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Wednesday, December 12, 2018

X-amining X-Men (vol. 2) #38

"Smoke And Mirrors"
November 1994

In a Nutshell
In the wake of "Phalanx Covenant", the X-Men relax and recoup.

Writer: Fabian Nicieza
Pencils: Andy Kubert
Inks: Matt Ryan
Letters: Bill Oakley
Color Art: Kevin Somers
Editor: Bob Harras
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco
Special Thanks: Aldred J. Kehn Jr. and Dr. David Berger

Plot
As Xavier, Scott & Jean ruminate on the recent changes to the school, Beast continues his research into the Legacy Virus while Iceman & Rogue hang out by the pool. Later, Psylocke & Phoenix train in the Danger Room before giving way for Cyclops, who is overseeing Sabretooth's daily exercise regimen. However, Gambit enters the control room tells him Jean needs his help, offering to oversee the session himself. Elsewhere, Carter Ryking is visited in prison by Adam X. Back at the school, Xavier & Bishop discuss the loss of data caused by Banshee's necessary destruction of Xavier's ready room. Elsewhere, a comatose Legion experiences a vision of Destiny. Back at the mansion, Gambit dials up the intensity of Sabretooth's Danger Room session, then attacks himself, soundly beating Sabretooth. With Sabretooth at his mercy, Gambit tells him won't kill him, because being part of the X-Men means too much to him now, and that the best way to fight Sabretooth is by being happy together with Rogue, a fight which a passing Rogue wonders if they can win. As Beast takes a break from his research to go out to dinner with Iceman, Xavier, Scott & Jean meet again, and Xavier finds that, despite the group's losses & setbacks, he remains more hopeful than ever for the future.

Firsts and Other Notables
Following on the heels of Uncanny #318, this issue acknowledges the change in name of the X-mansion to the "Xavier Institute for Higher Learning", as it opens & closes on Xavier, Cyclops & Phoenix looking upon the new sign Emma had delivered for the school.

In a one page interlude, we see Hazard (of issues #12-13 fame) meet with Adam X, who is still looking for “Milbury”, which has led him to Hazard. This is setup for Adam’s larger role in the following issue, but also marks the first time Mr. Sinister is linked to the generation of Xavier’s father (which will become a bigger deal much later in the series).


Xavier says the data lost when his Ready Room was destroyed in Uncanny #316 pertained to mutants he discovered who wished to remain anonymous, as well as human members of his Mutant Underground, which is why he never backed up the data.

He proceeds to suggest that Commcast, from the Deadpool mini, may posses it, but nothing ever comes of this (or, really, the loss of the data in the first place).


In another interlude, a still-comatose Legion has a vision of Destiny, planting the seeds of Legion’s actions in “Legion Quest” and introducing the crystal mindscape that will be a visual motif in that story and into “Age of Apocalypse”


Sabretooth taunts Gambit, asking if he’s worried he’ll reveal something more sinister, a tease at the new mystery that will drive a wedge between Rogue & Gambit post “AoA” (and which will eventually turn out to be a reference to the time Sinister paid Gambit to assemble the Marauders and lead them into the Morlock tunnels).


Two individuals receive special thanks for "research assistance" credits in this issue; I assume they helped out with Beast's virus-related dialogue.

The Chronology Corner
This obviously takes place after Uncanny #318; Legion appears here before X-Factor #108.

A Work in Progress
Beast has determined that the Legacy Virus has mutated into three different strains, which may be an attempt to explain the different manifestations of the virus (lesions/no lesions, power flairs, humans infected, etc.).

Iceman gets blown off my Beast, despite saying he needs someone to talk to at the moment, continuing his recent angst from Uncanny #318.

He also mopes about it to Rogue (who rightly points out she has plenty of experience with voices in her head).


Later, Iceman (sporting a slight different, spikier ice form) asks Beast if he’s a loser.


Psylocke blames her long flirtation with Cyclops earlier in the series on the influence of Kwannon (given that the retcon is that Psylocke’s mind has been a mix of both her & Kwannon since the transformation, it’s hard to rationalize that).


Psylocke has also cut her hair short.


Artistic Achievements
I ranted about my issues with the deluxe format in my review of Uncanny #318, but I do have to admit, it does serve the art well. Wolverine #87 looked especially good, as does this issue (such as this splash).


The Reference Section
At one point during his research, Beast cries out, “Yes, I am, Dr. Galakiewicz!”, a reference to a Bud Light commercial from around the time this was published.

Austin's Analysis
This is ostensibly a Patented Post-Crossover issue (coming, as it does, after a crossover, and with a focus on breath-catching characterization), but it's not quite a Lobdellian Patented Post-Crossover issue; aside from lacking Scott Lobdell as the writer, it also lacks the kind of emotional throughline that characterize his best such efforts (even the less-memorable Uncanny #318 had, at its core, the departure of Jubilee). Instead, Nicieza goes for a "day in the life" approach, presenting a series of 2-3 page vignettes centered on one particular character (along with a couple interludes teasing the events of the next three issues, before the series enters the "Age of Apocalypse").

What works about it is the way the characters (culled from both the Blue & Gold teams, further underlining the end of that distinction in the process) weave in and out of each other's vignettes, making the whole thing feel fuller and reach more like a cohesive story, rather than a collection of otherwise standalone pieces. In that regard, this almost reads like a Classic Claremont Quiet issue, but thanks to the more formal structure and the feeling - sold most effectively by the bookend scenes involving Xavier, Cyclops & Phoenix - of being a pivot point between what was and what is coming, it's really it's own thing entirely.

Next Issue
Tomorrow, X-Force gets a new headquarters in X-Force #40. Friday, Excalibur gets a writer in Excalibur #83. Next week, at long last, Generation X #1!

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16 comments:

  1. In another interlude, a still-comatose Legion has a vision of Destiny, planting the seeds of Legion’s actions in “Legion Quest” and introducing the crystal mindscape that will be a visual motif in that story and into “Age of Apocalypse”

    Re-introducing, man. Destiny says as much that it's the dream she herself had long ago in UNCANNY #254. The crystal figurines were there and everything, except that Nicieza makes it about Xavier and Magneto now.

    On top of that, it being specifically Forge who went after Mystique in the Legion Quest prelude, with Destiny retro-red-herringing their supposed future intimacy back in the day, Nicieza does absolutely superb job in seamlessly shoehorning the things in #254-255 into a prelude for the Legion Quest and the Age of Apocalypse. Destiny was in the know all the time, and played the pieces into their place. Apparently including Mystique, which is a tragedy.

    Destiny taunting specifically "silly boy" Legion and not Shadow King in #255 now afterwards feels like her handwaving over all the Shadow King debacle and making that borefest to have essentially been a side-show.

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    1. Also, when killing her, Legion may have absorbed Destiny's persona like he did with Jemail. Or maybe "Jemail" did, when "Jack Wayne" killed Destiny. There may even be some kindred spirits stuff in the work there (from Jemail's point of view), with their shared terrorist background. Destiny apparently sees Mystique reverting into one to fulfill the, ha, destiny. All things considered (including later retcons), the Brotherhood terrorism phase may have been but utiliar thingy for Destiny to play her intended part in the history and to steer it into where it needs to go. Out of necessity Raven may at times have been a puppet to her as much as anyone.

      We knew nothing of the extent she was talking about when Destiny taunted Beast back in AVENGERS ANNUAL #10 about her playing chess where you sacrifice lesser pawns to further the ultimate goal.

      Delete
  2. "He proceeds to suggest that Commcast, from the Deadpool mini, may posses it, but nothing ever comes of this (or, really, the loss of the data in the first place)."

    I assume somewhere there's an "Untold Tales of the X-Men" story where Chuck is bemoaning the data loss to Lilandra, and she just gives a half-loving, half-pitying smile to this poor, simple hairless ape and says "Charles, my love... the Shi'ar have technology able to craft infinitely-complex solid holograms and to bend light so that a room appears the size of a continent. Did you REALLY think we don't have 'the cloud'?"


    "(and which will eventually turn out to be a reference to the time Sinister paid Gambit to assemble the Marauders and lead them into the Morlock tunnels)"

    Which still never happened. Maybe he assembled them, sure. But we saw the Marauders follow Tommy from LA to New York and all the way into the tunnels before killing her. There was nothing for Gambit to lead them into. It didn't happen. (No, I still haven't forgiven Lobdell for that flub, why do you ask?)


    "Iceman gets blown off my Beast"

    Whoa now! Is there a next level beyond "Freudian slip"? ;)

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    1. It was obviously a mind game on Sinister's part, to test Gambit, and see how far he would go.
      Sinister made Remy think he was needed to lead the Marauders to the Morlocks, when they already had a different plan, adding that extra level of guilt.
      We know Gambit must have been there in the tunnels, because otherwise Marrow would have died too.
      So, some sort of explanation like that will work.

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    2. I assume somewhere there's an "Untold Tales of the X-Men" story where Chuck is bemoaning the data loss to Lilandra, and she just gives a half-loving, half-pitying smile to this poor, simple hairless ape and says "Charles, my love... the Shi'ar have technology able to craft infinitely-complex solid holograms and to bend light so that a room appears the size of a continent. Did you REALLY think we don't have 'the cloud'?"

      There is absolutely an "untold story" out there because Xavier clearly DOES retrieve the data somehow, as we see Iceman save Mutant Underground member Cecilia Reyes in the opening issues of OZT.

      Delete
  3. This was the first Deluxe issue I bought. I picked it up at a random specialty shop when my family went out of town. It really felt like different book to me, figuratively and literally. I only managed to read this one once back in the day, since it didn't survive being passed around among my buddies on the bus to school. I ended up throwing it away because of all the greasy fingerprints and the mangled cover. Coincidence or not, the "regular" style books seemed to survive longer being traded back & forth. My uncouth friends didn't realize these things were going to be worth a lot of money one day! Ha.

    I was not as entranced by the Sabertooth/Gambit drama as other kids were, so this was kind of a clunker for me at the time. I liked the focus on the original X-Men, as well as Jean and Betsy clearing the air. I did not care for Psylocke's new look at the time, but it actually looks pretty good. A tactical warrior would not have all that hair flopping around as a hazard. Plus, all the X-women have hair down to their knees, so it changes her silhouette. Storm's later haircut post-Gene Nation is still terrible, though.

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  4. You mentioned the Blue and Gold teams in your review, which reminds me of an observation I had while reading this issue last night. At one point Xavier says something like, "When we switched to a two-team structure, I never imagined my ready room would get blown up." Is it just me, or is this a total non sequiter? What does part A of the sentence have to do with part B?? Nothing, as far as I can tell.

    Anyway, I do like the issue overall, and I know I ate it up as a kid with all the soap opera and teases of upcoming stuff -- but at the same time, reading it now, I see wasted possibilities. It's clear Nicieza was planting lots of seeds with Adam-X, the ready room data and Commcast, Gambit and Sinister, the Legacy Virus, etc. I have to imagine that, perhaps unlike Scott Lobdell, he actually intended for all these things to come to fruition in one way or another. But instead he's off the series in less than a year (really only seven more issues of the main continuity if we exclude "Age of Apocalypse"), and very little of it goes anywhere.

    The Legacy Virus stuff especially bugs me. I have to believe that no one intended it to draw out as long as it did. They keep teasing these breakthroughs across multiple titles, but the sub-plot will run for something like seven more years, getting shunted further and further into the background and losing all urgency.

    Though I will say that if the intention was to make it an ongoing thing, never resolved, that's fine. It's not like we've cured cancer or HIV in real life at this point, and the Legacy Virus could have easily become a permanent part of the X-Men's status quo. But it really reads like a plotline that was intended to eventually reach its resolution. It's mentioned too often, with too many teases of a cure, for it to be a never-ending background thing.

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    1. "...it opens & closes on Xavier, Cyclops & Phoenix looking upon the new sign Emma had delivered for the school."

      For some weird reason, even though hours appear to pass in between, during which they all change clothes, for the final scene they're back wearing the exact same outfits as on the first page. I wonder if Kubert thought this was a framing sequence and not an actual passage of time?

      (I just noticed this reading the issue last night, by the way. I had never caught it before.)

      "...marks the first time Mr. Sinister is linked to the generation of Xavier’s father (which will become a bigger deal much later in the series)."

      As my favorite super soldier once said, "I get that reference!" I actually read a lot of Mike Carey's X-MEN: LEGACY run in the 00s, and I remember that story.

      "Sabretooth taunts Gambit, asking if he’s worried he’ll reveal something more sinister, a tease at the new mystery that will drive a wedge between Rogue & Gambit..."

      I was going to ask if this was the first time that came up. I was pretty sure it was, but I couldn't recall for certain. In any case, though, this right here was the sort of stuff that had me addicted to the X-books in this era. Cryptic comments were like crack to me in the 90s, especially if they involved Mister Sinister!

      "This obviously takes place after Uncanny #318; Legion appears here before X-Factor #108."

      Not surprisingly, I took note of the timeline here, when Bobby tells Hank the only time he's left his research in the past three weeks was to drive Skin to the Massachusetts Academy (which in itself isn't quite right; Skin appeared to have driven there himself in Beast's car in UNCANNY 318). So does that mean Nicieza is implying it's been three weeks since the events of that issue? Because in this same story, Gambit makes reference to helping Scott and Jean move "yesterday" -- and while it's certainly possible and realistic that they spent more than a single day moving, something still doesn't feel right if it took weeks.

      The main thing that confuses this for me is -- when did "Phalanx Covenant" occur? Is Nicieza saying it's been three weeks since then? Because I got the impression that UNCANNY 318 took place fairly shortly after the crossover ended -- maybe not the next day, but within a few days or a week. So since it seems unlikely it's been three weeks since UNCANNY 318 and also unlikely it's been three full weeks since "Phalanx" ended, my main issue here is that Bobby really should've said, "The only break you've taken in the past three weeks -- aside from getting kidnapped by the Phalanx -- was to drive that Espinoza kid to the Academy."

      Then it would all make sense!

      "Psylocke has also cut her hair short."

      This has to be one of the shortest such changes in X-history. It's short for the next couple months, then comes "Age of Apocalypse", and when reality is fixed, it's long again.

      Delete

    2. // What does part A of the sentence have to do with part B? //

      Not just you; I scratched my head over that line as well.

      Delete
    3. Put me down as another who was thrown off by that Blue/Gold line.

      So does that mean Nicieza is implying it's been three weeks since the events of that issue?

      I read this as "it's been three weeks since the Phalanx kidnapped us and you've been holed up in this lab ever since," though I'm not sure this checks out with the timeline either.

      This has to be one of the shortest such changes in X-history. It's short for the next couple months, then comes "Age of Apocalypse", and when reality is fixed, it's long again.

      I think it "grows back" before that, tbh. I haven't read these issues in ages, but I am almost positive Betsy has long hair for "Legion Quest."

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    4. Michael, I do agree that Nicieza's intent is probably that it's been three weeks since "Phalanx" ended. I just don't think that works with Gambit's comment here that he was helping Scott and Jean move to the boathouse as recently as yesterday!

      As for Psylocke's hair, my recollection is that Kubert keeps it short all the way through "Legion Quest" -- however, I think the UNCANNY artists over the next few months have it long. I guess we'll see soon enough!

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  5. However valid or not Bobby’s frustration with Emma’s usage of his powers and his own relative ineffectuality may be, it’s a total dick move to ice over the pool as Rogue’s diving.

    Artistic Achievements: Every scene or vignette from Prologue to Epilogue, save Interlude One, has the featured character(s) reflected in the first panel (and Interlude One’s lack is a surprise given that we’re looking through glass).

    I nearly remarked on Xavier’s lamentation over the loss of data in his ready room in a comment on Uncanny #318, but there’s clearly no lasting continuity when it comes to destruction of infrastructure, personal items, or anything else stemming from damage in/to the mansion. Remember when the place was razed — not so very long ago, nor for the first time — and Cable’s New Mutants were living in the vast underground bunker which, incidentally, would’ve been a much smarter place to keep sensitive records? That said, I would practically stand up and cheer if Xavier referenced his old room full of filing cabinets.

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    1. However valid or not Bobby’s frustration with Emma’s usage of his powers and his own relative ineffectuality may be, it’s a total dick move to ice over the pool as Rogue’s diving.

      This scene bothered me so much as a kid. (And it still bothered me again in this read-through.) Why is Rogue using the diving board? She can fly! She could just soar up into the air and do the world's greatest cannonball! Or she stop herself mid-air, just above the ice water since she clearly notices it before she jumps in.

      These are the things that really peeved me off as a kid. I was a huge nerd.

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    2. ...

      I noticed Rogue needlessly climbing the ladder to the diving board instead of flying up there, but the idea of her just flying up and dropping, or stopping mid air didn't come to me.

      Though, I think she did an intentional swim jump in UXM #185 to impress the riverboat people, so she can plausibly have wanted to go for a technically proper non-mutant power performance here too.

      Delete
  6. Bobby in swim trunks is, I suppose, an unintentional callback to the pre-X-FACTOR times when most of the time (save for CHAMPIONS) his costume was simply trunks and boots (or, in the case of X-MEN#9, just his boxer shorts).

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  7. There was no "It's in the Mail" this time, but I couldn't help but notice that the response to Bruce's letter about the Rogue limited series included the line "funny you should mention her old ties to Magneto, because we've got the feeling that unfinished business may just come back to haunt Rogue."

    In hindsight, I can't help but read this as a tease for the debut of Joseph, who is just nine issues away (AoA not included) over in Uncanny. But also knowing that Nicieza is about to depart and how fast and loose Lobdell was playing with the plotting, it seems almost impossible to believe they had that storyline planned this far out.

    Also, I love seeing Iceman and Rogue spending time together this issue. It really sets up their post-AoA road trip and friendship.

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