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Wednesday, June 22, 2016

X-amining Uncanny X-Men #285

"Down the Rabbit Hole"
February 1992

In a Nutshell
The first appearance of Colossus' brother Mikhail

Plot & Pencils: Whilce Portacio
Co-Plotter: Jim Lee
Script: John Byrne
Finishes: Art Thibert & Al Milgrom
Lettering: Tom Orzechowski
Coloring: Joe Rosas
Editing: Bob Harras
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco

Plot
The X-Men emerge on the other side of the void, but are scattered. Colossus & Jean land in the midst of the armored rebels they fought on Earth, all of whom bow down before Colossus when he reverts to his human form, claiming the prophecy has been fulfilled. Elsewhere, Storm is rescued from the desert by a hooded man who grows upset when he learns the X-Men breached the portal. Elsewhere again, an unconscious Archangel helps a group of soldiers defeat rebels when his wings act of their own accord, earning the praise of the soldiers. Elsewhere yet again, Sunfire and Iceman fall through the roof of a tavern, while Storm & the stranger depart his home and Colossus & Jean arrive at the rebel base, where Colossus is received as a savior. Later, Iceman & Sunfire hear word of Colossus, while Archangel is received by Shar-har-a-zath, the worldy avatar of the Triumvirate, who names him their Lord Protector. Back at the rebel base, Jean and Colossus are suddenly joined by Storm and the stranger, who reveals himself as Colossus' brother. Back on Earth, Trish Tilby reports on Bishop's massacre of Fitzroy's allies, but a watching Bishop swears the future he knows will never come to pass.

Firsts and Other Notables
This features the first appearance of Mikhail Rasputin, Colossus' older brother (though he is not named in this issue). Briefly mentioned all the way back in issue #99 and believed dead, it turns out he's alive after all, with next issue going into more detail about his survival, presumed death, and how he came to this alien world. Possessing a vague mutant ability to do...stuff...with energy, Mikhail will return to Earth with the X-Men, hang around for awhile before being written out after Portacio leaves, then come back again later to get sucked into the "The Twelve" storyline. All in all, he's really done little to merit his return this issue.


A Work in Progress
Narration in the opening of the issue confirms that Jean is no longer going by the name Marvel Girl. I've always thought Marvel Girl is a lackluster codename (mainly because its chief significance comes from its connection to the company that publishes the comics she appears in, not because it's terribly descriptive of her powers or personality) and she was definitely no longer a girl at this point (and "Marvel Woman" doesn't have quite the same ring to it, even though Sue Richards managed a Girl/Woman transition), but I also think it's kind of dumb that Jean spends a good chunk of the 90s without a codename at all (to the point that she's just "Jean Grey" in the opening credits of the animated series). Even without establishing a direct connection to the Phoenix Force, I like that Jean eventually reclaims the name Phoenix, just to give her some kind of codename, even if it does kind of screw over Rachel (though for whatever reason, I like her using "Marvel Girl", as she did briefly in the 00s, much more than Jean).

This issue says that Jean can only direct her power at one target at a time, which doesn't seem to fit with what we've seen previously (I'm pretty sure she's directed a telepathic blast at multiple people at once).


Knocked unconscious, Archangel's wings act of their own accord; the relationship between Warren and his wings becomes something of a minor subplot during Portacio's run.


It's correctly noted that Sunfire was, however briefly, once an official member of the team.


Trish Tilby, Beast's reporter girlfriend from X-Factor, pops up, reporting on Bishop's rampage (Portacio actually uses X-Factor's supporting cast a bit during his run, presumably due to his familiarity from being the book's artist, but it's still a nice bit of continuity for the time).

The Grim 'n' Gritty 90s
After exclaiming "Lenin's Ghost," Jean cautions him against using such oaths while trying to pass himself off as a savior, especially ones tied to fallen icons.


Young Love
Colossus, who more or less participated in a three way during his first visit to the Savage Land, appears to be participating in some kind of orgy (or about to, before Jean bursts in).


For Sale
This issue features one of the first ads in an X-book for BMG Music, a subscription service which promises you eight CDs (or cassettes) for the price of just one half CD!


Remember how Beetlejuice was a big enough hit to spawn not only video games, but an animated series as well?


Ah, Game Genie. The only way I was able to play past level two or three on most of my NES games (I've never been terribly good at video games, despite my general affection for them).


It's in the Mail
In a two page letter column, several letters applaud Bishop and the introduction of a male black X-Man (even though he hasn't joined the team yet, everyone apparently already knows or is assuming he will). Another letter points out that the X-Men seem to have lost their inability to be detected by electronic devices without comment.

Austin's Analysis
Ugh, now we're into the dregs...

Oddly enough, one of the big problems with this storyline, is that it's both too long and too short. Too long, in that, despite only running three issues (the first of which being mostly Earth-bound setup), it seems like the X-Men are stuck on this alien world forever. And too short because this world feels entirely unformed and lacking in detail. On the surface, this story is not unlike "Judgment War", in which three of the five members of this book's current cast ended up scattered on an alien world and made allies and enemies amongst the natives before coming back together and returning home. But where that story was also at least an issue or two too long, the world it created was fully formed and well-rendered, with new characters distinct in both appearance and personality, embroiled in a central conflict that was easy to grasp while also having some thematic resonance for the series' main characters.

Here, the alien characters are little more than stock types, at best. Jean and Colossus befriend the plucky rebels, who are fighting (for reasons) against...other people. One of whom Archangel falls in with, the leader of the rebel's opposition, the Triumvirate, apparently (shades again of "Judgment War", but Princess in Pink Dress is no Perfect Seera). Iceman and Sunfire get in a bar fight. Storm meets a mysterious stranger, whom we learn on the last page is Colossus' long-thought-dead brother, and we suddenly start wondering if all this was just a vehicle for bringing him back (and then immediately wondering why). A longer story would allow more time for these new characters to grow and develop, perhaps, but at the same time, so much of what's presented here is so one-note and stereotypical, it's hard to want to spend more time in this world. So the story is stuck, too short to give the new characters and world time to expand and develop into something interesting, yet so bland and unremarkable that the whole thing drags and feels longer than it is.

Next Issue
Tomorrow, more X-Force fighting the Brotherhood in X-Force #7. Friday, the Madrox mystery resolved in X-Factor #75. Next week: Omega Red in X-Men #5.

Collected Editions

22 comments:

  1. The Grim 'n' Gritty 90s
    After exclaiming "Lenin's Ghost," Jean cautions him against using such oaths while trying to pass himself off as a savior, especially ones tied to fallen icons.


    At this point everyone should go watch the opening title sequence of "GoldenEye", the 1995 Bond film, from Youtube just for to catch the zeitgeist. Subdued chuckle on the cast list allowed on appropriate places.

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    1. You mean like how Hagrid helps Bond defeat Nightcrawler & Jean Grey, who are led by Boromir? :)

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    2. Well mostly Jean Grey being visibly a part in both cases, but the plural leaving some room for a Nightcrawler chuckle. I'm not such a great inter-franchise crossover fan. :)

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  2. "Mikhail will return to Earth with the X-Men, hang around for awhile before being written out after Portacio leaves, then come back again later to get sucked into the "The Twelve" storyline."

    And in-between, gets tied into the Morlocks...

    "This issue says that Jean can only direct her power at one target at a time, which doesn't seem to fit with what we've seen previously (I'm pretty sure she's directed a telepathic blast at multiple people at once)"

    Like, 4 issues ago at the Hellfire Club...

    "the relationship between Warren and his wings becomes something of a minor subplot during Portacio's run"

    Oh God, the resolution to that was just so...lazy. Lobdell really wanted to move beyond Portacio's subplots at that point, I think.

    This is more bland than anything. Not great, not as bad as the first story arc, but just so much meh. The one good thing is, it is kind of nice to see Jean and Colossus paired off, since they aren't 2 who usually interact. Too bad they couldn't do the same with Storm and Angel, it would have been nice to see them interact given their last major interaction was arguing over Wolverine way back in #149. But then, we wouldn't have that scene with Warren's wings, and the story dictates Storm ends up with the rebels while he ends up with...the other group.

    Also, is it just me, but is the Milgrom Effect visible in some panels?

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    1. The big missed opportunity for me in this era is seeing more direct interaction between the original X-Men on the team and the new X-Men. I feel like we don't get much of that by the time the divisions between the two books get blurred. I mean, Storm & Jean were constantly described as besties by Claremont, yet the pair barely interacts in this series.

      And in-between, gets tied into the Morlocks...

      That's pretty much his "written out" story though, isn't it? He seemingly kills himself along with the Morlocks (but we then of course find out he just ported them to another dimension so we could get Gene Nation).

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    2. I could have sworn he comes back during Warren Ellis' Storm miniseries, though I don't remember how he quite ends up in that series. I think he comes back then "dies" again? It was such a lackluster miniseries, despite some nice art, so I can't even be bothered to look up what happened to him there lol

      He also is featured in the late 90s New Mutants miniseries, where we learn he gave Illyana the Legacy Virus, due to time traveling shenanigans.

      But yeah, I guess you could say he is written out of this series during the horrible "Last Morlocks Story" and then just flits about the X-universe until The Twelve story.

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    3. I did forget about the New Mutants story. The Storm mini I've never read, so I can plead ignorance there. But yeah, he definitely flitted about a bit between "Last Morlock" and "The Twelve", he just never stuck around outside any given story, it seems.

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    4. Mikhail is indeed the villain of the Ellis/Dodson STORM mini-series.

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    5. // The big missed opportunity for me in this era is seeing more direct interaction between the original X-Men on the team and the new X-Men. //

      Very much this. I’d like to think Claremont would’ve picked up on that, but then you’d think Byrne would be interested in it too if he were more than flat-out scripting, so it depends on how much input Claremont would’ve had if he’d stayed vs. just having to work with whatever combination of characters on a page interacting that Lee gave him.

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  3. I know Mikhail's power seems rather hazy, but just to clarify:

    Mikhail Rasputin’s mutant ability is to manipulate energy. He can tap any existing energy signature, manipulate its activity, and catalogue its wavelength and frequency to reproduce at will. He can manipulate any form of energy for a variety of effects, such as performing complex molecular rearrangements of matter, creating teleportation beams, projecting destructive energy discharges, participating in mental conversations, and traveling between dimensional barriers.

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    1. I do genuinely appreciate the clarification (though my joke in the post aside, I would have described his power as "energy manipulation", which pretty much sounds like what you're describing). The big problem with Mikhail's power isn't so much its vagueness, though, or even the fact that it lets him do pretty much anything the plot demands, but that it becomes an increasingly common power around this time (Exodus, for example, seems to pretty much be able to do the same kind of stuff, albeit his powers are described as being "psionic" in nature). Lazy writers just slap "energy manipulation" on a character and move on, and Mikhail seems like an early example of that.

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    2. Sounds like the Power Cosmic to me...

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    3. See, also, "reality warper" gor similar problems with overpowered vagueness

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  4. // I also think it's kind of dumb that Jean spends a good chunk of the 90s without a codename //

    Yeah. Despite my lack of investment in the X-Men titles I was glad just on general principle when she re-adopted “Phoenix”. I didn’t know Rachel ever went by “Marvel Girl” but that’s actually kind-of… cute.

    // Another letter points out that the X-Men seem to have lost their inability to be detected by electronic devices without comment. //

    She doesn’t get a reply on that point though, nor to her surprise that Psylocke is now “Oriental”. I got a kick out of her happy exclamation, upon returning to the series after having dropped it during the non-team era, that “Everybody’s back and they brought friends!” Which is a very upbeat, some might even say overly charitable, take on the relaunch — and likely just what the powers-that-be were hoping for, if perhaps couched in less-than-optimally-kewl language.

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    1. Yeah, as Dan said below, Rachel took on the Marvel Girl moniker during Claremont's third return to UNCANNY (which was also the time he had the Shi'ar murder all remaining Greys in an effort to wipe out the genetic predisposition for the Phoenix force which was...less cute).

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  5. Yeah, I like Rachel calling herself Marvel Girl too. It works, somehow.

    I remember liking this three-parter at the time. Simple and to the point, and with Orz lettering. Nowadays of course I have no use for it. :)

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  6. You should only graduate to Phoenix after first having been Marvel Girl for a while. Rachel's setting it finally right. Claremont's, wasn't it?

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  7. Yes, Rachel used the Marvel Girl name (and an updated version of Jean's old green costume) during Claremont's third UXM run. I don't think it lasted much beyond that.

    Also, did Jean keep the Phoenix name all the way to the end? I seem to remember her just reverting to Jean again at some point.

    Man, I can't believe Jean is STILL dead. It's been over ten years. Crazy, if you think about it.

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    1. Maybe she wil finally STAY dea,d because her numerous deaths really have become a joke by then.
      Even now it's a joke, not helped by the revolving door nature of comic book deaths.

      Then again. Optimus Prime is even worse.
      Every Transformers fan knows two things:
      When will Prime die in this new series and when will he be back ?

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    2. @Dan: I believe Marvel Girl stuck at least through Brubaker's long Shi'ar story that followed Claremont's run. But then she disappeared into storytelling limbo for awhile, and I think by the time she got back out, the name was gone. Though I can't honestly remember where she's at now/when we last saw her...

      I'm pretty sure Jean stuck w/Phoenix til her most recent death. At least, she never adopted a different codename, so even if she wasn't directly referring to herself as Phoenix, there was nothing else for fans to use when discussing the character (and Morrison tended to downplay the superhero trappings anyways).

      I can't believe Jean is STILL dead. It's been over ten years. Crazy, if you think about it.

      It is crazy. And she's been dead longer now than she was the first time, which is even crazier.

      @Snowkatt: Maybe she wil finally STAY dea,d because her numerous deaths really have become a joke by then.

      I see that sentiment online a lot, the notion that Jean is the poster child for the revolving door of death in comics, but I've never thought it entirely fair. Yes, she was one of the first high profile resurrections, but that's also partially because she was one of the first high profile deaths.

      But outside of stories like the recently-discussed introduction of Bishop, where she appeared to die but it clearly wasn't meant to be anything more than a mid-story plot point (a fairly common comic book technique), the character has, to date, only died two deaths that readers were asked to consider permanent: the end of "Dark Phoenix", and then her "current" death, at the end of "Planet X".

      And really, as ridiculous as it sounds (and as ridiculous as a term like "current death" is), it isn't like Jean's the only comic book character who's died twice. Superman has died twice. Ditto Cyclops. Professor X. Spider-Man (if we count Ultimate). Iron Man. Psylocke, Colossus, Captain America, Human Torch, Mr. Fantastic, Wolverine, Nightcrawler have all died at least once, been gone for awhile, and then brought back (technically, I suppose, Wolverine has yet to recover from his death).

      So yeah, death in comics is a revolving door and nobody ever really dies, but it's not like Jean has died and come back a ton more times than anyone else.

      Heck, Optimus Prime has probably done it way more than she has, especially if you cross media. :)

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    3. @Teebore: // the character has, to date, only died two deaths that readers were asked to consider permanent //

      And the first one was retconned to have been merely the death of the body worn by the Phoenix Force masquerading as Jean, following its assumption of Jean’s form after she piloted that space shuttle and — let’s not forget — was supposed to have died, then become instantly reborn through her own unleashed power, making her new Phoenix moniker a very apt one. Retcons in which a character is revealed to never have actually died (Jean, Bucky) are different from stories wherein a character is literally brought back from the afterlife (Oliver Queen, Hal Jordan), just as they’re different from apparent deaths of characters whose revivals are planned in advance (Steve Rogers, Bruce Wayne). Fans’ judgment of how any of those stories work or don’t work in premise or execution is, of course, another matter entirely.

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  8. It must be nostalgia over issues 281 - 289 being the first stack of UNCANNY back issues I ever picked up, but I have a soft spot for this story. Of course I haven't read it in years, so it probably doesn't live up to my recollections. I still like how bright and colorful everything is though, after the final years of Claremont.

    "On the surface, this story is not unlike "Judgment War", in which three of the five members of this book's current cast ended up scattered on an alien world and made allies and enemies amongst the natives before coming back together and returning home."

    Having never read that run of X-FACTOR, I recall reading your reviews and thinking it sounded awfully similar to this storyline. Perhaps Portacio was influenced by Simonson. If Byrne had done his homework, we might've gotten some lines from Jean, Archangel, and Iceman comparing this situation to that one.

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