was planned all along -- and yet this scene is totally ignored for years. In fact, a later letter column will just tell readers to forget about this scene (which is still one of the strangest things I’ve ever read on a letters page). So it seems as if Marvel had second thoughts about bringing him back immediately after this issue came out (just as bringing him back in this issue also implies that they quickly had second thoughts about his death in the first place). Madrox did eventually come back, and I vaguely recall some lip service paid to this issue, but it was clear that the actual story of his return wasn’t planned at this stage. Despite their flaws, the storylines in the X-books at this time do tend to have a forward momentum, but this erratic backtracking with Madrox is a sign of some of the chaotic storytelling that affects the titles as the ‘90s go on.

CABLE #14 – August 1994

Fear & Loathing Part Three
Credits: Glenn Herdling (writer), Steve Skroce (penciler), Mike Sellers (inker), Marie Javins (colorist), Starkings/Comicraft (lettering)

D’Spayre fights Belasco for another chance to toy with Cable and Lee Forrester. Belasco defeats him and sends him away. Belasco explains to Cable that the Nexus of All Realities has been expanding at a rapid rate and will soon swallow the Earth. Belasco wants to use Cable to stop the force that’s causing the Nexus’ growth. He explains to Cable that his former servant S’ym and another demon N’astirh tried to sacrifice Cable as a baby in order to create a permanent link between Earth and Limbo. The X-Men stopped them, but now S’ym is using the Nexus to link Earth to Limbo again. Belasco thinks that Cable’s techno-organic body can stop S’ym, who suddenly appears. Cable has a fistfight with S’ym, and telekinetically stabs him in the chest with a piece of wood. He punches out S’ym and he disappears. Belasco tells Cable that S’ym is defeated and returns Cable and Lee to the Everglades.

Continuity Notes
Belasco is the former ruler of Limbo. He was succeeded by his servant S’ym, who was later defeated by his own servant, N’astirh. N’astirh manipulated Cable’s mother Madelyne Pryor into trying to sacrifice him during the “Inferno” storyline.

Creative Differences
There are a couple of re-lettered balloons, but the only one that really stands out is an entire balloon that’s been changed to have Cable stress that Madelyne Pryor was manipulated into being another person during “Inferno”.

Another aspect of ‘80s continuity returns in this issue with the reintroductions of Belasco and S’ym. Belasco was originally a Ka-Zar villain who somehow ended up as a semi-regular villain in the X-books during the ‘80s. S’ym appeared a few times in New Mutants, playing a major role in the “Inferno” crossover before going into obscurity. Since a large part of that storyline involved attempts by demons to sacrifice Cable when he was a baby, it’s not a bad springboard for a new story. How exactly Cable feels about his mother had never been dealt with either, so bringing this stuff up again is a smart move on Herdling’s part. Unfortunately, the story just treats Cable as a generic superhero, without establishing his feelings whatsoever about anything that’s going on. Cable’s fighting a demon that helped to manipulate his mother into sacrificing him as a baby, and he acts as if he’s just stopping a bank robber. There’s no indication that Cable cares anything about what’s going on, and the story doesn’t offer any insights into how this knowledge Cable affects at all.

The ending also doesn’t make sense, and seems to contradict the setup Belasco gives earlier in the story. Belasco needs Cable’s techno-organics to stop S’ym, which I assume is a reference to a previous storyline in New Mutants (S’ym was infected with the T-O virus at some point in the story, although this issue doesn’t bring that up). However, Cable stops S’ym by stabbing him with a piece of wood and then punching him out. What does that have to do with techno-organics? Herdling tries to cover for this with this ridiculous line from Belasco, “for reasons too complicated to go into, you offered…the right touch necessary to defeat him.” So if the ending doesn’t make sense, that means it’s just too complicated for us to understand. I wonder if the original ending involved Cable doing something elaborate with his techno-organic body, and perhaps Marvel decided to back away from giving Cable that power. I don’t know. At any rate, it’s a very disappointing ending to an issue that actually had a promising setup.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

X-MEN #34 – July 1994

Life and Consequences
Credits: Fabian Nicieza (writer), Andy Kubert (breakdowns), Matt Ryan (finished art), Bill Oakley (letterer), Digital Chameleon (colorist)

Using information given to them by Sabretooth, Gambit, Psylocke, Rogue, and Beast sneak into one of Mr. Sinister’s bases to find information on the Legacy Virus. It’s located under the State Home for Foundlings in Nebraska, the orphanage where Cyclops grew up. After defeating a defective clone of the Marauder Riptide, they discover Threnody hooked up to an elaborate device. The machinery allows her to stay lucid and control her powers. She tells the X-Men that she’s been using Sinister’s technology to learn all of the information he’s complied. When the X-Men ask her about leaving, she says that she’s using Sinister just as he’s using her. When Threnody learns about the Riptide clone that attacked the X-Men, she shocked because the cloning chambers haven’t been used since she arrived. Riptide’s cloning partner, a weak Sabretooth clone, appears and is easily defeated by Rogue. Beast doesn’t see any information on the Legacy Virus, but the X-Men learn that Sinister has genetic material on countless people, allowing him to clone them at any time. Against Beast’s wishes, Threnody decides to destroy Sinister’s genetic database. Beast tries to convince her to leave, but Threnody wants to stay and learn more from Sinister while sabotaging his work. The X-Men reluctantly allow her to stay.

Continuity Notes
Sinister’s lab is inside a “pocket-dimensional tesseract chamber”. Beast says that his ability to access it explains Sinister’s ability to teleport (uh...okay). This issue also confirms that the Marauders who returned from the dead were clones. How exactly Riptide’s clone appeared in this issue isn’t explained, although I guess it’s supposed to imply that Sinister is in control of programs that Threnody isn’t aware of. Based on subsequent stories, the information Threnody destroyed didn’t seem to affect Sinister.

Rogue tells Threnody that the price she’ll pay for working with Sinister is “th’ bleedin’ of your soul”. Gambit hears the phrase and questions where he’s heard it before. This could be seen as an early hint at his past with Sinister, but I think it’s supposed to tie in with the subplot about Rogue taking on Bella Donna’s characteristics. I don’t think the “Bella Donna is inside Rogue” subplot was ever resolved.

Miscellaneous Note
The previous issue was only nineteen pages, while this one is twenty. This reminds me of the early issues of X-Force, which would often cut stories short.

I liked this issue as a kid, because it looked like Threnody’s storyline wasn’t going to be forgotten, and the vague hints given about Sinister intrigued me. It holds up okay until the ending, which doesn’t make a lot of sense. Why would Threnody suddenly decide to destroy Sinister’s genetic databank? It seems strange that she would impulsively decide to wipe out so much of Sinister’s research, even with the Beast telling her not to. If she had such a problem with Sinister having this information, why didn’t she do this sooner? And even if it takes months for Sinister to notice what she’s done, her actions are still going to undermine her goal of learning from Sinister’s data (and, of course, put her life in danger). Up until the irrational ending, though, this isn’t that bad. It’s nice to see the X-Men initiate the action in a story instead of just reacting to a threat. Nicieza does a decent job of developing the various character arcs as the story unfolds, so the issue doesn’t feel as if it’s just killing time until the upcoming crossover starts. Andy Kubert only provides breakdowns in this issue, but Matt Ryan’s finishes give the book a look consistent with the previous issues. It actually looks identical to the previous issues when Ryan was only inking, which says a lot about his drawing abilities.

The X-Men are shown to be genuinely concerned about Threnody, which probably needed to be clearly established since they let Sinister take her away in her previous appearance. I should point out that nothing in that issue indicated that Sinister was actually going to harm Threnody (he wanted to use her powers to find Legacy Virus victims, not experiment on her), but letting one of their nastiest enemies walk away with a mutant didn’t exactly present the X-Men in the best light. I wonder if someone at Marvel realized that, because her storyline was followed up on pretty quickly (judging by the standards of the time, at least). Of course, the X-Men don’t come across much better in this issue, as they let her stay with Sinister, knowing what he’ll probably do to her for destroying his research.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

EXCALIBUR #79 – July 1994

Twisted Logic
Credits: Scott Lobdell (plot), Chris Cooper (script), Ken Lashley (pencils), Harry Candelario & Randy Elliott (inks), Dave Sharpe (lettering), Chris Matthys (colors)

Zero teleports Excalibur and the family they rescued to one of Stryfe’s hidden bases under the Pentagon. There are over three thousand inert droids inside the base, but Zero says that this is the last place the active droids will look for him. Kitty Pryde is angry with Douglock for assuming Doug Ramseys’ appearance, but he doesn’t understand why. When Zero learns that Meggan senses feelings and emotions inside of him, he realizes that he is now a sentient being. His sentience allows him to overcome Stryfe’s programming, which causes the inert droids to begin self-destructing. Zero says that the droids will stop at nothing to kill him in order to destroy the knowledge he’s unlocked -- the secret of the Legacy Virus. Meanwhile, an enraged Stephen Lang senses that Doug Ramsey is missing from the Phalanx. A mystery man tells him to calm down and to focus on their grand plan. On Muir Island, Moira McTaggert and Professor Xavier study the development of the Legacy Virus. A distraught Moira shows Xavier a DNA model that confirms that the Legacy Virus can spread to humans.

Continuity Notes
In one brief scene, Val Cooper gives Forge a file on Kitty Pryde’s father, but Forge thinks that the information is too unreliable to act on. I know that Kitty Pryde’s father is considered dead today, but I don’t remember where this specific subplot went. I vaguely remember it staying in the background of Warren Ellis’ run.

How exactly humans can contract the Legacy Virus isn’t explained, although it’s worth mentioning that the Adventures of Cyclops and Phoenix miniseries established that it was originally developed to kill humans. The Legacy Virus is supposed to kill mutants by turning their powers against them (although it only seemed to give Illyana the flu), so I’m not sure what it would do to a human. A future issue will reveal that Moira has the virus (in another storyline that never goes anywhere).

The Zero storyline drags on. Apparently, the idea was to set up Zero as a means to cure the Legacy Virus, but that concept was dropped quickly. Aside from being a tiresome story in its own right, it’s even more disappointing to know that all of the ideas being established are just going to be ignored soon anyway. The only aspect of the story that relates to any of the actual cast members of the title is Kitty’s reaction to Douglock. Their scene together doesn’t work at all, not only because the emotions ring false, but because the story also doesn’t bother to explain their past together. Not only does this storyline assume that you care about minor characters from another spinoff, but it expects you to automatically care about the relationship between two characters from the early ‘80s. Excalibur seems to be taking Cable’s place as weakest spinoff at this point.


Credits: Scott Lobdell (writer), Gene Ha (penciler), Al Vey, Bill Anderson, Al Milgrom, & Joe Rubinstein (inkers), Kevin Somers (colorist), Starkings/Comicraft (lettering)

Nathan’s techno-organic virus is out of control, apparently as a reaction to his body going through puberty. Turrin tells Scott and Jean that he’ll probably die in a few hours. Rachel Summers mentally appears to Nathan and tells him that he’ll need to use his telekinetic powers to overcome the virus. Jean leaves on a mission to destroy another one of Apocalypse’s labs while Scott stays with Nathan. When she arrives, Ch’vayre asks her to help him stop Apocalypse from overtaking Stryfe’s body. Nathan pulls his body together and returns to consciousness. He tells Scott that he senses that Jean needs their help. Jean and Ch’vayre try to stop Apocalypse, but are unsuccessful. When Apocalypse senses that Stryfe is a clone and not the original, he alters his plan to only temporarily take his body until he can find the original Nathan Summers. Scott and Nathan arrive and use their powers in unison with Jean to fight Apocalypse. Nathan blocks Stryfe’s telepathic connection to Apocalypse, as Jean senses nothing in Apocalypse’s host body. Jean and Scott begin to fade away from the timeline. Rachel appears to them, explaining that her physical body died hours ago and that she can no longer keep them here. As they prepare to return to their original bodies, Rachel asks Jean to take the name “Phoenix” back. Scott says goodbye to Nathan as he disappears, and Nathan pledges to restore the dream that Apocalypse destroyed.

Continuity Notes
Apocalypse says that he named Stryfe after an “ancient enemy” who almost killed him, forcing him to grow stronger. He’s referring to Stryfe’s actions in “X-Cutioner’s Song”, which means that Stryfe was named after himself.

Rachel tells Nathan that his powers are strong enough to “sense a stray thought a continent away” and “extinguish a star with something less than a conscious effort”. This is the first time Cable’s been referred to as super-powerful.

Apocalypse lists Holocaust as one of the mutants he’s outlived. Holocaust still hasn’t appeared in continuity yet, but he did receive a profile in Stryfe’s Strike File.

Jean Grey takes the name “Phoenix” again for the first time since 1980. She takes it back to honor Rachel and the work she’s done in the future.

It’s just as dull as the previous issues, unfortunately. I guess there’s nothing egregiously terrible about the story, but there’s absolutely nothing engaging about it either. At no point in any of these issues did I care about any of the characters, nor was I surprised by any of the plot developments. It’s just four straight issues of complete tediousness. Scott Lobdell did an admirable job on the Scott/Jean engagement issue, so I’m sure he could’ve turned out a miniseries about the characters that was at least competent. Instead, we get four pointless issues about Li’l Cable and his boring parents. If aging Cyclops and Phoenix ten years in the future was supposed to add something to the characters, I’m at a loss to explain what it was supposed to be. I think Ha’s art was supposed to carry a lot of the story, but most of the future designs he developed for the series aren’t that impressive. It’s a forgettable series, and it’s sad that Marvel charged twice its normal cover price for each issue.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

X-FACTOR #104 – July 1994

Malicious Intent!
Credits: J. M. DeMatteis & Todd Dezago (plot), Todd Dezago (script), Jan Duursema (penciler), Al Milgrom (inker), Starkings/Comicraft (lettering), Glynis Oliver (colorist)

Havok, possessed by Malice, fights Polaris in Hawaii. Malice tells Polaris that she can feel Mr. Sinister calling her back again, but she refuses to give in to it. She tells Polaris that she’d rather see her die than possess her again. Polaris is able to briefly contain Havok and go back to their hotel room to call for help. There, she finds Beatrice Conners, the government agent Malice possessed months ago. Polaris calls for help, but Havok shows up unexpectedly and blasts the phone. Malice, through Havok, tells Polaris that if she doesn’t surrender, she’ll kill Conners. Meanwhile, Guido has dinner with his childhood girlfriend. She tells him that their relationship was just a childhood crush, and admits that she couldn’t be involved with a mutant. Wolfsbane comforts Guido’s cousin Anthony about the possibility that he might be a mutant, then consoles Guido when he returns from his date. Val Cooper arrives to take the pair to Hawaii to help Polaris. Back in Hawaii, Malice prepares to kill Polaris when Mr. Sinister arrives with the Nasty Boys.

Continuity Notes
Malice possessed Polaris back in Uncanny X-Men #219, working for Mr. Sinister as a Marauder. She controlled her body for years, and at one point Sinister claimed that the two were permanently linked. In this issue, Malice says that it took months for her to escape Polaris’ body and that she’s been hiding from Sinister ever since.

This is another installment of X-Factor that just moves too slowly. The story is mostly dedicated to a possessed Havok fighting Polaris, with a few brief scenes to set up the next issue. There are some attempts at characterization with the Guido/Wolfsbane subplot, but they feel a little thin. Duursema does a decent job with the action sequences, but they drag on for too long. Bringing back Malice isn’t a bad idea, and seeing a forgotten character from the Silvestri era delighted me as a kid, but the events of the previous issue and this one just don’t deserve forty-four pages. All that’s essentially happened is that Polaris comforts Havok in Hawaii, Guido and Rahne visit his hometown, then Malice possesses Havok and fights Polaris. The storyline isn’t even over yet, as it drags on for at least another issue. With the regular writer leaving and a crossover looming, it feels as if the book’s just killing time.

WOLVERINE #83 – July 1994

Cold Comfort
Credits: Larry Hama (writer), John Nadeau (pencils), Bud LaRosa & Keith Champagne (inkers), Pat Brosseau (lettering), Digital Chameleon (coloring)

Catching a ride with Harry Tabeshaw, Wolverine visits James and Heather Hudson at an arctic research station. The melting ice has released a giant wolf-like creature Wolverine recognizes as the Hunter in Darkness. Wolverine’s pilot friend Harry Tabeshaw is the only man to have ever captured one of the Hunters, and tries to warn the research scientists not to go out at night. One of the scientists, Simpson, ignores his warnings and goes out in the dark, accidentally letting the Hunter inside. He cuts her and hides within the research facility. James and Heather Hudson try to hunt it in their Guardian suits, but it escapes. Another scientist, Sverdrup, tries to stop the Hunter with a freight-loader suit and is killed. The Hunter escapes, as Tabeshaw tries to suture Simpson’s wounds. The Hudsons make plans to hide Simpson inside the dry freezer while the others go hunting. Tabeshaw warns against hunting it, telling them that the best thing to do is barricade the door and stay inside. Outside, the Hunter in Darkness calls out in the night to other Hunters. Meanwhile, Bloodscream convinces Elsie Dee and Albert that he has to see Wolverine immediately. Albert access government databases and learns that Wolverine is in Canada, also.

This issue seems to have been done as an homage to Alien, with one character outright referencing Sigourney Weaver. The Hunter in Darkness is essentially a big, dumb animal, so he’s not that interesting of a villain, but he is at least a credible opponent for Wolverine. Most of the issue is action-oriented, which doesn’t seem to suit guest artist John Nadeau. The coloring is off-register on a lot of the pages again, which is getting annoying. Hama continues to play up the idea that Wolverine might die soon by having him ask James Hudson to handle his estate. This is almost a year after Wolverine was injured, so Hama’s at least committed to selling the idea even if no one thinks Marvel will go through with it. I’ve read before that Hama never liked taking the adamantium away from Wolverine, but he never lets that creep into the stories. He doesn’t just ignore the event and tell the same Wolverine stories with bone claws; he has the character respond realistically and uses the experience as a springboard for new stories. The character scenes between Wolverine and the Hudsons are nice, even if they are too brief. If the action scenes weren’t so bland, this would be a much stronger issue.

Monday, April 21, 2008

CABLE #13 – July 1994

Fear and Loathing Part 2 – A Kiss Before Dying!
Credits: Glenn Herdling (scripter), Steve Skroce (penciler), Sellers/Conrad/Champagne (inkers), Marie Javins (colorist), Starkings/Comicraft (lettering)

Cable and Lee Forrester escape a hurricane in the Florida Everglades. While running to safety, Cable falls into quicksand. Lee can’t save him, but Cable manages to use his telekinetic powers to lift himself out of the quicksand. That night, they discover a cabin in the swamp. An old man named Desmond offers to take them in, but they’re unnerved by his cryptic comments. A mystery man named Lucas appears at the door, saying that he doesn’t want Desmond to start the game without him. That night, Cable has violent flashbacks to the day his wife died, and Lee sees a vision of her father’s suicide. Cable sees images of every woman who has left him, while Lee has another vision of Magneto murdering Cyclops. When Cable hallucinates himself wearing Stryfe’s armor, he demands to know who the old man is. He reveals himself to be D’Spayre. D’Spayre tries to feed off of Cable and Lee’s grief, but the two kiss one another and anchor themselves in reality. Lucas reappears, telling D’Spayre that his time is up. He takes off his skin and reveals himself as Belasco.

Production Note
For some reason, this issue has a new logo. It’s a pretty bizarre design and only lasts for one issue.

Continuity Notes
Cable is barely able to use his telekinetic powers to lift himself out of the quicksand at this point. He collapses from the effort and needs time to recover.

Creative Differences
A couple of word balloons have obviously been re-lettered (Starkings is using computer fonts at this point, but the corrected balloons are obviously done by hand). One balloon has Lee explicitly saying that her father committed suicide, another has Cable comment that he’s been turned into Stryfe, and both D’Spayre and Belasco have altered balloons referencing D’Spayre’s recent Excalibur appearance.

There’s not a lot to say about this issue, except that Steve Skroce makes his debut as artist. Skroce will stay with Marvel for the next few years, usually working on the X-books. Ever since he worked on the first Matrix movie, his comics work has been extremely sporadic. His work here isn’t very impressive, but I admit that it’s nice see an artist not doing a bad impression of Jim Lee, Rob Liefeld, or Todd McFarlane. Skroce’s work almost reminds me of Bart Sears’ earlier art, with a lot of wavy lines and characters that look like they’re about to melt. Some of the pages aren’t bad, but a lot of the work is just ugly. He’ll get better as the years go on, doing decent work on Gambit and Wolverine. I thought he also did an admirable job with Alan Moore’s scripts during their very brief Youngblood run.

Glenn Herdling again finishes another writer’s story (if Lobdell contributed to this one, he’s not credited), by basically turning this issue into a sequel to one of Lee Forrester’s first appearances. That means bringing back D’Spayre just a month or so after he returned from obscurity in Excalibur. Since all of the references to the Excalibur storyline are in re-lettered word balloons, I’m inclined to believe that Herdling had no idea anyone else would be using him when he wrote this script. Pitting tough guy Cable against an enemy he can’t physically beat isn’t a bad idea, and using Lee Forrester as the impetus to bring D’Spayre back works pretty well. It’s an average story, but it moves at a decent pace and doesn’t feel as aimless as many of the previous issues of this series. Herdling portrays Cable as being more lighthearted than usual, making him feel more like a traditional Marvel hero and less like a hard-edged soldier. It makes the issue read kind of odd in a few places, but I’ll give him credit for trying to give Cable a little more personality.

EXCALIBUR #78 – June 1994

Fire in the Wild
Credits: Scott Lobdell (plot), Chris Cooper (script), John Ryle (pencils), Harry Candelario (inks), Babcock/Brosseau (lettering), Chris Matthys (coloring)

Zero meets Douglock while hiding out from Stryfe’s droids. Douglock questions why Zero is doing illogical things like building a fire when he is inorganic. Zero explains to Douglock that they must understand and define their purpose in the world. Meanwhile, Excalibur is hovering in their jet nearby. Britanic felt summoned to this area, but doesn’t understand why. Kitty calls her mother and asks about her father, but she hasn’t seen him in months, either. Below, Zero meets a young girl who is camping with her family. Douglock questions why Zero didn’t terminate her in order to cover his tracks from Stryfe’s droids. Zero explains to him that terminating life is wrong, and that he not only freed Douglock from the Phalanx for help, but also because he sensed that he was different from the others. Zero prompts a memory playback for Douglock, showing him his death as Doug Ramsey, sacrificing his life for his fellow New Mutants. Stryfe’s droids appear and attack the girl’s family. Excalibur arrives and protects the family with Zero’s help. Douglock goes against his Phalanx programming to save Kitty Pryde and the young girl. Zero uses his power to eliminate the droids, but an army of backups arrives. Zero teleports everyone away, as the replacement droids continue their pursuit. Back on Muir Island, Xavier arrives to help Moira McTaggert research the Legacy Virus.

Continuity Note
Xavier putting Beast in charge of the school in X-Men #31 was a prelude to him studying the Legacy Virus on Muir Island, but his dialogue in that issue was intentionally vague. I’m not sure how exactly studying the Legacy Virus is his way of “making amends” for “recent actions” he had taken.

The Zero storyline continues, inexplicably in Excalibur. Zero was a recurring character in X-Force, going back to the Rob Liefeld issues. He never appeared in Excalibur before this story, and had nothing to do with any of the characters. Not only has Marvel brought Excalibur’s continuity closer to the other X-books at this point, but now the book’s acting as if it’s interchangeable with an entirely different title. I can’t imagine why a regular Excalibur reader would care anything about Zero being chased by Strfye’s droids for an entire issue (there’s no explanation of who Stryfe is, either) unless they were already an X-completist. The cast of the book isn’t given hardly anything to do, except Kitty Pryde who briefly reacts to Douglock. I can understand using Douglock as a way to pull Excalibur into the Phalanx storyline (due to Kitty’s past with Doug), but all of this stuff with Zero seems pointless. It’s pretty bad, and it’s not hard to understand why I’ve totally forgotten this storyline over the years.

Friday, April 18, 2008

X-MEN UNLIMITED #5 – June 1994

Hard Promises
Credits: John Francis Moore (writer), Liam Sharp (penciler), Conrad/Moncuse/Riggs/Ryan (inkers), Starkings/Comicraft (lettering), Marie Javins (colorist)

Professor Xavier, Forge, Storm, and Jubilee are summoned by a Shi’ar envoy to the Kree planet of Hala. Lilandra wants the X-Men represented at a ceremony to induct the Kree into the Shi’ar Empire. As a part of a scheme by the Kree’s Supreme Intelligence, the Shi’ar were manipulated into creating a negabomb that destroyed most of the Kree. The Shi’ar have taken over their planet, and Lilandra has placed her sister Deathbird as governor of the Kree in order to keep her actions in plain sight, and to hopefully suppress her thirst for power. At the celebration, Jubilee meets a young Kree girl named Shym’r. She’s taken away quickly by her older brother, Trigor. Trigor soon tries to assassinate Deathbird, and when that fails, kills himself in a suicide bombing.
That night, Jubilee explores the city of Kree’lar and finds Shym’r again. Shym’r takes her to meet the other members of the Kree Resistance. Two of the members, Visog and Dantella, are willing to kill Jubilee, but their leader, Malakii, spares her life. Jubilee arranges a meeting between Malakii and Lilandra. Convinced that the two will not come to an understanding, Visog and Dantella go off on their own. Jubilee and Shym’r follow them and discover their plan to destroy a Shi’ar stargate outside of Hala. Dantella knocks out Jubilee and Shym’r before they can tell the others.
Meanwhile, Lilandra’s meeting with Malakii is interrupted by Shi’ar authorities. Feeling that she shouldn’t be seen meeting with terrorists, Lilandra and the others escape to the rail tunnels. They soon discover that Visog and Dantella have left in the Kree’s shuttle. They follow the Kree rebels in an old freighter and make contact with Visog. He tells Malakii that he’s using the shuttle as a bomb to destroy the stargate. Visog kills Dantella when she doubts the plan, and then commits suicide as the shuttle reaches the stargate. Forge and Malakii enter the shuttle and alter the frequency of the destruction to resonate with the stargate’s energy, rather than destroy it. They succeed in stopping the stargate’s destruction, but when they return to Hala, Deathbird demands the arrests of Malakii and Shym’r. Lilandra agrees, explaining to Xavier that allowing Malakii to go free would encourage more acts of terror. Xavier begins to understand, but realizes that Lilandra’s role as empress will always stand between them. He returns to Earth, unsure of their relationship.

Continuity Note
The Shi’ar defeated the Kree in the “Operation Galactic Storm” crossover, which went through the Avengers titles in the early ‘90s.

Approved By The Comics Code Authority
Virtually every female in this issue, including Jubilee, appears scantily clad at some point. Shi’ar formal wear must be inspired by back issues of Heavy Metal. Storm seems to be suffering from the “Boobs Larger Than Head” syndrome on a few pages.

I Love the ‘90s
Jubilee compares the Shi’ar ceremony to “Lalapalooza” (which isn’t the way the music festival spelled its name, but it’s apparently an accepted spelling of the word it’s named after).

The original idea behind X-Men Unlimited was that each issue would feature a big event for the X-Men. Considering the fact that every issue was 64 pages and cost four dollars, that’s an admirable goal. The first four issues saw the introduction of a new villain (who was supposed to be a big deal), the return of Magneto, Sabretooth “joining” the X-Men, and the long-awaited origin of Nightcrawler. By the time we get to the fifth issue, it’s a story about a few X-Men fighting Kree terrorists and Xavier kinda breaking up with his girlfriend that we never see. In terms of just telling a story, it is a lot better than the previous issue; but in terms of doing anything meaningful with the characters or continuity, it’s a huge letdown. The Shi’ar were introduced in Uncanny X-Men and were a large part of the Claremont run, so I can understand why some fans would want to see their role in “Operation Galactic Storm” dealt with in an X-book, but that still doesn’t feel like much of a “big event”. Five issues in, and the book’s already turning out overpriced inventory stories.

To his credit, Moore does create a story that fits into the 64 page format well, and he at least tries to use the Kree to make observations about the featured X-Men. I’m not really a fan of putting the X-Men in science fiction settings, but the story does a decent job of giving the aliens relatable personalities, at least. I like the way the ending shows Lilandra’s willingness to make hard decisions without making her totally unsympathetic (after seeing what’s happened to Iron Man, Xavier, and Spider-Man in recent years, I’d say Marvel’s current writers have lost that trick). It still reads like an inventory story, though, which isn’t what this series was intended to be.

X-FACTOR #103 – June 1994

Friends and Family
Credits: J. M. DeMatteis and Todd Dezago (plot), Todd Dezago (script), Jan Duursema (penciler), Al Milgrom (inker), Starkings/Comicraft (lettering), Glynis Oliver (colorist)

Random takes Guido and Wolfsbane to visit Guido’s aunt and uncle in upstate New York. They ask Random to stay, but he refuses. In Hawaii, Polaris tracks down Havok. She tells him that she’ll support whatever decision he makes, and if he quits the team, she’ll join him. The two spend a romantic day together while Polaris tries to assuage his guilt over Madrox’s death. The entire time, they’re being watched by a mysterious woman. In Washington, Val Cooper submits a report about Madrox’s death, but refuses to confirm to the government that he had the Legacy Virus. She leads them to believe that the disease has been quarantined in Genosha. Wolfsbane gets a sudden feeling that something’s wrong with Havok, but Guido reminds her that Haven cured her of her connection to him. Back in Hawaii, Polaris discovers that Havok has been possessed by Malice.

“Huh?” Moment
Random implies that the house they’re visiting must belong to poor people, but it looks like a nice two-story home to me. Since Guido tells him that he’s rich but his family isn’t, I think we’re really supposed to believe that this house is a lot more humble than it is.

J. M. DeMatteis’ run on the title approaches its end, as Todd Dezago (in his first pro work, I think), co-writes this issue. Ever since the end of the Peter David run, I’ve noticed that the storylines in this book tend to evolve pretty slowly, and this issue is no exception. Most of the issue consists of character-based scenes, as the Malice storyline continues to build leisurely. Guido’s cousin is given a very brief scene where he questions whether or not he’ll grow up to be normal, but I can’t tell if it’s supposed to be foreshadowing for a future storyline or just Claremont-style monologuing. Val Cooper is also given a brief scene that raises an interesting idea -- should the X-teams keep the Legacy Virus a secret? Since the various X-teams are obviously coming from a pro-mutant perspective, it’s not surprising that they would try to keep the disease quiet in order to prevent more hysteria. That’s also an elitist point of view, though, assuming that the public can’t handle the truth. If the Virus has spread to America, you could also make the argument that the X-teams have an obligation to alert the Centers for Disease Control, at least. This idea is only brought up once again, from what I can remember, in X-Men Prime. The moral implications are just given lip service, and it seems like the concept is brought up mainly to create conflict between Beast and his reporter girlfriend. It’s too bad the writers never really explored the idea.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

X-MEN ANNUAL #3 – 1994

Heart and Soul
Credits: Ian Edginton (writer), Gene Ha (penciler), Rubinstein/Lowe/Green/Wiacek/Sellers/Pepoy/Moy (inkers), Pat Brosseau (letterer), Joe Rosas (colorist)

Storm receives roses from Shinobi Shaw, with a message inviting her to dinner. She cuts her finger on a thorn and begins to behave strangely. Against Xavier’s wishes, she joins Shaw for dinner at the Hellfire Club. After the meal, Shaw explains to her that he’s changed his ways after Psylocke’s psychic knife opened up his repressed memories, forcing him to realize that he was pointlessly following his father’s example. He now wants to use the Hellfire Club’s power to stop famine and war throughout the world. He asks Storm to join him, and she agrees to sleep on the decision. After she leaves, Candra comes out of hiding. Shaw brags that Storm will soon belong to him, but Candra says that she will belong to her, just as he does. That night, Storm has a nightmare about having her powers taken away and given to a young African refugee, who will use them to help more people. Storm leaves her bed and returns to the Hellfire Club’s mansion. She meets Shaw and the new members of the Hellfire Club. Shaw reveals that he drugged the flowers and her meal, causing her to let go of her inhibitions and embrace her darker nature. When Storm tries to resist Shaw, she’s kidnapped. The X-Men arrive as Shaw is attempting to inject her with more drugs. They fight the new Hellfire Club, until Storm corners Shaw. If he uses his phasing powers to stop her heart, the electromagnetic field she’s generated will electrocute him. When Storm asks him if he’s willing to die for his beliefs, Shaw lets her go. Back at the mansion, Xavier explains to Storm that the feelings Shaw exploited exist within everyone, and that sparing Shaw’s life showed how strong her will truly is.

Continuity Notes
The new Hellfire Club members, Benedict Kine, Benazier Kaur, and Reeva Payge, are introduced. Kine can manipulate nervous systems, Kaur apparently can accelerate diseases, and Payge uses sonic powers to control the brain’s neurochemistry. These are characters so obscure I don’t think even Frank Tieri bothered to kill them off.
For some reason, I decided as a kid that this comic must take place before the Phalanx crossover. Looking back, I have no idea why I placed it before those issues even though it came out months later. Does anyone have any ideas?

Commercial Break
There’s an ad for the “First Annual Marvel Survey”, which asks such prescient questions as “Should Wolverine get his adamantium skeleton and claws back?”, “Would you buy two Wolverine titles per month?”, and, of course, “Do you think Spider-Man should stay married or get a divorce from Mary Jane?”. To show their gratitude towards the respondents, Marvel only charged two dollars to participate in the survey. (The two dollars was to cover the shipping cost of an X-Men poster and a Wolverine newsletter, but I still find it funny that Marvel expected people to pay money to participate in a survey).

Like most annuals, this is a self-contained story that doesn’t tie into any of the existing plotlines, but it looks like it might have been laying ground for some ideas that never took off. It does introduce a new version of the Hellfire Club, but I’m almost positive these characters were never seen again (looking online, it appears as if only one of the new members showed up again, in the first issue of Spider-Man Team Up). The story also reveals that Shinobi Shaw is secretly working for Candra, but this idea was also dropped without explanation. Candra’s role is especially odd, since she’s only in two pages and then disappears from the story. I have no idea if there were any plans to go anywhere with these ideas, but it seems odd that a writer not working on the monthly books was able to introduce new continuity threads in an annual story. Edginton won’t return to the X-books until X-Force is revamped in 2000, I believe.

Blurring the lines between Uncanny X-Men and X-Men, Storm is given the spotlight in this story, even though she’s officially a lead in Uncanny X-Men (Uncanny’s annual for this year also starred none of its cast members). I don’t know if there was a point where the books officially disavowed the “blue” and “gold” teams appearing in separate books, but it certainly seems as if Marvel had given up on the idea at this point. Storm hasn’t received a lot of attention in the post-Claremont era, and this story is an admirable effort to do something with the character. The basic idea is that Storm, on some level, resents the X-Men for not doing more to help people suffering throughout the world. Shaw wants to exploit those feelings in order to bring Storm over to his side. It’s not a bad idea, but the execution has some major flaws. For one, the story seems to assume that Storm has this great history with the Hellfire Club. Shaw even claims that he chose Storm due to her “prior association” with the club. What is he talking about? There was a story in the early ‘80s where Emma Frost briefly switched bodies with Storm, but I doubt that’s what he’s talking about. A few years later, Magneto tried to align the X-Men with the Hellfire Club, but that idea went nowhere, and I don’t recall Storm playing a large role in the story. Unless I’m totally blanking on something, it seems as if Edginton is referencing some prior story that never happened.

Another flaw in Shaw’s plan is the idea that bringing out Storm’s “dark side” would help convince her of his humanitarian motives. How does that work? I don’t see how bringing out the worse in Storm would make it easier to sell her on the idea of turning the Hellfire Club into the Peace Corps. Who thinks of humanitarian aid in Africa when they’re turning to their darkest instincts? If Shaw simply drugged her to make her less guarded and more open to his ideas, that would be one thing, but the story goes out of its way to point out that the bad side of Storm is coming out. The “Bad Storm” element just seems like a weak retread of the earlier chapters of the “Dark Phoenix Saga”, so the story would have been better off without it.

Showing that the X-Men don’t do enough to help real world problems is an interesting concept, but it’s the type of idea that rarely works in superhero comics. Realistically, Reed Richards would have cured cancer by now, Sentinels would be replacing American troops in war, and Storm would have stopped the droughts in Africa. The only reason why these things don’t happen is because Marvel doesn’t want its universe to differ that drastically from the real world. Bringing up these problems in the comics actually makes the characters seem kind of heartless for not stopping the situations sooner. There’s actually no resolution to this conflict in the story, not even a token scene where the X-Men say that they’ll be paying more attention to these problems in the future. Despite these flaws, though, there is some nice character work with Storm and Xavier. Edginton does seem to have a decent grasp on the X-Men, and I actually wouldn’t have minded seeing more from him at this time. Ha’s art is, thankfully, miles away from the Image look the X-books kept going back to during this era, so it’s also a decent looking comic.

A Moment of Silence
Credits: Jim Krueger (writer), Steve Yeowell (artist), Dave Sharpe (letterer), Dana Moreshead (colorist)

Banshee infiltrates a Hydra base to be with a dying scientist during his final moments. Years earlier, when Banshee was an Interpol agent, the scientist allowed Hydra to capture him in order to give Banshee his freedom.

Typical annual backup material, which probably stars Banshee only because Marvel decided to start using the character again at this time. I might have placed this comic before the Phalanx story and formation of Generation X because of this backup, but I don’t see why Banshee couldn’t have starred in the story after Generation X formed.
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