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Wednesday, September 12, 2018

X-amining X-Men (vol. 2) #34

"Life & Consequences"
July 1994

In a Nutshell
The X-Men infiltrate Mr. Sinister's Nebraska base.

Writer: Fabian Nicieza
Breakdowns: Andy Kubert
Finished Art: Matt Ryan
Letterer: Bill Oakley
Colorist: Digital Chameleon
Editor: Bob Harras
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco

Plot
Following up on Sabretooth's intel, Beast leads Rogue, Gambit & Psylocke to infiltrate Mr. Sinister's base beneath a Nebraska orphanage, in the hopes of finding information on the Legacy Virus. They are briefly attacked by the thought-dead Riptide, but he is easily defeated, after which they discover Threnody at the center of the complex, having gotten her mutant power under control with Mr. Sinister's help. She tells them that she is taking advantage of his frequent absences to comb his databanks for information, but is shocked when they mention Riptide. Revealing that Mr. Sinister keeps genetic material on hand to create clones of the Marauders, she realizes the cloning chamber must have malfunctioned, creating a Riptide clone of its own volition. She then explains that the cloning process works in pairs, meaning a clone of Sabretooth has been created as well. He soon attacks, but is even more defective than Riptide, and falls apart after Rogue punches him. Declaring the clones to be too dangerous, Threnody destroys all the genetic material to prevent anymore. Beast urges her to leave with the X-Men, but she insists that Sinister won't realize what she's done for some time, and prefers to stay where she is, helping take down Sinister from the inside.

Firsts and Other Notables
This issue confirms that Mr. Sinister clones the Marauders, enabling them to seemingly return from the dead, an idea Claremont intended but never got around to establishing (Claremont meant to go further, of course, and establish that the vast majority of Sabretooth appearances were a clone of the original), which explains the presence in "Inferno" of Marauders killed in "Mutant Massacre".


Threnody, last seen in issue #27 in which Beast reluctantly turned her over to Mr. Sinister for care, returns in this issue, having become the keeper of sorts of Mr. Sinister's Nebraska base, working with him to research the Legacy Virus.


Having essentially taken control of his base, Threnody proceeds to destroy Mr. Sinister's stock of DNA, eliminating his ability to clone up new henchmen, though this development is mostly ignored by later writers (as Sinister’s cloning abilities will continue to pop up from time to time).

Amongst Sinister’s DNA samples are Jean Grey, Xavier’s dad, Wade Wilson (Deadpool), Presidents Fillmore (Fillmore? Really?) and Lincoln, Hitler, Oppenheimer, Edison & Churchill.


Riptide, the Marauder somewhat famously killed by Colossus in Uncanny X-Men #211, appears as a failed clone in this issue (along with an unfinished Sabretooth).


Gambit recognizes a phrase Rogue uses at one point, which is, I believe more setup for the Rogue miniseries and the idea that Rogue has Belladonna’s memories rattling around in her head.


There’s an art/script disconnect on page one, as the script refers to the setting as night despite the art showing a sunny blue sky.


The Chronology Corner
Sinister is absent in this issue due to his appearance in contemporaneous issues of X-Factor.


A Work in Progress
The X-Men infiltrate the now-abandoned orphanage where Cyclops grew up in this issue (which houses Mr. Sinister's base).

Sinister’s ability to pop in and out of places is attributed to his ability to access the tesseract chamber in his base, which offers up an explanation without really explaining anything.


It's in the Mail
This issue has a two page letters page.

Austin's Analysis
This has always been kind of an odd issue. For one thing, it exclusively features the Blue team (excluding the absent Wolverine & the honeymooning Cyclops) at a time when the whole Blue/Gold distinction had mostly faded away, making it a sort of last hurrah for that status quo. For another, it's pretty much the only time we see Beast in his temporary field leader role (as Cyclops will soon return). For another, it presents its main narrative without any cutaways to any other subplot or character development bits, making it something of an anomaly at this time (when both X-books were very much in a "each issue is part of a larger tapestry" mode).

And, of course, the thrust of the issue deals with Threnody and Mr. Sinister's work with the Legacy Virus, a plotline that mostly fizzles out after this and doesn't really amount to much in the grand scheme of things (Threnody eventually gets shuffled off to X-Man, while the Legacy virus story heads in other directions). Even Threnody's destruction of Sinister's cloning material, presented as a big deal, really doesn't come to much in the long run. Granted, none of this really makes this a bad issue, and the confirmation that Siniter can and did clone Marauders nips off a long-standing (and admittedly small) dangling plotline, but it's hard not to read this and be struck by all the ways it's atypical for an issue from this era.

Next Issue
Tomorrow, X-Force #36. Friday, Excalibur #79. Next week, Cable #13!

Collected Editions

 

9 comments:

  1. In case you didn't mention it, I was going to point out that this is pretty much the only time we see Beast acting in his field leader capacity -- but you did mention it, so I won't.

    I noted a while back that Andy Kubert's art somehow clicked with me shortly after issue 30, and I remember thinking as a kid that this was one of his best-looking issues to date -- but now that I understand how to read artist credits, I realize Matt Ryan did finishes over Kubert's breakdowns, and I wonder if what I liked about Kubert's work around this time is owed more to Ryan?

    But regardless of who's responsible for what, I've always loved the cover to this issue, as well as that shot of Gambit and Psylocke outside the orphanage that you posted above. Also, I really like when Psylocke's costume is drawn with really heavy blacks as in that shot. It looks a lot cooler to me than the version left open for excessive blue/purple highlights. (And the fact that Kubert/Ryan drew her costume so black in that image would seem to indicate they did get the memo it was supposed to be night outside. It looks like Digital Chameleon dropped the ball there.)

    Anyway... broken record time. Say it along with me, everyone: "I really liked this one as a kid." Anything that furthered the legend of Mister Sinister, even if he didn't appear directly, was A-okay in my book. Plus, seeing Beast, ever so fleetingly, in his field leader role (and dominating the cover) was a lot of fun. I kind of wish the honeymoon had lasted a bit longer, to give us a few more issues of this setup.

    Also, the X-Men titles were really working pretty (surprisingly?) synergistically at this time. Scott and Jean are away for a four issue mini-series, so they don't appear in any other books for four months. Xavier is in EXCALIBUR on Muir Island, so he's out of the core books for that duration. Now Sinister is explicitly absent from his base due to concurrent events in X-FACTOR. This sort of tight continuity wouldn't last, but but at least for this brief period, it's nice to see.

    "Amongst Sinister’s DNA samples are Jean Grey, Xavier’s dad, Wade Wilson (Deadpool), Presidents Fillmore (Fillmore? Really?) and Lincoln, Hitler, Oppenheimer, Edison & Churchill."

    I see (most of) J. Kurtzberg (a.k.a. Jack Kirby) there too, along with Silver Age inker J.(ack) Abel there too! Obviously Kirby co-created the X-Men, but I wonder what the significante of Abel's name is here? Was he especially tied to the X-Men at any point?

    (At any rate, somehow I never noticed/read all those names until now, which is really, really weird for me. Typically I read every word on a page, including signage and sound effects.)

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    1. There's an S. Lieber there, too.

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    2. Oh, you're right! I thought it was odd he wasn't there, but I just missed his name when I looked the other day.

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    3. @Matt: // Now Sinister is explicitly absent from his base due to concurrent events in X-Factor //

      Is he really absent here because of those events, or was it just better for him to be absent here in terms of plot mechanics and, lo, there was a contemporaneous storyline available to reference in an editorial caption? My gut’s telling me Sinister would’ve been away on business anyhow, with the concurrent X-Factor appearance mostly a happy coincidence… Although I do think the other absences you mention were tactical.

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  2. Couple of questions:
    1) does Beast still has his super strength from when he was dumb during the X-Factor era? I never felt that later writers (even Louise Simonson, who actually established that) remembered that. I never felt he was particularly strong at any time.

    2) How did anyone sane felt that this quite weak team could handle Mr Sinister? It took the X-Men and X-Factor to defeat him before.

    I hated this era, as I hated everything since Jim Lee departed. This issue reminds me of that Kwannon issues, in which the team was essentially the one here. It never felt like THE X-Men to me, but merely the cheapest players around. Compare these issues, in which you never see the full team assembled, with the Omega Red story of issues 4-7. There, you felt like you were seeing the X-Men. If I’m not mistaken, the stories will keep this trend, of having free characters on missions. Comes to my mind Cyclops and Jean fighting the newcomer Holocaust, the X-Babies return and even issue 50 (just Cyclops, Storm, Wolverine and Iceman). What’s going on here?

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    1. *of having fewer characters on missions.

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    2. I dunno, the "splinter team" approach has always been fine with me. The X-MEN cartoon series did it a lot too; spotlight episodes with only a few characters were the norm there, and the concept is reminiscent of shows like G.I. JOE and TRANSFORMERS, where the overall roster was too big to include every character in an episode, so you'd usually have smaller units in a given show. And this way it seems more special to me when the full team is united (usually for a big crossover event).

      Now, this team does seem a little underpowered for a direct assault on Mister Sinister; I'll agree there -- especially since they're on a proactive mission and presumably could have brought anyone along. But on the flip-side, the examples you listed above all tend to have story-related reasons for the smaller groups -- Cyclops and Jean are kidnapped to Avalon for their fight with Holocaust. Gambit and Bishop are out on the town together when the X-Babies show up. And the group that fights Post in X-MEN 50 is hand-picked and spirited away by Onslaught.

      Though it wasn't always the case (as seen here), in general, from an internal story standpoint, a lot of the time the smaller group has a reason for being smaller. You may not like that the writers chose to do it this way, but at least they usually presented reasons for why there were fewer characters involved in a given story.

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    3. 1. Yes, I believe Beast still has super-strength (he's always had super strength, it just varies in intensity. So I can't say he's specifically as strong as he was post-dumbening disease, but he's at least generally super-strong), though it rarely gets played up much, in part because of characters like Colossus (who are much stronger), and because most writers tend to emphasize his smarts over his strength.

      2. I'm not entirely sure the X-Men went into this mission expecting/wanting a fight. As of issue #27 (and before that, "X-Cutioner's Song"), they had a sort of standing detente with Sinister, and Beast framed this mission as more of a fact-finding mission, in terms of finding out where Sinister was at with Legacy Virus research.

      That said, as Matt mentioned, the idea of breaking the larger team into a smaller group isn't a 90s invention. There's the four main Siege Perilous team, the Rogue/Dazzler/Longshot/Psylocke vs. Juggernaut match, and the Rogue/Nightcrawler/Colossus vs. Magus (both of whom are way more powerful than Sinister), to name just a few offhand.

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  3. I get the sense that something eventful happened but it seemed like a sloppy, quick jumble of an issue to me. The lack of cutaways to subplots elsewhere that you mention, Austin, could be part of that somehow.

    While it was still interesting to see Beast in action as field leader, some internal monologue on his part would’ve been nice — about how, even if he ended up not caring for (or indifferent to) the role, he’d come a long way not just from his time in the fledgling X-Men but his tenure as a neophyte Avenger, during which he was unsettled amongst members who’d served much longer and/or had vastly more impressive powers, before gaining more confidence and veteran status.

    Honeymooning Cyclops is my new band name.

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