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Wednesday, July 26, 2017

X-amining Uncanny X-Men Annual #17

"The Gift Goodbye" / "Of Kings and Queens and Promises"
1993

In a Nutshell
The first appearance of the X-Cutioner and the death of Mastermind.

Writer: Scott Lobdell
Penciler: Jason Pearson, Tom Grummet (2nd Story)
Inker: Mark Farmer, Al Milgrom (2nd Story)
Letterer: Chris Eliopoulis, Steve Dutro (2nd Story)
Colorist: Kevin Tinsley & Eric Moran, Glynis Oliver (2nd Story)
Editor: Bob Harras
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco

Plot
In San Miguel, the X-Cutioner kills Tower. Elsewhere, Jean is shopping with her son Nate when the pair is attacked by a group of Nimrod Sentinels. Thankfully, they are rescued first by XSE agents Bishop & Shard, then by Icemaster and his X-Men. In the real world, on Muir Island, Storm, Colossus & Archangel are trying to determine how to rescue Jean, Bishop & Iceman, who have been sucked into a dying Mastermind's mind after they arrived on the island following a strange letter Mastermind sent to Jean. Inside Mastermind's mind, the illusions he's created start to break down, while outside, the rest of the X-Men detect the arrival of the X-Cutioner, who wants to kill Mastermind. As the X-Men fight X-Cutioner, Jean is able to break Mastermind's illusion and send her teammates' minds back into their bodies, but she refuses to leave the dying Mastermind behind. But after he elicits a promise from Jean that she won't remember him with hatred, he uses the last of his strength to force her out, then dies. Outside, the X-Cutioner manages to escape, but he leaves behind a grievously-wounded Colossus.

2nd Story
Trevor Fitzroy tracks down Sienna Blaze, caught in a shootout with the police following a job gone bad. He kills her boyfriend to power a temporal portal that calls forth a massive train, containing amongst others her future self, which runs over the cops before returning to the timestream. In the aftermath, he extends her an invitation to join the Upstarts. She asks him how he knew where to find her, and he tells her that someday, years from now, she will tell him.

Firsts and Other Notables
For the first time since X-Men Annual #11 in 1987, the 1993 annuals feature standalone stories, neither chapters in linewide annual stories (a la "Evolutionary War"), or chapters in multi-part stories amongst a shared group of titles (like "Days of Future Present"). However, because this is the 90s, the '93 annuals still share a gimmick: each one is meant to introduce a brand new character, with said character receiving a trading card included with the issue via polybag. Unfortunately, as well-intentioned as the stunt may have been (in terms of generating new characters, not just the obvious cash grab), with Image already a thing at this point in time and Marvel continuing to not budge when it came to creator rights, ownership and royalty opportunities, it seems few creators turned in their best ideas for new characters, with the vast, vast majority of characters debuting in the '93 annuals failing to make much of an impression or appear outside their introductory appearances (with a few exceptions, including Silver Surfer's Legacy, the only one of the '93 class to get his own series, after he adopts his father's mantle as Captain Marvel).


So this issue's new character creation is X-Cutioner, and he is one of the few exceptions to the "'93 Annual Character Debuts All Suck" rule, in that, while he's hardly entrenched as an all-time great X-villain, he at least has made a handful of appearances outside of this issue. No relation to the recent crossover which  shares his name, X-Cutioner is Carl Denti, a former protege of FBI agent Fred Duncan (the X-Men's old federal liaison from back in the Silver Age; he first appeared in the second issue of the series) who has discovered a cache of weapons compiled by Fred gathered from various foes of the X-Men (again, mostly the Silver Age), like Sentinel boots and some kind of energy lance from the Z'Nox (which I don't think we ever saw them use), and decided to use them to hunt down and execute killer mutants. He'll pop up a few times here and there (notably crashing Cyclop's upcoming bachelor party), but again, this is hardly the stuff of legend.


Though she doesn't get her own trading card, this issue also features the first appearance of Bishop's sister Shard, mentioned contemporaneously in Uncanny X-Men #301. Technically, she only appears as a figment of Mastermind's illusion, so she hasn't "actually" appeared yet, but her later appearance will more or less match her presentation (presumably pulled from Bishop's memory) here.


Rounding out the first appearances is Sienna Blaze, who is recruited by Fitzroy to join the Upstarts in the annual's second story. She already made a non-narrative appearance in Stryfe's Strike Files, as well as in contemporanous appearances in Uncanny #301 and X-Men Unlimited #1 (on sale the same month as this month), with the later considered her first official appearance.


Making his final appearance is Mastermind, appearing for the first time since Excalibur #26. The story begins with him dying of a genetic disorder and ends with him passing away, and his death will later be attributed to the Legacy Virus. Somewhat surprisingly, the character has remained dead to date, though his legacy/name lives on in the form of two heretofore unrevealed illegitimate daughters (long story) who will appear down the road.


Colossus is injured by X-Cutioner this issue, with the villain's Z'noxian energy lance leaving a massive gash in Colossus' face. As revealed in Uncanny #301, this will prevent Colossus from transforming back into flesh-and-blood, the next chapter in the "Shit All Over Colossus" storyline that will contribute to his eventual defection in "Fatal Attractions".


Former Alliance of Evil member Tower dies this issue, killed by X-Cutioner in a "setup the new villain by having him take out an old villain" move.


In addition to the two stories, this issue features a Bishop pinup and a pinup/ad celebrating the X-Men's thirtieth anniversary, though it mostly uses existing images.


Creator Central 
The main story is drawn by Jason Pearson, an artist whose work I'm not terribly familiar with (he looks to have mostly done DC stuff, though he has a smattering of Marvel and X-book credits to his name).

The second story is Tom Grummet, making, I believe, his first appearance in my project. Grummet is one of those unheralded workmanlike artists; I never really liked his stuff as a kid, when it seemed like he was, like Terry Shoemaker before him, usually a fill-in artist brought in when the regular artist needed a break (at least in terms of his Marvel work), and never as flashy in style as those artists he was filling in for. But I've really come to appreciate his work as I've gotten older, to the point where I now get excited when I see it, as his work is always consistently enjoyable.

The Chronology Corner
The main story in this issue takes place after X-Men Unlimited #1, but before Uncanny X-Men #301. The second story obviously takes place before X-Men Unlimited #1.

A Work in Progress
In a nice bit of continuity, this issue takes place on Muir Island, which is where Mastermind was during his last appearance (having been put in a cell there following his attack on the X-Men in Uncanny #168-175), with Moira absent (since she's at the mansion with Xavier), though it's unclear how he survived the island's apparent destruction at the hands of the Shadow King in Uncanny X-Men #280, or who has been tending to him in Moira's absence (a group of generic doctors greet the X-Men when they arrive).

Iceman's little-mentioned experience as an accountant (he attended college to be an accountant between leaving the X-Men and joining X-Factor) gets referenced.


Colossus is, of course, angry to be at Muir Island instead of tending to his sick sister. He also complains about how the X-Men are constantly putting the needs of others ahead of his own, further foreshadowing his actions in "Fatal Attractions".


Also, Muir Island apparently has a talking Star Trek computer just like the mansion.

Throughout the main story, Mastermind is shown to possess telepathic powers - he pulls Jean, Iceman and Bishop's minds into his own, and Storm refers to his telepathic abilities. But Mastermind was only telepathic during "The Dark Phoenix Saga", and that was only via a device crafted for him by the White Queen.

In a cute moment, the illusory Rachel and Nathan don their respective superhero attire to chide Scott & Jean for being bad parents, as the illusion begins to crash around Jean.


X-Cutioner's weaponry includes elements from Sentinels, the Z'Nox, and the Shi'ar (though the later didn't appear until the post-Silver Age "All New" X-Men).


Archangel's accidental slaying of MLF member Kamikaze during "X-Cutioner's Song" in X-Factor #85 is mentioned.

The second story features some more information about Fitzroy's powers, which only confuses things further. He mentions having collected various things during his trips back through time (since his time portals are one way, he presumably made stops along the way between the future and the present to do so).

He also shows Sienna her first self, who is aboard a train that enters and then leaves from the future, as he says it was "passing through a pocket of time", which isn't at all how his powers are supposed to work.


The Grim 'n' Gritty 90s
In Mastermind's illusion, Icemaster declares that the X-Men of the 90s are more concerned with style over substance.


Fake Nathan uses the term "maternally correct", which seems like a play on "politically correct".


For Sale
The wretched Super Mario Bros. movie gets an ad in this issue.


Austin's Analysis
First, a few thoughts on the X-Cutioner. Even though he's arguably the third or fourth most successful new character launched in the '93 annuals, that is most definitely damning with faint praise, as the drop off from the top three or four to the rest is very, very steep. But he's a character with more potential than he's given credit, one who is more or less underutilized moving forward. Part of that likely stems from his visual look, which is messy and (I suspect) difficult to reproduce consistently. But as a fan of the original X-Men and the Silver Age issues, despite their many warts, I love his connection to forgotten Fred Duncan (I'm glad X-Cutioner isn't Ted Roberts only because it means I can still bring him back some day), and the gimmick of being a pack rat armed with weaponry from old (chiefly Silver Age) villains is a strong hook. While he'll get some later play in Gambit's solo series, it's a shame X-Cutioner has never been giving much of a recurring role as at least a minor antagonist.

As for the main story in this issue, it's...fine. Deeply problematic in parts, entertaining in others, routine elsewhere. The bulk of it is a standard "fight to come back from an alternate reality that seems to give you the life you've always wanted" story, with Storm, Archangel and Colossus battling the X-Cutioner outside the fantasy world. For whatever reason, Lobdell writes Archangel way too schticky here - Lobdell's more humorous voice can have a place in the series, but it sounds out of character coming from Archangel - but otherwise, most of that material is fine, with the quirky, stylized art (which I hated as a kid but kind of dig now) adding most of the entertainment value.

But killing off Mastermind, at a time when so many other classic villains have been killed or replaced, is a dubious decision (later tying his death to the Legacy Virus at least gives it some narrative punch, but it still seems a waste), while trying to present him as worthy of sympathy before his death is deeply problematic. Mastermind is a villain who essentially raped Jean Grey, setting in motion events that led to her transformation into Dark Phoenix. If the Shi'ar wanted to hold someone aside from Phoenix responsible for the destruction of D'Bari, they could easily go after Mastermind.

And yet, here Jean is not only sympathetic to Mastermind's plight, she seems saddened by his death, and even risks her life to save his (without any sense that she's only doing so out of professional obligation). And yes, technically, Mastermind did all that to Phoenix, not Jean, a point the story makes, but it also makes it clear that as far as Jean is concerned, they are one and the same. That Mastermind wants to make amends on his deathbed is fine; that his attempts at doing so are met with anything other than "too little, too late" by the X-Men in general and Jean specifically rings deeply false, and hangs heavy over an otherwise-fine annual.

Next Issue
Next week, X-Men #21, X-Force #23 and Excalibur #66.

Collected Editions

  

8 comments:

  1. Lobdell impresses me with the scene where Jean realizes that everything is an illusion from the demands barraged at her by her not-kids, and the addressing of the fact that there has been too many alternate reality, cosmic carbon copy and clone Jeans going around in the Marvel Omniverse. Bonus points for name-checking "Paradise" and "Purgatory", because obviously "Inferno", the story that left Jean with the memories of the other ones, would be there too to fill the Divine Comedy triplet.

    As convincing Siena to fullblown villainy goes, showing her that she'd die in a mutant concentration camp and she might as well do unto other before they do unto her is kind of cool, but flippant accessing the DoFP brings more problems than its worth.

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  2. This and X-MEN#21 were my resurgence back to collecting the issues again after a hiatus of five years (my sisters got these issues while I got DeFalco's FF; wolverine-scarred-helmeted Ben and tough bimbo Sue). Back then I felt sorry for Mastermind, waxing nostalgic to his being an X-baddie since the fourth-ever-issue (of course, although I read about his role in Dark Phoenix, I knew little of what he did. Later I found his actions included spiritual raping Jean/Phoenix, wrecking the Logan/Mariko wedding, and trying to kill Maddie, and- I theorize- almost got Colossus killed IF sending Rogue to the X-Men was Mastermind's way to sick the Brotherhood on the team to avoid retaliation after killing Scott and Maddie). I guess Jean is that much of a decent person to forgive Jason for what he did.
    I do love Jean's confrontation with her 'kids' (although, now that I think about it, shouldn't Nathan look like Stryfe?). I suppose Lobdell felt it a bit too wordy to include 'cosmic entity impersonating me' when referring to Rachel's mom. Still, I think Jean did play a bad part in her relationship with Rachel, shunning her because she symbolized her future being preordained. I also liked Jean ripping 'Lorne' apart.
    My reaction to Warren's histrionics at the time was "Nice he has a personality aside from being cold and dark." So, I take it was OOC?

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  3. with a few exceptions, including Silver Surfer's Legacy, the only one of the '93 class to get his own series, after he adopts his father's mantle as Captain Marvel

    And this obviously is a derivative character and if there even was a way (or any need or demand) to use him in a creator-owned comic, he would quite certainly infringe Marvel's intellectual properties unless carefully steered around like PAD's Fallen Angel.

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  4. I think I've only ever read this issue one time, but I'll say this for it -- it's better than the '93 Spider-Man annuals, which were the only other ones I read that year. Anybody remember Annex or the Cadre?

    I believe X-Cutioner also appeared in Lobdell's GENERTION X at some point. Speaking of which -- I'm glad to see you praise Tom Grummett! I think his work as a semi-regular fill-in artist early in the GEN X run was my first exposure to him, and I liked him right away. I lost track of him when he went to DC to do all that Super-stuff, but I found him again years later on NEW THUNDERBOLTS and X-MEN FOREVER. He may be a journeyman, but he's easily one of my favorite comic book artists.

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  5. Jeez, I never realized this annual contains three first appearances (sort of). I recall X-Cutioner popping up in GenX too, and of all places, X-Man, post-AoA. I largely regarded him as a jobber; he sure doesn't make a good showing against Cable and Cyclops in his next outing. Still, that's consistent with his gimmick (he's a regular guy playing dress up with some crap Silver Age tech operating in the grim 'n gritty '90s). Shame we didn't see more of him, as there's a place for a character who exists solely to show up, stir the pot, get his ass kicked, and leave.

    Agreed re: Jean's strange treatment of Mastermind. He is an absolute vomitous bucket of garbage, and Jean basically regards him like an old frenemy. It's nuts. Not to mention, the story could actually get some mileage out of juxtaposing his earlier nastiness against his fragile state here, challenging the characters (and readers) to pity or despise him accordingly.

    On that note, I have to say, I find myself siding with Peter. Fuck this asshole. Tending to a despicable arch-villain doesn't really call for the entire squad. Even worse, Illyana is going to be dead herself like a day removed from these events.

    I'm throwing my hands up in the air with respect to that train and Fitzroy's powers. Lobdell gonna Lobdell.

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  6. "In a cute moment, the illusory Rachel and Nathan don their respective superhero attire to chide Scott & Jean for being bad parents, as the illusion begins to crash around Jean."

    Wait, I thought Cable hadn't been revealed to be Nathan yet? Even though it's been strongly hinted at, this pretty much gives it away.

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  7. This is also the first time I learned that Mastermind was dead. I assumed he was still alive, just thrown into Limbo.

    It's a shame, he was one of the X-Men's earliest villains and ended up potentially being one of their most dangerous (The Dark Phoenix Saga really made him a force to be reckoned with). Instead he was put into Vanisher territory.

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  8. "I think I've only ever read this issue one time, but I'll say this for it -- it's better than the '93 Spider-Man annuals, which were the only other ones I read that year. Anybody remember Annex or the Cadre?"

    No, but I can confirm that PAD's '93 Hulk annual was also a complete whiff. I think the new character was called Lazarus, but I'm not sure. The whole story was cliche upon cliche from what I remember. Really disappointing for a PAD fan like m'self.

    Luckily the X-Factor annual made up for it. Chalker brothers FTW!!!

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