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Wednesday, August 15, 2018

X-amining The Adventures of Cyclops & Phoenix #1-4

"Wish You Were Here!" / "Tenure" / "Through the Years" / "Sacrifice"
May - August 1994

In a Nutshell
Cyclops & Phoenix spend their honeymoon two thousand years in the future, raising Cable & preparing him to overthrow Apocalypse.

Writer: Scott Lobdell
Penciler: Gene Ha
Inker: Al Vey (issues #1-4), Terry Austin (issue #2-3), Mark Pennington (issue #3), Joe Rubinstein (issue #3-4), Bill Anderson, Al Milgrom (issue #4)
Lettering: Starkings/Comicraft
Colorist: Kevin Somers
Editor: Bob Harras
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco

Plot
Issue #1: In the midst of their honeymoon, Scott Summers & Jean Grey-Summers find their minds pulled two thousand years in the future and deposited in new bodies by Mother Askani, who turns out to be an elderly Rachel Summers. They arrive in the midst of an attack on the Askani stronghold by Apocalypse's forces, led by Ch'Vayre, in which they've captured the clone of Nathan Summers. Rachel explains that she needs Scott & Jean to help raise & protect Nathan, who is destined to destroy Apocalypse & liberate the world. Rachel manages to imbue Scott & Jean's new bodies with versions of their powers, an act which puts her in a coma. Together, they manage to rescue Nathan & escape Ch'Vayre along with Rachel's body, after which they set out to build their little family.

Issue #2: Five years later, "Slym" & "Redd" Dayspring arrive with Nathan at the city of Coastcrest. Meanwhile, at Apocalypse's palace, Ch'Vayre is growing concerned with Stryfe's behavior, as well as Apocalypse's decision to accelerate the development of Stryfe's mutant abilities, but Apocalypse insists it's necessary to prepare Stryfe to serve as Apocalypse's permanent host. Back in Coastcrest, the Dayspring is hassled entering the city, but are vouched for by Prior Turrin, a notorious local resident within the city. Intrigued by Nathan, he proceeds to give the family a tour of the city, introducing them to the horrible living conditions suffered by the humans living there.

Issue #3: Three years later, Redd & Slym have joined Prior Turrin in the Clan Rebellion, fighting against Apocalypse's oppression. During a raid on one of Apocalype's laboratories, they discover data regarding a virus that resembles the Legacy Virus. Just then, they are ambushed by Apocalypse's forces, led by Ch'Vayre and a young Stryfe. Nathan, who followed his parents on the raid, unbeknownst to them, is directed by the telepathic voice of Rachel Summers to a nearby computer console, where he triggers a self-destruct mechanism. However, Stryfe is drawn to Nathan, and the two boys meet, unnerved by their physical similarity. Stryfe decides to kill Nathan, but Rachel helps Nathan tap into his own psychic abilities to knock out Stryfe. As the complex explodes, both the Clan Rebellion as well as Ch'Vayre & Stryfe escape, but Ch'Vayre, harboring doubts about Apocalypse's teaching and realizing his corruption of Stryfe is complete, vows to stop Stryfe from achieving his destiny as Chaos Bringer & heir to Apocalypse.

Issue #4: Three years later, Nathan, on the verge of adolescence, is hit by a flare up of the techno-organic virus, which had long been in remission. Slym refuses to leave his side, even sitting out the Clan Rebellion's mission to infiltrate Apocalypse's citadel and overthrow him. At the citadel, Apocalypse has begun the process of transferring his consciousness into Stryfe's body, over Ch'Vayre's objections. With Rachel's telepathic help, Nathan learns to use his power to control the virus, forcing it back into remission, at which point he tells Slym that Redd needs them both. At the citadel, Apocalypse is outraged when he discovers that Stryfe is not a true mutant, but rather a clone of Nathan Summers, but in his weakened state, decides to proceed with the transfer until a better host can be found. However, the transfer process is interrupted by Ch'Vayre, Redd, Slym & Nathan, working together. His current form burned out, Apocalypse dies. Their mission complete, Scott & Jean have only moments to say goodbye to Nathan as their consciousnesses leave the bodies of Slym & Redd. As Ch'Vayre retrieves the unconscious Stryfe, Nathan, now alone, vows to put back together the dream Apocalypse tore apart.

Firsts and Other Notables
This series essentially depicts Cyclops & Phoenix' "honeymoon", in which the two newlyweds have their consciousnesses sent into the future in order to raise Cyclops' son and prepare him to take down Apocalypse. In the process, it introduces a vast swath of mythology regarding Cable's future and the Askani order first introduced in X-Factor #65-68 which orchestrated Cable's arrival in the future, as well as the fact that Cable is destined to defeat Apocalypse once and for all (spring boarding off the fact that Apocalypse is responsible for him ending up in the future in the first place), a destiny which will later get looped into Mr. Sinister's origins and his motivations for orchestrating the birth of Cable in the first place, and which will, with Stryfe off the board and the X-Ternals nonsense getting gradually phased out, more or less define Cable's character as his chief motivation (including, retroactively, his justification for traveling into the past in the first place) for the rest of the 90s.


It also introduces the idea that Apocalypse needs to transfer his consciousness into new bodies (and by implication, that Apocalypse as we currently know him isn’t in his original body), an extension of the already-established notion that Apocalypse periodically enters regeneration periods. This need for new bodies will stick as part of the character’s schtick (even factoring into the plot of his cinematic debut in X-Men: Apocalypse), and further underlines the hypocrisy inherent to the character (in that he teaches that only the strong should survive, but seems to exclude himself from that edict whenever he loses).


The need for Apocalypse to take on new bodies also retroactively accounts for why Apocalypse attacked Nathan Christopher in X-Factor #65-68, as he wanted to take control of Nathan's body (as it would accommodate Apocalypse's own vast power), and used the techno-organic virus to prove his worthiness.


Stolen by Apocalypse’s forces shortly after being cloned (as seen in Cable #6-8) and just before Scott & Jean arrive in the future, Stryfe is raised by Apocalypse with the ultimate intention of turning him into Apocalypse’s next (and permanent) host body, as Apocalypse believes Stryfe to be the original Nathan Summers, who has defeated the techno-organic virus Apocalypse infected him with in the past (this ultimately leads to the animosity & hatred Stryfe feels toward Apocalypse, as seen in X-Cutioner’s Song).


The first issue reveals that Mother Askani, the wizened leader of the futuristic religion which opposes Apocalypse and orchestrated the arrival of Baby Nathan in the future (and created the clone which would eventually become Stryfe), is a time-tossed Rachel Summers. The idea here is that after entering the timestream in Excalibur #75, Rachel gets deposited in the future where she lives out her life, founds the Askani order, and works to orchestrate her “brother’s” destiny, though later stories will complicate that a bit by having a still-young Rachel emerge from the timestream and rejoin the X-Men.


The main non-Apocalypse, non-Stryfe related antagonist in this story is Ch'Vayre, a high-ranking official within Apocalypse's regime. He leads the assault on the Askani stronghold in issue #1, and is more or less presented as Apocalypse's righthand man until the end, when Apocalypse's treatment of Stryfe (and the hypocrisy of Apocalypse preaching "survival of the fittest" while grooming Stryfe to serve as his new physical vessel) leads him to rebel. He makes a few appearances after this, notably in the follow up series.


Ch’Vayre has the title of Prelate, a term that will pop up again during “Age of Apocalypse”.

Rachel says she is the last vessel of the Phoenix Force, though later stories (notably Avengers vs. X-Men) will prove that not to be the case.

Occasionally, this series refers to Jean as "Mrs. Summers"; later stories will show her married name to be Grey-Summers.

At one point, Redd & Slym discover information on a virus designed by Apocalypse to wipe our humanity, which resembles the Legacy Virus. It’s said the only reason it hasn’t been used is because it can’t differentiate between humans & mutants - which, by the time issue #3 of the series was published, is true of the Legacy Virus as well.


Issue #3 features the first chronological encounter between Stryfe & Cable.


Apocalypse references having been born a slave; the later Rise of Apocalypse limited series will elaborate further on that bit of dialogue.

In issue #4, Apocalypse says he named the stolen Nathan Summers clone Stryfe after an old enemy who almost killed him (in "X-Cutioner’s Song") but ultimately made him stronger. Which means Apocalypse hasn’t yet figured out the Stryfe he fought in the past is the child he raised in the future (which is what inspired Stryfe’s ire in the first place), and also that Stryfe sort of named himself.


In issue #4, a twelve-year-old Nathan learns to use his powers to hold back the TO virus, revealing that all this time, Cable has been less powerful relative to Stryfe because a large measure of his power is constantly working to fight the virus (something hinted at in recent issues of Cable & X-Force). This will, in turn, become a recurring plot point moving forward, as we’ll see Cable get periodically overwhelmed by the virus when he overuses his powers.


Apocalypse name-checks Holocaust as one of the foes he’s outlived. Previously shown in Stryfe’s Strike File, the character will eventually debut in “Age of Apocalypse” as, curiously, Apocalypse’s “son”, not as a direct rival/enemy.


A dying Rachel asks Jean to take up the mantle of Phoenix once again, bringing to an end the character’s too-long tenure as being codename-less, and giving the series’ title its second character name. Jean will more or less use "Phoenix" as her codename from now until the her death in New X-Men #150, though her relationship with Phoenix the cosmic entity will fluctuate during that time.


Rachel fully dies in issue #4, and though later stories will inject more (continuing to unfold) activities into her life before she goes to the future and grows old as Mother Askani, this death still stands as the furthest point on the character’s timeline.


The codename Cable also receives its official “he’s a link to the past, present and future” explanation.


The follow up to this series, Askani’son, is teased on the final page as coming out Fall of ‘95, roughly a year out (presumably to give Ha time to draw it). Another indirect sequel series will follow, The Further Adventures of Cyclops & Phoenix, in which a different member of the Askani order will send Scott & Jean's minds into the past, where they become involved in Mr. Sinister's origin.

Each issue of this series came printed on glossy paper with a cardstock cover, and cost $2.95 an issue (vs. the regular price of $1.50 at the time).

Creator Central 
Interestingly-enough, given that Fabian Nicieza launched Cable's solo series and has written most of his appearances, Scott Lobdell writes this series and is thus chiefly responsible for much of the new mythology surrounding Cable (certainly, it's pretty clear that Lobdell wrote Rachel out of Excalibur in #75 with the Mother Askani reveal already in mind).

Pencils come from Gene Ha, in his first work for Marvel. Probably most well known for drawing Alan Moore's Top 10, Ha also draws the upcoming third X-Men annual and the sequel to this series.

The Chronology Corner
Somewhat mimicking Wolverine being written out of Uncanny X-Men to account for his adventures in the Wolverine limited series, Cyclops & Phoenix appear here between issues #30 (which shows them departing for their honeymoon, where issue #1 picks up) and #35 (which shows them arriving back in the present after the end of issue #4) of X-Men.

A Work in Progress
As the story opens, Cyclops & Jean’s minds are pulled into the future directly from their honeymoon. They arrive shortly after Nathan does, just after the Askani cloned Stryfe and were attacked by Apocalypse's forces.


Early in the first issue, the old Stan Lee bit of mistaking telepathy for telekinesis occurs as Jean realizes she doesn’t posses powers in her new body.

Despite not having their powers in their new bodies, Scott & Jean’s psychic rapport remains.

It’s revealed here that Apocalypse rose to power in Cable’s future by taking advantage of a century-long era of racial peace called the Age of Xavier.


The word “Askani” means “Family of Outsiders”, the closest approximation to “X-Men” that Rachel could come up with.

The bodies of Slym and Redd are clones created from DNA scavaneged from descendants of Scott & Jean. Rachel is able to imbue them with some measure of their powers. It’s also said that they will return to their original bodies once Apocalypse has been defeated.


Technically, the Askani only brought Jean’s mind to the future; her psionic rapport with Scott brought his forward.

Bishop’s XSE is referenced as, essentially, the great grandparent of the Askani.


Slym, Redd & Nathan use the surname Dayspring, Cable’s “middle” name.

It’s noted that Apocalypse doesn’t realize Stryfe is a clone (and that Cable survived), until the end of the series.

Modern day English is considered “Olde English” in the future, and, in a neat touch, whenever Redd & Slym use it, it gets the “text within the brackets is translated from another language” treatment.

The Reference Section
Issue #2 opens with Redd, Slym & Nathan arriving outside Coastcrest leading a shmule (aka a Future Mule), depicted in a way that mirrors images of Joseph, Mary & Jesus arriving in Bethlehem. The biblical allusion continue on the next page, when it's said that under Apocalypse's rule, all non-mutants must return to their city of birth every ten years for a gene-scan (an echo of the biblical edict that men return to their place of birth for the census).


Young Love
For what it’s worth, it’s said that Jean removed any references to obeying Scott out of their wedding vows.


Rachel Summers, Crybaby
For you Rachel Summers fans out there, Scott has a nice moment where he apologizes for not being a better father and tells her he loves her.


Rachel says her favorite form is her pre-Days of Future Past 14-year-old self.


The Cable Guy
In issue #4, it’s confirmed that Cable’s bionics are organic.


Austin's Analysis
Arguably no characters benefits more from the de-Image-ification of the X-Men franchise following the Image Exodus than Cable. Prior to the departure of Rob Liefeld and company, he was little more than a gun-toting collection of 90s cliches surrounded by mysteries. But from his first limited series to "X-Cutioner's Song", the launch of his solo series, the softening of his relationship with X-Force, and the revelations of "Fathers and Sons", he has gradually evolved into a legitimate three dimensional character on par with many of his fellow X-brethern. Arguably, this miniseries is the final step in that development.

While it is titled on behalf of his honeymooning parents and launched in the wake of the hubbub surrounding their wedding, in jumping into the future (and Cable's past), this series essentially creates a mythology for Cable, making him the "chosen one" of a quasi-religious order inspired by the X-Men (and created by his quasi-half-sister), making Stryfe not just his archenemy but his thematic opposite  and imbuing him with a specific destiny: to oppose (and theoretically defeat) Apocalypse. And it does so in a way that *almost* makes it seem like everything, from Nathan getting sent into the future to the events of "X-Cutioner's Song" all the way up to the reveals in this miniseries, was all planned out, and not the result of a collaborative effort across multiple years and involving numerous creations in which many of the story beat were made up as said creators went along. Intellectually, we know that's not the case, but long-form, serial superhero adventures are always at their best when they can trick us into thinking otherwise.

This series has it's problems: it falls into the trap of so many far-future narratives of presenting a society that is both alien and not-alien enough (eg it uses made up slang words, but does so in a way that, understandably, still makes them recognizable when, in reality, language would have evolved over 2,000 years to the point where it'd be unfathomable to us), and everything that doesn't involve Cyclops & Phoenix raising Nathan or Nathan learning about his destiny feels tacked on and underdeveloped (ie Prior Turrin shows up like he's a big deal, then just sort of disappears; Redd more or less just mosies into Apocalypse's citadel offscreen in issue #4). But Gene Ha's art does a lot to sell the futuristic setting, and the scenes involving the little Dayspring family, in which Cyclops is given a second chance to be a father to his son, Jean embraces being a mother, and Nathan struggles with some mundane circumstances amidst all the craziness (like constantly moving from town to town) work really well, to the point where the ending, in which a near-teenage Nathan is once again abandoned by his parents through no choosing of their own, is legitimately wrenching .

Cable has long been a favorite character of mine (the term "Askani" may or may not have factored into one of my earliest internet handles*, well before "Teebore" came along), and re-reading this for the first time in years, I realize much of that springs from this series , which manages to not only make Cable a vastly more sympathetic character by showing him as a little boy who just wants a normal life with his parents, crushed under the weight of his (and their) destiny, but also recasts him from an avatar of the worst excesses of the 90s to a more traditional Campbellian hero firmly set on the Hero's Journey. In the process, his character is invested with the potential for a much longer & richer publishing life than many of his brethren born in the same era and from the same fads.

Next Issue
X-Factor teams up with Spider-Man in X-Factor/Spider-Man: Shadowgames #1-3

*it totally did.

7 comments:

  1. The moment I started liking Cable was his series was drawn by an artist who was very alike Jack Kirby. I loved that period. Cable looked real, bad a great and normal supporting cast. I recall him fighting a guy created by Apocalypse with the aid of the Avengers. It was the last great moment in X-Men comics for me.

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    1. Yeah, that was circa the mid-50s of his series, IIRC. Joe Casey writing & Jose Ladronn was the artist. It's definitely one of the better (if not the best) runs from Cable's solo series.

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    2. My previous comment came out wrong: “I started liking Cable when his series was drawn by an artist who was very alike Jack Kirby. I loved that period. Cable looked real, had a great and normal supporting cast. I recall him fighting a guy created by Apocalypse with the aid of the Avengers. It was the last great moment in X-Men comics for me.”

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  2. I've been waiting a long time for you to review this. I was super-invested in this series as it came out. This and the previous issues of Uncanny were when I started buying monthly instead of sporadically. Having read the Dark Phoenix Saga collection and reading issues of Classic X-Men, I really liked Jean and Rachel because of their connection to the Phoenix Force. Tying them to the Askani stuff hinted at in X-Factor added another facet to their influence and importance. I know a lot of people in the fandom don't care for either, but they are two of my favorite X-Men.

    This series made me an instant fan of Gene Ha's work and was one of the main reasons I got into Top 10. This series is also responsible for making me like Cable, undoing my negative first impression of him gleaned from reading "What If... Cable had Destroyed the X-Men?" early on in my collecting. I thought he was just a macho asshole cliche, and one could argue that he was at first, but ignoring the out-of-character nature of What if stories and making him Cyclops (and Jean's) son made me care about him as time went on. Seeing the Summers clan finally interact and bond as a family made me verklempt and still does.

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  3. I've never actually read this one. Marvel hyped the heck out of it at the time, but I thought Ha's artwork was ugly and had no interest because of that. Nowadays I've softened on his work, though it's still not exactly my cup of tea. I bought the trade paperback that reprinted this series along with ASKANI'SON a few years back, but I've just never gotten around to cracking it open.

    I agree with you that it's a nice touch to see Jean and Scott written out of X-MEN for exactly the duration of this series -- I remember appreciating that at the time -- though it's kind of funny to realize that since time travel is involved, that didn't really need to happen.

    "For what it’s worth, it’s said that Jean removed any references to obeying Scott out of their wedding vows."

    Hey, my wife did that too!

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    1. That is to say, she removed references to obeying me. It'd be odd if her vows had included a passage about obeying fictional character Scott Summers that she needed to remove.

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    2. If they did, I'd appreciate your choice of taking such a staunch Wolverine fan as your wife.

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