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Wednesday, January 30, 2019

X-amining X-Men (vol. 2) #39

"Birds of a Feather"
December 1994

In a Nutshell
Adam-X (the X-TREME!!!) saves the life of Cyclops' grandfather.

Writer: Fabian Nicieza
Guest Penciler: Terry Dodson
Inks: Matt Ryan
Letterer: Bill Oakley
Color Art: Somers/Javins/Digital Chameleon
Editor: Bob Harras
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco

Plot
Traveling through the Canadian wilderness, Adam-X spots a crashing plane and pulls Philip Summers from the wreckage. At the X-Mansion, Cyclops receives a call that his grandfather has gone missing, prompting him & Jean to head to Alaska to help search for him. In the wilderness, Adam-X builds a shelter, determined to keep the injured Philip alive. In the Israeli desert, Legion experiences a vision of Destiny, and continues his efforts to set things right. In New Orleans, Gambit's ex-wife Bella Donna is appointed the leader of the Assassins Guild following the death of her father. In the wilderness, Adam-X tells Philip of traveling through space, then uses his power to help keep Philip alive by igniting the electrolytes in his blood to generate heat. The next morning, they are found by a search party and taken to a local hospital, though Adam-X slips away, rather be identified. Later, he slips into Philip's hotel room. Jean senses his presences, and uses her power to help Adam share his experiences of space travel with Philip. He then slips out again, as a pair of mysterious figures watch Cyclops & Jean at Philip's bedside.

Firsts and Other Notables
This issue is mostly remembered for representing Fabian Nicieza's most concerted effort to setup Adam-X (the X-TREME!!!) as the Third Summers brother, an effort that doesn't really go any further than this issue before Nicieza leaves the series (and the line), leaving it to later writers to resolve the mystery many years later and with an entirely different solution. As such this is pretty Adam-X (the X-TREME!!!)'s last appearance for awhile (he'll pop up in the 00s-era Captain Marvel book and then later in Matt Fraction X-Men era).

Perhaps under the belief that Adam-X (the X-TREME!!!) was going to become a huge character find, this issue calls out his creators in the credits, crediting Nicieza, Greg Capullo and Jeff Johnson (Johnson is an odd inclusion, as he didn't work at all on the introductory annual).

Jean acknowledges the death of her sister, saying she’d always hoped to find her own day. Of course, instead of hoping, Jean always could have tried, you know, actually looking for her.


The crystal motif from Destiny’s death in Uncanny #255 returns as Legion travels across the desert; it will continue to be a visual theme throughout “Legion Quest”, culminating in the crystallization of all reality.


The issue ends with an homage to Uncanny #97, as Scott & Jean are watched by the arm of a mysterious figure, who in turn is being watched by the arm of another mysterious figure (the second is clearly Mr. Sinister; I have no idea who the first is meant to be).


A Work in Progress
One of the hints that Adam-X is at least part Shi’ar is that he refers to his people as having lost the ability to fly, something that’s been said of the birdlike Shi’ar before.


Also, after being rescued, Adam asks Jean to use her telepathy to enable Phillip to experience Adam’s experiences flying Shi’ar craft through space.


Beast plugs the Rogue miniseries in the form of gossip.


It’s mentioned that upon learning Mr. Sinister had been posing as his grandparent's neighbor (in issue #23), Cyclops prevailed on them to move away, to no avail.

In more setup for the Rogue miniseries, Belladonna’s father is revealed to have died, making her the head of the Assassins Guild.


Artistic Achievements
Maybe it’s just because of the weather right now, with the polar vortex pummeling large swathes of the country, but it’s funny to hear Phillip talk about it being forty below while he and Adam sit in the snow with exposed hands (it’s not clear where Adam got the material he later uses to build a teepee to shelter them from the storm).


Austin's Analysis
To say that this represents Nicieza's most concerted effort to setup the idea that Adam-X (the X-TREME!!!) is the Third Summers brother hinted at in issue #23 is to suggest other efforts were made. In reality, Nicieza never really got the chance to develop this subplot as he wanted, which makes this issue something of a curiosity. On it's own merits, without knowing what Nicieza's plans are, or at least recognizing the hints but not knowing they'll go nowhere, it's a fine, if somewhat dated, survival tale in which Cyclops & Havok's grandfather gets caught up in a survival story with a sentient backwards ballcap with a soul patch. Moreso than his (potential but ultimately averted) imminent death, the loss of Phillip's eyesight is haunting, and the shared longing for what the other has (Phillip envies Adam having flown the stars, while Adam envies the feeling of kith and kin that has fulfilled Phillip's life) gives the characters an emotional connection. Nicieza also deserves credit for coming up with a new use for Adam-X (the X-TREME!!!)'s ludicrously-specific & ridiculous power. And while Terry Dodson's art will develop into a more traditionally cheesecake style, its already an odd fit here (there are times where the figures seem less a part of the panels as pasted on top of them, colorform-style), but it's still clear enough in its storytelling to not detract from the plot or be distracting.

But there is nevertheless not much *there* here, and the issue only really becomes interesting when the larger context of the failed "Adam-X (the X-TREME!!!) is the Third Summers Brothers" reveal is considered. And even then, it's really just interesting as an instance where the bulk of an issue is devoted to moving forward a subplot that ultimately dies on the vine after that issue (at least as regards Nicieza's original intent for it). The end result is an issue that is harmless, but mostly pointless, and if it's remembered at all, it is remembered for leading a plotline into a narrative dead-end, for what it doesn't do moreso than for anything it does do.

Next Issue
Tomorrow, Feral's past is revealed in X-Force #41. Friday, Soulsword shenanigans in Excalibur #85. Next week, Generation X #2!

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21 comments:

  1. And what is up with that cover? The elongated logo looks awkward as hell and for the life of me I can't tell what's going on with the figures.

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    1. Adam has collapsed to his knees, holding Philip, but I believe Kubert intended it to be a mystery -- like, "Who just died in X-Treme's arms?" -- hence why we can't see Philip's face. Not sure what the smoke is supposed to represent, though.

      The logo drives me nuts, too. It seems pretty clear Kubert wanted all that space to be blank white to represent the snow, but somebody in production decided that wouldn't do at all, and stretched the logo to obscene lengths to fill what they perceived as a void.

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    2. It looks more like he's buried up to his waist in show, which is...weird.

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    3. Because I’m either crazy, have too much time on my hands, or both, I messed around with this cover a bit. First, I fixed the logo. That alone makes it look way better. Then I also created an annotated version explaining what’s going on as best I can discern:

      X-MEN #39 COVER CORRECTION

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    4. Amazing! I think your annotations are correct, though it's a bizarre cover that would require such annotations to be understood.

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  2. When Sarah died? She was alive just a few issues earlier, as a member of the Phalanx!

    Do you know wheat is both funny and interesting? The idea of Mr Sinister living his life as an ordinary neighbor, lending some tools, hosting parties, bringing cake, watching football, etc. Musr have been hilarious to imagine Cyclops calling his grandparents and asking whether Mr Sinister was still their neighbor, and they replying “yeah! And he’s coming later to help me with the lawn! Why?” Actually, I kind of like the idea of that being Mr Sinister’s real Identity. I always disliked the “British 19th century failed scientist” or “villain in a lair during experiments and having no life beyond that.”

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  3. Is the first hand meant to be Erik the Red as a Shi'ar agent watching Adam X?

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    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    2. I assumed it was meant to be Corsair when I first read this issue. It would give a bigger "family feeling" to the story. But now I agree it makes more sense that it meant to be Erik the Red. (Sorry about my bad English.)

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  4. I felt that it was probably Erik the Red also.

    Licinio-I concur! J.M. DeMatteis wrote a great X-Men Annual humanizing Sinister. I bet he could've written an amazing mini-series about Mr. Sinister trying to live a normal life.
    At first, he feels he's just doing it to live up to his name and act "sinister".
    However, as time goes on, he realizes more and more how much he loves that life.
    It'll be heartbreaking at the end of the series when he realizes that his urge to collect the genetic material of the Summers family and wear a ridiculous outfit grows too strong, and he has to give up that lifestyle.

    Re: the cover. I know. I remember buying this issue at the local comic book store and wishing I didn't have to add it to my X-Men collection, because the cover was an eye-sore.
    I could never figure out what it was meant to portray.
    It looks like Adam-X has a mangled body.

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    1. That DeMatteis annual was, is, and ever shall be my all-time favorite Mister Sinister story. Can't wait until X-Aminations gets there!

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  5. It's definitely Eric the Red. When reality crystalizes at the end of "Legion Quest" and we see a bunch of different moments from the various titles, there's a shot of Adam-X fighting Eric. I think they may have both been in Fabian Nicieza's CAPTAIN MARVEL mini-series around this time (about Genis-Vell back when he was still called Legacy).

    Look, I know maybe this sounds nuts, but here I am a 40 year-old adult, and a person with the hindsight to know that none of this ever amounted to anything, yet still when I read this issue the other night, I got chills from those last two panels. Partly, of course, it's simply due to the homage to UNCANNY 97 -- but a larger part is just because, even after all this time and even knowing the various 90s-era clues rarely go anywhere, I still get a thrill from this style of writing.

    "And while Terry Dodson's art will develop into a more traditionally cheesecake style, its already an odd fit here (there are times where the figures seem less a part of the panels as pasted on top of them, colorform-style)..."

    I like a lot of Terry Dodson's artwork, but that's a great way to describe him sometimes. It's like he draws the entire background first, then draws the figures on top of it in overlay. There's a disconnect sometimes.

    (Also, on a side-note, I was surprised recently to learn Colorforms still exist! I bought my son some for Christmas.)

    Lastly, there's a caption on the last page which says Jean respects Adam's privay when he leaves -- does that mean she somehow transferred his thoughts to Phillip without seeing them herself? Because if she did see 'em, privacy or no, I'd think she would want to know more about his association with the Shi'ar!

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  6. I’m with everyone else on the cover. That’s by far the most egregious Silly Putty treatment of the logo yet — on this series; I think Wolverine has matched the distortion if not necessarily to worse effect — and it’s entirely counterproductive. What should presumably be a dramatic piet√† shot with a disorienting amount of empty white space has been turned into a scene of Adam-X getting impaled by a registered trademark (not to mention one with a thicker, uniform line width than the characters in front of it have, which is a perceptual no-no). All of that makes it almost beside the point that the figures are positioned away from the reader such that it’s hard to make out their situation.

    // the crystallization of all reality //

    Huh. I did not know that, never having read Legion Quest. Pretty good prog-punk band name, too.

    // Scott & Jean are watched by the arm of a mysterious figure, who in turn is being watched by the arm of another mysterious figure //

    “Are you prepared for… ‘The Amazing Story of Sinister-Red and Sinister-Blue’?!?!?”

    // a sentient backwards ballcap with a soul patch //

    Ha! By the way: Adam-X is kind-of pretty, but I think you’re missing a “much” when noting his “last appearance for awhile”.

    // the loss of Phillip's eyesight is haunting, and the shared longing for what the other has //

    Yeah. I disagree that the potential of him being a Summers brother is the most interesting aspect of the story; matter of fact, him being merely an incidental character is part of what makes it appealing to me. This issue honestly has me completely reconsidering Fabian Nicieza as a writer. I read very little Marvel in this era, and when I began picking up more within a year or so’s time his was not a name I gravitated towards — I dropped Thunderbolts when he came aboard, but reading a friend’s run shortly thereafter for a project didn’t change my perception of him being at best fine enough at a kind of Marvel style that didn’t resonate much with me. Of course it doesn’t hurt that I’m a bit of a sucker for “I realize how special my powers are / how privileged my adventurous path has been, despite having suffered hardship and loss, so let me share my experiences with you in this magical way” stories.

    // while Terry Dodson's art will develop //

    Maybe one of the Kubert brothers would’ve made such a largely quiet, internal low-stakes plot (compared with the Phalanx threat or the Legacy Virus or the crystallization of all reality) more enjoyable for regular readers of the series at the time but Dodson’s softer, rounder style works for me, even if it is rough around the edges (in terms of his proficiency, not literally in a kewl scratchy-lines sense). Here it actually reminds me of Cary Nord’s early work on Daredevil, albeit with less black, striving for an open, relatively minimalist look that he doesn’t quite have a handle on yet. They’re more in the Adam Hughes school of the day, like Lee Moder, Stuart Immonen, and Jason Pearson, which can have a certain generic feel but to me is preferable to Jim Lee or, worse, Rob Liefeld clones.

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  7. Not "space travel", but space fight. It's a fun touch that it's very reminiscent of Phillip's own dogfight with Nazi fighters in WWII in the opening scene, what with Adam being a Summers boy and all.

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  8. Taken on it's own, it's a decent issue.

    Though would Adam X really be classified as a Summers Brother, considering how I believe Nicieza intended for him to be related to Scott and Alex via their mother...

    Just think, there could be an alternate universe out there where Nicieza never left the title at the point he did, stayed on, and made Adam X being a sibling of Scott and Alex a reality...

    wwk5d

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    1. That's an interesting point, and now that I think about it, the mystery character was never called a "Summers brother" in the comics themselves. Mister Sinister simply refers to Cyclops and his "brothers" without suggesting who the character's parents were.

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    1. ... when exactly did they retcon 30's scientist Herbie Wyndham having had interest in Nathaniel Essex' work?

      Essex kind of anal with his work being usurped, so his watching over HE is kind of plausible.

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    2. I know they interacted in the "Powerless" story that closed out Alan Davis's run circa 2000, but I'm not sure if that was the first time Sinister and the High Evolutionary crossed paths. I wonder if maybe it happened in THE FURTHER ADVENTURES OF CYCLOPS AND PHOENIX? I haven't read that in like 20 years, so I can't recall.

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  10. I can't say, these days, how many consecutive issues of the X-Men I bought in a row, though I can say, confidently, that I owned everything from #94 to Claremont's last issue of Uncanny, because I sold that whole lot to a local comics store for a decent haul in 2005 when I moved. I honestly don't recall when I tuned out of Uncanny the first time-I know I got through AoA and into the build up to Onslaught before it happened, though this blog might job my memory of when it came as we move forward. Sometime in 1996 will do. 1975 to 1996 without missing an issue of a title.

    However...

    I can tell you the first time I missed a core X-Men title without even trying. It's this one, and it was solely because of the cover. I didn't want to find out what Adam-X the Extreme was up to anyway, but that cover, with the ludicrous stretching of the logo, just turned me away.

    Now I am willing to admit my memory might be wonky, and perhaps I missed something earlier. (If I did, it was definitely on this book. Uncanny I had, shall we say, an Uncanny loyalty to.) But I remember seeing this on the shelves and just going "Not interested."

    I didn't appear to miss on much. I have to wonder just why Nicienza thought Adam-X was worthy of joining the Summers family. In fairness, I didn't like who wound up being the third Summers brother, and would have preferred for the subplot to fade away like so many others from the 90s, but jeez. What was he thinking?

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    1. I have to wonder just why Nicienza thought Adam-X was worthy of joining the Summers family.

      Itchy, Scratchy... Pootchie.

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