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Wednesday, May 2, 2018

X-amining Uncanny X-Men #311

"Putting the Cat Out"
April 1994

In a Nutshell
A power outage allows Sabretooth to escape

Writer: Scott Lobdell
Pencils: John Romita Jr.
Inkers: Dan Green/Al Vey
Letterer: Chris Eliopoulos
Colors: Buccellato/Javins
Editor: Bob Harras
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco

Plot
As an impatient Jubilee waits for Beast to finish checking the mansion's power core before taking her to a midnight Rocky Horror Picture Show viewing, Iceman checks on the comatose White Queen and Storm says goodbye to Bishop on her way to meet Gambit and an old friend in the city. Just then, the mansion suddenly loses power, and a surge blasts Iceman & the White Queen, knocking him out. With the power out, Sabretooth escapes from his cell and attacks Jubilee, who fends him off until Bishop arrives and blasts him through a wall. As Beast frantically works to restore power before the core explodes, Bishop chases Sabretooth into the tunnels beneath the mansion. With Jubilee's help, he manages to subdue Sabretooth without killing him, as Beast averts disaster and gets the power back on, but Iceman is still unconscious. In the city, Storm meets her friend, Yukio, who wanted to warn her about a threat against the X-Men. However, the threat has already found them, as members of the Phalanx appear before them.

Firsts and Other Notables
This marks the final issue of John Romita Jr.'s relatively short second run on the series (which began with issue #300 but also included two fill-in/guest artists in #303 and #305, with issue #304 a jam issue featuring multiple artists in addition to JRjr). He left the series to work on the Punisher/Batman Marvel/DC crossover series, and the story goes that his intention was to simply take a break from Uncanny to work on that project, then return to the X-Men. But while he was gone, one of the artists tapped to fill in for him, Joe Madureira, proved to be such a hit with readers in his two issues that Bob Harras simply gave the book to him and told Romita he would no longer be needed when he was done with the intercompany crossover.

This issue also kicks off the story which begins in earnest next issue, which features the return of the Phalanx and their first direct attack on the X-Men (following Hodge's attack on Archangel & Jean Grey in issue #306), which in turn will lead to this year's summer crossover, "The Phalanx Covenant".


Yukio, Wolverine's former lover/friend and Storm's former lover(?) and punk inspiration, drops by this issue, meeting Storm in New York City in order to warn her about the Phalanx. She was last seen in Wolverine #60, and will guest star in the next two issues (where more will be revealed as to how she even knows about the Phalanx).


Iceman is caught by the power surge while attending to Emma Frost; their interaction here will lead to Emma regaining consciousness (further setting the stage for her role in Generation X) and possessing Iceman's body for a short time, which will in turn lead to a crisis of confidence in Iceman as he once again realizes he's not using his powers to their full potential.


A Work in Progress
The power surge which knocks out the mansion's power in this issue is an after effect of Magneto's EMP pulse from X-Men #25, a nice nod to recent continuity.

Jubilee is continuing to grapple with Wolverine's absence.


It's been awhile since Bishop mentioned the X-traitor, but as he hunts down the escaped Sabretooth in this issue, he ponders if Sarebtooth is that traitor (spoiler alert, he's not, and it's kind of silly to even think so, since no one really trusts Sabretooth, and Jean explicitly said "never should have trusted" in the recording from issue #287).


Waiting to meet Yukio, Storm reflects on her influence and Storm's punk phase.


Claremontisms
In what is a very Claremontian use of his power, Bishop describes a time he used his power to absorb the small amount of energy released by the individual melting of snowflakes during a blizzard to recharge himself.


Young Love
Iceman laments his love life and the fact that he drove Opal away.


For Sale
Videos of the animated series appear for sale in this issue, though they are still limited to just one episode apiece.


An example of how Jim Lee's art remained long after he left the book (and Marvel), an ad for Hi-C in this issue is laden with his art. It also features promotional pogs, which,

A. Using Jim Lee art to hock X-Men pogs might be the most 90s thing ever.
B. I had all of those pogs.


Austin's Analysis
Through no fault of its own, this issue has always felt overshadowed by the issues immediately surrounding it. Like it's predecessors, this is a mostly self-contained story with ties to the larger narrative (in this series and elsewhere), but the previous three issues had the benefit of being tied in to the larger "wedding of Cyclops & Jean Grey" event. Prior to that, the series featured a couple of standalone issues (in terms of connecting to the issues of this series immediately before and after) that were part of larger crossovers (#307 and #304), and one that stands as a memorable depiction of grief and the loss of a beloved character (#303). Immediately following this issue are a pair which introduce the artist who will become the next dominant artistic visionary of the X-books and help usher in an entirely new style to superhero comics overall. Compared to all that, this issue pales somewhat, especially since it's mostly a transition issue, offering this series' reaction to the presence of Sabretooth in the mansion (which the sister X-Men title already did), and setup the next story (which is, in turn, setting up the next big crossover event), which doesn't really begin in earnest until next issue.

So its hard not to read this and get a "so what?" feeling in the face of the bigger things happening in the issues around it, which is a shame, because stepping back from that, this is a really fun little story. It's a great spotlight for Bishop, who's gotten a bit lost in the shuffle as the X-traitor subplot has been supplanted by the Legacy Virus, and who continues to shine in the role of chief of security at Xavier's school, as well as Jubilee, whom Lobdell continues to write well and is presented here consistently with her portrayal in the other "dealing with Sabretooth" story. And John Romita Jr., in what turns out to be his final issue of the series, knocks it out of the park once again, turning in some of his strongest art yet on his way out the door. It's a shame his too-short run is already over, just as it's a shame this issue is so overshadowed by the narratively-significant issues surrounding it on all sides.

Next Issue
Tomorrow, X-Factor mourns Madrox in X-Factor #101. Friday, Wolverine fights Cyber some more in Wolverine #81. Next week, X-Men #31.

11 comments:

  1. We are in the heart of the run during which I fell in love with X-Men comics, so it's hard for me not to say that I love each of these issues. This particular story always felt more important to me than was probably warranted because it was also the focus of a (very cool) What If? issue. I also remember being so unsatisfied as a 10- or 11-year-old that I had to wait 4 months to find out if Iceman was going to be okay. Definitely the highlight of Sabretooh's time in the mansion in my opinion.

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  2. In what is a very Claremontian use of his power, Bishop describes a time he used his power to absorb the small amount of energy released by the individual melting of snowflakes during a blizzard to recharge himself.

    We remember Dazzler in #218 when Juggernaut buried her thinking she was dead, and she loaded her powers from crickets and water trickles and such.

    The bearded Phalanx guy in the pic seems to be the same who left his family in earlier issue and stepped in the car with text Phalanx. Good continuity.

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  3. I still love JRJR’s first stint as X-Men artist. If anyone has doubt about his skills, just take a look at that page in which Kitty cries after Peter ends their relationship (after he cheated on her). Not a single artist from the 90s could have shown emotions so realistic as he did back then.

    Now, his second stint is more problematic. I admit that I was one of the readers who was mesmerized by Madureira and I believe it was probably the same feeling that others before me felt when Liefeld showed up on New Mutants. Madureira is a far better artist than Liefeld, obviously, but now, older and wiser, I prefer JRJR in his bulkier and blockier style. After he left, no one was able to make Bishop imposing as he was, which is probably why the character became less and less important.

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  4. This issue did feel like it got lost in the shuffle. It's a solid, tense story in its own right (every plot hits on this), but it's not part of what's clearly now Phalanx Covenant setup, so it kind of just got forgotten.

    "Bob Harras simply gave the book to him and told Romita he would no longer be needed when he was done with the intercompany crossover."

    It amazes me that so many of the people Harras burnt bridges with during this period (including the writers, who had some scathing things to say with their exits) would later come back to work with him on DC's New 52. He just seems very unprofessional & capricious. I get that you want to push the guy that's electrified readers, but you could do it with a bit more tact for a long-time artist & favorite.

    "Videos of the animated series appear for sale in this issue, though they are still limited to just one episode apiece."

    And no price listed, either...

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    1. My memory is that those videos were like $15 a pop (in 90s money!) for a single episode, which even as a kid always felt insane to me because I could just tape them myself off the tv and then have multiple episodes on a blank tape that cost $3 or whatever.

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    2. I had the entire first three seasons of the X-Men animated series on VHS I recorded off TV, and I was an adult. It really wasn't until the advent of the DVD that animated programs started being collected in more than 1-3 episodes a tape. I suspect the technical limitations of what could be on a VHS tape was part of it-usually if a movie exceeded 3 hours, it was two tapes-but even still, one episode was absurd.

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    3. Yeah, I mean even just before the DVD boom, in the early 00s, studios were still releasing big three or four tape collections of TV shows, with a pair of episodes on each. X-Files had a bunch, Buffy, etc.

      But I was definitely one of those people who taped stuff directly off the TV. I had boxes and boxes of VHS tapes, each with a 3x5 notecard taped on the side listing the episodes in order on each tape, for the Simpsons, the X-Men animated series, etc.

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  5. I seem to have fallen even further behind than you. I just read this one last night. Not a lot to say about it, though. As you said, it's not bad, but it's definitely overshadowed by the goings-on around it.

    That said, it does spotlight a type of story which I feel was very common during the Lobdell/Nicieza era, and which I really like -- it's almost an "action story within a quiet issue"; i.e. not a lot happens here with regards to any sort of larger adventure storyline (aside from the Phalanx cliffhanger), the action is confined entirely to the mansion, and it just sort of feels like a night in the life of the X-Men, albeit dealing with an escaped Sabretooth.

    Not sure if that makes sense, but like I said, I have recollections of a lot of this kind of story from this period, whether it's a little skirmish with Revanche followed by a bunch of chit-chat, Archangel and Psylocke visiting the Hellfire Club, Gambit confronting Sabretooth about their past, etc. There's an obligatory fight scene to justify this being an action/adventure comic, but it's tucked away somewhere in the midst of a bunch of talking and soap opera stuff which makes you feel after reading the issue like it was a "quiet" installment even when it really wasn't.

    Anyway, whether the above is coherent or not, it's a style of comic book writing that I really enjoy. Little, low-stakes fights for most of the year, lots of soap opera, and the major battles are generally all saved for the annual crossover events.

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    1. No, I totally get what you're saying, and while I too find it hard to articulate, it's a style I greatly enjoy as well.

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  6. Pogs! I remember pogs. While I never had any myself, I was struck by how all of a sudden everyone everywhere had decided that these little chits based on milk caps popular to collect and play with in Hawaii were the new! big! thing!… Sad to say, I greatly prefer the art on the pogs shown here to what’s in the contemporary X-Men comics themselves, although I could see young fans being disappointed by how different that art was from the Jim Lee work adorning the ad or the likes of Kubert and Romita in said comics. Anyhow, I hope you kids liked your pogs.

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    1. I was into pogs for a minute or two, mostly because my comic and trading card habit had me routinely going into the places where pogs were being sold and I was aware they were a thing, but I never really fell in love with them. I mostly remember assembling a set of Simpsons-based pogs, and treating them more or less like round trading cards, rather than as a playable game (which is also more or less how I approached my later, brief, forays into CCGs like Magic, in part because I had no one to play the actual game with). Ultimately, I was still on limited funds, so what little money I could scrap together pre-job was going to go to comics and actual trading cards first, and before long, the pog fad was dead and gone.

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