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Wednesday, February 7, 2018

X-amining X-Men (vol. 2) #27

"A Song of Mourning A Cry of Joy"
December 1993

In a Nutshell
Thenody debuts & Infectia dies of the Legacy Virus

Writer: Fabian Nicieza
Guest Penciler: Richard Bennet
Guest Inkers: Bob Wiacek/Scott Hanna
Letterer: Bill Oakley
Colorist: Joe Rosas
Editor: Bob Harras
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco

In LA, the powers of a mutant woman named Thenody flair out of control, killing a pair of police officers. At a nearby hospital, Rogue, Beast & Iceman check on Infectia, who is dying of the Legacy Virus. They meet Dr. Nathan Milbury, who takes a blood sample from Infectia, then mysterious disappears. At the X-Mansion, Revanche & Psylocke spar. In LA, the X-Men track down the lab of Gordon Lefferts, the doctor Infectia came to LA to see. Inside the lab is Threnody, whom Mr. Sinister approaches and offers a role helping him find a cure for the Legacy Virus. Rogue attacks Sinister, telling him she won't let him use another mutant for his twisted goals. But Threnody's power - which is triggered when she's around people suffering from the Legacy virus - activates again, and Beast overrules Rogue, declaring that Sinister- a scientist with no morals - has a better chance of helping her than the X-Men. Later, Beast returns to the hospital, and carries Infectia out onto a ledge, allowing her to see one final sunrise before she dies.

Firsts and Other Notables
Infectia, the mutant who targeted Iceman & Beast in an attempt to gain control of X-Factor's ship in X-Factor #29-31 (and is responsible for Beast's current blue-and-furry state), returns in this issue, having been infected by the Legacy Virus. She in turn succumbs to the disease at issue's end, making her arguably the second-most notable character to die from the disease to date (after Illyana). And, thanks to the fact that she is a relatively obscure character whom no one is clamoring to bring back, she also probably holds onto that distinction, as characters more notable than her who die of the disease (like Illyana) have since been resurrected, but Infectia has stayed dead (really, where she ranks in the hierarchy of "stayed dead Legacy Virus victims" depends on your feelings about Revanche). We also learn Infectia's real name is "Josephine".

After receiving an entry in the Stryfe's Strike File oneshot, this issue marks the first actual appearance in a story of Threnody, a young female mutant with the ability to absorb energy from the dead and dying, then release that energy as a concussive blast. As a result, she also possesses an innate ability to sense when someone is dying, as she is drawn to their "necro-energy". Here, her ability is said to be died specifically to the Legacy Virus (that is, she can sense mutants dying of the disease and can only absorb their energy), but later stories will show that her power works amongst all the dead and dying.

Here, she throws in with Mr. Sinister, who promises to help her gain some control over her power in exchange for her leading him to more Legacy Virus victims for study. She'll pop up in a couple issues in that capacity, and that may have been the end for the character, if she hadn't been scooped up to serve as supporting cast/love interest for X-Man in his solo series, where she'll appear pretty regularly for a couple years before disappearing into comic book limbo.

Incidentally, "threnody" is another word for a lament, or a song of mourning, a word I learned thanks to the character Thenody back in the day (to this day, I've only ever heard it in the context of this character).

Mr. Sinister uses the alias of "Dr. Nathan Milbury" in order to get a sample of Infectia's blood; Nathan Milbury was also the name of Cyclop's grandparent's neighbor who turned out to be Sinister in issue #23 (the Further Adventures of Cyclops & Phoenix miniseries will establish why the name "Milbury" has significance for Sinister).

Also, it's never made explicit, but Gordon Lefferts, the doctor Infectia came to LA to see, is Mr. Sinister's assistant, seen in X-Force #18 opening the canister Sinister receive from Stryfe, and considered the first person to become infected with the Legacy Virus.

Mr. Sinister admits he's looking for a cure to the Legacy Virus, in part because it threatens his plans for Scott & Jean- while we'll see a bit of his continued search for a cure in future issues, this mostly falls by the wayside (as all too many "cure for the Legacy Virus" teases ultimately do).

There's a bit of mystery seeding at the end of the issue, as Threnody's power activates while the X-Men and Mr. Sinister are at Leffert's lab. Because it's said here that Threnody's power activates around Legacy Virus victims, and the group isn't near Infectia, there's an open question as to whom activated her power. This doesn't actually lead anywhere - none of the characters here end up infected with the virus, though I believe the intent was to tease that Sinister had it (hence his desire for a cure).

Creator Central
Richard Bennet, who drew Illyana's death in Uncanny X-Men #303, fills in on this issue. His work looks especially like he's mimicking Jim Lee (by way of Ian Churchill) here.

A Work in Progress
It's stated here that the Legacy Virus kills mutants by turning their powers against them, one of several "how the Legacy Virus kills its victims" we'll get during the course of the plotline (in Uncanny #303, Xavier gave a techno-babble explanation that basically amounted to "the disease is destroying Illyana's DNA").

As Dr. Milbury, Mr. Sinister makes explicit the thematic parallel between the Legacy Virus and the AIDS epidemic.

He also questions the use of the name "Legacy" to describe the virus.

Despite being treated at a regular hospital, Infectia has been placed inside an environmental pod that looks an awful lot like the one Illyana was in shortly before she died.

The Reference Section
Beast makes a Star Trek Dr. McCoy joke upon being greeted by Dr. Milbury.

Artistic Achievements
In a brief interlude in which Psylocke & Revanche yell at each other about the way Revanche is handling having the Legacy Virus, it's almost laughable how much the two look alike (when Psylocke's whole deal is that she went from being Caucasian to Asian). 

Austin's Analysis
It goes without comment in this issue, but I've always kind of liked how Iceman and especially Beast express a certain level of sorrow about Infectia's fate, despite her having previously tried to kill them. For one thing, however unintentional, her efforts did ultimately cure Beast of the "the stronger he gets, the dumber he gets" disease he was infected with by Pestilence, and for another, I feel like there's some metatextual commentary in the way Iceman & Beast can set aside the sort of external, Silver Age-y threat Infectia posed (what with her physically-monstrous but sort of goofy looking Anti-Body henchmen) in the face of the far more insidious threat of a disease targeting mutants. It seems like kind of a "in simpler times" mentality, in which we often remember the past with rose-colored glasses, and what seemed like a big threat to these characters back then has been outshined by current events.

Beyond that, this issue is, in a couple ways, a pretty great encapsulation of the post-Image Exodus, pre-"Age of Apocalypse' X-books, and the X-books of the early 90s in general. First, it builds up the suspense surrounding a looming threat - specifically, in this case, the Legacy Virus. Ultimately, the Legacy Virus will turn into those plotlines that is mostly all build-up (in large part because nobody quite knew what to do with it beyond "build it up" and "cure it"), but at this point, we're still deep in build-up mode, and this issue does a lot to make the threat seem like a Big Deal (in part via the cheap trick of killing off a pre-existing but relatively inconsequential character, a trick that bothers me far more now than it did when this issue was first published), building on the recent death of Illyana.

Secondly, in killing off a minor character to build up the threat du jour, it pokes around in the nooks and crannies of X-history and comes  up referencing a long-forgotten bit of lore. While the future Image guys were more concerned with moving away from X-history in the immediate wake of the '91 relaunch, both Lobdell & Nicieza are more willing to embrace the past and use elements of it in their stories. Here, Nicieza dusts off a relatively deep cut in Infectia. I'm on record as being a big fan of Simonson's underrated X-Factor run, and at the time this was published , her issues of X-Factor were the ones most available to me as back issues. I was tickled to see one of those characters pop up in a current issue. She's hardly a great character (then or now), but just seeing a callback to a little-referenced story I nevertheless knew made me feel "in the know" back in the day.

So toss in the especially Jim Lee-esque art and a featured role for a cryptic Mr. Sinister (who made a cottage industry at this time of popping up in books to drop vague pronoucements and let his invulnerable body accept some blows before disappearing) along with the focus on the Legacy Virus and the cheap tactic of bringing back an underused (if not terribly compelling) character just to build up a current threat, and this issue stands as a pretty good microcosm of 90s X-books. I loved it back in the day, and it's just such a great representation of a specific time in the history of the X-Men, that I have a hard time not enjoying it now.

Next Issue
Tomorrow, Shatterstar faces off against another classic X-baddie in X-Force #29. Friday, Excalibur settles in on Muir Island in Excalibur #72. Next week, a proposal in Uncanny X-Men #308.

Collected Editions


  1. "She in turn succumbs to the disease at issue's end, making her arguably the second-most notable character to die from the disease to date (after Illyana)"

    Somewhere, a Single Tear of Manliness in dripping down one of the cheeks of Jason Wyngarde's face...

    "After receiving an entry in the Stryfe's Strike File oneshot, this issue marks the first actual appearance in a story of Threnody"

    I wonder if there were any bigger plans for her, seeing as she got her own profile in SSF, or if she was thrown in there for marketing purposes (I'm going with the latter).

    "the post-Image Exodus, pre-"Age of Apocalypse' X-books"

    Overall, I have to say I like that era of the X-books. Especially the post-Fatal Attractions, pre-AOA runs. There is some really good underrated stuff in this era.

    Poor Infectia. Sacrificed to build up the Legacy Virus storyline. But for the most part, I always thought it was a decent story (minus the somewhat dodgy idea of the X-men leaving Threnody with Sinister; it isn't like the X-men know of a school for teaching and training mutants to learn and use their powers), which would have been better had the art been better.

  2. “...young female mutant with the ability to absorb energy from the dead and dying, then release that energy as a concussive blast.”

    I said it before, but I strongly disliked this era’s mutant powers, which were usually vague, odd or gross (most of GenerationX).

    I was a big fan of Richard Bennet, because I loved his art in UXM 303. Never saw him again after this one. Any idea what happened to him? Why he didn’t stick around?

    P.S.: Psylocke jumping from a tree to attack Revanche was stupid and ridiculous, just like everything about Revanche. She showed up in XM 20 and was supposed to be a big deal, but crossovers got in the way and everyone forgot about her. It’s quite hilarious how none of the X-Men cares about having a Chinese in a British body and a British in a Chinese body walking around.

    1. Hey now...don't you bad mouth my Gen Xers. ;-)

      (I was around the relative age of the characters when Gen X debuted, not to mention I virtually *was* Synch. His final fate [which I won't spoil as the blog hasn't yet covered that arc] irks me to this day.)

      But aside from that, I agree: a lot of the mutants introduced during this period had really boring and/or general powers. And it was always some nebulous form of energy wielding. It seems like mutant powers didn't get interesting again until Morrison's run.


    2. // Never saw [Richard Bennett] again after this one. Any idea what happened to him? //

      Try his Wikipedia page … I mentioned when his name first popped up here last year that I think I only know him from 1996’s two-issue Deathblow/Wolverine microseries, which he finished over writer Aron Wiesenfeld’s breakdowns and was colored by Monica Bennett. Good-looking stuff in the vein of Milo Manara or Geoff Darrow; certainly not what you’d expect from a Deathblow/Wolverine project.

    3. Hey, J. -- I wasn't Synch, but he was my favorite member of the Gen X team (though Banshee was my favorite character in the series). His eventual fate bugs me, too. (And so did/does Banshee's!)

    4. I don't want to say too much about my frustration with Generation X, as I'm eagerly awaiting for the guys here to eventually cover it - but man, did that comic start out strong and then collapse under its missteps. Personally, I feel AoA really zapped the terrific momentum it was generating.

      Grr...argh! Must...not...say...more! ;-)

    5. "Personally, I feel AoA really zapped the terrific momentum (GenX) was generating."

      No, I got that feeling even as a kid, reading it in subscription. When all of the promised stuff failed to happen, for reasons I'm still not sure why, puttering around instead, I was disappointed.

      But I still have fond memories of Generation X & hate how so many of the members have been either killed as cannon fodder or mishandled in the intervening years. Should be interesting to revisit.


  3. Nice analysis. The opening sequence at the hospital — in particular the character dynamics you mention, largely for the reasons you mention — stood out to me as one of those pleasant surprises I find reading along in this era, where my lack of nostalgia for the material and its general lack of quality as judged from my current perspective (especially against the X-Men comics I was reading at the age you were when you were reading this, which I grant is literally the stuff against which all other X-Men stuff is judged) means the occasional nice turn of scripting or artwork is only a very occasional reward. I wouldn’t have registered the contrast with the approach the future Image guys took had you not mentioned it, though, nor been able to appreciate it had I not been reading along, so thanks for all of that.

    As for the implication that Sinister had the Legacy Virus himself, I think his parting words make it glaringly obvious; either he considers Rogue an idiot or he’s the world’s worst poker player in the world. Pro tip: If you ask your kids how their day has been and they tell you they didn’t break anything in the garage, you need to go check the garage.

  4. in a couple ways, a pretty great encapsulation of the post-Image Exodus, pre-"Age of Apocalypse' X-books, and the X-books of the early 90s in general.

    ... the panel about Rogue pouring away her coffee focusing on her ass. For me this issue was an instance where the overtly sexualized art of the era became distractingly bothersome.

    1. This is the point where that happened?

    2. Personally for me, yes. The Image guys were at it, sure, but for me Bennett here somehow finally manages to push it over with leaning Rogue pg 3, coffee-pouring Rogue pg 4, gear-stripping, elevator-checking Rogue pg 16 and asstastic Thredony pg 17, 20.

      Had someone gone through a Jim Lee X-MEN issue with me and pointed out suspected instances, I could have with some honesty defended it by "comic-book dynamics" and "I read it for plot" or whatever. If we got to this issue, I would have raised my hands and own up I got nothing. Person is dying in hospital, zoom ass. Zoom the dying person's ass in the closing panel.

    3. I was gonna mention framing Infectia's death around her butt and ruining what should be a tragic scene, but Teemu beat me to it. You could argue that the more talented Image-era artists at least waiting until an appropriate story moment for cheesecake poses, but I'm sure that won't be the case consistently.

  5. I really liked this one when it came out. I loved Bennett's artwork -- I think this was my first and only exposure to him and I wished he was the regular artist on the series -- and of course I'm a sucker for Mister Sinister. Specifically:

    "Mr. Sinister (who made a cottage industry at this time of popping up in books to drop vague pronoucements and let his invulnerable body accept some blows before disappearing)..."

    YESSSS. Some may say that single trait is not enough to make a compelling character, but because he did this all the time everywhere, Sinister was my favorite X-villain by a mile.

    I agree that the final page makes it clear Sinister himself probably has the virus. Of course, even if the plot wasn't dropped, this would later prove impossible (at least at this time), since we'd eventually learn he's not a mutant.

    I also like Iceman mentioning his time with the Champions while hanging out in the hospital.

    1. Well, not totally impossible, as Moira would eventually get infected with the virus.

    2. Mr. Sinister was at ground zero when the canister was opened; it must've been some potent spores if it spreaded airborne from rural Nebraska(?) to ail the mutants.

      Obviously Sinister could have found the cure and just have himself healed with it.

      They are calling back to X-FACTOR, it's only appropriate that the preceding CHAMPIONS/DEDENDERS stuff that #1 spent sone time with gets a nod too.

    3. Yeah, that's what I meant by "at this time." I was being vague, but I believe it was accepted that Moira was the very first non-mutant infected by the Legacy Virus. Sure, Sinister could've come first, but it seems odd that it would've gotten him immediately when it was designed to target exclusively mutants. I believe it got Moira because the strain mutated, and that was some time later (at least publication-wise). But it's been years since I read those stories, so I may be wrong on some of this.

    4. Teemu, transmission of the Legacy Virus makes no sense. It somehow wafts out of that canister and begins affecting mutants around the world, willy nilly, but I guess it's not exactly airborne since the X-Men are frequently in direct contact with infected mutants and never come down with so much as a runny nose.

      Then, years later, Colossus is patient zero for the cure -- and this time, when he injects himself, the cure somehow immediately spreads around the world to heal everyone afflicted by the virus, posthaste.

    5. All I know is that Gordon starts coughing the second the canister opens. Sinister obviously got tougher constitution of the two, but I don't think a human would escape the virus if he was there then.

    6. But, it's safe to say it's a pretty plot- and franchise intellectual property conscious disease.

    7. Did any humans besides Moira ever contract the Legacy Virus?

    8. "They are calling back to X-FACTOR, it's only appropriate that the preceding CHAMPIONS/DEDENDERS stuff that #1 spent sone time with gets a nod too."

      I'm not sure the Champions comment is any time of call back, since this is neither the first nor the last time Lobdell/Nicieza will have Iceman make a Champions reference. The last time he made a reference was in Uncanny #303. I think Lobdell/Nicieza just appreciated some of the more colorful bits of the character's histories.

      With regards to Sinister...I'm not even sure his backstory had even been planned out by this point. The cryptic hints about him having the Legacy Virus do fit in with the era, since lots of things were brought up only to be forgotten about.

    9. You're most likely right, wwk5d. It's just that it was a recent revelation to me how much closure for the Defenders the X-FACTOR #1 had so I couldn't help it. Those pages were cut from our publication of the issue back in the day because of Defenders having had no presence (pun accidental but I'll take credit) in our market.

  6. The cover of this and CABLE #6 suggest like there's some unofficial December crossover going on.

    1. "Attack of the Bad Artists"?

    2. It was 1993, Teemu! Mister Sinister appeared early and often! (And I loved it.) In general, I would consider 1992 - '96 or so to be Sinister's peak years. He was all over the place during that period, starting with "X-Cutioner's Song" and running up to the beginning of "Onslaught". After "Onslaught", his appearances became fewer and further between.

      I always got the impression that Scott Lobdell was never as keen on Sinister as Fabian Nicieza had been, and Nicieza left X-MEN not long before "Onslaught" started. We did get a Sinister story from Mark Waid during his blink-and-you'll-miss-it X-MEN run post-Nicieza, just before "Onslaught" started, but I'm hard pressed to recall the character appearing much in the core X-books after that. Lobdell, to my recollection, never really touched Sinister again following a one-page cameo in UNCANNY 325, published the same month as Nicieza's final X-MEN, and then Steve Seagle and Joe Kelly both apparently had little interest in him too*, and I don't think Alan Davis touched him at all either. Then Claremont came back in 2000 and also never used the character -- though he was explicitly trying to go in new directions, so that's understandable. After that, I lost track.

      He did have a nice last hurrah in '96 though, with his origin finally revealed in THE FURTHER ADVENTURES OF CYCLOPS AND PHOENIX, which was published during "Onslaught".

      *Seagle even said in WIZARD at the time something like, "I never got what Mister Sinister was about." I never got that comment! What's not to get? Guy appears now and then, says some cryptic stuff -- probably about DNA or bloodlines or something -- which may never actually pan out to anything, then leaves. It's not rocket science.

    3. Post-Onslaught, he does appear quite a bit in Gambit's first solo ongoing title, which was written by...Nicieza.

      I'd say Sinister's real last hurrah was during the Endangered Species/Messiah Complex stories.

      Of course, he, like many a dead X-men/Marvel character, "got better" and has been back for a while following his death in MC.

    4. Thanks, wwk5d! I forgot about GAMBIT. I really liked that series at the time, at least up to the point when it had to adapt to the "Revolution" stuff... but I have little recollection of anything about it, other than an issue where Gambit met Batroc.

      Though I suppose I wasn't clear about the "last hurrah" -- I meant in terms of the "peak" era I described above. Sinister was practically omnipresent in the X-books from '92 - '96ish, and THE FURTHER ADVENTURES OF CYCLOPS AND PHOENIX capped that off. I thought he fell mostly into disuse for the remainder of the 90s, but GAMBIT had slipped my mind.

      Though as you and Jason, below, note, he had a nice run in the mid-00s, too. I actually read "Messiah Complex" for Sinister, even though I'd more or less given up on the X-Men at that point, and that led me to read X-MEN LEGACY as well, which I believe spun out of "Complex" and which I really enjoyed. I forgot there was some good posthumous Sinister stuff in those pages too.

    5. For anyone who is wondering what Sinister has been up to within the last decade or so, check this out:

  7. Sinister plays a very large role in Claremont's "X-Men: The End," which is awesome.

    And Mike Carey used him to excellent effect in some "Legacy" issues.

    -- Jason Powell

  8. Oh, Matt, another one that you might like -- it definitely pushed the right buttons for me as a fan of old-school Sinister -- is Christos Gage's X-Men/Spider-Man four-part miniseries from circa 2008. Some Classic "Mister" right there. :)

    (Oh, and another good one, albeit non-canonical ... X-Men/WildCats: Silver Age.)

    -- Jason again

  9. I remember thinking the art in this one was weird. I recall a panel where Beast is grabbing Sinister and it looks like he's putting his thumb in Sinister's mouth. I think it's pretty blatant that Sinister is supposed to have the virus at the end of this. I wonder why they dropped it?


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