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Wednesday, December 9, 2015

X-amining Uncanny X-Men #275


"The Path Not Taken!"
April 1991

In a Nutshell 
The X-Men help Lilandra reclaim her throne while Rogue & Magneto defeat Zaladane. 

Writer: Chris Claremont
Penciler: Jim Lee
Inker: Scott Williams
Letterer: Tom Orzechowski
Colorist: Oliver/Rosas
Editor: Bob Harras
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco
Special Thanks: Karl Altstaetter

Plot
The Starjammers board Deathbird's flagship and encounter the Imperial Guard. In the ship's lower decks, the X-Men take advantage of the distraction to free themselves from Deathbird's manacle pet. Pursuing Deathbird, the X-Men encounter Lilandra, and join the fight against the Imperial Guard. In the wake of their victory, the X-Men are introduced to the Shi'ar warlord, who turns out to be Professor X. In the Savage Land, the SHIELD force prepares to assault Zaladane's citadel, but Colonel Semyanov betrays them, blasting Magneto out of the sky as Zaladane's air force attacks. Crashing in the jungle, Rogue is reunited with Ka-Zar and Nick Fury, the only apparent survivors of the attack, and they proceed to the citadel. Meanwhile, Zaladane begins the process of transferring all of Magneto's power to herself. Sneaking inside, Rogue, Ka-Zar and Nick Fury interrupt the process, freeing Magneto as they battle the Mutates.


His power restored, Magneto slays the traitorous Semyanov, then turns to Zaladane. Over Rogue's objections, he says that he is not Charles Xavier, and was a fool to try being him, then kills Zaladane. He flies off, leaving behind a saddened Rogue. On the Shi'ar capital of Chandrilar, Lilandra is crowned Empress in the wake of her defeat of the captive Deathbird, and the X-Men celebrate, though Jubilee is unnerved by the alien surroundings. Wandering the halls of the palace, she encounters Gladiator and Oracle of the Imperial Guard being tortured by a shadowy figure. Joined by Gambit, who pulls her deeper into hiding, they watch as the figure orders Deathbird's execution then declares that the X-Men will make excellent breeding stock, after which they'll be destroyed, revealing himself as Professor X.

Firsts and Other Notables
The X-Men are reunited with Professor X in this issue, appearing in the series for the first time since issue #203, and he is revealed to be the Shi'ar champion/warlord mentioned in passing in past issues. This also marks Xavier's first interactions with newer members Psylocke, Forge, Gambit and Jubilee (though next issue reveals this Xavier to be an impostor, so technically, none of that is true yet. But we're meant to think it's true as of this reading).


Magneto formally steps off the path of the X-Men this issue, killing Zaladane and Colonel Semyanov, saying that he is not Xavier and was foolish to think he could be.


This issue features a triple gatefold cover, with the X-Men in the center flanked by the Savage Land characters on one side and the Shi'ar characters on the other, making this, I believe, the first "gimmick" cover of the series (though certainly not as egregious a cover as some of the later gimmick covers will be).

Rogue's powers, including her Ms. Marvel-absorbed powers of super-strength, flight, and invulnerability, return this issue, the idea being that the work Magneto did on her in issue #269 simply took longer than he expected to take effect.


Magneto is revealed to have encountered the Shadow King in the past, in what is likely meant to be a setup for Claremont's planned big Xavier/Magneto/Shadow King showdown in issue #300, an encounter which obviously never occurs, leaving whatever Claremont had in mind for their history together as one of the more notable danglers from his run.


Echoing the idea first suggested in one of the "Cross-Time Caper" installments of Excalibur, Magneto also implies that the Shadow King is the true force behind the Hellfire Club (hence his moniker).


Lilandra is re-crowned Empress of the Shi'ar following her defeat of Deathbird this issue, ending Deathbird's reign (which began when she usurped the throne from Lilandra during the first Brood saga). 

As far as I know, Magneto's killing of Zaladane has stuck, and the character has yet to return in any capacity.

The masthead receives an update this issue (I don't think it sticks around for long):


A second printing of this issue was released, with the logo colored gold.

A Work in Progress
In a subtle callback to the opening of issue #265, narration reveals that the alien P!ndyr (whose champion we saw defeated in that issue) are now serving as Shi'ar shock troops.

The X-Men make rather short work of the Imperial Guard in this issue, essentially defeating them in three pages (two of which are a double page spread). Narration explains that the combination of the P!ndyr troops and the Shi'ar warlord's psychic abilities helped, but it's still a rather ignoble defeat for a group of characters who overwhelming defeated the X-Men in one of their worst losses (at the end of "The Dark Phoenix Saga").


SHIELD's assault helicopters are said to be EMP proof this issue, explaining how they survived Zaladane's attack/the Savage Land's innate ability to muck with tech last issue.

Both Shana the She-Devil (Ka-Zar's wife) and Nereel (leader of the United Tribes and mother of Colossus' unknown son) are shown to be thralls of Worm this issue.


Magneto's trial by the World Court in issue #200 is referenced, as an alternative to killing Zaladane, but Magneto dismisses it out of hand.


Psylocke finds herself uneasy whenever she gets too close to Xavier, shortly before being attacked by an unknown assailant.  


It's established that Psylocke has telepathically taught the X-Men the Shi'ar language.


Claremontisms
Banshee is back to using "Colleen" the Irish slang term for a young girl.
 

Artistic Achievements
The opening splash features the Starjammers, giving us our first look at Lee's take on the characters. Hebzibah's ass is, of course, front and center.


The Best There is at What He Does
Continuing the "Wolverine has lost a step" subplot, Deathbird thinks that Wolverine is but a shadow of his former self.


Young Love
Forge is seen flirting with an attractive alien in the wake of the X-Men's victory, which is odd, since Storm is right there (which just serves as a reminder that we've yet to see a proper Storm/Forge reunion, especially odd since finding/saving Storm was what motivated Forge to go out searching for the X-Men in the first place).


Teebore's Take
Bookended by the X-Men's continuing space adventure (featuring the not-unnotable first interaction between the X-Men and Professor X since issue #200), the real meat of this issue is, once again, the Magneto/Rogue/Savage Land material. The culmination of Claremont's work on Magneto (though he'll give the character a denouement of sorts in X-Men (vol. 2) #1-3), Magneto's decision to step off Xavier's path and mete out his own (lethal) brand of justice to Zaladane is so much more than the simple reversion to villainy championed (and, in some places, carried out) by John Byrne. Instead, it is a tacit acknowledgement of failure - that Magneto, who willingly took up Xavier's mantle in issue #200, has come to terms with the fact that, having tried it himself, Xavier's way will not help his people.

It's a failure for the character, but not for the writer - Magneto isn't reverting to villainy as the result of editorial fiat, he's moving forward, albeit on a different path than the one he started on seventy-five issues prior. It's all symbolically represented rather brilliantly, as Jason Powell points out, in Magneto's destruction of Zaladane. Positioned in this story as everything Magneto once was - a raving, one-dimensional villain flush with power, willing to destroy the world if necessary - Zaladane's death at Magneto's hands is a clear indication that while Magneto has accepted he is no hero, so too is his old way of 60s-style super-villainy no longer a valid option.

Compared to this relatively heavy stuff, the culmination of a character arc dating back to the late 70s, the Shi'ar material featuring the X-Men which begins and ends the issue reads much fluffier, but is compelling in its own right. The X-Men's easy defeat of the Imperial Guard, even with the handwave explanation, is a bit much, but the idea of the X-Men unknowingly fighting on the wrong side of the battle is fun, and Claremont doesn't allow either the big action of the plot or his impending departure stop him from furthering the characterization, giving relative newcomers Gambit and Jubilee something of a spotlight. The Shi'ar material also speaks to the anniversary nature of the issue (touted on the cover, as marketing starts making a big deal out issues divisible by 25): Professor X is back in the book for the first time since issue #200, another issue concerned with the condition of Magneto's character and referenced obliquely by Magneto elsewhere in the issue, and it features a whole, unified group of X-Men in action for the first time since, essentially, issue #250 (the last "anniversary" issue).

All in all, the Shi'ar stuff is the kind of storytelling Lee (and, presumably, Harras) want in the book at this time: classic adventuring, featuring familiar characters and settings from the series' heyday. In that way, this issue is, again, a perfect encapsulation of the push-and-pull happening between its two chief creators: the neo-classical Shi'ar material from Lee and the more heady, progressive character work of Claremont's Magneto, all wrapped up in a 90s-riffic triple gatefold cover.

Next Issue
Tomorrow, we say farewell in New Mutants #100. Friday, X-Factor meets some new foes in X-Factor #65. Next week, Excalibur: Weird War III.

Collected Editions

25 comments:

  1. Echoing the idea first suggested in one of the "Cross-Time Caper" installments of Excalibur, Magneto also implies that the Shadow King is the true force behind the Hellfire Club (hence his moniker).

    Debatable. In an early issue of NEW MUTANTS Empath went to meet the Gladiators contact person specifically at Hellfire Club, and it was then revealed to be Farouk's show, so someone there may at least have been his thrall quite early on. Technically he doesn't claim SK would be the head honcho in this reality, though of course he's not quite content in playing any second fiddle.

    Gotta love Jubilee being the suspicious one, and taking Kitty's role from the Brood saga when the illusory queen infected them all.

    the Shi'ar stuff is the kind of storytelling Lee (and, presumably, Harras) want in the book at this time

    I'm on record immensely disliking this space story. The Imperial Guard's ingnomious defeat is not the worst of it.

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    1. I look forward to hearing your take on it. It's quite possible that Lee's art convinced me it's better than it is, and I agree the Imperial Guard should have proved more of a threat here. Still, with this recap jogging my memory, I still really dig it.

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    2. The most offending bit coming up next issue. ;)

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    3. I look forward to it...I love a well-articulated contrasting opinion.

      (As an aside, I find the number of X-books in this era overwhelming....I love the Liefeld digs in the New Mutants/X-Force entries, but otherwise the wait between Uncanny X-Men entries is interminable!)

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  2. While Ka-Zar actually gets to help out Fury and Rogue this issue, Shanna is basically Shanna the Sex Slave the entire issue.
    Rogue CLAIMS that Fury destroyed the towers that made Zaladane more powerful than Magneto last issue but I can't find a point in the story when he had the chance to do so.
    In issue 254, Moira claimed that Zaladane's power-switching device only worked on relatives but Zaladane is able to steal Magneto's powers this issue without anyone commenting on that.

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  3. I'll say it, this issue was my all-time favorite issue of X-Men as a kid, and reading this brought back so many memories. I remember buying it - It was 1996 on my 10th birthday, and I received $20. I went to the comic shop with the express purpose of buying this issue. I think I also picked up #250 and #281 at the same time, too. And I wore the hell out of this issue. I remember bringing it on vacation with me and reading it every night and drooling over the big splashy image of Magneto flying in front of the helicopters.

    This issue was also what was a "great" issue to me - Extra pages, a giant flashy gatefold cover, and kickass art. Of course I realize now I was just buying into a gimmick, but looking through this review I've gotten so many memories flooding back. And it's ironic that 10 year old me was all about Lee and Liefeld and big splashy art, while 29 year old me today is obsessed with the simple elegance of Alex Toth.

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    1. Nostalgia and the pop culture of one’s formative years are hard to argue, but you’ve certainly grown into some good taste.

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  4. @Teemu: What still remains up in the air is who the unidentified representative of the Gladiators Manuel de la Rocha met with!? It was a female he gave dossiers of Magma and Sunspot to. She advised Empath she would pass his proposition on to her employer and that he'd be suitably rewarded. What was the reward? It's interesting that Empath offers them Magma and Sunspot when you consider these two New Mutants are shown in #50 leading the Hellfire Club in the future!?

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    1. The obvious and disturbing answer is that Amara was his reward.

      On #50, I think Bobby and Amara were generally the most obvious choices for Hellfire Club members as they both have the strong imperial bearing with their dads being a filthy rich member and a Roman senator. Just like Sam and Dani feel plausible survivors in the other more bleak future.

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  5. Yeah, man. THAT COVER. Jim Lee's best? It might be. It's up there with Art Adams' Classic X-Men #1 and Heroes for Hope. Maybe not as iconic as X-Men #1, but I think it might be better.

    And beyond that, the content was really good. Seeing Magneto turn the corner back into (sort of) villainy...yeah, we'd seen him go from bad guy to good guy already, along with Rogue, but this is probably the best done example of the change in alignment. My favorite, anyway--and certainly suitable for an "anniversary" issue. (Maybe #300 might have been more appropriate, but still.) Somehow, Magneto was always handled best in that regard. Thinking about it now, I think a case could be made that Magneto was not only Claremont's best-written character, but that the Magneto arc kind of defines Claremont's run, from silver-age 1-dimension villain, to a more sympathetic, nuanced villain, to a cautious ally, full-blown hero, and now, turning back to villainy. It would be neat to see Magneto's full history under Claremont's tenure condensed to a TPB or something. Probably too much material, I bet a dozen or so issues could cover the most necessary material. It would make for a pretty interesting read, covering the years and various artists as his character is fleshed out and redefined.

    Plus, the inclusion of the Savage Land, Ka-Zar, the Shi'ar, the "return" of Professor X...it might be a "gimmick" cover, but I think it was fully warranted by the anniversary and contents of the issue. One of my all-time favorites.

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  6. "Magneto is revealed to have encountered the Shadow King in the past, in what is likely meant to be a setup for Claremont's planned big Xavier/Magneto/Shadow King showdown in issue #300, an encounter which obviously never occurs, leaving whatever Claremont had in mind for their history together as one of the more notable danglers from his run."

    My own interpretation is that the SK took over the Club sometime inbetween New Mutants #75 and Uncanny # 269. He and Magneto had their confrontation, Magneto thought he won, left, and SK consolidated his control over the Club. Its possible that SK had agents who infiltrated the Club, but given the way the club was portrayed over the years, the idea that he was behind it all the time in this reality isn't very consistent. Plus, at this point, the Club would have basically been just Emma and Selene, no? While it would still have considerable resources, it would be rather weakened at this point.

    "The X-Men make rather short work of the Imperial Guard in this issue, essentially defeating them in three pages (two of which are a double page spread). Narration explains that the combination of the P!ndyr troops and the Shi'ar warlord's psychic abilities helped, but it's still a rather ignoble defeat for a group of characters who overwhelming defeated the X-Men in one of their worst losses (at the end of "The Dark Phoenix Saga")."

    Don't forget, the Starjammers were there also! Yeah, the fight could have lasted longer, but they needed more room for the Magneto/Savage Land stuff. Plus, don't forget, the Starjammers arrival was enough to turn the tide for the X-men the first time they fought the Guard, so its a nice symmetry.

    Speaking of the Starjammers, where was Carol Danvers/Binary? I guess having her here would have given the Starjammers something of a power boost, and needing the X-men to turn the tide a bit less believable.

    "Both Shana the She-Devil (Ka-Zar's wife) and Nereel (leader of the United Tribes and mother of Colossus' unknown son) are shown to be thralls of Worm this issue."

    Well, it wouldn't be a later era CC story without some mind control, would it?

    "Hebzibah's ass is, of course, front and center."

    This issue does turn up the sexy-factor quotient, no? In addition to all the arched back and boobs out posing by the women, we also get naked Psylocke, Magneto, and Zaladane...

    Overall, a very strong story. CC and Lee were firing on all cylinders here, and its a shame their run didn't last longer than it did. I remember buying this issue off the newsstand and loved it. This does have Magneto at his best, and also some good work is done with Rogue as well.

    There is one plot point CC brings up that goes nowhere also; doesn't Ka-Zar point out the dinosaurs in the Savage Land are evolving and becoming smarter?

    "In issue 254, Moira claimed that Zaladane's power-switching device only worked on relatives but Zaladane is able to steal Magneto's powers this issue without anyone commenting on that."

    Brainchild must have tweaked the machine enough for her to be able to do it.

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    1. There is one plot point CC brings up that goes nowhere also; doesn't Ka-Zar point out the dinosaurs in the Savage Land are evolving and becoming smarter?

      The matter I think comes up in later issues of WOLVERINE.

      Yeah, the fight could have lasted longer, but they needed more room for the Magneto/Savage Land stuff.

      Part of my problem is that they just run through it akin to pissing while running. Things should be done properly or not at all, and this far the space stories have been lengthier arcs. It all feels like a concession made towards Lee.

      He could just have drawn Imperial Guard at home all he wants.

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    2. "In issue 254, Moira claimed that Zaladane's power-switching device only worked on relatives but Zaladane is able to steal Magneto's powers this issue without anyone commenting on that."

      Okay, I'm convinced. In a very subtle move by Claremont, Magneto has unwittingly killed his own daughter - Zaladane - to better mark his return to villainy and damnation. (Even though the twists involved to line of the paternity doesn't work, I gotta imagine this is what CC was going for - however, I don't think even Nathan Adler has addressed this theory.)

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    3. James... "How would you fix.... The Dane Curse?" https://fanfix.wordpress.com/tag/the-dane-curse/

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    4. But on that note, "Magneto has unwittingly killed his own daughter - Zaladane - to better mark his return to villainy and damnation"... that would be harsh, considering how it went with his first child Anya, who partially died because of repercussions of his involuntary usage of powers. It would be like he was now voluntarily opting in to be the monster that Magda run away from, and willingly sacrificing again a daughter. Who at this time is tainted herself beyond help, whereas Anya was an innocent child who only got her memory tainted.

      Unless of course the High Evolutionary back in the day recognized the genetic potential of Magda's twins and after learning of things from Magda's ramblings secured Anya's corpse which assumably was buried somewhere near Vinnitsa and either had the girl cloned, and Zala is that clone, or she's downright Anya resurrected. UNCANNY #12, my friends, whose assistant Zala was there again? ;)

      Fun coincidence that the hint towards Magda having been Magneto's wife and looking just like Wanda came in UNCANNY around the time when Zaladane had just surfaced, and that Garokk would be hanging out in Magneto's island base ~#150.

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    5. UNCANNY ANNUAL #12, I meant, obviously.

      Of course, I will allow that the original high priestess Zaladane is totally unrelated character, and that since Ann #12 every "Zaladane" appearance has in fact been a figment of Magneto's imagination due his projicing his villainy on "Zala-Anya" (and we have been watching happenings like from inside his head) while it has actually been him all along doing all the magnetic mischief and commanding the Savage Land mutates and transforming Lorna's powers to Shadow King compliant, as part of him having been under prolonged Shadow King's assault from the minute he became the White King of the Hellfire Club, and it's finale is going down here and now and the "sick shame of his survival" is from his realization that he has to sacrifice "Anya" again to gain victory from his enthrallment (and maybe having sold Lorna too to SK) and embrace his villainy.

      But other than that, it's High Evolutionary headcanon locked for me.

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    6. wwk5d, I'm with you on the not minding skipping over the Imperial Guard fight so we get more Savage Land material. The Shi'ar side of the story does feel a little disjointed but the Savage Land stuff is all great. Did anybody else think there may have been some miscommunication between Lee and Claremont on what was happening when the X-Men escaped the manacle beast? The scripting didn't seem to totally sync up with what Lee was drawing to me. But that's a minor complaint, still one of my favorite issues.

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  7. There's more I could probably say about this one, but I've been sick so I'll keep it brief:

    1. I like the issue, though I prefer the Shi'ar stuff over the Savage Land stuff.

    2. I really like Lee's redesign for Hepzibah. I was never a fan of the original "skunk-girl" version.

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  8. Reading this, I thought "Man, Claremont/Lee is gonna be a killer team for years to come on this book!"

    Damn shame how things went down

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  9. Just a side note that it never made sense that Magneto was able to build his citadel in the Savage Land during his initial stay given he unlikely had the time, nor the power, for such an undertaking. Recall it was huge, miles across, and inside a volcano. Since by this stage Apocalypse had long abandoned his Savage Land bases is it more tenable Magneto had discovered one and claimed it as his own, using notes there to develop his process for transforming its local indigenous people into his Mutates? When Magneto faced Zaladane down here, there seems to be some unspoken enmity between the two. So was this what was behind this enmity? I'm not suggesting it has anything to do with a familial relationship as we know where I stand on that one;) So had Zaladane been a technician for Apocalypse prior to him abandoning the base, and Magneto had arrived not long after and annexed it before she was able to use it to create an army and conquer the Savage Land?

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  10. // as one of the more notable danglers from his run //

    Speaking of notable danglers: Fassbender really was a good choice for Magneto, although ironically the guy's depicted here in Code-approved silhouette as smooth as a Ken doll.

    // Magneto also implies that the Shadow King is the true force behind the Hellfire Club //

    Is he still technically the Club’s White King at this point?

    // the alien P!ndyr (whose champion we saw defeated in that issue) are now serving as Shi'ar shock troops //

    One assumes that Xavier, or "Xavier" anyway, was supposed to be the astounding threat that defeated their champion, then, but — much as subtle world-building and foreshadowing are to be applauded in a genre where they’re so often lacking — given how random that prologue seemed at the time to those of us who didn’t know what was coming (i.e., to folks like me now but also to readers at the time) a slightly more explicit callback to that would’ve been appreciated.

    // Hebzibah's ass is, of course, front and center //

    In close proximity to Corsair’s swollen energy dildo…

    // we've yet to see a proper Storm/Forge reunion //

    Yeah. All that.

    // Magneto isn't reverting to villainy as the result of editorial fiat, he's moving forward, albeit on a different path than the one he started on seventy-five issues prior. //

    Nicely observed by you and by Jason.

    // The X-Men's easy defeat of the Imperial Guard, even with the handwave explanation, is a bit much //

    I know that Gladiator isn’t exactly Superman, but honestly that small bunch of Imperial Guard we see facing Raza at the end of Pg. 3 would’ve cut through the Starjammers like a hot knife through soft butter.

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  11. I know that Gladiator isn’t exactly Superman

    *chuckle*

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    1. Well, I did phrase that carefully as a bit of a double-entendre. 8^) I got a big kick out of John Byrne homaging his own cover to Fantastic Four #249 with the cover of Superman #8, replacing Gladiator with the character's inspiration, the Man[/Boy] of Steel, and using Legionnaires whose powers reflected those of the FF.

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    2. I still remember the joyous feeling of revelation I myself got when reading Simonson's FANTASTIC FOUR and Gladiator chose to use his 'hyper-sight': "Hey...!"

      Of course, what little I had ever read of Superman, had been pre-Crisis. For me Byrne's Superman was a silly side project I was vaguely aware of, but I certainly knew where I stood with various sight powers.

      On which note I can't not mention the letter col question inspired by #249-250 about what The Thing meant by "But Cyclops' beam doesn't burn" and the answer: "Damn right! Cyclops' beam is a tight energy blast and not any silly heat vision."

      I suspect our letter col person was more aware of Gladiator's inspiration than I was at the time.

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  12. There is A LOT of hate for how quickly the X-Men win against the Shi'Ar this time. But a few things need to be considered, I feel:

    1) The X-Men's lineup in this issue is comprised of considerably more talented/powerful individuals than the Dark Phoenix lineup. Wolverine and Storm are the only people present who were in both fights. And it's objectively true that Gambit, Psylocke, Jubilee, and Banshee are possessed of considerably more raw power than Nightcrawler, Angel, Beast, and even Colossus. Forge is also a factor; while we only ever see him use fancy Jim Lee-designed guns this issue, we don't know what they actuslly DO. Furthermore, we DO know Forge is capable of inventing virtually anything he wants, and constructing it with whatever materials are at hand. Imagine what he'd be capable of with Shi'Ar tech to work with.

    2) Xavier is not sitting on the sidelines this time. Granted, we won't learn until next issue that this isn't Xavier, but the Warskrull impersonating him is possessed of all his telepathic prowess (and the use of his legs), and is MUCH more aggressive in using it than Xavier has been shown to be since his Silver Age days of being a memory-wipe addict.

    3) There are just plain more troops on the good guys' side. The X-Men and Starjammers, working together, trounced the Imperial Guard rather soundly in their first battle, with Raza even getting close enough to D'Ken to attempt to assassinate him. Now, in addition to there being more (and more powerful) X-Men, the Starjammers are backing them up again, which usually makes for a winning combination against the Imperial Guard.

    4) Storm's team is far more seasoned than Cyclops' Dark Phoenix squad. She and Wolverine have been through much, much more together as X-Men at this point than they had dring the DPS. In addition, Banshee and Forge are old combat veterans, Psylocke is an experienced X-Man with the skills and training of a master Hand assassin, Gambit is already an accomplished master thief, and what Jubilee lacks in experience, she makes up for in adaptability, versatility, and energy -- I hesitate to call it 'spunk', but I'm having a hard time thinking up a better word.

    So yeah, I'll buy the X-Men winning over the Imperial Guard at this point in their careers.

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