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Wednesday, October 24, 2018

X-amining X-Men (vol. 2) #36

"Drop the Leash: Book One - Generation Next Part Two"
September 1994

In a Nutshell
The Banshee's team rescues Everett Thomas from the Phalanx, but Paige Guthrie is captured.

Writer: Fabian Nicieza
Pencils: Andy Kubert
Inks: Matt Ryan
Letterer: Tom Orzechowski
Colorist: Glynis Oliver
Editor: Bob Harras
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco

The Phalanx continue their efforts to find a way to assimilate mutants, experimenting on the captive Monet, while Lang muses that the group is evolving beyond his expectations. Meanwhile, in St. Louis, Banshee, Emma Frost, Sabretooth & Jubilee rescue Everett Thomas from the Phalanx, but in Kentucky, the Phalanx manage to abduct Paige Guthrie. Back in St. Louis, the Phalanx attack the X-Men, but Emma is able to help Everett use his power to sync Jubilee's power and trigger a massive explosion. Just then, Lang appears and taunts them with an assimilated Sara Grey and the captive Paige. Emma cautions him that in trying to save humanity, he may be dooming it, and when Lang disappears, she reveals that she was able to at least make telepathic contact with Paige and knows the general location where she is being held. Just then, Jubilee points out that Sabretooth has gone missing, and Banshee realizes Sabretooth has escaped.

Firsts and Other Notables
This issue marks the first appearance of Everett Thomas, who will join Generation X as Synch. He has the mutant ability to "synch" his power to the power of mutants around him, often represented by a rainbow aura surrounding him when he's syncing (though that doesn't appear in this issue). Synch is one of those characters who I tend to think of as a "pure" Generation X character, as he never really develops as a character outside that series' initial 80 issue run (because, of course, he dies at the end of it), whereas characters like M and Husk will go one to be featured in varying degreess in other series after the book's cancellation (and, of course, characters like Jubilee, Emma & Banshee have both a pre- and post-Generation X history). It's also worth noting that Everett is depicted as much taller and buffer here than he will usually be presented in Generation X.

The long-missing Sara Grey, sister of Jean, turns up in this issue, having been forcibly assimilated by the Phalanx, who have been learning information about the X-Men from her. This brings to an end an mystery that's been dangling unresolved for a loooong time, as Sara first went missing in X-Factor #12 after her house was firebombed (an attack later attributed to the Right, who of course, have roots in the Phalanx) and stayed missing even after he children turned up shortly before "Inferno" and were left in the care of their grandparents. Obviously, "prisoner of the Phalanx" isn't what Louise Simonson or Chris Claremont had in mind as a resolution when Sara first went missing (given the Phalanx didn't even exist at that point), and it's kind of funny that the Phalanx took her to get info on the X-Men, considering how little interaction Sara had with them (as opposed to other non-mutant allies like Moira or Stevie Hunter or Tom Corsi or Sharon Friedlander  or Charlotte Jones or Opal Tanaka, etc.), but nevertheless, Nicieza should be applauded for making the effort to die off this long dangling plot thread.

Synch, Blink & Skin all appear alongside Jubilee and Paige (ahead of their first full appearances) as the Phalanx discuss targeting the next generation of mutants.

Paige Guthrie is successfully captured by the Phalanx this issue (she is also described as a “transitional body morph"), giving each side two wins apiece as far as we know at this point (Monet & Paige with the Phalanx, Jubilee & Synch with the X-Men). Interestingly, Paige is presented here with little introduction or explanation of her connection to the X-Men (other than sharing a surname with Cannonball), despite having only previously appeared (in this teenage/neo mutant form) in X-Force.

The issue ends with Sabretooth having shed his restraints and escaped (as the detonator Banshee was using to keep him in line was damaged during the fight with the Phalanx). His time with the X-Men is far from over though, as he'll be recaptured before the end of the crossover.

Here's the full cover to this issue, with foil enhancement.

A Work in Progress
A narrative caption in this issue states that the Phalanx’ goal is to absorb all organic life into their collective.

The still-human Lang notes that the Phalanx are evolving, and he worries that in trying to eliminate mutants, he’s risked all of humanity.

Banshee tells Everett his parents will be fine since the Phalanx only target mutants (which isn’t entirely true, especially given that Lang later trots out the captive non-mutant sister of one of the X-Men).

Banshee is the most effective fighter against the Phalanx, as his ability modulate the frequency of his scream stymies their ability to counter it, but they eventually figure out the best way to counter his power is to just shove gunk down his throat so he can’t scream.

Everett, with help from Emma, is able to Synch Jubilee’s power and use it to an extent she’s always been afraid to, in order to detonate the Phalanx on a sub-atomic level.

The ad hoc X-Men learn Lang is behind the Phalanx in this issue (and Emma is aware they are growing out of his control).

Human/Mutant Relations
Jubilee refers to humans as “straight genes”, a slang term I don’t think appears outside this issue.

Austin's Analysis
Plotwise, this is a pretty standard "deepening of the crossover" affair, with the conflict widening as both the heroes & villains achieve minor victories (the X-Men rescue Synch, the Phalanx capture Husk), but Nicieza helps elevate things by maintaining some of the horror movie tone generated by Lobdell in the first chapter of "Generation Next", specifically the "anyone could be a Phalanx"/Invasion of the Body Snatchers vibe (the opening scene of Everett being confronted by cops, half of which turn out to be Phalanx, is pretty great), and amping up the sense of just how overmatched this ad hoc group of X-Men are: Banshee is still able to inflict harm on the Phalanx (assuming they don't just stuff themselves down his throat) but Emma & Jubilee are functionally useless in terms of direct assaults, and we're told even Sabretooth is aware his berskerker savagery can only take the fight so far. And, of course, the issue ends with the great cliffhanger reveal that Sabretooth has shed his restraints and escaped, thus widening the conflict even further: these X-Men are now down a member, and seemingly have another threat to worry about on top of the Phalanx. Combine all that with some top-notch art from Andy Kubert, and it's clear that while the main arc of the story is still a fairly small affair in the grand scheme of things, it's the little details and level of craft involved that continue to elevate this portion of the crossover. 

Next Issue
Tomorrow, Phalanx babies in X-Force #38. Friday, a pre-Phalanx Excalibur #81. Next week, X-Men Unlimited #6!

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  1. I think it's funny that Sean would even remember Sara at this point. Have they even met before? Once maybe?

    Lang: "...this old friend?"
    Sean: "Saints preserve us! She looks vaguely familiar!"

    1. I had the exact same thought! I mean I know they could've met off-panel at some point, but if they ever did, it was likely during the "All-New, All-Different" era -- or maybe at Phoenix's funeral or something... but even then, it still seems weird that he reacts so strongly when he sees her years after probably only briefly meeting her.

    2. Yeah, I never even considered that. You could maybe No-Prize it by saying Sara is well-known to all the X-Men since she's been missing so long (like, I dunno, there's an unsolved mysteries board in the mansion they all walk by every day), but then that just underscores the fact that it took this long for the X-Men to find Sara (when they weren't even trying to find her), and they never seemed to care much in any previous issues.

    3. Oh man, I had this same thought too, but Phoenix's funeral never occurred to me as a possible meeting point -- great catch on that, Matt!

    4. As Jean's sister Sara probably shares enough recognisable facial features with her to make her identity a no-brainer to Jean's long(ish)-time teammate.

      Sara's opposition to the assimilation kind of teases her being something close to a mutant herself, which I believe was in the works at one point?

  2. As a St. Louis native, I appreciate the extra effort to draw Synch in a Blues jersey. Good job Kubert!

    1. I meant to comment on that as well. I wonder if Kubert is a hockey fan, and that's why he went with the Blues vs. say, the Cardinals.

    2. As a hockey fan, ditto.

  3. I've never thought this one was as strong as part one, but partly that's simply due to liking Madureira's artwork more than Kubert's (yes, Joe Mad won me over that quickly in 1994). But it's fine as "part twos" go, and I like the touch that the Phanalx can't adapt to Banshee as easily as they do other mutants.

    "Synch is one of those characters who I tend to think of as a 'pure' Generation X character..."

    Good way to put it, and I agree with this assessment. Of the students, Synch was always my favorite character in GENERATION X. He didn't get a ton of the big sub-plots or major storylines, but he was a solid utility player, and I liked his friendship with Jubilee. I was pretty miffed when they killed him in the series finale (or actually prior to the finale, though we didn't know his fate until the final issue flashback, if memory serves) -- but if he hadn't been offed there, Chuck Austen would have surely crucified him alongside Skin a couple years later in UNCANNY.

    "Paige Guthrie is successfully captured by the Phalanx this issue (she is also described as a “transitional body morph"), giving each side two wins apiece as far as we know at this point..."

    Funny, I hadn't thought about it that way, but now that you say it, it makes me think of the various G.I. JOE TV miniseries from the 80s.

    "The ad hoc X-Men learn Lang is behind the Phalanx in this issue (and Emma is aware they are growing out of his control)."

    I was trying to wrap my head around this... she seems to know more than she should at this point. She makes reference to the Phalanx growing out of control, as you mention, but she also says something about them being composed of human volunteers. How whould she be aware of where the Phalanx get their troops?

    She also seems familiar with Lang. Obviously Banshee recognizes him from being his prisoner in UNCANNY 98 - 100, and Emma possibly learns his name after Banshee says it -- but from there, she starts talking to him like she knows him (at least, the way I read it). But it occurs to me that Lang was seen reporting to the "Council of the Chosen" in his original appearances, and unless I'm mistaken, a CLASSIC X-MEN issue (or something else of that vintage) revealed the "Council of the Chosen" was another name for the Hellfire Club's Inner Circle (prior to Sebastian Shaw's coup)... so perhaps she knows more about Stephen Lang than we realize...?

    1. but if he hadn't been offed there, Chuck Austen would have surely crucified him alongside Skin a couple years later in UNCANNY.

      Funnily enough, Skin is another character I think of chiefly as a Gen X character, mostly because, even though he survived the series, his notable achievement outside of it is getting crucified in that terrible Austen story.

      How whould she be aware of where the Phalanx get their troops?

      I guess I assumed she'd picked up on that telepathically from Lang when he appeared before her briefly.

      so perhaps she knows more about Stephen Lang than we realize...?

      Yeah, I think it' safe to say that Emma is fairly familiar with Lang due to his connection to the Council of the Chosen. I'm pretty sure Emma even appears alongside Shaw in one of those CLASSIC X-MEN backups featuring the Council & Lang.

  4. I wanted to post this comment on the October X-aminations preview that went up about a month back, but Google/Blogger errored out on me repeatedly. Then I meant to comment on the Uncanny 316 post, but that was already up for a week by the time I got around to reading it. So, finally, let me say:

    I have been waiting for this for ages! "The Phalanx Covenant" was the start of my peak comic geek as a kid. I'd been reading for some time at this point -- starting with Jim Lee's #1 (of course) and getting odd issues through the Blue/Gold era. I started getting into the two main X-books fairly regularly in the Nicieza/Kubert and Lobdell/JRJR runs, but it was Joe Mad's debut who made them MUST-haves for me every month, and pushed my interest out into the rest of the X-line. (I think that I probably hit peak geek during AOA, but the intensity of my fandom really started skyrocketing around this time.)

    I stayed a monthly reader for a number a years after this. (Yes, even through Onslaught.) The books' quality really fell off the cliff after OZT and there are a number of issues I picked up between OZT and Claremont's return that I read ... and I can't even tell you what happened. (Professor X recruited a new X-team to fight Cerebro and something happening with Skrullverine and the Twelve?)

    But the Onslaught crossover totally suckered me into trying out a bunch of other Marvel titles and -- after picking up a handful of Heroes Reborn books (all terrible) -- I fell in love with some non-mutant stories after Heroes Return. George Perez's Avengers and Mark Waid's Captain America series were my MUST-haves in the late-90s.

    I don't recall being that interested in the X-books again til the six-month gap. It felt like a fresh start after years of drift, but it was aborted so fast that I just stopped reading comics regularly around that time.

    I did go back and pick up Morrison's run at some point in college -- after everyone told me that I would _love_ it and I just _had_ to read it. (I hated it.) I've only picked up new X-books here and there since. (I hated most of them, but loved Whedon's.) Eventually I went back and collected everything X-Men from the Silver Age through AOA in some form or another (Masterworks, trades, single issues ...) and rediscovered why I loved these stories and characters in the first place. And it was around this time that I found your blog! (I think I started reading in late-2010 or early-2011? I think it was sometime in the first Claremont-Cockrum run. I know that I started commenting during Claremont-Byrne.)

    It's hard to believe I've been following this blog for eight-ish years now, and equally hard to believe that we're about to embark on the stretch of issues that forged a childhood fandom so strong that I spent eight years of my adult life following a blog about its characters and history.

    Thanks for all your hard work, Teebore! Looking forward to what's ahead!

    1. It sounds like you and I had extremely similar experiences, Michael. I posted on the UNCANNY 316 review that "Phalanx Covenant" was what finally got me to add that title to my monthly reading alongside X-MEN (mainly thanks to Joe Madureira). I also stuck around for the remainder of the 90s events, and I also was drawn into the larger Marvel Univese via "Onslaught".

      I was already a Spider-Man reader as well, but "Heroes Reborn" got me to check out AVENGERS, CAPTAIN AMERICA, IRON MAN, and FANTASTIC FOUR all for the first time ever, plus I sampled a number of the new titles that debuted around that time too, such as THUNDERBOLTS and DEADPOOL, amont others. A year later came "Heroes Return", and the Busiek/Perez AVENGERS blew me away. For me, it was AVENGERS and THUNDERBOLTS that were the late 90s "must read" books every month.

      I agree with you that the quality of the X-titles took a bit of a dive after "Operation: Zero Tolerance" (coincidentally [?] right around the time Scott Lobdell left the franchise) -- I would actually say that they started losing their luster during that event for me -- but I have to say that I really enjoyed the Alan Davis run a few years later, in 1999.

      I agree with you about Morrison's run, too. I dropped X-MEN (err... I mean, NEW X-MEN) during that run after being a loyal reader for close to a decade. I continued to read it via copies at a friend's house. The X-Men were already going downhill for me thanks to Chris Claremont's "Revolution" run, and Morrison's stuff just took the universe so far from what I knew that I couldn't stand it. I've checked in with the X-Men now and then over the years, but never again as a regular long-term reader.

      (It sounds like I even started reading Gentlemen of Leisure around the same time as you, too! And I can't believe it's been that long, either.)

      I actually recently did a whole post about the so-called "Personal Golden Age" at my blog, where I decided the bulk of the 90s fills that role for me, starting around X-MEN #20 and running up through the end of Perez's time on AVENGERS. I have such amazing memories of reading Marvel comics through those years -- which for me comprised middle school, high school, and a bit of college. (And, for the record, as I noted in that post, the reason I generally have complimentary things to say about guys like Lobdell, Bob Harras, Howard Mackie, and so forth is that nobody provided me with more entertainment throughout the entirety of my teens than them.)

    2. Can you link me your post on your "Personal Golden Age?" I'd love to read it.

      Also, I recall us chatting quite a bit when I was a more active commenter, but I never knew our personal fan timelines lined up so much. I'm tickled to find another person with sort of fandom history.

    3. Sorry it took a few days to get back to you, Michael. Here's the link you asked for to my blog post. Hope you enjoy!



  5. // Banshee tells Everett his parents will be fine //

    Here’s some deep comics geekery for you: The panel repro’d under this remark jumped out at me because of a line in a word balloon reading “will, Everett”. Will Everett, a.k.a. Amazing-Man, was one of the new characters retconned into DC’s WWII-set Earth-Two series All-Star Squadron. Roy Thomas created him to both expand the number of cast members whose later fates were as yet unknown and increase the series’ diversity for the sake of, in Everett’s case, telling stories about a young black man in the 1940s not represented in the comics of the era. His civilian name was a tribute to Bill Everett, creator of The Sub-Mariner, and his superhero moniker was taken from a feature Everett did for Centaur at the same time as the early Namor stories. Will Everett's powers were essentially that of Marvel’s Absorbing Man, which all things considered isn’t miles away from what Synch does. Not that I’m suggesting Fabian Nicieza and letterer Bill Oakley worked out the word balloon to name-drop the older character… Or am I?

    Speaking of which, @Teebore — Oakley and Digital Chameleon are credited with letters and color art in this issue, respectively, not Tom Orzechowski and Glynis Oliver as you have it at the top of the post.

  6. I just can't get over what Kubert does with the character's eyes


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