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Wednesday, November 15, 2017

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

"A Bluer Slice of Heaven" / "Beast Foot Forward"

In a Nutshell
Jonathan Chambers sets up a haven for victims of the Legacy Virus.

Writers: Fabian Nicieza, Scott Lobdell (2nd Story)
Pencilers: Aron Weisenfeld, Ian Churchill (2nd Story)
Inkers: Al Milgrom, Bob Wiacek & Keith Williams, Kevin Conrad (2nd Story)
Letterers: Steve Dutro, Dave Sharpe (2nd Story)
Colorists: Mike Thomas & Dana Moreshead, George Roussos (2nd Story)
Managing Editor: Lisa Patrick
Group Editor: Bob Harras
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco

Avalanche & Crimson infiltrate island home of Jonathan Chambers, a mutant author & philanthropist. However, they are caught by their old teammates in the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, who are staying on the island. After a brief skirmish, two sides reunite, with the Brotherhood not knowing that Avalanche & Commando were sent by Henry Peter Gyrich, who is monitoring the island from a nearby boat, suspicious of Chambers recent activities. Later, in the wake of the spreading of the Legacy Virus and news that Chambers is hosting the Brotherhood, the X-Men arrive on the island as well. As Beast, Cyclops & Rogue meet with Chambers to feel him out, Gambit, Psylocke & Revanche secretly search the island. They too encounter the Brotherhood, and a fight breaks out which ends when Chambers intervenes, at which point both Pyro & Revanche reveal they have contracted the Legacy Virus. Pyro declares his intent to stay on the island, which Chambers wants to serve as a haven for those afflicted with the virus, despite Chambers intent to harvest the energy of the dying. The X-Men are reluctant to leave, but Revanche argues they have no right to tell other people how to spend their final days. As they depart, Gyrich arrives, but Cyclops vouches for Chambers, saying they've discovered nothing illegal on the island. The X-Men then warn Chambers not to take advantage of those seeking his help as they leave.

Firsts and Other Notables
This issue represents a big step forward for the Legacy Virus plotline, as Xavier, Moira & Beast all more or less acknowledge it has become a full-fledged plague. Additionally, two more quasi-significant characters (more significant than generic Mutates, at least) are revealed to be infected.

First and most significant is Pyro, who will become something of the poster child for the meandering nature of the Legacy Virus plotline, as he'll stay alive (but sick) for years (relative to, say, Illyana, who contracted the disease and died of it in the course of a few months, publication-time), and receive at least two separate "I'm losing control, this is the end!" stories during that time.

Second is Revanche, who also reveals that she is afflicted with the virus in this issue. Given that she's essentially a spare Psylocke, and no one is really doing anything with Psylocke at this time other than introducing a spare version of her, making Revanche Legacy Virus fodder is not a terrible move, though the character will ultimately be killed off when Nicieza revisits the Psylocke/Revanche plotline to retcon his erroneous retcon, and not much is made of her being infected between now and then.

This issue also introduces the idea that people infected with the Legacy Virus physically manifest boils in various parts of their bodies. While it makes some sense, in a visual medium, to have a way to visually indicate someone is sick with the virus, it isn't always consistently portrayed, and the whole "some people get boils when they're sick" thing becomes another one of those inconsistencies that pop up as the storyline expands and meanders without resolution.

A redesigned Avalanche and Crimson Commando debut in this issue as well, making their first appearances since abandoning Blob & Pyro in Kuwait during the final Freedom Force story in the backups of the '91 annuals. Crimson Commando (now just Commando) has become a 90s-riffic cyborg, while Avalanche has a sleeker look than his old one, with a full face mask. The pair are still working for the government, as part of Project: Wideawake, overseen by Henry Peter Gyrich.

Despite the Freedom Force reunion, this represents the last time we'll see this iteration of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants as a group. Toad, Blob, Pyro, Avalanche (and to a lesser extent Commando) will appear off and on in various places and in various combinations in the years ahead (Phantazia will not appear again until "House of M" after which she'll be confirmed as having lost her powers in M-Day), but they won't appear again together as an official Brotherhood led by Toad (the next incarnation of the team will be led by a brainwashed/not really"it was a sting operation!" Havok circa "Onslaught").

As a result, this also represents the only time any of the X-Men directly battle this incarnation of the Brotherhood (they've previously fought X-Force and X-Men), and Nicieza, who is usually pretty good about at least name-checking bits of character history, misses an opportunity to callback the fact that three members of this current version of the team are technically old teammates of Rogue's from her villain days.

The introductory character for this annual is a bit of a cheat, as Jonathan Chambers technically appeared before, on TV, in X-Men Unlimited #2. This issue details a bit more of his backstory, reveals him to be a vaguely-defined "energy vampire" (he absorbs pain & suffering from other mutants to invigorate himself, and also shoot energy blasts with when needed) and gives him a costume. The name "Empyrean", featured on the included-trading card, is technically the name of his island home and would-be sanctuary (it means deriving from heaven, or the highest part of heaven), and I don't think Chambers is ever called it directly in this issue, but that's how the character is known (in as much as anyone ever talks about him; like Charon and Khaos before him, this issue represents his final appearance as well as his "first").

The second story in this issue features Beast battling a disgruntled mutant in a hospital who believes his condition has been caused by his doctor's malpractice (it turns out the doctor has been embezzling from the hospital, but didn't make the mutant a mutant). It features some early and atypical art from Ian Churchill (much more cartoon-y than his later Jim Lee-esque work) but is mostly superfluous. It is always nice to see Trish Tilby and be reminded of her relationship with Beast, though.

Creator Central 
This is the comics debut of Aron Weisenfeld, who will pitch in a few fill-in issues around the X-office (notably the Cable story that lays out the whole Cable/Stryfe/Cyclops relationship once and for all) before going to work for Image. His style here is aping a sort of Marc Silvestri/Jim Lee hybrid, but it will change over time, to the point where, today, he's out of comics and an accomplished painter.

The Chronology Corner
This issue takes place between issues #25 and #26 (and after "Fatal Attractions" completes). Gyrich appears here before being kidnapped in contemporaneous issues of X-Force, which are set after "Bloodties" (in which Gyrich also appears).

A Work in Progress
Commando says he dropped the "crimson" from his name because it all bled out of him as result of the injuries he sustained during Freedom Force's last mission.

Psylocke, Jean and Cyclops discuss the whole "Psylocke flirts with Cyclops" plotline, with Psylocke acknowledging she nearly destroyed their relationship (but not offering up much in the way of why).

Revanche tells Gambit she chose her codename due to all the wrong done to her in her life and her desire for vengeance for those wrongs.

It's revealed here that Pyro & Blob were forced to work as bodyguards in Kuwait after being captured, but were freed by Toad as he assembled his Brotherhood.

Cyclops briefs the team on Chambers, giving a rundown on his basic origin story (his father was a mutant who died when Chambers was 13, he wrote a successful book, bought an island that used to belong to AIM).

He also mentions that one of the two scientists Chambers hired to work on the island is part of Xavier's Mutant Underground.

The Grim 'n' Gritty 90s
There is no legitimate reason for Empyrean to don a yellow Loki-esque costume complete with crown and cape for the climax of this issue, but he does.

To the EXTREME!!!
Beast notes that the mission to introduce themselves to Chambers is essentially a preemptive strike on a potential enemy, and puts it in the context of other more aggressive actions of the professor of late (presumably a reference to X-Men #25).

Austin's Analysis
This is an interesting issue, in that its intended purpose, to introduce a new character, is the third-most interesting thing (out of three) about it. Even before Empyrean becomes yet another one-and-done '93 Annual Character Debut, we've got a pretty significant expansion of the Legacy Virus plotline, not only in scope (we've gone from Illyana and a bunch of Mutates - Madrox' infection over in X-Factor is still unstated - to a full on worldwide plague) but impact (with both Revanche & Pyro revealed to be amongst the infected. Revanche is maybe no big deal, but Pyro is a classic baddie from the twilight of the Claremont/Byrne run). Along with that, we get a Freedom Force reunion of sorts, with Blob & Pyro coming face-to-face with Avalanche & Crimson Commando for the first time since their botched final mission. It will depend greatly on your lingering affection for the Legacy Virus storyline vs. Freedom Force as to whether those two narrative developments rank #1 and #2, but there's no denying they both outrank Empyrean in terms of Things We Care About Then or Now.

It also doesn't help that the art really doesn't suit the kind of generally quiet, contemplative story Nicieza is going for here. I still can't decide if I like Weiesenfeld's art overall (at times, it's almost Mignola-esque, at others, it's the worst kind of pseudo-Image claptrap from this era), but here it's usually loud and messy and detracts from what otherwise has the potential to be an interesting right-to-life (or right-to-death) discussion. Even the stuff with the Brotherhood is fairly measured in terms of the script (Pyro & Avalanche get a chance to catch-up and act like actual characters towards each other, something Blob later characteristically-mocks), but is still depicted via big noisy Image-esque splash pages. And if you take away his unnecessary costume and vague 90s-riffic "energy vampire" powers, Empyrean could have represented an interesting alternative take on the burgeoning Legacy Virus crisis. But instead, we get a mismash story where the script and art are each trying to do tonally opposite things, while the (alleged) central character and his conflict are the least interesting thing on the page.

Next Issue
Next week, the final '93 annual introduces the most x-treme character of all in X-Force Annual #2.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I actually enjoyed a little bit this issue. If instead of a new character, it had focused on the reunion of the former Brotherhood/Freedom Force, I believe it would have been quite good, instead of merely mediocre.

    “Given that she's essentially a spare Psylocke, and no one is really doing anything with Psylocke at this time other than introducing a spare version of her...”

    Thanks for this. Made me laugh. The same could be said of several X-Men (especially Storm), which is a further evidence that the creation of two X-Men teams was pointless.

    As a side note, thinking about our previous discussion on X-Men #25 entry, I’d like to ask you all two questions:

    1) Could we consider Storm’s leadership of the X-Men a complete disaster? After she ousted Cyclops in X-Men #201, Rachel was gone and no one cared, the Morlocks were massacred, Nightcrawler and Kitty Pryde were forgotten (despite years of close friendship), New Mutants were left alone with Magneto, and soon went on their own, becoming an outlaw group (X-Force), Magneto went from a repentant X-Man to villain, X-Men faked their deaths (ignoring how cruel this decision was to their friends), the Mansion was destroyed, Blackbird was abandoned in a hangar (until taken away by Nightcrawler), Madelyne Pryor went from a good hearted pilot and computer expert to evil Goblin Queen, Marauders were left on the loose, eventually killing more Morlocks in Muir Island (they only went there because they were looking for Storm’s team), Rogue was taken by the Siege Perilous and no one cared, Longshot left and again no one cared (the X-Men easily forget friends), and, finally, the X-Men were disbanded after the last ones entered Siege Perilous. Honestly, Storm was the worst leader the X-Men ever had and I believe the only reason no one ever brought to light her responsibility for so many disastrous failures was because she was Claremont’s pet character and later because post Claremont writers didn’t care at all about her. She was the worst and most incompetent leader the X-Men has ever had, without a doubt.

    2) In your mind, what is the X-Men canon? Where it begins and ends? For me, it would begin with The X-Men #1 and end with the Asgard adventures depicted in Paul Smith’s Alpha Flight/X-Men and Art Adams’ Uncanny X-Men Annual (cant remember the exact issue). This is the best place to end the X-Men saga. Cyclops has just found out he had a son (meaning that the future generation of X-Men was born), he has made peace with Jean by befriending Rachel, he was not irremediably broken as a character by leaving his wife and son for his former lover, Karma had been restored to her former weight, Storm had accepted that she was more than her powers and she didn’t need them, Douglas had become truly useful member by merging with Warlock, etc... End it there, and the X-Men saga is perfect.

    1. 1. Yeah, Like Branden, I can't hold Storm accountable for being the leader of the team while a writer was doing his job to put the characters through their paces. Storm was a crappy leader of the Morlocks from day one, and the whole "fake the X-Men's deaths" plan, both as conceived and executed was ill-fated, but everything else was pretty much out of her control or her reacting to things out of her control.

      I mean, we could say that Cyclops presided over the deaths of two X-Men (one of whom was his longtime lover) and the significant maiming (to the point that he retired from the team) of another, as well as a protracted period of time in which their loved ones believed them to be dead, a condition that at first was out of Cyclop's control but was later exacerbated by his complete and utter unwillingness to use a phone. Said death fakeout led to Professor Xavier leaving the planet, which meant he wasn't around to monitor Phoenix' burgeoning powers, making her an easy mark for Mastermind. At which point, Cyclops led the team in an ill-fated infiltration of the Hellfire Club which led to their being completely owned and humiliated by the club, after which Phoenix snapped and proceeded to destroy an entire planet.

      And then, after he went into hiding until the heat for all of that died down, he came back just long enough to marry and knock up a woman who looked *just* like his dead girlfriend with no explanation, only to abandon his new family more or less immediately the minute his old high school buddies and now-not-dead old girlfriend came calling, just so he could perpetuate an ill-conceived ruse hatched by an anti-mutant madman that fanned the flames of growing anti-mutant hysteria, with the sting of abandonment leading his wife to help facilitate the demonic invasion and near-destruction of Earth, which only ended when Cyclops presided over the death of his wife at the hands of his girlfriend, who then absorbed his wife's memories so everyone could be one big happy family again, at least until their kid got sick and Cyclops punted him into the future and out of his life.

    2. 2. My X-Men canon consists of the X-Men comic books published by Marvel Comics.

      I may not love (or even like) everything in that canon, but I take the good with the bad, and just spend less time thinking about the bad in favor of the good. But the X-Men are the X-Men, warts and all, and while it's fun to look for places that would make for good logical/thematic endpoints (and your suggestion of X-MEN/ALPHA FLIGHT is a good one of those), especially when thinking of the narrative in terms of "seasons" or "chapters', that would also mean the end of any new X-Men stories, and I don't want that.

      For me (as evidenced by this project) a lot of the entertainment I get from comics is seeing how this big, sprawling, decades-long story told by multiple creators with often conflicting priorities and tastes can be crafted into one, long, continuous narrative. Some issues/stories/eras/etc. work better as part of that large narrative than others, but for me, it's that overall (living, breathing) narrative I'm most interested in.

      It can be fun to point to specific stories or runs and view them as a finite, largely successful, story, with a beginning, middle and end, and that's fine. But one of the things that sets superhero comics apart from stories in other media is their constant, ongoing serialization, and I wouldn't want to give that up even if a smaller, more self-contained story would be objectively better.

      Sure, ending the X-Men with X-MEN/APLHA FLIGHT might make for an objectively good ending to the saga, and it would leave out a lot of bad stories, but it would also leave out a lot of good ones and stories that I love. No Asgardian Wars annuals, Claremont's development of Magneto would be incomplete, we wouldn't get the horror of "Mutant Massacre" or the tragedy of Illyana, Walt Simonson on X-FACTOR, Apocalypse or Mr. Sinister, Jim Lee's X-Men, UNCANNY #274, Cyclop's giving up Nathan Christopher (which all jokes aside is still deeply affecting), the death of Magneto, Alan Davis' EXCALIBUR, the first Peter David X-FACTOR, UNCANNY #297, the development of Cannonball into a leader on par with Cyclops, the shock of Wolverine losing his adamantium, Scott & Jean's wedding, Joe Madureira, GENERATION X and the development of Emma Frost, "Age of Apocalypse", the insanity of "Onslaught", Alan Davis' quietly retro late 90s run, the weird mishmash of riffing on the past and doing new things of the Morrison run, the sort-lived redemption of Juggernaut, Frank Tieri's bleak WEAPON X, the refreshing back-to-basics of Whedon's ASTONISHING, the New X-Men kids, Kyle & Yost, Mike Carey's weird, too-short run, the development of Madrox into a supremely-interesting character and Peter David's second X-FACTOR, the sprawlingness of Fraction's run, Namor as a recurring character in a book, Remender's X-FORCE, etc.

      There's plenty I missed and plenty I listed thay others may not like, and that's fine. But it's that scope that I like, the knowledge that a bad story may always be looming on the horizon when a good one ends, but that a bad story could also turn into a good one at any time, and that, no matter what, there is always another story, good or bad, just over the horizon, waiting to be told and read.

    3. I agree with Teebore on the "personal canon" question -- like it or not, it all counts. But if we're talking favorite eras/runs, or chunks we tend to re-read, isolated in a vacuum, then for me there are two: GIANT-SIZE #1 through UNCANNY 176 (the Claremont/Cockrum/Byrne/Smith era), and X-MEN #1 through UNCANNY #350 (essentially, more or less, the Scott Lobdell era).

      I enjoyed stuff before, between, and after those periods(in particular the late 90s Alan Davis run Teebore mentioned), but those two are what I consider definitive "desert island" X-Men.

    4. I think that Storm does deserve a lot of the blame for what happened with Maddie. She decided to trust Gateway despite his role in the Reavers' crimes and not knowing anything about him. And that blew up in the X-Men's faces when he didn't warn the X-Men that she had become the Goblin Queen. She also failed to notice the changes in Maddie's personality after being tainted by S'ym.

    5. A what now? The Freedom Force arresting Magneto stays a cliffhanger and the whole story ends with Loki holding a Storm statuette?

      You gotta include #200 in this case. Fenris Twins bookmark the Xavier/Magneto relationship that their father started, and Magneto agrees to become the schoolmaster at Xavier's school as Xavier moves to a space farm that has lots of, ahem, space and little kids to play with.

      Whom he can then train warriors for some dreamy cause of his.

    6. Belated reply to the notion of "X-Men canon", which seems to be better phrased as "when was the best time for the X-Men story to have ended", well, the obvious answer is X-Men #3 when Claremont left the book. It doesn't wrap everything up, but it does bring the long running Magneto/Xavier story to conclusion, is a pretty good story, and is as good a way to end a story not designed to end as anything else.

      It's not perfect-it couldn't be given that it's a serial medium being written at the time by one of comic's greatest long term plotters-but it serves as resolution to a plot going back to the 1960s. Magneto is gone, his most devoted followers are gone. Mutantkind is in the X-Men's hands now, for better or worse. Enough of Claremont's danglers were resolved to let it be an ending. And in honesty, while I was never happy with the fact that Claremont was forced out of the book, I did think he'd overstayed his welcome by...everything after Inferno, really. The Claremont/Lee stuff was a return to form to me at the time, and was a decent way for it to end.

      I admit a bias for the Claremont era, since I grew up reading it-yes, all of it, my first issue was, I think, Uncanny #98, I am old-but if you want to know where it should've ended, there is where.

  3. Nice long list of things that Storm mostly had no control over. She was never in charge of the New Mutants, isn’t Rachel’s lord, she left Nightcrawler and Kitty to heal, not at all responsible for anything Magneto did, and wasn’t even leader (or around) when any of the X-Men went through the Siege Perilous.

    The only major failing that Storm committed was her abondonment of the Morllcks...because she was too busy trying to have the X-Men survive.

    1. Obviously Xavier is the worst leader, but Cyclops is partially responsible for Inferno after abandoning Maddie and the whole X-factor/X-Factor debacle, so yeah...

    2. Sorry, X-Factor/ Xterminator debacle

    3. Even then, I'm not really sure what Storm could have done to prevent the Mutant Massacre with regards to the Morlocks.

      And speaking of things Storm had no control wasn't the Marauders who killed Morlocks on Muir Island, it was the Reavers. And they weren't looking for Storm's team of X-men, it was a possible location Wolverine would have gone to after his escape from the Reavers. Plus, the Reavers primary targets on Muir were Banshee and Moira MacTaggert (in addition to wanting to kill everyone else on the island and destroying the research center there as well).

  4. I didn't start reading Annuals until, I think, 1995, so I missed this one -- and since it didn't seem all that important, I never tracked it down as a back issue, either -- so I've never read it. I actually had no idea this was where Pyro and Revanche were revealed to have contracted the Legacy Virus! I always assumed Pyro's revelation happened in X-FORCE or X-FACTOR or something, and I genuinely believed Revanche's revelation to Matsu'o just before dying was the first we ever heard about her having it, too.

    Apparently this issue was a bigger deal than I thought!


  5. Is the fact that Revanche refers to Psylocke as “Elisabeth” on the last page, rather than “Kwannon” as she had been (due either to an honestly erroneous belief of which one of them she herself was or to subterfuge), of any significance — like, after revealing her affliction with the Legacy Virus and Psylocke embracing her she’s coming clean or at least letting her guard down enough to make such a slip?

  6. Surprisingly, it seems that Empyrean does reappear in a miniseries of giveaway comics from Hardees called X-Men: Time Gliders. I've never seen them in person, but apparently they feature Beast inventing a time machine, and leaving Empyrean stranded in dinosaur times about to be eaten by a T-Rex.

    1. They feature that indeed. They are apparently canon, as they feature the only evidence of what happened to Empyrean's island haven or why the Brotherhood abandoned it. That said, they're of horrible quality in general, and they do a good deal to make this somewhat–morally ambiguous tale significantly worse in the bargain. Turns out, Empyrean was a cackling, mustache–twirling super–villain all along, with what appear to be some vaguely–defined powers to convince a person listening to him that what he is saying is true, no matter how ridiculous. In the mini-series, he successfully convinces Commando that Empyrean giving him a place to crash needs to be paid for with Commando committing suicide at Empyrean's order. It's... it's not great.


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