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Wednesday, May 30, 2018

X-amining Uncanny X-Men #312

"Romp"
May 1994

In a Nutshell
Storm, Yukio & Gambit fight the Phalanx in New York

Writer: Scott Lobdell
Penciler: Joe Madureira
Inkers: Green & Candelario
Letterer: Chris Eliopoulos
Colorist: Steve Buccellato
Editor: Kevin Somers
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco

Plot
As Storm & Yukio fight the Phalanx, Gambit arrives in the city. After Yukio is injured in a blast from the Phalanx, Storm is able to shatter the Phalanx into pieces. Just then, a human, determined not to let a mutant save him, attacks the Phalanx pieces with a baseball bat. But the Phalanx reconstitutes itself and assimilates the human, then tries to do the same to Storm. Just then, Gambit intervenes, and manages to dislodge the Phalanx' hold on Storm, allowing her to fly herself, Gambit & Yukio closer to the shore. There, they meet an agent of the National Security Council, but the Phalanx quickly follow, and the NSC agent turns out to be one of them. Back at the mansion, Beast revives the unconscious Iceman, but he remains in a coma, with Professor X unable to read his mind due to psychic interference that may be caused by the presumably-still comatose Emma Frost.

Firsts and Other Notables
After hanging around the X-office and getting some one-off projects (like an Excalibur fill-in and the Deadpool miniseries), Joe Madureira makes his Uncanny X-Men debut with this issue. Originally hired only for a fill-in stint (he draws this issue and the next), the response to his art amongst readers led Bob Harras to make him the series' new regular artist (much to the dismay of John Romita Jr., who intended to return to the series after finishing the Batman/Punisher crossover series). He will return with issue #316 for the start of the "Phalanx Covenant" crossover, and remain the regular artist on the book all the way through to issue #350 (albeit with many, many fill-ins interrupting that run, resulting in Madureira penciling roughly two years' worth of issues across three years of publication time).

This issue reintroduces the Phalanx, the techno-organic race of beings determined to wipe out mutantkind, first mentioned in issue #306 (when it was revealed that a still-alive Cameron Hodge was part of the group), and presents them more or less in the way that will become standard throughout the upcoming "Phalanx Covenant" crossover, as a bright gold techno-organic shapeshifting beings not unlike the New Mutants' Warlock (whereas Hodge, in issue #306, was a more raw mix of organic and mechanic parts, the Phalanx moving forward - including Hodge, when he returns - will look more like Warlock).


One notable difference here is that the Phalanx are under orders to assimilate, rather than kill Yukio & Storm (a convenient explanation for why the vastly more powerful Phalanx aren't just obliterating their foes); however, the Phalanx inability to assimilate mutants will soon be established, and become a pivotal plot point throughout "Phalanx Covenant".


Beast works to revive Iceman following the power surge in the previous issue, and though he wakes up briefly, he slips into a coma. While awake, he mentions "Pierce", a hint at the upcoming reveal that Iceman & Emma Frost's minds swapped when they were both hit by the surge ("Pierce" being Donald Pierce, whom Emma Frost believed to be behind the Sentinel attack that put her into a coma in issue #281, because Pierce, fleeing the Sentinels himself, led them to her).


Sabretooth point out what a loser Iceman is, citing how he theoretically is one of the most powerful X-Men but rarely uses his power to its full potential, a sentiment first expressed by Mikhail Rasputin in issue #292 (which led to Iceman adopting his spiky, blockier form). This marks the beginning of the second "Iceman isn't living to his full potential" subplot, as the mind-swapped Emma will use his powers far better than he ever has, prompting another wave of doubt in Iceman.


The price of comics goes up this month, from $1.25 to $1.50 per standard issue (not including books like Wolverine, Excalibur & Cable, all of whom already have higher price points ostensibly due to the first two having initially launched ad-free with higher quality paper and additional backmatter like pinups, though they, like Cable, have long been otherwise-regular issues, print-wise, albeit with a higher cost regardless). This is the first price increase I experienced collecting in real time, and coming as it does (along with the influx of extra issues and deluxe issues with fancy covers) at a time shortly before I bought my last set of trading cards in real time, it may have been the thing that led to me dropping that aspect of collecting (as I was still pre-job, and thus more or less solely reliant on a limited allowance/parental mooching for my comic book budget, the increased cover prices may have pinched out the remaining bit of that income I was using for the cards).

And, of course, this particular price increase won't last long; issues #316 & #317, chapters of the "Phalanx Covenant", will have gimmick covers and thus higher prices, and then after that, #318 will kick off Marvel's "deluxe" printings, in which the books convert to higher quality, glossy paper and the price of a regular issue rises to $1.95.

This issue (and the rest of the X-books this month) also come with three trading cards bound in the spine from the Fleer Ultra Spider-Man series, not unlike the earlier Fleer Ultra X-Men cards bound in issues a few months prior.

Creator Central 
For whatever reason, Kevin Somers is credited as editor of this issue, not Bob Harras (though Harras still signs the footnote in this issue).

A Work in Progress
This issue establishes that Yukio is part of Professor Xavier's Mutant Underground.


She also makes a joke about "Monster Season" in Japan, which is both funny out-of-universe but also a reminder that Godzilla exists in the Marvel Universe.


It's established that the Phalanx are capable of reconstituting themselves when broken down.


Hodge's attack in issue #306 is referenced, and the weird ribbon-y flesh creatures from issue #305 are said to be proto-Phalanx as well.


The Best There Is, Mon Ami
Gambit, of course, has a past with Yukio.


Young Love
At one point Storm embraces an injured Yukio, and if you're looking for un-stateable subtext to their relationship, you don't have to look too hard.


Human/Mutant Relations
One particularly stupid human is angry at the idea of being protected by a mutant, so he attacks the Phalanx with a baseball bat (and gets assimilated for his troubles).


Austin's Analysis
While this issue is technically the continuation of a story begun in the previous issue, it feels more like the opening chapter this little "opening salvo" Phalanx tale (which concludes next issue), mostly because it *is* the beginning of the Joe Madureira X-Men era. Though only technically a guest artist at this point, he will become the book's next regular artist, rising to stratospheric levels of popularity and helping launch a wave of manga-influenced art across American comics, inspired by his popularity. The mid 90s saw a rise in the popularity of manga and anime across pop culture, and while some of that was fueled in part by the increased availability of anime/manga in the American market, in comics especially, much of the popularity was fueled by Joe Madureira.

With artistic Madureira-clones eagerly snatched up by other editors and companies chasing the sales of Uncanny X-Men at a time of an industry-wide sales slump following the burst of speculator bubble of the early 90s, manga (and Madureira)-influenced art spread all over the comics industry not long after this issue was published. So even though, on its face, this is a fairly straight-forward middle chapter of a story in which a small group of X-Men face off against a seemingly-invulnerable foe featuring some fun, fresh art from a young artist on the rise, it's hard not to read it as the beginning of the next big era of the X-books, the point at which the franchise fully shakes off any lingering after effects of the Image Exodus by discovering its next superstar artist, whose popularity & influence, with the X-Men and all throughout comics, will soon rival Jim Lee's.

Next Issue
Tomorrow, Polaris learns more about who is trying to kill her in X-Factor #102. Friday, Wolverine & Cyber arrive on Muir Island in Wolverine #81. Next week, X-Men (vol. 2) #32.

10 comments:

  1. Ahh, I've been waiting for this issue!

    First, I'd just like to note, for those (like me) who care about this sort of weird stuff, that this issue is still taking place the same night as last, and the next two issues will also occur that night as well! That's a lot of action for the X-Men in a single night, but none of it's decompressed in the way you'd expect a modern comic to be if it was set over one night. This is three stories -- two single-parters and a two-parter -- all crammed into probably twelve or so hours. I love it.

    Anyway... we aren't quite to the point where I started reading UNCANNY regularly, but it would be Joe Madureira's artwork which would get me on board within just a few more issues. At the time, this stuff looked so amazing and slick and energetic and beautiful! And, to be honest, I still feel that way. Considering Mad was only something like twenty when he drew this stuff, I think it's astounding. Though I didn't like John Romita, Jr.'s art at this time, I do really like it now -- though even today I think he's a better fit on "street level" characters like Spider-Man or Daredevil, or on larger-than-life Kirby-style stuff such as Thor. But for me, he just doesn't work as well on characters like the X-Men, the Avengers, and so forth. So even now, as respects the X-Men specifically, I actually like this Joe Mad's work more than Romita's from prior issues.

    Not much to say about the story itself, though. It's serviceable, and combined with the next installment, makes for a decent "prologue" to "Phalanx Covenant". I like the slow burn approach toward this crossover; you have the Phalanx first showing up (unnamed) during "Fatal Attractions" in issues 305 and 306, then this story in 312 and 313, plus all the Douglock stuff over in EXCALIBUR, all to lead into the crossover proper beginning in 316.

    I think I've mentioned it before (in fact I'm sure I must have), but I've always liked the way the X-office of this era would set up the subsequent year's crossover during the prior year's, then gradually build up to it over the subsequent dozen or so issues. Sometimes it worked -- I'd say this Phalanx sequence does, as does Bastion showing up through the year between "Onslaught" and "Zero Tolerance" -- but of course other times it failed, as would be the case with Onslaught. (Though I maintain that on their own, not knowing how it would turn out, the Onslaught clues themselves were pretty compelling and got a reader primed for something big; the event itself not properly delivering on those clues is a different matter.)

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  2. It's kind of funny.

    When Liefeld turned up, really, as far back as his Hawk and Dove mini, I could tell he was going to do big things, that for all his obvious shortcomings there was an energy and excitement to his art. When I first saw Todd McFarlane's art on his run on the Hulk with Peter David, I thought to myself "this guy is going to be huge." I didn't really think it about Jim Lee until I saw his first X-Men work, but I recall seeing it and going "he needs to be the permanent artist on Uncanny, he'd be the best thing for the book since Byrne."

    I did not get that sense off Joe Mad at all. I thought he was good, don't get me wrong, but I did not at all get the sense we had the next superstar artist in the business. Hell, at the time I was more excited about what Salvador LaRocca was doing for Marvel UK than what Joe Mad did here.

    Clearly I had the occasional problem with being a comic book prophet.

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    1. Jack, if you predicted that many artists would eventually become superstars, I think you can be given a pass for missing the boat on Joe Mad. I thought he was the bee's knees, but I never would've expected him to influence the industry style in the way he did!

      Though I'm in agreement with Josh Hendricks below -- it was the X-Men Pizza Hut ad that caught my eye as a kid and first introduced me to Mad. I remember thinking the style was so different than any comic art I'd ever seen, and I loved it immediately. In a way, that two-page spread ad is the most definitive X-Men illustration of the nineties for me.

      (Madureira's promo art for "Phalanx Covenant" also jumped out at me in a way nothing else ever had, too. When I realized he was drawing the actual story as well, I was hooked as a regular UNCANNY reader from that point forward.)

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    2. I will admit thinking he got a lot better between the Deadpool mini and this, but I totally missed the boat on how big he was going to get. When I realized how big he'd gotten later, I basically went "I got that one wrong."

      I do regret that he didn't do more in the 90s after he left Marvel, but that's another story entirely.

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  3. // Storm, Yukio & Gambit the Phalanx in New York //

    I really like the sound of “Gambit the Phalanx” for some reason, but you’re missing a verb there.

    “Who do you think should play Spider-Man in the upcoming movie?”
    “Charlie Sheen. He’d make a good Peter Parker.”
    Bullpen Bulletins interview with Mark Bagley

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    1. Tiger blood, spider blood... it's all the same.

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  4. I remember being 13 and seeing Joe Mad’s X-men for the first time in Pizza Hut on a placemat when they were running the XMen cartoon promotion(I had been collecting since I was 10 and caught the tail-end of the Image era of X-Men with my first issue being the first chapter of X-tinction Agenda). I knew immediately that this guy was going to be huge and he needed to be the artist on the X-men. A couple of years went by and I kept up with his work as he wowed me on Excalibur and then his big break on the Deadpool series. When this issue finally hit stands and I saw he was the artist I knew it was the dawning of a new era. The last great era of X-men in regards to art and story. Granted the art outlasted the great story as the incredible AoA gave way to the less-then-stellar Onslaught and the even worse Zero Tolerance. But I didn’t care then and I don’t care now. Joe Mad is simply the greatest comic book artist of all time for me(Jim Lee being a close second). No one can match the energy he puts on a page. No one can match his imagination and design skills. I think his art really hit its stride during his AOA run as he moved away from the Art Adams influence and went heavy into the manga. I gave up X-men 4 years ago after suffering through over a decade of steady decline and character assassinations of Cyclops, Bishop, Iceman, and others. I’m still waiting for the lightning-in-a-bottle duo of writer and artist to bring the series back to its previous level of greatness. Your blogs are fantastic in their nostalgia yet also sad to me for what once was.

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  5. I think this issue was the first one I read that referenced Storm and Gambit’s friendship, and it was definitely my introduction to Yukio. (Given that I “came up” on the post-1991-relaunch X-Men comics, I was very confused about why an X-Men story would feature a non-powered ally.)

    I loved Joe Madureira’s art — and I still do! His compositions are so dynamic, and his style is so recognizable. I was always disappointed when there was a fill-in during his run.

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  6. Just a quick note that I went back into the post and added a couple bits about the increase in cover price starting this month, and the bound-in Spider-Man trading cards, that I forgot to include when I initially published the post.

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  7. I presume the joke about "monster season" is a callback to Claremont's joke in Uncanny 181.

    #ClaremontDidEverythingFirst #CDEF

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