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Wednesday, February 13, 2019

X-amining Uncanny X-Men #320

"The Son Rises in the East"
January 1995

In a Nutshell
"Legion Quest" begins as Legion heads into the past.

Plot: Scott Lobdell
Dialogue: Mark Waid
Penciler: Roger Cruz
Inker: Tim Townsend
Letterer: Chris Eliopoulos
Colors: Steve Buccellato
Editor: Bob Harras
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco

As Legion easily overpowers the X-Men, Storm realizes the X-Men have been fooling themselves that they could overcome him. She thinks back on their meeting with Gabrielle Haller and the combined forces of Israel & Palestine, brought together in the wake of Legion creating a large black dome in the Negev desert filled with off-the-chart energy readings. With all the troops sent against him getting chewed up, Storm declares that the X-Men will take care of the situation. But now, Storm is less confidant as Legion briefly teleports her to the past, to just moments before the plane crash that killed her parents. Returning to the present, he tells her the trip was no illusion, then declares he's going back in time to mutantkind's most critical moment. Quickly, Storm orders Psylocke to telepathically link herself to Bishop, who is absorbing Legion's chronal energy. Through Bishop, Psylocke is able bring along herself, Storm & Iceman as Legion disappears into the past, leaving behind only Jean Grey, who manages to telepathically alert Xavier to the situation before passing out. Meanwhile, Shi'ar Empress Lilandra is awoken by Jahf, first guardian of the M'Kraan crystal, who declares he must speak with her. When Lilandra asks what could possibly be so urgent as to force Jahf to abandon his sacred post, he declares nothing, save the end of all that is.

Firsts and Other Notables
"Legion Quest" begins here, a five part story running between this series, Adjectiveless and one issue of Cable (with some unofficial tie-ins, like X-Factor #108-109 that led into this issue) which kicks off "Age of Apocalypse" by its conclusion. It involves Legion going back in time to kill Magneto (so as to enable his father to spend more time with Legion, since he won't have to devote so much time to fighting Magneto) and the efforts of the X-Men (both in the present and a smaller group who follow Legion back to the past) to stop him, as Legion's machinations threaten the existence of all reality.

This issue concludes with Legion traveling back in time, with Bishop, Storm, Psylocke and Iceman following along in his wake (they will remain in the past for the duration of the story).

It also lays the groundwork for the "threat to all reality" stakes of the story via the return of Jahf, the diminutive (and, technically, robotic) first guardian of the M'Kraan crystal (Jahf was last seen being destroyed by Banshee, leading to the call up of the second guardian, Modt, way back in issue #108). The idea that later chapters will put forth is that, without the X-Men to contain the power of the M'Kraan crystal, unleashed by Shi'ar emperor D'Ken, at the climax of the original (non-Dark) "Phoenix Saga", it will wash over the universe, bringing everything into itself by turning reality to crystal (which ties in with the crystal motif present in the various Legion/Destiny interactions, going all the way back to Uncanny #255). Because Legion's time-traveling efforts threaten the creation of the X-Men (and will, we'll see, ultimately cause the X-Men as we know them to never exist), they thus also effect the stability of the crystal and the existence of this reality, prompting Jahf's visit to Lilandra here.

(Of course, the whole "Legion prevents the formation of the X-Men so reality is rewritten as the Age of Apocalypse" thing that is at the heart of this story isn't at all how time travel works in the Marvel Universe, but we'll get to that).

When Storm references Legion’s past history of schizophrenia, a footnote points readers to X-Men Archives, a high-end (and short-lived) reprint series from this time featuring card stock covers along with the now/standard glossy paper. It first reprints Legion’s introductory arc in New Mutants (and Uncanny #161) across four issues, then reprints some of the Alan Moore/Alan Davis Captain Britain stories before folding.

Mark Waid is credited with scripting this issue, making it his first work on one of the main X-books (he previously wrote the second Deadpool miniseries); this will eventually lead to his ultimately short-lived run as the writer Adjectiveless circa "Onslaught".

A copy of this issue with a gold logo was included with an issue of Wizard.

Creator Central
Joe Madureira provides the cover, but unoffical series co-artist Roger Cruz handles the interior art, because apparently drawing two consecutive issues means Madureira needs four issues off to catch up.

The Chronology Corner
This marks the third story in as many series (and across just two months) that finds Storm in the Middle East, following the contemporaneous Cable story and X-Men Unlimited #7. Obviously, since this leads right into the reality-rewrite of Age of Apocalypse, it occurs after all those other stories. But still, Storm might want to consider renting an apartment in Cairo or something.

Collection Recollection
This is one of those issues which, for whatever reason, I still have specific memories of the circumstances surrounding its purchase. Like some previous notable issues, I remember buying this at the Mall of the America (though I don't recall from which of the mall's then-three possible options it was), along with Wizard's 1994 Halloween issue (#40), while at the mall on a Friday night with my dad and a friend to see Mary Shelly's Frankenstein (the one with Kenneth Branagh & Robert De Niro as the Monster).

Young Love
The recent "for realz this time" breakup between Xavier & Lilandra (in X-Men Unlimited #5) is referenced.

For Sale
There’s an ad for Star Trek: Generations, the first film featuring the Next Generation crew, in this issue.

Who wants X-Men fruit snacks?

ETM lays out all the upcoming Age of Apocalypse titles (while of course promising they’ll all be priceless collectors items so why not order fifty?), including the use of “The Mutants” as a unifying title for the two X-Men replacement books that is ultimately dropped.

The latest iteration of the Fleer Ultra X-Men trading cards gets an ad too.

Bullpen Bulletins
The X-Facts page this month functions as a quasi letters page for the Adventures of Cyclops & Phoenix miniseries. It also teases the Age of Apocalypse version of Sunfire (in general, both this page and the main letters page continue to play coy regarding Age of Apocalypse, even though it’s just a month away, the press (like Wizard) had been covering it relentlessly, and there’s ads elsewhere in the book laying it all out.

Austin's Analysis
Though it formally kicks off "Legion Quest", the story which segues into "Age of Apocalypse" and the X-line's most ambitious crossover yet, there's not a whole lot to this issue. There's no subplots, no cutaways to other characters or stories (save for the closing pages, which are really just about raising the stakes of the story). Lobdell and Waid try to shake things up a bit by cutting back and forth between the X-Men's battle in the present and the events immediately preceding it (perhaps also foreshadowing Legion's time travel in the process), but for the most part, this is just 22 pages of the X-Men fighting Legion.

Which is fine. In terms of "Legion Quest", this issue has two jobs: establish Legion as a significant threat, and pull the trigger on the plan Legion's been going on about for a couple months in X-Factor (and X-Men). And for the most part, it accomplishes those goals. It concludes with Legion going back in time, and the events leading up to that do a lot to sell the idea that a fully-integrated Legion is a powerhouse threat, as he doesn't so much defeat the X-Men as not even bother to pay attention to them (in this way, the lack of cutaways help reinforce the threat: Legion is such a big deal, the X-Men's efforts to stop him deserve our undivided attention). So while this issue can be accurately described as little more than "the X-Men fight Legion", it at least presents that plot pretty effectively.

Next Issue
Tomorrow, X-Factor fights an alien in X-Factor #110. Friday, Wolverine runs into an old enemy in Wolverine #89. Next week, X-Men (vol. 2) #40.

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  1. I imagine is was quite frustrating reading this at the time, as the storyline is just starting and the ETM/Wizard stuff has already spoiled the ending (Prof X dies instead of Magneto).

    1. Yes. I remember reading this comic when it was released, and thinking that the ad gave away the ending. It was maddening.
      I don't know what Marvel was thinking.
      They surely could have advertised the "Age of Apocalypse" event without spoiling the ending of the "Legion Quest" story.

      I am not the same Anonymous, by the way. I'm not answering myself.

    2. You are Legion, for you are many.

    3. For what it's worth, I did read this (and Age of Apocalypse) as it was released and I never once batted an eye at knowing the end of the story. It never even occurred to me to be mad that I knew Xavier was going to die and kick of AoA before I cracked open this issue. I was just happy to know what was happening, and excited to see how it all played out (for example, while I knew the general thrust of "Legion Quest" months before it started, I didn't know the details, like how the M'Kraan Crystal played into it. Discovering that, which was a genuine surprise, around the same time I was reading the original Phoenix Saga via CLASSIC X-MEN back issues, was enough to blow me away).

    4. I had the same reaction. Knowing Xavier was going to die didn't feel like a spoiler, for whatever reason. It was sort of a case of, "I know where we're going, but I still want to see how we get there" or something.

  2. "Joe Madureira provides the cover, but unoffical series co-artist Roger Cruz handles the interior art, because apparently drawing two consecutive issues means Madureira needs four issues off to catch up."

    "via the return of Jahf"

    That scene reflects one of Lobdell's more annoying tics, wherein 2 characters just act really stupid around each other (or at least, one of them does). I mean, other than to heighten the drama, I guess, why wouldn't Gladiator have just woken up Lilandra to see him? And why couldn't Jahf wait a minute or 2 for Gladiator to have woken her up?

    "And for the most part, it accomplishes those goals"

    A perfectly cromulent first issue of the lead-in story to a major crossover.

    Say what you will about his abilities as an artist, but he seemed to be a faster artist than Madureira.

    "There’s an ad for Star Trek: Generations, the first film featuring the Next Generation crew, in this issue."

    The movie itself was ok, but I love that ad.

    "including the use of “The Mutants” as a unifying title for the two X-Men replacement books that is ultimately dropped"

    Also for the Gen X replacement book as well.

    1. I don't know, it's unsensible now that you point it our, but having Jahf do the announcement harks back (as noted) to the Phoenix Saga and the high stakes of M'Kraan kind, whereas if it was merely Gladiator who did the informing it would feel like the time when he came to tell Lilandra that Galactus ate the Skrulls, a much more meh case that got settled in court.

      I don't know if Age of Apocalypse ultimately came to be the greatest thing ever done with the X-Men, but at least they got their ambitions set to the right level (and also delivered some) to justify calling back to the more important moments in the X-history.

    2. I suspect Marvel knew just how slow Joe Mad was, and they wanted him to draw all four AoA issues, so they gave him this extended break on UNCANNY to allow enough lead time for him to get all four ASTONISHING X-MEN chapters in the can. In retrospect, I'd say that was the right strategy.

      (Plus, as a teen reading this stuff, I loved Roger Cruz quite a bit, so while I did like Mad better, it didn't feel like a huge loss if Cruz was covering for him.)

  3. I believe Jo Mad was around 17-20 at this time, still really young and for the most part, self taught. I'm not shocked that he needed so much time to finish books. He became the next IT artist upon landing Uncanny and only having done an internship at Marvel, it's amazing the raw talent he had. It's like when LeBron was playing basketball in high school against NBA guys and winning. He was so talented that as a teenager he was better than adult grown men that had been doing it their whole life. Or like Weezer where Rivers Cuomo was still in high school when the Blue album released. Amazing these guys that have so much talent at such a young age.

    Cruz is a great replacement for him, he has the ability to mimic a Manga or Lee style and from what I hear, was known as a quick penciller and that goes a long ways. I'm friends with artist Tyler Kirkham and he told me early on that he was popular with a lot of editors because he was fast and that got him a lot of jobs.

    1. I'm somewhat sympathetic to Joe Mad - what teenager, when offered UNCANNY, is going to turn it down - but at the same time, it's not like he got any better with deadlines as he got older. And I'm really more irritated with editorial for trotting him out as the series' regular artist, knowing full well he couldn't keep to that schedule.

      Cruz does make for a pretty decent replacement/co-artist, though humorously enough, I don't think he was much older that Madureira at the time. Between his mimicry and his speed, it's easy to see why he got so much work at this time.

    2. I've always wondered if the reason Joe Mad was rushed to be the "full time" artist on Uncanny was because of the worry that, without that, Image would have snatched him up the way they got just about anyone who made an impression. "Stick around and you'll stay on Uncanny" would be a hell of an incentive for someone as young as he was.

      There's also the fact that we're still *near* the bubble-the collapse had begun by now, it took going bankrupt for Marvel to really notice-and the industry was still in the area where the mindset was "people will wait months to see the hot artist" because of Image and their casual relationship to deadlines. Marvel had it good: they could trot out Joe Mad for big events and had a stable of artists that could step in so their books weren't months late.

      While by now Image's terminal tardiness was becoming a factor-Deathmate Red, anyone?-Marvel did have the option of having their red hot artists do work surrounded by months off without their books going away.

      The post bubble years were weird, though, I will give you that.

  4. This must have been where I dropped X-men, because I remember this issue, but I am certain I never read 'Age if Apocalypse'.

    By this period, I couldn't follow the story, and couldn't remember who any of the bad guys were. The art was messy and confusing, and the stories were incomprehensible.

    After this, it was Concrete, Madman and Vertigo, until Grant Morrison came aboard in 2001 (I did give Claremont's comeback a try, but gave up after 2 months).


    1. I was looking at some Concrete literally just a couple of days ago, wishing for more. Paul Chadwick’s apparently working on some but it’s been too long.


  5. // the lack of cutaways help reinforce the threat: Legion is such a big deal, the X-Men's efforts to stop him deserve our undivided attention //

    I don’t know if that was intentional in the way you describe, versus being a default effect of the writers simply feeling that the action demanded the full page count, but I like the observation.

    1. There's also the thing that the Claremontian "elsewheres" usually built up the plot for the upcoming issues, but now there is no need as we are fast approaching the end of time.

  6. This may have been my first exposure to Legion, aside from the few cameos leading up to the crossover. As I've noted many times, I never read NEW MUTANTS back issues when I was younger.

    I've never been entirely certain at what point I read the Claremont/Cockrum/Byrne stuff in relation to the ongoing titles, but I can now say with certainty that I had read it all by this point, because 16 year-old me was really excited by the appearance of Jahf and the mention of the M'Krann crystal! I loved the "Where No X-Man Has Gone Before" storyline, and seeing direct references to it in a then-current issue was a great thrill.

    1. My own introduction to Jahf and the M'Kraan was the less glamorous UXM #203. But an upcoming issue of the Legion Quest has a callback to that issue too, so...

  7. Next issue we get Ron Garney attempting his very best Andy Kubert impression. Just you wait...


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