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Wednesday, September 10, 2014

X-amining Marvel Comics Presents #17-24 - The Retribution Affair

"Blinded by the Light" / "Plague in the Night" / "The Price of Retribution" / "Conscience of the King" / "Best Laid Plans" / "Alliance of Convenience" / "Mind Your Conscience" / "Retribution and Resurrection"
Late April Late July 1989 -

In a Nutshell 
Cyclops battles Master Mold in Muir Island, Banshee gets his power back.

Writer: Bob Harras
Penciler: Ron Lim
Inker: Bruce Patterson, Carol Riem (issue #21), Jeff Albrecht (issues #22-24),
Letterer: Agustin Mas
Colorist: Andy Yachus
Editor: Terry Kavanagh
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco

Plot
Issue #17: Cyclops arrives on Muir Island, called there by Banshee on account of Moira MacTaggert's strange behavior of late. Upon arriving, Cyclops is attacked by the island's defenses. He calls out to a passing Moira but she doesn't respond, and he collapses. The next morning, however, there's no evidence of his battle, and Moira doesn't remember seeing him. Issue #18: At night, young Bobby and Mary Campbell are taken from their home by an entranced Moira. The next day, Cyclops and Banshee discuss Moira's odd behavior, before they're called to the home of Mary Campbell, who has become very ill. That night, an entranced Moira is transported to Master Mold, who congratulates her on making the young mutant Mary sick. 


Issue #19: Master Mold compliments Moira on the work she did engineering a virus that targets mutants, while back on Muir Island, Cyclops discovers that Banshee has grown sick and rushes him to the hospital. Hoping to further study the disease in action, Master Mold sends his robotic Servitors to the hospital to bring Mary and Banshee to Moira. Cyclops intervenes, and though he's able to free Moira, the robots escape with Banshee and Mary. Issue #20: Aboard Master Mold's ship, Conscience, an ally created by the Sentinel and programmed with Stephen Lang's brain engrams, promises to take care of Moira and Cyclops for him. On Muir Island, Cyclops grows ill as Conscience leads an attack of Servitors. Cyclops, Moira and Callisto defend themselves, but are eventually overwhelmed. 


Issue#21: Aboard Master Mold's ship, Cyclops, Moira and Callisto argue with Conscience. Just then, Conscience receives word that Bobby Campbell, Mary's non-mutant brother, has contracted Moira's virus. Realizing the virus has mutated so that it now infects humans as well as mutants, Conscience tells Master Mold their plan must be abandoned, but Master Mold insists the human losses are a worthy price to pay for the eradication of mutants. Issue #22: Unwilling to let any humans die, Conscience strikes up an alliance with Cyclops, Moira and Callisto. Leaving Moira to study the virus in the hope of finding a cure, the rest attack Master Mold, who seemingly destroys Conscience before targeting Cyclops. 

 Issue #23: Cyclops escapes Master Mold, who turns his attention to preparing his ship to launch the death spores that will spread the virus throughout the world. Devising a plan, Cyclops helps Conscience infiltrate Master Mold's mind, taking control in order to prevent the release of the spores. Issue #24: Conscience is unable to control Master Mold, and Cyclops succumbs to the virus as Conscience loses control. Just then, Banshee attacks, cured of the virus and able to use his power once more, destroying Master Mold. Moira reveals that despite being under Master Mold's control, she still managed to create a cure for the virus, which she found record of in the ship's computer, then used it to save Banshee and Mary. After administering the cure to Cyclops, the mutants leave the ship and Conscience takes it into orbit, destroying it, along with himself and the virus.

Firsts and Other Notables
Banshee, having been unable to use his mutant power since the injuries he sustained battling Moses Magnum and saving Japan in X-Men #119, regains the use of his mutant power in issue #24, an unintended side effect of his infection by the Retribution Virus. This sets the stage for Banshee's return to prominence in upcoming issue of Uncanny X-Men, though I have no idea if Claremont specifically asked for Banshee to get his power back in this story, or if he just took advantage of that turn of events after it was written (given the gap in time between the end of this story and Banshee's return in X-Men it's presumably the latter, though with Claremont you never know).


Master Mold, last seen being seemingly destroyed by Cyclops in Alaska in X-Factor #14, serves as the villain of this story (between that issue and this story, he appeared in Power Pack #36, rebuilding himself and targeting Franklin Richards before being destroyed once more by Power Pack). He is seemingly destroyed yet again at the close of this story, but will next appear in Uncanny X-Men #246 (which was on sale the same month as the final issue of this story).


Master Mold, still programmed with the mind of Stephen Lang, has split himself in two, keeping his logical mind for himself but transferring his ethos into a separate robotic body dubbed Conscience, which bears a striking resemblance to the Phalanx-infected Lang from the mid-90s crossover "Phalanx Covenant".


Master Mold's plot involves the release of the Retribution Virus, a disease created by a brainwashed Moira to target and kill mutants, which eventually mutates and begins infecting mutants. Cyclops, Banshee and Callisto all get infected, but ultimately recover. The disease, on a number of levels, bears a striking resemblance to the Legacy Virus, which will feature heavily in a long running subplot throughout the 90s.


Cyclops says in issue #17 he detects a malevolent presence on Muir Island, which is attributed to Master Mold hovering around, kidnapping and brainwashing Moira, but could also be read as an early hint to the presence of the Shadow King, who presence on the island will soon begin to be hinted at in issues of Uncanny X-Men.


Issue #22 also contains a one-shot Wolfbane/Mirage story, in which the pair visit Muir Island and Rahne becomes briefly infatuated with a society of Brigadoon-esque people. 

There's several interesting connections to this run of issues. In addition to the Cyclops story being written by current editor of the X-books (and future Avengers writer) Bob Harras and drawn by Ron Lim (who will make a name for himself drawing some of Marvel's early 90s cosmic books as well as X-Men 2099), both future Uncanny X-Men writer Scott Lobdell and future X-Men (vol. 2) writer Fabian Nicieza contribute stories in this run of issues. Also, John Byrne provides the cover to issue #18, and Rob Liefeld provides the cover to issue #19.

In addition to Byrne & Liefeld, Mike Mignola (of Hellboy fame) contributes a really great cover to issue #20 (pictured above), and Walt Simonson does a nice one for isue #21 as well.

Issue #17 also wraps up the Colossus-centric "God's Country" story, and issue #24 kicks off the Havok-centric storyline we'll look at in a few weeks.

The Chronology Corner
Cyclops appears in this story between X-Factor #42 and #43.

Moira and Callisto's appearance in this story occurs after their upcoming appearance in Excalibur #11 (meaning the whole "transported to a Nazi dimension by Widget" thing in Excalibur was before this story).

The Mirage/Wolfsbane story, according to the Marvel Chronology Project, occurs just before New Mutants #43 (when the team battled Legion on Muir Island), which makes sense, given the setting.

A Work in Progress
Callisto is involved in the story (as she is on Muir Island, serving as Moira's bodyguard post-"Mutant Massacre", as seen in Excalibur) and interacts with Cyclops, though I don't believe the two have ever officially met on-panel at this point.


As in X-Factor #14, Master Mold says that he can be anywhere, downloading his consciousness into even the smallest transistor, explaining his continued survival (this is also how he was reborn/survived in Power Pack #36). He also has a grudge against Cyclops, who blames for both the death of Stephen Lang (in X-Men #100) and the last incarnartion of Master Mold (in X-Factor #14).


Harras occassionally sneaks in some of Moira's Scottish patois, but at other times, particularly in issue #22, her voice is off, as her dialogue sounds very generic. Say what you will about Claremont's phonetic accents, they result in unique voices for the characters. 

Young Love
Humorously, Sean and Moira are depicted as sleeping in separate beds in the same room. Maybe she's just a freeze baby and he runs hot, so it's just easier that way?


Teebore's Take
Thus far this is probably my favorite of the Marvel Comics Presents serials. Not just because it features Cyclops (pipe down, peanut gallery), but because it feels the most like a chapter in the ongoing X-narrative. In addition to Cyclops, the story draws on established characters from the X-universe for its supporting cast (Moira, Banshee, Callisto) and for its villain, it uses Master Mold, a character with a connection both to Cyclops and the larger world of the X-Men. And, of course, it's notable for restoring Banshee's mutant power, setting the stage for his eventual return to and inreased role in the ongoing narrative.

The plot itself is also enjoyable just for the novelty of its similarity to the later (and much larger) Legacy Virus plotline, another mutant targeting disease with uncanny parallels to the virus in this story. Both are a virus designed to target mutants, both muck with their victims' powers in the final stage (the Retribution Virus dampens them while the Legacy Virus supercharges them), both eventually mutate to infect humans, and both involve Moira at some point in their developemtn. That novelty, plus the feeling of the story having a stronger connection to the X-Universe, make for a fun read. I wouldn't call this essential reading (this is my first time reading it, and I've made it this far without missing it), but it's certainly the most integral and downright enjoyable Marvel Comics Presents story yet. 

Next Issue
Tomorrow, this week's Ron Lim-athon continues with Excalibur #8, followed by the Ron Lim-less Wolverine #7 on Friday. Next week, Rob Liefeld does the X-Men in Uncanny X-Men #245.

12 comments:

  1. "but could also be read as an early hint to the presence of the Shadow King"

    That would take some really hard squinting to see that.

    "interacts with Cyclops, though I don't believe the two have ever officially met on-panel at this point."

    Shouldn't she be a bit antagonistic towards him? I remember her snippy "Try the yellow pages" comment when Havok asked about Cyclops. And shouldn't he be wary of her? "Callisto? Didn't you kidnap my good friend Warren at one point? And Kitty another time? And fought Storm in a duel-to-the-death knife fight? Oh well, bygones".

    "Cyclops appears in this story between X-Factor #42 and #43."

    Does he ever bother telling Sean, Moira, and Callisto that the X-men are alive? You'd think that would be something worth sharing, no?

    "That novelty, plus the feeling of the story having a stronger connection to the X-Universe, make for a fun read. I wouldn't call this essential reading (this is my first time reading it, and I've made it this far without missing it), but it's certainly the most integral and downright enjoyable Marvel Comics Presents story yet."

    The fact that something happens here which impacts the main titles (Banshee getting his powers back) alone makes it more relevant than most MCP stories. And more than most X-men Unlimited stories.

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  2. wwk5d: Shouldn't she be a bit antagonistic towards him? I remember her snippy "Try the yellow pages" comment when Havok asked about Cyclops. And shouldn't he be wary of her? "Callisto? Didn't you kidnap my good friend Warren at one point? And Kitty another time? And fought Storm in a duel-to-the-death knife fight? Oh well, bygones".

    Considering that pretty much everyone she knew was recently decimated by a Summers-obsessed villain, I think simple "Oh... hi" is Scott's best call here.

    (Callisto's "Hi yourself" retort totally optional)

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  3. I've never read this storyline, which seems really odd since:

    A.) Cyclops and Banshee are my #1 and #2 favorite X-Men;
    B.) I like Bob Harras;
    C.) I like Ron Lim.

    My local comic shop even had a little squarebound reprint for sale for years and years for like five bucks, but I never, ever picked it up!

    Anyway, someday I'll read it. For now this will do.

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  4. Callisto's level of conventional attractiveness is confusing to me. This is before Masque makes her officially hot, right? And yet, around this point, many artists start drawing her as a lavishly-styled sexpot with an eyepatch and slightly crazy hair. Isn't the entire point of her kind of that she looks "different" from other comic book women? Is it just hotness creep? Or am I missing some in-story reason that her appearance has changed so dramatically from her early appearances?

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  5. "This sets the stage for Banshee's return to prominence in upcoming issue of Uncanny X-Men, though I have no idea if Claremont specifically asked for Banshee to get his power back in this story, or if he just took advantage of that turn of events after it was written (given the gap in time between the end of this story and Banshee's return in X-Men it's presumably the latter, though with Claremont you never know)."
    It's not that long a gap- the last issue in this story takes place the same month as Uncanny 246 and Banshee returns in X-Men 253- considering that several of those were biweekly issues, it's entirely plausible that Claremont planned on bringing him back.
    "but could also be read as an early hint to the presence of the Shadow King"

    "That would take some really hard squinting to see that."
    Agreed, everyone keeps saying that everything was "normal" on Muir until Lorna arrived in X-Men 253- the implication was the Shadow King wasn't on the island before then.

    "Does he ever bother telling Sean, Moira, and Callisto that the X-men are alive? You'd think that would be something worth sharing, no?"
    In X-Men 262, Jean says that the X-Men swore them to secrecy. (It would have been nice if we actually SAW that during Inferno.)

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  6. Ben -- I think it is indeed "hotness creep" at this point. Certain artists will continue to draw Callisto ugly from time to time, though I think that extends even beyond Masque changing her face.

    Also, looking at the panel of Callisto speaking with Cyclops that Teebore posted -- That does not look anything like a Ron Lim face on her. It almost looks Alan Davis-ish to me! I wonder if young Lim did a little tracing/swiping there?

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  7. I don't remember liking this story much at all. It doesn't exist in my head continuity.

    The cause of Banshee's power return is never specified in Uncanny, so if, like me, you ignore this story, either he just got better on his own, or (my take) the Morlock Healer was able to restore it.

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  8. Why isn't this story just called "Retribution"? I haven't done any research on the topic, but it feels like one of the many peculiar tropes of '90s superhero comics was these would-be Robert Ludlum titles: "The ___ Affair" or "The ___ Sanction" or "The ___ Agenda", etc. Maybe a couple of decades earlier it would've been something like "And Men Call It... Retribution!", because Marvel did have that hifalutin', winkily pompous schtick going. "The Retribution Affair" doesn't sound like a joke, however, or more properly it doesn't sound like a joke that the writer/editor/publisher is in on.

    // He is seemingly destroyed yet again at the close of this story, but will next appear in Uncanny X-Men #246 (which was on sale the same month as the final issue of this story). //

    You'd think Bob Harras would've consulted with the X-titles' editor. 8^)

    I'm a huge Mignola fan, as I think you know, Teebore, so I was happy to see the cover to #20 up there. Simonson's cover to #21 was pretty nice, too. Liefeld's pencils for the cover to #19 were inked by P. Craig Freakin' Russell, which is just a mind-bending combination to me; the colors don't do it any favors, but it's also just poorly composed, not to mention that Cyke's energy appears to be bubbling out his ears (which is a few different kinds of wrong).

    I'm not a Ron Lim fan, not in the least, so Matt and I have to agree to disagree on that. Whereas Davis & Neary art deserves Orzechowski lettering, Lim's work is perfectly suited to Agustin Mas', or vice versa, and you can't get the whole package out of my sight soon enough.

    That Mirage/Wolfsbane story merited much more than its 8 pages, not in terms of its quality (which was professional only in the sense that people were apparently paid to make it) but in terms of its scope.

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  9. He is seemingly destroyed yet again at the close of this story, but will next appear in Uncanny X-Men #246 (which was on sale the same month as the final issue of this story).

    Yes but the method of Master Mold showing again in UXM is the construction worker neé mutant hunting robot Nicholas Hunter picking up a chunk of the seemingly destroyed Master Mold at a NY construction site which then overrides Nimrod's system, so it's totally okay continuity-wise.

    I never knew of these stories taking place betwixt though and always thought the chunk of Master Mold that was found at the NY construction site had flown there from the Master Mold exploding in Alaska in the X-Factor issue. Which of course is technically still possible I guess.

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  10. Blam -- "Whereas Davis & Neary art deserves Orzechowski lettering, Lim's work is perfectly suited to Agustin Mas', or vice versa, and you can't get the whole package out of my sight soon enough."

    Heh. Personally I prefer my Lim with the lettering of Jack Morelli, as seen in INFINITY GAUNTLET, INFINITY WAR, and INFINITY CRUSADE.

    WAR was my first exposure to Lim, and while I've never thought he was the greatest comic book artist in the world, I really appreciate that he draws the best Thanos and Adam Warlock this side of seventies Jim Starlin. Plus, in general, his characters are all very much on-model.

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  11. @wwk5d: Shouldn't she be a bit antagonistic towards him?... And shouldn't he be wary of her?

    Yes. And yes.

    The fact that something happens here which impacts the main titles (Banshee getting his powers back) alone makes it more relevant than most MCP stories. And more than most X-men Unlimited stories.

    Ha! Now that you mention it, MCP stories do seem like the late 80s/early 90s version of the Unlimited series. They're even about the same length.

    @Matt: Anyway, someday I'll read it.

    Given A-C, yeah, you should definitely check it out. :)

    I really appreciate that he draws the best Thanos and Adam Warlock this side of seventies Jim Starlin. Plus, in general, his characters are all very much on-model.

    Lim is one of those guys whose work I've never been able to muster much opinion towards either way. He's kind of the quintessential fill-in artist for me. When I think "fill-in artist whose work is disappointing because it's not the regular artist's, yet whose work is still good enough to not detract from the story", I think Ron Lim. Rick Leonardi was in that category for awhile when I was younger, too, but I've gained a bigger appreciation for his work of late.

    @Ben: Isn't the entire point of her kind of that she looks "different" from other comic book women? Is it just hotness creep?

    As other have said, pretty much the latter. Davis, at least in her brief Excalibur appearances, at least seemed to make her look...craggy, for lack of a better word? Like, not out-and-out ugly, but not super hot, either. For most artists, I just don't think they really know to draw "ugly" that isn't, like, Thing-level grotesque.

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  12. @anonymous: It's not that long a gap- the last issue in this story takes place the same month as Uncanny 246 and Banshee returns in X-Men 253- considering that several of those were biweekly issues, it's entirely plausible that Claremont planned on bringing him back.

    Good point - I'd forgotten that a chunk of those issues were bi-weekly. I was just doing the math and thought ~6 months of time between issues made it less likely (though still possible) that Claremont orchestrated it, but cut that time in half and the probability flips.

    Agreed, everyone keeps saying that everything was "normal" on Muir until Lorna arrived in X-Men 253- the implication was the Shadow King wasn't on the island before then.

    Ah, yeah, I always forget that Lorna's arrival marks the beginning of that whole storyline.

    In X-Men 262, Jean says that the X-Men swore them to secrecy. (It would have been nice if we actually SAW that during Inferno.)

    Indeed. One more thing for that missing "Inferno" epilogue issue of X-Men.

    @A Painter:The cause of Banshee's power return is never specified in Uncanny, so if, like me, you ignore this story, either he just got better on his own, or (my take) the Morlock Healer was able to restore it.

    I've actually seen that cited in various places around the web as the explanation for the return of his powers, so there's definitely a lot of people out there who missed or ignored this story.

    @Blam: I haven't done any research on the topic, but it feels like one of the many peculiar tropes of '90s superhero comics was these would-be Robert Ludlum titles

    Like you, I haven't done the research, but now that you mention it, it's hard not to see the trend.

    As for this story, I have no good explanation for why "affiar" got tacked onto the title, other than maybe a desire to avoid a one word title for whatever reason (better collected edition sales that way?)?

    You'd think Bob Harras would've consulted with the X-titles' editor. 8^)

    Heh. To be fair, my comment was more an observation than a criticism. And I was fully expecting this story to have actually overrun that one, so I was pleasantly surprised that they synched up like that.

    That Mirage/Wolfsbane story merited much more than its 8 pages, not in terms of its quality (which was professional only in the sense that people were apparently paid to make it) but in terms of its scope.

    Yeah, that was...a story. Admittedly, I really only skimmed it.

    @Teemu: I never knew of these stories taking place betwixt though and always thought the chunk of Master Mold that was found at the NY construction site had flown there from the Master Mold exploding in Alaska in the X-Factor issue. Which of course is technically still possible I guess.

    The NY construction chunk is left over from the Power Pack appearance - there's actually a foreboding panel at the end of the issue showing a piece of Master Mold coming to life, so UXM #246 actually flows nicely from there.

    Of course, the existence of this story would then suggest that MM's consciousness isn't linear (in that one body can be blown up above Scotland even while the consciousness still exists in rubble back in New York), but that's mostly supported in this story anyway and vaguely fits how software works anyway (in that multiple pieces of hardware can run the same software).

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