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Thursday, March 15, 2018

X-amining X-Force #31

"Cry Uncle!"
February 1994

In a Nutshell
Warpath & Juggernaut help Siryn & Black Tom reconcile.

Writer: Fabian Nicieza
Penciler: Tony Daniel
Inker: John Holdredge
Letterer: Chris Eliopoulos
Colorist: Marie Javins
Editor: Bob Harras
Blarney Stone: Tom DeFalco

Plot
Warpath meets with Kelvin Doneghann, a reporter & childhood friend of Siryn's, to discuss Black Tom's attack on the Cassidy's family lawyer Flaherty, with Kelvin noting that if Black Tom had wanted to kill him, he could have, suggesting he's really after attention, specifically from Siryn, who is continuing to deal with her problems by drinking. Later, Kelvin meets with Juggernaut, who is worried because Black Tom needs medical treatment he can only get after turning himself in. The pair devise a way for Black Tom to turn himself in to the authorities and give Siryn some closure on their relationship, and with Warpath's help, arrange a meeting between the two. At the grave of Siryn's mother, whom Tom also loved, the two argue, with Siryn ultimately accepting how much of a father Tom was to her, while forcing Tom to accept that he is responsible for his own evil actions. As Siryn declares that she's giving up drinking, Tom allows himself to be arrested. Juggernaut, watching from the shadows, points out to Warpath that if Siryn truly stops drinking, she may not need him anymore. Warpath agrees, but says, that may be the price of friendship.

Firsts and Other Notables
As Siryn grapples with her alcoholism and relationship with Black Tom, this issue provides a chunk of backstory for both her and  Black Tom. First, we see how Tom & Banshee's rivalry developed, how both fell for the same woman, Maeve Rourke (previously mentioned before), how a tussle between them led to Tom needing to use the cane that would later channel his mutant energy blast, and how Tom came to raise Siryn when Maeve died after giving birth while Banshee was away with Interpol and Tom chose to keep Siryn a secret.


From Siryn's perspective, she tells Warpath about how Tom ultimately sent her to a Catholic boarding school, where she was introduced to alcohol and quickly came to use it to help her deal with her issues, including the feeling that Tom, whom she loved as a father, had abandoned her.


Tom, in turn, tells Siryn that he only sent her away to keep her away from his increasing criminal activities, which doesn't quite gel with Siryn's first appearance, in which she was working as a criminal associate of Tom & Juggernaut.

This issue marks the first time Siryn has seen her "uncle" since he was implanted with wood bits by Tolliver following his injuries in issue #4.


Siryn declares she is giving up drinking at the end of the issue, which is one of those pat "well, I've laid my issues to rest, so I guess I can just quit drinking now" kind of moments, though Siryn's alcoholism won't be entirely swept under the rug and will pop up again from time to time. Also, she apparently stocks her flask with some kind of purple booze...


Though they still aren't quite a romantic couple at this point, Juggernaut points out to Warpath that she may lose interest in him now that he won't be cleaning up after her drunken binges, something Warpath, to his credit, seems okay with it, as it's the best thing for Siryn.


Speaking of Juggernaut, this issue is another example of him hanging out in a bar in civilian clothes, though it goes much better (for the bar, especially) than in Uncanny X-Men #183.

A Work in Progress
It's noted here that while Siryn refers to Black Tom as her "uncle", he is in fact her second cousin (as he and Banshee are first cousins, not brothers).


It's also said that Juggernaut & Black Tom first met in jail.


Juggernaut's involvement in this story stems (pun intended) from the fact that Black Tom's new wood implants are killing him (as a result of Juggernaut "rescuing" him from Tolliver's scientists too soon), and the only way he'll be able to get treatment is if he turns himself in to the authorities. As he, Warpath & Kelvin watch a plan to make that happen, Juggernaut points out that he can always just break Tom back out of jail whenever it's safe to, which is a nice touch.

The Grim 'n' Gritty 90s
Siryn's discussion of how alcohol became a crutch with her is careful to point out how vile & nasty the stuff is, in a very "PSA-y" kind of way that reads like Nicieza wanted to make sure to turn kids off the idea of drinking ("They hated the taste -- they hated the way it made them feel sick to their stomach. They saw the drink's stupidity -- and gave it up").

Also, Kelvin receives data on Tom from interpol via fax.


Austin's Analysis
This is a quiet, character-driven issue featuring just two regular cast members and no super-powered fights, focusing on alcoholism, the emotional weight of family, and the power of friendship; reading issue #1 of this series, it'd be impossible to imagine an issue like this ever occurring, which is a testament to the work Fabian Nicieza has done rehabilitating this title into, if not an all-time classic, a consistently readable series with engaging characters, capable of supporting stories that deliver more than just splash pages of action scenes featuring anatomically-bizarre figures. Even the art, which isn't perfect, is still somehow stronger and more polished than in previous issues, despite the lack of fight scenes (and a few questionable panels of characters talking to one another but posed like they're fighting each other).

Of course, making the Irish character in the book an alcoholic who learned to drink at Catholic school has always carried some strong whiffs of stereotyping, but it helps that Siryn being Irish has never been a terribly big part of her character up to this point (in part because "Siryn" as a codename is less inherently Irish than "Banshee", meaning readers aren't always immediately being reminded that she's Irish), and Nicieza grounds her behavior in her difficult family life: not just traditional father issues, but struggling with feelings of abandonment from both her biological father and the man who raised her, and then the difficulty of reconciling her genuine love for that man with the fact that he's inherently not a great guy.

Similarly, Warpath's involvement here is more than just a typical "pining for an unrequited love" scenario, as he finds himself valuing Siryn's well being more than the satisfaction he may get from being needed by her. Even her old boyfriend Kelvin, introduced in this story, is somewhat nuanced: at first, he seems like a rival for Siryn's affections, but ultimately turns out to be a sounding board for Warpath, while helping Siryn reconcile her issues with Black Tom, all without jumping in to try to and curry favor with her. It's smart and, in places, surprisingly subtle writing all around (Juggernaut is also excellent here, as he usually is whenever he's paired up with Black Tom). While this is perhaps not quite as good as some of the contemporaneous Lobdell Quiet Issues over in Uncanny, it's still quite an achievement, on its own merits, and especially because no would have ever have expected the words "smart & subtle" being used to describe X-Force some thirty issues ago.

Next Issue
Tomorrow, Excalibur #74. Next week: X-Men action figures Series V & VI and X-Force Series III, and Cable #8.

40 comments:

  1. It's a shame this issue wasn't published here in Brasil.

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  2. Siryn and Black Tom would actually be first cousins once removed, not second cousins. If Black Tom had any children then those children would be Siryn's second cousins.

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    1. As somebody who is always pointing that kind of thing out, I’m compelled to +1 this comment.

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    2. In my defense, I have never fully understood the second cousin/cousin-once-removed business, despite reading copious amounts of European history and having it explained to me multiple times (it's like my brain just can't hold onto that knowledge...), so I just assumed Nicieza knew it better than me.

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  3. "Also, she apparently stocks her flask with some kind of purple booze..."

    An unlit Flaming Moe?

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    1. Either that or Marvel had access to hard grape soda before the real world.

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    2. "When the weight of the world has got you down..."

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  4. I like how they went trough the trouble of, ha, keeping the consistency to UXM #100-103 with Flaherty and Eamon and the location in County Mayo, up to easter eggs like Sean prequel-throwing Tom down the cliff. (it's a sad sign of times thought that this is a happy surprise).

    Relationship Advice Juggernaut must be my favorite iteration of the character. It's nearly a bookend that Jimmy Proudstar is now a guest of a Cassidy at the Keep, a journey his brother barely missed back in the day, amiably chatting with non-belligerent Cain.

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    1. How is it nearly a bookend that his brother barely missed? He genuinely missed it because he was dead.

      Talk about reaching a bit too hard to find links/retcons/commonality between the present and the past.

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    2. The story here very obviously pays heed to the one in UXM #100-103 where the X-Men fight Juggernaut and Black Tom (and the backup story in CLASSIC X-MEN # 16). Thunderbird would have been there mugging Juggy had he not died only five issues earlier.

      So it's a nice touch that upon this conscious return to Cassidy Keep (and that story) his brother, the inheritor of his superhero identity, gets to meet Juggernaut there. Them being in completely different mood of things underlines nicely how far the characters have come, not least because once James was harshy beating up Banshee in UXM #193 and now he's helping his daughter.

      It may not be intentional on the writer's part but it's a damn nice thing nonetheless with the Proudstar/Cassidy family history considered. It's even funnier if they didn't notice and fully accidentally shipped the pair.

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    3. Actually, the real bookend would have been if X-force were to fight Count Nefaria at Valhalla Base.

      "Thunderbird would haven been had he not died" is rather silly, come to think of it. How could he be a bookend to something he was never a part of? What's next, with the upcoming fight against Nimrod, "Thunderbird would have been there mugging Nimrod had he not died only ninety-eight issues earlier"? Hell, if Thunderbird hadn't died, he would have fought Pyro and the Blob during DOFP, and oh wow, his brother fought them during his earlier days with X-force! And Proteus too, as well! Damn, what a bunch of amazing callbacks! LOL

      Wait, Jimmy was wearing his brother's costume while he was a member of the Hellions! And his brother would have fought them in Dark Phoenix Saga if only he had not died! Woah, the universe is amazing after all LOL

      By simple logic, of course Jimmy is going to come across characters and places his brother would have come across. But lets not forget, Jimmy and Juggernaut have already met earlier on in the series. As far as how the characters have come along, it makes more sense for Jimmy and Juggernaut to be less antagonistic given what is going with Siryn and Black Tom in the story, two characters they care about respectively.

      And where else would a story about Siryn and Black Tom take place, logically speaking? Madagascar? LOL

      Basically, the "Proudstar/Cassidy family history" is Jimmy kidnapping Banshee one time, and...not much else. It isn't like they have interacted at all besides that issue, which was the real bookend to his brother, if we're being honest.

      Who else were they going to hook up Jimmy with? Boom-Boom was taken, and Feral...eh, not really. Jimmy and Siryn were one of those weird ships that never really sailed out of the port, since it's basically him pining over her most of the time, with a slight detour with Risque. And even with a few characters commenting how Siryn may be jealous of Risque, again, nothing really ever develops between the two of them, as unintentional as the attempted shipping is.

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  5. // Later, Kelvin meets with Juggernaut //

    You may be using code names for the sake of readers only broadly familiar with the material but, apropos of four quotes down, I was impressed by how it’s almost all Jimmy, Terry/Theresa, Cain, and Sean in the story, befitting its human scale, rather than Warpath, Siryn, Juggernaut, and Banshee.

    // how both fell for the same woman //

    Ere about 20 minutes ago, I was curious whether Nicieza had missed all the previous subtext about Tom and Juggernaut’s relationship, didn’t like it, was asked by editorial to steer away from it and into the romantic rivalry with Sean for Maeve, or what. The love triangle doesn’t explicitly (so to speak) preclude a later male domestic partnership, of course, but I hadn’t recalled Maeve’s introduction in the backup to Classic X-Men #16 prior to checking the Interwebs to see if we’d heard any of this before, nor do I remember her coming up in conversation here. I suppose we can read into Juggernaut’s concern for Tom if we’d like, regardless, although seeing that it was Claremont who actually created the Maeve situation I feel mighty confused.

    // she apparently stocks her flask with some kind of purple booze //

    It's that weird comic-book color that's borderline gray and purple at the same time. Reminds me of… hold up… Siryn’s been getting soused on web fluid!

    // stems (pun intended) //

    Ouch.

    // This is a quiet, character-driven issue featuring just two regular cast members and no super-powered fights //

    Literally the first note I jotted down: Was that an issue of X-Force without a fight scene or even costumes?

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    1. The images of young womanizer Tom Cassidy with all them ladies could be taken from his birthday scene in MTU #150, but that issue's still a safely subtextuous romp between those two. Maybe Tom needed to keep some appearances as Irish countryside castle-dweller, but for a supposed romantic rival he's pretty cool and maybe even relieved for losing Maeve to Sean back in the day. It may also be that what bugged him was losing the contest rather than losing the lady.

      Nothing can stop Juggernaut/Black Tom ship. Would read the LS on their prison-time.

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    2. Also, when Kelvin recaps the Maeve history to Cain, the camera picks up an eyeshot of Cain who says "I know the story, kid." He may have heard a different, the unofficial true version from Tom himself. And, we are not told how exactly Tom started trying to prove at that time that Maeve was right for choosing Sean the (excuse me) straightshooter. We may be dancing around same double-meanings and subtext I am told there is in the classic Judas Priest song "Breaking the Law".

      There might even be a horrible reading lurking in the early counter-revolutionary straight WASP X-Men and how they kept Cain away from his Westchester mansion inheritance and threw Black Tom and his partner out of their Cassidy Keep. Even after the status change in #193 to revolutionary, the first thing the X-Men do is hassle with Cain who's peacefully going at his own businesses and call him jerk because he wasn't gushingly thankful for their presumed heroic standing up for him against the organized societal enforcement represented by Nimrod.

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    3. @Blam: You may be using code names for the sake of readers only broadly familiar with the material...

      That's actually something I struggle with off-and-on writing these reviews. Once upon a time, I gave myself a rule that I would refer to characters by codenames when they were doing superhero stuff and real names when they were doing character-driven stuff, but I worried more casual readers may not know all the real names and get confused, and also, I found it really difficult for me to write "Logan" instead of "Wolverine", or "Ororo" instead of Storm (and, on the flip side, Kitty is "Kitty", rarely "Shadowcat/Sprite/Whatever", and I never could quite bring myself to call Dani Moonstar anything other than "Dani"). So now I just have a mishmash approach, where some characters are routinely referred to by codename, others by their real name, and others toggling back and forth depending on the story, with me periodically musing I really should come up with a way to be consistent across the board without ever doing it...

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    4. @Teemu: // for a supposed romantic rival he's pretty cool and maybe even relieved //

      If you squint you can read the backup as Tom merely competing with Sean out of spite and Maeve simply being charmed by his cultured air, but with eyes wide open his thought bubbles read (to me) pretty clearly as heartbreak with no shades of repression or self-delusion.

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    5. Well, @Blam, as you said it doesn't preclude Tom/Cain, but, for the argument's sake, his thought of "All I need do is keep silent, and I've won. She'll be mine." is somewhat rivalry-oriented for the occasion. Also he maybe seems to be more worried about her heart breaking, now and maybe eventually, than his own. He has warm feelings for her for sure, but are they necessarily romantic or is the lack of them not being romantic the very reason for him stepping back?

      Anyway, it's proper that his dearest friendship will be rewarded with a partner that jumps after him from a castle tower. And an aeroplane.

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    6. Re: Claremont creating the Maeve situation, he technically did that already in SPIDER-WOMAN #37-38 when Siryn was premiered as Tom's and Juggernaut's partner in crime and Sean's unknown daughter under his custody, whom he as a loving relative claims to be innocent to his and Juggy's crimes upon their arrest. So CLASSIC X-MEN #16 may have to be seen as an attempt to explain why Tom would raise Sean's daughter in secrecy and how such a situation has arised. Tom having not much love for her dad, quite likely there needed to be some for her mother.

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    7. By “the Maeve situation” I meant the love triangle, not simply the fact that Sean had a daughter (very likely born of woman) raised by Tom.

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    8. Well, "why Tom is raising Sean's daughter and not telling him" is maybe not a mystery that particularly needs solving, but Maeve's introduction in any case seems like a way of solving it by making Tom having been in love (or something) with Theresa's mom, and Theresa possibly having taken after her more than Sean (powers, uniform and hair aside) and so reminding of her. If there wasn't Theresa, then the CLASSIC #16 backup has even less to justify it's existence.

      Of course he may just have been fond of a blood relative, and there also is the matter that Cassidy Keep needs a heir.

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  6. Count me in as someone who doesn't see the Tom/Cain relationship as a couple. Really close friends, sure, but a couple? Eh, not so much.

    I really liked Nicieza's run on X-force. While I am appreciating his X-men work a bit better now, I still prefer his work in X-force. In some ways, it reminds me of the CC/JRJr Uncanny run more than anything else we're gotten from the franchise so far in the 90s. Issues that focus/spotlight certain characters (sometimes with nobody appearing in costume!), some good action stories mixed in, and some strong character work.

    Compared to what this title started out as, and what it is now, kudos to him for doing what he did with this title.

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    1. You can be referred to as "his partner Black Tom Cassidy" only so many time, and once Cain brings you a ruby for your birthday it's pretty set.

      On the more offensively stereotypical side I was going to say the only time we saw Juggernaut with a woman in non-hostile environment was when he was telling the 80's popstar Dazzler that he has her every album, but then I remembered that he was all over Selen in that issue where Logan and Kurt took Peter to bar. But there's probably a Cher joke somewhere in there.

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    2. @wwk5d: // Count me in as someone who doesn't see the Tom/Cain relationship as a couple. //

      I never saw it myself, honestly. To the best of my recollection, I hadn’t even heard about it until coming aboard the blog, but got the impression that at some point the possible subtext had become more than just that — via a story or at least a creator quote Teebore shared — the way that in my own die-hard X-Men fandom days Sabretooth was, per everything but confirmation on the page, known to be Wolverine’s father or Mystique was Nightcrawler’s own mom and/or maybe dad. Given those examples, of course, I admit that apparently common knowledge has only a 50% or perhaps merely 25% through-rate.

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    3. I still don't see it either. In those examples you listed, there were enough hints dropped on us and/or it was confirmed by various writers (well, mostly CC).

      In the case of Tom/Cain, there hasn't really been anything except wish fulfillment shipping.

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    4. I don't want to be overselling anything, but just as a pointer to that: especially under Jim Shooter non-straight sexuality was specifically a no-go, so they really couldn't do much more than Rogue think-bubbling of Northstar's "... secret" in X-MEN/ALPHA FLIGHT even when they wanted. At that time Byrne had already done his part of hinting in an early issue of AF, but in a way that needed his own pointing out afterwards.

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    5. And yes, there never was similar explicit implicity about Black Tom and Juggernaut.

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    6. I've gone back and forth on this over the years. As people here have noted, there's nothing anywhere that explicitly calls out Black Tom and Juggernaut as a couple, and certainly men can have very strong brotherly friendships with no romance involved.

      I suspect that a lot of people who have either wholeheartedly embraced the idea or even briefly considered it did so in large part simply because Chris Claremont was known to be such a champion of LGBT material in comics at a time when many other writers weren't. So basically using "meta" knowledge to create subtext where they may not have been any intended. I know that's certainly a large part of why I've considered it.

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    7. Yeah, but I do think had CC wanted to, he would have dropped hints about them the way he did with Mystique and Destiny.

      And it isn't like we got hints about Cain and Tom before or after Shooter's reign.

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    8. Well, he was always a non-entity to begin with; comicbookdb doesn't even list him with more than 12 appearances before 1990 and that's including one panel cameos. More often than not he was present as but a non-appearing mention of him being referred as "Juggernaut's partner". It really lies on if you want to read anything to that choice of word, when used by Claremont.

      Do we know any other villain pair that gets referred as each others' partners?

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    9. ... and then I check up and learn that the original text in UXH #218 used the word "accomplish". Well this is awkward. I'm pretty sure they used "partner" in our translated version, which issue may have a big part to my take, alongside Weezie's MTU #150 where Rachel remembers them having shared the Juggernaut power in her future because Tom asked for it and they (or at least Tom) were on the good guys' side.

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    10. "Do we know any other villain pair that gets referred as each others' partners?"

      Ooh, trivia! Cobra and Mister Hyde come to mind off the top of my head; I'm pretty sure they were referred to as partners. There must be others too, but I'd have to think about it.

      Also, regardless of the reference in issue 218, there had to have been occasions where Juggernaut and Black Tom were called partners -- though they may not have necessarily come from Claremont.

      But while "partner" can mean significant other, I feel like that's a more recent thing; at least from my perspective. I don't recall many people calling their boyfriends/girlfriends/spouses "partners" in the 80s.

      Actually, the very first time I recall hearing anyone use the word partner to mean a significant other was Tom Hanks referring to Rita Wilson as such when he won the Academy Award for PHILADELPHIA in 1994. For whatever reason, that's always stuck in my head. Not to say people weren't using the term with that meaning prior; that's just when I personally first encountered it.

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    11. A quick selective look-up shows that "partner" indeed was the go-to term used by Wolverine in UXM #183 and #194 and by the omniscient narrator in ASM #230.

      Cain though always call Tom "friend" and Tom mostly calls Cain "laddie".

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    12. Or, "boy". Which is curious; they often portray Cain as somewhat dimwitted near-juvenile, though he should be very close to Xavier's age as per their backstory. Unless of course crimson things of Cyttorak also stopped his aging process to the young age he was during his time in the Korean war.

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    13. You know, guys, they are a couple. He's the frigging Juggernaut, Cyttorak-powered invulnerable steamroller of 100+ class. Like the X-Men really were actually relieved/worried as their first thought that/if Black Tom, a guy shooting blasts from a cane, wasn't there. It's just Claremont's excuse to namecheck him as "partner".

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    14. Are we still trying to make this a thing?

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  7. That's fine, that's your opinion, and you are welcome to it. I still don't see it.

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    1. I certainly respect your own view on the matter and will not insist my reading to succumb yours. It is, after all, a subtext.

      You can give horse lemans, but you can't make it make lemonade.

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    2. "You can give horse lemans, but you can't make it make lemonade"

      That passive-aggressive BS is uncalled for. Because it is still implying that I'm somehow in the wrong for not seeing some made-up subtext that exists only in the minds of certain fans.

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    3. The second paragraph was completely meant as nothing else than a forced pun on the Claremont's use of "leman" re: Mystique and Destiny.

      The first paragraph is the honest view I have on the matter. The whole subtext thingy is an art of reading things between the lines and it can as well be that there's really nothing there. As long as they don't actually confirm anything, like they did with Mystique and Destiny (the hints of which may have been there in UXM #170), I absolutely am not in position to claim that anyone not agreeing with me is wrong.

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