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Wednesday, April 12, 2017

X-amining Uncanny X-Men #296

January 1993

In a Nutshell

Writer: Scott Lobdell
Pencils: Brandon Peterson
Inks: Terry Austin
Letterer: Chris Eliopoulis
Colorist: Joe Rosas
Editor: Bob Harras
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco

Cyclops & Jean Grey battle the Dark Riders as they attempt to escape from Stryfe. Meanwhile, Beast manages to remove the bullet from Xavier's head, but Moira reports that, upon breaking the virus' binary code, it only contained a mocking message from Stryfe. On Graymalkin, Wolverine, Bishop & Cable go over recent events in the hope of deducing Stryfe's location. At Stryfe's base, Cyclops & Jean Grey suddenly encounter an infant bearing an uncanny likeness to Cyclop's son. At the mansion, Archangel vouches for Apocalypse, and Storm agrees to let Apocalypse try to cure Xavier. At Stryfe's base, Stryfe tells Cyclops & Jean Grey that the baby is connected to him; kill it, and they'll kill him. But the pair refuses to do so, and instead, blasts a hole in the wall of the base, through which they're almost immediate yanked. Just then, Wolverine realizes where Stryfe is keeping Cyclops & Jean, and why Jean hasn't been able to telepathically call for help: because they're not on Earth at all.

Firsts and Other Notables
This issue is littered with hints about Stryfe's origin, including his comment that Cyclops and Jean Grey destroyed him (ie sent him to the future, where he became Stryfe). The big clue comes when Cyclops and Jean encounter an infant whom Cyclops says looks just like Nathan Christopher, and Stryfe tells them the child is linked to him, such that if they kill the child, he will die. He is confident they will do so, and is taken aback when they refuse to arm the child (the baby turns out to not be real). Cyclops, noting that the scenario is remarkably similar to what happened to Nathan Christopher, wonders how Stryfe could possibly know the details, unless he was there.

Stryfe is confidant Cyclops will destroy the child to get to him, because he believes it happened before (ie that Cyclops destroyed Stryfe, as Nathan Christopher, to get at Apocalypse, from Stryfe's skewed perspective, at least).

Upon realizing that Cyclops & Jean won't sacrifice the fake baby, Stryfe (specifically, per the narration, the child within him) is rocked, as he finds himself wondering if all they truly committed all the sin he's spent his lifetime hating them for.

Stryfe's base of operations throughout this story is revealed to be Apocalypse's old base on the moon, explaining why Cerebro couldn't detect him, and why Jean wasn't able to reach anyone telepathically.

This issue is littered with footnotes to incorrect issues, specifically to chapters of this story (ie events in X-Factor #85 are footnoted with #84).

Appropriately enough, Cyclops & Jean Grey are featured on this issue's card.

A Work in Progress
Between the last chapter and this one, the Dark Riders have joined Stryfe at his base, and Apocalypse has setup some kind of rejuvenation bath in the mansion.

Jean is able to telekinetically hold back Cyclops' optic blast, which was a notable ability of Phoenix back in "The Dark Phoenix Saga".

Upon learning that the Dark Riders have switched allegiances to Stryfe, Cyclops jokes that it's wonder villains have time for world-conquering bids with all the in-fighting they do.

Beast manages to successfully remove the techno-organic slug Xavier was shot with from his head, while Moira manages to break the virus' binary code, which just results in a taunt from Stryfe.

There's essentially a two page recap of the story thus far in this issue, presented as a summation of events to Cable, Wolverine & Bishop as they try to deduce Stryfe's location.

Archangel says his wings are of a similar techno-organic nature to the virus ravaging Xavier, the first time they've been explicitly labeled as such. He also notes that Apocalypse was present when Nathan Christopher was sent into the future, subtly reminding readers of the connection between the two (and, by extension, Stryfe).

Stryfe calls his base an "apocalyptic tomb", which takes on new meaning when it's revealed that it's an old base of Apocalypse'.

The Cable Guy
Once again, the question of if Stryfe is a copy of Cable or vice versa is raised.

Artistic Achievements
There's a neat little artistic bit in this issue, in which Wolverine is shown in the background absent-mindedly cutting into a table with one of his claws. Then, at the end, when he realizes Cyclops and Jean are on the moon, it's revealed that he's been carving an image of the moon into the table the whole time (X-Factor #86 will have Wolverine suggest that Jean has been telepathically reaching out to him, but only his subconscious was getting the message).

Austin's Analysis
While there's some additional business going on in the margins, the final act of "X-Cutioner's Song" opens with what is essentially the Cyclops/Jean Grey spotlight chapter. After hanging around in the background, doing little more than being held captive/tortured/humiliated by Stryfe, for most of the story, here they make an escape attempt, and in the process, give readers the biggest clues yet to Stryfe's origin. While the complaint that, ultimately, this story fails on its promise to reveal once and for all the relationship between Cable, Stryfe, Cyclops & Jean Grey, is entirely justified, it's also hard to not read this story and still walk away with a pretty good idea that Stryfe and Cable are, in some way, Nathan Christopher Summers, especially after this issue.

Already in this story, Stryfe has been dropping cryptic bits of dialogue to that effect left & right, and that ramps up here, with several pretty blatant "I was baby Nathan" hints in both his dialogue and narrative captions. Additionally, he maneuvers Cyclops & Jean into a scenario in which he expects them to kill a baby whom Cyclops himself calls out as looking just like Nathan (and is then shocked when they refuse to harm the infant). Lobdell even slyly goes out of his way to work in a reference to X-Factor #68 in a different plotline of the issue's, putting that issue in readers' minds without making it too obvious by referencing it in the Stryfe/Cyclops/Jean plotline. As a result, even reading this as it unfolded in real time, before anything about Cable & Stryfe was later "officially" confirmed, it was plainly obvious that Stryfe was Nathan Christopher in some way. That the story failed to explicitly confirm that and.or explain it further by the end does it no favors, but with this issue, it pretty much does it all it can to make that clear without saying it explicitly.

Next Issue
Tomorrow, the hunt for Stryfe ramps up in X-Factor #86. Friday, an epilogue to a story that never really ended in Wolverine #65. Next, X-Men (vol. 2) #16.

Collected Editions



  1. This all reminds me of both Cyclops and Maddy Pryor's characters assassination. I miss them as a couple, living normal life and showing up once and awhile. Jean should have stayed dead. Not because I dislike her, on the contrary, I have fond memories of her as Phoenix, but because I feel that her story truly ended when she killed herself in the Moon. Sad that they didn't use Dazzler as the fifth member of X-Factor. Could have avoided many issues.

  2. I don't know the behind-the-scenes mechanations, but always suspected that the writers of the X-books at this time really wanted Stryfe to be Scott's son, a child of heroes who turned irrevocably bad (for whatever reasons) to the point where a clone/cyborg of him was created specifically to right his wrongs.

    But (and again, I'm speculating wildly), the editorial brain trust at the time probably did not want to accept the idea of a bad guy being born of a good guy, lest readers be... I dunno, forced into addressing moral gray areas? So the writers had to leave it intentionally vague, thus allowing for Cable to actually end up as Scott's son, despite nearly every piece of presented evidence (not to mention storytelling logic) saying otherwise.

    Unrelated: the "they're not on the Earth at all" has to be a reference to the same situation back in not-yet-Uncanny "X-Men" #98. I don't remember this little callback being used in between those two points, so seeing it thrown in here (and having it make sense) was neat.

    1. My understanding, though I don't recall where I read it, is that you're exactly right, Bob -- the writers wanted Stryfe to be the real Nathan and Cable to be the clone, but someone -- either Bob Harras or possibly Tom DeFalco -- didn't like that idea.

  3. The beginning of this issue reads like the result of a miscommunication. Scott is upset that he seemingly killed Jean at the start of this issue- he blasted Jean in X-Factor 85 but later, in X-Force 17, Jean and Scott escape and there's no scene where Jean is injured.
    "I don't know the behind-the-scenes mechanations, but always suspected that the writers of the X-books at this time really wanted Stryfe to be Scott's son, a child of heroes who turned irrevocably bad (for whatever reasons) to the point where a clone/cyborg of him was created specifically to right his wrongs"
    Nicieza wanted Stryfe to be Scott's son but Lobdell thought that made Scott responsible for Stryfe's evil:

    1. Gee I wonder where little Nathan inherited the character trait of it always being the clone, or a cosmic simulacrum, who did all the horrid things.

      This is a novel editorial approach this "Let's not make Scott look like a dick", though.

  4. I have always loved the "Luke & Leia" moment near the beginning of this issue, where Cyclops and Jean swing across chasm or something on a telekinetic cable. It's a great picture and I really like the narration that accompanies it, something about Jean realizing that her love for Scott was stronger than even death.

    Also, Cyclops' "unless he was there" is another goosebump moment for me like the one I mentioned a few chapters back, when Apocalypse began to connect the dots. I love stuff like that; oblique and melodramatic hints, even to things that are blatantly obvious, get me pretty much every time. It's why I loved LOST during most of its run; just moment after moment of goosebumpy scenes.

    (Unfortunately the end of LOST soured me on pretty much the entire series, but I still think there was some good stuff early on when it was basically a different show.)

    1. I got a kick out of that “Luke & Leia” moment too. While the art was to my eyes rather uneven throughout the issue, that panel is nicely rendered, which makes the poor lettering all the more unfortunate. (And I’m so with you on Lost.)

    2. Hey! In parentheses or it doesn’t count!

    3. Ah, LOST, and the early '00s-riffic utter perplexion at the premiere time over how and by who these people are the be voted off the island.

      "No, you don't, this is a scripted show" wasn't the correct answer then.

  5. I chuckled at stryfe's mask covering his nostrils. So tight !


  6. The fact that Cyclops’ optic blasts are, per a caption on Pg. 3, “capable of pulverizing adamantium” is news to me.

    // Wolverine is shown in the background absent-mindedly cutting into a table with one of his clothes. //

    He must really be a — wait for it — sharp-dressed man.

    I’m sorry.

    1. No, that's Stryfe.

      But on the adamantium-pulverizing optic blasts, I thought we were going to just silently agree to ignore that.

      There actually was a reader question in our books back in the day about how exactly the AoA Cyclops had been able to supposedly optically blast a hand off of AoA Weapon X, and the given answer was that the beam had cut the hand from between the unattached adamantium-clad bones in wrist.

    2. @Blam: He must really be a — wait for it — sharp-dressed man.

      Heh. I kind of don't want to fix the typo now...


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