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Wednesday, September 21, 2016

X-amining X-Men (vol. 2) #8

"Tooth and Claw"
May 1992

In a Nutshell
Bishop meets the Blue Team, and the X-Men meet Gambit's wife.

Plot & Pencils: Jim Lee
Script: Scott Lobdell
Finishes: Lee & Thibert
Letters: Tom Orzechowski
Colors: Joe Rosas
Editor: Bob Harras
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco

Plot
As Wolverine searches fruitlessly for more information about his past, Professor X & Storm introduce Bishop to the Blue team. Upon meeting Gambit, he recognizes him as the Witness from his timeline, and tells the X-Men how they are betrayed and murdered by one of their own in the future. Nonplussed for the time being, Xavier insists on continuing with the X-Men's planned picnic, saying they need some downtime. At the lake, Gambit & Rogue attempt to have a picnic together, but they are interrupted by Bishop, who angrily attacks Gambit. The two fight until Rogue's fury over the destruction of the pie she baked causes them to laughingly stop, at which point all three are blasted from behind by a woman named Bella Donna, whom Gambit says is his wife. Back at the X-Mansion, Gambit & Bella Donna explain how their marriage was meant to maintain a peace between their rival Guilds, until Gambit was forced into exile. Now, that peace has been shattered, and Gambit feels it his duty to return to New Orleans to try to rebuild it. His fellow X-Men agree to join him and depart for the city, at the same time that Ghost Rider arrives there as well.

Firsts and Other Notables
While I had as a kid previously picked up an occasional comic book here and there without ever really thinking anything of it, this is the first issue of X-Men I ever bought and read, as I finished the transition from baseball cards to Marvel trading cards to comics, and it kicked off a regular habit that continues to this day, having bought every issue of X-Men published to this date (though with the current habit of constantly relaunching books with new volumes and adjectives slapped before the name "X-Men", it's harder to define which series, if any, is the "main" X-Men title anymore), with the habit quickly expanding from there into more and more series, across multiple companies, and, really, changing my life in some small, but fundamental, ways.

Bishop is introduced to the Blue team, and he immediately drops cryptic hints about their future (calling Forge "Genesis" and Jubilee the last X-Man) and picking fights with Gambit, whom he quickly recognizes as the Witness.


Bishop also refers to Cyclops as the X-Men's greatest leader, which gets an icy response from Storm but does a lot to endear me to him.


The X-traitor storyline becomes a thing within the context of the series' universe this issue, as Bishop tells the X-Men about their future betrayal and deaths, and that Gambit is the only one to have witnessed it.


Teased a bit in Uncanny #288, this is the issue where the "Psylocke flirts with Cyclops, it seems like maybe its nefarious for awhile, then it isn't, and it quietly goes away" subplot really begins, with Psylocke attracting Cyclops attention while emerging from the lake, much to Jean's dismay, which in turns seems to amuse Psylocke, in a scene that quite possibly may have jumpstarted puberty for me (as much, if not more, for Jean than Psylocke).


This issue introduces Bella Donna, Gambit's wife, and with her, a big chunk of backstory about Gambit (the first real concerted effort to provide any concrete info on the character prior to his first appearance), who is from a group of thieves called the Thieves Guild, and who married Bella Donna to maintain a truce with the rival Assassins Guild (he then killed his brother-in-law in self-defense and fled New Orleans, in a tale not unlike what Nightcrawler did to his foster brother). All of this business with Guilds will, for better and worse (mostly worse), stick around, and come to prominence pretty much anytime Gambit gets the spotlight, across multiple titles, two Gambit-led limited series and his later solo series. So get used to it...


For now, it's merely setup for the series' crossover with Ghost Rider, the third and final "one X-book/one main Marvel Universe" crossover of the year (following in the footsteps of X-Force/Spider-Man and X-Factor/Incredible Hulk). Both the X-Men and Ghost Rider were sales juggernauts, so it's not surprise to see the two books crossing over at the height of the speculator bubble.

The Chronology Corner
This issue takes place before Uncanny X-Men #288, and thus the entire Ghost Rider crossover does as well.

A Work in Progress
This issue opens with Wolverine attempting to discover more about his past following the events of recent issues. Later, he complains to Professor X about those events, along with all the memory shenanigans happening in his own series, has led him to feel like he's reverting to person he was when he first joined the X-Men, which is really the only time that Larry Hama's attempt to have Wolverine become wilder and more animalistic ever gets acknowledged in this series.


Forge's mutant power is explained as being able to build and repair anything mechanical, which is a bit more specific than in the past.


More future-speak: Bishop mentions the Kelly Exhibit, presumably a reference to Senator Kelly.

In a nice bit of continuity/self-reference, Jean tries to discuss Professor X's reaction to have his legs crushed by the Shadow King back in Uncanny #280.


While Uncanny #287 revealed that Bishop had the Witness had a past together, this issue reveals that the Witness raised Bishop (at least in part).


Young Love
The Gambit/Rogue flirtation kicks up a notch here, with the two attempting to have a picnic together to make up for their aborted date (from issue #4), and Gambit both continuing to insist that he doesn't care about the ramifications of Rogue's power should she touch, and also making a surprisingly-brazen innuendo in response to her declaration that she made him a pie with her own two hands.


Though Storm fails to recognize it, things are prickly between her and Forge, setup for their plotline in Uncanny #289-290.


Austin's Analysis
When I first started this project, there were a handful of issues that I looked to as significant benchmarks, points that, upon reaching would feel like an accomplishment and make me marvel at having reached them. Giant-Size X-Men #1. "The Dark Phoenix Saga" & "Days of Future Past". The linewide relaunch and release of X-Men (vol. 2) #1. And this issue, for entirely personal reasons, because it's the issue that started it all. Everything that came after, every issue bought and read, every convention attended, every review in this series, all started right here, with this otherwise random issue of X-Men I picked up off the new comics shelf at Shinders.

Yet so much of what I love about the X-Men, and superhero comics in general, has seeds in this issue. The convoluted backstories (who is this Bishop guy? Why does he hate Gambit so much? What happened to Xavier's legs?), which suggested an entire world of past events for me to explore, stories beyond just these 22 pages. Wonky time travel stuff (Bishop knows Gambit from the future), one of my favorite narrative elements even back then. The willingness to devote pages to the characters just hanging out together, which helped them come across as real characters, not just ciphers moving through a story as the plot demanded it. References to both past stories (the recently-completed Omega Red arc) and future ones (the upcoming Ghost Rider/Brood crossover), reinforcing the serial nature of the stories, the notion that not only are their stories to read in the past, there's always another one just a month away. And of course, there's probably no demographic more perfectly situated to be captivated by Jim Lee's art than teenage boys (I was eleven when I bought this).

It's no surprise that I have such affection for Classic Claremont Quiet issues because, like issue #4, that's essentially what this is, an issue which introduces Bishop to the Blue team (and anyone reading only this title), showcases some character interactions and relationships (Storm & Forge, Cyclops/Jean/Psylocke, Rogue & Gambit) and one of the series' ongoing subplots (the X-traitor), then sets up the next plot while also serving up a pretty big slice of backstory for the long-mysterious Gambit. I do my best to not hold against this issue that said backstory is a lot of nonsense, and will come to drag down the character with some pretty terrible stories, and it could very easily be argued that Bishop has reached a point of overexposure already, having received two consecutive spotlight issues in Uncanny before being featured heavily in this issue, but his interactions with (and commentary on) the X-Men here is entertaining enough to forgive that (after all, what's the point of having a time travel character if he can't provide analysis and make cryptic comments about other characters' futures?).

Objectively, this is a perfectly fine but ultimately throwaway issue that does some fun stuff with Bishop and sets up a fluffy crossover with Ghost Rider, along with some quiet character moments (and, admittedly, more than a little T&A along the way), but in the grand scheme of the X-Men narrative, it's largely forgettable and mostly unimportant. Nevertheless, for me at least, reaching this point is a milestone, something I've been looking forward to for a long time.

Now on to the next!

Next Issue
Tomorrow, Phoenix battles Necrom in Excalibur #50. Friday, Wolverine goes to Japan in Wolverine #54. Next week, Uncanny X-Men #289.

Collected Editions

17 comments:

  1. I didn't read this one until years after the fact, but I mostly like it. As I've noted before, Bishop was one of my favorite X-Men of the nineties, so I like the spotlight on him here. I also enjoy the rivalry between him and Gambit, which eventually evolves into an unlikely "buddy" duo by the time of "Onslaught" and the reveal of the real X-traitor.

    I've never quite understood why everyone hates the Thieves' and Assassins' Guilds so much. They aren't my favorite aspects of the X-mythos -- or even of Gambit's mythos -- but I don't see anything particularly awful about them either. To me, they've always just sort of existed without eliciting any strong feelings in either direction (and I actually like a lot of Gambit's backstory as later fleshed out by Lobdell and Nicieza, with his brother and Sabretooth and all that).

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    1. Thieves' and Assassins' Guild sound like something that was directly lifted from a work of some other genre and just glued on top of the Gambit character, with an unhealthy dose of Romeo and Juliet on top of that. When Gambit appeared the world was wide open for him to have the coolest backstory ever, and what we then got was ... this. And once they opened the room for "Oh, Romeo", it soon came "Oh, Remy" forevermore, hijacking Rogue for the shenanigans.

      Let me state I do not find it in my heart to actually oppose this direction for her, as I understand she was the no 1 candidate for identifying with for the female readership, but it's a hard direction to stomach when you've got to know her as a Claremont woman.

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  2. Is this the one where the X-computer spits out the word "Barrington"?

    That always seemed dumb to me. What did Logan do, google "Wolverine's mysterious past" and that was the only hit he got? It's just hard to conceive of a scenario in which a computer is used to hack files and then a single word gets spit out, with literally no context.

    We still have Orz on letters! He must have stuck it out until Jim Lee's final issue, yah?

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  3. Also: Jubilee is the "last X-Man"? Yikes, what were they thinking? New X-Men join the team like every other month. Was the "great betrayal" scheduled to happen next Tuesday or something?

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    1. Writers who tackle the X-pocalypse are like people who are obsessed with the Christian Apocalypse. They all act like it's right around the corner, even though neither will ever actually happen.

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    2. Couldn't Jubilee have still been the last X-Man even if others joined after her? There would be nothing to prevent later members from dying or leaving, while Jubilee stuck it out (which is the route Tom DeFalco went in his MC2 universe, where Jubilee became the "Xavier" figure to the X-People).

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    3. Good point, yes. I didn't think of it like that. All right, I withdraw my complaint. :)

      Still don't like the "Barrington" thing though.

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  4. I never cared much for this issue, and always chalked up my indifference to the all-too-common Claremont aping by the X-writers of this period. But reading this review, I went back and changed my mind. The writing still isn't great, and it's way too focused on the "hot" characters of the day, but it's serviceable and a nice change from the non-stop fighting of the past several months.

    Looking now, I think this is around the time I stopped being really wowed by Jim Lee's art. Lee has tremendous talent, but his time on (Adjectiveless) X-Men, and the immense creative power that came with it, really brought out the worst in his pin-up tendencies. There are so many characters in deliberate poses, you'd think their picnic was also a photo shoot for their annual school calendar. Come to think of it, didn't they release a swimsuit issue around this time? (seriously. No, seriously.)

    By the time he got to WildCATS, his pages looked less like sequential art and more like speculative movie posters.

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  5. One thing I've never understood about the X-traitor- when they realized it couldn't be Bishop or Gambit because they were too popular, why couldn't they just have it be Gateway? Jean said the traitor was "one of our own" and they never should have trusted him because they knew so little about him. And Gateway knew Maddie had been turned into the Goblin Queen and didn't warn the X-Men. Making Gateway the X-traitor would have been the easiest way to resolve both danglers instead of the contortions used to make the traitor Xavier.

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    1. My best guess on this would be that, even if they had ruled out Gambit and Bishop, the X-editors still probably wanted the traitor to be a "name" -- especially after the amount of time the plot had been left dangling.

      Making Xavier the traitor may have been questionable given how it really didn't fit with Jean's recording, but it was certainly a genuine surprise at the time, plus there was precedent for it with his dark side having manifested itself in the past. I actually thought the way they tied "Onslaught" into "Fatal Attactions" was pretty clever, too.

      That said, I really like your idea about using Gateway! He would've fit Jean's original message, plus Scott Lobdell reintroduced him to the cast in GENERATION X somewhere between this point and "Onslaught", so it would not have been out of left field, either.

      And -- even though if Gateway had been the traitor it would have changed his story drastically and this probably never would happened -- as I recall, years later Chris Claremont revealed Bishop to be Gateway's great grandson. That would add a pretty nifty extra wrinkle to the whole thing.

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  6. I am back! Forgot about the blog and the X-Men for a while, but thought I would pop in for a look. Glad to see you are still chugging away Teebore, or Austin now (classy!).

    Regarding this issue, I like it. As you so eloquently put, it combines a lot of what we love about the X-Men (character moments, relationships, setup and a bit of action) in a almost Clarmontian manner.

    Bishop is quickly played out, but the "Traitor" storyline had me hooked as a kid... for like a few months, until it was kind of dropped and forgotten about. It could have been so good, especially if they tied into a new Days of Future Past/Present type story. Instead, we get assaulted with Onslaught.

    I know the romance is a bit bad now looking back, especially due to the later issues, but these first few with the Gambit/Rogue flirtation were great as a young pre-pubescent boy. I guess not much has changed, because I still enjoy them.

    They play well off each other, and it seems they both are willing to bend a little bit to be together, even though later nefarious twists will make it seem like Gambit was the one to want Rogue to do all the bending.

    At this point in the mythology, I take the good where I could/can get it. Uncanny was basically unreadable during this time. X-Men was decent through the first 8 issues or so, but was about to go through a mess of horrible, uninteresting garbage that is surprising due to the amount of good/cool characters they had and simmering plots that could have been leveraged. They briefly snap out of it for X-Cutioners Song, then Uncanny becomes better for a while till the Phalanx Covenant. At that time, I lost interest :(

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  7. That Psylocke bit is really odd. Sort of reminiscent of her sort-of-flirtation with Colossus, back in the Australian days. But man, her character is just so one-note by this point. Jim Lee was intent on selling her as the team sexpot, I guess. Not that she was ever my favorite character, but she never really got her due. Claremont had teased some interesting stuff with her before she was turned into a ninja. From that point, just nothing interesting at all. I feel it's too bad there are probably people out there whose only knowledge of Psylocke is as a ninja.

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  8. A couple of weird things about this book that aren't mentioned in the above synopsis (or at least deserve a bit more commentary):

    1) Bishop tells the team that one of their members will betray them, a person they, on hindsight, know little about (as this very issue indicates). So naturally the X-Men just shrug and continue on with their picnic (which is especially bizarre, considering that this is NOT the reaction the team is going to have during the infamous "Revanche" storyline.) Even by this point, time-displacement conspiracy shenanigans left the X-people ratner jaded.

    2)Rogue's schtick (as she's bound to reaveal only a billion times) is that because of her powers, "Ah cain't touch nobody." She's very paranoid about the and often wears full bodysuits. So of course this issue has her dressing for a Katy Perry video while drapping all over Gambit. I guess Jim Lee thought Psylocke wasn't providing enough fanservice so characterization be damned...

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    1. Professor X is so insistent about going on with the picnic that I could only interpret that as strategy on his part, filing away the information to observe Bishop, newcomer Gambit, and even his longtime students with an eye towards Bishop’s would-be future intelligence.

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    2. To be fair to Jim Lee, Rogue had been wearing skimpy outfits when "off duty" for years at this point. Look to UNCANNY 201 and the baseball game drawn by Rick Leonardi as an example -- and she would continue to do for years after under other artists, as well. It really make no sense to me. She's always drawn going out in stuff like cutoffs and tank tops -- there's always a chance that she might accidentally bump into somebody and absorb their memories! You'd think she'd want to avoid even the slightest chance at something like that.

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  9. When did Forge and Storm go cold? Was it known to have been done editorially to pair her with Bishop? Why does Storm appear not to know anything’s wrong?

    I realized as Bishop gave his rundown of the X-Men, saying Jubilee’s the last, that the “Shattershot” finale didn’t seem to take Bishop’s future into account — but I guess an out there is that the team in the mansion went by X-Force and they could’ve relocated to Xavier’s in the wake of the X-Men proper’s destruction after the whole traitor deal.

    Gambit spraying Bishop with energized dirt was a pretty neat idea.

    I may end up exasperated by or even loathing the Guilds — for sure, I have some questions — but right now I just feel thankful to have any kind of backstory or dimensionality added to Gambit. He was at least as much an unknown quantity as Bishop to the X-Men when he joined up, and even more of one to readers. Wolverine is hardly an appropriate analogy since Professor X recruited him.

    // so much of what I love about the X-Men, and superhero comics in general, has seeds in this issue //

    Congrats on the personal milestone! All of that stuff is what I love about superhero comics, too, even if our first issues and Golden Ages were different.

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  10. Speaking of "unraveling the mystery" this issue is also the first time that The X-Men find out Gambit's real name. "We" (the audience) have heard him refered to as "Remy" once before, although I forgot where it occurred.

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