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Wednesday, June 8, 2016

X-amining Uncanny X-Men #284

"Into the Void"
January 1992

In a Nutshell
The X-Men get sucked into an extradimensional void.

Plotted and Penciled: Whilce Portacio
Inked: Art Thibert
Scripted: John Byrne
Lettered: Michael Heisler
Colored: Oliver/Rosas
Edited: Bob Harras
Observed: Tom DeFalco

Plot
Adorned with new armor, Sunfire helps a team of Russian & Japanese scientists investigate a mysterious void near the Sakhalin Islands. Elsewhere, the X-Men are flying home from Fitzroy's destroyed base when Forge picks up a distress call from the scientists, and Storm tells him to redirect the Blackbird to respond. At the crater surrounding the void, Sunfire is battling three armored individuals who emerged as a result of his energy blasts just as the X-Men arrive and help turn the tide. Upon their defeat, the X-Men realize their foes are all human. One of them warns that the energy of the void is building, explaining they were trying to save the world by forcing everyone away from it. Just then, the void emits a massive blast, collapsing the crater as everyone is drawn into the void by a massive suction force. Monitoring in the Blackbird, Xavier tells Forge he can find no trace of the X-Men, and that if the vortex continues to expand, the world may well join them. Meanwhile, Bishop, Malcolm & Randall track down & kill two of the criminals Fitzroy transported from the future,. Bishop declares that if humankind has any hope of surviving, the three of them need to find and kill everyone Fitzroy brought into the present.

Firsts and Other Notables
This issue kicks off a three part storyline that finds the X-Men transported to an otherdimensional world, and sees the return of Colossus' brother Mikhail (though he doesn't make an appearance until next issue). It's...not very good.

Sunfire guest stars in this issue, and receives a new, 90s-riffic costume for his trouble. It suffers from being both entirely too generic (especially relative to his old one) and too busy, with bits of technological doodads scattered throughout (which, granted, are said to help control and refine his power). But of course, this is the iteration of the character who will receive an action figure.


Bishop pops up at the end of the issue, as he, Malcolm and Randall hunt down and execute a pair of criminals brought from the future by Fitzroy last issue. Bishop declares they must do the same to everyone Fitzroy brought back, and that'll pretty much be their story arc between now and when Bishop joins the team.


We also get a decent look at Iceman's new costume (when he's not iced up), which is not quite as striking as some of Lee's other designs, but that doesn't really matter, since he's usually iced up anyways.


This issue suggests the possibility that Emma Frost transferred her mind into another body at the same time Jean moved hers into Emma's, but nothing really comes of this idea (Emma's eventual awakening does coincide with her taking over Iceman's body, but that's a result of specific set of circumstances at the time she awakens. Though it does make his reaction to the idea this issue kind of funny in retrospect).


A Work in Progress
The three armored figures the X-Men fight are described as having alien minds, yet are revealed to be human. Could be something to do with their armor disrupting Jean's telepathy, or just a case of Byrne scripting as he goes and not realizing initially that the foes were armored humans and not aliens.


In subtle bit of scripting, when the X-Men disappear into the void, Forge asks after "Storm and the others" - a nice reminder of his connection to Storm.


Artistic Achievements
The otherdimensional armored warriors are maybe the most Portacio thing ever.


It's in the Mail
A response to a letter in this issue promises Jubilee will be showing up in the series soon; in fact, she won't appear in Uncanny until #288, and won't play a prominent role in a story in this series until "X-Cutioner's Song" (but she does return over in X-Men this month, in issue #4).

Austin's Analysis
Though it's only the third issue and second story since the big relaunch, this issue kicks off what is the nadir of the brief Portacio portion of the Blue/Gold era. But since the worst material of the storyline unfolds over the next two issues while this one is mostly setup, I'll save those criticisms for future posts. For now, I'll just point out that disappointing fact that this issue mostly involves the X-Men fighting mysterious armored foes, just two issues after fighting the armored Fitzroy and one issue after fighting the mysterious Bishop, which is a sad bit of repetition this early in the run. The other notable happening is the questionable redesign of Sunfire (questionable as to whether it was needed; the redesign is unquestionably not good), though it is nice to see in Sunfire an acknowledgement of the series' history at a time when so much old stuff is being swept aside in favor of shiny new things. That aside, even without knowing what this story is leading into, it's hard to get too excited about what's happening in this issue, since so much of what's happening is intentionally left a mystery. So all that's left is generic fights with generic armored opponents, and we've been getting an awful lot of that lately.

Next Issue
Tomorrow. the new Brotherhood makes their move in X-Force #6. Friday, Strong Guy takes on Slab in X-Factor #74. Next week, Wolverine gets a new (old) costume in X-Men #4.

Collected Editions

17 comments:

  1. "It's...not very good."

    This pretty much could have been the entire Austin's Analysis paragraph.

    "Sunfire guest stars in this issue, and receives a new, 90s-riffic costume for his trouble"

    Shiny, cyber-punk-esque, long ponytail...yup, he's been Portacio'd, all right.

    "Bishop pops up at the end of the issue, as he, Malcolm and Randall hunt down and execute a pair of criminals"

    Basically, Cable, but with mullets and ponytails.

    "just a case of Byrne scripting as he goes and not realizing initially that the foes were armored humans and not aliens."

    Given that Byrne was reportedly getting pages to script inconsistently and also at the last minute, with no idea what was going on overall, that isn't too surprising.

    "The otherdimensional armored warriors are maybe the most Portacio thing ever."

    And very inspired by the look of the Predator.

    Yes, this is not very good, not at all. But hey, Harras gave these artists the keys to the kingdom, with little or no oversight from editorial. And while sales may have been terrific, even as a kid I knew this was a pretty bad story. And it's only going to get worse...

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    1. This pretty much could have been the entire Austin's Analysis paragraph.

      It just might be for next issue or #286.

      Shiny, cyber-punk-esque, long ponytail...yup, he's been Portacio'd, all right.

      Heh. Portacio'd works much better as a verb than Liefelded.

      And while sales may have been terrific, even as a kid I knew this was a pretty bad story.

      Yeah, I've been on record as having been a pretty stupid kid, and there was plenty of 90s trash I ate up with a spoon, but even back then, this story did nothing for me, and I considered it a dull spot in an otherwise engaging stretch of issues. In the end, it lacks both kewl 90s stuff to draw in Kid-Me, and nothing, you know, actually good to entice Adult-Me.

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    2. Austin: there was plenty of 90s trash I ate up with a spoon, but even back then, this story did nothing for me

      Exactly same thing with me, that's really the horriblest thing because it's the UNCANNY in question. The UNCANNY! How can you fail in ninetiesfication with the UNCANNY of all titles in the actual 90's!?

      I mean, in comparison, I was instantly captivated with the Borderline investigators Frank Drake, Blade and Hannibal King when they printed NIGHTSTALKERS #1 for us on the Ghost Rider crossover Rise of the Midnight Sons, and I've been looking into further issues of the title presently, and the Punisher just walked in for a crossover, and I'm still today intrigued for this ninetiesfied take on TOMB OF DRACULA. But UNCANNY? More like UNCAN'TNY.

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  2. I had been collecting Uncanny and was trying to get a full run but this is when I dropped the book and only looked at it while shopping with my mom at the grocery store. I didn't want to pay for terrible issues that made no sense when things like regular X-Men was so good in comparison. You had this era, then the early 290's which were really bad, then John Romitta JR. who was drawing block characters in Uncanny, it wasn't until Joe Mad was on the title before the art was worth it to me to pickup even though the stories still weren't great.

    Phalanx Covenant is really the next time I felt this book was decent and then the whole mess with Onslaught happened.

    Why did I ever buy this book after 280? I still have a full run of Uncanny and I'm trying to decide if it's worth the space and extra money to hold onto anything from this point on and just hold onto New X-men through 280 or if I have to keep it all for my OCD collectionist sake.

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    1. When you say a full run of UNCANNY, do you mean all the way back to the Silver Age? Cuz if so, and you do want to sell, I might be interested in purchasing a few issues from you...

      Also, I love Romita's block characters, but I get they're not to everyone's taste.

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    2. Adjectiveless is clearly the flagship at this point, probably up until Lobdell starts writing both books and they become intertwined and kind of co-lead books in the 320s/40s which continues through Davis' run. After that it's Morrison on New and then Whedon on Astonishing, so there's a pretty good through line. I followed that as a kid and seemed to miss out on a lot of bad comics.

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  3. I guess I fell for this story in spite of its awfulness, or at least I fell for the artwork. As I noted previously, I really liked Portacio's work over Lee's for whatever reason.

    I haven't read this in ages, but I seem to recall the last time I did check it out -- maybe twelve or so years ago -- I think I still liked parts of it (the full arc I mean, not just this issue).

    I've never liked the Sunfire redesign, though. (Even if I did own the action figure -- it was the only plastic Sunfire in existence back then!).

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    1. Oh, I definitely had the Sunfire action figure too. I had all kinds of questionably-designed and/or questionably-deserved-to-be-made X-Men figures back in the day.

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  4. "It's...not very good."

    I think you can put this before pretty much every Uncanny issue up until X-Cutioner's song starts unfortunately...

    This specific story may be the most forgettable one out of the entire line up until this point.

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    1. I do have a soft spot for issues #289 and #290 - my first - and #287 isn't bad - it sets up the X-traitor stuff, which, all else aside, is a pretty big deal for the franchise for a few years, gives some background on Bishop (much needed as he joins the team) and has some nice JRjr art.

      Otherwise, pretty much, yeah.

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  5. "The three armored figures the X-Men fight are described as having alien minds, yet are revealed to be human. Could be something to do with their armor disrupting Jean's telepathy, or just a case of Byrne scripting as he goes and not realizing initially that the foes were armored humans and not aliens."
    I think the idea is that since they're extradimensional-but-human-looking, Jean considers them "alien". We saw something similar in some issues of Doctor Strange, when Clea's father referred to Strange as an "alien". That doesn't mean Strange is from another planet. And Byrne once had Reed refer to pamphlets produced in the microverse as "alien".

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  6. At the time, I think I viewed Portacio as a second-tier Jim Lee. Looking back, it's hard not to view his involvement with the X-franchise as....just bad. It's like there's nothing but kewl cyber-crap and posturing (Sunfire, Bishop, and the new alien thingies all get to pose real cool-like). Even Jim Lee's stuff at the time showed interest in character development.

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  7. // just a case of Byrne scripting as he goes and not realizing initially that the foes were armored humans and not aliens //

    I’ll go with that one, since when (earlier) Archangel refers to them as “even uglier up close” his opponent replies that “I find your own misshapen features no more pleasing to the eye than you find mine.”

    There’s a Waldenbooks ad touting the store as “your source for TSR products”. I did indeed often get my D&D modules and Dragon magazines there, back in the day, although by the time this ad ran I had left RPGs behind. Waldenbooks is also where I got the Fireside Origins of Marvel Comics books and their ilk, when there was very little of their ilk to be found, and I was quite sad to see the chain squeezed out by 21st-century paradigms.

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    1. You know, I don't think I've been in a Waldenbooks. We apparently didn't have them in the various places I lived as a kid, and B. Daltons were the dominant mall bookstore chain in MN (until they were bought out by Barnes & Noble, then slowly shuttered as mall bookstores died a slow death). I spent plenty of time in those - my first job in high school, which led to my much longer college and post-college stint at B&N - was at a B. Dalton, and I gather they were not dissimilar to Waldenbooks, but I never made it to a Waldenbooks. Most of which are now gone as well, as I assume.

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    2. I did see B. Dalton’s around, but Walden stores were (at least in my experience) the main thing here in PA and in Florida. Then Encore — which I’m pretty sure was even more regional — briefly rose to the top of the heap until Barnes & Noble and Borders squeezed everyone else out, with Borders purchasing Walden and rebranding some of the mall stores as Borders Express before they were done in too. I just looked up B. Dalton’s and the more upscale (in terms of fixtures and furnishing, if memory serves) Brentano’s to confirm that they’re gone.

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  8. Orzechowski sighting! That's definitely his lettering on the cover, even though Heisler did the interiors.

    (I like Heisler's work from this era. And Brousseau's on Wolverine as well. Not that anyone cares, but I just felt like sharing. :)

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    1. I’m a lettering geek myself. Yeah, Orz did the cover blurb. And yeah, I like Brosseau’s work on Wolverine in particular — I’ve missed the distinctive look he gave the Hellboy titles since he left and that’s been years.

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