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Thursday, August 22, 2019

X-amining Gambit & the X-Ternals #4

"The Maze"
June 1995

In a Nutshell
Upon their return to Earth, Strong Guy betrays his teammates and turns both the M'Kraan Crystal and Magneto's son over to Apocalypse.

Writer: Fabian Nicieza
Penciler: Salvador Larroca
Inker: Al Milgrom
Letterer: Chris Eliopoulos
Colorist: Marie Javins
Editor: Bob Harras
The Mouse: Tom DeFalco

In the Morlock Tunnels, Dazzler & Exodus discover the remains of Nanny, but no sign of Magneto's son, Charles. Later, Apocalypse interrogates Rictor, who tells him of how he chased Gambit & Lila through the Morlock Tunnels upon their return to Earth, hoping to destroy the X-Ternals in Apocalypse's name. Unknownst to him, however, Gambit was leading Rictor away from Jubilee, who possessed both the M'Kraan crystal shard and Charles. But when she runs into Strong Guy, he reveals that he's working for Apocalypse, and takes both from her. Later, Gambit & Lila run into Strong Guy, and Gambit realizes Strong Guy is running in the wrong direction. Just then, Rictor catches up to them, and reveals that Strong Guy is working for him, During the ensuing fight, the tunnel collapses, and Gambit is forced to choose between saving Lila, and taking Charles & the shard from Strong Guy, who is supporting one of the columns. At Strong Guy's urging, Gambit saves Lila, trusting that Strong Guy will be able protect Charles from the collapsing tunnel. Rictor finishes his story, believing Gambit died in the collapse, and expecting a reward from Apocalypse. Instead, Apocalypse kills him for failing to realize the importance of the shard & Charles, both of which Apocalypse now possesses, thanks to Strong Guy. Back in the tunnels, Dazzler & Exodus discover Gambit & Lila, and proceed to take them back to the X-Mansion as Gambit hopes his choice hasn't come at the cost of the entire universe.

Firsts and Other Notables
Though he's technically already written his last issue of a series titled X-Force, if you consider Gambit and the X-Ternals an extension of that book, then this represents Fabian Nicieza's last issue of X-Force, as Jeph Loeb will take over as the writer of that series when it returns from the "Age of Apocalypse" next month.

This issue reveals that Strong Guy is the traitor on the X-Ternals, as he was caught by Apocalypse's forces in the not-to-distant past and agreed to work with them in order to capture Gambit, on the condition that Lila and the rest of his team went unharmed. He was then equipped with the tracking device that enabled Rictor to keep track of him over the last few issues.

Rictor is killed by Apocalypse for being too focused on catching Gambit, ultimately, in Apocalypse's estimation, a relatively petty thief, while failing to recognize the importance of Charles.

A Work in Progress
Apocalypse notes that the shard of crystal the X-Ternals brought back is rapidly expanding.

Young Love
It’s said here that Exodus & Dazzler are lovers, something I don’t think had been previously established elsewhere.

Gambit, forced to choose between saving Lila and taking Charles and the M'Kraan Crystal from Strong Guy, chooses Lila, finally able to reciprocate her feelings for him.

Austin's Analysis
Though Nicieza, for the most part, lands the emotional beats, structurally this issue is kind of a confusing mess. It's told both via flashback, with Apocalypse interrogating Rictor (in a manner suggesting Rictor doesn't know Apocalypse is the one who is interrogating him, even though the reader does, which is an...interesting choice), and in media res (with Rictor's tale picking up at some point shortly after he and the X-Ternals emerge from Lila's portal back on Earth, and after the X-Ternals encounter Nanny & Charles and Gambit gives the crystal & Charles to Jubilee then leaves with Lila to draw out Rictor, meaning all of that happens off-panel and is detailed only via later dialogue). The end result creates the sensation that pages are missing from the story, or out of order (or, given that last issue concluded with the team plunging into Lila's portal, and now they're running through the Morlock Tunnels, that an issue was missed), which is never a good feeling for any issue to generate, let alone the last of a series.

Thankfully, Nicieza does make most of the emotional beats land. Gambit choosing to save Lila is far more effective than it has any right to be, considering Lila's only real notable characterization is "wants to be loved by Gambit" (then again, maybe that's why it works, as she finally gets what she wants, twinged with a bit of bittersweetness as we know from last issue that this universe is doomed no matter what), whereas both Guido's anguish over having to betray the rest of the team, particularly Jubilee, and his hatred of Gambit, is palpable; it also comes across like he's mad at himself for loving Lila in the first place, and allowing that desire to drive him to these ends. All in all, there's enough emotional weight to to this issue to give this bizarre little series in which Gambit and a random assortment of characters get dropped into a version of the original "Phoenix Saga" a satisfying conclusion, even as, structurally, this final issue is more complicated than it needs to be.

Next Issue
Tomorrow, X-Calibre #4. Next week, another trip to the AoA past in X-Men Chronicles #2!

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  1. As a preteen in the mid-90s, I was a huge fan of Gambit, and I had (and still have!) the gold-foiled collected edition of this series. I read it many times, and so the fact that the last issue is kind of a mess in terms of the narrative structure escaped me (I know the story so well) until now. One thing that bothered me about it though is that such a big deal is made of Lila and Gambit’s relationship, and then Lila is just missing in X-Men: Omega. I think there are other characters who similarly do not make it to the finale with no explanation (memory says Dazzler and Exodus are also on that list). Speaking of which, I think it was established in an early issue of Amazing X-Men that they are a coupe. There’s a scene where Exodus takes a cigarette from Dazzler’s mouth and complains of how they affect her breath. I have been greatly enjoying your recaps of the AoA titles and am a bit bummed they haven’t generated more comments. Almost 25 years later, I still love this story very much.

  2. Are you going to cover the "Tales from the Age of Apocalypse" issues? I never read them, but apparently the two issue series was released in December 1996, one year after the AoA event ended. Might be worth a look.

    1. I hope he does! I had a soft spot for the Corsair-brood story in terms of Cyclops’ development into a good guy in AOA.

    2. I would like to read about these issues too.

    3. I will be covering all the post-"Age of Apocalypse" issues/series set in this reality, though not until we reach the point of their respective publication dates (so when we get to the December '96 books, that's when I'll review TALES FROM THE AGE OF APOCALYPSE).

    4. I'm already looking forward, Austin. Thanks for this blog that I read everyday.

  3. Not related to this particular book, but so strange that Psylocke was completely absent from the original event. I know she was added later, but was she even mentioned anywhere in the original?

  4. Although a fairly common trope in fiction, the “evil ruler/criminal/dictator who kills underlings for failures” is actually a classic recipe in real life for them to be overthrown or murdered.

    If I’m not mistaken, this comic, Weapon X and X-Caliber were the ones I least cared back in the day, having bought only the first and last issues, and liking neither.

    Indeed, it’s very odd that Psylocke, who was a huge character in the early 90s, was completely ignored by all creative teams. No one wanted to work with her in the Age of Apocalypse? It’s quite possible that this is why she became less and less important in the years afterward, fading into the background. The appeal she may have had for Jim Lee may not have been the same for the creators who came after him.

    P.S.: Age of Apocalypse is a series that should be remade and improved upon, although present day SJW Marvel would certainly ruin it by turning it into an allegory of Trump’s administration and white people being evil. I’m Brazilian and I’m tired of all nonsense going on in Marvel in the past 10 years (which could extend to 19 years, if we go back to the core of the problem: the Ultimate line).

    1. You sound like you voted for Jair Bolsonaro.

    2. "P.S.: Age of Apocalypse is a series that should be remade and improved upon, although present day SJW Marvel would certainly ruin it by turning it into an allegory of Trump’s administration and white people being evil."

      What the f*** are you even talking about?

      Never mind that I honestly don't understand how it's possible for someone to hate progressives but like the X-Men -- LITERAL social justice warriors fighting for social justice for a minority group, rather than letting them be slapped with labels that make it easy to ignore their humanity (like "mutie" or "illegals"), or banned from military service, or kept from legal protections for things like being fired for being a mutant, or discriminated against by businesses. Put all of that aside... why even bring it up, in the comments section for a random AoA issue? Save it for the National Review comments section.

      Besides, Marvel already did their allegory of Trump's administration -- it was called Dark Reign, and the narcissistic, pathologically-lying sociopath got his ass kicked in the end. It was great.

    3. "Never mind that I honestly don't understand how it's possible for someone to hate progressives"
      hahah yeah really - how can anyone possibly hate people trying so hard to bully a person for voicing his perfectly valid opinion.

    4. Assuming it's valid to begin with...

    5. This comment has been removed by the author.

    6. If Age of Apocalypse was remade in the 70s, SJW Marvel wouldn't ruin it by making an allegory for Nixon and his corrupt Administration.
      If AOA was remade in the 60s, SJW Marvel would ruin it by making an allegory for the Vietnam War.
      If SJW Marvel remade AOA in the 1950s it would make it an allegory for the McCarthy Administration or nuclear annihilation.
      If SJW Marvel remade AOA in the 1940s, they would ruin it by making it an allegory for the Holocaust, Japanese internment, or or maybe even refer to Nazis by having the heroes punch them out on the cover.

      It's as if super heroes have been social justice Warriors since June 1938 or something. It's also as if the X-Men have been an allegory for prejudice against minorities since their first appearance.

    7. Ahh, I see now how Brazil got its president and the Amazon is on fire.

      Anyone who doesn't get that superheroes are by nature social justice warriors amuses the hell out of me.

    8. It was sold to me as a masculine power fantasy goddamnit!

      No, but: here's a take from Nov 2016 that makes an intriguing counterpoint:

      One of the enduring issues with American superhero stories is figuring out how to deal with the fact that superhero stories aren’t especially democratic. They’re actually kind of, well, fascist. As the Mary Sue pointed out:

      Superhero narratives are politically fascist. That’s not really a criticism, it’s just a statement of fact. Integral elements of the genre, such as the nearly unlimited power and authority superheroes are handed with little to no oversight, are inherently authoritarian concepts.

      The superhero fantasy, in which a single person with enormous power takes on responsibility for all us weak mortals and fixes everything, is also a fantasy of fascist authoritarianism. And sure, a fundamental part of the superhero fantasy is that the superhero is too moral to abuse his power — but when fascism is selling itself, it promises never to abuse its power either. That’s part of the appeal.

    9. The fact that the ones who criticized me for complaining about the overly politicization of comics in present day Marvel have used my own country’s national politics to attack me and/or essentially told me to shut up actually proves my points. Thank you all.

      Anyone who read Claremont/Cockrum/Byrne/Smith X-Men will notice that mutant prejudice and politics is rarely mentioned. Almost all stories (except for very few ones) are about evil mutants, adventures across the globe, space travel, alien or demon attacks, Savage Land, cosmic threats, etc.

    10. Forgive us for not wanting to endorse support of racist, homophobic, misogynistic, etc bullsh*t, which is really what people who whine about SJW are really complaining about. But keep playing the victim card, if that's what it take to get you through the day.

      Also, you're countries national politics are quite frankly, embarrassing. And sad. But hey, like people on the right would say, ef you're feelings, right?

      "Anyone who read Claremont/Cockrum/Byrne/Smith X-Men"

      Rarely mentioned is a very skewed look at those stories. And discounting everything that came after those stories? Whatever, focus on a few years of the franchise while disregarding the majority of it.

    11. Sorry, your country's, not you're countries.

    12. “ of racist, homophobic, misogynistic, etc bullsh*t, which is really what people who whine about SJW are really complaining about.”


      “Also, you're countries national politics are quite frankly, embarrassing. And sad.”


      Notice that I made a brief comment, as a foreigner, of how annoying it is to see present-day Marvel Comics overly fixated in present-day U.S. politics. Just because of this simple comment, I was viciously attacked by a few commentators, who essentially told me to silence myself, one even implying that I’m “racist, homophobic, [and] misogynistic” and speaking awful things about my country, in what can only be seen as a sign of unrestrained intolerance and xenophobia.

      This is why comics are dying. They let people who are truly intolerant and aggressive take rein and scare average people like me. No wonder I prefer simpler times, when Claremont, Cockrum, Byrne, Smith, Romita Jr, Silvestri and Lee were involved in the X-Men franchise.

    13. No wonder I prefer simpler times, when Claremont, Cockrum, Byrne, Smith, Romita Jr, Silvestri and Lee were involved in the X-Men franchise.

      Yes, the famously safe, apolitical era of X-Men when Nightcrawler was chased by a mob for looking different, Storm visited the ghetto, a glimpse of the future revealed a racist dystopia, a character was revealed to be a Holocaust survivor, an outright condemnation of the religious right was released as a graphic novel, outsiders were driven into the sewers to form their own separate community, two full pages were dedicated to characters visiting the Holocaust Museum, a kid bullied for being different committed suicide in one spinoff book, a racist ad campaign was revealed to be part of a plot to gin up hysteria in another spinoff book, the heroes became de facto terrorist cell working to bring down an apartheid government, and a disembodied telepathic villain was introduced as a literal hate monster.

      Bruh, do you even READ X-Men?!

  5. Not sure why Psylocke is absent, but there is a random purple-haired woman as part of the Human Council in X-Men Alpha. She only appears on one panel, but maybe this is her?

    1. I always thought she was a random purple-haired woman on the double page spread in Weapon X #2.

    2. Hama may have intended that to be here, but, for what it's worth, the Marvel Chronology Project doesn't consider Psylocke to appear in "Age of Apocalypse" until the later miniseries.

      I have no idea why Psylocke was excluded from the event (and haven't come across any creator thoughts on the matter), aside from mild speculation that the creators felt the need to limit the telepaths in the story in order to make it harder to prove Bishop's story (thereby making Magneto believing him more an act of faith/hope).


  6. If you’d asked me which title was the AOA version of / stand-in for X-Force, I probably would’ve had to match every other series with its (more obvious) equivalent before settling on this one by process of elimination instead of just remembering it.

    Why is Guido wearing a Cyclops visor?


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