Wednesday, April 29, 2009

X-MEN #72 & UXM #352 – February 1998

X-Men #72

Life Lessons

Credits: Joe Kelly (writer), Carlos Pacheco (penciler), Art Thibert (inker), Comicraft (lettering), Liquid! (colors)

Summary: Wolverine spars with Marrow, testing her to see if she’s truly willing to become an X-Man. When he thinks that she’s willing to submit, Marrow sucker punches him and stabs him in the throat. Wolverine goes into a rage, and is subdued by Cannonball. Marrow runs away, back to the secret place where Callisto is recovering. Meanwhile, Sabra informs Gabrielle Haller that Erik Lensherr was a false identity created for Magneto. They track down Georg Odekirk, the man who created the counterfeit identity, shortly after he's killed by Magneto.

Continuity Notes: Gabrielle Haller is trying to use her influence as an ambassador to free Xavier from federal custody. It’s amusing that she’s more concerned about this than the X-Men seem to be (although Phoenix does briefly search for him mentally in this month's UXM).

Storm tells Cannonball that Marrow “attempt(ed) to kill hundreds to further her goals”, which seems to be a quiet retconning of any actual murders on her part.

According to Magneto, he changed his name to Erik Lensherr after he went into hiding, following his lethal attack on his daughter’s killers. He kills Georg Odekirk because the identity he created doesn’t stand up to scrutiny in the modern age.

Review: This issue is almost entirely dedicated to justifying Marrow’s place on the team, which isn’t an easy thing to pull off. There is at least a little retconning going on, but Kelly really doesn’t go for any cheap outs. Marrow doesn’t break down and cry, Storm doesn’t decide to forgive and move on, and Wolverine doesn’t get to intimidate Marrow into falling in line. Marrow remains nasty and mean, with the only indication that she’s willing to change coming from Wolverine’s speculation that “somewhere in that mess you call a brain, part of you wants something better”. Having Marrow stab Wolverine just when he seems to be getting through to her is a nice twist. It might come across as Kelly selling Marrow a little too hard, but I think it works within the context of the story. Cannonball also has a strong portrayal, as he tries to convince the others to follow Xavier's example and give Marrow a second chance, even when there’s no compelling reason for the team to do so. I still think adding Marrow to the team was a dumb move, but Kelly gets a lot of material out of the idea in this issue.

The Magneto subplot, on the other hand, is just ridiculous. I assume it was motivated by Marvel retroactively deciding that too much of Magneto’s past had been revealed, which might be a legitimate concern. Casually revealing that Erik Lensherr was a fake name, and having Magneto callously kill the man who created it, doesn’t work at all. It brings Magneto back into cartoonish supervillainy, which undermines most of the interesting things you can do with the character.

Uncanny X-Men #352

In Sin Air

Credits: Steve Seagle (writer), Hamner/Edwards/Banks/Dodson/Williams/Cassaday (pencilers), Martin/Edwards/Holdredge/Dodson/Gray/Cassaday (inkers), Comicraft (lettering), Steve Oliff (colors)

Summary: While flying to their new home in Alaska, Cyclops and Phoenix encounter an otherworldly entity that AIM is attempting to steal from another group of scientists. At first, the entity lashes out at the passengers, forcing them to relive their darkest moments. When the plane goes out of control, Phoenix convinces the entity to find the good in humanity and calm the passengers, allowing the pilot to land the plane. Meanwhile, Archangel returns to the X-Men’s mansion, but receives a cold reception from teammates who feel that he isn’t taking his responsibilities seriously.

Review: This is another issue that reads like filler, although it’s enjoyable enough. It’s probably most notable for containing six pencilers and six inkers, which makes me wonder just how far off-schedule this title was at the time. I think this is John Cassady’s first time drawing the X-Men, although his style is so different than his Astonishing X-Men work, it might as well be a different artist. None of the pencilers in this issue are incompetent, but their styles are all over the place, and pages seem to have been assigned at random. A three-page scene that has Archangel getting told off by the X-Men somehow ends up with two different artists with totally incompatible styles, making the issue seem like even more of a rush job. I don’t care for the Archangel subplot, which goes out of its way to make him a self-centered goof, but the main story has its moments. I like the psychological angle Seagle adds to the story, and introducing normal, human neighbors for the Summers is a good idea (which, unfortunately, was quickly dismissed).

Monday, April 27, 2009

X-MEN #71 & UXM #351 – January 1998

X-Men #71

A House in Order

Credits: Joe Kelly (writer), Carlos Pacheco (penciler), Art Thibert (inker), Comicraft (lettering), Chris Lichtner/Aron Lusen/Liquid! (colors)

Summary: Cyclops and Phoenix prepare to leave the mansion, as the new members adjust to the team. Wolverine and Storm are skeptical about allowing Marrow to stay, but Cyclops is adamant that the team continue to follow Xavier’s example. Later, Wolverine meets Marrow alone, declaring that school has begun.

Continuity Notes: Sebastian Shaw receives a mysterious package from a mystical bird. I’m almost positive this is one of the numerous unresolved subplots from this era. There are also subplot scenes that involve a package being desperately mailed to Storm from Cairo, and ominous foreshadowing that Maggott’s slugs are up to no good. These stories are actually resolved.

Review: This is a slow, talkative issue that mainly serves to set up a few subplots, write Cyclops and Phoenix out, and give the new members more attention. Marrow’s past as a hardened terrorist is treated rather oddly here, as Wolverine acknowledges that she is a killer, but no one actually brings up taking her into custody. I know the X-Men weren’t there when she killed a homeless man in her first appearance, and she apparently didn’t kill anyone during Gene Nation’s nightclub attack (it seems as if Sack and Vassal were responsible), but that still leaves UXM #325. It’s implied that she killed the man attached to the sewer wall (at the very least, she was present when it happened), and she was more than willing to bomb a group of civilians just a few pages later. There’s no real reason for the X-Men to keep her out of custody, so the story has to play fast and loose with continuity by making vague references to some of the events of UXM #325, but not others. The fact that Marrow remains unrepentant and outright hostile towards the X-Men also makes this harder to swallow. Magneto at least showed remorse for his actions and was willing to stand trial, and Sabretooth was kept as a prisoner with the permission of the government. Marrow’s just free to hang out with the X-Men, even though she clearly hates them, and only a few of them seem to have any real problem with it. Kelly’s able to write some clever interactions between the characters, but this isn’t an idea that stands up to a lot of scrutiny.

Uncanny X-Men #351

Hours & Minutes

Credits: Steve Seagle (writer), Ed Benes (penciler), Comicraft (lettering), Chris Sotomayor (colors)

Summary: Cecilia Reyes leaves the team, hoping to return to her normal life. She faces discrimination during her day at the hospital, and is assigned to treat Pryo, whose Legacy Virus infection is out of control. Daredevil later appears, asking Reyes to treat an infected gunshot wound. He tries to talk her into embracing her powers and using them for good. After Reyes checks on Pyro and accidentally lets him escape, she’s fired. She returns to the X-Men, telling Storm that she thinks she can do good work with the team.

Continuity Note: Pyro is in the hospital after getting shot while robbing a bank. He claims he did it to pay a doctor who claims he can remove mutant genes, which is a setup for a future storyline. The story seems to be confused about Pyro’s powers. He correctly says that he can only control flames and not create them, which doesn’t explain where the fire surrounding his body is coming from.

Review: I believe this is one of the issues Seagle wrote quickly after unexpectedly getting the job, which would probably explain why it focuses on a character that was appearing in the sister title and only offers hints about future storylines. It’s not a bad issue, though, as it manages to create a nice character study of Cecilia Reyes without coming across as a too obvious time-killer. The discrimination she faces during the day is rather predictable, but Seagle still manages to give a few members of the hospital staff fairly well-rounded personalities. Since Reyes spends most of her time complaining about her new life as an X-Man, it’s only logical that someone do a story where she tries to return to her old life, so at least it was gotten out of the way quickly. Benes’ art, however, is an awkward fit. All of the bodies look any generic character from a ‘90s action comic, so the doctors look like superheroes and the nurses look like strippers. A lot of the poses are also stiff, and all of the excessive detail lines have aged badly.

Friday, April 24, 2009

WOLVERINE #121 - #122, February 1998 – March 1998

Not Dead Yet, 3 of 4

Credits: Warren Ellis (writer), Lenil Francis Yu (penciler), Edgar Tadeo & Gerry Alanguilan (inkers), Jason Wright (colors), Comicraft (lettering)

Summary: As Wolverine escapes the city, he’s attacked by assassins with adamantium bullets. He claws through them and heads deeper into the woods, hoping to find McLeish. A flashback to Hong Kong shows Wolverine saying goodbye to his girlfriend, Ai-Chia. She refuses to touch him, knowing now that he’s as much of a killer as McLeish. In the present, Wolverine passes a recording of McLeish’s voice. In the trees, he discovers the body of Ai-Chia. Wolverine explodes in anger, promising to give McLeish his animal side.

Review: Wow, this really is padded. It’s hard not to notice how slowly the story’s going when almost every page only has three or four panels, or is a splash page. The flashback with Ai-Chia is interesting, since it least raises the question of why Wolverine would go drinking with someone like McLeish in the first place. He doesn’t have much of a defense outside of his claim that they were a part of a similar lifestyle. This bothered me the first time I read the issue, but the final chapter does make an effort to redeem Wolverine (albeit in a rather predictable way). Since the plot is so thin, the art is left to carry a lot of the issue. Yu certainly excels at drawing things like motorcycles and guns, so at the very least it’s a nice looking book.

Not Dead Yet, 4 of 4

Credits: Warren Ellis (writer), Lenil Francis Yu (penciler), Edgar Tadeo (inker), Jason Wright (colors), Comicraft (lettering)

Summary: Wolverine follows McLeish’s trail to a small village, where every citizen is dead. He’s confronted by a young man who claims to be McLeish’s son. He says that McLeish died years ago, and he was the one who mimicked his voice on the recordings. Wolverine kills him, and walks deeper into the house. He tells McLeish to show himself. A feeble McLeish emerges, revealing his revenge plan that’s been ten years in the making. When he lunges at Wolverine, he’s quickly killed. Wolverine disposes of the body, wondering if he really isn’t any different than McLeish.

Review: More slow-motion storytelling. It’s not that this is a bad premise for a storyline, since it does manage to say a few things about Wolverine’s character and it suits Yu’s art style, but there’s no way this should’ve ran for four issues. To his credit, Ellis does add a few twists to the story. After McLeish tells Wolverine that everything he’s heard tonight is a lie (which means the man who attacked him earlier wasn’t McLeish’s son), Wolverine responds that he actually did know McLeish’s son, and killed him years earlier. After McLeish is dead, Wolverine admits that he was lying, also. He killed him with “lies and fear”, which is exactly what McLeish wanted to do to Wolverine. The idea that Wolverine is just as ruthless as any other killer isn’t a new one, but it does at least turn the climax a little more than just an action scene. I like the use of the fake son during the opening scene, since he provides a plausible explanation for the previous events of the story, shortly before Ellis goes for the more conventional comic book revelation that McLeish actually is alive. The final twist is the revelation that Wolverine was working undercover for the Canadian government the entire time he was close to McLeish. It’s not that big of a surprise, but I prefer it over the implication in the earlier issues that he just liked hanging around the old killer. As a climax, this is readable enough, but it suffers from the same decompression that marred the previous issues.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

WOLVERINE #119 - #120, December 1997 - January 1998

Welcome to the all-new, all-different Not Blog X, which is remarkably similar to the old one. I’m going to continue reviewing the main X-titles until the end of the Alan Davis run, which will take us to early 2000. My current plan is to write shorter reviews and cover at least two issues in each post, with updates on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. When it’s over, this site should be a fairly comprehensive review of the ‘90s era of the X-Men, even though I will be missing out on many of the spinoffs from the late ‘90s. After I’m finished with the X-Men, I’m sure I’ll find other things to write about.

Not Dead Yet, 1 of 4

Credits: Warren Ellis (writer), Lenil Francis Yu (penciler), Edgar Tadeo (inker), Jason Wright (colors), Comicraft (lettering)

Summary: In the past, Wolverine spends time with McLeish, a Scottish hitman, in Hong Kong. After McLeish kills the movie producer father of Wolverine’s girlfriend, Wolverine seeks revenge. After breaking his back and triggering an explosion that sends McLeish to the bottom of the harbor, Wolverine assumes he’s dead. In the present, Wolverine returns home to his apartment to discover the body of a local homeless man. A bomb with admantium shards explodes, leading Wolverine to question if McLeish is still alive.

Miscellaneous Note: According to the Statement of Ownership, average sales for the year were 251,738 copies with the most recent issue selling 214,991.

Review: This is the start of Warren Ellis’ four-part run. Marvel publicly hinted that Ellis might become the regular writer, even though he always claimed he was only going to do four issues. This is virtually an entire issue spent on selling McLeish as a credible threat to Wolverine, so you end up with pages of dialogue with the character describing all of the kills he’s made since he was thirteen. It really is overkill, but it fits the nature of the story. A lot of these elements have been done to death over the years (character from Wolverine’s past returns for vengeance, flashbacks to Wolverine’s days before the X-Men, another previously unseen girlfriend), and I can’t say that this felt particularly fresh even in 1997. It’s entertaining as a straightforward action story, though. Ellis removes virtually any superhero trappings from the story, which gives Yu’s detail-oriented, more realistic style some room to show off. Certainly not a bad start for a filler run.

Not Dead Yet, 2 of 4

Credits: Warren Ellis (writer), Lenil Francis Yu (penciler), Edgar Tadeo (inker), Jason Wright (colors), Comicraft (lettering)

Summary: Wolverine escapes the explosion and flees the city. Two hitmen allegedly sent by McLeish crash cars into him, but Wolverine manages to suppress his rage and spare the life of the surviving driver. He faces another hitman while picking up his motorcycle from a garage, and avoids killing him, also. As Wolverine drives out of town, a man in the shadows awaits his arrival.

Review: I seem to recall feeling that this storyline was unnecessarily padded, and this issue is the first hint. The plot consists of Wolverine avoiding hitmen while flashing back to a few of his conversations with McLeish. There’s no real connection between the flashbacks and the main story, outside of reaffirming that Wolverine isn’t comfortable with McLeish’s work, and establishing that McLeish knows about Wolverine’s berserker rage. The idea is that McLeish is doing everything he can to push Wolverine over the edge so he’ll no longer think like a rational human, which will make him an easier target. Giving Wolverine enough credit to figure this out adds another element to the story, forcing him to once again fight against his baser instincts. None of these are bad ideas, there’s just not enough here to justify twenty-two pages. Giant panels of Wolverine getting smashed by cars are fine, but large drawings of snowy hamlets and shadowy old men in rocking chairs feel like cheats.

Monday, April 20, 2009

X-MEN – The Animated Series on DVD

The folks at Disney were kind enough to send me review copies of the first two volumes of the ‘90s X-MEN cartoon, which is finally out on DVD April 28th. Since the series debuted a few weeks after the widely canonized Batman: TAS cartoon, it’s often viewed dismissively amongst comics fans, which isn’t entirely fair. Bruce Timm’s stripped down, expressionistic designs bore little resemblance to the accepted look of action cartoons at the time, and while they might’ve been hard to swallow at first, it’s clear that he created a look that’s influenced animation for over ten years now. X-MEN, however, didn’t look much different than G. I. Joe, which was already getting close to ten years old when the show debuted (and X-MEN unfortunately didn’t have access to some of the higher quality Japanese animation studios Joe used in the ‘80s).

Everything about the look of the show goes against accepted animation design theories today, but in Fall 1992 this really didn’t seem that strange (if anything, Batman: TAS looked like the odd man out). The animators looked at the X-comics of the early ‘90s and faithfully recreated every detailed muscle line, strand of hair (and, boy, do Storm and Rogue have a lot of it), cheek bone, belt buckle, and fold of clothes imaginable. It really is a Marvel comic brought to life. It’s unfortunately too faithful to work with the abilities of overseas animation studios, though. The animation in the early episodes is often stiff and clumsy, and it’s not hard to spot the recurring continuity errors. However, things do improve as the first season progresses. By “Days of Future Past”, the characters have lost a bit of their stiffness, and the overall animation is much more consistent. It’s still not up to the standards of what Warner Brothers was doing with television animation at the time, but the show’s visuals are no longer a distraction and actually help to sell the stories by the end of the first season. (The two-part Season Three opener “Out of the Past” actually has remarkably fluid animation, which makes me wonder why this specific studio only worked on a handful of episodes).

The stories themselves are often faithful adaptations of the original source material, so it’s hard to fault the creators for giving Marvel what they obviously wanted. Some of the dialogue is a little clunky, but most of the X-Men’s personalities are effectively conveyed, making the show an easy introduction to the characters and concepts of the original comics. Each episode leads directly into the next (even if it’s just a last-minute cliffhanger that’s tagged on at the end of a complete story), mirroring the ongoing soap opera that brought so many fans into the comics during the ‘80s and ‘90s. The stories try to find a balance between entertaining kids and adults, and while the show obviously errs on the side of the kiddies, the material itself is rarely dumbed down. The show doesn’t shy away from death, as Sabretooth is rather unambiguously labeled a murderer, Magneto describes watching innocent women and children die as a child, and Morph bites the dust in the opening two-parter (he of course comes back, but that’s due to a fidelity to comic book style storytelling and not a squeamishness over death). Some of the episodes seem to drag on for too long, some are just silly (the less said about the Juggernaut/Colossus episode the better), but the majority of them are pretty entertaining. I always thought the final three episodes of the first season were particularly good, and was pleased to see that they hold up very well. The vocal performances are all over the place, which can occasionally distract from the storytelling. Some voices, such as Cal Dodd as Wolverine, are almost perfect, while other major characters rarely seem able to deliver a credible line of dialogue (the show could never get Cyclops or Storm to sound right).

The DVD sets contain sixteen episodes each, which means you get the first season plus the first three episodes of season two with Volume One, and the second season plus the first seven episodes of season three on Volume Two. (Despite the appearance of Dark Phoenix on the Volume Two cover, those episodes aren’t covered. It actually finishes with the original storyline that transforms Jean Grey into Phoenix, so she’s not “dark” yet.) I imagine the episode count was done solely for accounting reasons (probably to give the buyer a decent amount of episodes for around $20-$25 a set), because there’s no real reason for the first volume to end three episodes into an extended storyline with no resolution. Make no mistake that these are barebones releases, as there are no special features that I can find. You’re getting the shows as they originally aired and nothing else. It would’ve been nice to have a few interviews or audio commentaries, or perhaps even the “rough” preview version of the first two episodes that aired with numerous animation blunders, but the sets don’t seem to be aimed at the more hardcore audience that pays attention to those things. Since numerous fans were brought into comics through this series, I imagine just the nostalgic appeal of seeing the episodes again is enough to warrant a purchase for many. I was already a fan before the series aired, but I can’t deny that seeing my favorite comic so faithfully translated into an animated series was a thrill. Looking back on the cartoons of your youth is always dangerous (Thundercats didn’t seem to induce narcolepsy as a child, oddly enough), but X-MEN has its moments, even if the styles have moved on.

Friday, April 17, 2009

X-MEN #70 - December 1997

Credits: Joe Kelly (writer), Carlos Pacheco (penciler), Art Thibert w/John Dell (inkers), Comicraft (lettering), Chris Lichtner, Aaron Lusen, & Liquid! (colors)

Summary: Iceman, Marrow, and Cecilia Reyes arrive at the X-Men’s mansion. They’re shocked to discover that Bastion has stripped it bare. Soon, Storm, Cannonball, Wolverine, and Phoenix arrive with Cyclops, who is infected with a nanotech bomb. They hoped to treat him in their medi-lab, but all of the equipment is gone. Reyes prepares for a makeshift surgery on Cyclops, ordering Cannonball to obtain medical supplies from town, while Phoenix uses her telekinetic powers to keep Cyclops’ chest together. Without a scalpel, Wolverine’s claw acts as a blade. The doorbell suddenly rings, and Storm is shocked to discover Juggernaut and his attorney. With Professor Xavier incapacitated, Juggernaut claims that he now controls his stepbrother’s fortune. When Storm annoys him, Juggernaut rushes through the door, looking for a fight. At that moment, Rogue’s team of X-Men returns from Antarctica. Maggott threatens Juggernaut with his slugs, which causes Juggernaut to walk away in laughter, claiming that the X-Men will soon self-destruct anyway. When Reyes needs more precise tools to stop the nano-bomb from growing within Cyclops, Marrow rips off two of her bones for Reyes to use. Reyes removes the bomb, and Maggott orders his slugs to eat it. Later, as Cyclops recovers, he contemplates with Phoenix the future of the X-Men.

Continuity Note: Jubilee has disappeared in-between issues with no explanation. She was with Cyclops’ team in the previous Wolverine issues, and in their one-page cameo in UXM #350. This type of editorial oversight used to drive me mad. (Psylocke and Archangel are also missing from Rogue’s team, but I think this is addressed later.)

Juggernaut claims that he is Xavier’s half-brother, which isn’t true (no matter how many times writers screw this up). Juggernaut is Xavier’s stepbrother, and I question the idea that he would have legal authority over Xavier’s affairs, or that being incarcerated would require someone else to look after Xavier’s money (Xavier isn’t officially under arrest anyway).

Miscellaneous Note: According to the Statement of Ownership, average sales for the year were 303,708 copies with the most recent issue selling 258,151.

Review: This is the beginning of Joe Kelly’s brief run, which I recall enjoying back when it was published. Kelly was discovered as a part of a writing program Marvel started with NYU, and had been writing the monthly Deadpool series for a few months by this time (Augie De Blieck recently took a look back at the series in his Pipeline column). Placing him on X-Men wasn’t an obvious choice, which is something I recall every Wizard interview with Kelly emphasizing at the time. He seemed to be a young, enthusiastic guy who was excited about writing the X-Men, which is a feeling that was reflected in his work. This really is an entire issue about the X-Men performing an impromptu surgery, which doesn’t seem to be enough to fill a double-sized issue, but the character interactions and Kelly’s sharp dialogue help to sell the idea. Kelly structures the story so that we still see Storm’s reaction to Marrow, Juggernaut’s response to Maggott, and Wolverine calling out Trish Tilby for exposing the Legacy Virus months earlier. There are over a dozen characters here, but they’re given just enough room to showcase their personalities and not behave like generic ciphers.

As for the brave new direction of the book, however, I never bought it. Lobdell’s plan was for the team to live on the lam, without the mansion, Blackbird, or Shi’ar technology. Instead, what we get is the X-Men returning to an empty house. The story tries to sell this as a horrific sight, but it doesn’t hold up to a lot of scrutiny. Forcing the team to deal with Cyclops’ condition without medical equipment is a smart idea, but you can only do so many stories with this setup. All the X-Men have to do is call their associates on Muir Island (which is the setting of the spinoff title Excalibur, of course) and ask for replacement equipment. Eventually, I think this turned out to be the off-panel resolution, but it certainly took the characters enough time to actually do it. As for Kelly’s run as a whole, it’s filled with unresolved mysteries and subplots that were quickly dropped as soon as he left. He also spends a lot of time selling Maggott, Marrow, and Reyes as the new X-Men, which makes for odd reading in retrospect when you know how quickly Marvel dismissed the characters. This seems to be one of the more popular X-runs, though, so it should be interesting to look back on it.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

UNCANNY X-MEN #350 – December 1997

Trial & Errors
Credits: Scott Lobdell (co-plot, uncredited), Steve Seagle (script), Joe Madureira w/Andy Smith (pencilers), Tim Townsend w/Vince Russell & Dan Panosian (inkers), Comicraft (lettering), Steve Buccellato (colors)

Summary: In the past, Gambit receives a mysterious vial from Mr. Sinister, in exchange for gathering the Marauders. In the present, Gambit is taken into custody by Spat and Grovel. The remaining X-Men ignore his wishes and follow them. In New York, Psylocke traces the “darkness” inside Maggott into the shadows. Maggott and Archangel follow her, and arrive inside a hidden citadel in Antarctica. When Joseph approaches the citadel outside, he falls down in pain as it rises from the ground. The X-Men investigate the citadel, where most of them are soon abducted. Rogue reaches the lowest level, where Gambit is being kept. Suddenly, Erik the Red appears with the robot Ferris. Erik announces that Gambit is on trial for his past sins. Gambit admits that he once made a deal with Mr. Sinister, while Psylocke reveals the recently unblocked memory she saw in Gambit’s subconscious. She tells the X-Men that Gambit recruited the Marauders shortly before the Morlock Massacre. Rogue is goaded into kissing Gambit, which forces her to relive the day from his perspective. She learns that Gambit tried to stop the massacre once he realized what was happening, but was nearly killed by Sabretooth. He then rescued a young girl from the carnage and ran away. Erik the Red forces the building to collapse, declaring that this is the deliberation. As the team escapes, Rogue saves Gambit from the falling debris. However, she refuses to take him with the rest of the X-Men, telling him that he will have to save himself. Meanwhile, Erik the Red and Ferris escape in an aircraft. Erik takes off his mask and reveals himself as Magneto.

Gimmicks: This issue shipped with an enhanced foil version and a non-enhanced one.

Miscellaneous Note: The Statement of Ownership lists average sales at 300,732 copies with the most recent issue selling 261,017.

Continuity Notes: Erik the Red is a false identity Cyclops once assumed back in the Silver Age. The identity was later usurped by an evil Shi’ar agent in order to throw the X-Men off-balance (according to some inserted pages in Classic X-Men).

It’s asserted twice in this issue that Gambit’s wife, Belladonna, was dead when he made his deal with Mr. Sinister. Actually, she died years after this would’ve happened, after Gambit had already joined the team.

The vial Mr. Sinister gives Gambit was addressed in the Gambit solo series. It's somehow connected to a brain surgery Sinister gave Gambit in order to dampen his powers (more info can be found here).

One of the flashbacks shows Gambit leading the Marauders into the Morlock Tunnels (in fact, it’s supposed to be another job that Sinister is paying him for). This contradicts the actual published comics from that storyline, which had the Marauders simply following the Morlocks home and learning their location. The girl Gambit saves from the massacre is Marrow, which is something Alan Davis picks up on in the future. Prism is incorrectly listed as a Morlock in this issue, when he's actually a Marauder.

When Gambit is first brought into the citadel, he identifies the voice he hears in the darkness as Mr. Sinister. Later, it’s revealed as Erik the Red, and then finally Magneto. The Sinister idea is a strange one, since there are clues throughout the issue that point to Erik the Red’s identity as Magneto. I wonder if the Sinister reference is something that survived an earlier draft and just slipped through.

Review: This is obviously a mess, and it’s something Marvel had to do a fair amount of backtracking on in subsequent years. It’s interesting that no one is credited for actually plotting this story (Seagle is only listed as “scripter”). Seagle was originally hired to replace Larry Hama on Wolverine, but was asked to take over UXM when Lobdell abruptly disappeared. His first issue was supposed to be #351, I believe, but he was brought in at the last minute to finish this one. He apparently claimed on Usenet that he was finishing the issue Lobdell started, which leads me to believe what we’re reading is a Lobdell plot heavily rewritten by editorial, then given to Seagle to script. Fan reaction to this issue was largely negative, with many of the complaints centering on Rogue leaving Gambit to die in the antarctic. Some people within Marvel must’ve had second thoughts, since it’s later retconned that a) the X-Men circled back and did at least try to find Gambit, and b) Rogue’s actions were motivated by the intense self-loathing she absorbed from Gambit. Fabian Nicieza tried his best to make this work in Gambit’s solo series, but it’s hard to justify such a ridiculous ending. There is one Rogue/Gambit moment I do like in this issue, which has Rogue regretting her kiss with Gambit, because he’s the one person she wanted to get to know “like a real, normal woman”. It reminds me of the final Classic X-Men backup story Ann Nocenti wrote, which shows what it’s like for Rogue to learn everything there is to know about someone at one time.

Other aspects of this story just don’t make any sense, period. After years of selling Joseph as Magneto, another Magneto (who turned out to be the “real” one) turns up on the last page. It makes for a dramatic final page, but it undermines a storyline that had been building for years, and it makes no sense given the context of this specific issue. Why exactly would Magneto put Gambit on trial? If he’s that concerned about what happened years earlier in the Morlock Massacre, why isn’t he going after Sinister and the Marauders? There are a few lines at the end that suggest he only staged the trial in order to drive the X-Men apart, but that’s not much of an answer (And why exactly did he choose the Erik the Red identity of all things?). He also claims that this is the first step in the “gradual erosion” of the team, which isn’t followed up on at all (the next time Magneto does something, I’m pretty sure it’s a high-profile stunt in “Magneto War”, and not a devious attempt at driving the team apart). It reads as if editorial just got bored with the Joseph storyline, and with a new creative team in place, decided to bring back the evil, ruthless Magneto they seemed to prefer. I can understand why they wanted to end the Joseph story, but to abruptly bring Magneto back without resolving any of the mysteries surrounding Joseph feels like a cheat.

Other nonsense in this issue includes Psylocke following the “darkness” within Maggott and suddenly ending up in Antarctica with the others. I understand that she needs to be there in order to pay off the scene from UXM #324 that had her entering Gambit’s mind, but this is obviously forced. Spat and Grovel’s role is never actually explained, as it appears that they were hired by Magneto all along (Then why were they being held captive with the others? And how did they know where Gambit was going to crash land in the first place?). The “trial” setup also doesn’t work, since there doesn’t seem to be enough room left in the issue for the X-Men to really debate what should be done with Gambit. His secrets are revealed, Erik/Magneto forces the building to collapse (which is somehow a “deliberation”), and Rogue gets a rushed kiss-off scene with Gambit. This might’ve worked better if the characters were already in the place they needed to be at the start of the story, but unfortunately the past few issues of the title just wandered aimlessly, barely moving the characters anywhere. It’s too bad that this is Joe Madureira’s final issue, since it looks like a rush job, and Andy Smith has to draw random scenes throughout the story. Instead of finishing his run with his collaborator of the past three years, Madureira ends up penciling an uncredited plot that’s largely nonsensical. It’s a not exactly a graceful ending for this specific era of UXM.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

WOLVERINE #118 – November 1997

Out of Darkness
Credits: Larry Hama (writer), Lenil Francis Yu (penciler), Edgar Tadeo (inker), Comicraft (lettering), Jason Wright (colors)

Summary: Wolverine tries to convince Mustang to fight against his programming, but he’s unable to ignore his orders as a Prime Sentinel. Jubilee watches Mustang attack Wolverine, and responds by blasting him in the face. The flash destroys his new vision, which enables Mustang to revert to his true personality. Outside, SHIELD agents are attacking an army of Prime Sentinels. One of them targets Cyclops, and blasts him in the chest. SHIELD agents examine him and learn that Bastion recently had a bomb implanted in his chest. Wolverine exits the clinic with information on the process Bastion used to create the Prime Sentinels. He tells Mustang to give it to the SHIELD agents, confident that they can help him. The X-Men then leave in one of Bastion’s ships, hoping that they can save Cyclops in their medi-lab.

I Love the ‘90s: The information on Bastion’s Prime Sentinel process is kept on giant floppy discs.

Review: This is the final issue of Hama’s nearly eight-year run on the title, although there’s no indication within the issue itself. It’s also the final chapter of the OZT crossover, even though an issue of X-Men that shipped two weeks earlier already brought an end to the story. (This chapter actually takes place before X-Men #69, because the SHIELD agents are getting ready to confront Bastion. The “epilogue” label on the cover isn’t very accurate.) It’s too bad Hama had to end his run with an editorially mandated crossover that reads like it was heavily rewritten. This issue is filled with more dull captions and dry exposition, and like the past few issues, it doesn’t read like Hama’s work. Some of the material with Mustang isn’t that bad, but most of this is just outright generic. The fact that no sentimentality is shown for a creator who’s spent over seven years working a title also feels wrong (Scott Lobdell received similar treatment on UXM during this time). It might not have been intentional, but there is a sense that the people in charge don’t care that much about who’s working on these books, as long as the pages are filled up and they ship out on time. It certainly doesn’t help the X-books’ image as a crassly commercial product that’s being thoughtlessly pumped out by Marvel.

Monday, April 13, 2009

X-MEN #69 – November 1997

Last Exit
Credits: Scott Lobdell (writer), Carlos Pacheco & Salvador Larroca (pencilers), Art Thibert (inker), Comicraft (lettering), Liquid! (colors)

Summary: Sabra arrives and rescues Iceman, Cecilia Reyes, and Marrow from the Prime Sentinels. Following the information she’s gathered, the mutants travel with Sabra to Connecticut. Meanwhile, Senator Kelly rebukes Operation: Zero Tolerance on the floor of the Senate. Soon, Iceman and the others arrive at a mansion in Connecticut. They’re greeted by Bastion and an army of Prime Sentinels. An older woman named Rose Gilberti is there, looking after Detective Jones’ son, Timothy. Bastion says that Timothy is free to go, but Rose questions what Bastion has become. Iceman uses his powers to force Bastion outside, demanding a personal conversation. The two debate Bastion’s actions, until the Prime Sentinels arrive. Suddenly, agents of SHIELD appear, declaring that OZT’s permission to act on US soil has been revoked. Bastion agrees to be taken into custody, as Iceman explains to Marrow that resolving the conflict peacefully separates the X-Men from Bastion.

Continuity Notes: Bastion claims that Rose Gilberti is the “closest thing I have to a mother” and that she “took me in when I had no more of a mind than that of a newborn child”.

Review: And here we have the legendary anti-climax to the OZT crossover. There’s still an issue of Wolverine that’s dedicated to sending the X-Men back home, but this is the real conclusion to the storyline. And, after over a year of buildup, it ends with Bastion turning himself in for no discernible reason, after Senator Kelly gives an “impassioned” off-panel plea to the government to withdraw support. There’s also a new character introduced, Rose Gilberti, who is supposed to play some important role in Bastion’s origin. Unfortunately, she receives less than a paragraph’s worth of dialogue, and the artist chooses to frame the panel so that we only see the back of her head. Since the issue ends with page after page of Iceman and Bastion debating OZT, it’s hard to figure out why exactly she’s in the story. I’m assuming that she was supposed to be the human who teaches Bastion that his actions against mutants are truly inhuman, but she only speaks in one panel before she’s forgotten about. And why exactly was Sabra brought into this? I understand that she helps move Iceman where he needs to be for the climax, but there could’ve been any number of ways to get to this point. She received a lengthy setup a few issues earlier, dropped out for a bit, moves the plot along in this issue, and then disappears. Outside of the novelty of pairing her with the X-Men for the first time (I don’t think she ever appeared outside of Incredible Hulk), I have no idea what the point was supposed to be.

It’s too bad the story just fizzed out, because you can see along the way that it had potential. The X-Men on the run, mutants from across the globe suddenly targeted by Sentinels, the mansion ransacked, the X-Men’s secrets stolen, Senator Kelly forced to reexamine his anti-mutant beliefs – none of these are bad ideas. The story never seems committed to selling the scale of the operation, though, so the only mutant who doesn’t regularly appear in an X-title targeted by OZT turns out to be Sabra. Meanwhile, in Uncanny, Archangel, Psylocke, and Maggott don’t seem to be having any problems with Prime Sentinels. The climax also suffers from only offering hints about Bastion, and never actually giving him an origin. It’s another example of the X-office keeping something a secret longer than it needs to be, even though this mystery had already been solved by guesses in the letters page. It’s not hard to figure out that Bastion is an amalgam of Nimrod and Master Mold, so why not explain how he got that way in the final chapter? Maybe Bastion’s wimpy surrender wouldn’t have seemed so bad if the readers were given an origin for the character. At least something would’ve been resolved. Instead, we get an issue filled with speeches, more vague hints without a resolution, and a villain who surrenders because it’s page twenty-two already and it’s time to move on. Disappointing.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

UNCANNY X-MEN #349 – November 1997

The Crawl
Credits: Scott Lobdell (writer), Chris Bachalo (penciler), Comicraft (lettering), Dan Brown & Digital Chamelon (colors)

Summary: Maggott continues his search for Magneto in New York City. He comes across Psylocke, who attacks him because she senses a “great darkness” within him. Using her psychic knife against him causes her to briefly pass out. Soon, Archangel arrives to help. Meanwhile in Antarctica, Trish Tilby comes across the Beast, who has returned to his human form. They continue their search for the X-Men, who are still Nanny’s captives. Joseph escapes from his restraints and reunites with the others. They attempt to escape, but are ambushed by Nanny. Before she can attack, Trish Tilby knocks her head off with a crowbar. Disabling Nanny allows the mutants’ powers to return, but they still don’t know why they’ve been brought to Antarctica. Gambit, declaring that he can’t live with the shame anymore, turns himself over to Spat. He claims that the truth will now be revealed.

Continuity Notes: It’s common knowledge that Beast only received blue fur after he drank an experimental potion, so many people complained when he lost his fur when his powers were negated. However, the potion did have some connection to mutancy, and he’s lost his fur on other occasions when his powers were neutralized (I don’t think it’s been kept consistent over the years).

Maggott, somehow, is able to look into the recent past when he’s staring down at NYC through a telescope. I don’t think this was ever explained. I assume the “darkness” inside Maggott is a reference to the mutant slugs that are a part of his powers (I'm also assuming his mental connection to the slugs prevents Psylocke's psychic knife from working).

Grovel describes himself as a “Klyruvian”, so I guess he’s an alien and not a mutant.

A narrative caption says that Rogue and Gambit were finally able to “fully express their love”, although I’m pretty sure the next issue backs away from the idea that they had sex.

I Love the ‘90s: All of the New York City scenes take place at the World Trade Center.

We Get Letters: A letter writer wonders why Rogue and Gambit were in promo ads for the OZT crossover. The editorial response admits that the characters were originally supposed to participate, but the current storyline in UXM went on longer than expected.

Review: And it’s still not UXM #350, so here’s some time-killer. Reading this, I almost forgot that it's Scott Lobdell's last official issue as writer, as there's no indication inside that he's leaving. I don't think the full story has ever been revealed, but the story that went around at the time was that he had a falling out with Bob Harras and was abruptly removed from the book.

This actually isn’t all bad, as Rogue is given an interesting dilemma. She’s close to learning the dark secret her boyfriend has been keeping from her for years, but only on the same day she’s finally able to touch him. Spat also works well enough as a spoiler, egging Rogue on to discover the truth. Sadly, the story doesn’t do an awful lot with these ideas, but you can see where Lobdell might’ve been going with this. The Maggott/Psylocke fight, however, is sadly a waste of time that never amounts to anything. It pads the issue out with an action scene, but Psylocke has such a vague motivation for attacking Maggott it’s hard to care anything about what’s going on. Chris Bachalo shows up as the fill-in artist, a few months before he’s set to officially take over the title. Some of the action sequences are a little confusing, but for the most part this is on the same level as his earlier Generation X issues. At the very least, it’s not as rushed looking as the past couple of issues. Overall, this isn’t as frustrating as the past few installments, but it’s clearly stalling.

WOLVERINE #117 – October 1997

A Divine Image
Credits: Larry Hama (writer), Lenil Francis Yu (penciler), Edgar Tadeo (inker), Comicraft (lettering), Joe Rosas & Chris Sotomayor (colors)

Summary: Mustang unwittingly reveals the X-Men to his friends, who suddenly morph into Prime Sentinels. After the X-Men defeat the cyborgs, the remaining human members of the camp debate their next move. Meanwhile, Bastion, who senses that SHIELD is moving against him, calls Dr. Prospero’s clinic and orders the launch of the “Final Directive”. In the desert, Jubilee flees from her captors. Five miles away, Wolverine catches a whiff of her scent and tracks her down. After defeating a Prime Sentinel, the duo is reunited with the X-Men. The team investigates Dr. Prospero’s clinic, which is now abandoned. Bastion receives word that the clinic has been breached, and deduces that it must be the X-Men. The other Prime Sentinels are gone, so Bastion orders the remaining one become active, even though his vision has yet to be upgraded. Inside the clinic, Mustang morphs into a Prime Sentinel and targets the X-Men.

Continuity Note: It’s revealed that Dr. Prospero is actually Bastion’s seldom-seen shapeshifting agent, Harper.

Review: While X-Force was able to continue its own storylines and use the OZT crossover in an entertaining way, this title is increasingly buried under the weight of the crossover. It is fun to see Wolverine and Jubilee reunited, but no other aspect of this issue is even about the characters. It’s the team fighting Prime Sentinels again, setting up the next issue where they’ll fight another one. Very little of this issue actually reads like Hama’s work (the scene that has Jubilee mistakenly attacking a cactus is probably his, but the rest of this is very generic), so it doesn’t even feel like the Wolverine that’s existed since 1990. Most of the dialogue is clunky, almost every page is crammed with dull captions, and it’s just not fun to read. Yu’s art is still mostly impressive, but a few of the pages look stiff. Without all of the gritty detail lines, some of the figures just look half-finished.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

X-FORCE #70 – October 1997

Credits: John Francis Moore (writer), Adam Pollina (penciler), Mark Morales (inker), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (lettering), Marie Javins (colors)

Summary: X-Force rescues their teammates from Operation: Zero Tolerance and flies away. Meanwhile, in the aftermath of OZT’s attack, Cable searches for Caliban in the tunnels beneath the X-Men’s mansion. Ozymandias emerges and temporarily shuts off Cable’s mind before he takes Caliban away. He leaves Cable with the mental suggestion that Caliban is in safe hands. In another dimension, the Vanisher realizes that Warpath was actually sent to help him. He tells Warpath to tell a story to the strange creatures in order to placate them. In Oklahoma, Domino is picked up by X-Force. Soon, Cable greets them in his own aircraft. They land in North Carolina, where Cable reveals his plan to have the team go underground. They refuse to assume false identities, which forces Cable to realize that the team no longer needs him. He leaves, which leads Meltdown to question what will happen next.

Continuity Note: Judging by what he does to Cable, I’d have to say that Ozymandias has pretty impressive telepathic powers.

Review: This turned out to be my final issue of X-Force. For some reason, this title stuck around my local newsstands for a few months longer than the other X-spinoffs, but by Fall 1997 it was gone. It’s a shame, since the book is better than it’s been since the late Nicieza run, and I would’ve liked to continue with it. This brings the title’s OZT crossover stint to an end, as Moore uses the event to justify the new status quo. It is a little rushed, but Moore thankfully keeps the characters true to themselves and doesn’t insert any false drama. The story has quite a few character moments, such as Meltdown’s temptation to kill Ekatarina Gryaznova while she’s unconscious, Domino’s flirtation with the truck driver who saved her, and the Vanisher’s revelation that he loved the sitcom Taxi. It’s a solid script, and Pollina’s art is up to his usual standards. I’m tempted now to track down the rest of this run on eBay.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

X-MEN #68 – October 1997

Heart of the Matter
Credits: Scott Lobdell (plot), Steve Seagle (script), Pascual Ferry (penciler), Art Thibert (inker), Chris Lichtner, Aron Lusen, & Liquid Graphics (colors), Comicraft (lettering)

Summary: Marrow knocks out the two policemen sent to investigate the blackout. Upstairs, Iceman and Cecilia Reyes are attacked by more Prime Sentinels. When a Prime Sentinel aims at Iceman's back, Detective Charlotte Jones takes the bullet and dispatches the Sentinel. While Reyes treats her wounds, Jones reveals that Zero Tolerance kidnapped her son and blackmailed her into helping them. Marrow arrives, offering help. The three mutants leave the police station and walk the surprisingly abandoned New York streets. Iceman realizes that they’ve been set up, shortly before an army of OZT soldiers and Prime Sentinels emerge. Elsewhere, inside a palatial home, Charlotte Jones’ son waits for his mother. A mysterious woman watches over him. Meanwhile, Sabra arrives in America, while Senator Kelly tells Henry Gyrich that he’s fighting Zero Tolerance.

I Love the ‘90s: A Bullpen Bulletins article details a group of Marvel staffers skipping out of work on a Sunday afternoon to watch the new hit movie Men in Black. I had no idea Marvel’s offices were open on Sunday.

Review: Okay, it’s another issue of Iceman and Cecilia Reyes fighting Prime Sentinels. Marrow does finally meet up with them towards the end of the issue, but it’s obvious that this storyline is dragging. There’s an attempt to move the attention away from the characters directly fighting the Sentinels and instead focus on their efforts to protect civilians from the collateral damage, but it doesn’t add enough variety to the story. Steven Seagle makes his X-debut as guest scripter (I believe he was scheduled to take over Wolverine at this point and did this as a last minute fill-in). Some of the dialogue isn’t bad, but the excessive narration just gets annoying. Much of it tries to make the exposition more interesting than it really is (Seagle, or whoever wrote the narration, seems to be hung up on Marrow having two hearts), and occasionally it just drifts into odd tangents, like describing where the glass in the police observation room was made. Seagle apparently wasn’t brought up to date on all aspects of the crossover, as Henry Gyrich is now once again staunchly on OZT’s side, and resists Kelly’s efforts to stop the organization. The two already went through this in last month’s Wolverine, anyway. Pascual Ferry shows up as the guest artist, and turns in a capable job. It’s not as good as his previous UXM fill-in, but it’s better than I would expect from a middle-of-crossover fill-in.

Monday, April 6, 2009

UNCANNY X-MEN #348 – October 1997

Because, I Said So
Credits: Scott Lobdell (writer), Joe Madureira (penciler), Townsend/Holdredge/Vey (inkers), Comicraft (lettering), Digital Chameleon (colors)

Summary: Nanny attacks Rogue, Joseph, Spat, and Grovel with an army of cybernetic animals. She neutralizes their powers and takes them into custody. Trish Tilby, who is being secretly monitored by a cybernetic bat, watches the events and leaves to find the Beast. Joseph tries to convince Nanny to let him go, but she refuses to obey his orders, claiming that the outside world is too dangerous while Zero Tolerance is targeting mutants. Nearby, Beast searches for his friends, and is ambushed by two shadowy figures. With her powers neutralized, Rogue begins to regain memories she’s absorbed and lost. Gambit is afraid that his secret will be exposed, and asks Rogue not to question him about his past. He embraces Rogue, telling her that this could be their only night together. Elsewhere, Psylocke suddenly disappears in New York, while Deathbird tends to Bishop’s wounds inside a space station.

Production Note: The one-page Archangel/Psylocke scene in this issue is clearly not by Madureira. It looks like Andy Smith’s earlier work to me.

Continuity Notes: The cybernetic animals commanded by Nanny are probably connected to the cyborg ape in UXM #345, but the story doesn’t offer any confirmation. The earlier appearance by the ape leads me to believe that Lobdell might’ve been planning some explanation for how exactly the X-Men ended up in Magneto’s arctic base (even Beast says that it “defies logic” that they would’ve ended up there), but it’s something that was lost in the change of creative teams.

Deathbird is lying to Bishop, claiming that the X-Men are all dead. They do have a subplot that’s picked up on later, but I don’t recall any explanation for why they were separated from the rest of the team.

When Joseph sees news footage of Moira MacTaggert inside Magneto’s base, he has a sudden thirst for vengeance. This is a reference to the final Claremont storyline, which revealed that Moira manipulated Magneto’s genes while he was once temporarily a child in the hopes of curing his mental illness. Even this close to UXM #350, Marvel’s still running with the idea that Joseph is Magneto (he’s even described that way on the recap foldout).

Review: It’s another issue of the team wandering around what’s been retroactively revealed as Antarctica. There is some nice character work with Gambit and Rogue, but a lot of this just feels like the story’s stalling until issue #350. The characters are now pointing out some of the plot flaws, which is either a sign that Lobdell did have something of a plan, or he was throwing in digs against editorial directives that never made sense. The question of who hired Spat & Grovel is raised, but never answered. And if it turns out that Magneto did hire them, there doesn’t seem to be a justifiable reason for Nanny to take them captive with the X-Men. As for the sensational character find of 1997, Landscape, he’s disappeared with no explanation in-between issues. Madureira’s art, which often saves mediocre stories, is inconsistent throughout the issue. That’s not surprising since he has three inkers, but some of the pages still look nice. For whatever reason, the two-page subplot scene with Bishop is more impressive looking than anything that happens in the main story.

WOLVERINE #116 – September 1997

What the Blind Man Saw
Credits: Larry Hama (writer), Lenil Francis Yu (penciler), Edgar Tadeo (inker), Comicraft (lettering), Joe Rosas (colors)

Summary: The X-Men wander through the desert after escaping from Zero Tolerance. They meet a blind man named Mustang, who is living in a trailer park while waiting for his appointment with a Dr. Prospero. During the night, Wolverine investigates the doctor’s nearby clinic, and learns that Prospero is curing disabilities by turning people into cyborgs. Bastion is now able to use the patients as his sleeper agents, the Prime Sentinels. As Bastion flies overhead, the X-Men hide underground. Meanwhile, Mustang tries to warn the other members of the camp, but they don’t believe him. Elsewhere, Senator Kelly, fearing the potential harm Bastion could cause, decides to stand up against Zero Tolerance.

Miscellaneous Note: The title of this issue is apparently a reference to an old folk song.

Review: We’re now at the middle stage of the crossover, which forces the X-Men to kill some time before they presumably make their final move against OZT (although I don’t think it actually worked out that way). Hama, who’s clearly stuck with this material, decides to add a human element to the crossover by introducing Mustang. Mustang, a pilot who lost his vision and the use of his limbs after an accident, is supposed to put a human face on the Prime Sentinels. It’s a legitimate avenue to take, but at this point Mustang feels more like someone who exists solely to serve a role and less like a legitimate character in his own right. The story is also crammed with excessive narrative captions, most of which are made redundant by later lines of dialogue (For example, there’s extensive narration describing a scene that has Wolverine sneaking out in the middle of the night, unable to escape Mustang’s notice. If the art wasn’t clear enough, the very next page has a dialogue exchange that spells everything out. So what was the point?) The captions are often dull and pretentious, reading as if the editor didn’t have enough faith in the creative team and wanted to put his own stamp on the comic. Unfortunately, this continues through Hama’s final issues of the series.

Friday, April 3, 2009

X-FORCE #69 – September 1997

Roadside Attractions
John Francis Moore (writer), Adam Pollina (penciler), Mark Morales (inker), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (lettering), Velasquez/Javins & Digital Chamelon (colors)

Summary: In Oklahoma, Domino is picked up by a truck driver. Her head is shaven and she’s disoriented after undergoing a mysterious surgery. Meanwhile, Moonstar, Siryn, and Sunspot plan their next move. Moonstar gets information from SHIELD that helps them track down Ekatarina Gryaznova, the Zero Tolerance operative who’s kidnapped the rest of X-Force. At the same time, Gryaznova makes a secret arrangement with a trio of scientists who want to experiment on X-Force. They’re soon interrupted by Moonstar, Siryn, and Sunspot, who chase the scientists away and defeat Gryaznova. Elsewhere, Warpath meets an other-dimensional being (who takes the form of his childhood cat because he doesn’t want to “overwhelm” Warpath). He takes Warpath to the man he thinks Sledge sent him to this world to find, the Vanisher. The Vanisher doesn’t want to leave the dimension, and orders its strange inhabitants to attack Warpath.

Continuity Notes: According to Moonstar, SHIELD resents being forced to work with Operation: Zero Tolerance and is open to undermining them. This is why Domino was unofficially asked to rescue Moonstar when OZT cornered the Mutant Liberation Front.

One of the scientists who examines X-Force used to work for Gideon, and claims that he’s one of the scientists who once experimented on Sunspot. The scientists appear to have some supernatural abilities, since they don’t seem to mind catching on fire as they escape. Their dialogue suggests that their presence ties into the eventual resolution of the Reignfire mystery, but I’m not sure how that played out.

Review: It’s more OZT stuff, but it is fun (I’m increasingly convinced that the botched ending of the crossover is mainly responsible for its low reputation). I’ve mentioned before that I have a soft spot for stories that split the cast up over various locations, and this is a nice example of a story that makes you feel as if a lot of things are going on at the same time. The OZT characters once again serve to set up the action scenes, but Moore also manages to give them more personality than they’ve had in most of their appearances. Gryaznova’s men gossip behind her back, while Gryaznova continues to secretly undermine Bastion. It adds a touch of realism and gives the characters traits outside of “anti-mutant human”. Pollina’s art isn’t particularly exciting during the OZT action scenes, but he really excels during the Warpath subplot. The alien dimensions and talking cartoony cat fit his style very well, and help to give the subplot a unique feel. This still feels like an issue of the Moore/Pollina X-Force, rather than generic crossover nonsense.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

X-MEN #67 – September 1997

The End of Days
Credits: Scott Lobdell (writer), Carlos Pacheco (penciler), Art Thibert (inker), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (lettering), Chris Lichtner and Aron Lusen & Liquid! (colors)

Summary: In Israel, Sabra is attacked by Prime Sentinels while investigating Operation: Zero Tolerance. After defeating them, she vows to find the X-Men. Meanwhile, Iceman and Cecilia Reyes continue to dodge Prime Sentinels in New York. They hide out in Archangel’s apartment, which is currently occupied by his friend, Angie Quail. When Iceman tries to use the phone, his powers begin to disappear. Angie reveals herself as a Prime Sentinel and attacks. She’s shot in the back by Detective Charlotte Jones, who offers the mutants refuge at her police station. Later, while Iceman and Reyes wait in an interview room, Jones speaks to a pair of OZT agents. They claim that she’ll get her son back in exchange for bringing in the two mutants. The police officers in the station soon turn into Prime Sentinels, but the power goes out before they can attack. In the basement, Marrow, who cut the power, is waiting for the police.

Review: It’s another issue of Iceman and Cecilia Reyes dodging Sentinels, and even though the story is still moving slowly, it is fairly entertaining. I like seeing Charlotte Jones again, who’s given more to do here than she has in years. The kidnapped child angle is an old cliché, but I don’t mind it too much. The use of Prime Sentinels in this issue is a little annoying, since it strains credibility that so many people in New York (and officers in a specific police station) would be Sentinels. If the idea is that these are normal people who didn’t know they were implanted with Sentinel technology while having routine surgeries, it’s just implausible that so many of them would be in the same place. And if the Prime Sentinels have the ability to neutralize powers, why are they only now using it? The action in this issue distracts from some of the dodgier plot elements, though, and everything’s made more exciting by Pacheco’s pencils. Lobdell also handles the interaction between Iceman and Reyes pretty well, although her incessant whining gets old fast.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

UNCANNY X-MEN #347 – September 1997

Big Night
Credits: Scott Lobdell (writer), Joe Madureira (breakdowns), Tim Townsend w/Cannon & Milgrom (finishes), Comicraft (lettering), Steve Buccellato (colors)

Summary: Gambit is taken into custody by Spat and Grovel, two bounty hunters he betrayed in the past. Nearby, Beast and Trish Tilby emerge from the remains of their spacecraft. Three miles away, Joseph and Rogue investigate the alien environment. Joseph tries to attune his magnetic powers to the environment, and inadvertently exposes it as an illusion. Joseph discovers Landscape, who is working with Spat and Grovel. He admits that he created the illusion, but won’t say why. Soon, Joseph and Rogue meet up with Spat, Grovel, and Gambit inside a cave. Their reunion is interrupted by Magneto’s servant robot, Nanny. Meanwhile, Callisto asks Marrow to help the X-Men fight Zero Tolerance, while Maggott follows Joseph’s trail in South Carolina.

Continuity Notes: This is the debut of three characters that never really caught on, Spat, Grovel, and Landscape. They’re bounty hunters with a grudge against Gambit. Grovel is supposed to be the creature that snuck up on Gambit in the previous issue, even though he doesn’t resemble a zebra in any way (he's a giant reptile). Spat is a young girl who de-ages everyday, and blames Gambit for the problem. Gambit implies that something happened in Madagascar between them, but it’s not elaborated on (apparently, Fabian Nicieza eventually resolved at least some of this in a Gambit story on Marvel’s website). Landscape, who Gambit calls “Brett”, is a mutant who can create holographic landscapes. When he’s asked why he created the alien environment, he doesn’t have an answer.

A brief flashback shows that Marrow witnessed Angel being nailed to the wall during the Mutant Massacre storyline. She’s a child in the flashback, which fits in with the idea that she aged rapidly in the dimension the Morlocks were eventually sent to.

Review: This is the beginning of an odd stretch of issues that closes out Scott Lobdell’s run. I’ve never heard all of the details, but apparently there was some behind-the-scenes drama that caused these issues to turn out as a mess. The first hint of this shows up in the opening few pages, as the creature who confronts Gambit blatantly contradicts what we saw in the previous issue. The landscape is then revealed as a fake, as a new character is popped into the story to justify the new location. This creates two problems that aren’t addressed – why did Landscape create a fake environment in the first place (he says that he was ordered to but doesn’t know why), and since we soon find out that the location is actually Antarctica, why isn’t anyone the slightest bit chilly? On top of that, Nanny (not the one in the egg-suit, the original one that’s dressed like a maid) drops by on the final page, which sets the scene for Magneto’s nonsensical appearance in #350. It reads like someone was either making this all up on the fly, or was constantly second-guessing what was supposed to be happening. In addition to a main story that makes little sense, Lobdell also introduces more characters with mysterious connections to Gambit. Is it a prerequisite that every character Gambit meets has to make vague comments about his past, and then name the foreign locale where he did them wrong? It’s gotten ridiculous by now. Since things continue to devolve from here, it’s hard to be charitable at all with this issue.

WOLVERINE #115 – August 1997

In the Face of It
Credits: Larry Hama (writer), Lenil Francis Yu (penciler), Edgar Tadeo (inker), Comicraft (lettering), Joe Rosas (colors)

Summary: In New Mexico, Bastion shows Jubilee a hologram of Storm, Cyclops, Cannonball, Phoenix, and Wolverine arriving in custody. After protecting Phoenix’s body from their crash, Wolverine is near death. He’s brought down to an incinerator to be disposed of, but he begins to regain consciousness. He defeats the guards and steals one of their uniforms. He frees the X-Men from their cells, but Bastion soon learns of their escape. Phoenix sends mental projections of Bastion to confuse the guards, enabling the team to reach the blast doors. Unable to open them with physical force, the team is trapped. Jubilee watches the events from Bastion’s control room, where she manages to press the button that opens the doors. The X-Men escape in one of Bastion’s aircrafts, determined to stop Zero Tolerance.

Review: And now, OZT invades Wolverine. This mainly serves to recap the storyline so far and move the X-Men out of Bastion’s custody, and it accomplishes that much at least. Hama tries to add a few character moments to the story, such as Wolverine reaching out to Phoenix when he’s near death (which is what convinces Jubilee that the hologram is real), but the crossover is obviously an intrusion on this title’s ongoing storylines. Bastion receives an interesting portrayal here, as he actually apologizes to Jubilee for what he’s doing, and later questions why he hates mutants so much. It’s a not-so-subtle clue that he’s programmed to feel that way, but playing it so that Bastion himself doesn’t know that adds some depth to the character. Outside of these moments, though, the story’s rather bland. Yu’s art helps to keep things from getting too boring, since the story enables him to draw lots of intricate machinery and costume designs. He’s also able to draw a larger cast of characters without sacrificing the quality of his previous issues.

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