In a Nutshell
Storm, Yukio & Gambit fight the Phalanx in New York
Writer: Scott Lobdell
Penciler: Joe Madureira
Inkers: Green & Candelario
Letterer: Chris Eliopoulos
Colorist: Steve Buccellato
Editor: Kevin Somers
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco
As Storm & Yukio fight the Phalanx, Gambit arrives in the city. After Yukio is injured in a blast from the Phalanx, Storm is able to shatter the Phalanx into pieces. Just then, a human, determined not to let a mutant save him, attacks the Phalanx pieces with a baseball bat. But the Phalanx reconstitutes itself and assimilates the human, then tries to do the same to Storm. Just then, Gambit intervenes, and manages to dislodge the Phalanx' hold on Storm, allowing her to fly herself, Gambit & Yukio closer to the shore. There, they meet an agent of the National Security Council, but the Phalanx quickly follow, and the NSC agent turns out to be one of them. Back at the mansion, Beast revives the unconscious Iceman, but he remains in a coma, with Professor X unable to read his mind due to psychic interference that may be caused by the presumably-still comatose Emma Frost.
Firsts and Other Notables
After hanging around the X-office and getting some one-off projects (like an Excalibur fill-in and the Deadpool miniseries), Joe Madureira makes his Uncanny X-Men debut with this issue. Originally hired only for a fill-in stint (he draws this issue and the next), the response to his art amongst readers led Bob Harras to make him the series' new regular artist (much to the dismay of John Romita Jr., who intended to return to the series after finishing the Batman/Punisher crossover series). He will return with issue #316 for the start of the "Phalanx Covenant" crossover, and remain the regular artist on the book all the way through to issue #350 (albeit with many, many fill-ins interrupting that run, resulting in Madureira penciling roughly two years' worth of issues across three years of publication time).
This issue reintroduces the Phalanx, the techno-organic race of beings determined to wipe out mutantkind, first mentioned in issue #306 (when it was revealed that a still-alive Cameron Hodge was part of the group), and presents them more or less in the way that will become standard throughout the upcoming "Phalanx Covenant" crossover, as a bright gold techno-organic shapeshifting beings not unlike the New Mutants' Warlock (whereas Hodge, in issue #306, was a more raw mix of organic and mechanic parts, the Phalanx moving forward - including Hodge, when he returns - will look more like Warlock).
One notable difference here is that the Phalanx are under orders to assimilate, rather than kill Yukio & Storm (a convenient explanation for why the vastly more powerful Phalanx aren't just obliterating their foes); however, the Phalanx inability to assimilate mutants will soon be established, and become a pivotal plot point throughout "Phalanx Covenant".
Beast works to revive Iceman following the power surge in the previous issue, and though he wakes up briefly, he slips into a coma. While awake, he mentions "Pierce", a hint at the upcoming reveal that Iceman & Emma Frost's minds swapped when they were both hit by the surge ("Pierce" being Donald Pierce, whom Emma Frost believed to be behind the Sentinel attack that put her into a coma in issue #281, because Pierce, fleeing the Sentinels himself, led them to her).
Sabretooth point out what a loser Iceman is, citing how he theoretically is one of the most powerful X-Men but rarely uses his power to its full potential, a sentiment first expressed by Mikhail Rasputin in issue #292 (which led to Iceman adopting his spiky, blockier form). This marks the beginning of the second "Iceman isn't living to his full potential" subplot, as the mind-swapped Emma will use his powers far better than he ever has, prompting another wave of doubt in Iceman.
The price of comics goes up this month, from $1.25 to $1.50 per standard issue (not including books like Wolverine, Excalibur & Cable, all of whom already have higher price points ostensibly due to the first two having initially launched ad-free with higher quality paper and additional backmatter like pinups, though they, like Cable, have long been otherwise-regular issues, print-wise, albeit with a higher cost regardless). This is the first price increase I experienced collecting in real time, and coming as it does (along with the influx of extra issues and deluxe issues with fancy covers) at a time shortly before I bought my last set of trading cards in real time, it may have been the thing that led to me dropping that aspect of collecting (as I was still pre-job, and thus more or less solely reliant on a limited allowance/parental mooching for my comic book budget, the increased cover prices may have pinched out the remaining bit of that income I was using for the cards).
And, of course, this particular price increase won't last long; issues #316 & #317, chapters of the "Phalanx Covenant", will have gimmick covers and thus higher prices, and then after that, #318 will kick off Marvel's "deluxe" printings, in which the books convert to higher quality, glossy paper and the price of a regular issue rises to $1.95.
This issue (and the rest of the X-books this month) also come with three trading cards bound in the spine from the Fleer Ultra Spider-Man series, not unlike the earlier Fleer Ultra X-Men cards bound in issues a few months prior.
For whatever reason, Kevin Somers is credited as editor of this issue, not Bob Harras (though Harras still signs the footnote in this issue).
A Work in Progress
This issue establishes that Yukio is part of Professor Xavier's Mutant Underground.
She also makes a joke about "Monster Season" in Japan, which is both funny out-of-universe but also a reminder that Godzilla exists in the Marvel Universe.
It's established that the Phalanx are capable of reconstituting themselves when broken down.
Hodge's attack in issue #306 is referenced, and the weird ribbon-y flesh creatures from issue #305 are said to be proto-Phalanx as well.
The Best There Is, Mon Ami
Gambit, of course, has a past with Yukio.
At one point Storm embraces an injured Yukio, and if you're looking for un-stateable subtext to their relationship, you don't have to look too hard.
One particularly stupid human is angry at the idea of being protected by a mutant, so he attacks the Phalanx with a baseball bat (and gets assimilated for his troubles).
While this issue is technically the continuation of a story begun in the previous issue, it feels more like the opening chapter this little "opening salvo" Phalanx tale (which concludes next issue), mostly because it *is* the beginning of the Joe Madureira X-Men era. Though only technically a guest artist at this point, he will become the book's next regular artist, rising to stratospheric levels of popularity and helping launch a wave of manga-influenced art across American comics, inspired by his popularity. The mid 90s saw a rise in the popularity of manga and anime across pop culture, and while some of that was fueled in part by the increased availability of anime/manga in the American market, in comics especially, much of the popularity was fueled by Joe Madureira.
With artistic Madureira-clones eagerly snatched up by other editors and companies chasing the sales of Uncanny X-Men at a time of an industry-wide sales slump following the burst of speculator bubble of the early 90s, manga (and Madureira)-influenced art spread all over the comics industry not long after this issue was published. So even though, on its face, this is a fairly straight-forward middle chapter of a story in which a small group of X-Men face off against a seemingly-invulnerable foe featuring some fun, fresh art from a young artist on the rise, it's hard not to read it as the beginning of the next big era of the X-books, the point at which the franchise fully shakes off any lingering after effects of the Image Exodus by discovering its next superstar artist, whose popularity & influence, with the X-Men and all throughout comics, will soon rival Jim Lee's.
Tomorrow, Polaris learns more about who is trying to kill her in X-Factor #102. Friday, Wolverine & Cyber arrive on Muir Island in Wolverine #81. Next week, X-Men (vol. 2) #32.