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Wednesday, May 31, 2017

X-amining Uncanny X-Men #298

"...For the Children!"
March 1993

In a Nutshell
The reformed Acolytes attack a school.

Writer: S. Lobdell
Pencils: B. Peterson
Inker: A. Milgrom
Letterer: C. Eliopoulis
Colorist: M. Javins
Editor: B. Harras
Editor-in-Chief: T. DeFalco

Plot
While monitoring the news from his Ready Room, Xavier is interrupted by Bishop, who attempts to tender his resignation from the X-Men, feeling he has failed at assimilating to their methods. Xavier denies his request, reminding him that above all, Xavier's is a school. At another school upstate, Sharon Friedlander is attacked, while Jean & Archangel lead Gambit & Bishop in a Danger Room session. As Storm & Xavier meet in Central Park with Charlotte Jones, Xavier telepathically senses Sharon's distress, and sends the X-Men to the school. They arrive just as the reformed Acolytes attack Tom Corsi, also undercover at the school. They are attempting to capture a would-be mutant child, but upon learning the child has Downs Syndrome, they instead try to kill the boy. The X-Men manage to save the child and force the Acolytes into retreat, but in the wake of the attack, Senator Kelly spins the events to further his anti-mutant agenda, much to the concern of a watching Xavier.

Firsts and Other Notables
This issue re-introduces the Acolytes, establishing that they are continuing to operate in the wake of Magneto's death (something previously established in Avengers #350). With most of the original Acolytes dying alongside Magneto in X-Men #3, this group will be comprised almost entirely of new members (Cortez will eventually be revealed as their leader still, at least at until Magneto returns); this issue introduces a handful of them, with more to come in future issues. This iteration of the Acolytes (with some variations of membership) will become a recurring nemesis for the X-Men throughout much of the 90s, serving a similar role as Mystique's Brotherhood/Freedom Force and the Reavers did in earlier eras.


Amongst the new Acolytes are Unuscione, a young woman with a psionic exo-skeleton (not unlike later X-Men member Armor), who is maybe the daugther of Unus the Untouchable (they share a last name and similar powers, though their relationship has never officially been confirmed), and the Kleinstocks, a group of triplets with vague energy blast powers who can merge into a gestalt form with increased size, strength and mass. Eric is killed in this issue, while Sven and Harlan will remain mainstays of this iteration of the group.

Along with them is Frenzy, former member of the Alliance of Evil and foe of the original X-Factor, who is using the name Cargill (her given last name). We also learn that her first name is Joanna.


Hot on the heels of Stevie Hunter's return in "X-Cutioner's Song", this issue features the return of two more New Mutants veterans, Sharon Friedlander and Tom Corsi, who are revealed to be working undercover for Xavier, guarding a potential mutant. Tom will return for a few issues of Generation X, but Sharon is killed in the course of the issue (something which neither the art nor the story make terribly clear, but which is confirmed next issue).


Senator Kelly also appears in this issue, his first appearance since issue #281, setting up a more significant appearance next issue, the beginning of a few years' stretch in which he'll once again be a regular, if infrequent, presence in the franchise.


With Iceman & Colossus appearing in contemporaneous issues of X-Men, Gambit guest stars in this issue.

Per the Statement of Ownership in this issue, sales are continuing to rise, with the average number of copies sold in the past twelve months listed as 731,425 (compared to 460,875 in the previous statement), while the single issue closest to filing date sold 605,900, compared to 599,550, possibly indicating a sales hit and/or leveling off of sales caused by the Image Exodus (or just indicating a relative "down" issue being published near the filing date).

A Work in Progress
Furthering the connections between Xavier and the other notable fictional character played by the actor who will one day play Xavier in several X-Men movies, this issue reveals that Professor X has a "ready room" in the mansion.


It's also said that Xavier's mutant brain is capable of processing lots of information at once, a heretofore unmentioned aspect of his powers.

Sharon says she has no regrets about coming to work for Xavier, suggesting she's made remarkable progress dealing with the ramifications of that time she and Tom were forced to almost sex themselves to death by Empath.


It's been a long time since the X-Men operated as any kind of teaching unit, but this issue has Jean in an instructor role, working with Bishop and Gambit.


In part, the duos Danger Room session is an attempt to force them to work together following their confrontation in X-Men #8 and the lingering animosity between them.


Charlotte Jones pops up briefly to deliver Xavier some files; I don't think much comes of this, but hey, always nice to see Charlotte Jones.


Gambit is shown to have a past with Frenzy (he knows her first name is "Joanna" and she knows him as Remy), though as far as I know nothing really comes of this - there's no "the secret history between Gambit & Frenzy - revealed!" issue - and instead, it's just another example of the "Gambit has a mysterious past" trope.


Human/Mutant Relations
The young mutant being targeted by the Acolyte's (and protected by Tom & Sharon) has Downs Syndrome; when the Acolytes learn this, they are repulsed and consider the boy inferior, the hypocrisy of which the X-Men point out.


For Sale
There's an ad for a video recording of the animated series pilot, which serves as a reminder that videos were still hella expensive even in the early 90s.


Both Uncanny X-Men #300 and Cable #1 are teased in this issue's Entertainment This Month ad.


It's in the Mail
There's a lengthy letter in this issue from a writer upset that Xavier included homosexuals in his list of people who are affected by prejudice, saying they shouldn't be included with other such people because they "chose" to be gay. It is, thankfully, less rant-y and more even-keeled than it could have been, but the big takeaway is that, unfortunately, it's expressing a sentiment still prevalent in some circles twenty-four years later.


Austin's Analysis
While this issue ostensibly kicks off a three-part story that essentially serves as a prelude to "Fatal Attractions"/teases the return of Magneto in said crossover (which means, it should be noted, the run-up to the next event crossover begins not one full issue after the epilogue to the last crossover event), it does so in fairly old-fashioned way, via three more-or-less standalone issues that nevertheless work together as a whole. Here, the main concern is the reintroduction of Magneto's Acolytes, complete with new members and a renewed zeal, effectively positioning them as the ideological counterparts to the X-Men (since the previous ones - the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants - have been mostly co-opted by other series and no longer have the strong "mutant rights" angle that made them thematic opposites). While many of these new Acolytes are, in hindsight, laughably 90s, there are a few legitimately worthy additions; here, the introduction of both Unuscione and the re-introduction of Frenzy help tie these Acolytes to the narrative's history beyond just their connection to Magneto.

Beyond that, this issue also introduces a couple of plot threads that will run, off and on, throughout Lobdell's time as the series' chief architect: a general worsening of human/mutant relations (something that gets even more attention next issue) and the overall darkening of Xavier (a narrative trick that will be done to death post-Lobdell, but which really starts here), as we see a weary Xavier monitoring events and get the first hints of his network of "underground operatives". All in all, it's a surprisingly prescient issue, one that lays a lot of groundwork for stories in both the immediate and more far off future, establishing the tone and narrative scope of the post-Image Exodus era. That it does so while also telling a largely self-contained, action-orientated story is rather impressive.

Next Issue
Tomorrow, Random debuts in X-Factor #88. Friday. the truth about Terry Adams in Wolverine #67. Next week, the return of Omega Red in X-Men #18.

Collected Editions



13 comments:

  1. Frenzy joined the X-Men in X-Men Legacy and had a fairly prominent role; does anyone know if her past with Gambit was alluded to there?

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    1. I don't recall that it was, but I've only read those issues once, so I could be forgetting something.

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  2. The X-Men manage to save the child and force the Acolytes into retreat, but in the wake of the attack, Senator Kelly spins the events to further his anti-mutant agenda, much to the concern of a watching Xavier.

    Not much spin needed, when 14 school employees were left dead by a mutant terrorist attack. Sadly this feels today more accurate and real than at the time of publication, except for maybe that a Republican senator necessarily wouldn't get his sound bite about "liberal media" on a channel that employs Trish Tilby.

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    1. What's funny is that not too long after this issue (and the next), Kelly has a change of heart and starts softening his anti-mutant stance, to the point where he runs for president as an Independent (before being assassinated).

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  3. For reasons I don't understand myself, I have a very strong nostalgic feeling toward this issue. Usually when that's the case, I know why it is -- I read it in a certain place or under certain circumstances that have stuck with me -- but that's not the case here as far as I can recall. I just know the issue is special to me for some reason.

    I like that this gives us our first look at the Gambit/Bishop "buddy" relationship that Lobdell would go on to visit once in a while. Those two play off of each other very nicely.

    How bizarre is it that the letter complaining about Xavier's gay tolerance also complains about Spider-Man being pro-gun control?? I don't care what your own personal beliefs are -- there's no way Professor X wouldn't have been sympathetic to homosexuals even when it might have been an unpopular stance to take, and there's no way Spider-Man wouldn't be in favor of gun control. HIS UNCLE WAS SHOT TO DEATH!!!!!!!!! (Oh, and Aunt May's fiancé, Nathan, was also later shot to death too!)

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    1. Well... there is of course Cain Marko, Xavier's half-brother, who hates his guts because of subliminal and quite likely justified understanding that Xavier with his awakening telepathic powers knows about (and maybe does not approve) Cain's internal, ahem, weaknesses, and who later on gets empowered and goes to find himself an Irish hunk of man for a, ahem, partner. Xavier as a geneticist also might be a tad bit annoyed that some folks because of their sexuality possibly are less prone to pass on their genes. 90's Xavier of course can't be anything but sympathetic, but one could make an interesting case for 60's Xavier perchance.

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    2. To be fair, gun control aside, some people thought Don McGregor's portrayal of Peter in that story was off. There's a review of that story here:
      http://www.supermegamonkey.net/chronocomic/entries/spider-man_27-28.shtml
      Nathan wasn't shot to death, he fell to his death as a result of the Vulture. The one previous time the issue of gun control came up, in Spectacular Spider-Man 71, it was Robbie who was very pro-gun control. Lance was anti gun-control. Peter seemed to think there were no solutions to the problem of gun violence.

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    3. "Amongst the new Acolytes are Unuscione [...] who is maybe the daugther of Unus the Untouchable (they share a last name and similar powers, though their relationship has never officially been confirmed)"

      I know novels and other forms of media "don't count" for continuity purposes, but one of the things I remember about the "Mutant Empire" novel trilogy was that they *did* establish Unuscione as Unus' daughter definitively.

      Actually, IIRC, that series gave the villains (the Acolytes and the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants) a surprising amount of screen time and characterization. The biggest subplot I can recall was a "second-in-command" power struggle between Voght and Unuscione, but I remember scattered other bits too, like the Blob taking Unuscione's side because he'd been partners with her dad, and one of the Acolytes being a total fangirl for Pyro's romance novels (but disappointed because he hadn't written any lately).

      I remember a lot of the prose books being terrible, and for all I know this series might've been too -- it's been probably twenty years since I read it. But at the time I remember being pleasantly surprised by some of the minor continuity bits like that that were used to drive character interaction, even for relatively minor players.

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    4. Hrmm... of course you're right, Anon -- Nathan died fighting the Vulture. Ever since I was a child, I've had it in my head that he was killed by Sin-Eater, and even after learning the truth I can't shake that false recollection! I think it's a result of reading about the Sin-Eater story before I actually read it, and learning that Sin-Eater fired his shotgun into a crowd which included Nathan at one point.

      If I paid any attention to the chronology back then, I'd have understood what I though happened was impossible. Nathan was a supporting character in Gerry Conway's WEB and SPECTACULAR, and David Michelinie's AMAZING, well after the Sin-Eater storyline.

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    5. There was Ernie Popchik, another boarding house dweller, who pulled some Charles Bronson crap on the three punks on a train after he was beat and robbed by other punks who got bailed out by Matt Murdock in the Sin-Eater story.

      But Nathan was already around there when Jack o'Lantern tried stealing Hobgoblin's battlewagon, though.

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    6. @Matt: How bizarre is it that the letter complaining about Xavier's gay tolerance also complains about Spider-Man being pro-gun control?? I don't care what your own personal beliefs are -- there's no way Professor X wouldn't have been sympathetic to homosexuals

      Exactly. It's entirely in-character for Xavier. Ditto Spider-Man and gun control.

      @Anonymous: Peter seemed to think there were no solutions to the problem of gun violence.

      Which is a popular (albeit wishy-washy) stance for superhero/vigilante characters who, realistically, probably should have a more complicated response to the issue than a standard comic book story is prepared to handle (see also this season's "Specter of the Gun" episode of ARROW, which actually tackled the issue fairly well, right up until the end when the two (political) sides worked out an agreement that made everyone happy, with the details of the agreement withheld from the audience in an almost laughable manner).

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  4. Because no one else curiously has, it falls on me to point out that Gambit charging the tire swing and then pushing it around the bar to hit Gargill from behind is my and I would expect everyone's second favorite instance of Gambit's use of power, and still takes me back to the school yard of the 3rd grade and to the burning questions if you actually could go around the bar with it if you only could get enough speed (=velocity, you cynics!).

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  5. Aw, Sharon.

    // Professor X has a "ready room" in the mansion. //

    What the hell is supposed to be in that bowl of (presumably) food?

    // It's also said that Xavier's mutant brain is capable of processing lots of information at once, a heretofore unmentioned aspect of his powers. //

    That surprised me, but really made sense, then surprised me again. Like, I get that he’d need such an aspect of his powers to simply function when someone opens his/her mind to him, let alone to comprehend such an influx of thoughts; I wouldn’t necessarily think that this aptitude would extend to visual and aural input, though, not that I take issue with it.

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