In a Nutshell
The existence of the Legacy Virus is made public, leading to the death of a mutant trying to reach the X-Men.
Writers: Scott Lobdell & Fabian Nicieza
Pencilers: Bryan Hitch, Jeff Matsuda, Gary Frank, Mike McKone, Terry Dodson, Ben Herrera, Paul Pelletier
Inkers: Al Milgrom, P. Craig Russell, Cam Smith, Mark Farmer, Mark McKenna, Tom Palmer, Tim Townsend, Hector Collazo
Lettering: Richard Starkings & Comicraft
Coloring: Steve Buccellato & Electric Crayon
Chief: Bob Harras
On a dark & stormy night, Jean Grey visits Wolverine in the woods outside the X-Mansion. She urges him to come inside, but he refuses so long as Sabretooth is there. Inside, Bishop discusses his recent nightmares involving another world with Xavier. Elsewhere, a young mutant named Dennis, heading to Xavier's school in the hopes of finding the X-Men, stops at a diner. In Wyoming, X-Factor stops Mystique from bombing a dam. At the X-Mansion, Cyclops & Beast are delivering food to Storm, who is watching over a comatose Gambit, when they're attacked by Bishop, who briefly believes them to be servants of Apocalypse. In the Morlock tunnels, a woman named Marrow begins a ceremony to summon the first Morlock. In Florida, Rogue & Iceman are dancing at a bar when a special news report from Trish Tilby begins. In her report, she informs the public of the existence of the Legacy Virus. When his fellow diner patrons begin speaking out against mutants in the wake of the report, Dennis slips out, but his absence is noted.
At the X-Mansion, the X-Men's dismay over Trish's report is disrupted when Xavier suddenly senses the arrival on Earth of Nate Grey. In England, Emplate visits Gayle Edgerton. In New York, the diner patrons catch up to Dennis, and begin savagely beating him, drawing Xavier's telepathic attention. Elsewhere, Arcade remotely detonates the Murderworld facility being used by X-Force. In Wyoming, Havok suddenly loses control of his power, destroying the dam Mystique meant to bomb. In Genosha, Excalibur draws closer to uncovering Sugar Man's role in the development of the country, much to his dismay. In orbit, Colossus leads a contingent of Acolytes into space to investigate a nearby chunk of ice, which reveals a figure trapped inside. In the Morlock Tunnels, Marrow meets the first Morlock, Dark Beast. Back in New York, Xavier & Storm race to Dennis' side. They arrive too late, and soon, the rest of the X-Men arrive as Xavier cradles the body of Dennis Hogan, telling them they must fight for a better world, because heaven help them if this is their future.
Firsts and Other Notables
Written by Lobdell & Nicieza and featuring a variety of different pencilers & inkers, this issue is intended to establish the new status quos of the various series in the wake of "Legion Quest" and "Age of Apocalypse", lay the groundwork for a handful of stories that will unfold in this books, and establish that a group of "Age of Apocalypse" refugees managed to come to the prime reality.
To that end, each series gets at least a few pages highlighting it's respective characters. Wolverine is shown to be living in the woods outside the mansion, due to a combination of his disappointment in giving in to his animal instincts and almost killing Sabretooth (Sabretooth specific fate isn't revealed, but he is established as having survived the claw-through-the-head Wolverine gave him), and a refusal to share the mansion with Sabretooth (his solo series, which will explore this dynamics further, will also establish that he has become generally more feral/animalistic since the battle with Sabretooth).
Gambit is in a coma, the result of his kiss with Rogue shortly before reality ended in X-Men #41, while Rogue & Iceman are out road-tripping, as a result of Rogue having put Gambit in the coma and seen something in his memories which freaked her out (Iceman is mostly along to keep an eye on Rogue).
X-Factor remains in pursuit of Mystique (during which, somewhat oddly, they help protect a Sentinel processing plant with a surprising amount of casualness). She is attacked by a shadowy figure which knocks her out, enabling X-Factor to grab her (the identity of the shadowy figure attacking Mystique or its reasons for doing so are never officially revealed; as with most dangling plot threads and half-formed mysteries from this era, most people assume it's Onslaught or someone Onslaught-adjacent).
Forge wonders why he’s even thinking about sticking his neck out for Mystique again (a reference to their past together), which is also setting up her upcoming role in X-Factor.
Finally, Havok loses control of his power, blowing up a damn; he will continue to struggle with them in subsequent issues of X-Factor, eventually leading to his departure from the team.
Jeff Matsuda, one of the early artists to try to cash in on the demand for manga-inspired art in the wake of Joe Madureira's success, draws the X-Factor scenes; he will become the book’s regular artist after Steve Epting.
The Generation X setup involves Emplate visiting a woman named Gayle Edgerton , making her first appearance; who has a past with Chamber. We'll eventually learn she was Chamber's girlfriend who was injured when his power first manifested, and she will join Emplate's group of Hellions in the near future.
X-Force is forced to vacate their Murderworld base in this issue (when Arcade discovers they're using it and blows it up), bringing to an end that short-lived status quo. Cyclops then appears and offers them a place at the mansion, setting up their move there as seen in X-Force #44.
The reality-ending cliffhanger from X-Force in which Sunspot was revealed to be Reignfire is hand-waved away, with Sunspot a part of the team again and dialogue noting that Cable helped him get back to normal. This will be explored further (but not by much...) in X-Force.
Similarly, the cliffhanger that found Excalibur plummeting to Genosha in the crashing Midnight Runner is resolved off-panel (thanks to the two week time jump), with Excalibur (or, at least, Kitty, Wisdom & Douglock) shown to have survived. They are digging into the history of Genosha, which serves as a vehicle to reveal that Sugar Man survived the end of "Age of Apocalypse" and is now in Genosha (teased here, it will eventually be revealed that he arrived twenty years in the past, and is responsible for developing the mutate bonding process that the Genegineer used to create Genosha's race of mutant slaves, in arguably the dumbest "let's retcon the surviving Age of Apocalypse characters into past X-Men continuity!" retcon.
In addition to Sugar Man, this issue also serves to establish the presence of the rest of the "Age of Apocalypse" survivors. Nate Grey’s arrival on Earth (falling in from space where, we’ll learn, he and Holocaust were dropped by their shard of M’Kraan Crystal) is detected as a massive surge of psionic energy that affects the X-Men’s telepaths. His story will continue in X-Man, which continues publication following the end of "Age of Apocalypse" for reasons known to neither gods nor men.
Holocaust, meanwhile, remains in outer space, frozen in a chunk of space ice, where he is retrieved by the Acolytes; his story will continue in Adjectiveless X-Men.
Finally, Beast (heretoforth referred to as Dark Beast, to differentiate him from his prime counterpart) is revealed to be the "First Morlock"; later stories will establish that he, like Sugar Man, arrived in the past of the prime reality, and was responsible for the creation of the Morlocks, which is then used as a retroactive explanation for "Mutant Massacre" (in that Mr. Sinister, recognizing in the Morlocks similar genetic manipulation to his own as a result of the Sinister-taught Dark Beast, orders them wiped out), making this retcon only slightly less dumb than the "Sugar Man is behind Genosha!" one, only because Dark Beast is, at least, an actual character and not just a sentient tongue and because providing at least some nominal explanation for the Morlock Massacre (beyond, you know, "Mr. Sinister is just evil, maybe?") isn't a terrible thing. But the idea that Dark Beast "created" the Morlock is abjectly stupid, because there's not really anything to create; they're just a group of mutants who fled the surface world and congregated together in the sewers (to that end, even later stories will retcon the retcon, and establish that Dark Beast didn't so much create the Morlocks as experiment on some of them, allowing the motivation for the Morlock massacre to stand while injecting a bit of common sense back into the Morlock's origin).
In addition to Gayle Edgerton, two other notable characters make their first appearance in this issue. First is Marrow, a Morlock with weird bone protrusions (she technically has the power of "controlled bone growth", which basically means she can pull bones out of her body and use them as weapons, like if Wolverine used his bone claws as throwing knives) who is the grown-up version of Sarah, the young Morlock child who appeared in Cable #15 (that story ended with her rejoining the Morlocks in the interdimensional realm they were sent by Mikhail Rasputin; here, she is returning, with time having past quicker there, hence her accelerated age).
Marrow will serve as one of the more immediate post-"Age of Apocalypse" villains, then stick around on the fringes of the series for a while before eventually joining the X-Men during the short-lived Steven Seagle/Joe Casey runs, after which she'll be a part of the team more or less until Grant Morrison's run begins.
The other notable debut is Blaquesmith, the diminutive, chalk-white character with bulbous observing Nate's fall to Earth. He will become a recurring supporting character in Cable (retconned into having been a sort of Stick/Yoda-like mentor figure to young Cable) and stick around, off and on, until the "Counter X" revamp.
The Legacy Virus plotline enters its third and final stage this issue, with knowledge of the virus (and the fact that it can infect humans) is made public (via Beast’s old girlfriend and former X-Factor supporting character) Trish Tilby.
Marrow tells Dark Beast that half a dozen fellow Morlocks are waiting to attack humanity; this is a reference to Gene Nation, the group Marrow will lead which will debut in Uncanny X-Men.
Dennis’ death, and Xavier’s inability to do anything to help him, will later be cited as one of the inciting incidents that leads to Xavier’s transformation into Onslaught.
The cover gimmick for this issue is a "foil acetate" wraparound cover, which basically means it has a transparent cover with the logo on it over the regular cover featuring the artwork. It is, of course, also a double-sized issue.
A Work in Progress
The issue opens two weeks after the events of "Legion Quest", with narrative captions explaining that the X-Men in Israel experienced the end of reality, and then a moment later, everything was back to normal.
In a nice touch, when Jean is searching the woods for Wolverine, she is holding three different flashlights around herself telekinetically.
Bishop has been experiencing flashes of memories from his AoA counterpart since the X-Men’s return from Israel, something which has (conveniently) made his mind difficult for Xavier to read.
Gambit & Storm’s bond, rarely referenced of late, gets name-checked here.
Upon seeing Trish’s news report, Xavier asks Cyclops to contact Cable for him; this is, I believe, a reference to the whole “Cable May hold the key to a Legacy Virus cure” plotline introduced in X-Men #30 (which ultimately goes nowhere). In this issue, it also sets up Cyclops being on hand to invite X-Force to the mansion after their Murderworld base is destroyed.
One of the bigots who attack Dennis earlier suggests putting all the mutants on an island, then killing them, with another suggesting that Genosha should be the island; many years later, Grant Morrison will kick off his X-Men run with Cassandra Nova wiping out all the mutants on Genosha, a sizeable portion of the overall population.
This is less a cohesive story than a collection of teases for other series and set ups for upcoming plotlines. It's the kind of thing that Marvel would come to do often in the 2010s, with such an issue accompanying each of their post-linewide crossover rebranding/relaunching efforts every 18 months or so, but it's still relatively novel here, and there is something entertaining in getting a bunch of new plotline teases and status quos in one fell swoop, thereby allowing each of the various series to dive right into their new post-"Age of Apocalypse" stories right off the bat (even if this also robs the various pre-AoA cliffhangers of some their urgency, having them all resolved - at least in terms of the immediate ramifications - off panel).
In as much as there is a narrative spine to this issue, it comes in the form of the tragic story of Dennis Hogan, a mutant who just wanted to reach Xavier's school and, he hoped (based on rumors), the X-Men, but is slain by a group of bigots whose fear & hatred of mutants is churned up by the Legacy Virus news. While some of the X-books (mostly X-Factor) have dallied with the "sworn to protect a world that fears and hates them" element of the franchise off and on of liate, for the most part, the main X-books haven't engaged with it very directly in a while, really since the '91 relaunch. That will change from this point onward, with human/mutant relations becoming a much bigger part of the franchise as a whole, playing a role in both "Onslaught" and "Operation: Zero Tolerance", the next two big linewide crossovers that will form the narrative spine of stories over the next few years. Dennis' story is sadly over, but it represents a shift that will will be felt for a while to come. In that regard, even if this isn't the most cohesive of issues, bouncing from plot point to plot point, from character to character, it is is a successful table-setter, not just for the way it sets up new stories for the various series, but the way it points a thematic way forward for the entire line.
Juggernaut utters a name but no one knows what it means yet in Uncanny X-Men #322, things fall apart for Havok in X-Factor #112, and Nate Grey finds himself on a whole new world in X-Man #5!
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