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Wednesday, September 20, 2017

X-amining Uncanny X-Men #303

"Going Through the Motions"
August 1993

In a Nutshell
The death of Illyana

Writer: Scott Lobdell
Special Guest Artist: Richard Bennet
Inks: Dan Green (pp 8, 14-18)
Letterer: Chris Eliopoulos
Colorist: Joe Rosas
Editor: Bob Harras
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco

Jean Grey seeks out Jubilee, asking if she wants to talk about what she's feeling. Jubilee is reluctant at first, but soon she opens up, admitting she shouldn't be surprised by what happened. A few hours ago, Jubilee was keeping an increasingly-ill Illyana company along with Kitty while Xavier & Moira worked desperately to stop the spread of the virus making her sick. Annoyed by how close Kitty & Illyana were, Jubilee left to check on Xavier, and was saddened by how despondent he was. Then Illyana suddenly went into cardiac arrest, and Xavier was forced to use a piece of Shi'ar technology to keep her alive, albeit in a coma. Kitty argued that consigning her to that fate was worse than death, and as they argued, Jubilee picked up Illyana's bamf doll and placed it in her arms, doing what she could to make the girl happy. Shortly thereafter, the X-Men returned from Dallas to find Xavier waiting to break the news of Illyana's passing to a stone-faced Colossus, leaving Jubilee to ask Jean why, if the X-Men can save the world every day, they couldn't do zip to save one little girl? She tells Jean that what she's feeling more than anything is that she wants to be left alone, but Jean hugs her, saying that while everyone enters and leaves the world alone, the time they spend in between, together with other people, is what makes life worth living.

Firsts and Other Notables
This issue marks the death of Illyana, as she succumbs to the illness that's been plaguing her since X-Men #19, making her the first significant (and, arguably, most significant) character to die as a result of Stryfe's Legacy Virus (it's a death that mostly sticks, too, with the character not returning until the late 00s in the form of her older New Mutants-era self, and given the loophole Louise Simonson wrote into the "death" of her teenaged self and the nature of her powers, her return isn't as egregious as some others).

Her death will, obviously, have a significant impact on Colossus, serving as the catalyst to his upcoming actions in the rest of "Fatal Attractions", but the character herself, at this point, is mostly a cipher, with any readers who do remember her/have specific fondness for her most likely remembering/appreciating that teenaged New Mutants version of the character, who is already long gone at this point. As a result, while her death here is significant, it's more because of the impact it has on other characters and what it represents in terms of raising the stakes of the Legacy Virus plotline.

Richard Bennett, who received an official "welcome aboard" when he inked last month's issue of X-Force, is credited as a "special guest" artist here. Clearly, somebody was expecting big things from him, though he never really does much beyond the occasional fill-in/one-off (like here).

This issue came bound with a "Hunt for Magneto" card, part of combination X-Men/Avengers 30th anniversary and Sega Genesis Marvel games promotion. The cards were only available through the promotion, either bound in comics or via mail-away, and I believe there was a scratch-off box that enabled you to try and win Sega games and other such prizes. Assorted X-Men and Avengers issues over the next few months each have one of the cards bound in, which are super annoying because they make the comic hard to read (being thicker than the pages and positioned awkwardly in the middle of the book).

Collection Recollection
I still vividly remember when I first read this issue, in a booth at a Marie Calendars (back when they had restaurants and not just frozen food) after buying it at the nearby Shinders, while my mom and I waited for our food to arrive (I had ordered chili and cornbread). That Marie Calendars shortly thereafter became a series of different restaurants, before the building was torn down and replaced with first, an Office Depot, and then, a furniture store. And while I remember all that and can still picture the view of the restaurant from our table in my mind's eye, I don't remember why my mom and I were having dinner that night without my dad and brother, nor what my mom would have been doing while I was somewhat rudely reading, leaving her to entertain herself, because memory is weird like that.

A Work in Progress
A narrative caption refers to Jean as being a "genetic template" for Phoenix.

In a bit of characterization I've always enjoyed, Jubilee doesn't really like Kitty and is mildly annoyed by her presence and familiarity with Illyana, which is especially fun considering Jubilee is essentially the new/current Kitty on the team.

Jubilee is left out while Illyana and Kitty speak in Russian, which begs the question of why Xavier doesn't just telepathically teach Jubilee Russian (or Illyana English for that matter), considering the only reason Kitty can speak Russian is because he did the same for her back in the day.

Jean gives Jubilee a primer on Illyana's history, which of course serves the same function for any new readers who aren't intimately familiar with her older New Mutants role.

One of those grammatical errors I have hard time ignoring, Jean says "reverted back", which is redundant (to revert is, by definition, to go back).

It's noted that after Illyana was restored to her childhood age, Kitty stayed in touch with her via letters, something we've never actually seen before.

Professor X provides some additional technobabble detailing how the Legacy virus works.

Jubilee makes a crack about how no self-respecting adult would call herself "Kitty".

In hanging out with Kitty and Illyana, Jubilee admits that it was, briefly, the first time she'd felt normal since her parents died. Jubilee's past as an orphan living in the mall after her parents died doesn't get referenced very often, but this was an effective reminder of it.

Storm notes that Fitzroy has been taken into federal custody following the beating he received from Colossus last issue.

Iceman references his old group the Champions.

Colossus' reaction to news of Illyana's death is notably quiet.

The Grim 'n' Gritty 90s
Jubilee refers to Jean Grey as "Sally Jean Grey Raphael".

For Sale
The "Entertainment This Month" ad in this issue features Bishop's trading card from the fourth Marvel Universe series, and not to beat a dead horse, but it once again highlights the fundamental flaw of that set, as the card looks less like a whole image unto itself and more like a cropped part of a larger whole (which is what it is).

There's an ad for the console release of Mortal Kombat.

Austin's Analysis
While this is technically another of Lobdell's Quiet Issues (albeit a pre-crossover one instead of post-crossover), it's also so much more than that. Even without the benefit of hindsight, Illyana's fate had been telegraphed pretty obviously in the lead-up to this issue; reading it for the first time as a teenager back in the day, I went in knowing full well it would be chronicling the character's death. But the issue isn't trying to shock readers; instead, it's a relatively measured look at grief, and the way it can affect someone, even someone fully anticipating the grief, even someone without a deep personal connection to the victim.

Though Illyana dies in this issue, it really isn't about her. Illyana, especially at this point in time, is largely a prop: she is important to other characters, like Colossus and Shadowcat, and her plight has larger narrative concerns for the franchise, but even old school readers who remember the character's New Mutants' heyday with lingering fondness are remembering a different Illyana, one whose absence has already been dealt with. So instead, Lobdell focuses on Jubilee, a character who has had a more immediate impact on readers and whose age relative to the rest of the characters allows her to express a more raw form of grief. And by focusing on Jubilee, a relative stranger to Illyana, instead of her brother or best friend, it allows Lobdell to depict a more general feeling of helplessness that follows a loss of life: strip away the Shi'ar technology and Legacy Virus and superpowers and this is essentially a story about a grieving young woman asking people older, smarter and more accomplished than her why they couldn't save the life of a perfectly innocent little girl.

It's powerful stuff, and filled with lots of affecting, familiar moments, from Jubilee wanting to comfort Xavier but stopping herself, to the moment when Jubilee places the Bamf doll in Illyana's hands, wanting to do SOMETHING, however fruitless, to help the girl, to Jubilee's surprise at Colossus' non-reaction to his sister's death. Coming at the near-height of garish 90s excess in comics, this issue is a surprising and much-appreciated examination of basic human emotion, which pushes the trappings of the period to the background. Yes, this issue was hyped to high heavens, and yes, it's bound with a promotional trading card and yes, it serves as a lead-in to another crossover issue, but it can also be lifted neatly out of that setting to stand simply as an examination of the grief one child feels for the unjust and inexplicable death of another child. It's a highlight of Lobdell's run, of the era, and of the series as a whole.

Next Issue
Tomorrow, Illyana's death reverberates in X-Factor #93. Friday, Jubilee and Wolverine go down under in Wolverine #72. Next week, Cyclop's family expands in X-Men #23.

Collected Editions



  1. "the moment when Jubilee places the Bamf doll in Illyana's hands, wanting to do SOMETHING, however fruitless, to help the girl"

    I re-read this issue last year, and this exact moment was when I cried.

    This was packed in with the tabletop RPG game, which is where I got it. Like you said, it's a very effective exploration of grief & responses to death, and Lobdell does a great job at getting into the head of a teenager seeing a younger person die, which is one of the worst situations in the world. And back in the day, the flashback effectively got me interested in the New Mutants era, which in hindsight either introduced me to my favorite era or created yet another nostalgia monster. Looking back now, the art doesn't suit the story at all, but that's my only real complaint. Everything else is so good that I can easily gloss over that flaw.

    1. Looking back now, the art doesn't suit the story at all, but that's my only real complaint. Everything else is so good that I can easily gloss over that flaw.

      Agreed all around. I realize now I so completely overlook the art, I didn't even mention how poorly it suits the material (it's really yet another of the issue's superficial 90s trappings), but that the material manages to rise above it anyway.

    2. PS the bit with the bamf doll gets me every time, too. Also, the older I get, for some reason the more affected I am by Jubilee admitting she wanted to give Xavier a hug, to tell him everything would be fine, but held back.

  2. Back then, I really, really wished that the Scott Lobdell you saw writing the quieter issues would turn up more often than the one writing the bog-standard rehashed Claremont that made up so much of the 1993-1997 era of X-Men. Those stories-and this was his best one-seemed to serve his strengths as a writer far better than long running soap operatic plotting, especially as writing for the cross over became a thing. Indeed, in Lobdell's run today, what stands out to me are his quiet issues, which have aged pretty well, while a lot of the 90s period hasn't fared that well.

    Sometimes I wonder what kind of writer Lobdell could've been if he'd pushed himself more. He was, and is, a perfectly serviceable comics writer, but the quiet issues showed a lot more depth and talent than he usually let on. This one in particular is magnificently written.

    1. I definitely wonder "what might have been" when it comes to Lobdell's writing as well. The environment and editorial policy of the day certainly limited the ability of any writer to really break out from the pack. For his part, Lobdell seemed content to play the hired gun -- but he had some chops, which we got to see flourishes of from time to time. That was a win-win for Marvel: company guy who wasn't a total hack. But I can see it being sort of insulating and tempering one's creative ambition. There was no incentive for Lobdell to stretch his talents, so he settled into a nice comfort zone. Lobdell was pretty cognizant that he had a limited shelf life in that capacity, and was upfront about wanting to make the most of it until they showed him the door. I can't really say I blame him; if complacency is going to be encouraged, even rewarded, why try harder? And yet.. I do wish we could've seen him really cut loose on something with a distinctive authoritative voice. The potential was there for him to grown into a better, or at least more fondly remembered writer.

  3. I admit that I like a lot of Lobdell's stuff from the 90s, but whenever I see someone criticize him a hack or a bad writer or whatever, there are several issues to which I'd like to direct them, but this is at the top of the list. It's right up there with AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #400 as a comic that will always get me misty-eyed, no matter how many times I've read it and how aware I am of how it will end. It's easily up there with the very best of Chris Claremont.

    I agree with Jack's assessment that Richard Bennett's art doesn't really suit the issue, but I, too, wonder what became of him. I loved his work back then, and was disappointed he didn't pop up more often. Maybe he was too slow to make his deadlines or something.

    1. Oops, I'm sorry, Mela -- I thought it was Jack who said the art didn't fit, but it was you!

    2. Well, to be fair, I didn't think it fit either, but it was 1993, you took what you got, and it certainly wasn't as bad as a lot of comics in that time period. I just didn't SAY it!

    3. "ops, I'm sorry, Mela -- I thought it was Jack who said the art didn't fit, but it was you!"

      As Jack said, we both kind of said the same thing, so no worries. Like Jeff said below, just imagine how much better this would have been with JRJr art.

  4. There were two X-Men board games around this time. One of them you mailed off for an exclusive comic and the one I got was this issue with a Gold cover variant that I've rarely seen anywhere else or ever heard anyone mention. It was one of the first cover variants I had seen.

    1. I saw reference to that variant on the GCD (they have a scan of the gold cover), but I didn't know where it was from.

      I love this issue, but I can't decide if it's a great one to include in a cross-media tie-in, to show that comics can be more than just punching stuff, or a terrible one to include, in that most of the title characters appear in it very little and do less, and it doesn't exactly represent what a "typical" X-Men issue is going to look like.

    2. I was gonna say, I'm mortified to learn this, of all issues, was packaged as a promo comic. There are avenues where it MIGHT make sense, but with a board game? I'm just picturing a bunch of kids having fun at a birthday party or something, then coming upon this boring, super morose comic. I certainly hope they pulled an issue at random rather than putting any actual thought into this selection.

    3. @Scott - I just posted about my experience below. Ever since I was 8, I assumed the cover to this issue was gold since I got my copy from the X-Men board game. Cool to see that someone else got a gold one.

  5. Does anyone notice Illyana's demon/magick part was downplayed? We get lip-service of Belasco and the appearance of her Soulsword, but that's it: no Darkchylde horns and hooves, no demons, no Inferno.
    And the pictures are somewhat inaccurate: Illyana's Murderworld restraints; Cyclops was not involved at all; the X-Mas photo: Kitty had already ditched the X-Babies suit before Illyana joined (her first X-Uniform was Kitty's!).
    Overall, a good issue; like a lot of people, my interest in Illyana began after this issue.
    Interesting to have Jean be the chronicler (why not Ororo?); Illyana was something of Jean's successor to Light-vs-Darkness figure.

    1. Totally downplayed, now that you point it out, to the point of Belasco being an "interdimensional warlord" instead of the usual (and correct) demon sorcerer. Can't be accident, but what on earth could be motivation for a move that completely disowns the Inferno crossover? Lobdell got a personal issue with it? Demon magic stuff being the privilege of the Midnight Sons imprint now? Marvel being in some real life controversy that makes them avoid even to mention of the topic in a flagship book?

    2. "Can't be accident, but what on earth could be motivation for a move that completely disowns the Inferno crossover?"

      Limited space and probably not wanting to confuse people with even more backstory about Illyana.

      As for the warlord stuff, maybe just sloppy writing and editing, just like the all art mistakes in the Illyana flashbacks.

    3. Yeah, I assume most of it was cut in the interest of simplification - they wanted to get across the idea that there's more history to Illyana than what readers have seen in the last few months, but it's not really important to know she was a demon sorceress, struggled with her dark side, sacrificed herself, etc. to understand/appreciate this story.

      And I blame the art mistakes on Marvel not wanting to overly-critique their artists. In the wake of the Image Exodus, I assume they adopted something of a "let them do what they want" attitude to keep everyone happy and still working.

  6. Enjoyed the random restaurant reminiscence. Funny how memory works. I don't remember where I was when first reading this issue because, well, I didn't read it until adulthood (and apparently I have more accurate memories of what I did 25 years ago than 5 years ago). But I remember where I was when first reading Uncanny #304: also at a restaurant with family, also semi-rudely reading at the table, also enjoying a quintessentially midwestern meal (Cottage Inn pizza, with rice pudding for dessert).

    Anyway, unlike a lot of the X-Men comics I missed as a kid, this one affected me even as a grown-ass man (Peter's non-reaction especially gets me). Just a really strong piece of writing from Lobdell.

    Between this issue, Uncanny #297, and the early issues of Generation X, Lobdell is hands down the best Jubilee writer, at least from this era, isn't he? One of the very few who makes her character work, in my opinion.

    -Jeff B

    1. I absolutely think Lobdell had the best handle on Jubilee from this period. In fact, I like his version better than Claremont's and better than anyone who wrote her subsequently.

    2. Absolutely. He also wrote the best Charles, then, now, forever. When I think of "my" version of Charles Xavier, Lobdell's is the portrait that immediately comes to mind.

    3. Yeah, the only writer who comes close to Lobdell's handling of Jubilee is Larry Hama, just because he wrote her so much in WOLVERINE, but Lobdell really is *the* definitive Jubilee writer. Even moreso than Claremont.

      (I really like Lobdell's Xavier, too. He's still the benign patriarch of old, but Lobdell isn't afraid to introduce some rough edges and dark urges, which makes for a more complicated character - and which later writers un-complicated by pushing too hard "the rough edges" and turning Xavier too dark.

    4. I could get on board with this assessment of Lobdell's Xavier. It occurs to me that for years, the picture of the "definitive" Professor X in my head has been Joe Madureira's interpretation. That's probably because I considered that version's personality definitive too, which would of course mean it's Lobdell's version I'm thinking of.

  7. If only JRjr had illustrated this instead of the lame Fitzroy story...

  8. Agree wholeheartedly that this issue is a nice outing for Lobdell that makes effective use of what Illyana had become to the mythology. On the surface, it would be easy to criticize as a crass, senseless death, but a) Illyana had effectively been taken off the board as a proper character with any true agency or making meaningful contributions years prior; and b) it, well, kills several birds with one stone. Props up the Legacy Virus, gives Jubilee some badly needed depth of character, and lends credence and weight to Peter's subsequent actions. Hell, Magneto's too, for that matter. Ill-conceived as those respective character arcs were, what the narrative is trying to sell becomes a lot more convincing positioned against Illyana's death as a fulcrum.

    And not that it's a contest, but: pound for pound, is there any more tragic figure in the history of the franchise than Illyana Rasputin? Childhood stolen away and replaced by a hellish upbringing. An adolescence struggling to battle her demons, largely failing, and sacrificing her very identity to save her loved ones. Gets a do-over, dies before even getting off the ground. Consider what a shitty, shitty hand Colossus was dealt in the '90s, but in the context of Illyana's story, he's just collateral damage!

    Finally: that bit with the Shi'ar technology is rather strange and seems to try and frame Illyana's plight as a right-to-die debate. As I understood it, that weird helmet would place her in suspended animation. And if so, yeah that's... not really comparable to hooking up a person who is brain dead to a respirator. Illyana is sick, and there's every reason to believe her newly-discovered illness might be cured or better managed in the not-too-distant future. If her caretakers can hold her in stasis until such time, seemingly quite effortlessly and humanely, why on earth aren't they very seriously considering that option? Perhaps there are some Unfortunate Implications of the Shi'ar tech that aren't explored here, but all told it just feels underdeveloped and out of place.

    1. Illyana definitely gets a raw deal. Even when she gets brought back, she's still dealing with a lot of the same stuff.

      I think the business with the Shi'ar helmet is meant to simply create a gap in time, between when Illyana's lungs start to fail and when Xavier breaks the news to Colossus, to allow readers to question whether she's really going to die, and/or head-off any "why couldn't any Shi'ar tech have saved Illyana?" questions by essentially establishing the best their tech could do on-page.

      That said, it definitely reads like it's trying to be some kind of right-to-die argument, which really doesn't work in this context for multiple reasons, as you mention.

  9. I re-read this issue for the first time since 93 recently, and I also wept like a baby. I totally concour with everyone that Lobdell knocks it out of the park on the quiet issues, with the upcoming 308 a particularly good one. This issue really is one of the high points of the entire run, made all the more impressive that it occurs in an era that is not considered a high water mark.

    1. I LOVE #308, and, really, #309 as well. And as a Cyclops/Cable fan, I have a lot of affection for #310 too. Lobdell does some really strong work in this era, in and around the various crossovers.

  10. This issue came out 8 weeks late.
    Kitty's Age Alert- Jubilee says Kitty is 16 or 17 in this issue.

    1. Oh man, I totally should have had a "Kitty Age Alert" section as part of these posts!

  11. I remember loving Richard Bennet's art when I read this story when it first came out. He also draw X-Men #27 if I'm not mistaken (the one with Beast, Mr Sinister and that X-Factor villain). The impression I got was that he was a great artist. What the hell happened to him? If he as a slow artist, why not give him annuals like Marvel did with Arthur Adams (when he became Art Adams?)?

    1. Yeah, Bennet did X-MEN #27 as well. It's weird - he seems to have gotten this big push - an introduction, "special guest artist" billing, but after doing a handful of one-shots and fill-ins, he more or less disappears.

  12. I do remember the situation of my recollection of getting this issue (or, more accurately, my parents getting it). Comedy Central had decided to show MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000 on weeknights at midnight, which I stayed up for. Unfortunately, I would have difficulty waking fully enough to watch MONTY PYTHON'S FLYING CIRCUS, which aired at 930 on Comedy Central. Of course, once school started, I had to drop my viewing of both.

  13. Love reading this blog. My X-era was mid to late 80s, and then I dabbled around the time of X-Men 1, but quickly got bored. I also read a bit of Generation X and all the Davis Excalibur. I am generally of the opinion, admittedly having only maybe glanced at some of these issues tha X-Men not by Claremont is pants (I have his entire run in reprint now, and fairly frequently reread). However, the detail of the analysis you do, and the obvious love for the material, warts and all, makes me want to read all these issues!


    1. I’d say Mission Accomplished, Teebore. 8^)

    2. Thanks Mattb! Always good to hear stuff like that. Thanks for reading! :)

  14. Arrgh! They can't wait TEN minutes for Piotr to return, or radio him, or telepathically ask? They snuff his sister behind his back? No wonder he leaves.

    1. Yeah, I have some issues with the Colossus heel turn storyline, but I can't really blame him for figuratively giving Xavier the finger at this point.

  15. You know, this white cover looks really weird to me.....Because the copy I have of #303 is gold. Why is that important? It's also one of the most valuable comics I own.

    My copy was a special edition that came with a board game I got for Christmas when I was 8. I had no idea about it until I stumbled across this specific printing on a rare comics site and saw that my version was on there. Not a bad surprise for what I remember being a really underwhelming board game.


  16. I’m always up for a Champions reference that doesn’t outright dump on the group. Gentle tweaking is just fine. Nostalgia.

    // a stone-faced Colossus //

    Wrong Colossus! Peter is metal-faced.

    // Richard Bennett … is credited as a "special guest" artist here. //

    The art on Pg. 4 appears to be as much inspired by Neal Adams in places as it is by Jim Lee in others — with poses and expressions that are more “Look! These are poses and expressions!” than, well, natural poses and expressions, particularly given the nature of the conversation Jean and Jubilee are having.

    For all I know Bennett was drawing that kitchen glimpsed on Pg. 5 from life, but its layout — a stove at the end of an island counter, facing outward, and a stool in front of it — strikes me as odd, never mind the questionable perspective.

    // I still vividly remember when I first read this issue //

    That’s great. I do recall a couple of comics I read at restaurants, but only a couple.

    // which is especially fun considering Jubilee is essentially the new/current Kitty on the team //

    Agreed. I can’t say I’ve “always enjoyed” it since I’m reading this stuff for the first time but it’s a nice touch.

    My biggest frustration is the utter lack of mention of how Kitty and Illyana had a bond even before the seven-years-older Limbo jump. We may disagree on the merits of “Kitty’s Fairy Tale” and, yeah, Illyana herself wasn’t much of a character back then — certainly far less fleshed out than her Magik incarnation — but she was a character and for all this issue’s merits I found it odd that Lobdell hung a lampshade on how stunning it was that Illyana’s connection to Kitty remained in her younger self when the reality was that before they became peers they’d had a relationship just like the one on display here. That said I do like the revelation, however belated, of them having stayed in touch during this era while Kitty was in Excalibur.

    // which begs the question of why Xavier doesn't just telepathically teach Jubilee Russian (or Illyana English for that matter) //

    Really. You can’t have read Giant-Size #1 and not have that come to mind.

    // this is essentially a story about a grieving young woman asking people older, smarter and more accomplished than her why they couldn't save the life of a perfectly innocent little girl //

    Well said. Even if the absence of a serial comma is perhaps as frustrating to me as “reverted back” is to you, albeit legitimately more controversial among English geeks. 8^)

    1. Even if the absence of a serial comma is perhaps as frustrating to me as “reverted back” is to you, albeit legitimately more controversial among English geeks.

      Heh. That is an ongoing "in real life" discussion between me and Dr. Bitz.


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