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Wednesday, November 29, 2017

X-amining Uncanny X-Men #306

"Mortal Coils"
November 1993

In a Nutshell
Cameron Hodge returns.

Writer: Scott Lobdell
Pencils: John Romita Jr.
Inks: Dan Green
Letterer: S. Bucce
Colorist: Joe Rosas
Editor: Bob Harras
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco

Plot
On the anniversary of Candy Southern's death, Jean Grey accompanies Archangel to his home in Colorado, and the pair are stunned to find a very-much-alive Candy waiting for them there. Meanwhile, Xavier spars with Quicksilver in the Danger Room. Back in Colorado, Jean telepathically confirms Candy is who she says she is, while in New York, Storm meets Forge for dinner. In Colorado, Jean takes Archangel into Candy's mind, and he's horrified to learn she was conscious during his fight with Hodge that led to her death, and learns of the mysterious experiments conducted on her after that death. Just then, the group is attacked by a techno-organic Hodge, who says he is just one of many poised to eradicate mutants. Archangel manages to injure him, but he draws on Candy, who turns out to also be techno-organic, for replacement parts. However, Candy resists, and uses the connection between them to seemingly destroy them both. As she dies once again, she tells Archangel she is grateful for the love they shared. Jean tells Archangel it's over but, recalling Hodges words about others, Archangel isn't so sure.

Firsts and Other Notables
This issue marks the return of Cameron Hodge, last seen as a disembodied head being buried in the rubble of the Genoshan citadel by Rictor in X-Factor #62. He returns as an agent of what will come to be known as the Phalanx, an anti-mutant organization that has adopted the techno-organic physiology of Warlock's alien race. For the most part, the Phalanx will consist of largely identity-less drones, but Hodge stands out as one of the more notable individual members, and I love that writers keep coming up with ways to bring him back, true to the deal he struck with N'astirh back before "Inferno" that granted him immortality. He's gone from a human to a head on a robot body to a weird alien techno-organic being, but he's technically still alive, as promised!


Hodge mentions the research and experiments that have led to the creation of the Phalanx have a "sponsor". I'm not sure if its ever made explicit, but I believe this is a reference to Stephen Lang, who will turn out to be the functional head of the group (and who was the mysterious mental patient taken away by a man in black in issue #291).

Candy Southern, Archangel's old girlfriend who died in X-Factor #34, makes a brief return this issue a well. She too is part of the Phalanx, though an unwilling one, and she fights against her programming to save Archangel. We see that she was experimented on after her death, presumably as part of the process that created the Phalanx, suggesting that the Right, Hodge's anti-mutant organization who captured and killed her initially, had a hand in the creation of the Phalanx.


John Romita Jr. returns, drawing his first full issue since #302 (with #303 and #305 featuring guest/fill-in artists and #304 the double-sized jam issue).

There's some talk of marriage between Jean & Archangel (jokingly), presumably priming the pump, narrively-speaking, for Jean's upcoming proposal to Scott in issue #308.


Jean makes a crack about how if she kissed someone every time she died, her lips would fall off, which does nothing but perpetuate the fallacy that Jean dies and comes back to life a lot (at this point, she's done it exactly once in any significant way).


Archangel says it's been exactly one year since Candy's death (ie since X-Factor #34), and even taking into account the sliding timeline, that's means a hell of a lot of really big, significant stuff happened in just one year (and that the time between Magnet's death and return may have just amounted to all of a couple days...). Now, that kind of is going to happen anytime one starts to seriously think about the implications of Marvel's sliding timeline, but at the same time, I'd prefer writers not invite those kinds of thoughts by using indicators of specific time passage (ie just make this the anniversary of Candy's death, without declaring how long it's been since she died).


The Chronology Corner
A footnote at the beginning of this issue declares it takes place before X-Men #25. Forge appears here after "Infinity Crusade", between issues #93 and #94 of X-Factor, and before X-Men #25 and X-Force #27.

A Work in Progress
Jean & Archangel discuss a prom, which had to be some kind joint event with a local high school (a la certain New Mutants social events), or else the weirdest school prom ever, considering the original X-Men consisted of one girl and four boys.


That said, it's another example of Lobdell doing something I really like, retroactively adding some texture and depth to the original X-Men (see also: Beast & Archangel's reminiscences while rebuilding Harry's Hideaway in issue #297), something he'll continue to do over the next few issues.

Warren makes a crack about the X-Men always being busy because they're constantly getting kidnapped and taken to Murderworld, and not to be pedantic (On a comic blog on the internet? What?), but technically, Warren has never been captured by Arcade and taken to Murderworld (the closest he came was being captured in Doom's New York castle circa X-Men #145-147). I get his point, but it seems an odd reference for Archangel to make (Cyclops, Wolverine, Colossus, Storm, etc., sure).


Quicksilver & Xavier face off in a zero gravity environment (thus suppressing both Quicksilver's relative physical advantage and Xavier's disadvantage), though Beast cautions that the Danger Room's hologram technology can only support the effect for a couple minutes.


Quicksilver notes that his mind is hard to grab telepathically.


Bishop and Beast notice that Xavier seems to be enjoying the more physical elements of his fight with Quicksilver, something which disturbs them, all of which foreshadows (or, technically, retroactive reinforces) his actions against Magneto in X-Men #25.


Xavier also reiterates Magneto's point, made in issue #304, that Xavier should try walking Magneto's path.


In more retroactive foreshadowing, Xavier also mentions the losses of the people Magneto has killed, citing the sailors aboard the Leningrad and the Hydra agents he killed in issue #165 (no big loss there, though).


Archangel is horrified to learn that Candy was still conscious while he was battling Hodge in X-Factor #34, having believed her to already be dead at that point.


Hodge lays out the threat of the Phalanx, saying they can pose as human, be anyone, draw power from the environment around them, etc.


Young Love
Forge & Storm have dinner together and reconcile after their break up in issue #290, with Forge apologizing for what he said to Storm in that issue.


For Sale
There's a multi-page ad in this issue for the "Siege of Darkness" crossover and Midnight Sons sub-line, featuring Ghost Rider, Dr Strange, and Marvel's other horror books of the time.


There's also an ad for a special Ghost Rider comic available at Kaybee Toys, which reminded me that Kaybee Toys was once a store that existed, and how it was always in malls and thus all its toys were more expensive than the same thing at a department store or free-standing toy store like Toys R Us.


The back cover features an ad fro the X-Men handheld game, from back in the day when everyone wasn't carrying around a computer in their pocket that can access limitless games. I had a copy of that game, and remember it being deeply repetitive and maddeningly-difficult.


Austin's Analysis
In a lot of ways, this issue is more or less the same as the previous one: it introduces (here, a later iteration of) the villains of the next crossover story, it features one of the original X-Factor characters interacting with their love interest (albeit here one who predates that series), and in the B-plot, it showcases Xavier's growing dark side and harder edges. This issue works much better than the last one, however, in part because John Romita Jr. is drawing it. But also because Hodge is a recognizable villain with a distinct past with the characters, and his appearance more closely represents what the Phalanx will be than the generic weird skin monsters of the previous issue. It also helps that the Archangel/Candy relationship has a little more heft to it than the Opal/Iceman one, and that Lobdell has better material to mine from Archangel and Jean Grey than from the mostly random grouping of Rogue, Iceman and Bishop in the previous issue. As a result, this feels much more like a proper tease of the Phalanx and prelude to Xavier's actions in X-Men #25, even though, technically, the previous issue did those things too.

Next Issue
Tomorrow, Haven debuts in X-Factor #96. Friday, Wolverine gets a surprise in Wolverine #75. Next week, Sabretooth gets his own miniseries.

15 comments:

  1. Angel was one of my favorite characters, but he became among the top 5 when he turned into archangel. I’m not a fan of how he’ll develop soon, as Psylocke boyfriend nor having his feathered wings back.

    I really liked JRJR art in this issue. He knows how to draw technorganic beings like few. A shame he had to leave, but I wonder if he’s style felt dated (or too hard to swallow) by contemporary readers. However, that he’s still an A-list artist to this day may signify that it just took awhile for readers to get used to his evolving style. I don’t know.

    Never liked Cameron Hodge, in any of his iterations, either as an X-Factor friend, New Mutants villain, Right’s leader, Giant robot (Jim Lee made him look cool, but he was still silly), or this present form, although it probably stuck to readers’ mind because they made a toy out of it.

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    1. My understanding is that Romita left - temporarily - to work on the Batman/Punisher Marvel/DC crossover series. He always intended to come back after that. But then Harras heard the fan reaction to Joe Madureira's fill-in issues while Romita was gone, and decided to give him the book (never bothering to tell Romita, who found out he was off the book when he heard Madureira referred to as the series new regular artist).

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    2. Austin, I heard that story as well, but I thought it couldn’t be entirely possible because as far as I know, comics take around six months to produce. How fast fam reaction could have been for issues 312 and 313 for JRJR to be immediately removed?

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    3. Given that #314 & #315 were also fill-ins, and Madureira's run didn't start until #316, it seems like Romita was slated to be away for a few months. And it's entirely possible that he was slated to be away for "Phalanx Covenant" and to return thereafter, but after the response to #312 and #313, Harras decided to just keep Madureira on after #316. In other words, #316 looks like the start of Madureira's to us, because we know he sticks around from that point forward. But it may not have always been planned that way (after all #318 is another fill-in too).

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    4. Speaking only for myself, I did think Romita's work was dated and ugly when these issues were coming out. I've come around on him nowadays (though I still think in general he's not a great fit for the X-Men -- he works much better for me on Spider-Man, Daredevil, etc.), but back then I mostly avoided UNCANNY due to his work and much preferred the fill-in art from Jan Duursema and Joe Mad. It was Madureira who got me to start reading UNCANNY regularly circa "Phalanx Covenant".

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    5. I preferred Romita Jr.'s earlier artwork, before he developed this more scratchy style.
      For a long time, I could not stand Romita Jr.'s evolving style.
      However, when I read back-issues of the Nocenti/Romita run on Daredevil, I did come around to seeing the positive side of his newer style.

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    6. I feel like Romita Jr's art is really hurt by the coloring in these Uncanny issues, especially on the covers. This one is all flesh tones, pink and lime green. That is a terrible combo. The linework seems pretty good, although he goes a little crazy with energy crackles and overly complex tech. If it was colored properly, I think it would look good. Oddly, Adjectiveless did not have this problem for me at the time.

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  2. Jean makes a crack about how if she kissed someone every time she died, her lips would fall off, which does nothing but perpetuate the fallacy that Jean dies and comes back to life a lot (at this point, she's done it exactly once in any significant way).

    Every time she almost died. I read it more as a reference to the general comic book close shave situations she too has had her part of, than to the "Jean dies a plenty" shenanigans.

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  3. I like a plenty that Candy Southern gets a heroic closure here, after her ignominious fridge death at the eve of Inferno. She was the non-superpowered female leader for the DEFENDERS before it was mainstream, you know (so it's also all the more appropriate that Storm/Forge Lifedeath thingy gets some revive in this issue).

    Well, I say closure, but she could easily be brought back because she obviously shares the N'astirh-induced immortality due to her connection to Hodge.

    Midnight Sons books are at this point looking for near linewide cancellation in four months, so as this issue and adverts hit the comic book racks I believe the creators were at the same time being told they are not expected to start working on their next issue.

    BLADE & CANDY SOUTHERN limited series would certainly pique my interest. He, a vampire hunter with resentment towards the undead; she, a techno-organic undead through demon magic; both with a 'fro.

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  4. Thank you for not including scans of the reanimated Candy ripping herself apart while Hodge goads her on; that freaked me out when I was younger and continues to do so.

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  5. I like the interplay between Archangel and Jean in this one, I enjoyed the return to the old New Mexico mansion, and it's nice to see Candy get a sendoff of sorts (though I never liked her dying in the first place), but overall, like the previous one, this issue doesn't do a lot for me. It just feels like it's killing time (or in this case retroactively killing time) between UNCANNY 304 and X-MEN 25.

    I agree with you on the anniversary thing. There was no need to say it had been a year; just call it the anniversary and let readers fill in the blanks themselves. Personally, I think two years seems reasonable. That still means a lot happened in that timeframe, but given the compressed nature of the timeline, I don't think it can be much longer than that. But either way, one years is absolutely not right.


    "There's also an ad for a special Ghost Rider comic available at Kaybee Toys, which reminded me that Kaybee Toys was once a store that existed, and how it was always in malls and thus all its toys were more expensive than the same thing at a department store or free-standing toy store like Toys R Us."

    Also, I don't know about yours, but our Kaybee was a perpetual mess, with toys just strewn around the store, up and down the aisles, at all times of the day.

    "The back cover features an ad fro the X-Men handheld game..."

    I never owned this, but I have never forgotten the commercial for it, where the announcer desribed the villain as "the evil Magneto Five" -- pronouncing it "Mag-NET-o", to boot. I guess I can understand the mispronunication; many people have done it over the years (Firestar calls him that in an episode of SPIDER-MAN AND HIS AMAZING FRIENDS). But where the heck does the "five" come from?!

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  6. Re: the 1 year anniversary- some writers have said the general rule is 4-5 years for every 1 year of the timeline, so 1 year makes sense. It's not as ridiculous as Claremont establishing Kitty turned 14 before Scott met Maddie and 15 during the Cross Time Caper (when baby Nathan was old enough to crawl).

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  7. Cameron Hodge is a great villain !! I hope to see him again in the current comic and maybe someday at the cinema !!!

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  8. Thank you for sharing the detailed post about the issue

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  9. Kay-Bee was a staple of my childhood but mostly for browsing rather than buying. I know in the ’70s and early ’80s, at least, they had 3-packs of comics — DC’s logo famously swapped out for Whitman’s — slatted with the coloring and activity books.

    // Warren has never been captured by Arcade and taken to Murderworld //

    That sort of thing bugs me too. And since a Chekov-in-Khan reference is probably mandatory here, I’ll add that it’s much worse when you can’t even hand-wave a presumption that the character at the crux of the continuity flub was, like, elsewhere on the ship, just not when/where the audience could see him. Plus of course it’s even more frustrating since Warren’s and thus Lobdell’s general point is fine but he doled out a bad reference.

    // thus suppressing both Quicksilver's relative physical advantage and Xavier's disadvantage //

    I figured Xavier would announce that Quicksilver had played right into his hands by knocking him into that asteroid, yet even though he used some debris offensively nothing really came of that. Further lost opportunity — which seems counter to the whole idea of the exercise: Quicksilver can’t run but once they’re up close he could’ve still punched the living daylights out of Xavier at super-speed.

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