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Wednesday, June 29, 2016

X-amining X-Men (vol. 2) #5

"Blowback"
February  1992

In a Nutshell
Maverick debuts as Wolverine battles Omega Red.

Plot & Pencils: Jim Lee
Script: John Byrne
Inks: Scott Williams, Art Thibert, Bob Wiacek, Joe Rubinstein
Lettering: Tom & Lois
Coloring: Joe Rosas
Editing: Bob Harras
Chiefing: Tom DeFalco

Plot
Alerted to the presence of Omega Red by Cerebro, the rest of the X-Men scramble in pursuit. Meanwhile, Gambit, Rogue, Beast & Jubilee manage to escape from the Hand just as the rest of the team arrives on the scene, but they're unable to rescue Wolverine. Elsewhere, Wolverine battles Omega Red, overseen by Matsu'o, Fenris, and Dr. Cornelius, who are trying to stimulate Wolverine's memory regarding the whereabouts of the Carbonadium Synthesizer. However, they, in turn, are being watched by a mysterious figure as well. Back at the X-Mansion, the X-Men split into squads, with the Gold team proceeding to meet with the Hellfire Club as planned while the Blue team goes after Wolverine, whom they've tracked to Berlin. A day later in Berlin, Wolverine manages to escape his restraints and flees, having flashes of a similar scene involving Omega Red in his past. He dives out a window and is rescued by Maverick, who had been waiting to make his move. Maverick then detects the arrival of the X-Men, just as Wolverine collapses into unconsciousness. In Malibu, Lila Cheney is trying to revive Dazzler's memory of the X-Men when Longshot suddenly appears, followed by Spiral. She tries to capture Longshot, but Lila teleports him & Dazzler away, as Mojo watches.

Firsts and Other Notables
This issue is the first appearance of Maverick, the latest entry in the hot new category of "vaguely bionic mysterious characters with big guns". As of this issue, he is shown to have a past with Wolverine (even if Wolverine doesn't fully remember it) and it will eventually be revealed that Maverick was also part of the Weapon X project (and that he's a mutant with the ability absorb kinetic energy without harming himself. So like Strong Guy or Sebastian Shaw, but without the ability to turn that energy into additional strength). As far as mysterious new 90s era characters go, Maverick is a modest success story; he's no Cable or Deadpool, but he will be featured in an upcoming backup story, eventually get his own short-lived solo series in the mid 90s, and be featured in Frank Tieri's Weapon X series in the 00s.


A brief flashback sequence features Cold War era Wolverine, Sabretooth and Maverick battling Omega Red. That loose affiliation of characters who later went through the Weapon X project performing missions together will eventually come to be called Team X (though only in outside sources - comic titles and whatnot - and never, I don't believe, within the story itself) and appear in future flashbacks and a couple of one-shots. The black jumpsuit with yellow accessories that Wolverine wears here will become something of an iconic look for the character in stories set in that time, and will eventually be featured as an action figure.


Remember Longshot (last seen in Uncanny #248)? He pops up at the very end of this issue, along with a still-amnesic-from-the-Siege Perilous Dazzler (last seen in Uncanny #260) and a returned-to-Earth Lila Cheney (last seen in Uncanny #277, with a response to a letter this issue saying she's been on tour since her last appearance). The three will feature in subplots over the next few issues, before taking center stage in a Mojo-centric story in issues #10-11, Jim Lee's last story on the book.


Spiral also appears briefly, pursuing Longshot. Last seen in Uncanny #256, she'll turn up in the next three issues of Wolverine.

In an appreciated touch, this issue confirms that all the events of this series up to this point took place prior to Uncanny X-Men #281, as a double-page splash shows the combined X-Men discussing splitting up, with the Gold team in their formal attire from the beginning of #281. Byrne, however, slips up, having Xavier declare he'll remain at the mansion in telepathic contact with both teams despite having established in Uncanny #282 that he and Forge were playing chess with a telepathic dampner in place while the X-Men were at the Hellfire Club (Byrne even sets up that chess match in this issue, making the flub even moe curious).


Banshee departs this issue to go after Moira, and while the length of his intended absence is unclear, this effectively marks the end of Banshee's second tenure with the X-Men (which goes back to Uncanny #253, albeit without an official team around him at that time), and though he'll eventually be back, first popping up here and there in random X-issues and then in the lead-up to "Phalanx Covenant" and the launch of Generation X (where he'll maintain a consistent presence for the life of the series), this is also pretty much it for Banshee as a formal member of the X-Men.


This issue confirms that Matsu'o and Fenris' plans for Wolverine, specifically their acquisition of the carbonadium synthesizer, is a part of the Upstarts competition, with the immortality prize once again suggested as the ultimate goal (which Fenris is hoping to transfer to a new Reich).

A month after Professor Thornton and Carol Hines returned in Wolverine #50, Dr. Cornelius, the third significant antagonist from "Weapon X" returns in this issue, in the employ of Matsu'o and Fenris, helping them plumb Wolverine's memory for the C-Synthesizer.


As the X-Men leave, before Forge approaches him to play chess, Professor X can be seen looking through files labeled "Project Xavier"; this will be teased in a few upcoming issues, and kind of addressed in issues #12-13, but mostly gets dropped in the wake of Lee's departure.


The top of the first page features a synopsis of what the X-Men are all about and who is on the team; I can't remember how long this particular iteration sticks around.


A Work in Progress
Cerebro detects the presence of Omega Red and alerts the rest of the X-Men, the first time in forever the machine has detected a new mutant.

Though he remains with his designated squad after the team splits up mid-issue, Colossus is on hand to help rescue the X-Men captured by the Hand last issue, an example of how the team will remain fluid across both titles despite the squad division.

Jubilee is initially told to stay behind while the Blue team goes after Wolverine, but Psylocke vouches for her experience with the Hand, a reference specifically to the events of Uncanny #256-258, but more generally, of Psylocke and Jubilee's pre-"X-Tinction Agenda" time together, an appreciated nod to the characters' past history.


Another apparent case of Byrne's preference for the original X-Men shining through: Maverick refers to Rogue, Gambit and Psylocke a the junior league, while Beast and Cyclops are the big kids.


The Grim 'n' Gritty 90s
Wolverine's flashbacks in this issue are said to take place thirty years ago, which in 1992 would have placed them in Berlin at the height of the Cold War.

In addition to Rogue and Gambit's now-usual leather jackets, both Cyclops and Psylocke done X-labeled jackets this issue.

Artistic Achievements
Byrne does some nimble scripting to explain why Psylocke responded to an alarm in her bathing suit.


The X-Men discover Wolverine's mask in the wake of the Hand's defeat, though it's the orange-and-tan mask, not the mask of the costume he was actually wearing last issue.


The triangular boob window on Andrea's dress shifts from panel to panel on one page, going from "narrow on top, wide at the bottom" to "wide at the top, narrow at the bottom".


In an even more egregious mistake, Wolverine at one point appears holding a mysterious canister, which Omega Red seemingly wants. He runs from the villain, eventually diving out a window and being rescued by Maverick, after which the canister disappears. But the location of the story's MacGuffin (the carbonadium synthesizer) is what the villains are after (issue #7 will reveal where it is, and it's not in this building), so it's unclear what this canister is, how Wolverine got it, or why Omega Red wants it (it seems like Lee maybe got mixed up and drew in a physical MacGuffin before remembering that the whole point of capturing Wolverine was to find out where the MacGuffin is).


The Best There is at What He Does
Dr. Cornelius is able to give Wolverine some kind of drug that helps him remember his past, allowing for the periodic flashbacks that permeate this story, though despite his renewed interest in discovering his past, Wolverine never really tries to find out more about this drug.


It's in the Mail
Responses to letters in this issue tease the return of Hiro (Iceman's girlfriend's grandfather's cybernetic ninja solider) over in Uncanny (which happens in issues #289-290). The next X-book crossover story is also mentioned, titled "Sins of the Father", which becomes "X-Cutioner's Song".

Austin's Analysis
There's two really nice, almost Claremontian touches to this issue. The first is that Lee took the time to establish a timeline for the two X-Men books, revealing in this issue (via art and dialogue, not just a footnote) that the events of this series thus far all take place before the start of Uncanny X-Men #281. It's not quite "writing Wolverine out of the series for months so he can star in a limited series", but it's close, and shows a remarkable commitment to continuity for the era. The second thing is the return of Longshot and Dazzler, Presumably, Lee has some affection for the characters (they'll feature in the last story he draws for the book) and that's why he bothered to address their long absence and tease a resolution to Longshot's lingering plot thread, but even though it likely wasn't the intent, it still reads like Lee is working off some kind of outline he worked out with Claremont - the writer may be gone, but Lee is, seemingly, still willing to tie up his dangling threads (intentionally or not).

At the same time, this issue also shows an increased sloppiness in the art and plotting, with clothing changing from panel-to-panel and the weird bit with Wolverine suddenly holding some kind of heretofore un-referenced canister and proceeding to dive out a window with it, after which the canister disappears as suddenly (and without comment) as it first appeared (it's also not clear why the Hand bothered to abduct the non-Wolverine X-Men last issue, other than to setup a fight scene for this issue). Whether due to the strain of plotting and penciling, or having a scripter less willing to cover for his mistakes, or a result of Lee's apparently scattershot approach to drawing pages (ie drawing them in bursts, out of order), it is unfortunately indicative of things to come, as the art across the X-books gets increasingly sloppy (or inked by multiple inkers, or drawn outright by fill-in artists) in the run-up to the Image Exodus. As such, now two issues removed from Claremont's departure, this can be read very much as a bridge between what's come before, and what's to come.

Next Issue
Tomorrow, Cerise debuts in Excalibur #47. Friday. Mystique guest stars in Wolverine #51. Next week, we take a look at X-Men action figures.

Collected Editions

15 comments:

  1. This issue confirms that Matsu'o and Fenris' plans for Wolverine, specifically their acquisition of the carbonadium synthesizer, is a part of the Upstarts competition, with the immortality prize once again suggested as the ultimate goal

    I understand the carbonadium synthesizer is linked to the adamantium bonding process, but the immortality bit actually would be tieable to WOLVERINE where age suppression shall be revealed to having been a thing within the Weapon X program.

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  2. Psylocke has a "precognitive flash" this issue. That may have been a reference to the precognitive flashes she had in early Captain Britain stories. But they hadn't been reprinted in America yet when I first read this story, so I was completely confused.
    Maverick's boss is a mysterious "Major". He later is named Barrington. He turns out not to be significant but he was the cause of some confusion in Generation X. When Mondo first appeared, he was kidnapped by Barrington but when Black Tom later appeared, he claimed he was Barrington- Faerber apparently didn't realize Lobdell was using a preexisting character.
    The dialogue next issue implies the canister contained Wolverine's blood.

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  3. Maverick is thisclose to being as much unintentional self-parody as Over(t)kill was intentional.

    // Team X … only in outside sources //

    Didn't Marvel & WildStorm put out a Team X / Team 7 crossover? [Googles] Yep! Of course (a) it would be non-continuity and (2) just ’cause the name was in the title don’t mean it was used in dialogue.

    // Wolverine at one point appears holding a mysterious canister //

    I’m so glad you called this out as a mistake (an egregious one, even) because it confused the hell out of me. At first I thought maybe he just grabbed a nearby item to take the place in reality of the woman he was running with in the flashback scene that followed, like it was another hallucination, but that explanation doesn’t really jibe with his dialogue on the page where he’s first holding the canister. Then again my confusion kind-of went in circles on that score because he goes from being way out of it while in restraints to almost literally hitting the ground running with, he says, at least an idea of what the canister holds, after Maverick frees him and for all we know (continuity error of its existence there notwithstanding) even places the canister in his arms.

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  4. The "Hand ninjas" at least still will kill themselves upon failure. Boastingly and with explosives, but blessings are in short order to be counted nowadays.

    "Team X" is pretty close to how they translated "X-Men" for our publications.

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  5. "A brief flashback sequence features Cold War era Wolverine, Sabretooth and Maverick battling Omega Red. That loose affiliation of characters who later went through the Weapon X project performing missions together will eventually come to be called Team X"

    So the members of Team X all ended up becoming a part of Weapon X...which is funny, given how simple BWS made things in his Weapon X story, and now Hama and Lee are making the past history of these characters even more complicated. Though I guess it would make more sense for Logan to have been chosen by Weapon X, given his history with Team X. In any case, this is the point where Wolverine's past becomes less and less mysterious, and more and more complicated.

    "This issue confirms that Matsu'o and Fenris' plans for Wolverine"

    And strangely, dialogue suggests that Matsu'o IS a member of the Upstarts. I think this is the only story line where that gets brought up, no?

    "Psylocke done X-labeled jackets this issue."

    Nothing says classy professional like a jacket and thong combo.

    Overall, as sloppy as this is, it's still leaps and bounds ahead of X-force and Uncanny, though definitely not in the same league as Excaliber or X-factor. It's a mid-level title, that gets by more on the energy of the art and plotting, as opposed to the actual quality of the art and plotting, if that makes sense. I do wonder what was happening behind the scenes to have us end up with FOUR inkers, which definitely adds to the sloppy and inconsistent feel of the overall story. Still, as I said, while it isn't up to what the best the X-office is offering us at this time, it certainly is much better than what the worst is offering us. Mileage varies, but I have to say, at least this story is somewhat entertaining.

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    1. It's technically SPOILERS, so everyone beware, but: Hama will when delving into Logan's past in his future issues bring up scenes very reminiscent of the WEAPON X opening pages. And a case could be made that Team X was collecting the pieces that later on would be used in the Experiment X.

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  6. I'm surprised Maverick was apparently as successful as pointed out here. He seemed one of the most egregiously over-promoted characters, compared to how interesting he actually was. Some generic soldier-guy in a goofy mask and some typically 90's costume. His inclusion in the Jim Lee X-Men card series seemed a bit generous, and a sign of just when the series was made. (Omega Red's card was another.)

    This story was in the Mutant Genesis 2.0 TPB I recently picked up and read. It's....not great. The trend at the time seemed to always focus on Wolverine and his mysterious past. I was on board with some of that, particularly the Weapon X story, but by this point it does start to get tiresome. As was Psylocke consistently having to be "sexy". (Ooh, she's in a bikini!)

    I remember being excited at bringing back Longshot and Dazzler and Mojo, though that story seemed disappointing in execution, too. (Mojo is always best when drawn by Art Adams.) And a very odd one to be Jim Lee's last X-Men work. I never realized that.

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  7. I get that this story is kind of dumb, but dammit, it's cool and fun. I like that it's using continuity and what's funny is it's continuing Claremont's newer plot lines, when one of the main complaints about Lee was that he wanted to just redo Byrne/Claremont plots. This is better than a lot of what was on the shelves at the time.

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  8. At what point do you think Bob Harras read a Jim Lee plot outline and said, "wait a minute... nothing happens in this issue. I mean, people fight and some other people talk about their big plans, but nothing really HAPPENS."

    Do you think Harras realized his folly in handing Lee the biggest franchise in comics, or did he only see it in retrospect, after Lee had left? Did Lee's lack of talent keep Harras up at night; or did he not even realize it until after Lee left, like you do after a boy/girlfriend dumps you, and you suddenly see all the faults that your infatuation blinded you while you were together? I wonder if he eventually became grateful to Lee for quitting so soon. Sure, the book lost a superstar artist, but ultimately Harras was probably happy to be able to exercise some editorial control without worrying about placating the hotshot artist who had no goddamned clue what he was doing as a writer/plotter.

    Ugh. I dunno. Reminiscing about this brief era of the X-books always leaves me in a foul mood, a dank combination of angry and sad. There's a lot to be talked about, both in the fictional world and in the real world that created these books, but I keep coming back to the heavy blanket of disappointment that's been draped over these books since their first publication...

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    1. I know what you mean. As long as the book was selling like hot cakes, though, I wonder if anybody noticed, or cared, about the writing. I could see sales figures easily trumping any complaints about quality.

      Funny thing was, at the time, I'm pretty sure I considered it a sort of new golden age for the X-Men, with my favorite artist, two series instead of one, etc. In truth, I think I had only about a year left before I quit buying them.

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    2. Agreed on that point: I doubt anyone was complaining out loud. The books were selling like hotcakes, action figures were everywhere, the cartoon was probably deep into development, and the speculator boom was promising to make you rich by just reading comics.

      But Bob Harras, for all the shit he's gotten (and largely deserved), was still on some level a guy who wanted his books to tell good stories. He'll surely never admit it (see all those $$$ reasons we both cited), but I would love to have been in the room when Lee's faults finally hit him. I imagine a quiet "what have I done?" and a single tear rolling down his cheek.

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    3. Bob Harras is the editor in chief of the Nu52. If he cares about good storytelling he hasn't learned his lesson in 20 years.

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    4. I'm pretty sure the EiC at DC is just a traffic manager these days. Johns and DiDio seem call the shots while Harras just makes sure the trains run on time.

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  9. I dunno, I doubt giving Lee the title gave Harras as much issues as, say, giving titles to Liefeld and Portacio, since those 2 are just so much worse. At least Lee's work here is somewhat enjoyable. If any tears were shed, it would have been circa issue 4 or 5 of X-force, I imagine.

    I mean, Lee has his faults, sure, but it isn't even the worst the franchise was giving fans back then. If anything was keeping Harras up at night or wondering "WTF have I done", I have a feeling Liefeld and Protacio's work was doing that far more than Lee's was.

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  10. I swear everyone just sort of forgot about Banshee for nearly two years at this point. He goes off to find Moira here, Moira returns to the X-Men in fairly short order, and there's no mention or sighting of Banshee until X-MEN 24 when he randomly returns and mentions that he spent months searching for her, unaware she'd come back some time earlier.

    (Also, I gotta say -- that aimless search doesn't speak too highly to his previous life as a detective.)

    Anyway, I guess my point is that we really need a BANSHEE: THE HIDDEN YEAR mini-series showing off all the adventures he had while scouring the globe for Moira.

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