In a Nutshell
Xavier is shot by Cable.
Writer: Scott Lobdell
Penciler: Brandon Peterson
Inker: Terry Austin
Letterer: Chris Eliopoulos
Colorist: Mike Thomas
Editor: Bob Harras
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco
As various X-Men gather in Central Park ahead of a Lila Cheney concert at which Professor X intends to deliver a plea for human/mutant tolerance, a pair of terrorists intending to set off a bomb are killed, seemingly by Cable, who calls dibs on killing Xavier. Meanwhile, Scott & Jean are at Harry's Hideaway while Iceman & Colossus grocery shop across the street. Suddenly, Scott & Jean are attacked by Caliban, and as Lila brings Xavier onto the stage, Caliban's fellow Horsemen of Apocalypse, War & Famine, attack Iceman & Colossus. Xavier delivers his speech amidst boos & catcalls from the crowd, and when he finishes, Cable shoots him, declaring himself the man who saved tomorrow. Back at Harry's, the Horsemen are defeated, but manage to teleport away along with a captive Scott & Jean. At Central Park, Archangel tries to capture Cable, but he blasts one of Archangel's wings and bodyslides away. At X-Force's temporary home in New Mexico, Siryn manages to get one of their monitors to show Lila's concert, just in time to see the news of Cable's attack on Xavier.
Firsts and Other Notables
This issue marks the beginning of "X-Cutioner's Song", 1992's linewide crossover, which will run through all four of the "main" X-books (Uncanny. X-Factor, X-Men and X-Force) for three months (a total of twelve issues, plus some epilogues). Like "X-Tinction Agenda" before it, this is a formally-constructed crossover, with each chapter numbered and the sequence of books remaining the same from month to month. Though the annual crossover will remain a going concern for some time, this is really the last formally-structured one for awhile; "Fatal Attractions" is much more loose (with each chapter much more able to stand on its own) while "Phalanx Covenant" breaks the assorted titles into smaller sub-stories under a larger narrative, not unlike "Fall of the Mutants".
Brandon Petersen takes over as the new regular penciler of the series with this issue, though he'll only last until issue #299, so I'm not sure if he was intended to be the new artist and just left early, or if he was always scheduled to just do six issues before John Romita Jr.'s return (for what it's worth, at one point, Joe Quesada was announced as the new Uncanny artist; he will instead take over X-Factor, immediately after "X-Cutioner's Song").
Petersen is joined by John Byrne's old inking partner Terry Austin, returning to the series.
This issue (along with all the other chapters of the story) comes packaged in a polybag containing a trading card (one specific to each issue). This issue's card is Professor X. Probably due to the inclusion of that card, the price of the comic goes from $1.25 to $1.50 for the duration of this crossover.
Xavier is shot, seemingly by Cable (but we'll soon find out it's actually Stryfe, and that he infected him with a techno-organic virus in the process) towards the end of this issue, kicking off the storyline. He'll survive, of course, but he is effectively sidelined for the duration of the story.
Similarly, Cyclops and Jean Grey are captured by Apocalypse's Horsemen, and though they'll continue to appear in the story, particularly in the latter half as the narrative pivots to reveal the true motivations behind the events in this issue, they'll remain fairly separate from the rest of the X-characters until the very end.
Caliban, last seen battling Sabretooth in New Mutants #91, appears here, working once more as one of Apocalype's Horsemen (specifically Death). He says he is powered by fear, and is shown at one point struggling not to speak in the third person. He also says that Caliban is the name Callisto gave him, and never during his time with X-Factor (during Louise Simonson's run) did anyone ask what his real name was. This marks the beginning of something of a resurgence for Caliban, as he'll start appearing slightly more regularly after this, before eventually joining X-Force for a time.
Along with Caliban, both War and Famine, the remaining two original members of Apocalypse Horsemen, appear in this issue. Both were last seen in X-Factor #27, in the wake of "Fall of Mutants", and neither will appear much after "X-Cutioner's Song" (War makes one additional appearance in Wolverine a few years later, but that's it).
Harry's Hideaway, the local watering hole frequented by students of Xavier's, last seen in Uncanny X-Men #270 (the beginning of the last linewide crossover, "X-Tinction Agenda"), appears here, the setting of the Horseman's attack and the abduction of Scott & Jean.
Lila Cheney, last seen teleporting the X-Men to and from Mojoworld over in X-Men, makes an appearance, throwing a concert in Central Park at which Xavier gives a speech.
Charlotte Jones, not seen since X-Factor #68, pops up in this issue, as Archangel takes her as his date to Lila Cheney's concert.
Continuing the parade of old X-Factor girlfriends, Trish Tilby appears to report on Xavier's shooting.
X-Factor (or at least, Guido, Madrox and Quicksilver), in New York already due to events in their series, appear briefly in advance of the next chapter of the story.
The book's logo also gets a slight alteration, with "uncanny" slid into a vertical box ahead of "X-Men", to make room for the crossover title across the top.
This was the first crossover I got to experience in real-time, as it unfolded month-to-month, instead of via back issues collected in fits and starts. At a time when my fandom was still new and I still believed the marketing when they told me something would be a game-changing big deal, I remember rushing over to a friend's house after swim team practice to breathlessly read this issue, and being completely flabbergasted by Xavier getting shot, by Cable of all people (whom, as a reader of X-Force, I of course assumed was actually Stryfe). I also remember being really excited by the return of characters like Charlotte Jones & Caliban, whom I'd encountered in back issues but had yet to see in any new stories.
As such, while this crossover is fairly maligned these days online, I have a great deal of nostalgic affection for it, and I do believe it has some objectively-good qualities to recommend as well, which I'll try to elucidate as we go along.
That said, "X-Cutioner's Song" is a terrible title.
A Work in Progress
Archangel uses an image inducer to appear as his old white self while on his date with Charlotte.
Rogue is wearing...some kind of outfit in this issue. She and Bishop also reference the "pie incident" from X-Men #8 (when Gambit & Bishop's fight ruined Rogue's pie), the first of several interactions in this issue that show members of the two X-Men squads interacting in the same book, something which hasn't happened much since relaunch, outside of Uncanny #288 and X-Men #8.
Mariko's death in Wolverine #57 is referenced here, it's first acknowledgement in one of the X-Men books.
Similarly, Colossus is shown to still be mourning his brother's recent death (a lampshade is also hung on the idea that Iceman and Colossus don't know one another terribly well, despite being on the same squad).
Gambit & Storm share a scene together, more or less for the first time since the relaunch, despite how close the two were prior to that, something which Lobdell lampshades in their dialogue.
Cyclops reminds Caliban (and readers) that Apocalypse is dead as of X-Factor #68, and indeed, we have yet to see him again following that issue.
Because Colossus doesn't need food while in his armored form, when Famine uses her power on him, it backfires and affects her.
After the Horsemen teleport away with Scott & Jean, Iceman jokes that it feels like the X-Men are the only team without a transporter beam.
When an enraged Archangel shouts Cable's name, the dialogue is lettered to resemble the logo of Cable's limited series.
As Archangel attempts to stop "Cable", Cable shoots his wing, leaving a hole in one of them that will take some time to heal.
In a bit of phonetic spelling beyond even Claremont's worst excesses, Cannonball says he is "eaguh" to see Lila again as X-Force attempts to pick up the broadcast of her concert.
When Lila asks if the time is right for Xavier's plea for tolerance, he tells her there's never a "right time" for such change, something that is, sadly, as true today as it was then.
Xavier proceeds to give a speech preaching the importance of acceptance of mutants, using the old "say racial slurs to get peoples attention" approach at the beginning, thus tossing out a bunch of the made-up slurs for mutants (used by humans) and humans (used by mutants like Magneto's Acolytes).
Cyclops briefly fantasizes about Psylocke, and Jean calls him on it. He explains that while yes, Psylocke is very attractive, he remains very much in love with Jean. Unfortunately, that's not the end of the Cyclops/Psylocke flirtation subplot.
Iceman mentions that Opal wants some space after their disastrous date in issues #289-290, and believes it marks the end of their relationship.
Boom-Boom is jealous of Cannonball's excitement about seeing Lila, the first reference to the old Sam/Lila relationship since Lila was believed killed just before "Inferno".
Bob Harras on "X-Cutioner's Song"
"It's basically a story about revenge, and 'revenge' has repercussions. Tom DeFalco came into my office one day and told me to do a major fall crossover. Actually, readers familiar with any of the X-Books know that, since Cable's debut in the final cataclysmic issues of The New Mutants, the mysteries surrounding him have increased and progressed in such manner as to lead logically into a major storyline involving all the X-Books...The character of Stryfe presented itself as the character Suzanne [Harras' assistant editor] and I felt could be pivotal to this whole storyline, because he is the new kid on the X-Force block. Stryfe's been in the background since the beginning and, although he hasn't done all that much, we know that he is planning something big. So we decided to bring Stryfe out onto center stage as the big menace that would bring together all the X-Teams and place X-Force into closer continuity with the other X-Titles....Through 'X-Cutioner's Song', the readers will get to finally know about these characters [Cable & Stryfe], and the effects of these revelations on those particular X-Men who are connected to Cable and Stryfe."
"X-Men: X-Cutioner's Song." Marvel Age #116 September 1992: p9-10
"X-Cutioner's Song" kicks off here, a crossover unique in that it occurs at a time of massive upheaval for the franchise (three of the four series in this crossover feature artists who hadn't drawn any previous issues of their respective series, and the one "veteran" artist, Greg Capullo, had only drawn one previous issue of X-Force) and thus not only functions as the now-annual blockbuster popcorn crossover story for the line, but also a mission statement for the new, post-Image Exodus, direction of the franchise. As a result, it both looks back, tying up some lingering plots from the now-departed shepherds of the linewide relaunch a year prior (especially as related to Cable and X-Force; this crossover finishes the job already begun by Fabian Nicieza of essentially destroying whatever vision Rob Liefeld had for that series), and looks forward, introducing at least one significant plotline (the Legacy Virus) that will come to dominate the subsequent year or so of stories (and then continue to drag on for years afterwards) while slightly re-altering the relationships between the various series: while not as scattered as the series were pre-"X-Tinction Agenda", most of the titles in this crossover had remained fairly independent from one another in the previous year, something which changes as a result of "X-Cutioner's Song", notably the effective demise of the Blue/Gold division in the two X-Men books.
To that end, this issue does a decent job of looking back while bringing everyone together for the story. Characters from each of the four titles make at least a brief appearance here, while the dialogue is filled with callbacks to pre-relaunch and nearly-forgotten relationships (like Storm & Gambit's) and appearances from pre-relaunch, nearly-forgotten supporting characters (like Charlotte Jones). Which makes this read almost like Lobdell, now fully freed from the desires and dictates of the Image guys, is consciously trying to bring back some of that Claremont magic by highlighting the same pre-relaunch past the Image guys were so eager to leave behind (there's so much jammed into this issue, both in terms of historical references and story setup, that I screencapped something from pretty much every page of this issue). Characterization will, by necessity, take something of a backseat in the course of this story, but "X-Cutioner's Song" will remain a much more intimate and character-driven story than, say, "X-Tinction Agenda", and that starts right here at the beginning.
And, of course, the whole crossover starts with a killer hook: in the midst of a speech about human/mutant relations, Professor X is seemingly assassinated by Cable. Anyone reading X-Force knows this probably isn't Cable (though the story shrewdly holds off on confirming that immediately), but the characters in the story don't (and most don't even know that Cable & Stryfe look the same). So not only is it an entertaining (and, yes, exceedingly marketable) hook for the story, it also brings to the surface the lingering tensions between the X-Men and X-Force, who exist beyond even the X-Men's rudimentary relationship with official authorities, and are viewed by some of the X-Men as a corruption of the New Mutants specifically and Xavier's dream in general. That in-universe tension, and, really, the tension between the franchise's immediate and pre-relaunch pasts, will drive the first act of this story, before the real villain is fully revealed and the whole thing takes a more personal (and less engaging) turn. Those tensions are really what makes this crossover feel at least a little like the logical culmination of the previous year's worth of stories, even though the whole thing was constructed on the fly, in some cases by creators who had barely worked on the series, and those tensions help make it an engaging read even when other elements falter. For now though, this is simply an engaging beginning, a chance to look back just as that big hook kicks off the storyline.
Tomorrow, things get worse for Xavier as X-Factor battles X-Force in X-Factor #84. Friday, Wolverine continues his deep dive into his past in Wolverine #63. And next week, the X-Men join the hunt for X-Force in X-Men #14.