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Wednesday, January 15, 2014

X-amining Fantastic Four vs. the X-Men #1-4

"Are You Sure? / Truth and Consequences / By the Soul's Darkest Light / A Matter of Faith"
February - June 1987

In a Nutshell 
The X-Men seek the help of the Fantastic Four to save the life of Kitty Pryde.

Writer: Chris Claremont
Penciler: Jon Bogdanove
Inker: Terry Austin
Letterer: Tom Orzechowski
Colorist: Glynis Oliver
Editors: Ann Nocenti & Don Daley (issue #2)
Consulting Editors: Mike Carlin (issue #1) & Don Daley (issues #1 &#3)
Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter

Plot
Issue #1: With Kitty's condition getting worse and Moira unable to do anything further, the X-Men reach out to Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four, who possesses a device which may save Kitty, for help. Reed and the rest of the Fantastic Four, including former member She-Hulk, meet the X-Men on Muir Isle to examine Kitty. Reed, wracked with self-doubt following the discovery of an old journal, says he is unable to help her, prompting a fight to break out between the two teams. Issue #2: The fight between the X-Men and the Fantastic Four comes to an end when Dr. Doom, who has been monitoring the X-Men, offers to help Kitty. The Fantastic Four return to New York, where Sue Richards reveals to her teammates that the old journal suggests Reed knew all along that the space flight which gave them their powers would do so. On Muir Isle, the X-Men, though reluctant to put themselves in debt to Doom, agree to let him help Kitty.


Issue #3: Kitty, now with the X-Men in Doom's country of Latveria and unwilling to see the X-Men at Doom's mercy, decides to let herself die, but the astral form of Franklin Richards alerts the X-Men and convinces her to hold on to her life. In New York, the Fantastic Four go their separate ways, each individually coming to terms with the information uncovered in Reed's journal and deciding for themselves that Reed is incapable of such an act. Coming together, they decide to head to Latveria and save Kitty themselves. Issue #4: The Fantastic Four arrive in Latveria, their arrival leading to more misunderstanding and another fight with the X-Men, which is stopped when Franklin admonishes both teams for acting like children while Kitty is on the verge of death. Inspired by Franklin, Reed and Doom work together to stabilize Kitty's condition, saving her life. Amidst the ensuing celebration, Sue realizes that Doom fabricated and planted the journal to sow discord amongst the Fantastic Four, and warns him about threatening her family, while Franklin and Kitty cement their friendship.  

Firsts and Other Notables
As of the fourth issue of this series, Kitty is healed of the injury she suffered in Uncanny X-Men #211, and is no longer in danger of phasing away into nothingness (though later stories will establish that "phased" is now her default state, and she must concentrate to remain solid). It is noted that her full recovery will continue to take time, and she will remain on Muir Isle for the duration of that recovery, before leaving when she becomes a member of Excalibur. 


The Fantastic Four spend most of this issue reeling from the revelation, discovered in a seemingly forgotten journal, that on the space flight which resulted in the Fantastic Four gaining their superpowers, Reed intentionally sent the group through cosmic rays with the express purpose of mutating them and granting them superpowers. Reed insists the journal is wrong, but even begins to doubt it himself before the rest of the team determines for themselves that for all his flaws, Reed couldn't have done something like that, and ultimately Dr. Doom is pegged for having fabricated the journal in an attempt to sow dissent among the FF.


The Chronology Corner
The X-Men are back on Muir Isle as the series opens, and while one might assume that means this series takes place closer to issues #217 and #218, Havok's presence forces it to take place after #219. Since the X-Men were in New York for that issue, they're apparently racking up the frequent flier miles going back and forth between the US and Scotland.

A Work in Progress
In issue #1, Havok, his pants hiked up to the heavens, insists he's paid his dues to the X-Men, while Rogue tells him if he wants a place on the team, he needs to earn it.


When the story begins, She-Hulk is preparing to serve as the defense attorney in a mock trial recreation of Magneto's trial from X-Men #200; Magneto's legal status will also play a role in the X-Men vs. the Avengers limited series.

The Doombot seen observing Muir Isle in Uncanny X-Men #217 returns in this series, putting Doom in contact with the X-Men. Doom says that he heard of the Marauders' attack on the Morlocks and sent the Doombot to ascertain how much of the rumors were true.


When Mr. Fantastic proves reluctant to use his machine to save Kitty, Rogue suggests simply touching him and absorbing the knowledge necessary to use it herself. Though she is tempted, Storm says the X-Men cannot go down the path of simply taking whatever they need.

At one point Lockheed licks the astral projection of Franklin Richards, and I'm not sure how that's possible. 


Later, whilst flying to Latveria, She-Hulk asks Human Torch for the lowdown on the Reed/Doom rivalry, yet this story occurs well after She-Hulk's tenure as a member of the Fantastic Four, and it seems likely that is information she would have gleaned at some point during that time.

Sue references the help the X-Men gave the Fantastic Four in X-Men Annual #5.


Issue #4 contains another suggestion that Storm retains some residual power.


In what is just a fun little moment, Franklin, riding Lockheed, breaks up the FF/X-Men fight in issue #4.


I Love the 80s
Sue wears a handkerchief in issue #1, the better to point out that she's doing womanly chores. 


Claremontisms
In issue #4, Franklin when Franklin says hello to Kitty, it prompts a "hi, yourself". 


Young Love
Though never directly referenced, it's worth noting that when last they met, Dr. Doom proved himself to be sweet on Storm, which is perhaps informing his offer of aid to the X-Men in this series. 

Dazzler refers to Longshot as "sweetheart", one of the earliest indications of their eventual romance.


Human/Mutant Relations
At one point, Human Torch angrily refers to the X-Men as "muties".


Teebore's Take
Though written by Chris Claremont and notable for healing Kitty Pryde of the injury she sustained during "Mutant Massacre" (and thus putting her in position to be used in a series again), this actually reads like much more of a Fantastic Four story than an X-Men one. It is the Fantastic Four characters who go through a character arc in the course of the four issues (granted, they come out the other side the same as when they started, but still), while the X-Men do little more than fight the FF and wait for Doom/Reed to save Kitty. There's some good material involving Kitty (particularly the bit where she decides to let herself die rather than put the X-Men in Doom's debt, a nice indication of where her character is at relative to the more morally ambiguous X-Men that emerged from the massacre) as well as her interactions with Franklin (which are, frankly, the best part of the series, coming in at the level of "just twee enough"), but otherwise, this is an FF story in which the X-Men guest star.

Fortunately, the execution is good enough to not mind that fact. Speaking as someone who knows the Fantastic Four fairly well but is by no means an expert on the characters, Claremont seems to have a pretty good handle on them, able to write them (and Doom) with the same confidence as the X-Men characters. The plot is built on some fairly large coincidences (the X-Men reaching out to Reed, Doom monitoring the X-Men and Sue tripping Doom's "journal trap" happening all at the same time but independent of one another) but there's enough enjoyable character bits and genuine sentiment sprinkled throughout the series that it's easy to overlook those coincidences. The art, from Join Bogdanove, is solid and well-suited to the material, with Terry Austin on inks helping keep Bogdanove's pencils from getting too cartoony or comically exaggerated (as they sometimes can). The end result is a story that isn't exactly required reading (unless you're really interested in the details of how Kitty gets healed) in terms of the ongoing X-Men saga, but is well-crafted enough to still be enjoyable on its own merits. For an ancillary limited series featuring a ton of characters, that's not too shabby an accomplishment. 

Next Issue
On Friday, X-Factor meets the Inhumans in X-Factor Annual #2, and next week, we look at the second of the "versus" limited series, as the X-Men take on the Avengers in X-Men vs. the Avengers #1-4.

26 comments:

  1. Why is Havok's hair brown? Isn't he a blond?

    "though later stories will establish that "phased" is now her default state, and she must concentrate to remain solid"

    Which eventually gets dropped altogether anyway, right?

    "Though never directly referenced, it's worth noting that when last they met, Dr. Doom proved himself to be sweet on Storm, which is perhaps informing his offer of aid to the X-Men in this series."

    Well, technically, it was a Doombot that fell for Storm. Yes, she's that desirable that even robots get crushes on her ;)


    I agree, it isn't required reading, but it sure is fun. Not a huge fan of Bogdanove as artist, but it does look decent.

    I love Rogue putting Havok in his place. Yeah, he was one of the earlier X-men, but he was only on the team for what, 5 minutes?

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  2. @wwk5d: Why is Havok's hair brown? Isn't he a blond?

    Good catch. Yeah, he's a blond.

    Which eventually gets dropped altogether anyway, right?

    As far as I recall, yeah.

    Well, technically, it was a Doombot that fell for Storm.

    Heh. Too true.

    Not a huge fan of Bogdanove as artist, but it does look decent.

    Nor am I. This is probably my favorite work of his. It's quite good and serves the story well.

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  3. I feel it appropriate to bring up some of the FF's issues about the 'Reed' Journal:

    Susan’s cosmic-radiated powers to become invisible and create shields has been a health concern for herself and her children. Her pregnancy with Franklin caused an inner build-up of radiation that almost killed the both of them. A trip to the Negative Zone allowed Reed to steal Annihilus the Mad’s Cosmic Pod and use the weapon to filter out the dangerous radiation so Sue could safely deliver their son. The second pregnancy wasn’t so lucky. Reed spent a good amount of time in the Beyonder’s Battleworld. The moment he returned, Sue went into labor (as well as emitting some dark radiation). Despite the assistance of Dr. Bruce Banner, Doctor Michael Morbius, Dr. Walt Langkowksi, and that body-hijacking jerkbag Dr. Otto Octavius, Reed was unable to save their baby (Later, thanks to Roma, Franklin, and the Ultimate Nullifier, this lost child- a girl- was rescued, returned to her mother’s womb, and safely delivered). There is also the factor about raising Franklin in a super-hero environment filled with danger (one nasty incident concerned Annihilus violently assaulting Franklin and Alicia Masters while the Four were in the Negative Zone, a trip that ended with their costumes going from Blue & Black to Black & White), not to mention Franklin's mutant powers. So, one can understand Sue’s sorrow and rage that Reed might have engineered her powers, and the consequences it brought.

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  4. Ben’s problem goes deeper. A fundamental part of his characterization is his self-hatred for being in the form of a monster. This also brought a deep resentment to Reed for causing it to happen. Way back in FF#1, Ben warned Reed about flying their rocket in a dangerous Cosmic Storm, a warning we all know was solid. The one bright spot for Ben was his relationship with blind Alicia Masters, who appeared to actually prefer Ben the Thing over Ben the Human Being. A series of attempts by Reed to restore Ben his human form led to failure or a nasty loophole to the results: Ben gaining rage issues, Ben reverting back to his original Oatmeal form (a design by John Byrne that the artist later regretted and changed, realizing the blocky form was easier to shade). The latest attempt led to Reed realizing a dark secret: Ben had developed the ability to transform from Human to Thing and vice versa. But his fear of losing Alicia’s love because of his human form caused a mind-over-matter block that subconsciously rejected any successful cures. Fearing this truth might be too much for his best friend to handle, Reed decided to keep it secret from Ben.
    However, things began to change. The recent Annihilus assault on Alicia and a perception that Reed’s present attempts to cure him seemed to be lacking in conviction had led to an epiphany to Ben. Chances were that he might be stuck as a Thing forever, and maybe it was unfair to Alicia that she stay in a relationship that was dangerous (as recent events have shown) and potentially unfulfilling (in the physical-procreation sense). As he came to this conclusion with Alicia, Ben was quickly summoned by Reed and Johnny to join them on an expedition. This expedition led to the three going to the Beyonder’s Battleworld. During this adventure, Ben kept transforming from Thing to human and vice versa. Evidently, realizing the possibility of ending his relationship with Alicia caused Ben's mental blocks to break down, making it easier to transform at will. Ben erroneously believed the dimensional environment was the cause of this ‘new’ power. Reed, still fearful about the effect of the truth (and not knowing about the recent change in his relationship with Alicia), allowed Ben to believe this error.

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  5. So Ben decided to stay on Battleworld, asking She-Hulk to replace him in the Fantastic Four on their return. This vacation reached its climax when Ben the Human and Ben the Thing somehow became two separate beings. The two fought, ending with Ben the Thing killing his human form! This convinced Ben that he was permanently the Thing. He returned to Earth, intent on telling Alicia that it is really over between the two of them. At Alicia’s apartment, who should answer the door but a shirtless Johnny Storm! After a battle royale, Ben got talked down by Alicia, who convinced him that she and Johnny were in a serious relationship. Ben’s pride was hurt: for one thing, he felt his thunder was stolen. He wanted the role of breaker-upper only to find out Alicia already took that role. Plus, it is possible to assume that when Ben wanted to free Alicia from their relationship, he was kinda hoping she stay celibate for the remainder of her life (Later, Tom DeFalco thought Alicia's actions were a bit trampy of her, so he retconned it that this Alicia (shortly AFTER the FF Beyonder-kidnapping) was a Skrull agent named Lyja). And then, Reed tells Ben the truth about his transformation ability.
    Ben was heartbroken and betrayed. His best friend- the one whose impatience led to his transformation to a monster- lied to him about this information (which could have avoided what happened to Human Ben in Battleworld). Ben severed all ties from Reed and the Fantastic Four. He drifted, hanging around with the West Coast Avengers and a Wrestling Group (where he met the Beyonder and future girlfriend Sharon Ventura). Eventually, he went to Monster Island and became friends with the Mole Man. Soon, he was visited by his ex-partners in the FF, with Reed wanting to resolve their estrangement. At first loyal to Monster Island and cold to the FF, Ben soon learned some dark truths about his new friend (among them turning Johnny into a freak and planning to destroy the surface world). Ben rejoined the FF again and stopped the Mole Man’s plans. However, despite being in the FF again, it took a long time before he called Reed his best friend again. In this case, his acceptance of Reed in this LS appears a little OOC.

    I'm surprised Johnny had no problem about becoming the Torch, considering the 'No.1 Fan' incident.

    I think this might be She-Hulk's final adventure with the FF, with her rejoining the Avengers.

    Sorry for the long post

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  6. No mention of the series' most important contribution to comics lore, the introduction of "Saggy Baggy Elephant"?

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  7. @angmc43: I feel it appropriate to bring up some of the FF's issues about the 'Reed' Journal

    As our resident FF expert, I'd hoped (and am glad) you did.

    However, despite being in the FF again, it took a long time before he called Reed his best friend again. In this case, his acceptance of Reed in this LS appears a little OOC.

    Ah, I was familiar with most of the broadstrokes of Thing's comings and goings during the Byrne and immediately-post Byrne issues, but never knew that things were still relatively rocky (pun intended) between Reed and Ben at this point.

    I think this might be She-Hulk's final adventure with the FF, with her rejoining the Avengers.

    I'm not exactly sure where this falls in her personal chronology, but I think she's already rejoined the Avengers at this point - she joined up relatively quickly after "Under Siege", and that story was roughly contemporaneous to "Mutant Massacre".

    @Anonymous: No mention of the series' most important contribution to comics lore, the introduction of "Saggy Baggy Elephant"?

    Ha! No, that particular element was perhaps just a smidge too twee for my tastes. :)

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  8. I have to say, I'm not a fan of throwing major plot points (Kitty's healing) into a team up miniseries that barely fits into continuity. But then again, I guess Kitty's "X-Men" storyline really is over at this point, at least until she joins the team again in issue 360 or so.

    I'm actually a pretty big fan of Claremont's Fantastic Four run in the late 90s. I thought it had some pretty fun ideas and I agree that he seems to have a pretty good handle on the characters.

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  9. @Lockheed being able to lick Franklin's astral form - since one of Lockheed's abilities is immunity from telepathy (even Prof. X couldn't read his mind), perhaps he is also able to physically interact with psychic projections?

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  10. In a nice visual easter egg, the box from where Sue finds the diary is the same box that was last seen in a major Hollywood blockbuster movie carted into a massive warehouse holding a powerful artifact inside, to be researched by "top men". Jugding by the box being now found from the Fantastic Four premises, I think we have found out who was the "top man" they talked about...

    (TOP SECRET
    ARMY INTEL. #9906753
    DO NOT OPEN!, if you have to google...)

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  11. Saggy Baggy Elephant is adorable, you heartless monster.

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  12. "and ultimately Dr. Doom is pegged for having fabricated the journal in an attempt to sow dissent among the FF."

    Of course, this is how it had to end.

    But I agree with Ben, the journal being true makes a whole lot of sense.

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  13. @Jeff: But then again, I guess Kitty's "X-Men" storyline really is over at this point, at least until she joins the team again in issue 360 or so.

    Yeah, it's easy to still think of Kitty as "belonging" to X-Men, but it'll be a long time before that series is at all concerned with her again.

    @FuryofFirestorm: since one of Lockheed's abilities is immunity from telepathy (even Prof. X couldn't read his mind), perhaps he is also able to physically interact with psychic projections?

    That could be.

    @Teemu: In a nice visual easter egg, the box from where Sue finds the diary is the same box that was last seen in a major Hollywood blockbuster movie carted into a massive warehouse holding a powerful artifact inside, to be researched by "top men".

    Ha! I'd never noticed that before. "Top Men" indeed...

    @Jason: Saggy Baggy Elephant is adorable, you heartless monster.

    Ha! I don't *hate* Saggy Baggy Elephant, I just didn't feel compelled to point it out.

    @entzauberung: But I agree with Ben, the journal being true makes a whole lot of sense.

    True story: the first time I read this series (many, many years ago) I somehow missed the (not at all) subtle hints that Doom planted the journal, and finished the series believing Reed had intended for the FF to get their powers and lied about it, a development I thought made sense and was interesting for the way it complicated the FF's relationship. Of course, I was also a little surprised that a revelation like that occurred in an ancillary series and not the main FF book.

    ...I was a pretty dumb kid, apparently.

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  14. If nothing else, whenever Reed can't be bothered to tell the truth or is just flat out lying to his teammates (and he's done that a bunch of times for the past 25 years), someone should say "Remember that journal we found...we didn't 100% establish it WASN'T Reed, right?"

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  15. @entzauberung: If nothing else, whenever Reed can't be bothered to tell the truth or is just flat out lying to his teammates ... someone should say "Remember that journal we found...we didn't 100% establish it WASN'T Reed, right?"

    Ha! Too true.

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  16. @wwk5d Well, technically, it was a Doombot that fell for Storm. Yes, she's that desirable that even robots get crushes on her ;)

    Poor old A 76, he never was a combat unit. Lover, not a warrior.

    Has anyone btw ever noted the panel following the famed bot destruction scene, often omitted in net scans because it's on other page, meta-message-wise? The one where Victor von Byrne lays his hand on the shoulder of shocked young "Kristoff", which is Latverian for 'Christopher'.

    "Remember that, Kristoff. It is an important lesson."

    ... which is terrible, because upon us first meeting Kristoff in Oct '82, Byrne has his mom killed.

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  17. @Teemu: Poor old A 76, he never was a combat unit. Lover, not a warrior.

    Ha!

    The one where Victor von Byrne lays his hand on the shoulder of shocked young "Kristoff", which is Latverian for 'Christopher'.

    Wow, I had not ever made that connection before. Yeesh.

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  18. @Teebore: Wow, I had not ever made that connection before. Yeesh.

    I fell ya. Just two weeks back the comics were a cherished part of my innocent childhood to me but then I hazarded to go read the Claremont Mind Control Central blog and now I see disturbing things everywhere and Selen holding people on chain leashes every time I close my eyes.

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  19. "Selene holding people on chain leashes every time I close my eyes"

    With people with hentai tentacles for arms behind her dancing in the background...

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  20. @Teemu: I hazarded to go read the Claremont Mind Control Central blog and now I see disturbing things everywhere and Selen holding people on chain leashes every time I close my eyes.

    Ha! Yeah, there's definitely some fun and interesting posts on that blog, but I have to read them in small doses...

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  21. This was one of the first X-Men comics I ever bought, and probably the first FF comic I ever bought. I have a huge soft spot for it.

    First, in addition to being Jon Bogdanove's finest hour the art is my favorite non-Byrne Terry Austin ink job. The anatomy is solid and the facial expressions are very well-done. The looks on the Thing's face convey his emotions clearly without making him look ridiculous. Johnny's self-loathing, Reed's weariness, She-Hulk's attitude... near Kevin Maguire or Steve Dillon caliber faces. The action flowed nicely, and certain panels (including the She-Hulk/Storm confrontation and the Thing rescuing the child from the fire) were impressively rendered.

    Claremont did a great job handling the FF. I didn't get into his '90s FF work, but I thought the conflict and resolution were believable. Less believable is Doom hosting dinner or helping because Franklin shamed him into it, but the Sue/ Doom confrontation at the end was awesome.

    Somewhat startling was the fact that Rogue, Sue, and (seemingly) Kitty all end up naked over the course of the series. Come on Chris and Jon, no need to show me what goes through your minds when you work with these characters...

    - Mike Loughlin

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  22. @wwk5d: With people with hentai tentacles for arms behind her dancing in the background...

    Urgh... no. That would be a thing undreamed of.

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  23. Oh come on! Give it a chance! You'd have Selene mind-controlling Temptress, who is turn is mind-controlling both Jean and Callisto.

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  24. I'm with Jason. Of course Mr. Fantastic would be the best hand-puppet dad ever — no props required.

    @angmc43: // I feel it appropriate to bring up some of the FF's issues //

    Well, I can't add much to all that except to say that a lot of this was in my mind too as I finally read the mini for the first time and thought back to the early stories — their intro/origin most particularly — in which the FF really wore on their (non-costumed) sleeves the fact that they ere superhero-group take on the Lee/Kirby et al. monster comics of the Atlas era. Thing's cosmic-ray mutation is so apparent and, usually, irreversible that he gets the brunt of the attention in terms of how the spaceflight made them freaks, of course, but there certainly were other consequences. Just as they were a precursor to the X-Men at Marvel, and the FF themselves were a superpowered version of the "dedicated team" concept seen in Kirby's Challengers of the Unknown, the Doom Patrol (infamously debuting nearly simultaneously with the X-Men) was Arnold Drake's attempt at doing a misanthropic Marvel-style squad at DC, an oddball makeshift family of adventurers whom fate had given unique abilities with one hand while taking away their ability to live a normal life with the other.

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  25. @Mike: he looks on the Thing's face convey his emotions clearly without making him look ridiculous. Johnny's self-loathing, Reed's weariness, She-Hulk's attitude... near Kevin Maguire or Steve Dillon caliber faces.

    The facial work in this is quite impressive.

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  26. I find this to be one of the better issues of the X-Men interacting with the greater Marvel U.

    I don't know why people had a problem with Claremont's handling of Dr. Doom in the three-part story with Arcade, but here Doom is the perfect balance of gentleman and menace, offering to help the X-Men, a noble act, purely out of spite for Reed Richards (which fits in perfectly with his character thus far).

    Psylocke gets a lot to do here too, I'd argue more than any other X-Man in the book. She psychically holds Kitty's consciousness together, talks her down from the ledge when she wants to kill herself (in a BEAUTIFUL panel that has to be seen to be believed), and even gives Kitty and Franklin the chance to talk to each other while Franklin visits her -- previously, the contact was only one-way.

    Most of Claremont's work with Psylocke seems to deal in hardening her, shaping her into more of a warrior, a weapon. Here we get to see a very different Psylocke -- a supportive, caring figure, who can still fight (evidenced by her one-shotting the Human Torch in the X-Men's first battle with the FF), but also possesses the capactiy to heal with her powers. It's a good look at a different dimension of her power and persona, one that I feel sadly gets lost in later Psylocke stories.

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