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Friday, March 6, 2015

X-amining X-Factor #50

"Judgement Day"
January 1990

In a Nutshell 
X-Factor helps drive off the Celestials as the Chosen, Rejects and Beginagains unite. 

Writer: Louise Simonson
Guest Penciler: Rich Buckler, Terry Shoemaker (2nd Story)
Inker: Allen Milgrom, Hilary Barta (2nd Story)
Letterer: Joe Rosen, Michael Heisler (2nd Story)
Colorist: Tom Vincent
Editor: Bob Harras
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco

Plot
The battle rages inside the Chosen arena as Cyclops and his faction of Rejects and Beginagains make their way through the city in search of Christopher and Marvel Girl. After Palik orders the Dualers into the arena to quell the invading Rejects, Lev and Seera rally the Dualers, turning them against the Chosen. Meanwhile, Cyclops reaches the Hall of Science and is reunited with Christopher and Marvel Girl, though Madelyne remains in control of the body. With Cyclops' help, Jean is able to assert herself, but she can feel both Maddy and Phoenix fighting to get free. Together, Cyclops' group knocks out the city's power grid, shutting down the barrier protecting the Chosen from the battle in the arena. As more Celestials arrive outside the city, Palik is forced to restore Archangel's sight, allowing him to overpower Rask. Cyclops and Marvel Girl reach the arena at the same time as Ryest and the Beginagain elders, just as the final Celestial, Arishem lands, outside the city.


Realizing their judgement is about to commence, Marvel Girl gathers the leaders of all three factions. Ryest argues that they must unite just as X-Factor has done to stave off their destruction, and Palik and Zharkah agree, rallying their people to drive off the Celestials. Marvel Girl telepathically links everyone together, transmitting their unity, along with the linger vestiges of Madelyne and Phoenix, to Cyclops, who acts as lens for their power and blasts Arishem, destroying his hand before he can render a verdict. The Celestials depart, leaving behind monitoring devices like Ship. X-Factor bids goodbye to their new friends, who agree to work together moving forward, then board Ship to go home. Just as Ship jumps into hyperspace, they pass another vessel which, unknown to them, Professor X is aboard, who senses the presence of his original students. Shortly thereafter, Ship nears Earth, having learned the truth of his past, and confident in the future ahead.

2nd Story: "Meanwhile, On Earth..." Apocalypse rejects the offer of the Prime Movers' lackey to joins his Acts of Vengeance, and the lackey reveals himself as Loki, the true power behind the attacks. The two battle, with Apocalypse rejecting Loki's claims of godhood. When Caliban intervenes on Apocalypse's behalf, distracting Loki, Apocalypse attempts to capture him and harness his power, but Loki escapes. He then disappears after telling Apocalypse that if he dares to oppose Loki, he will join humanity in death. After he's gone, Apocalypse tells Caliban it's time for Caliban's mission to begin, to destroy the weak that the strong have room to grow.

Firsts and Other Notables
An "Acts of Vengeance" tie-in, all of that material is contained within the issue's second story and is, essentially, one big battle between Loki and Apocalypse, as Apocalypse rejects Loki's offer of alliance. It also makes it very clear that Loki is Loki, a revelation that hadn't really appeared in any of the main "Acts" titles yet and probably cheesed off John Byrne. 


As of this issue, Jean is no longer sharing her body with the consciousnesses of Madelyne and Phoenix, having purged them via the attack on the Celestials. She still retains their memories, a convenient way to limit any future "but Jean shouldn't remember that thing Maddy did!" arguments and which will also have some repercussions that will be explored in future issues, but she no longer has to fight them for control of her body.


On their way back to Earth, Ship passes a ship with Professor X aboard, and he telepathically picks up on the presence of his original students (including Jean, whose presence he should find more shocking given that he left Earth before learning she was alive). He also appears to be sick/injured, suggesting Simonson thinks he's still recovering from the injuries that led him to flee Earth with the Starjammers, even though X-Men #203 established he was healed but just couldn't make it back to Earth.


Caliban, last seen with Apocalypse in X-Factor Annual #3, reappears this issue, having been transformed into Apocalypse's Hell Hound and tasked with winnowing out the weak amongst mankind. He'll have a little run of appearances between this series and New Mutants before again disappearing into storytelling limbo for awhile.


The Celestials are defeated once the Chosen, Rejects and Beginagains set aside their differences and unite (and then Cyclops and Marvel Girl blast the Celestials with the power of their unity, or something), though Ryest believes that may have been the Celestials plan to get them to unite all along.


In the end, the three factions agree to work together moving forward, rebuilding their society, though X-Factor remains wary of Palik. Archangel insists that Seera, who will one day succeed him, will keep the Chosen on the right path. Of course, neither this world nor any of these characters have, to date, appeared again.
 
This story shares its title with that of issue #25.

It's another Liefeld/McFarlane cover this month (after New Mutants #85), though this one does have feet on it.

Rich Buckler fills in on art, and with the series about to enter a period of nebulous artists, that means the previous issue was Paul Smith's last issue on the series. Not sure if he was always signed just for the one story or a finite number of issues, or if he just left, but it's a shame he wasn't at least able to finish out the story.

A Work in Progress
In case you were worried, Archangel gets his sight back this issue. Palik restores it, suggesting his removal of it was more psychic than physical, even though he pretty clearly blasted him in the eyes with something last issue.


Impressed by Ship's concern and loyalty towards X-Factor, Zharkah says the Rejects may have to rethink their scorn of robots.


The Celestials leave behind Ship-esque monitoring devices, one of whom lands upright like a tall building, a look that will soon become familiar in this book.


Cyclops notes that they've left the New Mutants alone long enough, a nice reminder of the fact that technically, the New Mutants are still supposed to be wards of X-Factor. 

Apocalypse's current base is said to be beneath Mt. Everest.

Loki continues to carry a personal grudge against Cyclops, the X-Men and the New Mutants, stemming from the X-Men/Alpha Flight limited series and the first "Asgardian Wars" story.

Like a Phoenix, From the Ashes
Thanks to the memories she now has from Phoenix, Jean remembers what it feels like to experience the death of a planet. . 

Teebore's Take
And with that, "Judgment War" comes to a close with a mostly successful climax: X-Factor is reunited, the various planetary factions comes together to stave off the judgment of the Celestials, and the seeds of a new society are planted as X-Factor finally gets back to Earth. X-Factor themselves are less involved in this victory than the New Mutants were in theirs, but this whole story has been less about X-Factor actively changing this world and more about them inspiring change in others (and X-Factor still delivers the actual blow against the Celestials, the Marvel Girl/Cyclops Phoenix blast of combined souls that destroys Arishem's thumb, reminiscent of the Love Beam that defeated the Z'Nox in X-Men #65). In fact, the whole story could be read as X-Factor doing to this world what they want to do on Earth: inspire society to overcome their differences and come together as one race.

Of course, overall, this story is far from perfect. Like New Mutants' Asgard story, it's at least one fill-in and one regular issue too long, and it has some pacing problems, particularly about 3/4 of the way through when it seems like maybe Simonson started drawing things out so the conclusion would land on issue #50. And most egregious of all, Marvel Girl straight up disappears for large swaths of this story, and when she does appear, it's either as an unconscious or crazy prisoner. Granted, she turns out to be integral to the resolution of the overall plot, but being a big deal in the last chapter doesn't really make up for being marginalized in all the previous ones.

Still, this holds up about as well as I remembered (and certainly better than the contemporaneous long running New Mutants story). The new world and characters crafted by Simonson & Smith feel lived-in and well-realized despite being brand new, with each of the main new characters holding their own next to the members of X-Factor (Iceman, for example, inspires Lev and the Dualers to rise up and fight for their rights, but it isn't like he's directly whipping them into a frenzy or leading them in their revolt).Al Milgrom is no Bob Wiacek, and his inks certainly do their best to take the shine off Paul Smith's art, but it is still Paul Smith art, and it's hard not to enjoy that. Thematic parallels aside, it's perhaps not wise to keep the book away from familiar settings, while making the title characters supporting players in their own book, for so long, but as a sci-fi/superhero mashup, this story works, and whereas the New Mutants Asgard story was both boring and ultimately kind of aimless, this one at least has some entertainment value to recommend it. 

Next Issue
Next week: "Acts of Vengeance" Part 3, Excalibur #18, and Wolverine #20. 

Collected Editions

23 comments:

  1. "but it is still Paul Smith art, and it's hard not to enjoy that"

    Well, except for that last part...kind of strange that Paul Smith did all the parts except the last.

    I love how the cover has both Judgement War and Acts of Vengeance tags.

    "It's another Liefeld/McFarlane cover this month (after New Mutants #85), though this one does have feet on it."

    A subtle push for him in anticipation of him becoming the NM artists?

    "Cyclops notes that they've left the New Mutants alone long enough, a nice reminder of the fact that technically, the New Mutants are still supposed to be wards of X-Factor."

    A reunion which lasts all of what, 5 minutes before Commander Titanium Balls shows up?

    "Thanks to the memories she now has from Phoenix, Jean remembers what it feels like to experience the death of a planet."

    She also now remembers what it feels like to have sex with Cyclops via her doppelganger and clone...both of whom got there first.

    Well, at least Simonson got to wrap up her story on a nice even number. I wonder if this story would have been better had it been published as a 5 issue minieries instead? Oh well. The title more or less meanders along until X-tinction Agenda from now on...

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  2. Loki continues to carry a personal grudge against Cyclops, the X-Men and the New Mutants, stemming from the X-Men/Alpha Flight limited series and the first "Asgardian Wars" story.

    Highly approvable that it should show now around the same time as Hela is doing her thing against the New Mutants on their title, but thusly a double-shame that Paul Smith didn't get to finish what he started back then.

    Thinking of those stories, it's a massive butte-sexer how the other jerks were allowed to ruin Cyclops as a character compared to the gracious version of him of Paul Smith UNCANNY run.

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  3. ... hey. Is there a Reason why Xavier and the Starjammers would be making a cameo in both EXCALIBUR and here within one month? Was there a limited series or anything of them published or planned at this time, or was it meant as a teaser for the Plndr/Shi'ar Warlord side plot that'll start unwinding on UNCANNY after a length of time? As I have understood it it never was Claremont's intention to bring Xavier back, but here's something obviously starting to happen around him.

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  4. The scene between Apocalypse and Loki seems to suggest that Louise Simonson is particularly bothered by the intrusion of John Byrne's Acts of Vengeance event, to the point that her only tie-in sees her big villain effectively booting Loki out of the title.

    She takes several opportunities to point out just how random the big event happens to be. The narration states, “Meanwhile on Earth, Apocalypse ponders the screens and tries to find some meaning in the various and bizarre imagery of an Earthly villainous uprising.” You know you’re in trouble when even a genocidal would-be tyrant can’t make sense of what’s happening.

    In fact, Apocalypse himself makes some rather potent criticisms of the event. Watching the unfolding chaos, he muses, “They behave oddly. So much out of character – in some cases as to be baffling.” It’s hard not to interpret that as a rather direct criticism of the way that Acts of Vengeance man-handled Magneto. Chris Claremont, working on Uncanny X-Men, had worked long and hard to portray Magneto struggling with his history and legacy, trying to become a decent man.

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  5. // The Celestials are defeated once the Chosen, Rejects and Beginagains set aside their differences //

    I'm with Ryest. I didn't consider the Celestials defeated so much as having seen all they needed to see to render judgment on whether the people of... um… this planet (Did they never name this planet?) deserved to live. Celestials don't talk much, I gather, or Arishem probably would have had noble words to that effect, something like "You have shown the ability to unite when faced with a force larger than yourselves, and it is down that path your hope of survival lies. We shall return, in time, to see if you have continued walking that path," rather than "My hand! Flee! They have shot off my hand!"

    // Jean is no longer sharing her body with the consciousnesses of Madelyne and Phoenix, having purged them via the attack on the Celestials. //

    That
    was convenient. And, not for nothing, we could've had periodic glimpses of, say, the Madelyne personality asserting control of Jean's body and choosing not to get involved or perhaps manipulating certain players rather than Jean being plain old captive all this time.

    // Of course, overall, this story is far from perfect. //

    I'd put it in the reject pile, myself, but as long as I have chosen to undertake this read-along with you I'll set the disappointment aside and begin again next issue.

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  6. "It also makes it very clear that Loki is Loki, a revelation that hadn't really appeared in any of the main "Acts" titles yet and probably cheesed off John Byrne."
    It came out the same week as Thor 413, where Loki was revealed as the villain. I don't see why Byrne would have been upset.
    "... hey. Is there a Reason why Xavier and the Starjammers would be making a cameo in both EXCALIBUR and here within one month?"
    "He also appears to be sick/injured, suggesting Simonson thinks he's still recovering from the injuries that led him to flee Earth with the Starjammers, even though X-Men #203 established he was healed but just couldn't make it back to Earth."
    This is probably a reference to the X-Men: Spotlight on the Starjammers limited series- it came out around the same time and Xavier is dying for much of that series.
    "A reunion which lasts all of what, 5 minutes before Commander Titanium Balls shows up?"
    During which Scott shows how much he cares about the New Mutants by proposing to Jean a few hours after he finds out Rusty and Skids are missing.

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    Replies
    1. "It came out the same week as Thor 413".

      Assuming everything was shipping correctly. A lot of crossovers have been chaotic to follow because of delays in either production or shipping and so revelations arrive late.

      And was there anything in the books themselves that said "Read Thor before X-Factor"? Or did you have to consult some guide not available in your shop/on your newsstand or even just guess?

      And it doesn't take much to upset Byrne.

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  7. This is probably a reference to the X-Men: Spotlight on the Starjammers limited series- it came out around the same time and Xavier is dying for much of that series.

    Thanks, anonymous. Teebore, can you fit in some Starjammin' and Imperial Guardin' by Dave Cockrum? This looks like an offensively fun piece of X-lore I never even knew existed.

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  8. @wwk5d: .kind of strange that Paul Smith did all the parts except the last.

    Yeah. I really wish I knew the story behind that.

    I love how the cover has both Judgement War and Acts of Vengeance tags.

    Me too. If they'd stuck with that branding device, nowadays we could have covers where 3/4 of the image is covered by one tie-in label after another. ;)

    A reunion which lasts all of what, 5 minutes before Commander Titanium Balls shows up?

    I don't even think they reunite until after Cable shows up, but I could be wrong about that.

    She also now remembers what it feels like to have sex with Cyclops via her doppelganger and clone...both of whom got there first.

    Good point. I keep forgetting that. I wonder which would be worse.

    The title more or less meanders along until X-tinction Agenda from now on...

    Plot-wise, the next ten issues are pretty much meh, but I love that Simonson returns to the soap operatics of the book. I'm a big Charlotte Jones/Opal Tanaka fan, and this next batch of issues are pretty much their time in the spotlight. But we'll get to all that soon enough.

    @Nathan: The scene between Apocalypse and Loki seems to suggest that Louise Simonson is particularly bothered by the intrusion of John Byrne's Acts of Vengeance event

    Yeah, I probably should have drawn more attention to that. There's definitely some not-so-thinly veiled criticism at work. Which is a little odd, given that it seems like Weezie didn't get her feathers ruffled much.

    @Blam: something like "You have shown the ability to unite when faced with a force larger than yourselves, and it is down that path your hope of survival lies. We shall return, in time, to see if you have continued walking that path," rather than "My hand! Flee! They have shot off my hand!"

    You're right, of course, but that second option sounds like a lot more fun. :)

    @Anonymous: It came out the same week as Thor 413, where Loki was revealed as the villain. I don't see why Byrne would have been upset.

    Which is odd, because Thor #413 doesn't even get an Acts of Vengeance label either. Heck, Byrne may have been pissed that both Simonson AND DeFalco spoiled it before he could reveal it in one of the Avengers titles.

    @Teemu: Teebore, can you fit in some Starjammin' and Imperial Guardin' by Dave Cockrum?

    Can do! It's tentatively scheduled for May 20th, per this post. That date may get fudged a bit, but I'll cover it at some point.

    @Tim: And it doesn't take much to upset Byrne.

    That's the truth.

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  9. "I don't even think they reunite until after Cable shows up, but I could be wrong about that."
    Actually, they reunite before Cable shows up. I think your new fatherhood is screwing up your memories. You think that if two teenagers under your care like Rusty and Skids are kidnapped, you should go after them right away. That's understandable. But when you have more experience as a father, you'll understand that you should do nothing to rescue them and instead take your significant other out for a night on the town in a sexy black dress.

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  10. The first child swallows a dime: "Oh god no to the doctors, quick, quick!"
    The third child swallows a dime: "That's coming off your weekly allowance, young padawan."

    Oh and, thanks, Teebore. It came so out of nowhere to me I didn't think of checking. Acting on spinal cord level, me and the Crimson Commando.

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  11. Blam: "My hand! Flee! They have shot off my hand!"

    Haah! "Now we wait until nightfall, and then Nezarr, Jemiah and I, we leap out of the wooden rabbit, and --"

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  12. Christ, both this and the New Mutants storylines seemed never-ending. And we still have the Cross-Time Caper in Excalibur to get through!

    What bugs me about these 3 stories is that they take the X-Men off Earth into other dimensions/planets/places. The X-Men, to me, always work best when their stories were grounded on Earth, especially when they deal with human/mutant relations. I feel like any other superhero team could've been put into these stories and not much would have to be changed to get them to work.

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  13. Many people see say that about the space stories, Ian, but did Claremont EVER really write an thus-far X-amined off-Earth story that wasn't anything short of awesome? The original M'Kraan story, the Brood thing that saw Carol Danvers become Binary... the finale for something little called Dark Phoenix Saga? I even have a soft spot for the one where slaver ape man blasts his pleasure gun on Illyana's face. Like, for reals, I didn't mention it just to get to mention it. Again. Always shamelessly Star Wars-ey, in the original trilogy way, when the Starjammers are on board, but the soap operatics, often the deeper sort, are never far away.

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  14. @Teemu: I agree that the Dark Phoenix Saga is one of the greatest comic storylines ever told. But to me the greatness isn't in the face that there are space opera elements, it's the drama and tension. Your teammate and close friend suddenly turns evil and starts destroying planets - What do you do? It was so much more complex than a typical hero vs. villain battle. The first Brood storyline also had a lot of tension and helped shape the course of the books with Professor X's new body and the formation of the New Mutants.

    The question is, though, do either of these stories have anything to do with mutants specifically? Could Carol Danvers have become Phoenix and would the story have had the same impact? What if it was the Fantastic Four who were infected by the Brood eggs? And when they're in space the X-Men aren't "freaks" anymore when they're surrounded by dozens of alien species. Meanwhile, story lines like Days of Future Past and the Trial of Magneto could only have been done with mutants due to how deeply rooted they are in the mutant/human struggle.

    The X-Men were always my favorite superhero team because they were weird and didn't fit in. So in my opinion, if they lose this "otherness" they're just not as effective.

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  15. Ian, the stories are not about mutants, but personally I find it to be refreshing every now and then that they get showing as a "regular" competent-ish superhero team without the mutant angle so it's not always God loves, man kills. The Brood saga was the first to come into my mind as an example because I can't see anyone else than Claremont's X-Men coping with their incoming certain death like they did. It'd be a cheap shot to say the Brood were looking specifically mutants for their hosts, so I won't. It's Claremont doing character-driven stuff in intentionally strange surroundings. We've seen Byrne's FF in the Negative Zone, and it was never like that, and I think it'd be different for Michelinie's Avengers too. They could be there, in that claustrophobic can instead of the X-Men, but they'd be playing pranks or whittling arrows I guess. Captain America would probably not be urging Thor to mercifully kill them all with his hammer before the transformation kicks in.

    Also I just realize now this was one of the very first X-Men stories I ever read, at the mature age of eight... and that normally in superhero comics the hero doesn't owe his friends "his life... or quick, clean death". I was sold from my first issue.

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  16. I definitely enjoyed the then-New X-Men's early forays into space, but in large part because they were so out of their element — and it was obviously disconcerting. This story and the concurrent Asgard stuff in New Mutants, in addition to (or because of) being crafted by lesser hands and feeling interminable, don't have the sense of scope or grandeur they should. Whereas the M'Krann Crystal story and the cosmic elements of the Phoenix saga clearly, properly overwhelm our heroes, as represented nicely by the brief looks we get at them the night before the battle to save Jean's life in #137 even though they're "only" as far off Earth as the moon.

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  17. My theory regards other people's lesser hands in this particular case is that Claremont gets the ball going by being essentially a scifi writer who merely masquerades as a comic book writer. I always find it immensely enjoyable when he goes blatantly homaging Lovecraft who similarly was a scifi writer masquerading as a horror writer.

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  18. "Celestials don't talk much, I gather"

    I'm no Celestials expert, but the only time I specifically remember one speaking was to tell Machine Man he was "total sh*t" and they were dumping him back on "that orbiting trashcan you call a planet."

    Which probably would've made this storyline 10x better, come to think of it.

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  19. @Drew: // the only time I specifically remember one speaking was to tell Machine Man he was "total sh*t" and they were dumping him back on "that orbiting trashcan you call a planet." //

    I take it either there was a Machine Man Max series I didn't hear about or they popped up in Deadpool

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  20. So essentially we have come to the conclusion that if they ever collect the story into a trade, someone should draw an extra page to it with Arishem going "My hand! The fucker shot my hand! We ain't stayin' one minute longer, the fucking ALF can keep this shithole! We got the fucking wrong Simonson for this anyway, I mean did'ya guys see what Walt did with Destroyer? I mean what, it shouldn't even be fucking humanly possible to screw it up when you got giant robots and --"

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  21. @Ian: What bugs me about these 3 stories is that they take the X-Men off Earth into other dimensions/planets/places ... I feel like any other superhero team could've been put into these stories and not much would have to be changed to get them to work.

    I'm on record as being more inclined to X-Men in Space stories than most, just because, while you're right that they don't always speak to the central themes of the X-books, they replace it with the kind of space opera stuff that also appeals to me, so I'm okay with it.

    That said, I would argue that in terms of "Asgardian Wars II" and "Judgement War", a tenuous case can be made for both requiring the title characters to work.

    The New Mutants' is the most tenuous, as their involvement is mostly a coincidence, but the story does build off their previous Asgardian adventure (Dani being a Valkyrie, their relationships with Hrimhari, Eitri, etc.) in a way that wouldn't work quite as well with, say, the Avengers or FF in the same story. And, of course, more seasoned heroes (in terms of general experience and experience in Asgard) probably wouldn't lend themselves to the overall feeling of the heroes being overwhelmed that permeates the story.

    In terms of "Judgement War", the story would work with other mutants, but it pretty much needs mutants to be involved to have any thematic resonance, as the whole idea is that the planet is the human/mutant struggle writ large, with the title characters succeeding in teaching the aliens tolerance by example in a way they haven't yet been able to do on Earth.

    @Blam: (Did they never name this planet?)

    Realized I forgot to respond to this, and meant to. They did not, which is probably the thing that bothers me the most about this story, especially after having written eight separate reviews and plot recaps about it and constantly having to dance around the name of the planet because, you know, Simonson couldn't be bothered to give it one!

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  22. "I take it either there was a Machine Man Max series I didn't hear about or they popped up in Deadpool…"

    Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E., actually. I don't love everything Warren Ellis does, but whomever said, "Hey Warren, here's some characters nobody cares about. Get drunk and do things with them. Continuity optional." deserves an effing medal.

    http://imgur.com/a/q5ZNN

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