Monday, December 31, 2012

THE BOOK OF FATE #10 - November 1997

The Final Gathering
Credits: Keith Giffen (plot & pencils), Alan Grant (script), Bill Reinhold (inker), Gaspar (letterer), Mike Danza (colorist)

Summary: War’s human avatar enters the bathroom, shortly after Fate uses his daggers to unlock his chains. War reveals the Four Horsemen’s plan to destroy the world, confident that Fate can’t stop them. When the four “philanthropists” appear onstage, a disguised Fate uses his daggers to kill three of them. War stops time and engages Fate in battle. After Fate kills him, time returns to normal, leaving Fate at the mercy of the security guards.

I Love the ‘90s: The heightened security at the event is compared to the last time “Clinton had a haircut,” which might be a reference to Bill Clinton’s famous haircut on an airport runway. Later, Fate says his disguise makes him feel like “Michael Jackson on a particularly bad day.” I think this is a reference to the heavy makeup he’s wearing to cover his face tattoo.

We Get Letters: The editors continue to defend Fate’s retconned origin with the dubious claim that it’s allowed this series to be friendlier to new readers.

Review: So the Four Horsemen arc has developed for four months now, and it ends with the hero assassinating the villains in their civilian identities while from a safe distance. Yes, that’s an anti-climax, but it’s perfectly in-character for Jared Stevens, and Giffen still gives himself room for a few sick visuals. I’m not a huge fan of Giffen’s art from this era, but he undeniably draws incredible demons, so the Fate vs. War fight is pretty entertaining. (I still would’ve preferred Ron Wagner’s version, though.) Some of the setup for the story, particularly War and Famine’s dinner date preceding the conference, is also executed quite well. If Giffen could’ve kept the Four Horsemen as interesting throughout the entire arc, or perhaps shortened this storyline by an issue, the book could have picked up a decent momentum by this point.

Friday, December 28, 2012

THE BOOK OF FATE #9 - October 1997

Swiss Cheese
Credits: Keith Giffen (plot and pencils), Alan Grant (script), Bill Reinhold (inker), Gaspar (letterer), Mike Danza (colorist)

Summary: The avatars of the Four Horsemen appear at a conference in Switzerland, as Dr. Occult meets with Fate and Vera. Fate dismisses his advice, but later submits to Vera’s request to do more research on the Horsemen. He steps away to go to the bathroom, and discovers that he’s now in the bathroom of a Swiss hotel. He’s soon captured by the authorities and taken to another bathroom. He opens the door and is teleported yet again.

Production Note: Ron Wagner was apparently misidentified as the penciler in the original credits. Alan Grant is also credited as only "Grant," leading me to wonder if the editor forgot that Steven Grant was also doing work for DC at the time.

Review: This issue -- exciting bathroom teleportation! It’s another issue of Fate derisively dismissing any help that’s offered him on supernatural affairs, only to find himself in over his head in a mystical adventure. I’ve noticed that the letters page is running more and more letters from readers annoyed by the lead character, and the editorial response is always along the lines of “Jared never believed in magic before, so it’s going to take some time for him to figure this stuff out!” Nine issues in and this has already gotten extremely old. He doesn’t come across as a rational skeptic, just an obnoxious man-child that rarely has any sarcastic or cynical observations that are actually funny.

Even if the main character is a disappointment, the book could still be saved with some imaginative storylines. Instead, we’ve gotten three issues in a row of the Four Horsemen making vague plans to do…something. To Giffen’s credit, the avatars he’s created for the Horsemen are potentially interesting (a Senator who crusades for peace, a Mother Teresa analogue, a billionaire philanthropist, and a mystery man on a cell phone), but all of their scenes have been fairly redundant so far. The saving grace for this title is usually the art, but Ron Wagner is absent this month. (Looking at, apparently the previous issue was his last.) The art’s taken an abrupt swerve into ‘90s Giffen territory (almost Trencher-esque, but not as abrasive), and it’s not nearly as attractive as the earlier issues.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

THE BOOK OF FATE #8 - September 1997

Better Off Dead
Credits: Keith Giffen (writer), Ron Wagner (penciler), Bill Reinhold (inker), Gaspar (letterer), Mike Danza (colorist)

Summary: Vera snaps out of her spell as a process server knocks on the door. He assures Vera that Jared isn’t dead and revives him. He then hands him a summons for Sentinel’s lawsuit and leaves. Later, Dr. Occult greets Jared in an alley, giving him his card and inviting him to talk. Inside the Conclave Monolith, a mystery woman is informed of Dr. Occult’s actions. Meanwhile, personifications of the Apocalypse continue to appear, killing innocent people.

We Get Letters: Every letter printed in the letters page is negative this issue. Most of them are from established readers that are upset that the new Fate’s continuity makes no sense (as opposed to the entire storylines that make no sense). The editors respond that giving Fate a new origin was necessary in order to sell the importance of the “final” Order vs. Chaos war (which honestly makes no sense to me). They also assure the fans that DC would never change Alan Scott’s origin…“He is, after all, the original Green Lantern!”

Review: Giffen advances the main storyline incrementally, as Fate’s death in the previous issue is dismissed quickly so that the focus can return to the Apocalypse characters and Sentinel’s lawsuit. And Dr. Occult appears, which may or not mean something to someone familiar with obscure DC continuity. This is followed by another vague scene, which has an unnamed blonde woman from the Conclave question if Dr. Occult is planning to train Fate in the mystic arts. Maybe this shouldn’t bother me, but it’s annoying to see character after character appear with no explanation. I have no idea if I’m supposed to know who they are, or if they’re intentional mysteries. If Mystery Blonde Lady is an established character, would it kill Giffen to have one of her female servants identify her by name?

I’ll give Giffen the benefit of the doubt and assume that the Apocalypse subplot pages are intentional mysteries, but even these scenes are a drag on the book. Almost a third of the issue is consumed with pages of possessed women turning people into dried out corpses. There’s no discernible advancement of the plot, and the scenes feel needlessly padded. Bring back the rats, please.

Monday, December 24, 2012

THE BOOK OF FATE #7 - August 1997


: Keith Giffen (writer), Ron Wagner (penciler), Bill Reinhold (inker), Gaspar (letterer), Mike Danza (colorist)

Summary: Jared finds himself pursued by rats. He escapes by tricking them into falling several stories off a building. With Arnold away, Jared turns to his sister Vera for help explaining the phenomenon. She appears to be Jared’s ally, until she receives a mysterious phone call. Vera then pulls out a gun and shoots Jared in the back. Meanwhile, the other personifications of the Apocalypse discuss Pestilence’s actions, and Sentinel testifies to the Conclave that Jared has mystical possessions that are rightfully his.

I Love the ‘90s: Jared is uncomfortable using the internet. Vera tells him to just “point and click.”

Review: This is absurd and entertaining, as opposed to most of this series’ run, which has been absurd and irritatingly confusing. Using an army of literal rats as the manifestation of Pestilence is probably the cleverest use of the concept I’ve seen in comics, and of course Ron Wagner easily does the concept justice. That cover alone is enough reason to love Ron Wagner. How many books on the stands in August 1997 could grab your attention like this? Regarding the story, Giffen is setting up a handful of new storylines, and bringing back the Senator character from the previous arc. Now we know he’s some personification of the Apocalypse, information that for some reason couldn’t be conveyed during the previous month’s utterly pointless crossover. Oh, and Sentinel has turned against Fate, which according to the letters page, is apparently a tie-in with whatever books Alan Scott was appearing in at the time. I don’t have a lot of faith that any of this will have a coherent conclusion, but hopefully I can get something out of the story while enjoying the pretty pictures.

Friday, December 21, 2012


Children of a Lesser God

Joe Casey (writer), Steve Rude (penciler), Andrew Pepoy (inker), Paul Mounts (colors), Jim Novak (letters)

Summary: William Metzger appears on television, waving a copy of a celebrity magazine, asking which stars could be mutants. Warren Worthington, who’s still acting as a vigilante, is shocked to see his face on the cover. Later, Magneto attempts to recruit him, but Warren refuses. Meanwhile, Fred Duncan informs Professor Xavier that Jack Winters is a known felon. Xavier follows Winters and Scott Summers to the nuclear plant Winters is robbing. When Scott refuses to use his powers on a guard, Winters violently beats him. Scott finally strikes back, but spares Winters’ life. Xavier offers Scott a new home.

I Love the '90s: A news report details a charge by the White House that a certain intern had “alluring” mutant powers. A silhouette of Monica Lewinksy is superimposed over the White House.

Review: Yes, this looks pretty. And as a modern reimagining of some old back-up stories, it’s decent enough, but the series still feels largely pointless, and it’s reached the halfway point by now. The issue opens with even more scenes of young Iceman being really cold, the generically evil William Metzger is still recruiting teenagers, a scene reminds us that Fred Duncan is talking to an invisible “Bill,” Angel is still a local vigilante, and numerous TV news montages remind us yet again that people are really afraid of mutants. If Casey were desperate to fill pages, you’d think he would at least find a way to check in on Hank and Jean. I do honestly like the idea of young Bobby Drake practically freezing to death, and Angel’s vigilante scene in this issue is great, but I feel as if we’re covering the same ground repeatedly, all for a story with a predestined ending. The numerous shipping delays during the book’s original run surely didn’t help the series’ pacing, either.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

CABLE #74 - December 1999

Mind Games

: Joe Pruett (writer), Bernard Chang (penciler), Jon Holdredge (inker), Gloria Vasquez (colors), Comicraft’s Saida Temofonte (letters)

Summary: Caliban attacks the team, injuring Proudstar. He abruptly leaves, following the call of Apocalypse’s new Horseman of War, Deathbird. X-Force follows, only to be ambushed by Caliban’s new psionic pestilence powers. Cable enters the Astral Plane to rescue the team, not realizing that this was a trap designed to steal Cable’s physical body while his consciousness was distracted. Cable later awakens in Apocalypse’s custody. Meanwhile, Stacey and Irene reflect on Cable’s impact on their lives.

Continuity Notes: Apocalypse has given Caliban pestilence powers that somehow don’t work physically, but instead attack the mind. For unexplained reasons, Moonstar, Domino, Meltdown, and Jesse Bedlam aren’t affected by his powers.

Review: This is Joe Pruett’s strongest issue so far, and perhaps not coincidentally, it’s also another non-Liefeld issue (the second in four issues). Pruett’s awkward prose is paired back dramatically this time, and he actually manages to write adequate exchanges between the cast. It’s not perfect, of course, as he clumsily hammers home the idea that this is a “new” compassionate Cable, but this is much easier to read than his previous issues. Pruett, or perhaps someone in editorial, has seen fit to outright state that this warmer, fuzzier Cable will be rejoining X-Force in order to look after his former charges, which is likely a hint that no one working on the books had any idea what “Counter-X” was going to be at this point.

And while it’s easy to mock Liefeld for missing half of the issues of his run so far, at least we got Bernard Chang as a fill-in. Some of his facial expressions are still bizarre, but for the most part, he’s able to do a great action issue in that “chunky” post-manga style that was emerging during this time. His scenes in the Astral Plane, which cast the action as a montage within a film strip, are particularly nice.

Monday, December 17, 2012

GENERATION X #59 - January 2000

Artie and Leech’s Day Off!
Credits: Jay Faerber (writer), Terry Dodson (penciler), Rachel Dodson (inker), Kevin Tinsley (colors), Comicraft (letters)

Summary: Artie and Leech sneak out while Gen X visits a museum in New York. The team searches for the duo, as Artie and Leech aid Spider-Man against Sandman. Emma pairs with Tom Corsi, who explains his reluctance to join the school considering his past with Emma. Chamber futilely tries to talk to Husk about her new attitude, while Skin and Synch run into She-Hulk and ask for an autograph. Finally, Artie and Leech are caught by the Avengers after impersonating Thor and Captain America. When the team arrives to pick them up, Emma makes peace with Firestar.

Continuity Notes:
· Banshee and Jubilee aren’t with the team, because they’ve traveled to the X-mansion following the “death” of Wolverine. The footnote points to Uncanny X-Men #375.
· Tom Corsi reminds Emma of the time she had Empath force him and Sharon Friedlander to, well, mate like animals in New Mutants #39. Later, Emma has to apologize again for manipulating Firestar in the past, and sending the Hellions to retrieve her in an early New Warriors story.

I Love the '90s: Artie and Leech impersonate two of the Backstreet Boys (the blonde one and the “bad boy”…I’m not going to look up their names), and cause a riot.

Approved By The Comics Code Authority: Chamber uses “wanker” again, this time to describe Artie and Leech.

Review: I think the only two X-titles not directly involved with some aspect of the big Apocalypse crossover are Generation X and X-Force. And while X-Force is embroiled in John Francis Moore’s extensive Deviants storyline, Generation X isn’t caught up in anything so dramatic. Even the major storylines at the time, Emma’s sister becoming the new White Queen and the acceptance of humans into the school, aren’t so important that they must be addressed in every issue. So, they kill an issue in New York, and it makes for a decent story, although it clearly looks diminutive when compared to the rest of the line.

Mixed in with the comedic scenes and character moments, Faerber’s used the opportunity to address some continuity issues surrounding Emma’s role as a hero. It’s clear the character was not created with the goal of one day being reformed, so her blatantly evil actions from the past must be addressed. And Faerber handles the past continuity well, allowing Emma to say the only thing she can say -- “sorry.” This could come across as lazy or insincere, but the scenes do feel genuine and Faerber is able to make Emma as sympathetic as she’s been since this book was launched.

While it’s easy to dismiss this issue as filler, maybe there is a lasting significance to the story. Is this the first time Terry Dodson was asked to draw Marvel heroes outside of the X-universe? Faerber’s given him quite a list of heroes to handle throughout the story, and to be honest, the results are mixed. The cover is a good example…some of these characters look amazing, others just look wrong. In fairness to Dodson, he was still new to any of the “mainstream” Marvel figures, and it’s obvious he got a lot better as the years went on.

Friday, December 14, 2012

GAMBIT #11 - December 1999

The Hamster Run
Credits: Fabian Nicieza & Steve Skroce (story & art), Andy Owens (inker), Shannon Blanchard (colors), Comicraft’s Troy Peteri (letters)

Summary: Gambit and Daredevil pursue Constrictor, who’s stolen a synthetic organ from a hospital. Gambit needs Constrictor’s adamantium so that New Son can save Sabretooth, while Constrictor and Daredevil are fighting over the organ. Constrictor stole the organ for mob boss Salvatore Donato, who’s holding Constrictor’s childhood girlfriend, and Donato’s daughter, hostage. Daredevil wants the organ for Judge Harris Beuchler, who was next on the transfer list. After Constrictor is chased to the mobster’s home, Daredevil learns that Beuchler bought his way up the list ahead of Donato. Gambit devises a mutual solution: Constrictor gives Gambit his adamantium coils, the judge gets the organ, and Gambit uses his powers to dissolve the shards of glass that damaged Donato’s stomach when he was poisoned in prison.

Continuity Note:
· Fontanelle scrapes the memories of Mr. Sinister, witnessing him reading a story about the “Black Womb Killer” in 1891.
· Sabretooth is near-death following the removal of his adamantium. New Son claims he can save Sabretooth if he has more. I don’t know if we were ever told where exactly this adamantium was implanted in his body, but the idea of him having an adamantium skeleton was dropped after this story.

Miscellaneous Note: The Statement of Ownership has average sales for the year at 96,359 with the most recent issue selling 64,240 copies.

Review: This issue barely ties into the ongoing New Son plot, and obviously isn’t very Gambit-centric, but it’s still strong. Daredevil the true star of the story, as he risks his life to retrieve an organ one of his mentors needs to survive, only to discover that the judge subverted the law to extend his life. In order for this to work, though, you have to assume that a convicted mobster would receive higher priority than a respected judge in the first place, which might be a stretch. (I don’t know if past criminal convictions are considered in any way when making the organ transplant list, but I wonder if a judge would have to resort to outright bribery in order to rank higher than a mobster). Regardless, the premise isn’t so implausible that it ruins the story.

Nicieza’s done a great job creating a series of conflicting motivations and unexpected twists. As the story points out on the final page, Constrictor is actually the character with the noblest actions, since he fought to save the only true innocent in the conflict. Gambit doesn’t even want to save Sabretooth, and Daredevil’s hero turns out not to be so righteous (although, I can’t really blame him for wanting to outlive a convicted drug dealer and racketeer). The sarcastic third-person narrative captions also add a lot of life to the story, particularly the running series of jokes about Constrictor’s face and all of the horrible things that are happening to it. This easily could’ve been time-killer, but instead it’s one of the better standalone stories from the era.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

CABLE #73 - November 1999

: Joe Pruett & Rob Liefeld (story & art), Lary Stucker w/Dan Fraga (inks), Optic Studio (colors), Comicraft (letters)

Summary: Caliban emerges from a cocoon in San Francisco and immediately follows Cable’s trail. While hunting Cable, Caliban befriends a young boy who isn’t afraid of mutants. Unfortunately, Caliban is chased off by his father and the boy is hit by a truck when he follows Caliban. A crowd forms and threatens Caliban, reviving his bloodlust. Meanwhile, Cable meets with X-Force, giving them information on all of his safehouses in case he doesn’t survive his fight with Apocalypse. Suddenly, Caliban, now calling himself Pestilence, crashes into X-Force’s headquarters.

Continuity Notes:
• Siryn’s appearance on the cover is a mistake, as she isn’t a member of the team at this point. She isn’t in the story, but the presence of Domino and Sunspot together makes it hard to pinpoint where this issue could fit in X-Force continuity.
• Blaquesmith and Ozymandias have formed an alliance against Apocalypse. Ozymandias asks Blaquesmith if his pupil, presumably Cable, is “ready.” Ozymandias’ connection to Caliban’s disappearance in X-Force #70 isn’t mentioned.

Review: So, now that Joe Pruett and Rob Liefeld are being credited as “storytellers,” does that mean Liefeld actually did co-plot these stories? I was always under the impression that Liefeld took this simply as an art assignment because he missed drawing the character (and his publishing company had folded.) I do distinctly remember Joe Pruett denying that he was involved with plotting issue #75 at all, and Liefeld claiming the plot didn’t come from him, leading to the theory that one of Marvel’s editors mapped out the story uncredited. Was that the only issue plotted by editors? Regardless, we’re getting deep into crossover territory, which means if Joe Pruett ever did have a clear vision for this book, it’s going to be buried anyway.

I don’t want to keep harping on Pruett, but his work on the X-books so far has placed him in sub-Kavanagh territory. There is a bright spot this issue, as Cable learns of Siryn’s injury in X-Force #90 and laments ever recruiting Feral into the team, but that’s essentially it. The rest of the issue is just cardboard. Almost every page is overloaded with supposedly deep text that’s so clumsily written you almost feel sorry for the poor letterer who has to type it out. “A famous writer once asserted that ‘you can never go home.’ As Cable sits among his former students…enjoying the closeness and warmth that only comes from the cohesive bond that is a family…he thinks of this literary line and is glad it is the exception and not the rule.” And that’s just one of the clunkers. Pruett’s prose is just a chore to read, and it chokes almost every page of the book. (This is assuming that Pruett and not an editor wrote these lines, of course.)

But, hey, Rob Liefeld’s back after that exhaustive stint of one issue, so that counts for something, right? Most of the issue is a conversation scene, which displays Liefeld’s talent for never drawing backgrounds, or believable facial expressions. Sometimes X-Force has a floor, but usually their couch just manages to float four feet off the ground. Liefeld’s been in the industry for over ten years at this point, and he still can’t draw a credible conversation scene to save his life, or figure out little things like “How does furniture touch the floor?” or “How do normal human beings bend their knees and sit down?” He’s also forgotten, again, which of Cable’s eyes is the mechanical one. I bet the creator of Cable was just furious to see someone get a basic detail like that wrong…

Monday, December 10, 2012

MUTANT X #15 - December 1999

The Ripple Effect
Credits: Howard Mackie (writer), Cary Nord (penciler), Andrew Pepoy (inker), Gina Going (colors), Chris Eliopoulos (letters)

Summary: After the Friends of Humanity nuke the X-Men’s mansion, President pro tem Graydon Creed declares amnesty for Nick Fury and SHIELD. Now promoted to General, Fury invades the Six’s home, allegedly to “protect” them from terrorists. The Six, joined by Cerebro, escape to Forge’s mountain headquarters where they meet the pro-mutant resistance: Captain America, Sebastian Shaw, Katherine Pryde, and Sunfire. Abruptly, Sunfire turns on his teammates and destroys the mountain complex. The team escapes with Captain America, while Forge’s new Cerebro design emerges as a monster from the wreckage.

“That’s Crazy Because They’re Different”: Kitty, now Katherine, Pryde has become the Hellfire Club’s Black Queen since her last appearance. Sebastian Shaw, for some reason, has yellow word balloons and is apparently wearing armor based on Ronan the Accuser’s. Nick Fury is still a remorseless anti-mutant bigot on this world.

Continuity Notes: There are a lot of vague deaths in the issue. The X-Men were killed in the nuclear attack, according to Cerebro. Sebastian Shaw, Katherine Pryde, and Forge are apparently killed when the mountain complex is destroyed, at least according to Bloodstorm. Sunfire is presumably dead, too.

“Huh?” Moments: Where to start? For some reason, two Nightcrawlers are members of the X-Men during their group shot. Graydon Creed has somehow become President in-between issues (What happened to President Starr and Vice President Kelly? Or Reed Richards becoming President in the ’99 annual?). And, most egregiously, Havok warns Brute to keep his voice down while traveling underwater in the team’s jet, because Nick Fury, who’s several yards away in another ship, might hear him. That one has got to go down in the Howard Mackie Hall of Fame.

Better Than X-Factor? : Oh, this is somehow even worse than X-Factor. What could you even say about something this bad? I guess I’m obligated to mention that Cary Nord’s art is stylish and attractive, but for some reason he draws one horrific Captain America. It’s unbelievable that an artist who’s clearly extremely talented could dog one of Marvel’s most important characters so badly. If only that were the issue’s only flaw…

This is essentially unreadable. Apparently, Mackie’s decided that the Mutant X universe needs a massive humans vs. mutants conflict, because that’s never been done, but he doesn’t know how to undo the peaceful relations he’s already established for the book. Now, he could develop this in a credible way, as he creates a series of events that begin to unravel the passive co-existence between the two races. Maybe use the series to write a thoughtful examination of just how fragile peace could be. Make the readers care as they watch old hates resurface and mutants go back into hiding. But, no, this is Mutant X. In a move that would make even a fanfic writer blush, Mackie’s decided that the entire mutant/human dynamic of this universe will be undone in just four pages.

Now, Havok and his teammates are a persecuted minority, because of course they are, and they’re on the run from the comically bigoted Nick Fury. (And don’t call him “Colonel” any more, unless you want him to literally kill you.) They run into more arbitrary recastings of established characters, which are promptly killed off by Sunfire, who’s suddenly taking orders from a mysterious “they” who want everyone dead. Things blow up, people die off-panel, and somehow Captain America becomes a team member. So, that’s the new direction, I guess. Captain America joins a persecuted group of mutants, and who cares how many continuity and logic errors had to be endured in order to get here. How did any of this get past an editor?

Friday, December 7, 2012

NEW MUTANTS #90 - June 1990

To Hunt the Hunter
Credits: Louise Simonson (writer), Rob Liefeld (penciler), Hilary Barta (inker), Glynis Oliver (colors), Joe Rosen (letters)

Summary: Sabretooth murders one of the remaining Morlocks, Samson, as Caliban returns to the sewers for vengeance. Meanwhile, Cable and the New Mutants move into the underground complex beneath the ruins of the X-Men’s mansion. After Rictor freezes during a Danger Room session, he decides to prove himself by defeating Masque and the rogue Morlocks in the nearby tunnels. He heads into the tunnels alone, and is soon assaulted by Sabretooth. His life is saved when Caliban attacks Sabretooth. At home, Cable and the New Mutants prepare to rescue Rictor.

Continuity Notes:
· The X-Men’s mansion was destroyed during the “Inferno” crossover. Sabretooth is killing any surviving Morlocks after the “Mutant Massacre” because he hates to leave a job unfinished.
· Following Cyclops’ suggestion, the team has moved into the X-Men’s old underground bunker in order to hide from Freedom Force. Cable has also ordered the team to design new costumes, which will allegedly confuse Freedom Force “at least momentarily.” The behind-the-scenes reason is simply that Rob Liefeld wants to design new costumes for the New Mutants. Cable’s metallic battle suit also debuts this issue, even though he only wears it to tour the new facilities.
· Rictor begins dropping hints about his father’s past with Cable. He denies Boom Boom’s sarcastic implication that Cable’s a “mass murderer,” but accuses him of stealing his father from him during an inner monologue on the next page. Later, when Rictor’s overwhelmed by opponents in the Danger Room, he claims that the same thing happened to his father. And, finally, Rictor mentally accuses Cable of setting him up, “just like you did my father” after he fails in the training sequence.
· Cable comments that he can’t push Rictor too hard, or else he’ll lose him, like he lost his son. We’ll learn years later that Cable “lost” his son when Stryfe brainwashed him, which doesn’t seem like something that can be averted with a positive father/son relationship.

I Love the '90s: The team is going to “modem” their new costume designs to Ship.

Review: The bold new direction for New Mutants truly begins this issue, as Cable officially becomes the team’s new mentor, new costumes debut, and the cast moves to a (somewhat) new location. Already, this feels abrupt. If Cyclops were truly concerned about the government locating Cable, I would tend to think that he could hide quite comfortably inside the giant sentient alien that X-Factor uses as a skyscraper. And why is Cyclops so eager to help this stranger out anyway? If he really thinks Cable is innocent of whatever it is the government is accusing him of, shouldn’t X-Factor make an effort to clear his name? And if Cyclops doesn’t think Cable is innocent, why is he leaving him in charge of a group of teenagers? Unless there’s an issue of X-Factor that addressed these questions, it’s hard to buy the hasty shift in status quo.

Ignoring how the creators have gotten to this point, this does work fairly well as a set-up issue for the new direction. Yes, Rictor’s motivation is childish and dim-witted, but that’s pretty consistent with his characterization at this point. The team is given enough room to interact with one another, a few vague clues are dropped about their mysterious new teacher, and Cable is actually portrayed as a sympathetic mentor for the team. He’s concerned about pushing them too hard in the Danger Room, he wants to make sure they continue their studies, and even though he’s more willing than his predecessors to send the team into battle, he at least does it reluctantly. Does this sound anything like the man from the early issues of X-Force? Cable hasn’t even shot anyone in the back yet!

Unfortunately, Rob Liefeld’s art continues to deteriorate. This is an early example of Liefeld drawing squinty expressions instead of actual eyes, and he pulls the trick so often you barely see any pupils this issue. Other shortcuts include repeating the same drawing of Rictor twice during a conversation scene, and simply inserting the Official Marvel Handbook’s diagram of the mansion’s interiors during a scene that calls for the cast to describe all of the wonderful features of the complex. And the closing image of the issue is a gratuitous splash page of a tiny-headed Cable hugging, yes hugging, a giant, unrealistic gun that’s at least six feet tall. Don’t worry, X-Force, we’ll get there soon…

Wednesday, December 5, 2012


Damaging Evidence - Part Three
Credits: Carl Potts (writer), Gary Erskine (artist), Garrahy/Javins/Matthys (colors), Richard Starkings w/John Gaushell (letters)

Summary: After their fight, the Sniper assumes Damage and Wolverine have killed each other. Soon, Sniper stakes out the funeral of one of the people allegedly murdered by the Punisher, correctly assuming the Punisher will also be there. Sniper picks off several of the mourners before he’s stopped by the Punisher. Following Sniper’s final words, Punisher travels to the chemical plant where Damage fought Wolverine. He helps Wolverine recover and they both promise to help the other if one goes over the edge. Later, Kingpin hires Donald Pierce to rebuild Damage.

Approved By The Comics Code Authority: Wolverine refers to Damage as a “bastard.” And this is before Damage drives a giant blade through his chest. Later, several heads explode during Sniper’s killing spree at the funeral.

Review: So, the Kingpin is taught humility, the Sniper dies (again), Wolverine is rescued, and in a tacked-on monologue on the final page, the Punisher questions if he’s done any good, then reminds himself once again to stop thinking so much. It’s perfectly okay, even if it reads like the standard ending of a Punisher War Journal arc, instead of a story so important it just had to be a miniseries. If this was drawn by one of PWJ’s better artists, I imagine the storyline would’ve had more impact. Instead, Gary Erskine’s awkward poses, ugly faces, and static storytelling drag a lot of the material down. I can’t imagine Jim Lee, or later artists like Ron Wagner, creating such a dull Wolverine vs. Cyborg Punisher fight. Sniper’s murder spree at the funeral is effectively conveyed, though. This scene is absolutely gruesome, reminding me of just how far Potts took the Punisher even back in the Code days. The rest of the comic just reads as an average Punisher story with a gratuitous Wolverine cameo, and the art’s not strong enough to sell the action. If you’re looking for more Carl Potts Punisher stories, it’s worth tracking down, but I imagine most people would be better off with a collection of the Carl Potts/Jim Lee run on Punisher War Journal.

Monday, December 3, 2012

NEW MUTANTS #89 - May 1990

The Gift
Credits: Louise Simonson (writer), Rob Liefeld (penciler), Hilary Barta (inker), Brad Vancata (colors), Joe Rosen (letters)

Summary: Cable’s helicopter is shot down over Manhattan’s East River. Freedom Force pursues him into the city, ambushing him after he buys a trenchcoat to cover his metal arm. Nearby, Cannonball, Boom Boom, and Sunspot are buying Wolfsbane a going away present. They stumble upon Cable’s fight and aid him against Freedom Force. Cable returns home with the mutants and encounters his old friend Moira MacTaggert. Cable convinces Moira to let Wolfsbane stay and join his mission. The team unites around Cable, with the exception of Rictor, who apparently knows him.

Continuity Notes:
· What are Cable’s first thoughts when encountering the New Mutants? “I’ve seen them -- on television! X-Factor’s young mutant charges.” He doesn’t recognize Cannonball as the mutant savior he’s come from the future to train and protect, oddly enough.
· Cable’s able to use his bionic eye to sense the rapid approach of Super Sabre.
· Moira comments that Cable’s become “even more the metal man” when she sees him this issue. When the story of their first meeting is finally told in Cable #-1, Cable’s already half-metal (or half-techno-organic, however you wish to phrase it.)
· Cable tells Moira that he has to stop terrorists, presumably the MLF, from constructing a powerful bomb. I don’t believe this motivation is mentioned ever again. It could've been a metaphor, but that's not the way the scene reads.
· Rictor tells Warlock that Cable doesn’t recognize him, but “I know him all too well!” Years later, this mystery is resolved when a flashback reveals Cable’s clone, Stryfe, killed Rictor’s father before his eyes. Rictor’s reaction to Cable in these issues is rather subdued in light of this revelation.

Review: When I discovered that Moira MacTaggert was the first existing character to have a shared retconned past with Cable, I thought it was an odd choice. Well, now I get it. It was just a cheap justification to place Cable in charge of the New Mutants! And it does make a certain amount of sense; the associated authority figures that allegedly take care of the New Mutants aren’t going to let just anyone assume responsibility for the team. This (almost) works as a quickie rationale for why the kids are willing to trust him and the adults are okay with Cable looking after the team.

What isn’t explained is why a Shadow King-possessed Moira MacTaggert so easily gives up on her mission to bring Wolfsbane back to Muir Island. I can guess the sloppy retcon explanation, Cable used his immense telepathic powers to minimize the Shadow King’s influence and sway Moira over to his side (even though Cable shouldn’t be aware of his telepathy at this point), but this makes no sense within the context of the story. I’m also unclear on why exactly Cable is trying to reach X-Factor’s ship at the beginning of the story. Cable hasn’t mentioned X-Factor in his previous two appearances, but now he’s apparently relying on them to help him stop the MLF and rescue Rusty and Skids. I believe X-Factor were supposed to be Rusty and Skids’ guardians during this time, so that does make sense, but the idea isn’t clearly explained in the story. (Another Sloppy Retcon Explanation: He knows that X-Factor’s ship will one day become his computer aide and confidant, the Professor, and he’s looking for his help. Alternate Sloppy Retcon Explanation: He subconsciously knows that his biological parents live there.)

For the sake of plot convenience, Cable luckily runs into the young charges living in X-Factor’s ship while he’s fighting Freedom Force in an alley. Oddly enough, we’ll later learn that Cable came to this specific era to recruit Cannonball to his cause anyway, so it’s also mighty convenient that he happened to run into him while on a totally unrelated mission. Oh! Maybe Cable’s powerful, yet nonexistent, telepathic abilities drew Cannonball and the others to the alley!

So, yes, it’s hard to read this story without thinking of all of the insane retcons that have been shoehorned into Cable’s past. Judging the issue in its proper context, however, doesn’t help it out much. There are still dubious coincidences, vague motivations, and a shockingly abrupt shift of power to this new guy named Cable. It's true Moira vouches for him, but everyone knows she’s been acting strangely lately. And, this new guy is outright telling the New Mutants they could be killed on this mission he has for them. Yet, everyone’s eager to sign up. And while I’m willing to cut Liefeld some slack on his earlier issues, his work is getting egregiously bad at this point. The staging of the fight scenes is inconsistent from panel to panel, characters appear to spontaneously float on air, and everyone seems to strike ridiculous poses even during mundane conversation scenes. In terms of continuity, this is a monumentally important issue, but it’s easy to understand why no one ever wants to dwell on its details.

Friday, November 30, 2012


Damaging Evidence - Part Two
Credits: Carl Potts (writer), Gary Erskine (artist), Marie Javins (colors), Richard Starkings w/John Gaushell (letters)

Summary: The Punisher investigates the crime scene, unaware Sniper’s spying on him. Later, Sniper learns that Damage has been assigned the Punisher hit, much to his annoyance. Wolverine also investigates the Punisher’s alleged shooting, and is soon tranquilized by Sniper. He awakes in time to track down the Punisher imposter, who is actually Damage. Sniper watches from a distance as Wolverine battles Damage. Meanwhile, the Punisher learns of another shooting he’s been framed for and begins to doubt his sanity.

Review: Ah, this is one of those “Did I really kill that bus full of nuns?” stories. Years later, Jeph Loeb will do virtually the same concept with Wolverine in the Victims miniseries. Wolverine and Punisher are the ideal Marvel heroes to do this story with, since it’s not a stretch to believe they’ll kill someone, the drama is simply who was killed. Potts, oddly, doesn’t play up the mystery, since it’s fairly obvious by the middle of the issue that Damage is actually the one impersonating the Punisher. Presumably, he guessed the readers will know that Punisher isn’t the true killer and instead focused on a different aspect of the story. The focus instead turns to the Punisher’s growing doubts about his mission. Could he have killed an innocent? Are any of his victims redeemable? Do they have families, like the hitman he killed in Mexico? He normally doesn’t allow himself to think about these things. Thinking, he declares, is an obstruction to his mission. Potts’ Punisher War Journal stories were also notable for humanizing Punisher just enough to make him a sympathetic figure, without wimping out on the concept.

And, oh yeah, Wolverine is in the comic, too. And that hair is still marvelous. Wolverine gets to fight the true villain of the miniseries, who’s physically a duplicate for the Punisher now, so I guess that’s one way to get the obligatory hero vs. hero fight out of the way. Potts doesn’t do much with Wolverine directly, but he has clearly put thought into how someone like the Kingpin would deal with a hairy, psychotic mutant. He knows Wolverine is virtually impossible to kill, and he doesn’t want to attract the X-Men’s attention, so Kingpin’s solution is to tranq him. He also doesn’t want Wolverine using his senses to trace his men back to the Kingpin’s organization, so he makes sure Sniper’s van has been disinfected and that the Sniper is wearing plenty of Old Spice to cover his scent (Old Spice because it's so common; Kingpin says half the men in Manhattan are wearing it). Potts’ stories used to be filled with little details like this, and it’s one of the things I miss from this era from Marvel Comics.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

NEW MUTANTS #88 - April 1990

The Great Escape
Credits: Louise Simonson (writer), Rob Liefeld (penciler), Hilary Barta (inker), Glynis Oliver (colors), Joe Rosen (letters)

Summary: Freedom Force orders Cable to join them, or be labeled a member of the Mutant Liberation Front. He rejects their offer and plots his escape. With minimal effort, he’s able to break out of his cell and escape in one of the government’s helicopters. Meanwhile, the New Mutants are reunited with X-Factor. When Wolfsbane contacts Moira MacTaggert, she’s stunned to learn that Moira is on her way to take her back to Muir Island.

Continuity Notes:
· Moira is currently under the influence of the Shadow King, which ties in to a long-running subplot in Uncanny X-Men. Presumably, the Shadow King wants Wolfsbane on Muir Island to join the other mind-controlled mutants there.
· Cable tells Pyro that he built his mechanical hand, which he’s now repaired. Later, in an internal monologue, Cable states “Hand’s good as new. Great. I’m gonna need it.” (Cable’s even convinced himself that his mechanical parts aren’t just a cover for his techno-organic disease!) Cable also keeps vials of acid hidden in his “bionic parts.”
· Freedom Force, and the guards in this prison, repeatedly refer to Cable as a rogue government agent. One of the guards even declares that it’s an honor to be guarding a legend like Cable.

I Love the '90s: When Crimson Commando remarks that Cable has style, Mystique responds, “So does Khadafi!”

Review: It’s only his second appearance, and already this book is turning into The Adventures of Cable. While the New Mutants spend a few pages returning to their old status quo, recapping recent events, and advancing a few romantic subplots, Cable actually gets to do something. And his elaborate escape from prison is fun, as he’s able to use Freedom Force’s powers against them and make a pretty easy exit. Liefeld’s storytelling does let the scene down in a few places, like when Cable jumps out of a window and conveniently locates a cannon that’s just sitting on the ground, but for the most part the sequence works rather well. If Liefeld’s art suits any character, it’s the Blob, and Liefeld goes out of his way to represent the insanely corpulent mutant during the fight, while downplaying the more human members of Freedom Force.

When characters aren’t fighting each other, we’re left with a few dull “catching up” scenes that can’t help but to reveal more of Liefeld’s shortcomings. Boom Boom’s entrance in a revealing dress is handled competently (if you ignore the fact that she’s floating on her tippie-toes), but Liefeld’s unable to convey little things, like Cannonball turning his head to actually look at her. His neck (the few centimeters we see of it, at least) is growing out of the middle of his chest, and his facial expression reads “I’ve just seen the most psychologically damaging event of my life” instead of “Boy, that’s a pretty girl in a dress.” This is a character book, and I can absolutely understand why existing fans of the title couldn’t believe the new artist’s inability to draw the teen drama elements.

Monday, November 26, 2012


Damaging Evidence - Part One
Credits: Carl Potts (writer), Gary Erskine (artist), Marie Javins (colors), Richard Starkings w/John Gaushell (letters)

Summary: The Punisher kills one of the Kingpin’s hitmen, and is soon drawn into a larger firefight. During the fight, one of the gunmen is killed in front of his son, and the Punisher is hit by the Sniper. The Kingpin responds to the attack by hiring the Reavers to kill the Punisher. Wolverine overhears the assignment while fighting Reese in Hong Kong and decides to warn the Punisher. Meanwhile, the Kingpin’s cyborg Damage is repaired with technology provided by Donald Pierce. Later, the Punisher is framed for killing bystanders during an attack. He travels to the scene of the crime and discovers a mysterious van.

Continuity Notes: There’s no indication in this issue, but future chapters will note that this story takes place prior to Uncanny X-Men #248-281 (i.e. before the Reavers crucified Wolverine and the X-Men disbanded) and Daredevil #296-300 (i.e. before the fall of the Kingpin). This means the story’s set a good four years before the miniseries was actually published.

Approved By The Comics Code Authority: Numerous “damn”s and “hell”s in this issue, which was extremely rare for a mainstream Marvel comic at the time (although still considered tame enough for Code approval).

Review: This is an odd artifact. A Wolverine/Punisher team-up miniseries should’ve been a huge deal, especially in 1993, but I don’t recall any promotion for this title. In fact, I don’t think I knew it existed until I saw all three issues sealed together in a comic pack at Wal-Mart. And even at the height of my X-completism, I didn’t take the bait. Something about this miniseries just seemed off to me, even though I couldn’t quite pinpoint why. Reading it today for the first time, my suspicions were confirmed. I just don’t believe this went through the normal editorial channels of Marvel of this day. The minor profanity, the lettering, and the art make me wonder if this was initially produced as a Marvel UK book. The presence of Carl Potts, regular writer of Punisher War Journal and one-time Punisher editor, is a hole in that theory, though. My other hypothesis is that this began as a graphic novel, but was cut up into a three-part miniseries after Marvel abandoned the format. The extremely abrupt ending to this issue would seem to indicate this.

I knew none of this at the time, of course. I just knew that this book came out of seeming nowhere, and Wolverine looked utterly bizarre on the covers. Wolverine’s hair might be the lasting legacy of this book. We’ve seen some odd interpretations of Wolverine over the years, but only Gary Erskine seemed to think it was a good idea to portray Wolverine as if he just walked out of José Eber’s salon. “I’m the best there is at what I do…but even I need help in the battle against split ends,” Wolverine read awkwardly off of the cue card, still annoyed at Cher for stepping all over his lines in the first read-through.

Judging the issue on its own merits, it reads as an average Punisher comic from this era. I’ve read much better from Carl Potts, but a mediocre Punisher story from Potts is still pretty entertaining. The pacing of the issue is a little odd, as the subplot about the Punisher being framed for killing civilians comes out of nowhere in the final two pages, but I suspect that’s because the story wasn’t intended to be read in twenty-two page installments. Even though Wolverine has top billing here, it’s not surprising that the story’s biased toward the Punisher’s continuity, given Potts’ history with the character. I do remember the Sniper and Damage from the early issues of Punisher War Journal, but I don’t recall the Sniper working for Kingpin, nor do I remember Damage as a white cyborg (he was a black gang leader in the issues I remember). Using the Reavers as a connection between the two anti-heroes makes sense, given that they were always intended as Wolverine adversaries and ended up as minor members of the Punisher’s rogues gallery in the late ‘80s. Nothing feels forced so far, and aside from some reservations about Erskine’s art, this is at least a competent start for the miniseries.

Friday, November 23, 2012

X-MEN Episode Thirteen - March 27, 1993

The Final Decision
Written by Mark Edward Edens

Summary: A Sentinel stops Magneto from killing Senator Kelly.  Kelly realizes he isn’t safe, however, when Master Mold later announces to Trask that the Sentinels will no longer obey human orders. Their new programming is to replace all the world leaders' brains with computers, leading the way for a Sentinel takeover. Meanwhile, the X-Men locate Magneto and discover the Sentinels have returned. Scanning Gambit’s memories, Xavier learns the identity of the Sentinels’ former government administrator, Henry Gyrich. From Gyrich, they locate the Sentinels’ manufacturing plant. Magneto reluctantly joins the X-Men in battle, and Master Mold is destroyed. Senator Kelly reverses his stance on mutants and helps arrange Beast’s pardon.

Continuity Notes:
· Gambit met Henry Gyrich in Genosha when he tricked the authorities into believing he was spying on the mutant inmates.
· Professor Xavier’s examination of Gambit’s memories reveals quick flashes of Ghost Rider and Bella Donna, which means someone looked through that X-Men/Ghost Rider crossover for research.
· Cyclops proposes to Jean in the closing scene. Mr. Sinister watches them off-screen, boasting that he knows what their future holds. The original voice used for Sinister in this scene, which was high-pitched and somewhat campy, was replaced when the episode reaired.
· Trask is given a vague death scene, as he causes a giant explosion in an attempt to stop Master Mold. He returns without explanation in a later episode, though.

Approved By Broadcast Standards: Magneto has a bloody mouth during his fight with a Sentinel (which is made of plastics, of course.) Later, when the X-Men discover his body, Magneto’s entire chest is covered in blood. Magneto also makes a speech about seeing his loved ones executed before his eyes as a child.

Review: “The Final Decision” is my favorite episode of the series. Not only is this a fantastic conclusion to the first season of the show, but it also feels like it could’ve been a great final act for an X-Men movie. This really is classic X-Men material: Magneto’s after Senator Kelly, Sentinels are after Magneto, the X-Men are forced to save a bigot, someone gives an emotional speech about what the X-Men stand for, characters make noble sacrifices in battle, Magneto forges an uneasy alliance with the team, things blow up, and a human has a change of heart about mutants. Plus, we have a few gratuitous cameos from other characters in the Marvel Universe, and vague hints about the past of a team member (the first season of the show was filled with these teases). “The Final Decision” also has some of the finest animation in the show’s run. The scene that has Wolverine fighting Sentinels in a mineshaft, only illuminated by the intermittent shots of their eye-blasts, is pretty amazing. The forced perspective shots of the Sentinels flying out of the mine and racing towards the camera are also fun. There’s also no shortage of strong performances in this episode. Who could forget the wounded Magneto’s soliloquy “Noble fools…the brave are always the first to die.” as he watches the X-Men fly off on a hopeless mission? More than any other episode, this showcases how good a Saturday morning X-Men cartoon could actually be.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

X-MEN Episode Twelve - March 20, 1993

Days of Future Past (Part Two)
Written by Robert N. Skir & Marty Isenberg

Summary: The X-Men prevent Bishop from harming Gambit, but also express doubts over Gambit’s denial. Professor Xavier speculates that the assassination could happen during the Senate’s hearings on the mutant issue, so the team travels to Washington. There, they battle the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, while Mystique impersonates Gambit and tries to kill Senator Robert Kelly. Gambit saves Kelly, but Bishop remains eager to shoot him and Mystique. Rogue enters and destroys Bishop’s temporal transceiver, sending him back to the future. Shortly after the X-Men leave Kelly’s office, he’s kidnapped. Xavier discerns that Magneto is the culprit. In the future, Bishop returns home to discover nothing has changed.

Continuity Notes:
· Havok, wearing his Larry Stroman-era X-Factor costume, makes his debut in the series during a montage of future events, narrated by Bishop. He appears alongside Cyclops, fighting Sentinels. The Morlocks are also shown as victims of Sentinels in the montage.
· Storm comments that she knows Gambit better than anyone, which prompts an odd look from Rogue. This is a reference to Gambit befriending the de-aged Storm during Chris Claremont’s final years on the comics, although this storyline was never adapted for the cartoon.
· Mystique reveals herself as Rogue’s foster mother when she morphs into the shape of an average-looking, middle-aged white female.
· Two endings to the episode exist. When originally aired, the final shot of Forge in the future had him staring at an android in what appears to be a sensory deprivation tank. On subsequent reairings, we instead see Wolverine’s adamantium bones in the tank.

“Um, Actually…: Rogue always knew Mystique as her foster mother in the comics. The revelation that Mystique used another identity when raising her was apparently done to simplify Rogue’s earlier encounters with Mystique in this series.

Review: Following the basic structure of the original story, the second chapter of “Days” has the X-Men traveling to Washington, DC to stop the Brotherhood from assassinating Senator Kelly. This episode emphasizes why the adaptations from the comics often work so well in the cartoon. The cast isn’t quite the same, and the specific plot details vary in places, so even though comic fans are experiencing familiar scenes, the story’s still free to do something new. Merging the X-traitor storyline with the assassin plot from “Days of Future Past” makes a lot of sense, and it gives Rogue and Gambit important roles to play in a story that originally didn’t even feature them.

Adding Bishop, who’s almost as belligerent and violent here as initially portrayed in the comics, also creates conflicts that couldn’t exist in the original storyline. Bishop’s response when dealing with Gambit and a doppelganger is classic -- “Better take you both out…just to be sure.” Yeah, Cable had a virtually identical scene just a few episodes ago when dealing with Mystique, but it doesn’t fail to crack me up.

Having concluded an adaptation of one of the most famous X-Men stories ever, and doing a decent job of it, the episode ends with perhaps the greatest teaser in the show’s run. Why does Xavier think Magneto has kidnapped Senator Kelly? “Because, my watch…it’s been magnetized.” Even though Magneto had already appeared on the show, and the novelty of seeing X-Men characters on TV was starting to wear off a bit, for some reason this floored me as a kid. Magneto’s coming back! So, yes, this is a notable two-parter. Although I feel compelled to complain about Mystique’s characterization, again. Her motive for killing Kelly isn’t because Mystique’s a mutant extremist with an agenda, as seen in the comics. No, she’s doing this because her lord Apocalypse demands it, which is also used as a justification for her attempting to make Rogue a slave a few episodes earlier. Ugh.

Monday, November 19, 2012

X-MEN Episode Eleven - March 13, 1993

Days of Future Past (Part One)
Written by Julia Jane Lewald

Summary: In the year 2055, Bishop is a hired mutant hunter. After he reaches his quota and is targeted by the Sentinels, he joins the mutant rebellion. Forge and Wolverine explain their belief that a political assassination in the past is responsible for creating this world. Bishop volunteers to take Wolverine’s place and travel to the past. He arrives disoriented, vaguely aware that an X-Man is the assassin. While Gambit and Rogue visit Beast in prison, Bishop attacks the X-Men’s home. They subdue him, until Gambit and Rogue return. An enraged Bishop turns his gun on Gambit.

Continuity Notes:
  • Forge makes his debut in the series as a much older man. He’s one of the few remaining rebels, and the inventor of the time machine.
  • Beast speculates that Gambit has been in prison before, based on his strange reaction to visiting Beast’s cell.
  • Jean Grey actually joins the team to battle Nimrod, who’s followed Bishop through time. Jean rarely participated in the action scenes, especially in the first season.
  • The concept of Bishop accusing Gambit of betraying the team comes from a long-running storyline in the comics. At the time of this episode’s production, it was still several years away from a resolution.
  • Here’s a continuity conundrum: When the team speculates about whom the assassin could be, Cyclops is adamant that it can’t be Jean. Jean responds that everyone has darkness inside of them, reminding Cyclops of her own “dark days.” This is obviously an allusion to the “Dark Phoenix Saga,” yet the show is years away from adapting that story. So what’s Jean talking about, if she hasn’t become Phoenix yet?
“Um, Actually…”: The original “Days of Future Past” introduced Rachel Summers and the adult Kate Pryde of the future X-Men. In the comics, Kate overtakes Kitty’s body in the present day and warns the X-Men about Senator Kelly’s assassination. Later, Rachel escapes the future and joins the X-Men, revealing to them that she was brainwashed into hunting down fellow mutants. Bishop was introduced in Uncanny X-Men #282 as a mutant police officer from a future where segregated mutants policed themselves. All of these elements have been jumbled together to form the animated series’ Bishop.

I Love the '90s: Bishop is explicitly sent to “the ‘90s” to stop the assassination. Jubilee’s future gravestone lists her death date as the faraway year of 2010.

Review: A part of me still can’t believe there was ever a Saturday morning adaptation of “Days of Future Past.” Even with FOX’s willingness to bend the rules of accepted kids’ programming of the day, this isn’t an easy fit for a cartoon adaptation. Apparently, the story was submitted during the brief period of time when FOX was open to ideas like this; as surviving censor notes show us, FOX will soon grow weary of even the word “assassin” (which is used around fifty times this episode.)

The original stories have been sanitized a bit -- no one’s explicitly killed onscreen and Bishop is a willing and eager mutant hunter as opposed to a brainwashed slave in a bondage outfit -- but the impact hasn’t been dampened. I can’t imagine too many kids were expecting the newest episode of X-Men to open with a close-up of the Statue of Liberty’s eye, crying tears of acid rain as she overlooks the bombed-out remains of New York. Wolverine’s now an old man past his physical prime, and strange new characters make up the X-Men in this bleak world overrun by Sentinels. Thankfully, someone’s decided to alter the color scheme in this episode, so the pastels are gone. This is dark, literally and figuratively.

Fans of the comic probably weren’t thrilled to see Bishop merged with two disparate characters, but the revisions Lewald has made make a certain amount of sense. Bishop was quickly identified as the “future X-Man” at the time, even though his personal story had virtually nothing to do with the “Days of Future Past” storyline. Bishop’s origin story of a cop chasing a crook through time isn’t inherently bad, but it certainly lacks the impact of “Days of Future Past,” which is a story that Marvel and the producers understandably wanted to see adapted. So, Bishop becomes a mutant hunter from the future, rather than a fugitive mutant hunter from the future. The audience still sees several of the great moments from “Days of Future Past,” and one of the more commercial X-Men of the time is introduced to a Saturday morning audience.

As an introduction to Bishop and the byzantine world of future X-Men continuities, this works very well. None of the time travel elements are confusing, the conflicts are engaging (plus, the Nimrod fight is smartly used to add credibility to Bishop’s story, a needed element since the X-Men have no motive for believing him), and the cliffhanger is great. I doubt anyone will say this surpasses the original “Days of Future Past” storyline, but it’s an admirable adaptation, and it’s a far more tolerable incarnation of the ‘90s X-traitor mystery.

Friday, November 16, 2012

THE ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN Part Six - December 1994

An Evening in the Bronx with Venom
Written by John Gregory Betancourt and Keith R. A. DeCandido

The Plot: Spider-Man encounters Josias, a homeless man from San Francisco who claims that Venom has turned against the underground community that took him in. Although dubious of his story, Spider-Man agrees to help the police protect Josias from Venom. When Venom does appear, the police and Spider-Man attack him while Josias escapes. Spider-Man follows Venom after Josias, and eventually learns from Venom that Josias is the murderer; Venom wants to bring him back to San Francisco to face their community’s Council. Soon after Spider-Man agrees to help Venom, Josias thoughtlessly runs into traffic and is killed by an oncoming car.

Web of Continuity: The underground community that lives beneath San Francisco was introduced in the first Venom miniseries. A few of the police officers in this story will go on to appear in the novel Spider-Man: Venom’s Wrath.

Review: Playing off Venom’s past as a homicidal maniac, this story teases the idea that perhaps Venom hasn’t reformed after all, even while Spider-Man remains skeptical of the homeless man’s claims. Considering that Marvel was serious about keeping Venom as a Punisher-style anti-hero during these days, it’s not a surprise that he isn’t the true villain in this piece, but the story does get a decent amount of material just by toying with the idea. The story’s helped a lot by the writers’ ability to flesh out some of the police characters, such as Frank Esteban, a captain who doesn’t carry the NYPD’s standard bias against Spider-Man, and Vance Hawkins, a sergeant who apparently has a genius IQ and enough integrity to avoid card games with his fellow officers because he knows he can’t resist card counting. I’m not so sure about the bleak ending, or the wild coincidence that allows Spider-Man to run into Josias just as he enters New York, but this is an enjoyable read and one of the better Venom stories from the anti-hero days.

Five Minutes
Written by Peter David

The Plot: On Peter and MJ’s anniversary, she asks him to stay in bed for five more minutes as sirens pass their apartment. He reluctantly complies, but when Spider-Man finally reaches the crime scene, he’s told by an officer that he could’ve rescued a suicide if he’d arrived five minutes earlier. After an argument, Peter avoids MJ at the Daily Bugle. He grudgingly takes her call there and is informed that their neighbor is threatening to kill his wife. Spider-Man stops him and returns home. MJ makes him realize how hard it was to make the call, knowing that any time he goes into action he could die. They forgive one another and spend the rest of their anniversary together.

I Love the ‘90s: I imagine if this story were published today, Peter wouldn’t be relying on the Daily Bugle’s phone to get a message from his wife. Also, the Parkers’ homicidal neighbor is named Ron Swanson (!), which probably isn’t a name Peter David would choose for a non-joke character today.

Review: “Cop wife” MJ stories usually bore me to death, but this is probably the best take on the concept I’ve read. It’s unrealistic to think that MJ is just fine with Peter risking his life as Spider-Man, but making her weepy and emotional about it makes for stale drama. Giving MJ her own life, and the ability to shut out the anxieties and keep up her gregarious persona worked much better in the comics than turning her into a nag ever did. If you are going to focus on MJ’s anxieties, this is the way to go. David is able to give MJ a defensible point of view, while also allowing her to acknowledge the guilt she feels for potentially preventing Peter from saving a life. David’s also introduced another angle I’ve never thought of before -- how would MJ feel if she called Peter in to help a situation and he ended up getting killed?

Contrasting Peter and MJ’s happiness at the opening of the story with the constant fighting of their neighbors adds a layer of dramatic irony to the story, as Peter promises MJ they’ll never reach that point. A few minutes later, they’re having one of the worst fights of their marriage. None of this feels forced, and the story ends by reaffirming their love for one another, so it’s not motivated by any antipathy towards the marriage itself. It’s a character study that exists because it’s a story worth telling, as opposed to all of the marriage stories that existed simply to dismiss the concept.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

THE ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN Part Five - December 1994

Thunder on the Mountain
Written by Richard Lee Byers

The Plot: Spider-Man tracks the Rhino and a group of mercenaries into the wilderness, where an alien weapon is allegedly buried. A boy named Davy stumbles upon the fight, and after an injured Spider-Man saves his life, takes Spider-Man home to treat his wounds. Davy’s father, who’s determined to remove himself and Davy from society after the death of his wife, is livid that Spider-Man’s brought his family into the conflict. After Spider-Man leaves, Davy sneaks after him. Davy’s father soon tracks them down, and creates a distraction that enables Spider-Man to defeat the Rhino. The father begins to realize that it was a mistake to seclude Davy.

I Love the ‘90s: Spider-Man tells Davy that he’s a member of the “I Hate Barney Support League.”

Review: The premise of this story is fairly generic, but Byers adds a layer of mystery by opening the story with Davy’s point of view; the perspective of a child who’s lived in a cave with his father for most of his life and has never even heard of Spider-Man. Giving Spider-Man a kid to bounce off of, and a setting he isn’t accustomed to, also helps to make this seem a little less boilerplate. Davy’s unnamed father’s conversion is awfully convenient though. As the story points out, his fears about the outside world are essentially confirmed by the incident -- six outsiders have invaded his home and only one was a decent person. Instead of driving him further into seclusion, he abruptly decides that he’s been wrong all along. It could be argued that the father has learned that it’s impossible to keep his child totally safe regardless of where they live, but the story’s a little vague on why exactly Davy’s father has come around.

Cold Blood
Written by Greg Cox

The Plot: On a cold winter night, Morbius succumbs to his bloodlust and attacks a homeless man. Spider-Man arrives to stop him, leading to a battle in the snow that nearly kills Spider-Man. When he has an opportunity to kill Morbius with an icicle, he can’t bring himself to do it. After Morbius recovers from the fight, he thanks Spider-Man for giving him another chance and leaves, vowing to take only the blood of the guilty. Spider-Man does his final good deed for the night when he uses his webbing to create a temporary shelter for the homeless man.

Review: This is another story you might recognize from the 1994 flipbooks. I remember thinking that the Spider-Man/Morbius fight drags on for quite a while when I first read the abridged version in Web of Spider-Man, and time hasn’t changed my opinion. If you’re interested in an extended fight between Spider-Man and Morbius, told in the prose format, this is for you. Personally, I don’t find it a concept worthy of eighteen pages. Not that the story is totally lacking in depth, I suppose. Cox creates some symmetry with Spider-Man saving the homeless man from an icicle at the start of the story and nearly killing Morbius with one at the end, and he has Spider-Man ponder if he could’ve easily become the monster that Morbius is today as he debates stabbing Morbius in the heart (remember that Spider-Man had mutated into a six-armed freak when they first met). Cox is also able to use the frozen setting to the fight scene’s advantage, as Spider-Man must contend with a horrid environment that doesn’t seem to bother Morbius at all. And yet, the conflicts aren’t overly interesting and the fight scene does feel needlessly protracted. Compared to the other stories in the book, the concept just feels too thin.

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