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Wednesday, August 2, 2017

X-amining X-Men (vol. 2) #21

"The Puzzle Box"
June 1993

In a Nutshell
The X-Men head to Japan in search of the truth about Psylocke.

Writer: Fabian Nicieza
Pencils: Brandon Petersen
Inker: Dan Panosian
Letterer: Bill Oakley
Colorist: Joe Rosas
Editor: Bob Harras
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco

The X-Men interrogate the two Psylockes, and when both telepathy and Wolverine's senses fail to determine which is the real deal, Xavier declares the team must go to Japan to find Lord Nyoirin to learn the truth. In Alaska, Cyclops reunites with his grandparents, while in Seattle, the Dark Riders target Mesmero, killing him for being unworthy before executing one of their own sickly teammates. In Japan, Lord Nyoirin meets with Shinboi Shaw, and agrees to use Kwannon to kill the X-Men in exchange for Shinobi supporting Nyoirin's claim on Clan Yashida's holdings. Elsewhere, Gambit, Beast and the two Psylockes infiltrate Nyoirin's ancestral home. Taking out his guards, they discover a secret painting of Kwannon, resembling Asian Psylocke, in Nyoirin's study. In Tokyo, Shinobi attacks Matsu'o, angry that Matsu'o has prevailed on Gamesmaster to block Shinboi's efforts to kill Psylocke. In Nyoirin's study, the suspicions of the X-Men grow, but as they question Psylocke, they're attacked from behind by Silver Samurai, who declares that in order to regain the place of honor lost to Clan Yashida, he must kill them all.

Firsts and Other Notables
The Dark Riders, last seen nearly killing Apocalypse in "X-Cutioner's Song", return in this issue, and in the absence of both Apocalypse & Stryfe as leaders, they've apparently taken up Apocalypse's "only the strong can survive" tenet and begun targeting mutants for testing (basically, attacking and, if possible, killing them, in order to cull the weak from the strong). Here, their victim is Mesmero, last seen (in the X-books) in Excalibur #32-34, and he is ultimately killed, another victim of the early 90s purge of classic (if underused) villains (though like many others, he'll be back eventually).

The Dark Riders also turn on one of their own, Psynapse, who has been weak and sick since the Dark Riders' return from the moon in "X-Cutioner's Song" (that last bit meant to illustrate that he is infected with the Legacy Virus).

We're in Japan for this story, so we've got to cram in as many Japanese/Asian characters as possible. First, there's Shinobi Shaw, who is on hand in an effort to kill Psylocke as part of the Upstarts competition.

He is blocked by Matsu'o, who convinces the Gamesmaster (off panel) to block Shinobi's efforts in favor of Matsu'o's own plans for Psylocke (he was, recall, the one chiefly responsible for her Asian transformation). Frustratingly/hilariously, it's often hard to tell Matsu'o & Shinobi apart, and there's little indication of Matsu'o's false hand.

Lord Nyoirin is of course around, and forms an alliance with Shinobi in an effort to take control of the Clan Yashida (previously led by the now-deceased Mariko) resources.

Finally, the issue ends with the cliffhanger reveal of Silver Samurai attacking Beast from behind, his presence hardly a surprise given the setting and references to Yashida family interests.

Appearing in person (and not behind the scenes/being talked about) for the first time since Scott's wedding to Madelyne in Uncanny X-Men #175, Cyclop's grandparents pop up as he arrives in Alaska. We also get a sense of the "story" the X-Men apparently told "outsiders" about the fate of Madelyne, as well as Nathan Christopher, as they mention not seeing Cyclops much since both died, and he responds that it's time they learned the truth (PS I love Cyclops' X-branded duffle bag. I want one).

Creator Central 
Brandon Petersen is still hanging around the X-office, and fills in on this issue.

A Work in Progress
While narratively-convenient, it's nevertheless appreciated that the idea of Xavier (or Jean) using telepathy to suss out the truth about Pyslocke is raised, and then shot down.

Also, Revanche notes that she's never met Xavier in person, which would be true for pre-Asian Psylocke, as he was in space when she joined the team and wouldn't have met him until Uncanny #275, after her transformation.

Psylocke suggests that her history of being manipulated and transformed against her will by outside parties (Slaymaster, Mojo, Matsu'o) are the reason she uses her powers more aggressively (ie the psychic knife).

After shedding her Psylocke armor, we see the purple hued body suit (with various 90s straps) which will serve as Revanche's default look going forward.

Revanche says that she was a captive of Lord Nyorin for months, to explain her knowledge of his home, though readers already know this to be a lie, as we saw the pair interact in issues #17 and #18 in a way that wasn't captor/captive.

The Best There is at What He Does
Wolverine does the old "two claws on either side of a person's head, threatening to extend the middle claw" routine with Psylocke to open the issue.

It's also noted that Wolverine stays behind while Gambit, Beast and the Psylockes journey to Japan, as it contains too many raw memories at this point (a reference to Mariko's death).

It's in the Mail
A response to a letter in this issue teases an upcoming Longshot miniseries (which never comes to fruition) as well as the upcoming Gambit mini. The letters works in a very 90s "NOT!".

Austin's Analysis
In the wake of last issue's Psylocke/Revanche cliffhanger, this issue properly begins Nicieza's exploration of Psylocke's transformation (and his ultimate failed retcon of such) by sending a contingent of the team to Japan alongside the Psylockes. Most of this is setup: introducing the extended players, teasing out the mystery further, but it's unfortunately let down by the art. Brandon Petersen, fresh off his short run on Uncanny (where his work was mostly solid, if rarely all that exciting), seems sloppy here - whether that's because this was a rushed last minute fill-in for Kubert or the result of Dan Panosian's inks is hard to say - and the end result does the story no favors.

The art in a scene in which Psylocke & Revanche are meant to be mirroring each others' fighting styles, for example, one of the key "advancing the mystery bits" in this issue, does little to show that idea; only through Beast & Gambit's dialogue does that become clear. There's also a problem with the fact that Shinboi Shaw and Matsu'o, as rendered by Petersen & Panosian, look nearly identical, which is especially problematic on the page in which they fight face-to-face (thankfully, one of them - Matsu'o, I believe - has a facial scar to distinguish between them). Fortunately, much of the identity issues that come into in this story are held for later issues, minimizing the possible confusion caused by the lackluster art here, but this issue nevertheless causes the story to limp right out of the gate.

Next Issue
Tomorrow, X-Force takes the fight to the X-Ternals in X-Force #23. Friday, the return to "Days of Future Past" in Excalibur #66. Next week, X-Men Unlimited #1.

Collected Editions


  1. it was hard to tell matsuo and shinobi apart in this issue. Matsou has a more Wolverinish hairstyle whole Shinobi just has regular long hair. I remember in the 2nd x-men cards series, Shinobi's card has him looking more like Matsou with the hair. jeez even the recent X-Men 92 series did that mistake.

  2. I agree this isn't Brandon Peterson's strongest effort, but I thought it looked really good as a kid (though the visual similarities between Matsu'o and Shinobi bugged me as much then as they do now). I still think some of it holds up, though. That panel of Wolverine threatening Psylocke is great.

    I also remember thinking something looked different -- and really cool -- with the colors in this issue. Again, I refer to the Wolverine-threatening-Psylocke panel, where you can see lots of gradients in their skin. Of course within a couple years, computer coloring would become all the rage in comics, with the X-Men spearheading that movement (at least with regards to Marvel).

    I recall A) being surprised to learn that Cyclops had living grandparents, as I'd always thought he had no living family outside of Havok (I didn't even know about Corsair yet at this point), and B) assuming they must have been fairly major supporting characters since, in this -- my second issue of X-MEN as a regular reader -- he goes to pour his feelings out to them.

    As far as the actual issue, I was still on board with this storyline when I was fourteen. Twists, turns, and the X-Men visiting the "exotic" East -- it was hard to go wrong with this stuff as far as I was concerned!

    1. I do really like the opening double-page splash - things seemed to get sloppier later in the issue.

      And you're right about the colors getting...deeper (for lack of a better term; I'm not good at talking art) in this issue. I usually associate that change with the next issue (and also credit it with improving Kubert's pencils) but it really does start here.

  3. I liked this issue as a kid, but even then I thought it was goofy to make Shinobi and Matsuo look exactly the same. I'm pretty sure they never had the exact same hairstyle before. Petersen doesn't make them look very Asian, either. Also, Wolverine's shoulder is really messed up in that spread with him threatening Psylocke.

    Matt, I started to notice the coloring here, too. I think it really kicks in with issues 31 & 32. I've seen other reviewers criticize those issues, but I liked it.

  4. Revanche's curly hair-do seems to be pretty much the same one she got in UXM #244 in the shopping trip to Hollywood, but she had reverted back to her usual one before going through the Siege Perilous.

  5. The answer to the art issues is always Dan Panosian. That guy killed everything he inked back then.

    1. It's amazing how much he has improved. He is now a penciler. The problem with Panosian in the 90s is that he was the near official "Liefeldator" in the X-Office

    2. Yeah, back then he was the go-to guy to make it look like Liefeld. Whether the artist in question looked GOOD when you did that. At least he improved.

    3. I'm willing to give Peterson some leeway in that this was a fill-in, and thus likely rushed, but yeah, everything Panosian touched in this era turned to crap.

  6. Next issue will have the same problem: I kept thinking that Nyorin was an alias of the Mandarin as he appeared during the Acts of Vengeance. They looked identical. It took me years to realize that Nyorin was a new (and non-important) character.

    1. Yeah, Nyoirin's look is pretty derivative. At least Mandarin isn't meant to be in these issues, vs. having Matsu'o & Shinobi interacting directly on page.

  7. The Dark Riders! I was just thinking earlier today about how I liked those guys, and that they are my favorite of the "Apocalypse Henchmen" groups.

    1. I still favor the Horsemen (in concept if not always execution), but I like the Dark Riders plenty, in a "epitome of the 90s" kind of way.

  8. Is it ever explained why the Summers grandparents didn't adopt Scott and Alex after the crash? Or why Scott didn't even know he had grandparents? Did his grandparents also not know they had grandchildren? Did the grandparents not know their son and his wife went missing / were presumed dead? If they did, did they not bother to find out what happened to their grandchildren?

    Generally, the existence of the Summers grandparents annoy me because they bork up his backstory with questions like these.

    1. Where did you think Scott inherited the "they don't answer phone, oh well" attitude?

    2. I think the idea is that Phillip & Deborah assumed that everyone - Chris, Kate, Scott and Alex - died in the plane crash, until Corsair returned to Earth and brought the grown Scott & Alex to Alaska circa UXM #168.

      Now, as to why Scott and/or Alex didn't remember their grandparents and tell the orphanage about them, I have no idea. Alex may have been too young (I think Scott was ten-ish at the time) but Scott should have known about them, even if he'd never met them in person yet.

      My No-Prize-y explanation would be some combination of trauma and Mr. Sinister manipulations, but I don't know if there's an "official" explanation.

    3. Deborah and Phillip believing everybody died tracks well enough. But then, you have to wonder how lacking the due diligence of the state/orphanage was that they couldn't track down ANY living relatives for these kids despite having their legal names and DOB (presumably given by Scott and verified). As I recall, Scott and Alex seemed surprised to learn they had grandparents back in #168 or whenever. Given the preponderance of issues, you really have to chalk it up to Sinister shenanigans. Scott's memory issues due to brain damage and Sinister's tampering are well-documented; not a leap to assume he went a step further in altering the official records. (One of this favorite pastimes, apparently, as that was conically the case with Madelyne Pryor.)

    4. You're correct. Corsair says that although the parents of Cyclops' mother are dead, his parents are still alive. Cyclops reacts revealing that he clearly did not know that he had living grandparents. Why Claremont decided to create the grandparents is unknown. Cyclops was the ultimate loner (before Wolverine came along), he had no one, and even his relationship to his brother was distant. I presume was just an attempt by Claremont to provide Cyclops with a true happy ending back then.

  9. I always found it hilarious that Matsuo and Shinobi are identical here, right down to the coloring. Like Peterson just draws the same figure twice and just puts them in different outfits. If that doesn't scream, "Fuck it I'm on a deadline!" I don't know what does.

    And Psynapse. Oh, Psynapse. He's described as "diminutive," but in that first panel... the perspective is either hopelessly screwed or he's TINY. Tiny enough to seemingly be standing on Tusk's shoulder. (Maybe Peterson got him confused with an actual "Tuskette." What a time to be alive.) Then, he appears to be of average stature when they take him out. To this day, the whole thing is horribly confusing.

    Rush jobs happen, and for that I give Peterson a pass. His little stint on Uncanny before this earned him a lot of good will.

    1. Psynapse is indeed supposed to be tiny, given prior issues.

  10. "First, there's Shinobi Shaw, who is ON HAND in an effort to kill Psylocke as part of the Upstarts competition."


  11. there's little indication of Matsu'o's false hand.

    They make a point of drawing a scar over the eye though. We last saw him in WOLVERINE #60 where his hand was cut and Wolverine went Chinatown on his nostril. The other claw apparently slashed over his left eye on the same go but the right nostril show no sign of damage.


  12. // The art in a scene in which Psylocke & Revanche are meant to be mirroring each others' fighting styles, for example, one of the key "advancing the mystery bits" in this issue //

    I don’t understand why their fighting styles would be the same nor what it would prove if they were. Of course, I’ve still only read this far. And because of that I expect the reasons why everyone talks about Nicieza’s pointless, troublesome retcon being, well, a pointless, troublesome retcon are yet to be revealed; nothing yet has actually contradicted what we saw of Psylocke’s transformation back in Uncanny #256.

  13. This comic was also REALLY CONFUSING to a young me, because I didn't know the real history behind Psylocke at all, so three different Japanese dudes showing up, all claiming some kind of insight into the situation, made it all the weirder.

    The most peculiar thing about the whole "Revanche" story is that they actually spoiled it months earlier, as anyone reading should know that Revanche is that Evil Ninja Chick who is decidedly evil.


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