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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

X-amining X-Factor Annual #3

"Unnatural Selection"
1988

In a Nutshell 
X-Factor battles the High Evolutionary's Purifiers. 

Writer: Louise Simonson
Penciler: Terry Shoemaker, Tom Artis (2nd Story)
Inker: Al Milgrom, Joe Rubstein (2nd Story)
Letterer: Joe Rosen
Colorist: Petra Scotese
Editor: Bob Harras
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco

Plot
Far underground, the High Evolutionary's Purifiers attack the subterranean races living beneath the surface, ordered to destroy them all because the High Evolutionary has deemed them a genetic dead-end. One of the Moloids, however, possesses psychic abilities, and his cry of distress during the attack reaches psychics all over the globe, including Marvel Girl. Meanwhile, Apocalypse, alerted to the attack by Caliban, decides to visit the High Evolutionary. X-Factor descends into the tunnels, determined to answer the cry for help. They encounter the telepathic Moloid and manage to subdue him, learning of the Purifiers' attack. Elsewhere, Apocalypse teleports himself to the High Evolutionary's orbital base, and the two debate their respective philosophies before coming to blows.


In order to prove the High Evolutionary's methods are wrong, he teleports them both to the underground caverns to watch as X-Factor battles the Purifiers. Inspired by X-Factor, the telepathic Moloid is able to rally the other Moloids and overwhelm the Purifiers, causing the High Evolutionary to realize he is wrong, that the Subterraneans just needed a push to realize their potential. Apocalypse departs, having proven his point and realized that the High Evolutionary furthers Apocalypse's agenda. The High Evolutionary teleports away with his remaining Purifiers, determined to continue his quest to genetically enhance humanity. In the wake of the battle, X-Factor offers to take in the telepathic Moloid for training, but he declines, saying he belongs with his people, but thanking them for their help.

2nd Story "Changes!"
Aboard Ship, the X-Factor kids play a game of tag, discussing their impending move to boarding school, before running into Beast, who is carrying some old photo albums salvaged from the wreckage of X-Factor's old headquarters. Together, the kids and Beast look through the pictures, noting the changes in X-Factor between their days as X-Men and now. Realizing that change can be good as well as bad, they decide that maybe being sent to boarding school won't be so bad after all. Maybe.    

Firsts and Other Notables
This is the first part of "The Evolutionary War", a crossover of sorts running through most all of Marvel's 1988 annuals. It represents the first time Marvel, presumably in an attempt to boost sales on the annuals, set a crossover entirely in the annuals, a practice that would be repeated the following year in "Atlantis Attacks" and by DC as well (with "Armageddon 2001"), before adopting a practice in subsequent annuals of telling connected stories across a smaller group of annuals.

The overall plot of the storyline involves the High Evolutionary's attempts to step up his goals of guiding and enhancing the evolution of humanity so that it can surpass all other races in the universe. Rather than all out war as suggested by the title, each annual more or less focuses on a different facet or development of the High Evolutionary's plans, with the starring character(s) getting drawn into those effort in one way or another, however the individual writer of the annual saw fit. The storyline culminates in the High Evolutionary's creation of a genetic bomb, intended to alter all of humanity's DNA, which is ultimately defused and the High Evolutionary defeated by an ad hoc team of Avengers.

The High Evolutionary is a long-time Marvel villain, first appearing in Thor during the 60s, with ties to several characters (including Spider-Woman, Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch). Once a normal scientist studying genetics in the 1930s, the High Evolutionary conducted various experiments on himself that evolved his intelligence upwards to the limit of human potential. He wears a sophisticated exoskeleton that provides life support, heals his wound and increases his strength. Traditionally headquartered out of Wundagore Mountain, the High Evolutionary is also responsible for the creation of the New Men (animals evolved to possess human intelligence) and Counter-Earth (a replica of Earth on the opposite side of the sun where the High Evolutionary carries out genetic experiments), and he is considered the foremost expert on genetics in the Marvel Universe.

Throughout the crossover, the High Evolutionary employs a group of henchmen known as the Purifiers (not to be confused with the followers of Reverend Stryker from "God Loves, Man Kills", who go by the same name), led by Dr. Stack and Major Purge, all of whom make their first appearance in this issue. 

As suggested by the cover, Apocalypse battles the High Evolutionary in this issue. Bringing the two together makes sense, given their shared interest in genetics and evolution, but Apocalypse's reasons for picking a fight with the High Evolutionary are never made clear, and by the end of the issue, he basically calls a truce, saying their goals are ultimately the same. 


This is the first annual (that we're examining) which is more than just a longer story featuring the main characters; as such, in addition to the main story, it includes two back-up stories and some ancillary material.

The first backup story stars the X-Factor kids, and introduces the idea that they'll soon be sent to boarding school, which is where the upcoming X-Terminators miniseries will begin (that miniseries is also plugged on the final page of the story).


The second backup story is the first part of an eleven part story running in all the "Evolutionary War" annuals detailing the history of the High Evolutionary, written by Marvel continuity guru Mark Gruenwald.

Additionally, the issue contains a Jean Grey pinup by Walt Simonson...


...as well as a John Byrne pin-up of the original X-Men...


...and two unused covers: one for X-Factor #8...


...and another really nice one for X-Factor #16.


The Chronology Corner
This story takes place between X-Factor #29 and #30.

A Work in Progress
The Purifiers attack triggers a telepathic cry heard by Earth's various psychics, including Psylocke and Phoenix.


Marvel Girl experiences the cry as well, calling it her first telepathic contact since her resurrection.


At the time that Marvel Girl hears the telepathic cry, X-Factor is working to repair the Empire State Building, damaged during "Fall of the Mutants".


Descending into the subterranean tunnels that apparently exist all over the Marvel Universe, Cyclops recalls the original X-Men's encounter with the subterranean Grotesk in X-Men #41, though that was hardly the only time the original X-Men battled underground beings.


Marvel Girl notes that though she lacks telepathy, she remains psi-sensitive.


I Love the 80s
While it's made clear how both Apocalypse and the High Evolutionary are capable of surviving the vacuum of space, it's never made clear how they're able to continue to have a conversation out there.  

Teebore's Take
Confession: I've never read the entirety of "The Evolutionary War". I've read probably more than half of it, across the annuals of series I otherwise read (the X-Books, the Avengers books, etc.). In general, I enjoy those stories on their own far more than the subsequent "Atlantis Attacks" crossover (which I also haven't read in its entirety), but I can't really speak to how well, say, this issue fits into the overall arc of the story.

As an X-Factor annual, it's of a piece of the previous two annuals: fine, but unexciting, and hardly essential. Part of that comes from the presence of Terry Shoemaker on art, a perennial fill-in artist around this time whose name would fill me with disappointment whenever I'd open an issue as a kid and see him listed as penciler, a sentiment that remains as an adult. His work is perfectly serviceable but largely unexciting, especially compared to the likes of Silvestri, Simonson and even Blevins. Part of the malaise in this issue also comes from the presence of the Moloids, which brings back not-fond memories of the Silver Age X-Men's repeated tussles with subterranean races during the Original 66 run.

The highlight of this issue, then, is the confrontation between the High Evolutionary and Apocalypse, but even that doesn't exactly pop. Shoemaker fails to give the confrontation the necessary energy (heck, there's more energy on the Simonson cover than on all the interior pages combined), while Simonson fails to distinguish their respective evolutionary philosophies enough to justify the confrontation. It ends with Apocalypse deciding the High Evolutionary is doing his work after all - culling the weak from the strong - but it's never clear why he would have disagreed with him in the beginning, other than the fact that the High Evolutionary isn't as long-lived as Apocalypse.

Beyond the main story, we've got an enjoyable enough backup story starring the X-Factor kids that serves as a primer on the book's main characters, the kind of thing these annual back-up stories like to do, along with a few pin-ups and alternate covers that at least help the entire package feel worth your while even if no individual component stands out. But while the whole may be better than the parts, it's still hard to get too excited about any of this.  

Next Issue
Tomorrow, "The Evolutionary War" continues in New Mutants Annual #4, as Dani gains a new power. Next week, we get back to the Brood in Uncanny X-Men #232.

10 comments:

  1. "that miniseries is also plugged on the final page of the story"

    It also gives us another ominous note for Inferno...

    "and another really nice one for X-Factor #16."

    Yeah, this one is very nice. Too bad they didn't end up using it.

    "The Purifiers attack triggers a telepathic cry heard by Earth's various psychics, including Psylocke and Phoenix."

    And Dr. Druid. Don't forget Dr. Druid! As much as we all may want to...

    "the presence of Terry Shoemaker on art"

    I don't mind him, and while he isn't the most exciting or dynamic artist, he is still a decent artist. And I still really liked his work on Tales of the Legion of Superheroes.

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  2. " I've read probably more than half of it, across the annuals of series I otherwise read (the X-Books, the Avengers books, etc.). "

    That seems pretty respectable. At least to me, as I've only read two parts: The Uncanny one (was one of my first comic books EVER and as such is a huge sentimental favorite -- I get a little misty just thinking about it). Bought it off the rack with allowance money!

    And then about 15 years after it came out, I bought the conclusion in the Avengers annual, and found it terribly, terribly boring.

    The whole "Evolutionary War" thing, published as it was in 1988, came only two years after Wild Cards Book Two, which is an anthology of short stories that sees an overarching plot jump from one story to the next -- with each story being by a different writer and focusing on a different super-character. (Later Wild Cards volumes also did this, but Book Two was the first to do this kind of "Hot potato" approach of passing the plot from one superhuman to another.)

    I've occasionally wondered if that experiment, which worked so well in that book, at all inspired the "Evolutionary War" idea. Obviously it's not the first Marvel crossover, but it is, maybe, the first "pass the plot" style crossover where it's not about superheroes meeting but about a single villain/MacGuffin hopping from one protagonist to another. (Maybe not. I suppose 1985's Secret Wars II had a similar approach. So maybe the Wild Cards thing is a coincidence.)

    Anyway. This annual does indeed sound boring, and that Mazzuchelli cover is indeed neat.

    I cringe at Byrne's paranoid continuity note in his pin-up, as if he thinks all comic fans are as anal retentive as he is.



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  3. Jason: I cringe at Byrne's paranoid continuity note in his pin-up, as if he thinks all comic fans are as anal retentive as he is.

    I love that it harks of the creators being held responsible for continuity by the fans/by themselves back in those days.

    Fun bit that psychic gallery, with only X-characters or those who have been lately in contact with them in miniseries allowed in. I had hard time recognizing Emma Frost in the top left corner because that's unprecendently prudish outfit for her she's sporting.

    The though of thematics Annuals of the era gives me a chuckle remembering the year in the early nineties when everyone was mandated to create a lasting new character to be introduced in each of the Annuals, and how they actually promoted that thought and how I didn't get to read any of them, me being a foreigner who's local publisher shuns away from absolute crap those Annuals - and the forcibly created cool-awesome 90's characters - ended up being.

    I like the other cover with the Freedom Force and the X-Factor in their blue-and-white pyjama uniforms. Those uniforms' color scheme hilariously reminds of the pyjamas which Scott and Maddie used in their courting scenes in the Paul Smith drawn issues (or was it one pyjama set shared between them to suggest that the jammies had also been off during the proceedings? always took them for two matching pyjamas when reading the issues as kid, and now I mentally picture the anachronistic nineties Cyclops giving her a lecture of the importance of having a uniform look, and how it would have been the best for their to take the cue there and then. of course the smooth operator of the era blasted a ring of a coin and handed it to her instead.)

    The X-Men sporting the Swedish colors of dark blue and yellow in theirteam uniforms always was a bit sore point for me, luckily being somewhat balmed by Wild with all their Finnish centers sending Landeskog and Avalanche to the singing choir last night.

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  4. "I had hard time recognizing Emma Frost in the top left corner because that's unprecendently prudish outfit for her she's sporting."
    Was that Emma? I thought it might be Topaz. Simonson should have referred to her by name since the art was bad.

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  5. I thought Emma because she has as least as big right being there as does Dr. Druid. The issue summary in uncannyxmen.net also lists her as Emma.

    I don't even know who's Topaz so there's that, though.

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  6. Unrelated, but Grantland had a really good article about your boy Cyclops

    http://grantland.com/hollywood-prospectus/difficult-x-men-a-defense-of-cyclops/

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  7. "The storyline culminates in the High Evolutionary's creation of a genetic bomb, intended to alter all of humanity's DNA, which is ultimately defused and the High Evolutionary defeated by an ad hoc team of Avengers."

    So, if I'm interpreting that correctly, The High Evolutionary wanted to make everyone super human and the Avengers had to stop that plan or else they'd be rendered ordinary.

    @Jason: "Grantland had a really good article about your boy Cyclops"

    Yeah, but the author thinks Gambit is the worst superhero ever so opinion is immediately invalidated.

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  8. @Teemu- Topaz is an empath who's a Doctor Strange character. I thought it might be her, because to use Kitty's phrase, she usually remembers to put on all her clothes.

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  9. Dr. Bitz: So, if I'm interpreting that correctly, The High Evolutionary wanted to make everyone super human and the Avengers had to stop that plan or else they'd be rendered ordinary.

    Your regular Thor villain scheme. Probably the Avengers too came up with an excuse to deny it like the X-Men and the Alpha Flight did. "With great power comes your own miniseries, maybe even an on-going title I MEAN RESPONSIBILITY!"

    Probably Tony Stark and those other wealthy who are funding the heroics are heavily invested in real estate and there's already quite enough collateral property damage with this current superpowered lot.

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  10. Terry Shoemaker isn't very familiar to me, and like you say the art is serviceable at most, yet the layouts in some places remind me a lot of Walt Simonson to the point that I have to wonder if he did some uncredited breakdowns.

    // It ends with Apocalypse deciding the High Evolutionary is doing his work after all - culling the weak from the strong - but it's never clear why he would have disagreed with him in the beginning //

    Here's a couple of lines of dialogue that boil it down, of which I took note because the difference between their agendas was confusing me a bit too.

    Apocalypse, early on: "Your insistence on sterilizing those you consider genetically unfit is unnatural selection. Time would weed out the unfit. Time would allow more of the strong to emerge..."

    Apocalypse, later: "I do not argue with your treatment of the subterraneans, Evolutionary. Those who cannot defend themselves deserve their fate."

    Of course since Apocalypse encourages survival of the fittest through battle and doesn't mind the destruction of the subterraneans if they can't defend themselves then we're at a rather fine line where not letting the race procreate = bad, killing them so they can't procreate = okey-dokey. Even so, the line is there, given that for Apocalypse the killing isn't outright murder but rather defeat in battle or through lack of ability to survive in a hostile environment, making it all the sketchier when he ends up being, like, fine with the genocide once he sees that they clearly won't amount to anything.

    Why the hell that David Mazzucchelli cover went unused is beyond me.

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