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Wednesday, October 2, 2019

X-amining Uncanny X-Men #322

"Dark Walk"
July 1995

In a Nutshell
Archangel visits the site of a massacre while Juggernaut gets punched across the country by Onslaught.

Story: Scott Lobdell
Penciler: Tom Grummett
Inks: Green, Pennington, Ryan & Milgrom
Lettering Richard Starkings & Comicraft
Colors: Steve Buccellato
Separations: Digital Chameleon
Editor: Bob Harras

Plot
Archangel meets Charlotte Jones outside a nightclub. She takes him inside, where a dance floor packed with humans was slaughtered by a group of mutants. At the X-Mansion, Storm tells Wolverine he still has a place with the X-Men, but he insists that he can feel his humanity slipping away. In New Jersey, Beast & Bishop are leaving a movie when they see an object streak through the sky before crashing to the ground. Investigating, they discover the object was an unconscious Juggernaut. Upstate, Scott & Jean visit Jean's parents, and Jean shares the news of her sister's death. In Jersey, Juggernaut wakes up and promptly freaks out, triggering a fight with the X-Men that ends when Bishop absorbs energy from the city's electric grid and rechannels it back at Juggernaut again and again. Shocked to his senses, a weary Juggernaut tells Beast the last thing he knew, he was in Canada, intent on coming to warn the X-Men about the same person who punched him across the country: Onslaught.

Firsts and Other Notables
One issue back from "Age of Apocalypse", this issue kicks off the line's next big crossover, "Onslaught", by having Juggernaut turn up in New Jersey after having been punched across the country by an unseen whom Juggernaut was going to warn the X-Men about. When asked who attacked him, he utters one word: Onslaught.


Onslaught will, of course, turn out to be Professor X (or, more accurately, a physical manifestation of Xavier's dark side mixed with some essence of Magneto with which he was literally infected while wiping Magneto's mind in X-Men #25), making his attack on Juggernaut here one of the more effective Onslaught teases given that later revelation. But, of course, Scott Lobdell has somewhat infamously said (to the point where I'm comfortable repeating it without direct citation) that when he wrote this issue, he had absolutely no idea who or what Onslaught would be; he merely thought of the name and the idea of building up the unseen foe by having him completely overpower (freak out) Juggernaut to establish his power levels, and figured he would make up the rest of the story as he went along (an approach to storytelling that is perfectly valid and not inherently worse than any other storytelling approach even if asking me, as a writer, to wrap my head around how anyone could start writing a story without having some idea, however vague, of where it was going and how it would end would be like asking me to breathe underwater).

Jean visits her family and tells her dad what happened to her sister (as Banshee learned she’d been absorbed by the Phalanx in X-Men #36), an appreciative bit of continuity from Lobdell (even if the footnote is wrong). It would have been very easy to not follow up on Sara’s death (a plotline that dangled, mostly unacknowledged, for years before getting resolved in "Phalanx Covenant"), but Lobdell makes the time for some closure.


As they leave Jean’s parents, Scott & Jean are observed by a seemingly-invisible, seemingly-transparent individual. This is Noah Dubois, who first appeared as Senator Kelly's mysterious aid in issue #299. An agent of the interdimensional law firm Landau, Luckman & Lake, who will pop up again shortly in Wolverine.


Charlotte Jones, Archangel's one-time girlfriend last seen in issue #294, pops up in this issue. She rightly gives Archangel a hard time for not really talking to her since their aborted date to the Lila Cheney concert at the start of "X-Cutioner's Song".


Charlotte contacts Archangel in the wake of a massacre in which a large number of humans are slain by mutants. Next issue we'll learn that the Marrow-led Gene Nation is responsible for the attack, though curiously, the grim scene of the crime, which establishes that mutants are responsible for the killings and which still shocks Archangel, even given all he's seen through the years.

Because Joe Madureira manages to crank out four issues in row during "Age of Apocalypse", he apparently needs to take next three off, and won't return until issue #325. This one is pencilled by Tom Grummett, who, amongst other things, will go on to pencil much of Claremont's X-Men Forever series in the 00s. Like Rick Leonardi in the late 80s, Grummett, is one of those artists whose work I've come to appreciate more as I've gotten older, when I'm less bothered by the fact that it seems like I only ever saw him drawing an issue as a fill-in for the regular artist.

The Statement of Ownership in this issue lists the average number of copies sold in the preceding twelve months as 552,975, with the issue closes to filing selling 478,900, numbers any series today would kill to have (and which were probably vastly higher than the average Marvel book at this time, in the midst of the industry-wide bubble burst).

A Work in Progress
Wolverine says he can feel his humanity slipping away in the wake of his attack on Sabretooth.


In the wake of their base's destruction in X-Men Prime, X-Force is at the mansion (with this taking place ahead of X-Force #44 when the team formally moves into the school and adopts new costumes), and Siryn delivers a message to Storm, alerting her to what Archangel discovered.


Jean says that thanks to her psionic powers, she can remember everything; she may be speaking tongue-in-cheek, but that’s not really an established side-effect of telepathy.


The Grim 'n' Gritty 90s
Early in the issue, a police officer takes a shot at Archangel with a very normal shotgun - narration specifically says Archangel can hear the bullet entering the chamber - yet the shot is depicted as a blast of pink energy. It reminds of the kinds of things the Fox animated series in the 90s had to do to get episodes approved by network censors (in which case, the cop's mostly on-model shotgun in this issue would have been drawn as a futuristic laser gun to match its discharge).


Beast (using an image inducer to look like his pre-mutation self) & Bishop see Pulp Fiction. 



For Sale
Two things: Combos are awesome. Combo Man is also awesome.


There is perhaps nothing that says "1995" more than a series of metallic Batman Forever trading cards.


It's in the Mail
This issue features a two page letters page (in addition to the one page X-Facts), with letters reacting to the start of "Age of Apocalypse". Interestingly, at least a few of the writers are still buying the idea that the all the series have been cancelled and replaced and that AoA is the new, permanent state of being.

Austin's Analysis
Like X-Men Prime, there's a lot of setup in this issue, both in the short-term (launching the Gene Nation story arc that will carry the series through to issue #325) and long-term (Onslaught, obviously). But in and around that stuff, Lobdell dabbles in the kind of quieter, character-driven scenes that define his more overt Post-Crossover Quiet Issues, stuff like Storm reaching out to Wolverine or Charlotte Jones throwing shade at Archangel for seemingly forgetting about her following their date in issue #294. While Joe Madureira's absence is frustrating, Grummett makes for a worthy fill-in, his clean, classic style handling both the quieter scenes and the action-oriented Juggernaut fight with equal aplomb. That Juggernaut fight keeps this from being a true Lobdellian Post-Crossover Quiet issue, but even with it, compared to the Sturm und Drang of "Age of Apocalypse", this is still a relatively low-intensity issue, and a welcome one at that.

Next Issue
Tomorrow, Havok runs wild in Japan in X-Factor #112. Friday, Nate falls to Earth in X-Man #5. Next week, X-Men (vol. 2) #42!

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19 comments:

  1. I like this issue quite a bit for a number of reasons:

    1. Artwork: That cover from Joe Mad is terrific, and I love the Tom Grummett interiors, too. Grummett is one of my all-time favorite comic artists, though I've only ever read his Marvel work and not his considerable body of material at DC.

    2. The villain: This was for me, at the time, the first time I read an X-Men/Juggernaut fight "first run". Juggernaut hadn't appeared in either X-MEN or UNCANNY in years; certainly not since the launch of X-MEN #1!

    3. Costume changes: I've always liked this color scheme for Juggernaut. I'm not sure if this was the first place we saw it, but the yellow around his stomach looks really good to me and would remain for much of the 90s, as I recall, replacing the previous orange. And someone finally realized that if the blue-skinned Archangel is going to wear his classic Angel costume (which I love), he should be in the frikkin' blue version, not the red one!

    (I love the red Angel costume, but only on the non-blue-skinned version of the character. If he's blue, his outfit should be too.)

    4. The return to the proper reality: After four months away, it was great to be reading about the real X-Men again.

    5. The final panel: Say what you will about Lobdell's intentions (or lack thereof) here, but that ominous moment still gives me chills even knowing how it will all play out.


    "This is Noah Dubois, who first appeared as Senator Kelly's mysterious aid in issue #299. An agent of the interdimensional law firm Landau, Luckman & Lake, who will pop up again shortly in Wolverine."

    He was a supporting character in Joe Kelly's DEADPOOL a couple years later, too. I've always been confused by the scene, though -- there's no follow-up on it in either of the two core X-books that I can recall. Was it ever established on-page that this was him??

    "Interestingly, at least a few of the writers are still buying the idea that the all the series have been cancelled and replaced and that AoA is the new, permanent state of being."

    I didn't write a letter, but as I think I mentioned way back when you looked at "Legion Quest", I was one of those gullible readers. I know I figured out by the time all the #1 issues hit stands that it was going to be temporary, but however briefly, I fell for it.

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    1. There's no harm in falling for the AOA hype.
      Retailers were telling readers that this was a new on-going launching point for the X-Men.

      I believed that AOA was the new status quo also, because the owner of the store I frequented told me that this was the case.
      He should be in the know, since he was the one selling comics.

      It backfired with me though, because it was an easy stopping point for me, reading the X-Men comics.
      I thought, "If it's all starting over again from scratch, there's no reason for me to keep reading."
      It gave me a four month break from reading any X-books, but I came back when I saw that normal continuity was resuming with this issue.

      It was only many years later when I bothered to hunt down back-issues of AOA to see what I missed.

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    2. The funny thing about falling for the "cancellation" gimmick was that on an intellectual level, I knew it made no sense. They were going to cancel all the X-books and restart them in an alternate reality, but the rest of the Marvel Universe would keep on going as we knew it? So would the X-Men just vanish from the world one day, never to be mentioned again? I couldn't wrap my head around it, but even at 16, I had just enough childhood gullibility left in me to imagine they'd do it.

      (Heck, I think at this point I was still under the assumption that Marvel had cancelled their entire line for a year in 1983 while SECRET WARS ran, then brought all the books back when it ended. It wasn't until college that I realized one day that was insane and looked at issue cover dates to figure out what actually happened.)

      They didn't fool me twice, though! When Marvel "cancelled" all the Spider-Man books and replaced them with Scarlet Spider titles, I knew it was a brief stunt. Though in that case I remember being disappointed the Scarlet Spider stuff only ran two months. Based on the precedent of AoA, I was looking forward to four months of it! (I really liked Ben Reilly as the Scarlet Spider. Less so as Spider-Man.)

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  2. "Charlotte Jones, Archangel's one-time girlfriend last seen in issue #294, pops up in this issue. She rightly gives Archangel a hard time for not really talking to her since their aborted date to the Lila Cheney concert at the start of "X-Cutioner's Song"."

    Archangel is a jerk!

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  3. Since no one mentioned, here I go: it was really unfortunate what happened to Sarah Grey. I don’t recall her having any meaningful role, other than being surprised by seeing Jean become Dark Phoenix and later in her funeral. However, what happened to her shows the inability that comics creator often have when dealing with relatives of super powered beings. Why hurt or kill them? Leave them alone, as remembrance that our heroes actually came from normal background. Sarah’s home was bombed even before Marc Silvestri started penciling X-Men and only in 1995 we readers got some form of resolution, and a terrible one. I’d rather have seen a flashback showing that she had been saved by the X-Factor years earlier and she was happy with her two children. That’s it.

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    1. Sarah Grey is a bad example, but Claremont had a pretty strong track record of organically including non-superhero characters into his stories (relatives, friends, etc.) The cynic in me wonders if there was some kind of editorial mandate (or just a "strong suggestion") to focus on the characters that had action figures to sell.

      In reality, it was probably just sub-par writing. I generally like Lobdell and I've come to respect Nicieza, and they were a huge improvement over the mercifully short Lee/Liefeld era, but it took everything these guys had in order to tell decent action/adventure stories every month. The interpersonal stuff suffered tremendously to the point where stuff like Sarah Grey's subplot is almost a shock to readers simply for existing.

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    2. Crap, I can't edit. I meant to say "the non-superhero interpersonal stuff" is what suffered, almost like the writers couldn't keep track of anyone who wasn't also involved in the action scenes.

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    3. No meaningful role? I think we are forgetting that Attuma turned Sarah Grey in to an amphibian being in that Bizarre Adventures story by Claremont.

      Seriously though, I did like the intimations given that the family members of mutants were being targeted by anti-mutant bigots.
      It seemed like that was where Claremont was going with that sub-plot.
      It added to the feeling of darkness and oppression that the X-Men had during that period.

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    4. Sara Grey godsdamnit!

      Was her house blasted by Claremont's planning though? It happened in Simonson's X-FACTOR including the anti-mutant phone call right before; Claremont then had Storm and Wolverine visiting the ruins, possibly for no other reason than an excuse for them to be there for the old soldiers plot. And as continued teaser/mess-up for Wolverine after having smelled Jean's scent in the Morlocks' lair.

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  4. This was the issue that made me begin giving up comics, though it was a long slow decline and fall. Why?

    The crossover fatigue? The irregularity of the art? Not digging this storyline? Image Comics about this time? No one else I knew to talk about my X-fandom?

    I think I just could tell the boom, the heights were over, creatively and financially.

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    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    2. This was when I could really say that my run of reading the X-Men largely nonstop since 1975 began to come to an end though it took me until the disaster of the Seagle/Kelly days to formally drop the titles mostly for good (I came back for Morrison and then for a little bit around 2007 or so.)

      And it was for largely the same reason you mentioned, that it just felt like the X-Men in particular had just peaked and everything was now going to be "big event, set up new big event, repeat." The books were on autopilot.The 1992-1993 boom was over, and the worst thing was, Marvel HADN'T NOTICED. They were driving the car into a canyon and didn't even know a canyon was there.

      I kept at it with comics until I finally hung up my hat for good in 2015, minus the odd trade here-hilariously I want to read Jonathan Hickman's X-Men books now-but the end of my love of the X-Men began here.

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    3. It's fascinating for me to read that this is where people started losing interest in the X-Men -- and it's a sentiment I've seen often over the years -- because like I said on the X-MEN PRIME post, this is a period of X-reading that I look back upon with great fondness. I'm sure the time and place was part of it -- maybe if I was older then, I wouldn't have liked this stuff as much. Certainly I can't stand most modern Marvel nowadays, but the young people seem to like a lot of it.

      It's funny, because we first got the internet at our house right around the time "Onslaught" started, and I remember checking out the Marvel boards on AOL. I was surprised to find a lot of older fans who absolutely hated the stuff I was loving. Now I'm one of those older fans who hates the current stuff.

      (And my enjoyment of this material in the moment wasn't for lack of having read the "good stuff" either -- I owned and had read all of Claremont/Cockrum/Byrne at this point, via back issues. I loved it and re-read it often when I was in high school. But in my mind, the then-modern stuff was just as good, in its own different way.)

      Interesting you say that Marvel hadn't noticed the bubble burst, Jack. Since I only read Marvel back then (and at this point only the X- and Spider-books, which outlasted the boom a bit longer than most), and didn't read fanzines, WIZARD, or anything similar, I didn't realize it either. I still remember being shocked when my parents told me they'd read in the news that Marvel had filed for bankruptcy, and needing reassurance from the owner of our local shop that they would continue publishing.

      Though to this day I maintain that for me, personally, on a purely selfish level, the bubble burst and bankruptcy were something Marvel needed. It forced them to consolidate their line. By 1998-99, when they were still recovering, I was able to read nearly the entire core Marvel line on a college student's budget because there were so few titles -- and the talent pool was condensed into those books, so the quality across the board was way better than it had been throughout much of the 90s.

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    4. @Matt It's fascinating for me to read that this is where people started losing interest in the X-Men -- and it's a sentiment I've seen often over the years -- because like I said on the X-MEN PRIME post, this is a period of X-reading that I look back upon with great fondness.

      Totally agree. (At least for the core titles, and Gen X.) There are a lot of great stories in the run-up to Onslaught, even if the Onslaught reveal and crossover doesn't really pay off the build-up in a satisfying way.

      Hell, there are even some great post-Onslaught stories, though they're fewer and farther between. And the whole franchise falls to pieces after "Operation: Zero Tolerance." But I'd still take this next year of comics over basically anything from the 00s and 10s, including Morrison.

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    5. Michael, I like your style — aside from your distaste for Tom Grummett, of course. 😉 I agree there are plenty of fine stand-alone stories between AoA and Onslaught, and good ones after Onslaught ends, though they become fewer and further between. (Again, speaking solely of X-MEN, UNCANNY, and GENERATION X.) And I will gladly take 90s Scott Lobdell and Fabian Nicoeza over Grant Morrison’s NEW X-MEN any day of the week. I really, really disliked Morrison’s run at the time. He (plus Joe Casey and later Chuck Austen) got me to drop the X-books for the first time since I’d started reading them.

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    6. Morrison's run is overrated, and I put the blame for it on the editorial team of the time because the problems that drag down the X-franchise in the 00s aren't just X-problems -- their Marvel-wide. The Quesada regime seemed not just willing, but eager to jettison decades of continuity for any writer with a big enough name. It didn't matter if contradicted what had happened before, it didn't matter if it contradicted what was happening at that exact moment in other books being published, it didn't matter if it destroyed characters (RIP, Wanda Maximoff ever being sympathetic or relatable again), it didn't matter if the next writer wanted to come in and change the status quo of the entire Marvel Universe (mutants are the majority!) or if another writer wanted to re-change the status quo instantly (no more mutants!), it didn't matter if it was good or bad. Nothing mattered anymore. It kind of broke the entire concept of the shared universe and its history.

      None of this is to say that I want comics or the characters therein to be static. Magneto's reformation from villain to hero, and his descent back into villainy is some of the most compelling comic book storytelling of all time -- and creators spent a decade telling that arc in a way that made sense. Compare that to 2004, when Magneto is a genocidal maniac who turns New York City inside out and kills Jean Grey. Grant Morrison is the star X-Men writer and this story is his big climax. He leaves the book with an issue cover dated May 2004. Then Magneto pops up as a good guy, and the big Morrison finale -- the climax of his entire three-year run! -- is retconned in an issue of Excalibur cover dated July 2004. Two months later! That's just insane to me.

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  5. "Because Joe Madureira manages to crank out four issues in row during "Age of Apocalypse", he apparently needs to take next three off, and won't return until issue #325."

    Anyone remember what big-deal Playstation games were coming out around this time? Cuz I suspect that's why Joe Mad needed fill-ins.

    Not that I'm complaining - Grummett is great & deserves more love.

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    1. Since you asked, it looks like BATTLE ARENA TOSHINDEN came out at the beginning of '95. I was never a big video gamer outside of basic Nintendo stuff, but I seem to remember that being a big deal. I could see that eating up Madureira's time...

      I remember playing the game at a friend's house. I liked the old guy with Wolverine claws who could make a giant energy ball to roll around on.

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  6. Everyone here seems to be a big fan of the art, so I guess I am in the minority when I say the art in this issue has bugged me since I first picked it up at age 11, and it starts with the opening splash page. Seriously, WTF is Warren doing there? One arm out in front, the other behind him -- it's like he's swimming in mid-air? And his wing appear to be coming out of his lower and middle back instead of his shoulders ...? It has always bugged me.

    Early in the issue, a police officer takes a shot at Archangel with a very normal shotgun - narration specifically says Archangel can hear the bullet entering the chamber - yet the shot is depicted as a blast of pink energy.

    Warren's flechette is also drawn as a blast of pink energy, another point in the art that bothers me.

    In the wake of their base's destruction in X-Men Prime, X-Force is at the mansion (with this taking place ahead of X-Force #44 when the team formally moves into the school and adopts new costumes), and Siryn delivers a message to Storm, alerting her to what Archangel discovered.

    I love that the New Mutants/X-Force are back in the mansion. I generally love that, despite some of the choices Loeb makes in his upcoming X-Force run, it retains that New Mutants sequel vibe that Nicieza established after de-Liefelding it.

    As they leave Jean’s parents, Scott & Jean are observed by a seemingly-invisible, seemingly-transparent individual.

    And also telepathically-shielded, it would seem? This scene never made sense to me as a kid and I'd honestly entirely forgotten about this guy's random appearances in this era until these reviews. I know Lobdell plotted on the fly and so there's probably no answer here, but was it ever said where this subplot was supposed to go?

    When asked who attacked him, he utters one word: Onslaught.

    YES! GIVE ME AN IV AND PUMP THIS STRAIGHT INTO MY VEINS! *ahem* That is to say, 11-year-old Michael was very excited by this cliffhanger hanging.

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