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Thursday, January 28, 2016

X-amining X-Men Annual #15

"Queens of Sacrifice - Kings of Pain Part 3" / "The Razor's Edge - The Killing Stroke Part 2"

In a Nutshell 
The combined X-Force, New Warriors and Muir Island X-Men fail to stop the return of Proteus. 

Writer: Fabian Nicieza
Penciler: Tom Rane, Jerry DeCaire (2nd Story)
Inker: Joe Rubinstein and Co.
Letterer: Joe Rosen
Colorist: Brad Vancata, Mike Thomas (2nd Story)
Editor: Bob Harras
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco

1st Story: As X-Force and the New Warriors approach Muir Island, the Shadow King loosens his hold on the inhabitants there, but Moira and her X-Men still attack the two other groups until Moira realizes the odds are against them, and asks Cable why they are there. Meanwhile, Harness and Piecemeal arrive in Edinburgh, where Piecemeal immediately begins soaking up Proteus' ambient energy. As Cable explains the situation to Moira, she receives a call from WHO, informing her of a disturbance in Edinburgh, and the three teams realize this is Harness' final move. Rushing to the city, one group of heroes attacks Harness while Moira leads another in an attempt to remove the Proteus energy from Piecemeal. However, while Harness is defeated and revealed to be Piecemeal's mother, no method of stopping Piecemeal's absorption works, and the boy swells in size until Proteus emerges, declaring that he and Piecemeal are one, shortly before he triggers a massive explosion of energy.

2nd Story: In Kuwait City, the surviving members of Freedom Force battle Desert Sword over Dr. Kurtzman. Blob and Pyro manage to escape with Kurtzman, but get separated from Avalanche and the badly injured Crimson Commando in the process. As Avalance and Commando head towards the extraction point, Blob and Pyro are surrounded and, following their orders, Pyro kills Kurtzman. Meanwhile, Avalanche and Crimson Commando reach the airport, but pursuing members of Desert Sword hold back, as the site has been mined. The two mutants trigger the mines, but Desert Sword is shocked to discover both still live.

Firsts and Other Notables
Last seen collectively as thralls of the Shadow King in X-Men #269, the Muir Island X-Men are the X-Men of this annual, specifically, Moira, Madrox, Polaris, Siryn and Legion. Amanda Sefton is nowhere to be found, but she does appear in the subsequent "Muir Island Saga", so she's still around somewhere, presumably. Similarly, both Rogue and Guido are shown to be on Muir Island in the upcoming story, but it can probably be assumed they haven't gotten there yet following their respective last appearances in X-Men #274 and #275. A narrative caption explains that, upon the arrival of the New Warriors and X-Force, the Shadow King loosens his hold on the inhabitants, though no explanation is really given as to why he does so.

Also worth noting is the fact that Polaris is moving about freely in this story, whereas she was being held physically captive in X-Men #269 and continues to be so restrained in "The Muir Island Saga". It really does seem like Nicieza just missed that particular plot point. 

This issue marks Siryn's first appearance since the end of Fallen Angels; sort of the reverse Amanda Sefton, she hasn't been seen amongst the Muir Island X-Men in their previous appearances, but it's generally considered that she's been on Muir Island this whole time, and she will also stick around for the "Muir Island Saga", leading into her eventual role in X-Force. No reference is made this issue to Siryn, Madrox and Boom-Boom all being part of the Fallen Angels.  

Proteus returns by the end of this issue, albeit in a slightly different manner, now a merged form of Kevin MacTaggert and Piecemeal. This marks one of the few times that Proteus returns following his death in X-Men #128, a remarkable level of restraint on the part of the collective X-writers and editors given the comic book-friendly nature of his powers and his personal connection to the team.

The shadowy figures manipulating the events of this story behind the scenes while playing a symbolic game of chess appear more clearly. They haven't officially been identified yet, but they're pretty clearly Gideon and Toad. 

Brigadier Stuart, the leader of WHO from Excalibur, appears briefly in this annual; she was also a de facto part of the Muir Island X-Men during the Reavers assault on the island in issues #254-#255.

The Classic X-Men reprints of the issues comprising the original Proteus story are referenced in footnotes in this issue, something that doesn't happen too often. 

The second story in this annual continues "The Killing Stroke" Freedom Force story from New Mutants Annual #7. The third story is a Mojoverse-set retelling of the history of the X-Men, which, in true Mojo fashion, ends with Mojo winkingly-declaring that the story has to be false as its entirely too convoluted. The fourth and final story features Wolverine fighting his adamantium skeleton in a dream.

Creator Central 
Art in this issue comes from Tom Raney, who will, amongst other things, contribute some fill-in work for the X-Office on-and-off through the years, as well as serving as the regular artist on Howard Mackie's Mutant X series. He's an artist whose name rarely excites me when I see it in the credits, but whose work is perfectly fine. In a lot of ways, both in terms of his somewhat more exaggerated, cartoony style and his seeming role as something of a recurring fill-in artist, he reminds me of a Rick Leonardi for the 90s. 

A Work in Progress
The New Mutants are once again referred to as X-Force in this issue.

Canonnball is able to dull his blast field and fly completely stealthily.

He also notes that his team needs more fliers (as he's currently the only one).

Moira refers to the Muir Island X-Men collectively as "Islanders", a term I don't think gets used outside of this story.

Justice mentions that he's read Moira's textbook, while Sam mentions her odd behavior of late (specifically for him, her appearance in New Mutants #89).

Moira references her decision to not try and clone her son, and to let him rest in piece, as depicted in the back-up story to Classic X-Men #36 (which was written by Nicieza, and also established Proteus' real name as Kevin, repeated in this story).

Once again, Domino pretty much spends the issue hanging out in the cockpit, while Shatterstar is once again seen using his mutant power, putting the frequency with which its used in this story miles ahead of how often he'll use it in X-Force (where Liefeld generally just has him using his swords).

This issue reveals that Harness is Piecemeal's mother.

For Sale
There's an ad in this issue for the second Marve Universe trading card series, which reminds me that I need to find a time to slot in the second "Unstacking the Deck" post.

As further proof that everything warranted a set of trading cards in the early 90s, there's an ad for the Terminator 2 trading cards as well (and, keep in mind, T2 was an R-rated film, so technically, the kids who would be buying the cards wouldn't be able to see the movie).

Teebore's Take
This is the point where the storyline starts to get dicey, mostly because Nicieza is now juggling THREE full teams of character, such that, even while the plot is, for the moment, more streamlined (it's pretty much just "stop Harness and Piecemeal), everything is still rather chaotic and jumbled (especially since the only new character introduced in this chapter who matters to the story is Moira). It also suffers a bit for the narrative hoops Nicieza has to jump through to even write an X-Men annual at this particular point in the series' existence: with the main team off in space, he, somewhat smartly, turns to the second team of X-Men that are still hanging around on the margins, the Muir Island group (in a different world, where Claremont got to do his "non-team" thing a bit longer, I suspect this is the kind of thing we'd have seen more often: stories hopping from one group of characters to another). Except, the Muir Island group at this point are pretty firmly entrenched as being in the thrall of the Shadow King, so much so that the X-Men are racing back to Earth specifically to face him (and thus can't realistically get slotted into a detour annual story first).

So we're left with a handwave-y explanation that the Shadow King decided to loosen his hold on the Muir Island X-Men, basically for no other reason than so they can participate in this story. Yet he doesn't release them entirely, since they're still kind of dicks (which leads to our second "misunderstand, then team-up" fight in as many chapters, another problem with this issue), and if he did, you'd have to think they'd realize what's going on and, at the very least, run far away from Muir Island. So we're stuck with a central group of characters caught in a weird limbo, where they're simultaneously being positioned as antagonists for the main characters in the main book but also being asked to headline an annual in the meantime. Granted, the spotlight on the oft-forgotten Muir Island group is responsible for what little charm there is to this issue, and the story as a whole (in that the idea of spotlighting a different group of X-Men is just kinda fun), but it's really hard not to see the seams that are (barely) holding it all together, the result of a creative team having to churn out an annual at a time when the series is on the verge of a major transformation, and concerned with much bigger things.

Next Issue
"Kings of Pain" concludes in X-Factor Annual #6 tomorrow. Next week, She-Hulk #26 and Excalibur #38.

Collected Editions


  1. Wasn't there also a perfectly cromulent Wolverine story here, even though it has no real significance? I guess they needed to fill up some space.

    I love the how the character on the cover look. It's a nice progression of the interlocking covers Mignola is doing.

    Yes, this issue is a mess. The fight scenes are ok, clearly nowhere near as good as what we got in the previous chapter of the crossover. If anything, the art in the first story becomes more and more rushed looking as we progress.

    Lorna's appearance here is problematic, but I'm no-prizing it this way: since Amanda is off-island (possibly recruiting Guido and Rogue, but more probably Guido and the random faceless people we see in # 278 who watch the gladiator fights), the Shadow King senses the arrival of X-force and the New Warriors and decided Moira and co. needed some extra muscle, literally. Or, whatever, Nicieza screwed up.

    I do like how Bob Harras signed the footnote in that one panel you posted. Maybe there was just too much behind the scenes drama at the time for him or anyone else to keep track of who should have been appearing in this issue?

    Still, there are a few funny moments in this issue, one of them you posted ("We are in big trouble").

    1. Ooops! Noticed you mentioned the Wolverine story.

      The Mojo story was at least somewhat prophetic, since they do mention the franchise will produce spin-off after spin-off after spin-off...

  2. I appreciate the focus on the Muir Island team, but is really a pretty bad story. When I first read "Kings of Pain" a few years ago, this is where it lost me. But somehow, for such a lousy story, it's been reprinted a ton over the past few years -- in the ESSENTIAL X-MEN volume you listed above, and also in: the X-FORCE OMNIBUS, the NEW WARRIORS OMNIBUS, and in NEW WARRIORS CLASSIC volume 2.

    "(and, keep in mind, T2 was an R-rated film, so technically, the kids who would be buying the cards wouldn't be able to see the movie)."

    The eighties and nineties were a weird time for this sort of thing. TERMINATOR had toys. ROBOCOP had toys. RAMBO had toys. (And both of those latter two each also had a Saturday morning cartoon series!) I'm sure there are more I can't think of. It was like the studios had this unspoken understanding that somehow kids were going to see those movies, and they had to be ready for that.

    1. Rambo certainly had toys: all of us had a "Rambo knife", a black abomination of an 8 inch blade with serrated back edge, that had a compass cork at the end of the hollow handle where there was a fishing line, hooks and waterproof matches.

      Mom took the matches away from me though, for safety reasons.

    2. And, it doesn't really concern the initial cinema phase of the new movie that the merchandise mostly coincides with of course, but later on when the movie gets shown on television, at least in Europe the authorities don't exactly shun from cutting some of the more disturbing bit off the movie. Our first TV version of Robocop infamously had the bad guys shoot only one shot in Murphy's gut, after which he's seen laying on the floor as bloody pulp.

      But, mostly, praise the VHS. Watching Road Warrior with your other pre-teen friends unattended really is what's it's all about.

    3. ... and I just realized that Nightcrawler's solo Murderworld adventure in UXM #204 and Jubilee's nickname for the Bonecrusher of the Reavers pretty much takes it a given that the readership knows.

  3. I was shocked at how much of Polaris's rear was exposed by her costume- even Psylocke's thong covered more up.

    1. Yeah, Polaris and Namorita's costumes, both, easily lent themselves to gratuitous ass shots. Tom Raney took full advantage of this.

    2. Where did that costume even come from? She's been wearing the basic modernized X-uniform before and after, and the whole skimpy clothing will only later become a plot device in X-FACTOR.

      Unless of course Shadow King had to totally take Polaris under his control because her being tied up would raise questions, and it's taking so much of his powers because she's such a nexus that his hold of the rest of the Islanders is somewhat diminished for the time being, and this Shadow King control shows as her especially rauchy clothes choice.


  4. // A narrative caption explains that … the Shadow King loosens his hold on the inhabitants, though no explanation is really given as to why he does so. //

    Sadly, I believe Harras when he writes that he’s as confused as we are…

    // Art in this issue comes from Tom Raney //

    Ugh. I’ve never heard of Jerry DeCaire, who penciled the Freedom Force chapter with some nice inking from Joe Rubinstein that’s reminiscent of Joe Sinnott’s work; the art’s pretty good overall, although there’s a weird page midway through. My point, though, is that it’s mighty sad when the backup stories look so much better than the lead.

    // This marks one of the few times that Proteus returns following his death //


  5. "It really does seem like Nicieza just missed that particular plot point" ...

    And this seems to be a particular Nicieza problem around this time ... as the second generation of Marvel creators start to leave and Nicieza and Lobdell (and to a lesser extent Mackie and Kavanaugh) pick up basically every title until Waid and Loeb arrive in a few years, Nicieza has a lot of balls in the air and as such, misses a lot of pertinent back issue info. See also -- the Revanche fiasco in X-Men 20-23. And it doesn't help that the people that should be providing him oversite -- Harras and DeFalco -- are also pre-occupied writing books (Avengers and FF) and coming up with ways to ruin Spider-Man.


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