In a Nutshell
Cannonball, Wolfsbane, Forge & Xavier discover the Phalanx plans to eradicate all life in the galaxy.
Writer: Fabian Nicieza
Penciler: Tony Daniel
Inker: Kevin Conrad
Letterer: Chris Eliopoulos
Colorist: Marie Javins
Editor: Bob Harras
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco
Forge, Cannonball & Wolfsbane are delivered to a seemingly-idyllic town in the Italian Alps by Douglock, but the town is comprised entirely of Phalanx. In France, Moira examines everyone who had previous contact with the techno-organic virus in the hopes of finding a way to stop the Phalanx, while Xavier uses the Astral Plane to telepathically locate Forge and the others. After Douglock infects Forge with the TO virus so he can more fully understand the Phalanx, Xavier merges with Forge's mind, and they are able to see the Phalanx for what they are, including their intention to destroy all organic life in the universe. Returning to his body in France, Xavier tells the assembled mutants the Phalanx must be stopped before they can summon more of their kind, and the group is split, with half staying behind to protect Moira as she continues her efforts, while the other half will go to the Alps to assist Forge and the others. Meanwhile, Douglock is forced to infect Cannonball & Wolfsbane in order to allow the group to penetrate deeper into Phalanx territory. Once they do, as they're unknowingly watched by Shinar, they discover the Babel Spire, a massive communications device with which the earthbound Phalanx will summon their alien brethren with the news that Earth is ready for assimilation.
Firsts and Other Notables
This issue introduces several notable developments for the Phalanx (that don't really go anywhere outside this story). The first is that the Phalanx have found a means to reproduce other than via assimilation (though the Baby Phalanx still need an organic host to take an individual form), revealed when Douglock shows his companions the Phalanx nursery conduit (this leads Xavier to note that the Phalanx have met two criteria for being considered a new species of life: sentience (in Douglock), and procreation).
Another is the confirmation that the Phalanx intend to destroy all organic life in the universe, making the threat here much larger than in the other two stories (where the Phalanx are mostly presented as being a threat to mutants/the X-Men).
To that end, the Phalanx (or at least this group, being led by Shinar independant from Lang) intends to contact the alien Technarchy for reinforcements, using the the Babel Spire, a massive communications relay. This is the project Shinar has been working on and which prompted Douglock to bring Forge, Cannonball & Wolfsbane to the Alps, and it will serve as the MacGuffin of the story's climax in Excalibur #82.
We get one of those great “break the assembled group into smaller teams” moments, with Nightcrawler, Havok & Siryn breaking the group into “force” and “stealth” teams (kinda funny that Siryn is on the stealth team, given her power).
Douglock infects Cannonball, Wolfsbane & Forge with the TO virus in this issue, and while they’ll all ultimately be fine, that’s not exactly how the virus usually works.
Forge argues that the Phalanx aren’t inherently evil, and expresses appreciation for their worldview and structure.
Here's the full cover for this issue.
A Work in Progress
Cannonball describes the French monastery as the X-team’s Alamo, and that sounds like a way more interesting story than we actually get in "Life Signs".
Moira uses a modified version of the device the Acolytes trapped her in while their captive in Uncanny #300 to probe the memories of anyone who had previous encounters with techno-organic beings.
After Xavier merges with Forge’s mind, he’s able to telepathically see the world the way Forge does.
Moira is able to detect heavy Phalanx activity in Southern California, the Italian Alps and Tibet, the three principal locations of the Phalanx substories.
It’s said that Polaris is able to lift everyone via the iron in their blood and metal in their costumes (which, again, isn’t really necessary given the way magnetic powers work in the Marvel Universe, in which Magneto flies by using his power to nullify gravitons).
Rahne admits she knows Douglock isn’t DOUG, but believes some of Doug’s goodness resides in him.
The Grim 'n' Gritty 90s
This issue has an inordinate amount of butt shots in it; if there's a way to pose a female character in a panel with her back to the reader, Daniel found it (see, for example, the panel above, or the one above that, or the one of Moira using the Acolytes' memory ball machine thing).
Havok hopes and prays Polaris makes it through the battle.
"Professor Xavier is a
Xavier asks Cannonball if he still reads sci-fi novels (a deep New Mutants callback), then chides him when he says it’s hard to find the time to read.
Once again, the best thing about this story is the character interactions between Cannonball, Wolfsbane, Douglock and Forge (Forge's whole "the Phalanx are kind of beautiful in their own way despite their desire to, you know, eradicate all life" schtick, which will become a bigger deal in the conclusion, isn't great, but it is...something). Unfortunately, this issue also imports and double-downs on all the problems that were present in the first chapter: the Phalanx here seem entirely removed from the Phalanx in the other parts of the story, to the point where we're dealing with Phalanx babies, a villain in Shinar who has no connection to Lang (and who still hasn't done much), and a goal (contact the alien beings who inadvertently-birthed the Earthbound Phalanx to destroy the world) that is both largely disconnected from the goals of the villains in the other stories, and also has nothing to do with the Phalanx' whole anti-mutant routine.
This issue is also still very boring. With the vast majority of the X-Men already sidelined, this issue in turn sidelines most of the combined X-Force/X-Factor/Excalibur teams. We get a cool "split the group into smaller teams" moment, but otherwise, outside of Forge, Wolfsbane, Cannonball, Douglock and Xavier, nobody really does much. And what those five do, one brief fight with a Phalanx baby aside, is pretty much just walk, talk, and look at things. There's some interesting ideas being thrown around here - even the idea of connecting the Phalanx to the alien Technarchy and expanding their goals beyond their initial mutant eradication to eradicating all life isn't inherently bad. They're just completely disconnected from everything else going on in the crossover, and worse, being presented in the most unexciting way possible.
Tomorrow, a non-Phalanx Excalibur #81. Next week, X-Men Unlimited #6 and Excalibur Annual #2.
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