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Friday, June 5, 2015

X-amining X-Factor #56

"Ravens"
July 1990

In a Nutshell 
Crimson targets Archangel, hoping to use him to take the power of the Ravens for herself. 

Writer: Louise Simonson
Penciller: Steven Carr
Inker: Allen Milgrom
Letterer: Joe Rosen
Colorist: Tom Vincent
Editor: Bob Harras
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco

Plot
The Ravens meet Crimson at a Manhattan bar, where she tells them of the new sensation she's discovered, mutants, and of her plans to dominate one of them, Archangel. One of the Ravens, Azure, psychically attacks a nearby stock broker for investment tips, but leaves him alive, as his pain isn't to Azure's tastes. The rest of the Ravens insist Azure follow him to the hospital and finish him, lest he tells someone about the Ravens. Meanwhile, a halluncinating Archangel patrols the city, intervening in a battle betwen rival drug pushers that draws the attention of both Officer Jones and Trish Tilby and her news crew. Later, the rest of X-Factor returns to Ship after another fruitless night of searching for Archangel, and Beast is bothered by how Trish's report on his latest attack is presented. Just then, Marvel Girl returns to the team. At St. Vincent's Hospital, Azure attempts to kill the stockbroker, but he proves surprisingly strong, resisting Azure and calling for help, which draws the attention of a passing Archangel, who bursts into the room.


Azure tries to ensnare him, but Archangel's wings act of their own accord and slice off Azure's head, a death felt by all the remaining Ravens, including Crimson, who had hoped Archangel would kill Azure so she could replace Azure's strength with Archangel's. Alerted to the attack at the hospital, the rest of X-Factor head there, while Crimson confronts Archangel, telling him she can free him of his pain forever. At the hospital, Beast runs into Trish, and absconds with her to the roof, where he lays into her for her coverage of Archangel's attacks. Elsewhere, Officer Jones spots Crimson flying with a captive Archangel, and manages to fight her long enough that sun rises, forcing Crimson to flee without him. Crimson meets with the rest of the Ravens, realizing she's lost her chance to have Archangel for herself, but confidant that Officer Jones will be able to aid her in her plan, and that by tomorrow night, the rest of the Ravens will die. 

Firsts and Other Notables
Still feeling the effects of Sabreooth's poisoned claws from issue #52, Archangel is continuing to hallucinate while "terrorizing" the city by attacking muggers and drug dealers, actions which draw a fair amount of discussion in this issue (Beast is angry Trish is presenting Archangel as dangerous when he's only attacking criminals, Officer Jones objects to his actions as a cop but doesn't mind him cleaning him the town as a person). 


Jean returns this issue from her two issue adventure in Uncanny X-Men, though she and Beast (as well as Ship) will appear in X-Men #264. 


This issue introduces a bunch of new Ravens, who will feature in the story but don't ever appear again.


Art this issue comes from Steven Carr, someone whose work I'm not familiar with at all outside this issue.

A Work in Progress
A whole bunch of backstory on the Ravens gets established in this issue, including the fact that there are 24 of them (ie "four and twenty") at any given time, they seem to draw strength from their collective whole, and if one is slain, the killer is transformed to take the deceased Raven's place. 


Seeing Jean in the new X-Men uniform, we get yet another comment on how it's apparently risque somehow.


Jean finally gloms onto the fact that Beast's avuncular nature could be a cover for his issues dealing with life as an obvious mutant.


Young Love
It's revealed that Trish has an ex-husband named Burton, who is some kind of bigwig at the network where she works, and Beast, enraged at Trish's coverage of Archangel, throws him in her face.


It's in the Mail
The letter column in this issue heavily teases an upcoming wedding - as in, every response to each letter mentions it. Interestingly, a Scott/Jean wedding was planned for the series a few months down the road, an idea suggested by upcoming co-plotter and penciller Whilce Portacio. The idea was eventually scuttled/delayed (EiC Tom DeFalco felt something like a Scott/Jean wedding should happen in X-Men, so he pushed it off), but the fact that Portacio is credited as the driving force behind the idea and it's being teased here, some seven issues before he joins the creative tea, would suggest that even at this time, it was known that he'd be coming aboard, even though his first actual issue of the series is a ways off yet. 

Teebore's Take
This issue kicks off a three part story that represents the nadir of Simonson's post-"Inferno" run on X-Factor, built around a new set of antagonists, the Ravens. To her credit, as with the Judgement War storyline, she makes a decent effort to flesh out this new group, giving them a history and series of motivations, and in significantly fewer pages than with "Judgement War". But where the new characters and setting of that storyline had a thematic connection to X-Factor and the larger issues of human/mutant relations on Earth, the Ravens are just a bunch of overwrought, melodramatic psychic vampires, a watered down Hellfire Club comprised entirely of watered down Selenes. It also doesn't help that, like Uncanny at the time, this story suffers from a lack of a strong, consistent artistic hand.

The saving grace through all this, as it mostly has been since the team returned to Earth in issue #51, is the new supporting cast. Charlotte Jones being torn between her role as a cop and her appreciation of Archangels efforts, and Beast's reaction to Trish's reports on Archangel are the best parts of this issue, and help ensure that at least something entertaining is happening, even if all the best stuff is happening on the fringes of a far inferior A-story.

Next Issue
Next week: Uncanny X-Men #264, Excalibur #24 and Wolverine #26.

Collected Edition

10 comments:

  1. Archangel is continuing to hallucinate while "terrorizing" the city by attacking muggers and drug dealers

    Didn't Warren have this "Angel of Retribution" vigilante thing going before joining the X-Men?

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  2. Wow...Jean doesnt know Hank too well.

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  3. Don’t all the Ravens appear here for the first time?

    I’m so weak on ‘90s Marvel that I can’t be sure. While the end of the post seems to corroborate this assumption, your earlier mentions of “new Ravens” and the group’s backstory makes them sound like existing characters getting fleshed out.

    // the rest of X-Factor returns to Ship after another fruitless night of searching for Archangel //

    And yet he crossed paths by chance with all the supporting characters. He’s right outside the diner where Trish’s crew and Officer Jones are hanging out, then within earshot of that hospital room where Azure’s taking out Mr. Wall Street (near enough in fact to crash through the window right after the guy calls for help) — Crimson even flies him right over Jones’ beat at the end of the story.

    // Beast runs into Trish, and absconds with her to the roof //

    I really like the shot of the window from inside with just their feet, especially the grace note of Beast’s toe grasping the window frame as he Kongs her up there.

    // Art this issue comes from Steven Carr, someone whose work I'm not familiar with at all outside this issue. //

    Me neither. The GCD has this issue as his only credit. I’m really impressed with his art on the whole, though, and if this was indeed his only job rather than it being pseudonymous work by another creator (whose style I can’t obviously place, despite it resembling some other folks’ to a degree) that’s a real shame.

    Faces in particular are uneven, and panel composition too, but there’s a lot to like in the stronger shots and most of his figure work. That panel I called out is nicely designed, as is the one on the next page of Marvel Girl and the cameraman looking out the window up at where Beast and Trish have gone. The way he draws Archangel’s blades as shooting from inside his wings’ “feathers” makes practical sense, too, in addition to being a satisfying visual. However one feels about Milgrom, or even Carr, I think it’s apparent that Milgrom did a good job of letting Carr’s style show through on the whole, so for me at least it's kudos to them both.

    // we get yet another comment on how it's apparently risque //

    Good thing she gets right back into the equally skintight X-Factor uniform!

    // Jean finally gloms onto the fact that Beast's avuncular nature could be a cover for his issues dealing with life as an obvious mutant. //

    Are telepaths, like, naturally bad at reading behavioral clues and general human nature because they rely on telepathy? I know she’s not really a telepath at the moment, just No-Prizing away a bit of an eye-roller.

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  4. @Teemu: Didn't Warren have this "Angel of Retribution" vigilante thing going before joining the X-Men?

    Kinda. He had a brief career as a vigilante (the Avenging Angel) prior to joining the X-Men. Despite the name, it wasn't nearly as hardcore as what he's doing here as Archangel; it mainly involved flying around fighting crooks with a gas pellet gun, in that classic Silver Age style.

    @Branden: Wow...Jean doesnt know Hank too well.

    I guess her defense is that she was out of the picture for most of his time as an Avenger/Defender, when the whole "I joke around to mask my anxieties" schtick came about?

    @Blam: Don’t all the Ravens appear here for the first time?

    Crimson appeared in issue #54 for the first time, and showed off the Ravens' whole "feed on the psychic pain of their victims" thing, but this is otherwise the first appearance of the rest of the Ravens and their backstory and whatnot.

    I probably could have made that more clear.

    And yet he crossed paths by chance with all the supporting characters.

    Yeah, I have some things to say about that (well, keeping Archangel off on his own, to ridiculous lengths, in general) that I typed up for this post, but decided to hold for next issue's discussion.

    Are telepaths, like, naturally bad at reading behavioral clues and general human nature because they rely on telepathy?

    Or she's just been too caught up in her own drama with Scott, more or less since she's returned, that she's only now bothering to think of it?


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  5. Teebore: Despite the name, it wasn't nearly as hardcore as what he's doing here as Archangel; it mainly involved flying around fighting crooks with a gas pellet gun, in that classic Silver Age style.

    Ah. I was lured into thinking things because of the (mis-)translation then, and the one story in MARVEL SAGA where Avenging Angel is a bit berserk because of inhaling some nerve gas. Good think then, it would be stupid plot development if one of the X-Men started regressing into his more violent pre-X-Men self.

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  6. @Teebore: // Crimson appeared in issue #54 for the first time, and showed off the Ravens' whole "feed on the psychic pain of their victims" thing //

    Huh. I plumb forgot about that. And I even quoted Jonathan’s comment on Crimson in my own comment on that post. Now I know why the group’s intro at the start of this issue felt to me like they we were supposed to be familiar with them. Sorry.

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  7. Hah, Blam, we both seem to have been hit by some sort of collective short-term amnesia. Next week we be like "Huh, who's this claw guy, have we seen him before? What are those stupid flaps in his mask, is that where he hids his hair-do?"

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  8. @Blam: Now I know why the group’s intro at the start of this issue felt to me like they we were supposed to be familiar with them. Sorry.

    No worries. Like I said, we're not exactly dealing with monumental and memorable additions to the rogues gallery, here.

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  9. That's something that's been a big component missing from this book: a decent villain. The key antagonists of this book so far (Apocalypse and Cameron Hodge) have been effectively sidelined at this moment. And trying to get a good plot going without a decent foe to fight against is an uphill battle. I think having some (kinda) decent primary antagonists helped New Mutants some (at the very least, it gave that book some sense of direction and resonant themes) The rather lame and generic villains contribute to the sense of this book being rather rudderless. A good foe would have gone a long way to make this books feel like it has a sense of direction and a lot less aimless.

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  10. @Jonathan: That's something that's been a big component missing from this book: a decent villain.

    Definitely. Caliban and Sabretooth were fine as vehicles for requisite action against the backdrop of characterization and subplot development in issues #51-53, and I loved the return of the Locust (and Mesmero in #55, to a lesser extent) as a one-off villain in #53, but that's about it for notable villains during this run, and none of them are particularly strong, unique to X-Factor (Caliban, I guess, but he doesn't really fight the whole team or anything) and/or meant to be taken too seriously. It's telling that arguably the book's best post-"Inferno" story involves Apocalypse (and even then, it's a bit of a mess) in #65-68.

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