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Wednesday, September 7, 2016

X-amining X-Men (vol. 2) Annual #1

"The Slaves of Destiny (Shattershot Part 1)" / "X-Men Villains Gallery"
1992

In a Nutshell
Arize escapes Mojoworld and is rescued by the X-Men.

Writer: Fabian Nicieza, Dan Slott (2nd Story)
Layouts: Jim Lee
Pencilers: P. Craig Russell, Brian Stelfreeze, Adam Hughes, Stuart Immonen, Dan Panosian, Greg Capullo, Mark Texiera, Karl Altstaetter (2nd Story),
Inkers: P. Craig Russell, Brian Stelfreeze, Joe Rubinstein, Harry Candelario, Dan Panosian, Mark Texiera, Scott Williams & Brad Vancata (2nd Story)
Letterers: Tom Orzechowski, Lois Buhalis
Colorist: Joe Rosas
Editor: Bob Harras
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco

Plot
As Mojo's forces capture rebel leader Quark, Mojo himself supervises the hunt for Arize, the scientist who first created the spined slave race now in rebellion. But Arize escapes to Earth before being captured, and Mojo vows to bring him home to make more slaves. Meanwhile, the X-Men are training in the Danger Room when Cerebro detects the arrival of Arize, somewhere in Afghanistan, and Professor X dispatches the team to investigate. They find him in the midst of a Muhajedin camp, his memory and mind scrambled by the effects of the travel to Earth. Just then, a team of hunters dispatched by Mojo to capture Arize, including a reprogrammed Quark and cameramen transmitting events back to Mojoworld live, arrive on the planet. As Psylocke telepathically learns that Arize knows Longshot, the hunters attack. The X-Men ultimately force them to retreat back to Mojoworld, but Cyclops stops Wolverine & Rogue from following, despite the potential of finding their lost teammate, saying their mission is to protect Arize. The X-Men then leave for the mansion with Arize in tow, while Mojo refuses to send another team to retrieve him, citing the public failure of the last one, declaring he'll create slaves for sport without his help.

2nd Story: Wolverine uses the Danger Room to teach Jubilee about the X-Men's greatest villains, concluding that their biggest enemy is fear and hatred.

Firsts and Other Notables
Continuing the format from the previous two years, Marvel's 1992 annuals tell a series of isolated stories across three or four chapters, usually winding through related titles' annuals. Thanks to the launch of X-Men vol. 2, the X-office now has enough series (at least, of ones that regularly publish annuals) to tell its own four part story without roping a Fantastic Four or New Warriors annual to round out the quartet, and the end result is "Shattershot", which begins here, then continues in Uncanny X-Men Annual #16, X-Factor Annual #7, and X-Force Annual #1. This is the last year of the "four part story" annuals, with next year featuring the somewhat infamous "introduce a new character in every annual!" approach.

The story is centered on happenings inside the Mojoverse, specifically Longshot's doomed rebellion against Mojo (as seen in X-Men #7) and the flight of his creator, Arize, to Earth, thus continuing Mojo's big year.

As such, while Longshot himself doesn't appear in this issue (aside from some memory flashes and references in dialogue), a number of characters from his original limited series, in addition to Mojo, do, including Arize (whose name, I've only recently realized, is a play on the fact that he created spined slaves for Mojo, enabling them to walk upright or "arise"), the ram-headed Quark, and animalistic bounty hunters Gog and Magog. Likely due to his role in this story (and his appearance on the Longshot-centric episode of the animated series), Quark will eventually receive his own action figure, one of the notable "even *they* got an action figure?!?" characters from the zenith of the line.


Mojo II, who at this point in time has already received his own trading card, makes his first appearance at the very end of the main story in this issue, though he only appears in shadows.


A backup story in this issue is a rundown of the X-Men's top ten villains of all time, setup as a Danger Room sequence presented to Jubilee by Wolverine. Several of Marvel's '92 annuals did a similar kind of story. The rankings are: #10 - Mojo, #9 - The Reavers, #8 - The Sentinels, #7 - the Brood, #6 - The Upstarts, #5 - Omega Red, #4 - Apocalypse, #3 - Mr. Sinister and the Marauders, #2 - Magneto and the Acolytes and #1 - Hatred/Intolerance (I seem to recall the other ranking backup stories trying to end with a similar "not an actual villain" approach, possibly to prevent declaring any one villain as specifically #1, but it mostly works here).


In addition to the two stories, this annual features several pinups, featuring art from Tom Raney, Greg Capullo and Andy Kubert, amongst others. The image of Gambit in the Kubert pinup is one of those that I think got reprinted a lot in various licensed and marketing material.


There's also a pair of Marvel Handbook-style cutaways, featuring the X-Mansion  and the Blackbird.


Jim Lee provides the cover and a pin-up to the issue, but otherwise is only credited with layouts. Still, that represents the most direct involvement of a series' regular artist in one of its annual since possibly ever (at least amongst the X-Books).

Instead of Lee, we get a jam issue of pencilers, notably including P. Craig Russell, Stuart Immonen, future superstar artist Adam Hughes, and future Wolverine penciler Mark Texiera.

X-Force scripter Fabian Nicieza writes this issue, his first work on the Adjectiveless series (he will soon become the new regular writer of the series).

Current (and longtime) Amazing Spider-Man writer Dan Slott writes the backup story, some of his earliest work at Marvel.

The Chronology Corner
The main story takes place between issues #7 and #8 of the regular series,

The second story is considered to take place at the same time, with Wolverine and Jubilee appearing there after a string of appearances in Wolverine's solo series that come after X-Men #7 and before #8. However, they are both wearing older costumes in the story - Wolverine his brown-and-orange one, Jubilee the standard yellow-and-blue X-Men uniform from just before the linewide relaunch. However, it has to take place after issue #7, since Omega Red is referenced as one of the X-Men's top villains. Presumably, this was either commissioned back before the costume changes (and Omega Red was either slotted in after the fact, or included even before his first official appearance), or the artist was working off outdated model sheets.

A Work in Progress
Quark exclaims "Za's Vid!", a favorite oath of Shatterstar's, a nice bit of continuity likely the result of Nicieza writing this issue as well as X-Force.

Mojo notes that without Spiral to help guide Arize through the dimensional pathways between Mojoworld and Earth, he could lose his mind; when he arrives on Earth, he has lost his memory, which becomes a plot point in the story.

Both Wolverine and Psylocke (who were his teammates during the Outback Era) are upset that Cyclops won't let them pursue Mojo's forces, hoping to find their lost teammate, another nice use of continuity.

In the second story, Wolverine mentions that his only encounter with Apocalypse thus far was a robot duplicate, a reference to The Jungle Adventure.

The Grim 'n' Gritty 90s
The X-Men have to tread lightly in Afghanistan due to recent events, and the Soviet invasion of the country is referenced.

There's a funny bit where Quark comes across the X-Men, and stutters out "the X--, the X--" and Beast finishes "Men, Force, Factor, it all does get so confusing". He then declares that "Factor does it with a modicum of humor, Force with an overabundance of testosterone", and the Men with a style and panache the others try, and fail, to emulate.


The Upstarts, ranked at #6 in the X-Men villains list, features at least one person we've never seen before (I'm also not sure why the guy I assume is Shinobi has some kind of energy power). It's possible she's supposed to be Sienna Blaze, but she looks nothing like the Blaze featyred in the trading card, or the one who actually appears in a comic next year.


The Best There Is, Mon Ami
Gambit describes himself as an X-Man "by default more than desire".


Young Love 
Rogue & Gambit do a fair amount of flirting throughout this issue, both during the Danger Room sequence and latter during the fight with Mojo's forces.


Like a Phoenix, From the Ashes
When Jubilee suggests that Dark Phoenix is the X-Men's #1 villain, Wolverine remarks that she's "played out", possibly a reference on Slott's part to the franchise's repeated returns to that particular well over the years.


Austin's Analysis
"Shattershot", as we'll see, isn't a terribly good story, with some decent bits here and there that never quite coalesce into a cohesive whole, in part because the Mojoverse, despite the apparent push from the editorial office around this time, isn't the most captivating or rich setting around which to build a four (double-sized) part story. But this introductory chapter is fine. I'm not a huge fan of artistic jam issues (at least not in service of an otherwise straightforward plot) and I wonder just how big an impact Jim Lee had as the layout artist, but this gets the job done, introducing the central conflict of the story and the character the narrative is centered on (Arize), giving each of the members of the team a spotlight moment, and setting things up for the next chapter of the story. It's pretty basic and formulaic, but it's not bad.

If anything, its biggest sin is how unremarkably good or bad it is. Honestly, I'm much more interested in the tossed-off backup story ranking the X-Men's villains, since it's such a fascinating snapshot of the times. Of course, the still mostly unformed Upstarts get a slot, complete with an unrecognizable character. Even more of its time is Omega Red at #5, a villain the X-Men have faced precisely once (and may not have even debuted at the time this story was created). Mojo probably doesn't warrant even the #10 spot, but given the focus of the annual's main story, he probably had to be included. The Brood are likely here because they're slated to be the villains of the upcoming Ghost Rider crossover (see also: the Jim Lee trading cards and "Things to Come" pinup in X-Men #1), but all three of their encounters with the X-Men are fairly significant, and are enough to warrant their inclusion for reasons beyond marketing ones. The Reavers getting the #9 spot is actually a surprising show of respect, given how callously and seemingly-disdainfully they were dispatched in Uncanny #281, but given how much they dominated the non-team years, they deserve the spot, at least in 1992.

More telling are the absences. Dark Phoenix gets acknowledged and the Hellfire Club was likely considered replaced by the Upstarts at the time, but Proteus (whose reprinted appearances in Classic X-Men and return in the previous years' annuals weren't that old at the time) is missing, as is Arcade (who may not be a favorite of mine but certainly fought the X-Men in various iterations several times through the years). More glaring is the absence of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants (aka the X-Men's direct thematic opposite) and Juggernaut, but maybe those two were considered the province of X-Force at the time (while Apocalypse, whom the X-Men have yet to technically face, got ported over when the original X-Factor rejoined the team).

All in all, it's a fascinating look at what the X-office considered the top villains at the time (I'm assuming the list isn't entirely Slott's own creation), a curious and sometimes maddening look at a transitional period, when the old classics still loomed large even while new creators were trying to break new ground, only to abandon that ground before doing much actual breaking of it. In the end, it's much more interesting than the otherwise cromulent main story.

Next Issue
Arize's story continues in Uncanny X-Men Annual #16. Then Spiral gets the spotlight in X-Factor Annual #7, and finally, we leap into the future in X-Force Annual #1.

8 comments:

  1. When did Starhawk join the Marauders?

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  2. Every regular annual had a Top 10 list that year, althro with Spidey having 3 regular series and 1 premium at the time the other two annuals had a different Top 10 (one of which was Spidey's top 10 Team-Ups, and another was 10 embarrassing moments like having to teach the Beyonder how to use the bathroom). I don't remember what Factor did, and I won't spoil Force, but those I remember:

    Darkhawk: had a list, but since he was only created a year before the villainy was mild, and he had to borrow from the "legends in their own minds" New Warriors to feel out his list.

    Iron Man: His list was done as an official periodical from whatever business he ran at the time

    Avengers West Coast: they were grouped around the kitchen trying hard to come up with ten to call their own

    Hulk: Rick Jones SANG the list, with the Hulk telling him it won't play in Peoria...and it ha better NOT be played anywhere.

    Captain America: over a date just after Diamondback was still traumatized by a villainess (that she eventually killed when she recovers), Cap names them off.

    Guardians of the Galaxy: Nikki goes over a tutorial with Talon over their top villains, with the Badoon topping the list

    I'm both proud and ashamed I came up with all of those on top of my head. ;) Don't know why I don't remember the New Warriors one.

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    Replies
    1. The New Warriors one was Speedball listing his top 10 Villains and the top one being his math teacher.

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    2. Ah yes, now I remember. Then again, they'd only been around for 2 years so they'd also have trouble filling out a list.

      Thanks Anon.

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  3. My personal gold standard for Top something villains feature is the one with Fred Hembeck art in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN ANNUAL #23, and specifically for the reason that it more or less seem to avoid the recency bias. This one is a totally contrary example with the X-office overselling their new supposed cool villains. The X-Men is the super group that you can't gloss over the published history, at least not yet at this time. Sauron or goddamn Garokk or even the Savage Land mutates should be there before Omega Ted. It's pure "tell, not show" to have these new arrivals there without them having done anything on panel to warrant it.

    I assume you mean the Mystique iteration of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, and I agree they and them as the Freedom Force is a most glaring omission not at all rectified by the fact that they seem to be in Val Cooper's (and the government's) good books nowadays somewhat suddenly and inexplicably. Their lack is like doing away the thematic backbone of the Claremont run with BoEM turning from the initiators of the DoFP future to the dogs of war for the mutant-suspicious government and the effect of it to the public standing of the X-Men.

    I notice I may have failed to realize how deep the re-launch really went.

    But, on the matter of role revelsals and public standing, them Mujahedin though.

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  4. "this annual features several pinups"

    And the pin-ups here and in Uncanny (I think Uncanny had them too) are arguably some of the better stuff we see in these issues.

    "Instead of Lee, we get a jam issue of pencilers"

    I actually liked the look of this issue. Panosian aside, just about everyone else does solid work, and quite a few others that you didn't point out (Capullo, Texiera) become X-artists in their own right. I thought it was a good looking issue, and the different artists meshed well. It doesn't quite work as Uncanny #273 did, since everyone there was mostly drawing their own scene, but overall, it isn't a bad looking issue. The coloring helps quite a bit too.

    "was either slotted in after the fact"

    No pun intended, of course.

    "The X-Men have to tread lightly in Afghanistan due to recent events"

    And there is a nice throwback to the Wolverine "I didn't know you speak Japanese"/"You never asked" scene with the Beast and him speaking Pashtu (or whichever Afghani language it was).

    "It's possible she's supposed to be Sienna Blaze, but she looks nothing like the Blaze featyred in the trading card, or the one who actually appears in a comic next year."

    It could be the artist was given the wrong model sheets, as with Wolverine and Jubilee. Or just given an early version. Or an off-model version of the woman who tried to kill Emma Frost. Or another character entirely that we never saw. Given how none most of the characters Portacio drew as Upstarts were never seen again or named, it's possible.

    What's interesting is that this is the second reference to Cortez being an Upstart, even though it has yet to mentioned in either X-men title. I guess this was one of the few things Lee and Portacio planned that went through as intended after they left.

    ""Shattershot", as we'll see, isn't a terribly good story, with some decent bits here and there that never quite coalesce into a cohesive whole, in part because the Mojoverse, despite the apparent push from the editorial office around this time, isn't the most captivating or rich setting around which to build a four (double-sized) part story."

    It could have been a decent story if Shattershot and the upcoming Mojo storyline actually continued into one another. But really, neither has much to do with the other, besides Mojo II wanted to also usurp Mojo. And even then, the sinister edge he has here becomes much more altruistic and benevolent by the time we get to the story in X-men itself. You can read either story without reading the other, and it won't have any impact on the reader. But we'll get to that later.

    As for the countdown, I think pretty much all the choices were mandated from editorial/marketing. Other than Apocalypse, they're all people already featured in the reboot stories (The Sentinels, The Reavers, Magneto), those appearing in upcoming stories (The Brood, Mojo), or the Lee & Portacio's new pet characters (Upstarts, Omega Red). Sinister could have been discounted on the same basis as Juggernaut and TBOEM since he could now be X-factor's problem, but I guess they needed an even 10...and poor Magneto. While its nice he is included with the Reavers even though he is "dead", his spot also gets hi-jacked by new pet characters. It isn't just Magenoto, it's Magneto and the Upstarts! But yes, sad to see Mystique, Freedom Force/TBOEM, Juggernaut, and the Shadow King not mentioned at all.

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  5. I get why Mojo refers to others as “bipeds” — likewise, when the distinction was being drawn with him specifically, Mojo’s lackeys. What I don’t get is why all the two-legged, humanoid Mojoworlders refer to the Earth people that way. I honestly wondered if Nicieza knew what the word meant.

    // we get a jam issue of pencilers, notably including P. Craig Russell, Stuart Immonen, future superstar artist Adam Hughes, and future Wolverine penciler Mark Texiera. //

    Such great art in the service of a story about which I could hardly care less, in particular the early chapters from PCR, Stelfreeze, and Hughes.

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  6. Hm. I'd say the most notable thing about this issue is the cover, which is still great, and I feel has been used pretty frequently for TPB and other marketing stuff. It's a toss-up between this and his cover to X-Men #11 as to which one serves as his final iconic cover.

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