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Friday, December 11, 2015

X-amining X-Factor #65

"Endgame Part 1: Malign Influences"
April 1991

In a Nutshell 
Apocalypse sends his Dark Riders against X-Factor & Ship. 

Plot: Jim Lee & Whilce Portacio
Script: Chris Claremont
Penciler: Whilce Portacio
Inker: Art Thibert
Letterer: Michael Heisler
Colorist: Steve Buccellato
Editor: Bob Harras
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco

Plot
Following a brief hiccough in Ship's systems, Cyclops leads X-Factor in a training exercise which is watched, unknownst to them, by Apocalypse and his new team of henchmen, who are told that their target is not X-Factor, but rather Ship. After the training session, Archangel visits Charlotte Jones and Iceman visits Opal, while Cyclops expresses his dissatisfaction with the team's performance to Jean, telling her he doesn't want any more of his friends and teammates to die. Later, as Cyclops and Beast are discussing the results of Beast's diagnostic on Ship, Apocalypse's henchmen crash their ship into Ship and proceed to attack X-Factor.


One of the henchman, Psynapse, attacks Jean telepathically, causing her former telepathic abilities to resurface. Helped in part by their re-established psi-link, X-Factor defeats the intruders, but in the wake of their victory they discover that the enemy vehicle is burrowing cables into Ship, and that Ship is unresponsive. One of Apocalypse's henchmen, Harrdrive, then reports to his gleeful master that the infiltration of Ship has began, and that he's proceeding with the infection of Ship's primary cybernetic core. With his defensive systems down and higher cognitive functions inhibited, barring any unforseen countermeasures, Ship's prognosis is terminal.

Firsts and Other Notables
With Simonson gone, Chris Claremont is brought in to script the series over a plot by Portacio and Claremont's X-Men collaborator, Jim Lee. Claremont & Lee only stick with the series through the end of this story in issue #68, ceding first to Fabian Nicieza and then incoming regular writer Peter David for the series' contributions to the "Muir Island Saga". With Portacio already slated to take over Uncanny X-Men after Lee launches the second X-Men title, Claremont reportedly took this gig to get a feel for Portactio's art before working with him regularly on Uncanny, though, of course, that effort is ultimately wasted. 

Though the text is coy and isn't confirmed until later issues, Jean Grey effectively regains her telepathic abilities this issue, part of the general "back to basics" movement going on in the X-Books in anticipation of the impending linewide relaunch. The exact mechanics of how is a little unclear (it involves Psynapse monkeying around in her head and triggering a memory of the first time her telepathy emerged, when her friend Annie Richardson died in childhood), but the long and the short of it is that Jean is telepathic again, after a (somewhat remarkably) long time without it.

In the style of the Xavier Files from Sienkiewicz-era New Mutants issues, this issue features excerpts from the Apocalypse Files (or Apocalypse Manifesto, as it's called inside the issue), pinups of the team with text written by Fabian Nicieza in Apocalypse's voice discussing the characters (this type of thing got really hot in the X-books around this time; next issue will include some more installments, early X-Force issues will do a similar thing, and eventually we'll get entire special issues in this style).  Here, Archangel, Cyclops and Marvel Girl are covered, and notably, the Twelve, not mentioned since issue #14, are referenced in the Cyclops entry, with Apocalypse describing the group as being either the saviors or destroyers of mutantkind (“the archetype beings that will one day save or damn mutantkind.”), though he himself was shown to be one of the group in #14. Unfortunately, I couldn't find any good scans of the pages online.

Though unnamed, this issue marks the first appearance of the Riders of the Storm (later called the Dark Riders), Apocalypse's latest group of henchmen (no indication is given as to where they came from or why Apocalypse is no longer creating Horsemen, but future issues of this story will shed some more light on their origins). Like the MLF, the Dark Riders will be recurring villains throughout the 90s, serving various masters in that time, though their designs are quirkier and more outlandish than the MLF (which may account for their relative staying power, given they're non-entities in terms of characterization). They consist of Gauntlet, Barrage, Tusk, Psynapse, Foxbat, and Harddrive (one of whom, Tusk, eventually receives his own action figure).


Apocalypse returns this issue as well, though as with his most recent appearances in the book, at this point he merely hangs out, watching from afar and delivering monologues.


Both Opal and Charlotte Jones appear in this issue, in scenes with their respective boyfriends. Charlotte Jones will actually get drawn deeper into this story as it progresses (Claremont, who used her in X-Men #264, clearly has an affinity for the character), but this is the last time Opal will appear in X-Factor (she will pop up again later in Uncanny X-Men after Iceman rejoins the team).


As in issue #63, Ship experiences another hiccough, one which is implicitly linked to Harddrive's intrusion into Ship's systems, a subplot that pays off next issue.


In a bit of setup for X-Factor's upcoming re-absorption into the X-Men, Beast notes that he finds himself thinking of himself still as one of the X-Men, and wonders if the others do the same.

The Statement of Ownership in this issue lists the average sales per month in the preceding twelve months as 268,307 copies, with the issue nearest the filing date selling 228,800 copies.

A Work in Progress
Referencing the end of X-Men #273, Cyclops notes that with the X-Men offworld, it's up to X-Factor to continue the fight for Xavier's dream.


Apocalypse tells the Dark Riders their mission is to punish Ship for his betrayal, though Apocalypse gave Ship to X-Factor in issue #25 (granted, with the intent that it would destroy them, so maybe its failure to do so is the betrayal he's referencing). 

Build up your Vocabulary with Beast: Ablutions
(əˈblo͞oSHən). Noun. The act of washing oneself (often used for humorously formal effect).
 

The Grim 'n' Gritty 90s
It's implied that Trish Tilby is covering the Gulf War, and Beast is recording her broadcasts on VHS tapes.

The Best There is at What He Does
Beast declares that Wolverine isn't the only X-Man who is the best there is at what he does. 


It's in the Mail
Responses to letters in this issue mention that Peter David will soon become the book's new regular writer and also reference the aborted Scott/Jean wedding plans, saying events in the X-books have caused it to be postponed. 

Teebore's Take
Though it doesn't get a special double-sized anniversary or finale issue, this month's X-Factor is still a relatively significant one, giving Chris Claremont his first opportunity to script the original X-Men as a group, bringing back Apocalypse, and kicking off the final self-contained story featuring the book's original cast, a story that stands as one of this iteration of the series' best, and one which will have a significant impact on the course of the X-books down the line. Reading a bit like the issue that should have followed immediately after "X-Tinction Agenda", with the team refocused and rededicated to their purpose, Portacio, Lee and Claremont take a while to ramp things up, wisely checking in with the book's supporting cast while allowing the tension triggered by the impending attack to mount (it would have been all two easy for all three of them to simply ignore Opal, Charlotte and Trish and dive right into the action). The Dark Riders are certainly not significant enough characters to warrant the attention (or action figures) they get in the 90s, but they work perfectly well as cannon fodder/Level 1-style villains, pseudo-Horseman heralding the arrival of Apocalypse (more or less the book's biggest, most significant villain at this point), looming once more at the edges. It's a strong start to what will be a solid (though far from perfect) story, one which feels important even beyond knowing this is the beginning of the end for this iteration of the series.

Next Issue
Next week: Excalibur: Weird War III, Excalibur #36, and Wolverine #38. 

Collected Edition

5 comments:

  1. It's nowadays a bit disturbing image where their plane hits an extremely tall (technically) NY building. Back then it was only a massively chucklesworthy one: Apocalypse has some nerve crying after his old ship considering they themselves seem to have hijacked the Blaster Hawk of He-Man and the Eternian heroes. But on the ship note: it kind of underlines the classic X-Factor stupidity/cullibility that (as witnessed by the code bit on the first page) Apocalypse doesn't really have to do anything but have his ***Override code accepted*** to gain control of the ship. Claremont got his bookends at least on something.

    Trish's news report denying the usage of superbeings in the Gulf War is a nice subtle teaser regarding the 2nd story in the upcoming X-Annuals of the year.

    The Dark Riders -- work perfectly well as cannon fodder/Level 1-style villains

    Especially so for the story, nicely underlining that the "bigger" fight is something completely else than with them and that they're really only mean to be a hindrance in those terms.

    they're non-entities in terms of characterization

    Actually I think Claremont gives them a nice start in that regards which the latter writers rather fail to pick up. Some of them seem to have a distinct voice and character straits coming up in their dialogue. But then again, I also think that about the Marauders too. I don't again know if it is how intentional but the lack of thought bubbles on their part again give that sense of otherness, leaving the characterization only to that what's said aloud.

    I do for example like Gauntlet commenting on Cyclops "superb" "four-surface deflection shot" when being hit by it. A tactical mind if ever. Of course, I would not expect anything less from a character who visually is a bastard child of demon Hobgoblin and the original Marvel UK Death's Head.

    Apocalypse has a nice Charles Xavier moment teaching the Dark Riders during the opening sequence. Gotta like this mistakeable-for-compassionate character of his.

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    1. Trish's news report denying the usage of superbeings in the Gulf War is a nice subtle teaser regarding the 2nd story in the upcoming X-Annuals of the year.

      Nice catch - I hadn't thought of that! Though given that I believe Nicieza writes those backups, it's probably more a fortuitous coincidence than anything.

      Actually I think Claremont gives them a nice start in that regards which the latter writers rather fail to pick up. Some of them seem to have a distinct voice and character straits coming up in their dialogue.

      No, you're right: in true Claremont fashion, he does imbue at least some of the characters with personality just through brief snippets of dialogue. Gauntlet has a tactical mind, Psynapse is cocky, etc. It is very similar to what he did with the Marauders.

      What I meant by non-entities in terms of characterization is that, like the Marauders, they never really grow beyond these initial snippets of characterization - we never get a Dark Riders' story that fleshes out their backgrounds, we never learn Psynapse is cocky because he's overcompensating for a tremendous failure in his past, etc.

      They're great cannon fodder/Level 1 villains because they have a unique look and just enough characterization to standout, but they never grow beyond that, despite popping up fairly regularly throughout the 90s.

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    2. Ah. That is true re: Dark Riders. Though, some people feel Wolverine would've been better without overexplained background. The later backstory implants take something away from the Marauders, so maybe DR do best without.

      Re: Gulf War, I counted it a teaser nevertheless whether intentinal or not. :D Of course, with people having backstories in previous wars (and Dr. Manhattan having stopped the Vietnam one right at start very recently), it'd be hard for the creators of this era to not acknowledge a new one starting and on some level commenting it from superhero POV (=coming up with a damn good excuse why there won't be one to any larger extent) so the matter's bound to come up here and there totally unrelatedly.

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  2. // Cyclops notes that with the X-Men offworld, it's up to X-Factor to continue the fight for Xavier's dream. //

    Which feels a little weird — just in a “Like they weren’t before?” kind of way, especially since the X-Men were operating off the grid and X-Factor was in fact the public face of superheroic mutantdom — although I guess after the assembled X-teams’ recent rundown of threats to mutants and to human/mutant relations there’s a renewed focus on being more proactive than reactionary.

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  3. This storyline is part of my personal canon. Then Muir Island Saga, the relaunch up until X-Men v2 #3, then I skip to the wedding. Then there's a drought pretty much till #114.

    As if anyone cares about that! Anyway, I kind of love this issue. I get an anime feel from the tech and the style. I'd love to see an X-Factor anime, now that I think about it. Strong characterizations and relationships and tensions. This era of the team seems to be really firing on all cylinders and their world seems very realized. And I appreciate Portacio's art now more than ever. I love the close-up of Jean's face. Matter of fact, I wish they kept her in this costume. I never liked the peach and blue suit with the THIS IS THE 1990s headgear.

    So I saw your blog was approaching the relaunch and I busted out XF #65-70 and UXM #278-281 and XMN #1. (I may read the re-colored copy.)

    I am so in love with X-Men comics from this era. Really happy to have my old floppies. Anyway, I'm rambling. Love your blog.

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