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Wednesday, September 26, 2018

X-amining Uncanny X-Men #315

"Peers"
August 1994

In a Nutshell
Colossus defends Neophyte in a trial on Avalon.

Writer: Scott Lobdell
Guest Penciler: Roger Cruz
Inkers: Green, Rubinstein, LaRosa, Barta
Letterer: Chris Eliopoulos
Colorist: Buccellato/Javins
Editor: Bob Harras
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco

Plot
Aboard Avalon, Colossus prepares for the trial of Neophyte and his role as the young man's defender. With Exodus serving as judge, Voght the prosecutor, and the rest of the Acolytes seated as the jury, the trial begins. With Milan's aid, Voght details how the Acolytes saved Neophyte, only to have him betray them. When Neophyte explains how his brief encounter with Charles Xavier showed him an alternate to Magneto's methods, a scuffle amongst the Acolytes starts up as Uniscione attempts to kill the boy. Exodus breaks up the fight and, in the face of the conflict, leaves to deliberate with the comatose Magneto. He returns, and is on the verge of executing Neophyte, when Colossus gives an impassioned speech. Comparing Neophyte's actions to those of Magneto, and arguing the Magneto he knew wouldn't condemn the boy, Colossus manages to sway some of the Acolytes, a fact not lost on Exodus, who decides to banish Neophyte to Earth instead of killing him. In the wake of the trial, Voght warns Colossus he has only alienated himself further among the Acolytes, while Exodus worries that his control over the flock is fading, and Magneto, looking on from afar - possibly - smiles.

Firsts and Other Notables
The Acolyte Neophyte, last seen helping the X-Men defeat Cortez in issue #300, returns this issue to stand trial for that act. He is specifically referred to at one point as *the* Neophyte, further evidence Lobdell intended that to be his status/title, not his codename (which later writers ignore).

Colossus serves as Neophyte’s defense attorney, more or less litigating his own betrayal of the X-Men in the process. This effectively marks the high point of Colossus’ tenure with the Acolytes, as the group will be forced off Avalon (and essentially disband for a time) shortly after “Age of Apocalypse”, with Colossus rejoining the X-fold as a member of Excalibur.

Neophyte’s origin is briefly recapped; basically, he was chased into a church by a mob, seeking sanctuary, then lured out by the Acolytes, after which he became a zealous believer in Magneto until the events of issue #300.


Believing Neophyte is about to be killed, Colossus gives a speech which essentially lampshades the dichotomy between the Acolytes - zealous, violent believers in mutant superiority - and the more measured portrayals of Magneto - Holocaust survivor, who believes in mutant superiority but also values compassion and people who do more than just “follow orders”.


Exodus, reading the room (narration says he’s basically doing what he wants, since Magneto is out of it), decides to banish Neophyte rather than kill him, though he’ll eventually appear amongst the Acolytes again in the future (granted, not on Avalon, but only because it no longer exists).


The issue ends with a hint that Magneto may be regaining his senses (spoiler alert: he's not).


Creator Central
Roger Cruz draws this issue, his first work for the X-office. He will functionally be the co-penciller of Uncanny for the next year or so, filling in every few issues to spell Madureira, as well as popping in for an issue here or there in various X-books (he'll also draw the two one-shots bookending "Age of Apocalypse"). A chameleonic artist, here he's largely aping Jim Lee's style, though he'll soon adapt a more Madureira-lite look. 

A editorial note on the letters page credits Keith Champagne & Harry Candelario for helping out with inks on issue #313.

A Work in Progress
In the wake of the loss of Magneto’s mind, Exodus has decreed that only he may look upon Magneto; by controlling access, he hopes to maintain his status as the de facto leader of the Acolytes in Magneto’s stead. Clearly, something has changed in terms of access to Magneto, as Colossus initially said he was staying on Avalon to care for Magneto (and was shown doing so in X-Men #26).


Human/Mutant Relations
It’s noted that Colossus believed the Acolytes under Magneto would have given him a different route to fulfill Xavier’s dream, but under Exodus, he is less sure.

Later, he tells Neophyte  it’s not that he thinks Xavier is wrong, rather that his dream didn’t work for him, in the world as it exists.


To himself, he admits perhaps that he failed the dream, rather than the reverse, by not working hard or sacrificing enough (which seems a pretty big leap considering it was the death of Illyana that led him to join the Acolytes.

Voght, for her part, wonders if perhaps Colossus is coming to suspect what she long has: that neither Xavier nor Magneto are entirely right in their approaches to human/mutant relations.


It's in the Mail
Ben Herman, a frequent commenter over on the sadly-defunct SuperMegaMonkey chronology website, has a letter published in this issue.

Austin's Analysis
On the cusp of "Phalanx Covenant", a storyline to which the series has been building directly since, arguably, issue #311, we are clearly in water-treading mode with this issue. But Lobdell nevertheless uses the opportunity to take care of some business by giving Colossus' defection to the Acolytes some proper examination. In doing so, he attempts to address the inherent dichotomy at the heart of the Acolytes - and, really, Magneto - which is that, as usually presented, Magneto is a survivor of the Holocaust whose followers, in the form of the Acolytes, advocate a genocide of their own, as well as the decision of Colossus, angry at what fighting for Xavier's dream as cost him, to leave the X-Men by throwing in with an even more fanatical group pursing their own genocidal goals.

Lobdell's success in both ventures is...questionable, though he's mostly undone by events outside this issue itself. For one thing, while Colossus' argument here (which, per Exodus, seems to have reached a few of the Acolytes) that the Magneto he knew wouldn't object to Neophyte thinking for himself and taking a principled stand, even if it meant standing against the Acolytes, is consistent with most portrayals of Magneto, it doesn't quite gel with the more Silver Age-y Magneto Lobdell himself wrote in the character's last appearance in these pages. And while the idea that Colossus left the X-Men to join the more measured Magneto with which he was familiar (especially given that Colossus is one of the few X-Men to fight side-by-side with Magneto during his short tenure as headmaster), and is now doubting that decision since the group is being led by the more one-dimensionally evil Exodus in Magneto's stead, works here, it is undercut somewhat by the depiction of Colossus as a steadfast Acolyte standing alongside that group's (at times world-ending) plans in Cable #9-11.

Ultimately, the general idea that the Acolytes, who have only ever briefly been led by Magneto himself, are simply pawns of powerful individuals using Magneto's name to further their own causes (first Cortez, now Exodus) and indulge the worst excesses/tendencies of the group, while Colossus, who genuinely wanted to walk Magneto's path as he understood it, but is now trapped in the middle between the truth of Magneto and that truth as presented to the Acolytes by Exodus, isn't a bad one, and is certainly more consistent with both Magneto's & Colossus' previous characterizations. But it also requires us to ignore at least a couple earlier stories to make it work (including the fact that Colossus watched Magneto kill one of his own followers not for committing genocide against innocent humans, but for doing it without being expressly told to do so). So while in a vacuum, this issue works well enough, especially as a pre-crossover peek at how "the other side" lives, and it probably leaves things with the characters it features in a better place than when it started, it nevertheless fits awkwardly within the larger narrative of Colossus and his relationship with the Acolytes as previously presented.

Next Issue
Tomorrow, Malice battles X-Factor and the Nasty Boys in X-Factor #105. Friday, Wolverine battles more Hunters in Darkness in Wolverine #84. Next week, Unstacking the Deck looks at the first series of Marvel Flair cards!

10 comments:

  1. Treading water this story may be, but I've always liked that both UNCANNY and X-MEN devoted their issues just prior to "Phalanx Covenant" to check-ins with characters who were either not X-Men (the Acolytes here) or were on leave from the X-Men (Cyclops and Jean in X-MEN 35), thus providing some unchronicled time for the changes presented at the start of UNCANNY 316 to have occurred.

    I just read this one and X-MEN 35 a couple nights ago, and my recollection was that in my youth, I wasn't too fond of either story. I'm still lukewarm on X-MEN 35, but I found that I actually liked this one quite a bit. I agree that it doesn't quite jibe with Colossus's recent portrayal, but -- and I know this is kind of a cop-out -- as someone who never read CABLE, the only stuff with which this doesn't fit for me personally is Colossus's portrayal during "Fatal Attractions", and, lame a ret-con as it was, I can chalk that up to his brain damage at the time. So, by navigating all those hoops, I find that this is a pretty good issue, and a nice recognition on Lobdell's part of the "Headmaster Magneto" era of the 80s. (Much as I don't love that status quo, I do always appreciate when character histories are acknowledged rather than ignored.)

    Good point on Roger Cruz as a chameleon, by the way -- he clearly is going for a Lee vibe here, but before long he'll be channeling Madureira (even frequently swiping from him). I think he was only something like eighteen years old when he drew this issue, too! As a teen, I really liked his artwork. Nowadays I mostly find his 90s stuff kind of sub-par, and I can clearly see how he was just trying to imitate other artists. He's developed his style over the decades, though. His work today still owes something to the influcences of the 90s, but it's also moved beyond its origins to become its own thing.


    "Voght, for her part, wonders if perhaps Colossus is coming to suspect what she long has: that neither Xavier nor Magneto are entirely right in their approaches to human/mutant relations."

    For years, I've wondered if Lobdell might have been toying with the idea of making Colossus a new mutant leader figure, a guy who could attract new students by melding the best aspects of Xavier's and Magneto's approaches. Of course, knowing Lobdell, this is probably just a line he threw in for the heck of it, but the idea remains an interesting one.

    Also, while we can talk about it more when we get to the issues in question, I've always felt that the fall of Avalon happened way too soon. It had potential, but the creators never really used it -- so I can see why they dumped it if it didn't appeal to them. But I feel like there could've been a lot more done with this status quo of Exodus ruling Avalon with Colossus working to undermine his authority. Heck, tying into my above point, it would've been great to see this stuff eventually come to a head with Colossus somehow expelling Exodus from Avalon and becoming the Acolytes' leader! As it is, I feel like Avalon was wasted and given an unceremonious send-off to hype up Holocaust.

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    1. As a teen, I really liked his artwork.

      I have always held a (largely unfair) grudge against his work, because I was always beyond irritated as a kid whenever a fill-in artist popped up on a series (I craved artistic consistency!), and for the most part, Cruz was only ever a guest/fill-in artist (I also carried similar grudges against Rick Leonardi, Tom Raney & Lee Weeks' art for a long time for the same reason). But whereas I've come to appreciate some of those other "regular fill-in" guys' work, Cruz' stuff still just seems like "slightly off model Jim Lee or Joe Mad", largely because of how chameleonic & swipe-y it is.

      it would've been great to see this stuff eventually come to a head with Colossus somehow expelling Exodus from Avalon and becoming the Acolytes' leader!

      Your idea about Colossus' heading up a third faction is especially interesting in light of his role in Age of Apocalypse as the Charles Xavier/Banshee/Emma Frost to the revamped Gen X kids. I like it. I also agree Avalon fell a bit too early and for a dubious reason (to pump up Holocaust).

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  2. Not Supermegamonkey! :(

    Thank you fnord12 for all the hard work you put into it over the years.

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    Replies
    1. Indeed. I doubt fnord12 reads this site, but the thing I'm most sad about, even beyond not seeing him finish the project, is that I have no way to thank him for all the hard work and insights he put into the site.

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  3. Ultimately, the general idea that the Acolytes, who have only ever briefly been led by Magneto himself, are simply pawns of powerful individuals using Magneto's name to further their own causes

    There's the thing: the only original Acolyte, the one who survived the experience if you will, is none other than Fabian Cortez. In Biblical terms that's pretty much like all the disciples got killed somehow and Judas was alone left to rear the early Christianity.

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  4. I'm tempted to go back and reread this issue. I think I read it when I got through as much of the 90s X-Men as I could about two years ago on Marvel Unlimited. I remember not being terribly fond of this issue as a kid. It didn't have any X-Men in it (I must have decided that Colossus didn't count because he was a traitor), and I was so excited about the Phalanx Covenant and upcoming launch of Generation X. (Admittedly, I still really enjoy the Generation Next chapter of the Phalanx Covenant -- and the Final Sanction one, because it was so exciting to see Wolverine back in an X-Men story.) So, in the years after, I never chose this issue to reread when I was home sick, etc., and never seeped into my unconscious the way many other X-Men stories of this time did.

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    1. I really liked "Generation Next" and "Final Sanction" too. "Life Signs", on the other literally put me to sleep when I read it for the first time! I think I dozed off during the X-FACTOR chapter.

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  5. I re-read this in the Fatal Attractions trade, and one of the threads I liked in it was that Amelia, as the prosecutor, is using her position to interrogate the Acolytes' philosophy as much as Neophyte. She's an interesting character from this era who never quite got the better spotlight she deserved.

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  6. If this issue is dealing with NephewsNe actions 15 issues ago, I wonder if the X-office had this issue in a drawer to rush out in case Joe Mad fell too far behind his deadline. They pencils for the upcoming #316 probably took a while.

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  7. I’ve always enjoyed the legend/caption/rubric that we get when an issue’s focus is diverted to a subset of the team — e.g., #205’s “Wounded Wolf” being labeled “a solo adventure starring Wolverine of the uncanny X-Men”. The same goes for the banner “Stan Lee presents a tale of the Acolytes” here, sitting atop the story title and ensuing credits, as the entire tale is devoted to (at least by strict definition) supporting characters. Even if the letterer is a poor replacement for Tom Orzechowski.

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