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Friday, January 23, 2015

X-amining X-Factor #47

"Guardian"
Mid November 1989

In a Nutshell 
In a fill-in story, Archangel bust up a cult preying on mutant kids. 

Story & Pencils: Kieron Dwyer
Inks: Al Milgrom
Letters: Novak
Colors: Rockwitz
Editor: Bob Harras
Boss: Oldwhatshisname

Plot
At the Port Authority Bus Terminal, a young mutant named Michael gets off a bus. After using his power to help heal a blind homeless man, he's attacked by a crowd, all of whom want him to heal them, and is rescued by a group of boys who offer him a place to stay. In the skies above, Archangel watches, recalling his own childhood as he soars after the boys. Michael is taken to a church where the telepathic Father Phillip offers him a place to love. Later, Phillip tends to Beth, a young woman who tried to run away from the group and was injured being recaptured. He then calls in Michael, asking him to use his abilities to heal her, saying she was attacked outside the church, and a smitten Michael does so.


Meanwhile, Archangel busts up a drug deal involving kids from the church, but is shocked to learn it's the kids doing the dealing. Later, Michael's roommate Greg shows him a video featuring Beth, which freaks him out, just as he's called on again to tend to Beth, who tried to run away once more. This time, Father Phillip asks Michael to use his power to hurt Beth. But Michael is unable to do so, and as he silently prays for help, Archangel bursts into the church, dispatching the armed goons and staring down the super-powered kids. Phillip telepathically attacks Archangel through his fears, but Beth, a telepath herself, does the same thing to Phillip, saving Archangel. Later, Phillip is taken away by the police, while the rest of the kids go their separate ways, with Phillip and Beth turning down an offer to live with X-Factor in order to stay in the city and help other people. 

Firsts and Other Notables
The Dreaded Deadline Doom hits X-Factor, and much like New Mutants #81, it couldn't have come at a worse time, landing right in the midst of a long, ongoing storyline. There's a one page intro that suggests Archangel is recalling these events while awaiting his next battle in the Chosen arena, but otherwise, nothing from the "Judgment War" is involved.

The story is written and drawn by Kieron Dwyer, one-time stepson of John Byrne, who also contributed new pages to the Classic X-Men reprints early in that series' run. 

The Chronology Corner
The central flashback story in this issue takes place either between X-Factor #40 and #41 (per Marvel Chronology Project) or between issues #42 and #43 (per UncannyX-Men.net). There really isn't anything in it that suggests one placement over the other, other than being after "Inferno" and before "Judgement War". 

A Work in Progress
A few flashback pages gives us a glimpse of Archangel's past, most of which are consistent with wha we've seen before (including the "dressed as angel to rescue kids from his burning school" bit from the Silver Age backup story).


We also see a young Cameron Hodge, whom Warren helped against bullies, with the present day Archangel bitterly regretting his friendship with him.


Archangel notes that when he was a kid, good and evil were easier to distinguish, especially now that Magneto was teaching the New Mutants and the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants were federal agents.


I Love the 80s
The super-powered kids at the shelter are all given code names for one panel. 


Artistic Achievements
There's a pretty nifty one page spread towards the end of the age, drawn like a stained glass window, showing Archangel surrounding by the past and present X-Factor on one side and his two most notable foes, Apocalypse and Hodge, on the other. 


Teebore's Take
Like New Mutants #81 before it, the timing of this issue does it no favors, landing as it does in the midst of an ongoing storyline that was just starting to feel a bit long in the tooth even before it got derailed by a completely disconnected fill-in issue. Removed from that context, the story here is...fine. It's the kind of standard "innocent youth gets taken in by an amoral authority figure in the big city before an encounter with a superhero gives him/her the strength to escape" routine that was oh so common in the 80s (I imagine that a lot of Cloak & Dagger stories fit this template), and it's a perfectly cromulent example of that kind of story, even if most of the elements (the lone damsel in distress amongst the youths, the Artful Dodger-esque jaded companion, the creepy authority figure) were already pretty cliche even in 1989 (the implication that Beth was participating in porn for Father Phillip certainly stood out, as I wouldn't have expected to see even the implication of that in a mainstream Marvel comic in 1989, even if it is, sadly, more cliche nowadays).

Dwyer tries to thematically tie Archangel to the group of kids via the concept of secret fears and the religious imagery inherent in Archangel's name/look, but the effort mostly just results in a bunch of overwritten narrative captions (and one admittedly cool splash page). At the end of the day, any member of X-Factor (or any superhero, really) could have been the protagonist of this story. As a backup in an annual or Marvel Comics Present, this would be a perfectly inoffensive, if inessential tale. Landing as it does in the midst of the larger and completely disconnected "Judgment War" arc, it's just a complete waste of time.

Next Issue
Next week, Uncanny X-Men #254, Excalibur #15 and Wolverine #17.

Collected Editions

12 comments:

  1. Now, if I was a teen boy hanging around a creepy older man who makes teen porn, I perhaps would not choose "Blowhard" as my code name.

    But the stain window is great. Lol at Chuck's halo. What's the deal with Iceman changing his pose when everybode else on X-Factor retains theirs? There should so have been one panel for the Champions.

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  2. Archangel fighting street crimes gives me a chuckle for some reason. Busting up a drug deal is just such an un-X-Men thing to do. It feels mundane compared with their normal adventures.

    I first encountered Kieron Dwyer via those CLASSIC X-MEN supplemental pages, and I thought his work was way too scratchy and unfinished looking. Only later did I realize it was Terry Austin's inks I didn't like. He came in to finish Dwyer's pages, presumably to provide some consistency with the original Byrne/Austin pages, but his style had changed so dramatically by then that his participation only made the pages stick out like a sore thumb. I really wish I knew why he changed his style so dramatically. Everything he's inked after around 1982 or so has had that same light, scratchy look to it.

    Anyway, I went on to appreciate Dwyer by way of his run on Mark Gruenwald's CAPTAIN AMERICA. He did some really good work there, especially on the classic "Bloodstone Hunt" storyline.

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  3. Matt: especially on the classic "Bloodstone Hunt" storyline.

    A whatwhatwherenow? Having been the biggest fan of Ulysses Bloodstone and a proponent of Mister Sinister android being powered up by a Bloodstone meteor fragment for the last two days (admittedly never having read one single story of Ulysses B.), I find it massively curious that there's a "Bloodstone Hunt" over at the Cap and a "Gehenna Stone Affair" in Wolverine breaking out literally simultaneously (Sept. 89).

    I so would like to believe that Claremont so was going to go my insisted way with Mister Sinister but was editorially blocked from the Bloodgem. And I'm 100 % certain I know now where Claremont got the idea for very Indiana Jonesesque "Madripoor Knights" featuring Logan and Cap.

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  4. @Teemu: Now, if I was a teen boy hanging around a creepy older man who makes teen porn, I perhaps would not choose "Blowhard" as my code name.

    Ha! Nicely done. :)

    @Matt: Busting up a drug deal is just such an un-X-Men thing to do. It feels mundane compared with their normal adventures.

    You're right, but I kinda like it, at least for X-Factor. It fits their "public mutant heroes" schtick and their NY setting. Maybe that's why I enjoy the issues in the 50s more than most; there's a little more of X-Factor just hanging in New York.

    I went on to appreciate Dwyer by way of his run on Mark Gruenwald's CAPTAIN AMERICA.

    I never much liked his work on CX (or in this story), but I gained an appreciation for it over on CAP.

    He later did parts of Busiek's big Kang War story, and I liked his work less there, though anyone suffers in comparison to Davis, who also made some contributions to Avengers around that time.

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  5. The art elevates this above most if not all of the one-off backup MCP stories I've seen. Dwyer & Milgrom's cover to #350 (and the whole giant-sized anniversary issue thing) got me to pick up Cap again for the first time in a while; I might've done so sooner if the interiors hadn't been buried under Frenz & Milgrom covers. I didn't stick around long, though.

    Most interesting about Warren's flashbacks, to me, was how he — very possibly if not probably as a product of being emotionally jumbled in his post-Apocalypse state — reflected on Jean having "made [him, Scott, Bobby, and Hank] puppets" and that "Candy filled the emptiness". Warren's interest in Jean had been established, yeah, but I don't recall her ever having been portrayed as leading him on until maybe the fustercluck that was early X-Factor.

    And there totally should have been a panel of the Champions. 8^)

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  6. "The super-powered kids at the shelter are all given code names for one panel."

    And what a shame that we never saw or heard from any of them again. I mean, Mowhawk! Buzzsaw! Blowhard! The character finds of 1989, right there.

    "There's a pretty nifty one page spread towards the end of the age"

    You'd think, given his crucifixion pose, there would be a panel of the Marauders there as well...

    "it's a perfectly cromulent example of that kind of story"

    Adequately cromulent. I mean, it doesn't embiggen my desire to see any of these characters ever again...

    "And there totally should have been a panel of the Champions"

    And the Defenders, too. Though I guess that era of the Defenders does't have the cheesetastic campy kitchyness of the Champions.

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  7. The stained glass window splash should've clearly been a two-pager.

    I just realized the horrid track record Warren had with the Morlock tunnels. Aaalways tied up and maltreated. "Let's go to lairs, Warren. Don't worry, someone has killed most of the Morlocks, it should be safe."

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  8. How did I forget to mention "Bob"? The Devo posters and "Beam Me Up, Scotty" T-shirt are more contemporary flavor than Easter eggs, but the box of Slack-Os cereal and Sub-Genius Hour on TV are inventions of Dwyer's referencing J.R. "Bob" Dobbs and the Church of the Subgenius. (Pg. 22 of the issue; Pg. 17 of the story)

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  9. @Blam: Warren's interest in Jean had been established, yeah, but I don't recall her ever having been portrayed as leading him on until maybe the fustercluck that was early X-Factor.

    Yeah, that little page probably deserved more attention for me, just for how it speaks to (and slightly retcons, if we take it at face value) a fairly significant relationship in the X-books.

    the box of Slack-Os cereal and Sub-Genius Hour on TV are inventions of Dwyer's referencing J.R. "Bob" Dobbs and the Church of the Subgenius.

    I'm glad you remembered, cuz all that stuff whizzed right by me. :)

    @wwk5d: I mean, Mowhawk! Buzzsaw! Blowhard! The character finds of 1989, right there.

    I know, right?

    You'd think, given his crucifixion pose, there would be a panel of the Marauders there as well...

    Especially given how often later creators like to reference his role in "Mutant Massacre".

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  10. I keep meaning to recommend Marvel Universe #4-7 from 1998 to Teemu if he wants to read some Ulysses Bloodstone. Roger Stern (with art from Bret Blevins & Mike Manley) revived him for the first time — not counting his present-day skeleton and flashback appearance in 1989's "Bloodstone Hunt" — since the brief '70s run that retconned him into an ongoing character after his unnamed 1960 introduction. The story takes place during the weird "Atlas era" between the Golden Age of Timely and the dawn of the Marvel Age in 1961, with some neatly done appearances by characters from both those periods.

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  11. Thank you for the recommendation, Blam.

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  12. Stern's entire MARVEL UNIVERSE series was collected as a trade paperback a few years ago under the title INVADERS: EVE OF DESTRUCTION (the series' initial story arc starring the Invaders). Looks like it goes pretty cheap these days if you check around.

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