Wednesday, September 10, 2014
X-amining Marvel Comics Presents #17-24 - The Retribution Affair
Late April Late July 1989 -
In a Nutshell
Cyclops battles Master Mold in Muir Island, Banshee gets his power back.
Writer: Bob Harras
Penciler: Ron Lim
Inker: Bruce Patterson, Carol Riem (issue #21), Jeff Albrecht (issues #22-24),
Letterer: Agustin Mas
Colorist: Andy Yachus
Editor: Terry Kavanagh
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco
Issue #17: Cyclops arrives on Muir Island, called there by Banshee on account of Moira MacTaggert's strange behavior of late. Upon arriving, Cyclops is attacked by the island's defenses. He calls out to a passing Moira but she doesn't respond, and he collapses. The next morning, however, there's no evidence of his battle, and Moira doesn't remember seeing him. Issue #18: At night, young Bobby and Mary Campbell are taken from their home by an entranced Moira. The next day, Cyclops and Banshee discuss Moira's odd behavior, before they're called to the home of Mary Campbell, who has become very ill. That night, an entranced Moira is transported to Master Mold, who congratulates her on making the young mutant Mary sick.
Issue #19: Master Mold compliments Moira on the work she did engineering a virus that targets mutants, while back on Muir Island, Cyclops discovers that Banshee has grown sick and rushes him to the hospital. Hoping to further study the disease in action, Master Mold sends his robotic Servitors to the hospital to bring Mary and Banshee to Moira. Cyclops intervenes, and though he's able to free Moira, the robots escape with Banshee and Mary. Issue #20: Aboard Master Mold's ship, Conscience, an ally created by the Sentinel and programmed with Stephen Lang's brain engrams, promises to take care of Moira and Cyclops for him. On Muir Island, Cyclops grows ill as Conscience leads an attack of Servitors. Cyclops, Moira and Callisto defend themselves, but are eventually overwhelmed.
Issue#21: Aboard Master Mold's ship, Cyclops, Moira and Callisto argue with Conscience. Just then, Conscience receives word that Bobby Campbell, Mary's non-mutant brother, has contracted Moira's virus. Realizing the virus has mutated so that it now infects humans as well as mutants, Conscience tells Master Mold their plan must be abandoned, but Master Mold insists the human losses are a worthy price to pay for the eradication of mutants. Issue #22: Unwilling to let any humans die, Conscience strikes up an alliance with Cyclops, Moira and Callisto. Leaving Moira to study the virus in the hope of finding a cure, the rest attack Master Mold, who seemingly destroys Conscience before targeting Cyclops.
Issue #23: Cyclops escapes Master Mold, who turns his attention to preparing his ship to launch the death spores that will spread the virus throughout the world. Devising a plan, Cyclops helps Conscience infiltrate Master Mold's mind, taking control in order to prevent the release of the spores. Issue #24: Conscience is unable to control Master Mold, and Cyclops succumbs to the virus as Conscience loses control. Just then, Banshee attacks, cured of the virus and able to use his power once more, destroying Master Mold. Moira reveals that despite being under Master Mold's control, she still managed to create a cure for the virus, which she found record of in the ship's computer, then used it to save Banshee and Mary. After administering the cure to Cyclops, the mutants leave the ship and Conscience takes it into orbit, destroying it, along with himself and the virus.
Firsts and Other Notables
Banshee, having been unable to use his mutant power since the injuries he sustained battling Moses Magnum and saving Japan in X-Men #119, regains the use of his mutant power in issue #24, an unintended side effect of his infection by the Retribution Virus. This sets the stage for Banshee's return to prominence in upcoming issue of Uncanny X-Men, though I have no idea if Claremont specifically asked for Banshee to get his power back in this story, or if he just took advantage of that turn of events after it was written (given the gap in time between the end of this story and Banshee's return in X-Men it's presumably the latter, though with Claremont you never know).
Master Mold, last seen being seemingly destroyed by Cyclops in Alaska in X-Factor #14, serves as the villain of this story (between that issue and this story, he appeared in Power Pack #36, rebuilding himself and targeting Franklin Richards before being destroyed once more by Power Pack). He is seemingly destroyed yet again at the close of this story, but will next appear in Uncanny X-Men #246 (which was on sale the same month as the final issue of this story).
Master Mold, still programmed with the mind of Stephen Lang, has split himself in two, keeping his logical mind for himself but transferring his ethos into a separate robotic body dubbed Conscience, which bears a striking resemblance to the Phalanx-infected Lang from the mid-90s crossover "Phalanx Covenant".
Master Mold's plot involves the release of the Retribution Virus, a disease created by a brainwashed Moira to target and kill mutants, which eventually mutates and begins infecting mutants. Cyclops, Banshee and Callisto all get infected, but ultimately recover. The disease, on a number of levels, bears a striking resemblance to the Legacy Virus, which will feature heavily in a long running subplot throughout the 90s.
Cyclops says in issue #17 he detects a malevolent presence on Muir Island, which is attributed to Master Mold hovering around, kidnapping and brainwashing Moira, but could also be read as an early hint to the presence of the Shadow King, who presence on the island will soon begin to be hinted at in issues of Uncanny X-Men.
Issue #22 also contains a one-shot Wolfbane/Mirage story, in which the pair visit Muir Island and Rahne becomes briefly infatuated with a society of Brigadoon-esque people.
There's several interesting connections to this run of issues. In addition to the Cyclops story being written by current editor of the X-books (and future Avengers writer) Bob Harras and drawn by Ron Lim (who will make a name for himself drawing some of Marvel's early 90s cosmic books as well as X-Men 2099), both future Uncanny X-Men writer Scott Lobdell and future X-Men (vol. 2) writer Fabian Nicieza contribute stories in this run of issues. Also, John Byrne provides the cover to issue #18, and Rob Liefeld provides the cover to issue #19.
In addition to Byrne & Liefeld, Mike Mignola (of Hellboy fame) contributes a really great cover to issue #20 (pictured above), and Walt Simonson does a nice one for isue #21 as well.
Issue #17 also wraps up the Colossus-centric "God's Country" story, and issue #24 kicks off the Havok-centric storyline we'll look at in a few weeks.
The Chronology Corner
Cyclops appears in this story between X-Factor #42 and #43.
Moira and Callisto's appearance in this story occurs after their upcoming appearance in Excalibur #11 (meaning the whole "transported to a Nazi dimension by Widget" thing in Excalibur was before this story).
The Mirage/Wolfsbane story, according to the Marvel Chronology Project, occurs just before New Mutants #43 (when the team battled Legion on Muir Island), which makes sense, given the setting.
A Work in Progress
Callisto is involved in the story (as she is on Muir Island, serving as Moira's bodyguard post-"Mutant Massacre", as seen in Excalibur) and interacts with Cyclops, though I don't believe the two have ever officially met on-panel at this point.
As in X-Factor #14, Master Mold says that he can be anywhere, downloading his consciousness into even the smallest transistor, explaining his continued survival (this is also how he was reborn/survived in Power Pack #36). He also has a grudge against Cyclops, who blames for both the death of Stephen Lang (in X-Men #100) and the last incarnartion of Master Mold (in X-Factor #14).
Harras occassionally sneaks in some of Moira's Scottish patois, but at other times, particularly in issue #22, her voice is off, as her dialogue sounds very generic. Say what you will about Claremont's phonetic accents, they result in unique voices for the characters.
Humorously, Sean and Moira are depicted as sleeping in separate beds in the same room. Maybe she's just a freeze baby and he runs hot, so it's just easier that way?
Thus far this is probably my favorite of the Marvel Comics Presents serials. Not just because it features Cyclops (pipe down, peanut gallery), but because it feels the most like a chapter in the ongoing X-narrative. In addition to Cyclops, the story draws on established characters from the X-universe for its supporting cast (Moira, Banshee, Callisto) and for its villain, it uses Master Mold, a character with a connection both to Cyclops and the larger world of the X-Men. And, of course, it's notable for restoring Banshee's mutant power, setting the stage for his eventual return to and inreased role in the ongoing narrative.
The plot itself is also enjoyable just for the novelty of its similarity to the later (and much larger) Legacy Virus plotline, another mutant targeting disease with uncanny parallels to the virus in this story. Both are a virus designed to target mutants, both muck with their victims' powers in the final stage (the Retribution Virus dampens them while the Legacy Virus supercharges them), both eventually mutate to infect humans, and both involve Moira at some point in their developemtn. That novelty, plus the feeling of the story having a stronger connection to the X-Universe, make for a fun read. I wouldn't call this essential reading (this is my first time reading it, and I've made it this far without missing it), but it's certainly the most integral and downright enjoyable Marvel Comics Presents story yet.
Tomorrow, this week's Ron Lim-athon continues with Excalibur #8, followed by the Ron Lim-less Wolverine #7 on Friday. Next week, Rob Liefeld does the X-Men in Uncanny X-Men #245.