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Wednesday, August 22, 2018

X-amining Spider-Man/X-Factor: Shadowgames #1-3

"Shadowgames" / "Shadowclash" / "Shadowfall"
May - July 1994

In a Nutshell
Spder-Man & X-Factor take down a shadowy government project to artificially create superhumans.

Writer: Kurt Busiek
Penciler: Pat Broderick
Inker: Bruce Patterson (issue #1-2), Sam De LaRosa (issues #2-3) & Williams (issue #2),
Letterer: Joe Rosen
Colorist: Tom Smith
Editor: Danny Fingeroth
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco

Issue #1: While attempting to attend a charity event hosted by Flash Thompson, Spider-Man is attacked by a group of superhumans called the Shadowforce. Due to the presence of Flash, Spider-Man is unable to fully defend himself, and his annoyance at Flash is mimicked by Shadowforce member Mirrorshade before Spider-Man is captured. Witnessing all this, Flash ultimately contacts X-Factor for help, telling them Spider-Man was kidnapped by mutants. Forge investigates and discovers most of the members of Shadowforce are supposedly in prison, while Spider-Man wakes up in Shadowforce's base. After escaping confinement, he learns the members of Shadowforce are the result of a secret military project attempting to recreate the powers of existing superheroes. He copies data about the project onto a disk, then notices Mirrorshade, intent on killing Flash, escape, but before he can follow him, X-Factor arrives, triggering a conflict with Shadowforce.

Issue #2: Spider-Man tells X-Factor he needs to follow Mirrorshade to save an innocent man, and they agree, staying behind to fight Shadowforce. However, Shadowforce quickly defeats X-Factor. Spider-Man tracks Mirrorshade to a commuter train heading towards New York and sneaks on in his civilian identity. Shadowforce, tracking the disk Spider-Man took from the facility, follows and takes the train hostage. Spider-Man is able to get the hostages free but remains overwhelmed by Shadowforce until X-Factor arrives. Just then, Shadowforce leaves the range of the force controlling them, and they break off, but Mirrorshade has almost reached Flash Thompson.

Issue #3: Spider-Man holds off Mirroshade until X-Factor arrives, causing Mirrorshade to shut down after attempting to mimic all of X-Factor. However, Mirrorshade is rescued by one of the Shadowforce, who races back to their base in Virgina, which, having broken free of their government programming, they've commandeered. X-Factor & Spider-Man return to the base, which is surrounded by reporters investigating the news of the government secretly creating superbeings. Reasoning that Shadowforces' artificial abilities must be powered by something, X-Factor distracts Shadowforce while Spider-Man disables the power generator. With Shadowforce disabled, General Sharpe, the head of the project, forbids X-Factor, as federal agents, from sharing any information with the press about Shadowforce. Spider-Man, however, has no such compunctions, and tosses the disk he created to one of the nearby reporters, which ultimately leads to General Sharpe being dishonorably discharged.

Firsts and Other Notables
This three issue limited series was produced out of the Spider-Man office (rather than the X-Men one), and is mildly notable for being written by Kurt Busiek just before he hit it big with Marvels and started becoming a household name. It features the title characters fighting Shadowforce, a group of criminals given powers as the result of a secret government project attempting to create superheroes by replicating precious superhero origins, like the FF’s cosmic rays or the Hulk’s gamma bomb. Shadowforce is powered remotely and controlled by government handlers within a finite range, and have yet to appear outside these three issues.

Reportedly, Kurt Busiek routinely apologizes for this series whenever it gets brought up (ie someone asks him to sign it at a convention).

Chronology Corner
A note in each issue sets this story before X-Factor #100. More specifically, it has to take place between issues #95 and #96, after Forge has become the team liaison, Wolfsbane has returned from Muir Island, and Quicksilver has left.

A Work in Progress
One of the things I love about J. Jonah Jameson as a character is that, for as much as he’s terribly unethical when it comes to Spider-Man, he’s a pretty hardcore advocate for a free press, and that’s shown here when he stands up to Federal agents.

At one point, Spider-Man thinks to himself that X-Factor is okay despite having a bad reputation of late; I’m not sure what that’s a reference to, as the new X-Factor has mostly acquired itself well in all its public battles.

Polaris uses her power to lift a group of guards via the metal in their clothing (belt buckles, shoelace rivets, etc), something we don’t see too often (usually when Magneto is levitating people, it’s a more general “reversing the pull of gravity” kind of thing, as opposed to lifting them just via surrounding metal).

Echoes of Mellancamp: Madrox is upset when he inadvertently tricks Mirrorshade into killing himself by attempting to duplicate his power.

The Grim 'n' Gritty 90s
Trying to report Spider-Man’s abduction, Flash asks for a phone book.

Spider-Man leaves Shadowbase with an encrypted computer disk.

Austin's Analysis
Much like how the X-Men are often shown training in the Danger Room or tracking down a new mutant when they pop up for guest appearances in other titles, the members of X-Factor are usually shown functioning in their capacity as a government agents outside their main book. This series is an example of that, as their involvement in the story is predicated entirely on them being, essentially, a Mutant FBI, getting involved simply because someone contacted the authorities looking for help.

Unfortunately, that's about the most interesting thing to this series, which is so pointless it's hard to tell who these was even being written for (even X-Factor, beyond the initial point of their involvement, is superfluous; any super team could have served the purpose they do in the rest of the story). Kurt Busiek will go one to become one of the all time great comic writers of the age, but this story is basic, bland and workmanlike. All the characters are presented as mostly on-model, and his Spider-Man isn't bad, but X-Factor exhibits little of the signature humor or psychological elements that define the series under David & DeMatteis. If we wanted to be generous, *maybe* an argument could be made that the Shadowforce is in some way meant to serve as a critic of the poorly-developed, flash-in-the-pan characters populating many of the Image books at the time, but that's really a stretch.

Instead, this just reads like a cheap attempt to get Spider-Man and X-fans to buy one more comic each month for three months. To be clear, nothing here is all that bad; the writing and the art are both serviceable and perfectly fine, if largely unexciting. This series' biggest sin is just how vanilla it is, to the point where it's hard to even get mad at how ultimately superfluous the whole thing is.

Next Issue
"Unstacking the Deck" looks at the final series of Marvl Universe trading cards.


  1. I'm sorry but Marvel has no leg to stand on to pose against Image or anyone over a never-to-be-seen-again by-the-numbers supergroup being featured in a 90's comic book.

    I like it though for the potential of the idea which obviously is at the same time clicheic as hell what with renegade general and all, and pretty much what they did to Power Man Luke Cage back in the day.

    "Mirrorshade" is so horrible 90's name that it goes all the way to max bad with it also describing his powers to a t so that it starts coming back by the back route towards being good again. Gotta love Spider-Man's one unfortunate badly-timed idle thought causing drama.

    Jamie certainly paved his own way with all these semi-accidental deaths caused by his powers.

    About the superfluoridity, it pretty much says it in the story that X-Factor is there only because Flash had them as his third option and he had to lie to get them in. (i'llallowit.gif)


    1. You express yourself in English far better than I can in any other language, Teemu, and I don’t mean to knock that facility in the slightest by pointing out that your inadvertent coinage of “superfluoridity” means, I think, not “degree of superfluousness” but “extreme levels of fluoride”. Which is one of the few gimmicks we didn’t get in the ’90s. To my knowledge, anyway.

  2. I'd have to say that "Mirrorshades" is much more part of the'80s zeitgeist than the 1990s.
    We had Mirrorshades: The Cyberpunk Anthology, plus Bruce Sterling's "Mozart in Mirrorshades" short story.
    It's too bad that Marvel didn't introduce Mirrorshades as a character in their 2099 Universe.

    1. For a few initiates it may have been the 80's, but the stripmiming of the cyberpunk genre for the mainstream audiences took place in the 90's as can be witnessed from the heydays of Marvel 2099 line, culminating into the quinessential cyberpunk film starring Keanu Reeves... Johnny Mnemonic.

  3. I remember that I picked up the first issue of this series and didn't come back for more. I'd actually forgotten entirely what it was about until reading the above!

    Funny to see Busiek, who would, in a few years, be at the forefront of a Silver/Bronze Age resurgence at Marvel, going "Full 90s" with this story.

    And I agree with you on Jameson. He has this irrational blind spot for Spider-Man (and to an extent, other vigilantes as well), but outside of that, he's got integrity by the boatload (when written correctly, at least). I love when that trait shows up now and then.


  4. I liked Broderick’s art on Marvel’s Captain Marvel as a kid, and some later stuff too, but overall less as time went on. That’s due as much or more to my own tastes evolving as/than it is to any change in his work. And he’s obviously trying to lean into a McFarlane or Larsen sort of style here, which makes this even less appealing, despite Patterson being an eminently capable inker.

    One interesting note: Broderick draws the heads of the Fantastic Four when Spidey references their origins the way they appeared back in FF #1, then on the next page the way they are “now” — possibly if not probably at Busiek’s suggestion.

    Another interesting note, if only to me: The Spider-Man part of the original, distinct Web of Spider-Man logo, which I don’t recall seeing much outside of that series, is used for the covers here despite the classic, most familiar Spider-Man rendering from Amazing having migrated to the Spectacular and Web logos by this point.


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