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Wednesday, June 15, 2016

X-amining X-Men (vol. 2) #4

"The Resurrection and the Flesh"
January 1992

In a Nutshell
Omega Red attacks the X-Men.

Plot & Pencils: Lee
Script: Byrne
Inks: Williams
Letterer: Orzechowski
Colorist: Rosas
Editor: Harras
Editor-in-Chief: DeFalco

Plot
On an island in the South Pacific, the Hand, overseen by Matsu'o Tsurayaba, resurrect Omega Red, sacrificing twenty-five lives to bring him out of his hibernation. At the X-Mansion, Gambit, Jubilee, Wolverine & Rogue play basketball while Moira grapples with the fallout of Magneto's death and the revelation of her previous manipulation of him. Feeling she's failed Xavier and the X-Men, she decides to leave the school. In Berlin, Matsu'o meets with Fenris, telling them the resurrection of Omega Red was successful. Back in New York, Gambit & Rogue leave to go on a date, accompanied by Beast, Wolverine & Jubilee. They are attacked along the way by the Hand, and manage to hold their own, until Omega Red enters the fray. His mutant death factor knocks out the rest of the team as he confronts Wolverine, who recognizes him as a man named Arkady. Later, the Hand, disguised as paramedics, load the unconscious X-Men into an ambulance. Moira approaches the scene in a cab, but distraught, refuses to even look at the scene, and tells the driver to keep going.

Firsts and Other Notables
After being teased in issue #2, this marks the first appearance of Omega Red, a Soviet era super-solider resurrected by the Hand. A mutant with a death factor (ie it draws life energy from other people, which is supposed to be a sort of reverse of Wolverine's healing factor), he was outfitted with carbonadium coils that emerge from his wrists (again, a la Wolverine's adamantium claws). Not surprisingly, he has a shared past with Wolverine, much of which will unfold in the course of the next several issues. Like other villains of this vintage, Omega Red will burn bright but fast, appearing in a handful of stories in the early 90s, including in non X-books, his profile boosted by appearances in the animated series, before quietly fading away into relative obscurity.

After shredding his orange-and-tan costume last month in Wolverine #49, this issue sees Wolverine back in his traditional yellow-and-blue costume. It is the first time he's appeared in an issue of X-Men wearing it since Uncanny #139, and it will remain his default look, with some periodic variations, until Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely eschew costumes entirely in their New X-Men run. Lee, a devotee of the Claremont/Byrne era, reportedly preferred this look for the character, and put him back in it the first chance he got. He was so happy that he crowed about it to John Byrne, who pointed out to Lee that it was Byrne himself who changed Wolverine out of it originally.


Jubilee pops up back up in this issue, with no explanation of her absence in the previous issues (nor what so upset her in X-Factor #70, when it seemed liked she was being told she was off the team). She's been appearing in Wolverine, however, so it's not like she's been totally absent of late. From this point forward, she's essentially a member of the Blue team.

Fenris, last seen striking an alliance with Matsu'o in Uncanny #268, returns this issue, and the Strucker twins are revealed to be part of the Upstarts competition as well (it's unclear if Matsu'o is as well, or if his presence is motivated solely by his partnership with the twins - it ultimately doesn't matter, because Fenris don't really get lumped in with the Upstarts outside of this story). Andrea mentions that the prize of the Upstarts competition is "no less than immortality itself", another vague revelation about this subplot that doesn't really go anywhere (over in Uncanny, it seemed like the competition was more about control of the Hellfire Club).


Moira, who's been staying at the X-Mansion since issue #1 (presumably because her Muir Island complex was mostly destroyed/damaged in the "Muir Island Saga", though that's never explicitly stated as the reason for her presence), departs this issue in despair over what she did to Magneto when he was a child in her care (and for helping him, however momentarily, brainwash the blue team). She won't appear again until "X-Cutioner's Song", and though he remains behind this issue, Banshee will soon depart as well.

Creator Central
Coming over from the same role on Uncanny, John Byrne takes over as scripter, with Jim Lee assuming sole plotting duties (along with his penciling responsibilities).

Collection Recollection 
For whatever reason (probably either Omega Red's debut or the return of Wolverine's original costume) this issue took me longer to track down back in the day than the surrounding issues; as a result, I read this story just from issues #5-7 many, many more times than I did with #4.

A Work in Progress
Gambit, Rogue, Wolverine and Jubilee play a game of two-on-two basketball, a nice nod to the previous X-Men baseball games, though "X-Men playing basketball" never quite catches on as a recurring trope.


Banshee's jaw is wired shut this issue (not that we see any of the wires), a result of the injuries he suffered in the previous issue, prompting Xavier to telepathically assist him in communicating with Moira.


Beast uses one of Nightcrawler's old image inducers to tagalong with Gambit and Rogue, an odd act considering all the time he spent in public, undisguised, as both a member of X-Factor and the Avengers.


The Hand ninjas (at least some of them) are now much more cyberpunk (though not Portacio-level cyberpunk), with exposed faces and 90s guns in lieu of their usual hooded ninja garb.


The Grim 'n' Gritty 90s
Germany is referred to as "newly unified".

Build Up Your Vocabulary with Beast: Capacious
/kəˈpāSHəs/. Adjective. Having a lot of space inside; roomy.


Artistic Achievements
Moira has a nightmare spurned on by her encounter with Magneto in the previous story, which gets depicted in a clever way by Lee - long vertical panels against a full page splash of Moira in profile.


The Best There is at What He Does, Mon Ami
Rogue declares that natural agility is part of Gambit's power, the first time that's ever been explicitly stated.


Young Love
Gambit tries to kiss Rogue, once again appearing nonchalant about the dangers of her powers, and stepping up their flirtatous relationship to the uncomfortable level of "not taking 'no' for an answer".


Later, Rogue agrees to go on a date with Gambit, but they are accompanied by Wolverine, Jubilee and Beast (and the whole thing gets scuttled by Omega Red and the Hand's attack).

It's in the Mail
The series gets a letter page this issue, titled "X-Pressions". This first two page installment includes letters raving about issue #1 and questioning the future of the series in Claremont's absence (his departure having become known prior to the launch of the series). A response to one letter says that Longshot and Dazzler will be turning up soon (they briefly appear next issue, then take center stage in the story that runs in issues #10 and #11), while another response confirms that Professor X had the mansion rebuilt between the "Muir Island Saga" and X-Men #1, in roughly a months' time.

Austin's Analysis
This isn't a Classic Claremont Quiet Issue - not the least because Claremont himself is gone, though that won't stop future instances of the type from appearing - but more of a setup issue for the Omega Red storyline. Nevertheless, it's the first issue since the linewide relaunch that has found either book pausing to take a breath, and it's appreciated for that. It's hard not to see "the X-Men play basketball" as an obvious pastiches/pander to Claremont's baseball games, but it works nonetheless: it not only  provides an easy window into characterization (Gambit is suave but also a little sleazy, Rogue can be cool-headed but is prone to bursts of temper, Wolverine is the seasoned veteran) but also presents the characters as people, capable of relaxing and goofing off. The later (attempted) group date, which more directly leads into main plot of the story, does a similar thing. Additionally, Moira dealing with the fallout of the revelations of the previous issues suggests, for the moment, that these stories don't exist in a vacuum, that for all the kewl new villains and flashy art, this is still a serial narrative, in which one story leads into the other, with threads lingering between them. Claremont may be gone and he may have been forced out ungraciously, but this issue, at least, serves as a reminder that someone was paying attention to what worked during his run, and attempting to replicate it, in however minor a fashion.

Next Issue
Tomorrow, Kylun comes to Earth in Excalibur #46, and Friday, Wolverine battles Shiva in Wolverine #50. Next week, Uncanny X-Men #285.

Collected Editions

19 comments:

  1. I recently re-read this one in the Mutant Genesis 2.0 TPB. I hadn't quite realized this was Wolverine's first return to his original costume, nor that Lee was so eager to do it. Bummer. I always liked the brown one--the bright yellow one just seemed way too bright, and those blue metal shoulder pads are kinda goofy. I suppose it's not surprising, but making the first post-Claremont arc focus on Wolverine and his new foe (Wolvie's on most of the next few covers) seemed more than a bit calculated. Pretty art, though.

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    1. Technically, as was pointed out in my review of WOLVERINE #49, he did appear in this costume previously, in the second arc of McFarlane's SPIDER-MAN book. But this marks his consistent return to it - he wears it from here on out, in one form or another, for years.

      I suppose it's not surprising, but making the first post-Claremont arc focus on Wolverine and his new foe (Wolvie's on most of the next few covers) seemed more than a bit calculated.

      It's definitely a surefire way to sidestep any feared drop in numbers after Claremont's departure.

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  2. Plenty of people here (and elsewhere) have stated that, while Claremont's departure was unfortunate and poorly handled, his past few years' of stories had gotten disjointed and led both the characters and the book itself off track. I don't really agree, but I can see their point. Even if Claremont was indeed building toward some kind of reunification, and even if his "disassembled" era told some very good stories; he didn't provide any kind of "anchor" plot thread to keep readers (new and old) properly oriented while he (and his characters) spanned the globe/galaxy, and as much as I love some of those late-period Claremont issues, a good half dozen of them are definitely among the least of his original run on the book. So I can totally understand why people might have been excited for a fresh perspective once he left.

    But Jim Lee - regardless of his talents as an artist - is an absolute hack of a writer. He throws in all of these cliches and tropes from the "classic" days of the X-Men, but he covers them in a sloppy layer of his own paint and calls it "new." Lee prefers basketball to baseball, so that's what they play during down time at the school. Endless characters took leaves of absence from the team in the past, but god forbid Lee gives up drawing anyone he thinks is cool, so he gives Moira the boot. Wolverine faces The Hand, but they're wearing armor and wicked hip shades and using big ol' guns. A mysterious adversary shows up from Logan's past, but this time it's NOT Sabertooth (yet.) I'm surprised he didn't give Xavier the ability to walk, but at the cost of losing the use of his arms. It's all such boring, unsubstantial b.s. with wannabe "new" character developments that are really just gainsaying the old tropes.

    I just realized: Jim Lee was Geoff Johns even before Geoff Johns was.

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    1. I'll just say there isn't anything inherently bad about the X-Men playing basketball instead of baseball; just because they played baseball before doesn't mean they always have to, and here, at least, two characters who weren't around for those baseball games (Gambit & Jubilee) are playing. I could see Jubilee, especially, having a preference for that over baseball as well.

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  3. Was the first time we saw American members of the Hand?

    You can make the argument that Lee is doing nothing new here, but it's very readable, which is more than I can say for some of the more muddled comics he's credited with co-plotting during this era.

    John Byrne's scripting is also less uptight and more human this issue. He handles the character interactions pretty well, I thought.

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    1. I think this is the first time we saw confirmed non-Asian members of the Hand, though technically, the people under those red hoods in previous issues could have been anyone. :)

      And yeah, Byrne's scripting seems a lot looser here. Maybe he's more comfortable with these characters, or the down time stuff. Or he just got these pages in a more timely manner.

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  4. Claremont may be gone -klip- but -klip- someone was paying attention to what worked during his run, and attempting to replicate it, in however minor a fashion.

    Claremont had the X-Men fight ninjas (Miller, Smith), cyborgs (Silvestri) and ethnically diverse gangs of mooks in crazy outfits (Romita Jr). Now, how do you make a statement when you're up and coming artist given the sole sey of keys to the plotting kingdom...

    I don't know, it feels in places more antithetical to Claremont really. He has been intentionally very sparing on details of Wolverine's past (a thing I understand made explicit on later interviews), and here we not only go deep into it the minute Claremont is out of the door but in a way that I'd say conflicts with what we have learned this far.

    Cyclops is oozing with confidence and uprighteousness and has the body to back it up like some ersatz Captain America in the off not-gonna-throw-hot-cocoa-on-your-face way. And apparently is giving relationship advise to people now.

    I still find Fenris the worst offender. Since when was Andrea a ditz while Andreas did the well-composured spokesman thing? It's really like epitomizing a roll-back from the Claremontian give-the-ladies-the-limelight when Andreas suddenly becomes the nineties ponytailed schemer when it always was about especially nasty sister and his somewhat more hapless little brother (if only by minutes, them being Fenris twins and all. Same thing with A&A Stuart btw, curiously.), with even the powersets to back it up, her blasts being destructive while his concussive.

    The Hand ninjas (at least some of them) are now much more cyberpunk (though not Portacio-level cyberpunk)

    It's just hilarious that before the year is over the currently only somewhat sane writer Peter David will be teaming up with the occasional old-school X-artist Rick Leonardi to out-cyberpunk them all.

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    1. and here we not only go deep into it the minute Claremont is out of the door but in a way that I'd say conflicts with what we have learned this far.

      I don't know that this story is all *that* deep a dive into Wolverine's history. It ties into his past as a secret agent (which Claremont established) and his connection to Sabretooth in that past (which Claremont established). It's basically just a flashback to one specific mission in his already-revealed past as a covert operative; it's not like Lee is exploring his childhood or revealing the secret origin of his hairstyle or anything.

      Since when was Andrea a ditz while Andreas did the well-composured spokesman thing?

      I'm not entirely sure I got that Andrea was a ditz in that scene, or that Andreas was all that composed. He was seated, yes, but that's just so Andrea could be standing, the better to, uh, show off her womanly assets.

      And I know you have a great deal of affection for Fenris due to their proximity to when you first started reading, but they're hardly deep, complexly-rendered characters at this point. If you asked what separates the two in terms of characterization, the best I could give you is "one's name ends with an 's', the other has the same name, but without the 's'", so it's not like there's a lot of already-established ground for Lee to rip up here.

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    2. What Claremont established was that Logan was a very no-nonsense intelligence agent who broke Carol Danvers out from KGB prison in Ljubljana. His running here as a part of a Weapon X connected all-superhumans squad is in my opinion a huge departure from that, and of course, we never got even a flashback but merely passing verbal references between the characters. There has always been the "loner grows to be an effective member of a group" thing with him. Retconning the, gnah, Team X to his pre-X-Men days undermines the development. And maybe justifies the rebel bit, as how can't you learn to rebel within a gang like that?

      Re: Andrea, I was jumping the gun a bit and thinking the whole arc. Claremont had her shoot and blast and be devious at stuff as the more active one of the twins, while here she's reduced to be all about agitated ineffective shouting and tit-posing. Your basic eye-candy female role.

      But, JRjr drew Andreas to the curly-haired likeness of Ian Ziering, so obviously I may have conflated him to some extent with Steve Sanders, who never was the story-driving dynamo.

      I really don't have a huge inside-my-head fan fiction world build around them, honest.

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  5. The Hand ninjas talk a lot too, here, as contrasted with the silent swarms of indistinguishable hooded assassins seen in the past.

    Why is the lower part of Gambit’s right leg — maybe both his legs; we don’t see his left one during the sequence — armored up in his civilian date-with-Rogue outfit?

    I don’t like the vertically stretched X-Men logo on this series, just in and of itself, but it really should’ve at least been proportionately reduced here rather than expanding haphazardly behind the corner box.

    Matsu’o doesn’t seem to know what “Upstart Dominant” means in those panels you posted. Whether it’s the whole Upstarts deal in general or this phrase in particular that confuses him, I don’t know; frankly, his seeming ignorance confused me.

    Beast going out on the town by himself, or with the likewise publicly-known members of X-Factor or, in his Avengers days, Wonder Man, is different than being seen with a group of folks who, even if they might not have out-and-out secret identities, don’t want attention drawn to them during their private time.

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    1. Maybe we should assume these are, like, Hand Squad leaders, hence their lack of hoods and relative verbosity?

      And good point on Beast being a public hero, but not all of his friends. I hadn't considered that.

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  6. "before quietly fading away into relative obscurity."

    He make a few appearances, mostly in Wolverine: Origins and is tied into the Romulus nonsense, somehow, before Wolverine finally kills him. After that, we get a whole team of characters inspired by him in Uncanny X-force (all clones, I think), The Omega Clan.

    "After shredding his orange-and-tan costume last month in Wolverine #49"

    Count me among the group that preferred that one to the yellow and blue costume.

    "Beast uses one of Nightcrawler's old image inducers to tagalong with Gambit and Rogue, an odd act considering all the time he spent in public, undisguised, as both a member of X-Factor and the Avengers"

    It would have made more sense if he pointed out that he was using the inducer to keep a low profile due to his celebrity status, as opposed to doing to hide his being a mutant.

    "The Hand ninjas (at least some of them) are now much more cyberpunk (though not Portacio-level cyberpunk), with exposed faces and 90s guns in lieu of their usual hooded ninja garb."

    When the 90s threw up, some of the splatter apparently hit The Hand as well...

    "Rogue declares that natural agility is part of Gambit's power, the first time that's ever been explicitly stated."

    Doesn't that eventually become quietly forgotten? Kind of like his pseudo-hypnotic charm powers.

    Well, it isn't great, but it has held up better than Uncanny and X-force has. I do remember one complaint I had for this storyline was the length, it did seem like 4 issues was a bit much. If anything, it does seem a bit like Claremont Lite, which isn't a knock against it. I'd put it slightly above cromulent, and at least it's kind of fun and doesn't drag along the way other titles are at this point.

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    1. He make a few appearances, mostly in Wolverine: Origins and is tied into the Romulus nonsense, somehow

      At this point, I just assume anyone connected to Wolverine's past got caught up in that nonsense. Ugh. I'm not looking forward to reading that.

      Didn't know about the Uncanny X-Force clones, though.

      When the 90s threw up, some of the splatter apparently hit The Hand as well...

      Ha!

      Doesn't that eventually become quietly forgotten? Kind of like his pseudo-hypnotic charm powers.

      Kind of? I mean, he remains arguably superhumanly agile, but then again, that's pretty standard for most superhumans.



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  7. I seem to recall that Moira's guilt doesn't entirely make sense here. Since it turned out that her tampering with Magneto didn't actually do any lasting damage, so nothing was her fault, right?

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    1. No, but I think her guilt is just from having tampered in the first place. Like, that was a violation of ethics, and even though it didn't work, the fact that she even tried is making her feel terrible (and, apparently, she had suppressed all this guilt for years, and Magneto bringing it to light is causing her to feel it all now).

      Plus, there could be some general "even though my brainwashing on the X-Men failed, it worked briefly, and that time could have been used to change things so Magneto didn't die, so now I feel bad that I left Magneto strongarm me into brainwashing the X-Men" feelings going on too.

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  8. I was really happy they brought back Wolverine's yellow costume. I didn't actually read X-MEN yet at this point, though I think I had read "Dark Phoenix" in a friend's trade paperback and I liked the yellow a lot better than the brown I saw in his then-current "Outback" issues. So when I was at that same friend's house and saw this issue, with the return of that really old, cool outfit, I was pleased.

    Nowadays I like the brown, but I still prefer the yellow. It doesn't necessarily fit Wolverine's character, but it's just really cool looking.

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    1. I'm with you on this one: I can't deny the orange-and-tan look is more fitting for Wolverine's character, but I still like the yellow-and-blue. It was the costume he was in when I started reading, so it's his default look for me. Plus, I like the idea, suggested in WOLVERINE, that he's purposely eschewing the more animalistic costume for the more bright, superhero-esque one, as a way to play up that side of his personality, in the same way he donned the darker look in part out of mourning for Jean.

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  9. If nothing else, I love Byrne scripting

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  10. Er...no comment on the Fenris twins? I mean Andrea's outfit alone REALLY needs to be seen (when I read this as a child, I had stop and crack up for a bit when I got to that splash page) It's like every "Eurotrash" stereotype distilled into one panel.

    I think basketball makes more sense at this pojnt because the creators were trying to convey a more "intimate" conversation piece here. Baseball games are usually bonding exercises for the whole team. A pick-up game only needs a few people involved. (By the way, Austin, you forgot about to add this delectable slice of pop culture pie to the "Grim and Gritty 90s" file: Jubile does a riff of a then-popular commercial for Air Jordans during the game.)

    What's also interesting is that you get an accurate microcosm of Gambit and Rogue's right here where it all begins. Rogue curses Gambitvand flips him off and by the end they are going on a date. Symbolizes their ENTIRE relationship doesn't it?

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