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Wednesday, July 20, 2016

X-amining Uncanny X-Men #286

"Close Call!"
March 1992

In a Nutshell
The X-Men return to Earth with Mikhail in tow.

Story & Art: Jim Lee & Whilce Portacio
Finishes: Art Thibert
Scripting: Scott Lobdell
Lettering: Task Force X
Coloring: Joe Rosas
Editing: Bob Harras
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco

Plot
Colossus is stunned to be reunited with his brother Mikhail, who explains that his death was staged before the Russian government sent him to this world, and how he ended up sealing the portal at the cost of the lives of people he had come to care about. On Earth, Xavier & Forge confer with some of the world's top minds trying to close the portal, to no avail. Inside the void, Mikhail refuses to use his energy manipulation power to shutdown the portal a second time, which an enraged Colossus views as an act of cowardice. Meanwhile, an enthralled Archangel leads the Posse Comitatus against the rebels, including Mikhail and the X-Men, now joined by Iceman and Sunfire. When Colossus is threatened, Mikhail is driven to action. Realizing the growing portal threatens his brother as well as everyone else, he works in concert with Sunfire, Iceman and Jean to use his power to both close the portal and send the X-Men home, while keeping everyone else alive on the other side. The act nearly kills him, however, but Colossus revives his brother, who is stunned to learn they have a sister while wondering if Colossus and his friends do this sort of thing every day.

Firsts and Other Notables
John Byrne is out, Scott Lobdell is in as the new scripter (though Byrne will get co-scripter credit on issue #288), with Byrne leaving due to similar shenanigans as drove Claremont off the book - late pages, last minute rewrites, etc.  Lobdell will stick around, scripting over Lee and/or Portacio's plots, under the pair leave and he's given full control of the series with issue #291, after which he'll stick around, occasionally writing both this book and X-Men, until issue #350. Even moreso than the Image guys who relaunched the franchise in 1991, Lobdell is arguably, for good and bad, the defining voice of the X-Men in the 90s.

Mr. Fantastic, Hank Pym and Nick Fury all appear briefly in this issue, as experts contacted by Professor X regarding the growing threat of the portal on Earth.


Jim Lee provides the cover for this issue.

Sales continue to rise, as the Statement of Ownership printed in this issue lists the average number of copies sold during the preceding twelve months as 460,875, up from 415,961 in the previous statement, with the actual number sold of the issue nearest to the filing date as 599,550, up from 404,300.

A Work in Progress
This issue presents us with an origin of sorts for Mikhail, explaining that his death (as referenced in X-Men #99) was faked, and that he was then sent to explore the portal that later sucked in the X-Men and Sunfire. There, he ended up marrying the daughter of the Worldly Avatar, until he realized that the Avatar's forces had slain his crew members before he awoke, at which point he rebels and tries to destroy the portal, which ends with most of his rebel followers dead.


Iceman is apparently a Mets fan.


Archangel's wings once again act of their own accord.


The forces Archangel is leading against the rebels are called the Posses Comitatus. Not that any of this will ever be referenced again.

Mikhail, who disappeared before she was born, learns of Illyana this issue, and Colossus makes a joke about her age.


The Grim 'n' Gritty 90s
Mikhail's cosmonaut armor is very 90s, and very reminiscent of Sunfire's updated look.

An ad for one of those comics wholesalers in this issue is running a hologram special, and features the cover image of the Hulk wielding two big guns from Incredible Hulk #390.


I'm pretty sure this issue gives us our first good look at Archangel's terrible blond 90s mullet.


Colossus mentions that his country is crumbling around him, a reference to then-contemporaneous fall of the Soviet Union, a comment that is probably problematic in the sliding timeline.


Claremontisms
Anyone who thinks Claremont was bad when it came to having characters refer to other characters by nicknames needs to read this issue, as Colossus and Mikhail call each other about a half dozen different names across two languages throughout it ("Misha", "Kavon", etc.). Lobdell will quickly display a tendency to ape (and exaggerate) this particular Claremontism.

Artistic Achievements
Early in the issue, Mikhail says there will be time for explanations about what happened to him later, then proceeds to offer up that explanation...on the next page.

Bullpen Bulletins
This month's Cool-o-Meter doesn't like pregnant women on magazine covers or Scarlett. It also has Rintrah in entirely the wrong place (he belongs closer to the top).


It's in the Mail
Letters in this issue mostly all rave about Bishop and call for him to join the team, something the responses pretty much confirm. There's also a lot of talk (across a couple different letters) about how the introduction of Bishop will affect Storm's relationship with Forge. Given that Bishop and Storm have interacted directly exactly once thus far, and there was zero hint of any romance between them, the assumption seems to be that just because Bishop is black, he will of course end up dating the black woman on the team, even though she's technically romantically linked to another member of the team, which is...disconcerting.

Austin's Analysis
The ending to this little extradimensional jaunt. It helps, of course, that it is ending, and puts to rest the whole slapped together and vaguely-defined alien culture, but it's also helped by the relationship between Mikhail and Colossus. Mikhail will ultimately turn out to be a dud of a character, but he works here (arguably better than any other time, ever) because of the impact he has on Colossus, a character we do actually care about. Contrasting Mikhail both with the idealized image Colossus has of him as well as Colossus himself when he first joined the X-Men helps ground everything else swirling around in the characters and the history of the series.

The rest of the issue is pretty much nonsense, with little sense of where the characters are in relation to each other and the stuff happening around them, with events just happening because the story needs it to happen, while the art, which in previous chapters was at least consistent, is a mess (I'd have guessed this had multiple inkers, since some of the pages are vastly different from others; apparently, Portacio was just rushed). But at least in the Colossus/Mikhail material there's something of substance, allowing this otherwise forgettable and mostly pointless story to go out on a relative strong note.

Next Issue
Tomorrow, Cable gets a flashback in X-Force #8. Friday, the "War and Peace" crossover continues in X-Factor #76. Next week, Sabretooth joins the fray in X-Men #6.

Collected Editions

23 comments:

  1. I don't remember where I read it, but one of the reasons Byrne quit was due to what he felt were, unreasonably, short deadlines to turn in scripts (due, no doubt, to getting plots, late, from Lee and Portacio). Reportedly, Lobdell had, literally, turned his first script around overnight. If the art was rushed on this issue (and I agree with you...it sure looked like it), so, too, was the writing.

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    1. Yeah, I have a quote from Byrne in COMICS CREATORS ON X-MEN that I forgot to pull for this issue; I'll probably include it in next week's X-MEN #6 post (since Lobdell takes over for Byrne there as well).

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  2. About Archangel, I think this is also the first indication that he has hair at all AND that his costume was not part of his skin (as previously implied). Incidentally, this also starts the slow process of "De-Archangel-ing" Warren, as he has his luxorious blond mane here. A few issues later the long-runing subplot about his wings will be put to rest (despite being invoked in this very storyline, bizarrely enough). A few years worth of issue's will get rid of the metal wings altogether (with a few stops to restoring his "wealthy playboy" status and his original costumes along the way). And then about a decade later they'll finally get around to giving Warren his white skin back. Of course by THAT point, nostalgia kicks in and the reversal is all quickly reversed (only to be rapidly changed YET AGAIN. Ah, comics.)

    I wonder if Mikhail was a victim of the big "Image X-odus." Like the Portacio/Lee brigade had plans for him but they forgot to tell the incoming staff about their intentions so Lobdell and company were stuck with a character they had no idea what to do with. Since the early Lobdell issues seem to be concern with character detritus cleanup (see also: The Morlocks) I guess he and the editors decided to chuck ol' Mikhail in there too before they could establish proper characterization. (although his eventual behavior does tie into later implications that the whole Rasputin family might suffer from some type of...genetic?...mental illness.)

    And yeah the whole idea of Storm and Bishop getting together was just...odd and full of Unfortunate Implications (of course I've heard that Bishop was suppose to be Filipino and become Black because of executive fiat. I wonder if THIS is one of the reasons they had in mind?)

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    1. About Archangel, I think this is also the first indication that he has hair at all AND that his costume was not part of his skin (as previously implied).

      I could have sworn it was established prior to this story that Archangel's costume was a costume (if not that he still had blond hair), but I can't find where it was. Maybe "X-Tinction Agenda"? Did his costume get torn by Wolverine during their fight in UXM #272?

      At the very least, this issue doesn't confirm that he still has blond hair/removable costume, since we saw him cowl-less in #284.

      I wonder if Mikhail was a victim of the big "Image X-odus." Like the Portacio/Lee brigade had plans for him but they forgot to tell the incoming staff about their intentions so Lobdell and company were stuck with a character they had no idea what to do with.

      I think this is exactly what happened. They seemed to have some ideas for him, but then left, and Lobdell writes him out so fast it's pretty clear he had no idea what to do with the character (or any interest in writing him).

      of course I've heard that Bishop was suppose to be Filipino and become Black because of executive fiat. I wonder if THIS is one of the reasons they had in mind?

      Bishop's race was changed by editorial fiat, though the stated reason was simply because editorial believed the book had a large following of African-American male fans, and wanted to reach out to that demographic.

      http://goodcomics.comicbookresources.com/2015/09/25/comic-book-legends-revealed-542/

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    2. @Teebore: // I could have sworn it was established prior to this story that Archangel's costume was a costume (if not that he still had blond hair), //

      We saw his costume torn away to reveal blue skin in X-Factor #46 (during “Judgment Day”).

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  3. Sorry dudes but when they interacted the one time Bishop was noting how beautiful and commanding Storm was, only to find himself then threatened by her by his own shotgun and shouted at point blank. That's one ship fully fueled and ready to go. If this was an episode of Frasier...

    But Scarlett. Joanna Whalley-Kilmer (wife of Val's) and Timothy Dalton as Rhett Butler. It's cute that a 90's comicbook presumes to have anything on anyone about taking a loved property and going all 90's on it. It's like an admission of sorts.

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    1. ... and now that I actually go check things up after having indulged in showing off with using my memory up for perfectly useless facts, I realize they are of course talking of the novel Scarlett, the TV miniseries coming out only in 1994. Funnily Ann-Margret will be cast in a role, but I seriously doubt that is for the Coolometer considerations.

      The point of course stands. Poor Rintrah apparently has too little cyber on himself and no big gun. (that did not start as mockery for 90's Johnny Blaze, but now that I realized the connotation myself it certainly finishes as one)

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    2. Well, I'll give you this: their shotgun exchange in issue #283 is probably as much a justification for a romance as Storm and Black Panther had when they got married...

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    3. No, that one goes back to Claremont and MTU #100. Core canon.

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    4. Yes, Claremont established a history between the two characters, but I maintain that "knew each other as kids" doesn't automatically mean "let's get married", especially when the amount of interaction between the two characters between that MTU story and their marriage was nearly nothing.

      As Mela says below in regards to Bishop, if the writers had bothered to use that MTU story as a starting point to reunite the characters and develop their relationship over time, culminating in their marriage, fine. Instead, someone at Marvel first decided to pair them up, and then pointed to that MTU story as an instant rationale.

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    5. "Kids." As MTU #100 has it, "They travelled together for a time -- the happiest time on her trek, Ororo remembers fondly". My stance is that they've been at it like rabbits back then, and the story sells the whole thing as a big deal. It is a legitimate build-up point for later romantic relationship, maybe even for a snappy one.

      Your criticism how Marvel played it (poorly) is of course valid, and/but I'm only being intentionally argumentative because Claremont = canon.

      But I must say, Bishop's initial antagonism turning into near-instant Storm-love would be right in the same alley with Loki, Dr. Doom, Dracula... we've seen the symptoms before. With his not being an actual villain it could become into something this time around. The Forge thing seem not to be moving anywhere at least. I wonder what would the letter-writers be saying, what would we if Bishop wasn't black? It's obvious that he'll join the X-Men, he seems to be a bit smitten already by Storm... it's a bit sad if a non-black Bishop would in fact be considered a more appropriate relationship prospect for Storm.

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    6. I don't see the problem with Bishop being attracted to Storm in and of itself; that certainly is consistent with how other men, particularly villains, seem to react to her.

      I'm more bothered by the letter writers' assumptions that Bishop and Storm are clearly destined for a relationship, when there's so little contextual evidence of that. Bishop is attracted to her, sure, if we're being generous (he may also just find her attractive, which isn't quite the same thing), but that's about it. Storm shows no romantic interest in him. So why assume they're bound for romance?

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    7. I grant it that the letter writers certainly don't seem to suggest that Malcolm or Randall would end up in romantic relationship with Storm, though obviously it's Bishop who's the top dog of them and who does the most of them. On side note I must say it would've been awesome if Randall and Forge had ended up in love rivalry instead in all their moustached ponytailed splendor.

      The context of the letters is that the writers have only read of Bishop in #283 this far. I absolutely abhor suggesting that it's partially coming from the benefit of hindsight that makes the in-later-know non-realized suggestions of Bishop/Storm relationship in the letters stand out in bad way, but I must maintain that there is enough of clicheic ship-fodder in the #283 to go on from. There's Bishop saying point blank: "You are everything I would have wished Ororo to be!", and the issue ends with Storm stating: "This man Bishop has... touched a nerve. He is a most formidable force..."

      At this point the reader knows better than the X-Men that Bishop is a good guy, and that it's pretty much obvious that Bishop will be siding if not downright joining the X-Men in not too far future. It's not such a stretch for the reader that a romantic relationship is a possible direction to go when it's obviously gone a bit personal already between the leaders of the X-Men and the XSE faction. The motivation for the letter writers' rooting such a ship may of course be a token shipping one, so there's that, but it's not like Marvel hasn't been handing out kind-of obvious building blocks. One of the letters (Uncle Elvis) is in my opinion is only acknowledging this rather than promoting for it so it's that one guy really (they probably had a plenty more those letters to choose from, though).

      The zeitgeist of the time is that the X-Men generally are entering into romantically very active era. I don't know the actual timeline of things out of heart (I think it's mostly still on its way by #283), but there's Gambit/Rogue happening and Scott/Betsy about to happen, and WOLVERINE was just hinting at Logan/Jean. It's all like the readership (or maybe the creatorship) has been hungering for this stuff. The letter writers obviously aren't commenting on #285, but in the letter col there's a letter complaining of Storm's tenseness and coldness and gets answered that "we think Ororo is soon going to have time to relax and explore her friendships and relationships".

      I was reading it real-time month-by-month, but can't remember at all if I had any thoughts on the matter back then (probably not, because I'm a big fan of Forge). I instantly liked Randall though. But, I think I was more in a shock over why is everything had suddenly turned into so flashy nonsense, and moreover I have always strongly mostly opposed X-Man/X-Man romancing. That Claremont guy was okay in seeking them their romantic interests from outside the team and then having the love interests around as supporting characters. Anyone remember the time when we had supporting characters? (he says, ending his devil's advocacy to recollection of Amanda Sefton)

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  4. "old friend"? I never got the impression that Xavier knew Forge, let alone considered him a friend.

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    1. Yeah, some combination of Lee, Portacio, Byrne and Lobdell seems to have misunderstood the history between Forge and Xavier at this time (they were also very chummy over their chess game in issue #282), like they were old colleagues working together again, when, in fact, the two had barely interacted with one another previously.

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  5. Between Planet Hollywood still being a thing and Squirrel Girl being on the list, that Cool-ometer is a fascinating little time capsule. It took me a while to even remember that Scarlett was a thing.

    There's also a lot of talk (across a couple different letters) about how the introduction of Bishop will affect Storm's relationship with Forge.

    Kind of a good thing this rolled off the pier like it did. "Token shipping" like this is inevitably tired & creatively bankrupt, although if they had had, say, more than one interaction & let it build with time (a year's worth of stories would be ideal) it would have worked. But as it was, it would have been a dress rehearsal for the flat, forced romance Storm & Black Panther were both saddled with in the 2000s.

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    1. I love those Cool-o-Meters just for their time capsule appeal. And you're right that as bad as the implications of a Storm/Bishop relationship are here, it's even sadder that the same mentality seemed to exist over ten years later, and was taken even further...

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  6. The Awesome and Terrible Mullet of Archangel!

    // Mr. Fantastic, Hank Pym and Nick Fury all appear briefly in this issue, as experts contacted by Professor X regarding the growing threat of the portal on Earth. //

    I always like seeing the great minds / appropriate organizations / other representatives of the superhero world contacted, as Xavier does here, even if it’s essentially a superficial nod with the result of them having no information or solutions / being unavailable to help.

    That “old friend” didn’t sound right to me either, so I’m glad it got called out above to reassure me I hadn’t forgotten some revelation of a shared past between Xavier and Forge.

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    1. Re: other Marvel experts contacted, I think the X-Men are a bit of a-holes in this regard. When Reed Richards contacts Prof Xavier, he's always like "you're the foremost expert in mutants/psychology, so we desperately need your help with Karma/Madrox/whoever". When the X-Men on the other hand have something going on, they contact everyone on their face-phone just to hear them say that they really can't help because of lack of information etc.

      I think this is the single biggest think contributing to mutant hatred in Marvel universe, and the main reason why the X-Men most of the time can't contact anyone when there is a crisis is that the other superteams just don't bother answering the phone anymore. "Cap, it's the X-Men!" "Let it ring. The smug bastards are gonna do it themselves anyway like always and just want us for cheerleaders."

      "Now they got something huge going on in Dallas! And the X-Factor got something up right here in NY!" "*snort* Tell them we're kept in reserves till we see which one is worse. We're off to play poker at Grimm's."

      And the one time the other teams choose to give them the benefit of the doubt, it's Onslaught.

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  7. Why is non-sexual harassment cool? "I nearly drove this guy to suicide but I did in a totally non-sexual manner." "Cool."

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  8. The Rasputin family has a penchant for disappearing through portals into other dimensions, and not coming out until they are much much older. Not even Piotr's li'l Savage Land bastard was immune.

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  9. "Lobdell will stick around, scripting over Lee and/or Portacio's plots, under the pair leave and he's given full control of the series with issue #291, after which he'll stick around, occasionally writing both this book and X-Men, until issue #350. Even moreso than the Image guys who relaunched the franchise in 1991, Lobdell is arguably, for good and bad, the defining voice of the X-Men in the 90s."

    For me it's good. I don't love all of what Lobdell did, but, as I've been noting over at my own blog in my ongoing reviews of various X-Men collected editions, Lobdell's (and Fabian Nicieza's) X-Men are my X-Men -- and I do think Lobdell wrote some legitimately good stories during his run. There were certainly clunkers and poor decisions in there as well, but I feel the same way about Chris Claremont on that front (the difference is Claremont has a sample size three times larger than Lobdell's, so his missteps aren't as glaring in that long span).

    That said, I don't think Lobdell really gets a handle on the series for another year or so, until roughly issue 300. But in any case, I'm looking forward to a few years of Lobdell (and Nicieza) action here at Gentlemen of Leisure.

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  10. Does anyone know why Scott Lobdell was chosen to follow up Claremont & Byrne?

    I had never come across his name before X-men, and we've barely seen him on anything since -- until Bob Harras brought him out of obscurity and threw him onto a few high profile DC assignments which he didn't last long on.

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