In a Nutshell
Magneto rips out Wolverine's adamantium, and Professor X erases Magneto's mind.
Writer: Fabian Nicieza
Penciler: Andy Kubert
Inker: Matt Ryan
Letterer: Bill Oakley
Colorist: Joe Rosas
Editor: Bob Harras
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco
The execution of the Magneto Protocols by the UN Security Council prompts Magneto to strike back by triggering a massive electromagnetic pulse that wipes out power across the planet, killing hundreds. In the wake of the attack, Professor X decides that Magneto has gone too far, and dons a Shi'ar exoskeleton that enables him to walk in order to lead a strike team against him. Teleporting onboard Avalon, the strike team is surreptitiously helped by Colossus, and they take control of Avalon's systems, allowing the X-Men to teleport Exodus & the Acolytes off the base before confronting Magneto. During the fight, Xavier & Jean attempt to use Magneto's memories of past tragedies against him while the rest of the force engages him physically, but when Wolverine lands a nearly-lethal blow, Magneto retaliates by using his power to remove the adamantium from Wolverine's bones and rip it out of his body. Horrified, Xavier responds by telepathically wiping Magneto's mind, to ensure he'll never be a threat to anyone again. Just then Colossus appears, telling his former teammates that their battle has damaged the teleportation systems, but that he has summoned Bishop to pick them up with a modified Blackbird. He suggests they leave quickly, but vows to stay behind to take care of the now-mindless Magneto.
Firsts and Other Notables
Two events of deep significance occur this issue. First, Magneto uses his power to forcibly strip the adamantium from Wolverine's bones, leaving the character near death (an action that was somewhat foreshadowed both by Magneto's attack on Cable in X-Force #25 and Cyclops warning Wolverine to stay out of the fight in Uncanny X-Men #304). He will recover, of course, but this marks an extended period of time in which the character will be without his signature adamantium bones and claws (he will eventually get ti back, of course, but to Marvel's credit, he goes much longer than anyone expected without it), and leads to his departure from the team, making this the last issue of X-Men that Wolverine will appear directly in until #40 (and then not appear regularly in either series until after "Age of Apocalypse"), which easily represents the longest period of time since Wolverine joined the team that he won't appear in either X-Men title. Of course, the character isn't gone from the franichise entirely for that duration, but as of this issue, he'll go from appearing in roughly 2.5 books a month, at least (Wolverine, X-Men, and Uncanny) to just one.
The second big event comes when Professor X, in retaliation for the attack on Wolverine and desperate to put a stop to Magneto's threat once and for all, telepathically wipes Magneto's mind, leaving him in a vegetative state and effectively removing the character as an active agent just one issue after his official return from the dead. Of course, he's not dead, and will occasionally appear on Avalon, essentially in a coma, off-and-on until after "Age of Apocalypse", at which point a young man bearing a resemblance to Magneto named Joseph will appear and shortly thereafter everyone will decide he's a de-aged, amnesiac Magneto (though that will, ultimately, turn out to not be the case, in true 90s fashion). Nevertheless, like Wolverine, it will be some time before Magneto appears again in a traditional sense.
The act of mind-wiping Magneto is also, retroactively, the point at which Onslaught, the villain at the center of the X-Men's linewide crossover two crossovers from now and responsible for the brief deportation of the Avengers and Fantastic Four from the Marvel Universe during the ill-fated "Heroes Reborn" venture, is created, as a chapter in that story takes the thematic subtext that Professor Xavier's dark side was strengthened by his actions in this issue and makes it text by establishing that, while mind-wiping Magneto, a bit of Magneto's villainous essence, in the form a black impish figure, leaped from Magneto's mind into Xavier's, taking root there and combining with Xavier's already-repressed darker impulses to manifest as Onslaught.
With Magneto left in a vegetative state, Colossus, feeling partially responsible because he allowed the X-Men to sneak aboard Avalon and kick out the Acolytes, declares that he will remain on Avalon to care for Magneto as he failed to do for his sister, somewhat sanding off the edges of Colossus' decision in Uncanny X-Men #304 to throw-in with the murderous Acolytes (it doesn't change the fact that he made that decision, but at least now, it can be said he's remaining amongst the Acolytes in part to care for Magneto as a sort of penance for his (perceived) failure to save Illyana.
Xavier dons an exoskeleton suit of Shi'ar tech that enables him to walk in this issue. It's one of those "if he has this, why hasn't he used it before?" kind of plot developments, but in defense of it here, it requires a considerable exertion of his telepathic powers to function (making it less useful on a day-to-day basis), and Xavier suddenly having random tech that enables him to walk that is never seen again is something of a tradition (see also: his Silver Age leg braces). If we're being charitable, we can also assume this suit incorporates some of the design elements from the anti-Magneto suit in X-Men Unlimited #2, the specs of which Storm stole in Uncanny #305, though that's never explicitly confirmed.
Xavier assembles a six person strike team (including himself) to attack Avalon, comprised of Jean, Quicksilver, Rogue, Gambit & Wolverine. Jean is there to help boost Xavier's powers, Quicksilver & Rogue because they possess speed & strength as well as emotional connections to Magneto (a nice acknowledgement of the Rogue/Magneto pseudo-romance that will get resurrected during "Age of Apocalypse" and later with Joseph), and Gambit & Wolverine ostensibly for stealth reasons. The latter two are the most questionable additions. Gambit is fine, I guess, but it's not like a whole lot of thieving is required on the mission. Wolverine, a man whose body contains a whole bunch of metal, is a ridiculous inclusion for a team meant to confront the Master of Magnetism, but of course, he needs to go along so Magneto can rip out his adamantium (what's the opposite of Plot Armor? Because Wolverine is wearing it here). Objectively, the easy sub here is Psylocke, who would both boost the team's telepathic power while also providing the element of stealth and fighting prowess provided by Gambit & Wolverine.
Again, if we're being charitable, it could be argued that Xavier's inclusion of Wolverine, outside of it being necessary for the big shocking event of this story to occur, is meant to represent a further failure of judgement on his part: he wanted the team's best fighter with him, and was so eager to confront Magneto he failed to think through what a drastic miscalculation bringing Wolverine into battle against Magneto would be (Cyclops at one point in the issue even points out Xavier's lack of tactical field experience; Wolverine, of course, would never think to NOT participate in a fight with stakes as high as this one). Indeed, in some of the run-up to "Onslaught" will have Xavier dealing with his guilt over what happened to Wolverine, though that being explicitly tied to his decision here never really happens.
It's revealed here that the government's Magneto Protocols are, in part, a series of satellites which create an energy web around the planet, designed to keep Magneto from using his powers while on Earth (of course, he just triggers an EMP from just outside the protective field created by the satellites). It is framed as a specifically defensive move intended to keep Magneto out, but it enrages him in part because it prevents him from bringing more mutants to sanctuary on Avalon.
Said electromagnetic pulse is said to kill hundreds, if not thousands (as a result of stuff like hospitals and pacemakers losing power), making it Magneto's most deadly direct attack since the sinking of Leningrad in Uncanny X-Men #150.
As the effects of the blast are shown around the world, a couple of panels create a chronology nightmare. First, we see that the EMP has interrupted Thing's shower, and he complains to Mr. Fantastic, with a footnote declaring this takes place before Fantastic Four #374. That is the issue in which Wolverine slashes Thing's face, causing him to wear a 90s-riffic full-face helmet (to match Mr. Fantastic's then-current pouch vest and Invisible Woman's sexy costume) for a good chunk of time. Except, when Wolverine slashes Thing's face, he does it with the adamantium claws he loses at the end of this issue. And this scene can't get moved back to after Thing's face heals, because when that happens, Mr. Fantastic is presumed dead (for a good chunk of time).
Similarly, but much more egregious, Nightcrawler & Captain Britain are shown reacting to the pulse, despite the fact that Captain Britain is lost in the timestream, an event which happened at the start of a story that ends with Kitty leaving to attend to Illyana in Uncanny X-Men #302, setting it fairly explicitly before this story. And Captain Britain's absence is discussed in Excalibur #71, the final chapter of "Fatal Attractions", which is set after this issue, so this can't take place at some later point in time after his return (that would also be complicated for other reasons). Considering that, at this point in time, Excalibur is part of the X-office (and Captain Britain's departure occurred after that transition), it's a pretty big editorial fail. For what it's worth, the Marvel Chronology Project simply ignores Captain Britain's appearance here.
We also see Sunfire being hit by the EMP blast, and it's heavily implied that he dies as a result, but he turns up alive and well in his next appearance without comment, so he didn't.
Rusty & Skids are the only Acolytes the X-Men encounter directly in this issue (aside from Colossus), and Nicieza briefly acknowledges their history with Jean by having her speak up in their defense and question their motives in joining Magneto; I always appreciate acknowledgements of stuff from the original X-Factor.
With Wolverine held for his own series and Magneto featured as the previous' chapter's hologram, Gambit gets the hologram honors for this issue's gatefold "Fatal Attractions" cover (I'd have gone with Xavier, probably, but he doesn't pay the bills like Gambit does, I guess...).
Matt Ryan joins the regular art team as inker this issue, and gets a welcome aboard message on the letters page.
Continuing the 30th Anniversary vibe, the title page contains a dedication to past X-Men creators, despite few of them working on this specific X-Men book.
A Work in Progress
Prior to his attack on Earth, Magneto & Exodus explicitly make the "becoming another Hitler" point, with Magneto coming to terms with risking that comparison to protect mutants.
Forge pulls the trigger (ie presses the button) that activates the Magneto Protocols, for what it's worth.
Cyclops, Jean Grey and Beast recite a series of "corny" quotes, allegedly things Professor X would always say/teach, though we haven't really ever heard these specific lines before (but the open hand/closed fist one tracks with Xavier's discussions with Cannonball in X-Force #19).
The X-Men apparently have a teleportation array straight out of Star Trek that enables them to beam onto Avalon (the corresponding systems on Avalon are damaged during the fight, prompting Bishop to fetch the strike team in a Blackbird). Like Xavier's walking suit, this never really gets used again. Unlike that suit, we don't even get a halfassed explanation for that.
Upon arriving on Avalon, the X-Men's presence is masked by Colossus, showing sympathy for his former teammates. This action, which leads in part to Magneto's condition, is also cited as part of his motivation for staying behind to care for the man.
Once again, we're reminded that Avalon contains Shi'ar tech presumably taken by Magneto from the mansion (along with, of course, all the Celestial, Apocalytian, and futuristic tech purloined from Graymalkin).
One of the memories Xavier & Jean use against Magneto is the death of Doug Ramsey, and amongst all the "Magneto stole Shi'ar tech!" business, it's nice to have something reinforcing the fact that Magneto, as headmaster of the New Mutants, genuinely cared about them and his role as their mentor/protector.
Xavier likens Magneto's betrayal by Cortez in issue #3 to his belief that his children have betrayed him as well.
He later references Magneto's sinking of the Leningrad in Uncanny #150, explicitly drawing a line between that event, the last time Magneto was shown to be directly killing people in large numbers, to his EM attack in this issue.
Xavier, just before mind-wiping Magneto, argues they are both failures: Magneto, for failing to change his ways, and Xavier for failing to recognize that and letting their friendship prevent him from putting a stop to Magneto once and for all.
Unlike Uncanny X-Men #304, Xavier refers to Magneto mostly as "Magnus" rather than "Erik" in this issue, though Magneto's full name is referenced, so it's not like Nicieza was unaware of the change or anything.
The Grim 'n' Gritty 90s
While the US president is not shown or explicitly identified in any way, Russian president Boris Yeltson and the then-recent collapse of the Soviet Union are name-checked during the issue's opening "executing the Magneto Protocols" scenes.
At one point, Wolverine is said to have gravely wounded Magneto, but the art makes it look like he just cut his armor off. Whether that's an artistic error, or a result of someone not wanting a lot of blood being drawn in is unclear.
The Reference Section
As the strike team departs, Beast quotes from Aeschylus' Prometheus Unbound.
"Professor Xavier is a jerk!"
Aside from the whole "erasing Magneto's mind" thing, this issue is littered with questionable actions from Xavier as his desire to stop Magneto reaches Ahabian proportions (the literary character, not the Houndmaster from Rachel Summer's timeline). While Jean questions if it's possible that Rusty & Skids are being brainwashed by Magneto, Xavier doesn't have time to care, and just telepathically puts them to sleep in order to move on to bigger things.
Later, he instructs Jean to help him psychically attack Magneto by using his memories of past tragedies against him, something which Jean finds problematic, saying it goes against everything Xavier has taught her (presumably about how telepaths shouldn't go rooting around in people's minds unbidden and monkey with their memories). On the one hand, as Gambit points, this is a combat situation against one of the X-Men's deadliest foes, and Jean knew that when she signed on for this mission. On the other hand, Xavier is pushing some boundaries here, and it culminates in a pretty big violation of his principles.
It's in the Mail
A response to a letter declares that the X-Men movie is "in development". Which is where it will remain for roughly seven more years.
This is effectively the climax of "Fatal Attractions" (with the next chapter dealing immediately and specifically with the aftermath of Magneto's attack on Wolverine, and the final chapter a denouement of sorts that ties up a few loose ends) and inarguably the best single issue of the crossover. It's not without it's flaws - the logic (or lack thereof) behind some of the members of the strike team, some occasionally overly-baroque scripting from Nicieza, and dodgy art from Kubert in places (he handles most of the big moments, but the overall flow of the major fight scene at the end gets muddied, with it unclear where characters are in space relative to each other) - but it's big on import, and incident, and that accounts for a lot in the climax of a big anniversary celebration crossover.
In terms of ramifications on future stories, it's hard to think of too many issues that shake things up as dramatically as this one does. It will be years, nearly to the end of the decade, before both Wolverine and Magneto are back to a status quo resembling where they were at prior to this issue. Removing Magneto from the board so soon after bringing him back may seem curious, but it makes a certain amount of sense: the character had grown so big in stature in-universe and external thematic importance during his absence, it would be difficult to leave him around as a perpetual threat. Shutting down his mind enables him to continue to exist as a martyr while keeping him in a position where he can more easily be brought back without leaving readers constantly wondering why the X-Men are doing anything other than fighting Magneto.
Removing Wolverine from the board, meanwhile, is straight-up bonkers, from a commercial perspective, and a rather daring creative move, especially in 1993 at, arguably, the height of the franchise's commercial prowess. It's even more mind-boggling now than it was then that Marvel would sign off on removing Wolverine from multiple titles for an extended period of time. At a time when Marvel had a successful animated series starring the X-Men on Saturday mornings, they just removed their bread-and-butter character from the comic books titled "X-Men". And while he will return to the team sooner than Magneto returns as a credible, consistent threat, it will be much longer (arguably too long) after that before the character returns to something entirely resembling his portrayal prior to this issue.
With this issue, Nicieza also manages to somewhat salvage Magneto's previous portrayal in Uncanny X-Men #304. As with other (non Uncanny #304) post-death appearances, he is a harder, more overtly-villainous Magneto than in his final Claremontian appearances, but he is also more in line with that isolationist take on the character. He attacks Earth, committing (explicit) mass murder for the first time since Uncanny X-Men #150, but he does it only after being provoked (that said provocation was, ultimately, a defensive measure, is of course part of the draw of Magneto's character: he's both not-right, and not-wrong). Where Uncanny #304 took pains to tarnish Magneto's time as headmaster, suggesting it was only a ruse to skip off with purloined Shi'ar tech, here Nicieza at least establishes that Magneto remains haunted by the memory of Doug Ramsey and his failure to protect him.
And in pushing Xavier to the limit, Nicieza bridges the gap between him and Magneto, hardening the one while softening the other. Reading this as a kid, the extent to which Xavier crosses the line here never really hit me (even with Xavier wiping out Magneto's mind). Jean is practically begging Xavier not to make her attack Magneto's mind in this way, yet he pushes on until he's nearly ranting himself. Though it wasn't even a half-formed idea in the mind of Scott Lobdell yet, a very direct line can be drawn from this issue to Onslaught (even without that story making said line head-shakingly literal). One of the better moments in Uncanny #304 came when Magneto challenged Xavier to walk his path, since Magneto had already tried walking Xavier's. Here, Xavier essentially does that, employing a savagery and "ends justify the means"-ness on par with Magneto at his worst, not in defense of mutants, but to attack his old friend.
If you can't tell, I really dig this issue. As with Uncanny #304, nostalgia is a heavy factor there. I read this a ton as a kid (even, occasionally, vocalizing the sound effects and speaking some of the more momentous dialogue aloud), and like Uncanny #304 it felt huge at the time, and even moreo, like a seismic shift in the franchise (which it kind of was). Unlike Uncanny #304, this holds up a bit better today. Again, it's far from perfect and not without its faults, but the depiction of Magneto is more rationale and in keeping with his previous (non-Uncanny #304) appearances, and all those big seismic franchise-changing events are, ultimately, grounded in characterization. Claremont helped make the Xavier/Magneto relationship one of the core relationships of the narrative, and it's that relationship that is at the center of this issue's events, the relationship between two old friends, each pushed to their limits, each reacting by committing a horrible, and narrative-altering, act.
Tomorrow, the new MLF makes their move in X-Force #27. Friday, Excalibur's space adventure concludes in Excalibur #70. Next week, X-Men Annual #2.