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Thursday, July 5, 2018

X-amining X-Men Unlimited #5

"Hard Promises"
June 1994

In a Nutshell
Xavier & Lilandra's relationship struggles as the Shi'ar formally annex the devatstated & defeated Kree Empire.

Writer: John Francis Moore
Penciler: Liam Sharpe
Inkers: Kevin Conrad, Steve Moncuse, Robin Riggs, Matthew Ryan
Lettering: Starkings/Comicraft
Colorist: Marie Javins
Editor: Kelly Corvese
Group Editor: Bob Harras
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco

Plot
Late one evening, Professor X, Storm, Forge & Jubilee are taken by a Shi'ar ship to Hala, former capital of the Kree homeworld, in order to attend a ceremony led by Lilandra in which the Shi'ar will formally join Kree territory to their empire. During the ceremony, Jubilee befriends a young Kree girl named Shym'r, whose brother tries to assassinate Deathbird. Later that night, Shym'r takes Jubilee to a rebel cell led by a Kree named Malakii. Jubilee later convinces Professor X to meet with Malakii, and they are joined by Forge, Storm & Lilandra. Though Lilandra & Malakii makes some headway in developing a relationship that will address some of the Kree's grievances, two of the more zealous members of his resistance group take a ship in order to detonate the stargate near Hala, which runs the risk of destroying the whole planet. Working together, Lilandra, Malakii and the X-Men manage to stave off disaster, but in the aftermath, Lilandra allows Deathbird to arrest Malakii. She insists that while he did help stop the destruction of the stargate and that she will consider his words about how the Shi'ar treat the Kree, he is still the head of a terrorist cell and must be punished accordingly. Realizing once and for all that their respective duties will always keep them apart, Xavier turns from Lilandra and returns home with the X-Men, his heart empty & cold.

Firsts and Other Notables
The inciting incident of this issue is a Shi'ar ceremony in which the remnants of the Kree Empire are formally annexed, making it an epilogue of sorts to "Operation: Galactic Storm", the 1992 linewide Avengers crossover which saw Earth caught in the middle between the warring Shi'ar & Kree empires, which concluded with the decimation of the Kree by a bomb triggered by their own leader, the Supreme Intelligence, in the belief that the stagnant evolutionary development of the Kree would be jumpstarted in the survivors. In the wake of the bomb's detonation, a rogue faction of Avengers executed the Supreme Intelligence, after which Lilandra declared the remaining Kree subjects of the Shi'ar.

The political drama in this issue serves as a backdrop of sorts for an examination of Professor X & Lilandra's relationship. It ultimately ends with Xavier & Lilandra reaching the same conclusion they always do: that each is more devoted to their respective causes (running a galactic empire, improving human/mutant relations) than each other, but for the most part, that "revelation" this time around mostly sticks, making this issue more or less the end of the long-running (if frequently long-distance) Xavier/Lilandra relationship. While Lilandra will continue to make periodic appearances (mostly whenever the X-Men venture into space), and the "marriage" between her & Xavier won't be officially ended until Grant Morrison's run, this effectively ends the whole "we love each other but can't be together" facet of the Xavier/Lilandra relationship.


Previously established at the end of "Operation: Galactic Storm", this issue reveals for any X-only readers that Deathbird is now the governor of the Kree Empire, ruling the conquered territory in Lilandra's name.


John Francis Moore, who was writing X-Men 2099 at this point, writes this issue, his first work on the contemporary X-Men. He will soon take over X-Factor from J.M. DeMatteis for a short stint (including the series' Age of Apocalypse counterpart, Factor X), and later, will have a lengthy run on X-Force, including the acclaimed "Road Trip" arc with artist Adam Pollina.

Art comes from Marvel UK artist Liam Sharp, in some of his earliest work for Marvel stateside. After this issue he'll work on Incredible Hulk with Peter David, as well as a relaunched Man-Thing series. My main point of reference for him is the Vertigo series Testament, a weird (even by Vertigo-standards) cyberpunk quasi-retelling of the Bible.

This issue concludes with three pinups, most of which featuring some combination of Forge, Storm & Jubilee wearing the X-Men training uniforms.


A Work in Progress
The issue begins with the X-Men (or four of them, at least) getting taken with little initial explanation by the Shi'ar, and while they are rightly indignant about the lack of warning, they ultimately more or less go along with it. Which, I mean, I guess it's a good thing this Shi'ar ceremony wasn't happening in the middle of a battle with Magneto or whatever, huh?


Xavier recaps his relationship with Lilandra for readers, though there's a few "um, actually" moments there: for one, it's said that Professor X left earth (circa Uncanny #200) to be with Lilandra. In actuality, he left because of severe injuries, and then got stuck unable to return to Earth, with the added side benefit being that he also got to spend that time with Lilandra. Also, Deathbird's role in the story which ultimately led Xavier back to the X-Men (when he was captured and impersonated by a Warskrull) is misrepresented. She's painted as a the villain here; while she initially seemed the villain of the story, she ultimately turned out to be working to rid the Shi'ar from the infiltration by the Warskrulls and helped free Xavier.


One of the initial incidents that led to the Avengers' involvement in the events of "Operation: Galactic Storm" was the use by both the Shi'ar and Kree of a stargate located near Earth, which was triggering solar flares that threatened to destroy the planet. In the wake of the Shi'ar defeat of the Kree, Lilandra pledged to Captain America that the Earth stargate would no longer be used. Yet in this issue, the Shi'ar use it to transport the X-Men to Hala without comment.


The Grim 'n' Gritty 90s
I don't even know what's happening to Storm's boobs in this panel.


Young Love
Early in the issue, Xavier notes that, of late, his relationship with Lilandra has mostly involved holograms. Which is true: the last time they interacted was in Uncanny #304, when Lilandra appeared in hologram form to comfort him after Illyana's death.

Austin's Analysis
Boy, is this issue kind of a slog to get through. Its initial premise - examine the fallout of the Shi'ar annexation of the Kree Empire in the wake of "Operation: Galactic Storm" through the lens of Professor X and Lilandra's relationship - isn't a bad one, nor is it a bad fit for this series - it probably doesn't warrant it's own story arc, but deserves more space than a single regular-sized issue - but in execution, it just falls flat. Love it or hate it, the Shi'ar have been part of the X-narrative for decades, with the X-Men personally responsible for some pretty serious political upheaval within the empire. While "Galactic Storm" wrought similar havoc on the galactic stage while mostly leaving out the X-Men, getting the X-Men's take on things makes sense (even if it is happening a bit belatedly). And given what a big deal the Xavier/Lilandra relationship was once upon a time, and how much it's threaded into the history of the series, returning to it in the wake of significant upheaval in both characters' lives seems like a no-brainer.

But the end result is overly-long and kind of pointless. The cast at times feels both too big (what, exactly, do Forge & Storm add to this story beyond serving as a sort of corollary to Xavier & Lilandra?), and too small (four X-Men - one of whom is technically a member of X-Factor - are the only ones involved in witnessing this massive shift in power for the Shi'ar Empire), and it takes roughly half the issue to even get to the immediate plot involving the Kree rebels. And while the story, to its credit, avoids providing a pat resolution to a complicated situation (with Malakii helping save the day, but still getting arrested because, you know, terrorism, and Lilandra more open to discussing the relationship between the Shi'ar and the conquered Kree, but things not noticeably different because regime changes are hard & ugly), it still creates a feeling of pointlessness upon completion.

Even the big "revelation" involving Xavier & Lilandra - that each are more committed to their respective causes/roles than each other, to the detriment of their relationship - is the exact same conclusion reached at the end of every story involving Xavier & Lilandra that doesn't also feature Xavier running off into space with her, even if, in hindsight, this particular break turns out to be a bit more permanent than previous ones. So while this issue merits points for using its format well to address a little bit of overlooked narrative development while also furthering/endinf the Xavier/Lilandra relationship, it does so in the most lugubrious, bland, and ultimately pointless way possible, making the whole thing feel like a waste of time.

Next Issue
Tomorrow, Cable #12. Next week, Retro X-aminations return with Fantastic Four #28.

11 comments:

  1. Nothing to say about this issue, but I also read all of Testament and remember enjoying it a decent amount. And I haven't read his Brave & the Bold, but it looks amazing.

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  2. There is obviously the option that as the punishment Lilandra will make Malakii do community service as her special advisor in the Kree matters, like what she did with Nightcrawler's girlfriend.

    But yeah. The execution is very The Bold and The Beautiful in how Lilandra, Charles and Deathbird repetitively keep doing the same lines from episode to episode over the same old thing.

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    1. Good point, I'd forgotten about Cerise. Seems like the way out for Lilandra here is to publicly hand him over to Deathbird, then give him some kind of "Kree Liaison" position as "punishment" on the sly.

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  3. Why is the Kree girl Jubilee befriends a mirror image of her, just with blue skin. I remember that ruining the art as a whole for me.

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    1. It could either be an intentional bit on the part of the artist, to have the alien girl mirror Jubilee physically to further draw attention to their similarities and differences. Or, it could just be artistic laziness.

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  4. The painel of Xavier talking to Storm is a swap of Magneto by Jim Lee in X-Men #1. I presume we could find others.

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    1. I thought that image looked familiar, but couldn't quite place it. Thanks!

      I'd assume there's probably others, too.

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  5. I've never read this issue, and I really have never had any desire to read it. This was about the point where I began to view X-MEN UNLIMITED as extremely nonessential reading (though I would still pick up the odd issue here or there if it felt important enough).

    I've always associated John Francis Moore with quality reads, but his work can occasionally become a slog. I guess this is such an issue. Liam Sharp certainly has some very evident flaws here, and I recall that even at the time, I thought his work was kind of ugly. He drew a Spider-Man annual within a year or two of this issue that looked totally wrong. Nowadays, though, I think he's a pretty good artist.

    I know Richard Starkings has lettered X-FACTOR for a while now, but is this the first time we've seen Comicraft credited in an X-comic? I may have missed it, but I had been keeping my eye out and this is the first of your posts I can recall using the name.

    In any case, the Comicraft Age is nearly upon us. I'm not necessarily a hardcore lettering aficionado like our friend Blam, but I do have some fascination with the art, and for my money, no one has ever done computer lettering better than Comicraft circa 1997-2000 or so. We're entering the period where they were still figuring it out, and there's some rough stuff to come, but eventually they nailed it, just in time to start lettering pretty much every series in the Marvel line -- and as a result, Marvel comics had prettier and more exciting letters than anything else on the stands. Just look at THUNDERBOLTS and AVENGERS during the years I mentioned above. The letters are absolutely beautiful.

    Fun anecdote: I once read an interview with Starkings where he said that on one occasion, he used a computer-created sound effect in an issue of X-FACTOR. Bob Harras called him up and told him to never, ever, ever do that again. Then, within a year, Harras had Comicraft computer lettering all the X-books.

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    1. This was about the point where I began to view X-MEN UNLIMITED as extremely nonessential reading

      There's a couple more issues early in the run (I like the next one, and there's one JRjr draws, and the one that introduces the kid who ends up starring in Maverick's solo series isn't bad), and of course, the few that tie in to crossovers, but yeah, this is more or less the last "essential" issue of this series, in that it ties in to something from the larger narrative or sets up a new story for other books to continue. After this, UNLIMITED pretty much just becomes a recurring source for the kind of standalone-ish stories that would appear in the annuals, of varying quality but rarely impacting the overall narrative.

      I know Richard Starkings has lettered X-FACTOR for a while now, but is this the first time we've seen Comicraft credited in an X-comic?

      It might be - it struck me as well, and I wondered if it was the first such credited, but worried I'd maybe missed one (and too busy to do the research to confirm), I let it go unremarked upon.

      That Harras anecdote is hilarious, btw.

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  6. I didn’t know (or recall, perhaps) that Forge and Ororo were trying to make a go of it as a couple again.

    Especially since Xavier’s narration does suddenly pop up rather omnisciently when Jubilee uses her powers on the Kree girl, I really wanted to hear from him as she was sneaking out in the first place — mentioning how risky and undisciplined it was, be it to chastise himself over letting her be separated knowing her impetuousness or as a point of pride knowing that she could take care of herself and that the experience would do her good.

    That aside I have to say that this issue, while certainly predictable, is easily among my favorite reads here in some time. My guesses as to why: (1) It could have taken place during “my” X-Men era with few changes. (2) It’s very much a Star Trek episode, TNG in particular, with the contact team saving the locals shortly after they arrive, one of the crew roaming out of bounds only to stumble across a would-be resistance cell preparing to break the fragile peace with the city’s/world’s new rulers, a surreptitious meeting between leaders of both sides as a leap of faith, etc. Not to mention that Xavier’s captions get consciously read in my head in Patrick Stewart’s voice. (3) It’s solidly written considering all the familiar story beats, with Xavier’s narration mostly right on pitch.

    Which doesn’t mean the issue isn’t negligible or even that I would have cared about it given the opportunity to read it when it came out.

    This is one of those weird cases where the art is, while definitely uneven, quite accomplished in much of the figure work, layout, and background detail, but the faces have a flat, knockoff Jim Lee style that really doesn’t appeal to me. More so than the overdone musculature and iffy proportions in spots, that’s what breaks my heart a little when I see all the potential there. Of course, Liam Sharp in fairly short order became known for that overdone musculature on Hulk (paired with one of this issue’s inkers, Robin Riggs).

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    1. I didn’t know (or recall, perhaps) that Forge and Ororo were trying to make a go of it as a couple again.

      It was never really announced as a big deal, so easy to miss, but it kind of, sort of happened in UNCANNY #306 (when they went on a date, and in your defense, it was never clear if they were restarting things, or just reconnecting after their awkward breakup).

      It’s very much a Star Trek episode, TNG in particular

      Huh. You know, I'd never really read it with that in mind, but now that you point it out, it kind of makes me appreciate the issue a little more. I may have to re-read it again (someday...), from that perspective.

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