Thursday, October 30, 2008

X-MEN UNLIMITED #10 – March 1996

Need To Know

Credits: Mark Waid (writer), Frank Toscano & Nick Gnazzo (pencilers), Art Thibert (inker), Matt Webb & Malibu (colors), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (lettering)

Summary: The Dark Beast, using chemicals to alter his appearance, travels to the Beast’s hometown to learn about his past. He speaks to his elementary school principal, his high school girlfriend, and his priest. Throughout the course of the conversations, he learns about Hank McCoy’s childhood curiosity and the incident that gave him blue fur. After speaking to his acquaintances, the Dark Beast kills them and anyone else in the area. When Dark Beast later visits Hank McCoy’s parents on their farm, he finds that he can’t bring himself to kill them. Meanwhile, the Beast continues to alienate himself from his fellow X-Men while studying the Legacy Virus. He realizes that his computer system has been hacked, and traces the perpetrator to the abandoned headquarters of the Brand Corporation. The Beast enters and sees a holographic display of a virus matrix he was trying to unlock. He’s suddenly encased in a restraining device and greeted by the Dark Beast. Dark Beast explains that he’s going to hide from Mr. Sinister in plain sight by posing as the Beast. Beast breaks free and fights back. When he learns that the Dark Beast murdered his childhood acquaintances, he’s ready to kill him. Dark Beast taunts that if he kills him, he’ll never learn where he came from. Beast hesitates, which enables Dark Beast to break free. He knocks the Beast out and chains him up. He then lays bricks and creates a wall to conceal his prisoner.

Continuity Notes: Someone must’ve realized how ridiculous X-Men #49 was, because they’re now backtracking. Dark Beast’s inner monologue in this issue reads, “As a transplant to this timeline, I have long known that this world must boast its own Hank. Until now, I have been too consumed with other matters to give McCoy much thought.” This isn’t very consistent with the previous scene that showed that he was shocked to discover that he had a counterpart here, and his dialogue chastising himself for being an idiot.

Some rationale is given for Dark Beast’s fear of being discovered. He claims that he served a “rancorous subservience to Mr. Sinister” in the Age of Apocalypse reality and that he’s trying to avoid that here. Since Sinister left Apocalypse at the start of the AoA storyline, we didn’t see a lot of interaction between him and Dark Beast. It seems odd that a character as physically powerful and proudly evil as Dark Beast could be a stooge for anyone, but that’s the explanation they’re going with.

Iceman appears in this issue, easily able to switch between his human and ice forms. Since his injury in X-Men #50 plays a large role in Uncanny X-Men #331, the issue that explicitly takes place after this one, that means that the Beast in X-Men #50 was secretly the Dark Beast. I don’t think Lobdell had that in mind when writing that issue, but it’s the only way for the continuity to work.

The high school yearbook Dark Beast is using to investigate Hank McCoy has a cover date from the 1960s. Even in 1996, that would put the Beast in his mid-40s, so that has to be dismissed as a mistake. Later on, Beast’s high school girlfriend is described as a thirty-year-old female, which naturally puts Beast in the same age range. I’ll again point out how strange it is that Marvel seems okay with the original teenage X-Men growing up, but Spider-Man graduating high school was apparently the worst mistake ever made.

Review: I really liked this issue when it was first released, and it still holds up today if you’re willing to overlook some terrible artwork. This is a strong story that does tie into the ongoing storylines in the other titles, so it’s exactly what X-Men Unlimited was originally supposed to do. Waid uses the issue as a character study on the Beast, examining how his insatiable curiosity could be twisted in dark ways on another world. The dialogue is witty and sharp, and characters feel real in a way most of the other writers at this time can’t pull off. Dark Beast’s belief that someone always has to die is played for an appropriate dramatic effect, especially in the scene with Beast’s parents. The entire story has been building up to the Dark Beast killing them, and the way Waid keeps putting if off by giving him a giant log or an axe for props is pretty clever. Dark Beast’s inability to kill his parents, even on another world, is interesting and adds at least a little depth to a one-dimensionally evil character.

The scenes from Hank McCoy’s childhood are also fun, and it helps that they’re grounded in an everyday reality that the other X-books continue to move away from. I’m not sure if Frank Toscano or Nick Gnazzo drew the flashbacks, but they have a nice, cartoony charm to them that reminds me of Tom Grummett’s work. The majority of the issue is unfortunately drawn by a generic-looking Image clone. Like Luke Ross’ previous fill-ins, he’s trying to combine a little bit of manga with the early ‘90s look, and results are extremely unattractive. The figures are poorly constructed, the faces look bizarre, and there are a million little lines over everything. It drags down an otherwise fine comic.

EXCALIBUR #97 – May 1996


Credits: Warren Ellis (writer), Casey Jones (penciler), Tom Simmons (inker), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (lettering), Ariane Lenshoek & Malibu (colors)

Summary: Meggan and Nightcrawler use their powers to neutralize Black Air’s helicopters and bring Alistaire Stuart to safety. Meanwhile, Shadowcat and Wolfsbane drop Brian Braddock off at the London Hellfire Club. Braddock enters the club and demands that he be given his father’s title of Black Bishop. The Red Bishop protests, but Braddock casually slaps him away. The Black Queen welcomes him into the club. Inside the London sewers, Black Air’s liaison with the Hellfire Club, Scratch, locates an ancient relic with a demon’s head. On Muir Island, Alistaire Stuart describes Black Air’s takeover of the Weird Happenings Organization. He knows that Black Air and the Hellfire Club are connected and they want him and Excalibur dead. Outside, Douglock has connected his circuits into the earth in order to experience random events. He’s suddenly impaled by a harpoon attached to a jet.

Production Note: This is the fifth issue in a row that only has nineteen pages. I wonder if this book had severe deadline issues and just cutting the book short became the solution. The missing pages are made up with an extended letter column, so it’s not as if Marvel was making money by selling more ad space.

Continuity Notes: According to the Black Queen, the London Hellfire Club changed the White King/Queen/Bishop/Rook designation to Red in order to distance themselves from the American branch.

Alistaire Stuart claims that Black Air began as a secret Ministry of Defense unit that took over W.H.O. after a government vote. He says that the Hellfire Club bought that vote. Stuart also claims that the Warpies (mutated children from the UK Captain Britain series who later became minor characters in a few X-books) have been killed and dissected by Black Air. It’s interesting that Stuart explicitly says that the Warpies were created in the 1980s, which is the second real-time reference made in this series in connection to the Captain Britain title. The first was when Alan Davis revealed that several Marvel UK characters had been in suspended animation for five years, which was the same amount of time in real life since their last appearance.

Review: The Hellfire/Black Air story arc continues to move at a pretty leisurely pace. The opening fight scene against the helicopters doesn’t advance the story very far, but it has a few nice character moments with Nightcrawler and Meggan. Meggan scolding the helicopter pilots after they shoot missiles at her is a welcome reminder of her childlike personality, an aspect that had been largely ignored in the post-Davis issues. Ellis also tries to do something with Douglock, by making his lack of a personality an actual plot point as he tries to find one. The rest of the issue still seems to be setting up the story rather than really getting into it. The connection between Black Air and the Hellfire Club is revealed, and the first move against Excalibur is made on the very last page, but that’s really it. Casey Jones returns as the fill-in artist and does a capable job, but it’s odd that Carlos Pacheco apparently needed a fill-in after drawing just one issue. The letters page brags that he’s going to be doing some upcoming Fantastic Four issues, which will lead to even more fill-ins in the future. So we have another issue without a regular artist that runs three pages short again. It makes the book feel almost as if it was an afterthought at the time.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

X-FACTOR #121 – April 1996

The True Path

Credits: Howard Mackie (writer), Steve Epting (penciler), Al Milgrom (inker), Glynis Oliver (colorist), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (lettering)


Forge relives the death of his squad in Vietnam through a magical "dream time", with the members of X-Factor taking the place of the soldiers. Naze tells Forge that he has to embrace his heritage and return home in order to build strength. A vision of Roma tells Forge that she'll distract Adversary while he prepares. Meanwhile, Val Cooper protests Sabretooth's inclusion into the team to a shadowy government figure. He shows off Sabretooth's new restraining collar and tells her that he will join X-Factor next week, after he completes a small mission for him. In the Rocky Mountains, Naze gives Forge a replica of his power-nullifier gun and the knife Storm once used against him (after being tricked by Adversary). Naze and Forge summon magic forces, and Forge soon reclaims his role as shaman. Adversary enters with Roma's unconscious body. Forge slashes him with the knife, which now has mystic properties. Adversary revives Polaris, Wild Child, and Mystique and taunts him into performing the spirit spell again. Forge mystically revives his teammates and then uses the nullifier gun to attack Adversary. Adversary disappears, which confirms Forge's belief in magic and technology.

Continuity Notes

Shard wasn't revived with the rest of X-Factor, because she's a hologram of course. However, the last did say in a narrative caption that she was real in every way that counts, and that she even had a soul.

Forge's cybernetic hand and leg are back, after being destroyed by the Adversary in the last issue, without explanation.

Production Note

And here's another nineteen-page comic. The missing three pages are made up with an atrocious pinup by Jeff Matsuda and a two-page letter column. Was almost every X-book running into deadline problems, or was something else going on? Was this happening on any other Marvel titles at the time, or just the X-books?

Creative Differences

There are quite a few re-lettered word balloons and captions throughout the issue, but it's hard to tell why. The shadowy government agent's explanation of how Sabretooth's restraining collar works has been entirely re-lettered.


The first time I ever bought a comic but put off reading it for days was during this Adversary storyline. I knew that I was buying most of the X-books out of completism at this time, but there had never been a title that I honestly felt no desire to read until I got around to it days later. I guess this isn't egregiously terrible, in the sense that it doesn't have too many major plot holes or flagrant mischaracterizations, but the entire storyline was so exceedingly dull I could barely justify the energy required to even read it. The story's just bland and predictable, without any lasting consequences for any of the characters or anything interesting happening along the way. Forge just picks the most obvious resolution to his conflict (Apparently, technology and magic go together like peanut butter and chocolate. It took Forge three issues to think of this?), and the Adversary disappears. And by "disappears", I don't mean he evaporates, melts, or vanishes in a flash of light. He just disappears between panels on the final page. In one panel he's bragging that he can't be beaten, and in the next Forge is meditating as X-Factor wakes up. A lame, dull ending to a lame, dull storyline. The idea that Forge's nullifier gun, which goes back to his first appearance, could just defeat the Adversary in two panels is especially cheap. The last issue showed that all of the other weapons he created were futile against him, so why is this one special? It didn't occur to Forge to rebuild his device that takes away superpowers? The only redeeming feature of this sleepy issue is Epting's art, which features very nice page layouts and strong renditions of the entire cast. The Matsuda pinup makes me afraid that his run has come to an end, though.

CABLE #29 – March 1996

Man in the Mirror

Credits: Jeph Loeb (writer), Ian Churchill (penciler), Scott Hanna (inker), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (lettering), Mike Thomas & Graphic Color Works (colors)


Blaquesmith arrives at the mansion to discuss the problem of Nate Grey, X-Man. He comes across Sunspot and is shocked to learn that he speaks Askani and is immune to his psychic influence. Cable tells him to ignore Sunspot and come inside. Blaquesmith meets with Cable, Storm, Moira MacTaggert, Cyclops, Phoenix, and Professor Xavier and tells them that X-Man is unprepared to deal with his psionic power. Moira reveals that the psionic energy he generates rivals that of the original Phoenix. Shocked, the group agrees that something must be done. After Cable yells at Blaquesmith for keeping X-Man's existence a secret from him, Blaquesmith freezes everyone else and erases their memory of the meeting. He tells Cable that he has to go on his mission without them. Cable grabs some weapons, and then refuses to take Blaquesmith on the ship with him. He yells at Blaquesmith for altering their memories and leaves on his reluctant mission.

Continuity Notes

In the opening of the issue, Cable wonders, "I wonder if (X-Force) knew what I have to do…if they would ever follow me again." I don't know if this is a reference to Cable's vaguely defined mission involving X-Man that's later revealed (which is unlikely) or something else.

Blaquesmith tells Cable that "we've altered memories before", which would seem to contradict Nicieza's earlier stories that had Cable shocked to learn that he has telepathic powers. I guess "we" could mean the Askani in general, though. Or maybe Cable was surprised that he still had any telepathic abilities after dealing with the techno-organic virus for so long.

Production Note

This is yet another comic that's only nineteen pages. The remaining three pages are taken up by a two-page letters column and a Cable/X-Man pinup that looks like a rejected cover.

We Get Letters

One letter writer cleverly points out that since all of Cable's friends saw Stryfe without his mask in Cable #25, someone should've told him years ago (before he came to this time) that they have the same face. The editors don't respond to his objection.


Here's a modern classic – an entire issue dedicated to characters standing around, talking about X-Man. I guess the X-Man roundtable discussion doesn't take up that much space on its own, but the rest of the issue involves characters either arriving for the meeting or discussing the implications of the meeting. I have no idea why all of these characters are meeting anyway, since Blaquesmith apparently has no interest in actually involving the X-Men with the situation. If he really wanted Cable to go on a mission to stop X-Man, why didn't he just personally ask him? The story reads as if someone wanted an explanation of who X-Man is in Cable before their crossover began, and somehow it turned into the entire issue. I almost wonder if Loeb had an entirely different story in mind that got cut at the last minute, so instead we ended up with this. I guess it is fairly successful in conveying how much of a threat X-Man could be, and realistically the X-Men would of course have meetings like this, but the end result is an extremely thin issue.

Monday, October 27, 2008

X-MEN #50 – March 1996

Full Court Press
Credits: Scott Lobdell (writer), Andy Kubert (penciler), Cam Smith (inker), Joe Rosas & Electric Crayon (colors), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (lettering)


Cyclops, Storm, Iceman, and Wolverine wake up in a desolate landscape. Cyclops’ ruby quartz visor is gone, and Iceman has a hole inside his chest. Meanwhile, Gateway appears in front of Professor Xavier’s bed, apparently attempting to teleport him away. Bishop and Phoenix enter and easily knock him unconscious. The X-Men try to deduce where their kidnapped teammates have gone, as a being of psionic energy suddenly appears. Inside the mystery location, Wolverine’s senses are able to locate their opponent, Post. He claims to be a “faithful extension” of Onslaught, who is transmitting the results of the test to him. The four X-Men try a variety of different techniques against Post, who’s already familiar with the team. During their fight, Storm senses that the environment is disrupted. The ground begins to shake, leading Storm to develop a plan to destroy the environment, thinking that Post reacts to it as it reacts to Post. Iceman freezes the ground beneath Post, as Wolverine rips open a part of Post’s protective covering. Cyclops blasts the exposed area, and soon the four X-Men are returned home. The psionic entity leaves, telling the X-Men that the Onslaught is coming.


This issue has a foil wraparound cover. I have the newsstand copy, which doesn’t have a gimmick cover and costs $2.95.

Continuity Notes

This is the first appearance of Post, who is described as “the lowest of Onslaught’s emissaries”. For some reason he has blue skin, and is covered in a series of “computerized plates” which can transfer data and shoot off energy blasts. He’s shown up a few times over the years, usually as a generic goon used to fill up the ranks of some villain group.

Banshee, via video screen, tells the X-Men that Gateway teleported Chamber away, but he dumped him back in their front yard as quickly as he left. The previous issue seemed to imply that Gateway had no control over what was going on, either. Later, Beast theorizes that Onslaught sent Chamber back because he didn’t want any telepaths learning his secrets. This doesn’t explain why Gateway is trying to abduct Xavier at the start of the issue.

Beast wonders why Onslaught is teleporting X-Men away, since he’s allegedly powerful enough to storm the mansion and physically take them. Bishop theorizes that Onslaught “took them to a place that has something to do with the source of his power”, and Beast agrees. I’m pretty sure that when Onslaught is revealed, most of this will make no sense.

Bishop speculates that Gateway wanted to be stopped, explaining how easily he was knocked out. Later, Onslaught (who’s supposed to be the psionic being that appeared at the mansion...maybe?) chastises Gateway, saying, “You assured me these creatures were ready. That they could hold the last line of defense against the coming”. Again, pretty sure most of this is nonsense.

“Huh?” Moment

One of the sound effects used when the environment around Post freaks out is “SPROUTS”. What?


I can remember liking this issue when it was released, even though reading it today is more frustrating than anything. When the Onslaught storyline was still just a series of vague hints, I was able to read this issue and simply enjoy it as an action-heavy story that was planting seeds for the next crossover. I had been burned by enough crossovers to be skeptical about the upcoming event, but the foundation at this point seemed to have promise, and introducing new villains as heralds of larger, more dangerous foes is an old comic tradition. Reading this today, all you really see is a collection of nonsensical clues scattered around a lengthy fight scene. The action is competently handled by Kubert, who fills the comic with large, dynamic figures and a lot of energy. Some of the poses and anatomy don’t exactly work, but for the most part the visuals in this issue are great. The opening page, which has a battered Cyclops covered in shadow as his body is hung up in twisted tree branches, is a strong way to start the issue. It’s one of the few times Lobdell started a story in the middle of the action, which is one reason why this comic stuck out to me at fifteen. The drawn out fight scene starts to get a little old after a while, but Post still comes across as a capable opponent for most of the battle.

Everything past the fight scene is total mess, though. Aside from the clues that weren’t satisfactorily resolved after the Onslaught reveal, there are elements within the issue itself that don’t make sense. If Onslaught were afraid of telepathic powers, why would Gateway send back Chamber, and then go after the more powerful Xavier? If Onslaught can manifest himself as “pure psionic energy”, why would he even be worried about a novice telepathic like Chamber learning his secrets? How exactly is Onslaught drawing power from the mysterious landscape? What exactly is going on between Post and the environment? Why is the landscape drawn differently in different parts of the comic? In the first few pages, the ground is hilly and rocky and the trees look like something out of a Tim Burton cartoon. A few pages later, the trees are lush and green, and the ground is covered with grass and plant life. The sky also goes from gloomy and dark to blue and pretty. What happened?

The future revelation that Onslaught was actually Xavier (spoiler alert!) just makes the entire issue even more nonsensical. Why would Onslaught send Gateway to kidnap himself? I guess you could argue that he was trying to throw the X-Men off, but it’s not as if they were suspecting him in the first place. And if Onslaught has Xavier’s memories and intellect, he wouldn’t have to “test” any of the X-Men of course. He already knows more about them than anyone else. Why is he relying on Gateway for information? There’s also an implication that Onslaught is testing the team to ensure that they can defend against “the coming”. What was that supposed to mean? Or is the psionic entity not supposed to be Onslaught? If not, who was he supposed to be? I don’t seem to recall Onslaught needing to be powered by a special environment either, so all of the mystery surrounding the landscape in this issue probably amounts to nothing, too. Judged as a mindless fight issue, this isn’t so bad, but as a chapter in an extended storyline, it’s dreadful.

X-FORCE #51 – February 1996

Reflections in the Night

Credits: Jeph Loeb (writer), Luciano Lima (penciler), Hunt/Jones/Quijano/Russell (inkers), Tom Vincent (colorist), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (lettering)


Cable and Bishop argue, as they examine the remains of Sabretooth’s shackles. Bishop suggests that Boomer might’ve helped Sabretooth escape, but Cable refuses to believe it. Cable leaves and checks on Shatterstar, who is being examined for any remaining influence from Tessa’s mind control. The Beast uses the opportunity to explore Shatterstar’s past, which annoys Cable. Elsewhere, Gambit checks on Siryn after she unleashes her sonic scream during her sleep. Outside of the mansion, Warpath follows a secret message and meets a mysterious woman named Risque at a junkyard. After an explosion buries him under debris, he instinctively throws the wreckage at the woman. She shrinks the debris with a touch of her finger. She then kisses Warpath and somersaults away. Cannonball tries to talk to Boomer about her father’s medical condition, but she refuses to open her bedroom door. The next morning, Cable tries to talk her into opening the door. Boomer comes out to reveal a new look, demanding that the team call her “Meltdown” from now on.

Continuity Notes

Warpath has now developed a super-speed power, in addition to the super-hearing that debuted a few issues ago. Boomer’s father is recovering from Holocaust’s assault against his trailer. Sunspot is beginning to think in Askani. Siryn’s troubled sleep is tied to her experience at the mental hospital.

Loeb drops some more hints, foreshadowing the upcoming “origin” of Shatterstar. Beast asks Shatterstar about his parents, and he pauses before claiming that he was bio-engineered. Beast tells Cable that Shatterstar’s DNA matches Longshot’s exactly, which is impossible.


This is really a “spotlight on subplots” issue, since it has no main storyline but instead focuses on brief scenes with different team members. You would think that Boomer’s reaction to Sabretooth’s reversion would receive the spotlight in this issue, but it’s actually only a small part of the story. Apparently, the betrayal leads her to adopt a new name and attitude, but there doesn’t seem to be much of an effort to sell it here. Really, all of the different scenes are so skimpy, it’s hard to care about any of them. Warpath gets a lot of attention, but his story just involves him briefly meeting yet another mystery character. Most of the other scenes are just reiterations of ongoing storylines without really advancing them at all. Pitting Cable against Bishop works okay, and it helps to emphasize Cable’s growing connection to his pupils, but the rest of the issue is pretty bland. The fill-in art comes from Luciano Lima, who turns in a stiff, awkward Jim Lee impression. It’s strange that virtually all of the X-titles have moved away from the early ‘90s look at this point, but the Image clones still show up as fill-in artists.

Friday, October 24, 2008

ARCHANGEL #1 – February 1996

Phantom Wings

Credits: Peter Milligan (writer), Leonardo Manco (artist), Jonathan Babcock (letterer)


While having dinner with Archangel, Psylocke tries to convince him to talk about his injured wings. Archangel refuses to talk about it, which angers Psylocke. He flies away and is soon attacked by a woman with an energy lance and a hi-tech suit of armor. She chains him up, telling him that she has to protect herself from the birds. Archangel spends the next day chained up, resenting his metal wings as he grows closer to his captor. He sends out a psychic message to Psylocke, who works with Phoenix to pick up the clues “Tuesday”, “birds”, and “airplane”. Cross-referencing all three words in the X-Men’s database reveals that there was a woman named Tuesday, married to an abusive husband named Donald Bird who died in an airplane crash. Archangel convinces his captor, Tuesday, to let him help her fight the throng of approaching birds. After he chases them away, Tuesday reveals that during her plane crash, their plane was attacked by savage birds as it plummeted to the ground. Archangel deduces that she killed Donald while he was piloting the plane, hoping that she would also die, and that the birds represent her guilt. Somehow, she’s able to create manifestations of her shame. He convinces Tuesday to let go of her guilt and they fly off together. Archangel realizes that they were actually in the city all along, outside of her late husband’s office building. He looks over to Tuesday, but she’s gone. Later, Archangel tells Psylocke the story, explaining that Tuesday helped him to let go of his anger over losing his original wings. Psylocke walks away, hurt that a ghost touched him more than she could.

Production Note

This is a black and white special with no ads.

Continuity Note

Archangel’s wings were badly damaged by Sabretooth during the Sabretooth one-shot. Psylocke doesn’t have her Crimson Dawn facial tattoo yet, even though this story explicitly takes place after Uncanny X-Men #330. I wonder when it will actually show up.


This is a strange one, a one-shot black and white special starring one of the less popular X-Men. Marvel very rarely published anything in black and white during this time (I think even the B&W Marvel magazines were dead by now), so I’m not quite sure what the inspiration for this one was. Perhaps someone just thought that black and white suited Leonardo Manco’s art better. The story has no bearing on any ongoing storylines, but it at least tries to say something about Archangel’s character, so I wouldn’t dismiss it as just filler.

Archangel’s angst over his transformation under Apocalypse had mostly been ignored during this era, so it’s a legitimate area for Milligan to explore. He writes a lot of poetic narrative captions, a style that was already disappearing at the time, but he’s able to use them to make Archangel more sympathetic and to effectively build up Tuesday’s mystery. The idea of Archangel being abducted by a girl with an irrational hatred of birds sounds needlessly quirky, but Milligan is able to pull the idea off, mainly because he provides a decent conclusion at the end. We’re never told if Tuesday is a mutant or some sort of supernatural figure, but we’re given enough information for the story to come across as more than just weird for weirdness’ sake. The character arc of letting go of your past and facing the future is an old cliché, but Milligan’s writing is sharp enough to make it work. Manco’s art is also notable, taking advantage of the black and white format to play around with the shadows in a cool way. This is more sophisticated than a lot of the other material coming out of Marvel at this time, and I’d say it’s still worth checking out (even if I’ve already spoiled the mystery).

X-FACTOR #120 – March 1996

Meeting the Maker
Credits: Howard Mackie (writer), Mark D. Bright (penciler), Al Milgrom (inker), Glynis Oliver (colorist), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (lettering)


Forge ignores Roma’s warnings that the Adversary can’t be defeated with technology and equips X-Factor with advanced weapons. While the team prepares for battle, Adversary secretly possesses Mystique. He tries to use Mystique’s shapeshifting powers to distract Forge, but she is overcome with pain and forces the Adversary out of her body. Adversary easily destroys X-Factor’s weapons and takes Roma captive. He apparently kills the team, leaving Forge alive. He destroys Forge’s cybernetic limbs and boasts that he was the one responsible for Forge using a “spirit spell” in Vietnam, which lead Forge on a path to reject magic. Adversary disappears, leaving Forge alone. Naze suddenly enters, offering Forge a chance to finally defeat the Adversary. Meanwhile, Val Cooper watches as Sabretooth is equipped with a restraining collar. She learns that he’s being forced to join X-Factor against her wishes.

Continuity Note

The “spirit spell” Adversary mentions is a reference to Forge’s Vietnam experience. He took the souls of his fellow troops and used the energy to channel a demon against their enemy. He performed a similar spell with the X-Men’s souls against the Adversary during the “Fall of the Mutants” arc in Uncanny X-Men.

Creative Differences

There are several re-lettered word balloons, all of which are poorly done. It doesn’t seem as if any of them are actually undermining Mackie’s story, since most of them just read like added lines of dialogue. For example, Comicraft’s lettering for Naze on the last page ends with “The choice is yours, Maker.” The added balloon after that reads, “Do you dare take back your birthright?”. It seems like someone wanted to punch up the script, rather than actually change any plot elements.


I guess this is supposed to be the dark middle act of the Adversary storyline, since X-Factor is apparently killed and Forge is left with Naze to fight back. It’s all extremely dull, as Mackie tries to pull off a sequel to “Fall of the Mutants” but without any of the interesting character dynamics or any real commitment to actually change the status quo. You might scoff at the new setup that had the X-Men living as “ghosts” in Australia after the original storyline was over, but at least the book truly was different after the story ended. There really was a sense at the time that anything could happen, and that the “Fall of the Mutants” actually mattered. Here, Adversary is brought back as just a generic bad guy to fight the team for a couple of issues. X-Factor’s death scene couldn’t be less convincing, since it just consists of an average-sized panel depicting the team turning into dust. Further undermining the death stunt is the fact that several pages of the issue are dedicated to setting up Sabretooth as a new team member. Well, if X-Factor is really dead, why is so much of the issue spent on introducing a new member? I guess the truly naive could believe that he’s the first member of a new team, but it just seems as if the subplot was introduced without thinking about how it reflects on the main plot.

The more I think about it, the more I have to wonder why Mackie revived the Adversary in the first place. It really seems as if he just liked the original storyline and wanted to use the character again. Aside from one mildly interesting idea, the possibility that Adversary manipulated Forge into using magic in Vietnam as a way to drive him away from it forever, he really has nothing new to say about any of the story elements. The Adversary, who’s supposed to be the “Great Trickster”, doesn’t really do any tricking outside of possessing Mystique for three pages and trying to distract Forge with the possibility of sex. Forge is going through the same character arc Claremont originally put him through in the ‘80s -- Forge is devoted to technology but his father-figure has to pull him back to his tribe’s mystical roots. Forge learned a lesson the last time, overcame his fears to use magic again, and defeated the Adversary. Apparently, Forge learned nothing from the experience, because he’s going through the exact same arc ten years later. The entire storyline is just boring, and it’s a shame that one of the best X-titles has descended into this.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

X-MEN #49 - February 1996

Eyes of a New York Woman
Credits: Scott Lobdell (plot), Mark Waid (script), Jeff Matsuda (penciler), Dan Panosian (inker), Kevin Somers & Malibu Hues (colors), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (lettering)

Bishop, who is growing increasingly unhinged, confronts waitress Pamela Greenwood. Beast, disguised by an image inducer, tries to stop him from tearing the restaurant down. Bishop slams him into a mirror and knocks him unconscious. When Bishop almost collapses, Pamela takes him home with her as the police arrive. When Bishop wakes up on her couch, he repeats his claim that she’s a spy. Dark Beast watches the events through the eyes of Pamela, who is secretly Fatale. He decides that allowing Bishop to live is too risky because he might regain his memories of the Age of Apocalypse. Fatale responds to Dark Beast’s order and knocks Bishop out of her window. Meanwhile, Beast turns off his image inducer in order to intimidate the police into letting him escape. He catches Bishop after he flies out of the window, and is quickly attacked by Fatale. She ruptures a gas line and escapes. Dark Beast watches in amazement on his monitors as he realizes that he has a counterpart in this reality. Elsewhere, both Gateway and Chamber disappear from Xavier’s school in Massachusetts. M tells Banshee that she only sensed the word “Onslaught” on Gateway’s mind before he disappeared.

Continuity Notes
As I’ve mentioned before, the waitress in this issue is supposed to be the woman Bishop recognized at Harry’s Hideaway in UXM #299. She looked familiar to him because Dark Beast “scraped” his mind and came up with Bishop’s image of the ideal woman. He claims that he wasn’t able to figure out Bishop’s “chronal blisters” (i.e., his memories of the AoA) the same way.

Miscellaneous Note
According to the Statement of Ownership, average sales for the year were 332,889 with the most recent issue selling 394,189 copies.

This issue is infamously dumb, and it’s just as weak as I remembered. It’s impossible to ignore just how ridiculous the Fatale retcon is, but I’ll try for a few seconds to talk about other aspects of this issue. Jeff Matsuda provides the fill-in art, and while it’s shaky on a few pages, it is an improvement over his unsightly X-Factor issue from this era. I’ve always thought that the splash page that digitally places Dark Beast’s face over his monitor’s image of the original Beast was nicely done, even if it is illustrating one of the dumbest things I’ve ever read in a comic. The plot of this issue, even ignoring the retcon, doesn’t exactly work, since we’re supposed to believe that Bishop has suddenly gone from “troubled” to “outright insane” (although I guess this is closer to the way he was portrayed in X-Men Prime). The plot is mainly an excuse to get Bishop and Fatale alone together for a few pages, so that the Dark Beast reveal can be pulled off. Knowing that, I have to wonder why they bothered to move the action to “Pam”’s apartment, since there’s really no reason for Dark Beast to wait that long to give Fatale the execution order. The Onslaught subplot in this issue is pretty strange, since it involves the cast of an entirely different title. These two pages couldn’t have been done as an epilogue in Generation X?

Moving on to the notorious retcon, I’m not even sure where to begin. As many others have mentioned over the years, Beast is a celebrity in the Marvel Universe due to his past membership in the Avengers (plus, X-Factor was also a popular superhero team during his stint). The idea that Dark Beast has been on Earth for twenty years and has never seen him on TV before strains credibility pretty far. I guess you could argue that this is just continuity anal-retentiveness, since Beast’s role as a celebrity hadn’t been mentioned in a few years at this time. Even if you buy that, this still doesn’t work. Beast is also a world-renowned research scientist, who has appeared on television several times in that capacity. In fact, the plot of UXM #299 involved the X-Men watching him debate Graydon Creed on television at Harry’s Hideaway. And what else happened in that issue? That’s right, the “mysterious waitress” subplot began. Fatale only now notices Beast and brings him to Dark Beast’s attention, even though he was on television while she was serving Bishop drinks in her first appearance? Aside from the continuity points, there’s also the common sense mangling you have to go through to get this to work. Dark Beast is supposed to be one of the smartest men alive, but it never occurred to him in twenty years that he had a counterpart in this reality? Even though virtually everyone he knew clearly did? Really?

The plan for Fatale is also nonsensical. She was supposed to disguise herself as a waitress, rent an apartment, and…do what exactly? I guess she was supposed to get close to Bishop over the ensuing months, so that Dark Beast could find out how much he knew about the AoA. If so, why didn’t she? Why didn’t she make an actual effort to get close to him? They went through all of this effort to set up a new identity for her, one that includes a job, an apartment, and even a cat, all in an effort to make her seem normal, and then she doesn’t actually bother to talk to Bishop? This is beyond stupid. Plus, it opens up another plot hole – if Dark Beast knew enough about the X-Men to send someone to spy on Bishop in the first place, why is he only now learning about Beast? Really, no aspect of this waitress subplot worked. Even if you were just relieved to get a resolution (like I was as a teen), you couldn’t possibly view her three appearances as a coherent story. She showed up once in 1992 and had a panel devoted to introducing a potential mystery about her. She’s never mentioned again for three years, and conveniently shows up again as Bishop is dealing with memories of the AoA (a storyline that hadn’t even been conceived when she first appeared). The next issue after that, she’s revealed to be a spy, apparently living a complete double life while simultaneously appearing as an assassin in a separate X-title. There were no clues, no foreshadowing, nothing at all to connect the resolution to anything presented in the preceding issues. This goes beyond bad writing, it’s outright appalling.

UNCANNY X-MEN #330 – March 1996

Quest for the Crimson Dawn

Credits: Scott Lobdell & Jeph Loeb (writers), Joe Madureira (penciler), Tim Townsend (inker), Steve Buccellato & Team Bucce! (colors), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (lettering)


Wolverine and Archangel follow Gomurr to a warehouse filled with Chinese paper dragons. Shortly after Dr. Strange appears, the team is attacked by Shadow Ninjas, sent to guard the elixir that might save Psylocke. Gomurr vanquishes the ninjas and leads the group into the mouth of a paper dragon. Meanwhile, Gambit watches over Psylocke, wondering if she learned his secret when she entered his mind weeks earlier. When her condition worsens, he calls Xavier and Beast. Inside an extradimensional plane, Wolverine and the others meet Tar, the protector of the Crimson Dawn. Tar ignores Gomurr’s plea for help and sends his mystical “neon minions” to attack. As Wolverine fights them off, Dr. Strange shows Archangel the vein of the Crimson Dawn, which reveals that Psylocke is dying. Strange takes the portion of Psylocke’s soul that she’s trusted to Archangel out of his chest and releases it into the Crimson Dawn’s vein. At the mansion, Psylocke is suddenly overcome with a red energy, which stabilizes her vital signs. As the group returns to the real world, Dr. Strange questions if the battle for Psylocke’s soul has just begun.

Production Note

This is the second issue in a row that’s only nineteen pages long.


It’s another issue that mainly consists of Wolverine and Archangel fighting vaguely defined mystical enemies. Like the previous issue, it’s obviously well-drawn, but for some reason Madureria has put the lead characters in ugly, stereotypical “Asian warrior” garb. Archangel is supposed to be the one annoyed by it, even though he’s just in a robe while Wolverine is wearing a horrible mesh, sleeveless shirt with karate pants. They look ridiculous, and even though the script points that out, there’s no real justification for why they’re dressed this way. It’s implied that Gomurr tricked them into wearing the clothes as a joke, which just emphasizes how annoying the mystical characters in this storyline can be. Tar, the guardian of the Crimson Dawn, has no motive to attack the team outside of the fact that he’s sick of people always asking him for things. That’s cute, but it seems out of place in a storyline that’s really trying to sell the idea that one of the X-Men is about to die.

Another problem with the “Psylocke is dying” angle is that hardly any of the other X-Men seem to be involved at all. The previous issue of sister title X-Men showed the team playing poker, while Psylocke was still stable enough to talk to Professor Xavier. Now, she’s suddenly in a struggle for her life, and the majority of the X-Men can’t be found. Lobdell and Loeb do create a strong scene with Gambit, though, which calls back to Psylocke’s earlier invasion of his mind. The idea that for a “fraction of an instant” he’s tempted to let her die in order to keep his secret is interesting, and it helps to convey the seriousness of his shame more than his break-up issue with Rogue did.

The ending of the issue is fairly lame, and I remember feeling cheated by it as a teenager, too. Instead of getting the Crimson Dawn elixir to save her life, Dr. Strange pulls a portion of Psylocke’s soul out of Archangel’s chest (uh…okay), sticks it into a mysterious blob, and suddenly she’s okay. Future issues will reveal that the incident left her with a facial tattoo and new powers, but none of that is revealed here (and, really, using this as a justification for screwing around with Psylocke’s status quo yet again is beyond inane). Ending any story by saving a character with “the power of love” is automatically going to make me roll my eyes. It’s also an incredibly rushed ending, as Madureria once again fills the early pages of the issue with splashes and large panels, forcing him to cram all of the necessary story details into tiny panels on the final pages.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

X-FACTOR #119 – February 1996

The Best Offense

Credits: Howard Mackie (writer), Steve Epting (penciler), Al Milgrom (inker), Glynis Oliver (colors), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (lettering)


Shard’s hologram appears in front of Wild Child again, daring him to go out and have fun. Meanwhile, Forge and the rest of X-Factor are building devices to ward off the Adversary. Roma warns Forge that his technology isn’t enough. Wild Child and Shard ride past them on his motorcycle. When Polaris tries to talk them into staying, Wild Child tells her that putting X-Factor ahead of their relationship is probably why Havok left. Elsewhere, Val Cooper is monitoring Sabretooth’s recovery. He breaks out of his stasis tank and attacks her, but is stopped by the guards. Wild Child and Shard party at a nearby club. When Shard’s body beings to blink on and off, they’re targeted by two members of the Friends of Humanity. Shard proves she can take care of herself by blasting them with her plasma powers. Later, Wild Child tries to kiss her but she disappears again. He returns home and apologizes to Polaris, who tells him that she’s moving on with her life without Havok.

Continuity Notes

According to this issue, Shard is a totally solid hologram who can turn intangible when she wants. However, because Forge isn’t through fixing her holomatrix programming, she can’t remain solid indefinitely.

I Love the ‘90s

Wild Child has a copy of Silverchair’s “Frogstomp” CD.

Creative Differences

An added word balloon emphasizes that the tazers used on Sabretooth weren’t set to kill. A few pages later, an added balloon explains that Shard’s plasma blasts didn’t kill the FoH members.

“Huh?” Moments

I’m sure the idea of three-dimensional holograms has shown up in other places, but there’s no explanation for how Shard could be solid here. She’s also able to shoot “plasma blasts”, which isn’t something I could see a hologram doing.

Miscellaneous Note

According to the Statement of Ownership, average sales for the year were 213,745 copies with the most recent issue selling 204,600.


For whatever reason, Mackie essentially abandons the Adversary storyline with this issue and decides to focus on Wild Child and Shard instead. This is, thankfully, better than the past few issues. Mackie’s dialogue isn’t as awkward and stiff here, and Epting’s art is pretty remarkable for most of the issue. Shard does have a fairly annoying “spunky” personality, but the story moves at a steady pace and doesn’t give her too much focus at one time, so she doesn’t seem to be as irritating as I remembered. Mackie does have one good idea, which is that Shard grew up in a mutant subculture, so Wild Child’s physical appearance actually fits into her standard of beauty. Wild Child still doesn’t have much of a personality, but he’s slightly more sympathetic here. The idea that he’s falling in love with a hologram is absurd, but it almost works in this issue. The rest of the story is dedicated to more ominous (and dull) scenes about Adversary, and a subplot about Val Cooper preparing for Sabretooth’s arrival. The story doesn’t outright say that he’s joining the team, but you’d have to be pretty dense not to pick up on it (and I think Marvel was already running house ads listing him as a part of the new team). The Sabretooth scene is mainly there to establish that he didn’t die at the end of his one-shot special, and it almost seems as if it’s there to kill a few pages. However, like a lot of things in this issue, Epting’s bold artwork makes the scene stand out. I seem to recall hating this issue, but looking back, it is at least tolerable.

EXCALIBUR #96 – April 1996


Credits: Warren Ellis (writer), Carlos Pacheco (penciler), Bob Wiacek (inker), Ariane Lenshoek & Malibu (colors), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (lettering)


Alistaire Stuart approaches Jean Grey at the entrance of Xavier’s mansion, asking to speak to Excalibur. Meanwhile, the Inner Circle of the Hellfire Club’s London branch meets. The Black King blames the Red King for the destruction of the Dream Nails facility, and tells him that Black Air needs to be ready for the next phase of their plan. Elsewhere, Sebastian Shaw exchanges a mysterious package with Black Air agent Scratch. Scratch kills Shaw’s guards when they annoy him. Excalibur answers Jean Grey’s call, and learns from Alistaire that Black Air wants him dead. Nightcrawler and Meggan leave in the team’s new Moonlight Flint aircraft to bring him back to Muir Island. Shinobi Shaw contacts Brian Braddock, asking him to join London’s Hellfire Club undercover, because they’re using telepaths to block the American chapter from learning their plans. Braddock reluctantly agrees when Shinobi tells him that Mountjoy is posing as one of the members. Elsewhere, Lockheed leads Peter Wisdom on a chase to reclaim his stolen clothes, as Nightcrawler and Meggan head home with Alistaire. Suddenly, they’re attacked by Black Air helicopters.

Continuity Notes

This is the first appearance of the London Hellfire Club, although they’re not named outside of “Red King” and “Black King”. A character named Scribe, who mystically keeps minutes, is the only one who’s named.

Alistaire Stuart ran the Weird Happenings Organization, the government agency that Black Air replaced. It’s the first time he’s appeared in this title in years. Kitty Pryde mentions that her father is still missing, which is a subplot that had been ignored for almost two years at this point.

Black Air agent Scratch tells Sebastian Shaw, “You made use of the Legacy Virus data I handed over last time, I saw.” I think there is a future X-Men storyline that involves Shaw trying to cure the Legacy Virus.

Nightcrawler debuts a new look in this issue, a buzz cut with a goatee. I remember questioning at the time how someone covered with fur could grow a goatee. I also remember Wizard pointing out that the dark shadows around Nightcrawler’s mouth were already supposed to represent facial hair. This issue also establishes that Lockheed can speak English, which came out of nowhere.

Production Note

This is the fourth issue in a row that only has nineteen pages. I think this run has now passed Liefeld’s early X-Force era in the short issues department.

Creative Differences

The narrative captions introducing Sebastian Shaw, which reference his mysterious return from the dead, have clearly been re-lettered.


There’s not a lot to say about this issue, since it mainly consists of vague conversations between mystery characters and some setup scenes for the future issues. Ellis keeps things from getting dull, and manages to work in some character moments, too. Bringing back Alistaire Stuart is a nice nod to the previous issues of the series, and it really highlights just how much the tone of the book has shifted under Ellis. You could argue that a light-hearted series like Excalibur should’ve never taken a dark turn, but I prefer this over the weak “comedic” attempts to mimic the brighter issues of the series, and the long run of generic fill-ins that preceded Ellis’ run. The idea of a London Hellfire Club was hinted at in earlier issue of X-Men, so bringing them into Excalibur feels like a natural connection rather than a cheap attempt to shoehorn knockoffs of existing villains into the book. The Black Air storyline had been building in the background for a while, so I’m glad that it finally seems like it’s going somewhere. Pacheco’s art is dynamic and interesting, especially for an issue that mainly consists of conversation scenes. I’m not sure if he’s the cause of the shortened page count in this issue, since the two issues preceding him also ran short, but it is starting to get on my nerves. Aside from only having nineteen pages, four of them are splash pages. Ellis tries to work entire conversations into the splashes on two pages, but it still feels excessive.

Monday, October 20, 2008

All My Secrets Revealed

A few months ago, I agreed to do an interview with a website that’s apparently going on an extended hiatus, so I’ve decided to post it here. I did this around six months ago, so enjoy all of the outdated references (when I say the books have become more "focused", I'm obviously not referring to the post-AoA issues).

Of the issues you've reviewed so far, what's the average quality of a 90s X-Men issue compared to a genre a bit more acclaimed (i.e. the 80s)?

Taking in the messy, artist-driven issues of the early post-Claremont era with the more focused, character-driven material that came later, I'd say that the average quality comes out to…I don't know…mediocre, I guess. Right now, I've gotten to the middle of 1994, just before the launch of Generation X. There are already a lot of X-books, and a couple of them are looking aimless. The Cable solo series is over a year old at this point and still hasn't had a single issue that's really worth reading. Some books like X-Factor feel like they're killing time until the next crossover starts, and Excalibur has been awkwardly shoehorned into fitting in with the rest of the titles. The quarterly X-Men Unlimited has already resorted to running filler, which it will continue to do for years. The other books tend to be hit or miss, so I wouldn't just dismiss them as crap at this point. Overall, I guess they're on the same level of quality as the average mainstream superhero comic of today.

In comparison to the '80s, it's definitely a step down. Too many characters, too many writers, and too many story threads that don't have much of a payoff. After the Image founders leave, there's a return to more character-based material, so it does seem like the books broadly follow the pattern Claremont established in the '80s -- small stories that build characterization while larger stories grow in the background. Unfortunately, the "larger stories" now take the form of crossovers that end up derailing the storylines in several spinoffs, or just leaving them unable to start any new ones because they have to dedicate several months to feed the crossover.

How far do you plan to go with Not Blog X; as in what years will you be covering? I understand you started with 1991; what year do you plan to reach?

My plan is to go until the "Onslaught" storyline at least. After that, my collection of the X-spinoffs starts to get spotty, so I wouldn't be able to present an overview of the entire line of books. I'll probably end up stopping at the end of Scott Lobdell's run, which was in 1997.

What differences have you noticed so far between your childhood and adulthood readings of these comics? Any obvious or not-so-obvious changes of perspective?

I first got into the X-Men in the late '80s, buying Uncanny X-Men and Classic X-Men simultaneously. As a kid, I was aware that the books weren't as good as they used to be, but I guess there was nothing egregious enough to get me to stop collecting. I think the X-mania that followed the X-Men cartoon (which lead to a few of my friends buying comics for the first time) helped to keep me interested in the franchise. My main investment in the books was the characters, so as long as the characters were behaving consistently, I was forgiving of a lot of things. When a couple of characters began to act wildly out of character, like Magneto and Mystique, it bothered me, but not enough to stop reading.
One thing that I've picked up on as an adult was just how awful Cable behaves in those early X-Force issues. As a kid, I didn't blink an eye when Cable shot an unarmed man who had already surrendered. It's possible that I thought it was really cool. As an adult, I read this stuff and just shake my head. I also never picked up on how many balloons have obviously been re-lettered by another letterer. I wasn't aware of any behind the scenes gossip, so I had no idea that the writers' work was often being tweaked up until the final stages of production. Another thing I've noticed is just how padded some of these stories are, probably because I wasn't consciously paying attention to story structure back then. I think I was just more willing to accept the stories as they were, unless there was a flagrant continuity error or mischaracterization.

Do you think that the current world of comics still relies on some of the gimmicky aspects of the nineties? What impact do you think nineties X-Men comics have had on the modern comic industry?

I think the '90s era of the X-Men has a huge influence on what's going on now, even if the current administrations might not want to admit to it. Even if you overlook story content, half of the comics DC publishes today just look like X-Force fill-ins from 1995. Right now, the comics industry thrives on selling as many interrelated titles as possible. The interconnected X-books of the '90s were such a commercial success, the guys in charge now have to be looking at them to see how they reached such a large audience. Marvel tried to do an indie-cool makeover in the early Quesada days, but it was only a few years before they started doing crossovers (and hiring Rob Liefeld) again. Fans ridicule Countdown for a solid year, but it remains one of DC's top-selling books (and when you consider that it came out fifty-two times in one year, it has to have been their number one money maker). Fans were calling for JMS' head after "Sins Past", but as soon as Amazing Spider-Man began participating in the next big crossover, sales shot up again. The X-books followed the same pattern for years. Even if you hated X-Factor, you still felt obligated to buy it in order to get the full picture of the X-universe. Now, that thinking has spread out over the publisher's entire line, not just a core title and its spinoffs. It's hard not to see an influence from the '90s there. Of course, this approach is dangerous because you run the risk of burning out the diehard fans and making the comics impenetrable to casual readers, which were supposedly factors in the '90s crash in the first place.

Has rereading these comics inspired you to pursue more recently published material?

For the most part, it hasn't revived much of an interest in the X-books. Occasionally I read a review of a recent comic which references some long-forgotten plotline (like Mr. Sinister's unexplained knowledge of the future), and I'm tempted to check things out, but that feeling never lasts. In general, I think that superhero comics today are too mean-spirited and cynical, and seeing "dark secrets" revealed about heroic characters like Professor Xavier just bothers me to the point where I don't want to buy this stuff anymore. Going back and taking a comprehensive look at the '90s titles, it's hard to get invested in any of the hyped events of today since history shows that they usually don't last anyway. I do enjoy writing the blog, though, and I appreciate all of the people who have posted links and left comments.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

X-FORCE #50 – January 1996

Target: Cable

Credits: Jeph Loeb (writer), Adam Pollina (penciler), LaRosa/Morales/Delperdang (inkers), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (lettering), Marie Javins & Electric Crayon (colors)


X-Force, now under Tessa’s mental command, receive orders from Sebastian Shaw. Their mission is to find Cable and kill him. In Manhattan, Cable and Domino are searching for the missing members of X-Force. They’re suddenly attacked by the team and lead on a chase through Wall Street. When Sunspot approaches, Cable knocks him unconscious with a concussion grenade and enters his mind. With Sunspot forced over to his side, Cable leaves him with Domino as backup while he confronts the rest of the team. After receiving a beating from each member, Cable enters their minds and forces them to remember their past together. The team members come to their senses and break free of Tessa’s control. Holocaust is displeased by Shaw’s failure and begins to doubt him.


This is another anniversary issue with a double-gatefold, prismatic foil cover. There’s also an alternate cover, which I believe is the first one that’s come up in the issues I’ve reviewed so far. The second cover is drawn by Rob Liefeld, which means that the “Heroes Reborn” deal had probably been announced by this point. I have the Adam Pollina cover (honest!), which was the one used on the non-enhanced newsstand version.

Continuity Note

It’s revealed that when Cable “psionically pushed Reignfire out of Bobby’s head”, that Sunspot ended up with some of Cable’s memories. This explains why Sunspot could speak Askani in a previous issue.

Miscellaneous Note

According to the Statement of Ownership, average sales for the year were at 224,293, with the most recent issue selling 216,270 copies.


This is a double-sized anniversary issue that mainly consists of an extended fight scene that pits Cable against X-Force. It’s really all about the action, and Pollina’s stylized art is able to keep things visually interesting, even if he’s not helped by the multiple inkers. The chase scenes aren’t that bad, and I get that Loeb is using the anniversary issue to show how much the characters have grown with Cable and to put him in a position where his training is turned against him. What the story fails to do is make you care about anything that’s going on. The dialogue is very dull and obvious, and any conflict that Cable might have about facing his students is barely conveyed. There is a nice moment where Cable refuses to take Domino’s gun before confronting the team, but that’s really it. Even this is a wasted opportunity, since the Cable of X-Force #1 probably wouldn’t hesitate to take the gun, yet that isn’t brought up here. The fact that Cable’s son has been brainwashed for years, which forced Cable to nearly kill him in the past, is also ignored. The only real attempt to convey any emotions comes in a rushed scene at the end, as Cable shoves some scenes from New Mutants back issues into X-Force’s head. I guess it’s not as bad as the old “talking the hero out of his brainwashing” cliché, but it’s not much better. And now that this storyline is over, I have to wonder what the point of Holocaust’s introduction was supposed to be. Shaw’s sudden interest in X-Force is explained here, with the rather weak rationalization that killing Cable would enable him to use X-Force as his personal soldiers, but Holocaust’s role is left unclear. I suppose he played his role in kidnapping the team, but he doesn’t participate in the climax of the story at all. It comes across as another awkward insertion of an AoA character into a mainstream reality storyline. Taken on its own, this is a middling action story, but as the conclusion to an ongoing storyline and an anniversary issue, it’s definitely a disappointment.

Friday, October 17, 2008

UNCANNY X-MEN #329 – February 1996

Warriors of the Ebon Night

Credits: Scott Lobdell & Jeph Loeb (writers), Joe Madureria (penciler), Tim Townsend (inker), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (lettering), Steve Buccellato & Electric Crayon (colors)


Dr. Strange has a vision that the X-Men need his help, so he sends his astral form to find them. In Manhattan’s Little Asia, Wolverine takes a skeptical Archangel to a tea house. He claims that there are mystic ways to cure Psylocke's injuries. Wolverine suddenly slaps Archangel’s hot tea to the ground, as the steam takes the form of a ninja. Wolverine and Archangel fight the ethereal ninja, until Wolverine notices a lone elderly woman watching the fight. He stabs her in the back, revealing her body to be a front for Gomurr the Ancient, who created the ninja in order to test the duo. Wolverine tells Gomurr that they need a “pint of Crimson Dawn from the Ebon Vein” and demands that he help them. Dr. Strange appears, telling Wolverine that he’s going to join their mission.

Production Notes

This issue is only nineteen pages instead of the normal twenty-two. It also has the first appearance of a computer generated character in this series, the “Steam Ninja”. The computer effects look a little dated today, but this was pretty impressive at the time.

Miscellaneous Note

According to the Statement of Ownership, average sales were 362,128 for the year with the most recent issue selling 373,556 copies.


This is a very, very light read. Not only is the plot thin to begin with, but the story itself is only nineteen pages long. Plus, the opening four pages only have five panels combined (one of these pages is a splash of Dr. Strange flying over Manhattan, which is clearly a photograph and not a drawing, leaving Madureria with just a third of the page to actually draw). Lobdell is able to get a small amount of material out of having Wolverine and Archangel play off each other, but there’s barely any character work here. It’s really just setting up the plot of the next issue, which in turn sets up what is probably the dumbest thing ever done to Psylocke. This issue does have some impressive art and a fun action sequence, and it is nice to see a character rarely associated with the team like Dr. Strange show up, but there’s hardly anything else going on.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

X-MEN #48 – January 1996

Five Card Studs

Credits: Scott Lobdell (writer), Luke Ross (penciler), Andy Lanning (inker), Steve Buccellato & Electric Crayon (colors), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (lettering)


Cannonball joins the X-Men for a poker match, while Bishop tries to explain his memories of the Age of Apocalypse timeline to Cyclops and Phoenix. His waitress at the restaurant is Pam, the same woman Bishop recognized months earlier. The Dark Beast watches their conversation in his secret headquarters. Sugar Man enters, demanding that the Dark Beast honor his agreement and share the information he has on Bishop. The Dark Beast says that he’s confirming that this reality’s Bishop is the same mutant who convinced the X-Men to alter the time stream in their world. They’re afraid that Sinister might gain access to Bishop’s memories. Meanwhile, it becomes obvious to the X-Men that Cannonball suckered them by pretending to be a poker novice. Gambit warns him against showing all of his cards at once. When Gambit puts his cards down, he holds the last one and charges it up to destroy the poker table. Cannonball accuses him of cheating, but Storm picks up the remains of his final card and sees that it was an Ace.

Continuity Notes

The Dark Beast is now being referred to as McCoy. Marvel was serious about this becoming his official name, since they even asked readers in a letters page to start calling him McCoy. It didn’t stick around, since I’m pretty sure he’s referred to as Dark Beast whenever he’s used today.

This issue establishes that Sugar Man and Dark Beast are afraid of Mr. Sinister, although I’m not sure why. It’s interesting that Cable #26 implied that Sinister was afraid of Sugar Man. Dark Beast reveals that he’s created some creature out of brain tissue that can filter “every thought, every image from all my constructs” and transmit the thought waves into digital data. I’m not sure why it’s brought up in this issue, but it might’ve been done to explain how Dark Beast would’ve been able to disguise Fatale as a woman Bishop recognizes (which is revealed next issue).

Dark Beast attempts to explain how the Bishop of this timeline remembers the Age of Apocalypse. Because he was already temporally displaced, he has no counterpart in this reality. He re-accessed his original body when the timeline was fixed because “technically, nothing actually happened to him in the first place”. This still makes no sense to me. I’ll buy that Bishop is surrounded by “chronal energy” that allowed him to stick around as reality rewrote itself. However, the Bishop that lived through the AoA faded away once Legion was killed. “Our” Bishop never lived through the AoA, so why would he have memories of it? Why exactly would the consciousness of the Bishop who faded away end up inside the Bishop who didn’t live through the AoA?

When Gambit tells Cannonball that the ability to distract can be more important than bluffing in poker, Beast has a revelation about the Legacy Virus. He declares that he’s not going to approach the problem the way Stryfe expected him to. This is treated as if it’s a major event, but of course nothing comes of it.

A recuperating Psylocke tries to comfort Xavier in a brief scene. The narration says that Xavier can’t feel anything, presumably because he’s so deeply hurt by his failure with Sabretooth. This could be considered an Onslaught hint, but I’m not sure if Marvel had determined his identity yet. Xavier speculates that Sabretooth didn't kill Psylocke because he wanted to send a message. If this was meant to be a clue towards an upcoming storyline, nothing came of it either.


This is another no-action downtime issue, although this one is slightly more concerned with touching base on various subplots than on character interaction. None of it is particularly interesting, since it mainly consists of characters reiterating things we already know. The only new info here is the revelation that Dark Beast and Sugar Man have been sharing data with each other, and they’re afraid that Sinister might learn about the Age of Apocalypse. Aside from the fact that we don’t know why they care so much about keeping the AoA a secret from Sinister, watching the characters discuss how they’ve been able to hide behind-the-scenes for two decades until now is just annoying. The poker match has a few decent character moments, as Cannonball finally does something besides screw up (although the ignorant bumpkin act Lobdell has him put on in the opening pages is ridiculous). Lobdell uses the game to make a statement about Gambit’s character, although I’m not quite sure what it’s supposed to be. It’s obvious that Gambit’s refusal to show all of his cards at once parallels his mysterious nature, but his decision to just end the game even though he had a winning hand doesn’t make any sense. What point does that make? It seems like Lobdell just wanted a big finish for the poker story, and having Gambit charge a card and blow things up was the most obvious way to go. The fill-in art in this issue is handled by Luke Ross, who’s trying to draw in the big-eyed manga style, but with a ton of pointless, thin lines scribbled over everything. Some of the faces are so ugly, it’s distracting. At this point, he definitely wasn’t the best choice for an issue that mainly consists of conversation scenes.

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