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Wednesday, March 25, 2020

X-amining X-Men (vol. 2) #46

"They're Baaack..."
November 1995

In a Nutshell
The X-Babies, running for their lives, seek out the help of the X-Men.

Writer: Scott Lobdell
Pencils: Andy Kubert
Inks: Cam Smith
Letterer: Richard Starkings & Comicraft
Colorist: Kevin Sosers & Malibu Hues
Editor: Bob Harras

At Storm's urging, Gambit takes Bishop out for a night-on-the-town to clear their heads, bringing him to an underground strip club casino. Meanwhile, Jean Grey is at a Manhattan bookstore looking for a gift for her niece & nephew, accompanied by Iceman. The pair are unknowingly watched by someone in the shadows. Elsewhere, Senator Kelly leads a group of heavily-armed soldiers into an secret Sentinel factory, the inhabitants of which have all vanished. When they turn on the power, all the computer screens repeat the same word: Onslaught. Back in New York, Bishop & Gambit discuss Bishop's distrust of Gambit over his actions in Bishop's time. They are being watched by a group of X-Babies, whose emergence triggers a brawl. At the bookstore, Iceman asks Jean to read his mind for any traces of Emma Frost, and they discuss his recent struggles with his powers. Just then, X-Baby versions of Storm & Iceman tumble out of the stacks onto them, arguing with one another. Elsewhere, a woman picking tomatoes in a field comes across a man with flowing gray hair and a beard; he can remember falling from the stars, but the man once known as Magento cannot remember why he is there. Back at the club, the X-Babies are impressed with how quickly Gambit & Bishop quelled the fight. They tell the X-Men they are the run. Just then, the hunters Gog and Magog enter the club, saying they are there to cancel the X-Babies.

Firsts and Other Notables
This issue features the X-Babies, the pre-teen versions of the X-Men ostensibly created by Mojo (though in keeping with tradition, their lineup/costuming represents the current roster of X-Men, despite Mojo himself being technically dead). This marks their first appearance in an issue of an X-book proper (as opposed to in an annual or one-shot).

In light of Mojo's death (in issue #11), they are being targeted for death by the new regime in Mojoverse, with bounty hunter man-bear-dogs Gog & Magog (whom debuted in the Longshot miniseries but were last seen in this series' first annual) specifically hunting them down in this issue.

There are a pair of interludes in this issue. In the first, Senator Kelly investigates the disappearance of scientists from a secret Sentinel factory, in which all the computer monitors are displaying the word "Onslaught"; Onslaught's interest in Sentinel technology is one of those things that is used to tease the upcoming story but which clearly falls under the category of "making it up as they go along", since the ultimate reveal of Onslaught's identity doesn't really gel with him being terribly interested in doing anything with Sentinels aside from destroying them (they'll ultimately be used as a sort of security force for Onsalught during the crossover/easy foils for characters in tie-in books).

Also, Senator Kelly being gung-ho about Sentinels is somewhat at odds with his less stridently anti-mutant views of late (relative to his earliest appearances).

The second interlude shows a still-amnesiac Magneto waking up in a field (his first appearance since the fall of Avalon), a setup for Uncanny #327 (which will explore Magneto's apparent return more fully), making this technically the first appearance of Joseph. More on that when we get to that issue.

Bishop gets a new buzzed haircut this issue, leaving behind his former mullet-y look and making him more visually reminiscent of his Age of Apocalypse look (he'll get a new costume to go with it shortly as well); this will be his default look moving forward until the launch of his solo series.

Scott Lobdell writes this issue, though he's technically just filling in until Mark Waid arrives for his brief run. For the time being though, that puts Lobdell in charge of both X-Men books.

This issue’s cover is, of course, an homage to Giant-Size X-Men #1.

A Work in Progress
With Storm urging Bishop to get out of the mansion to clear his “Age of Apocalypse” head, Gambit takes him to an underground strip he’s known to frequent, kicking off an Odd Couple pairing between the two former antagonists (recall one of Bishop’s first acts as one of the X-Men was to accuse Gambit of betraying the team), which will culminate in the pair sharing a limited series together towards the end of the decade.

This issue also kicks off a minor recurring bit in which Bishop orders Dr. Pepper whenever he goes out.

Bishop brings up the whole X-Traitor thing, revealing to Gambit his status as the Witness in Bishop’s future, presumably as Lobdell reminds readers about that particular plot thread ahead of it’s reveal kicking off “Onslaught”.

Jean is shopping for a present for her niece & nephew, the children of her sister Sara (whom we now know was captured & killed by the Phalanx) who last appeared at her wedding in issue #30.

Continuing the Emma Frost/Iceman sucks at using his powers subplot, Iceman asks Jean to check his head for Emma Frost. They also discuss his power, with Jean suggesting that it's not a bad thing that Iceman has repressed his powers through the years.

The Grim 'n' Gritty 90s
Iceman is rocking a pair of carpenter jeans & a wallet chain while shopping with Jean at a bookstore/coffee shop Barnes & Noble stand-in, a combo which is ubiquitous now but was very much of its time in ‘95.

Austin's Analysis
With Fabian Nicieza gone, Scott Lobdell steps in ahead of Mark Waid for an issue which kicks off a two-part story which, in turn, is the beginning of a series of two part stories ahead of the start of "Onslaught" proper (technically, issue #50 is a standalone story teasing "Onslaught", but it is double-sized). And, presumably drawing on his background in comedy, Lobdell taps the X-Babies for a somewhat more lighthearted tale following the high drama of "Fall from Avalon" and the emo angst of last issue. It's all mostly setup here (just a few bits with the X-Babies, to your enjoyment or dismay depending on how you feel about them) laced around some quieter character moments (which actually is Lobdell's genuine strength): Bishop & Gambit bonding and reminding readers of the X-traitor storyline, Iceman (in a subplot ported over from Uncanny) asking Jean for help clearing his head of Emma Frost's influence/his doubts about his powers, Jean shopping for her oft-forgotten niece-and-nephew. Nothing groundbreaking, for sure, but the kind of slice-of-life storytelling the series needs to do when it can (i.e. between big anniversary issues & crossovers).

Next Issue
Tomorrow, X-Force holds an intervention in X-Force #48. Friday, Wolverine battles Dirt Nap in Wolverine #95. Next week, Generation X #9!

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  1. This issue has never done much for me. Aside from the Bishop/Gambit pairing, which I really like -- and Bishop's new haircut -- I can take it or leave it. I feel like Lobdell was sort of phoning it in on these issues of X-MEN, while saving his "good stuff" for UNCANNY (and of course, the really good stuff for GENERATION X).

    I do laugh at X-Baby Cyclops's lisp, though.

  2. I don’t know why no one comments on this, but at this time Andy Kubert’s art reaches a new evolutionary step, as it becomes “rounded”, instead of “square” or “straight” as in when he began pencilling the X-Men comics. I didn’t like his rendition of X-Babies, because he clearly can’t draw children. Giving them tiny noses next to their eye lines and huge space between the nose and mouth doesn’t make them look like children. Also, I don’t understand why no one ever says “Kubert was one of my favorite penciller we”, even though he stayed on the X-Men for a long time (from issue 14 until... 55?).

    Now... regarding the story. What can I say, other than ask “why?” It changed nothing, it add nothing, except for implying that Dazzler lost the “Shatterstar” baby, which probably no one cared, since she and Longshot were completely forgotten since issue 11.

    I didn’t care about the new friendship between Gambit and Bishop, mainly because at this point it was clear that no creator knew what to do with Bishop. That becomes clearer when he’s sent to the future (alternate timeline?) and his ongoing series and he’s quickly forgotten by the X-Men.

    Lastly, but not least: does anyone likes the X-Babies? I loved that annual in which the X-Men were turned into children, but mainly because of Art Adams’ art (Wolverine ripping his Mojo’s mask is still one of my favorite art pieces of all time, RIP Art Adams’s art... pity you became a shadow of yourself). Ok, they are children. Once you move beyond your first laugh of “hey, small versions of my favorite characters” and you start thinking about the idea of these parentless children fending for themselves in the brutal Mojo world, and knowing that the X-Men do not care, it becomes a trouble. X-Babies work as a one time joke, not as a cannon element of the franchise.

    1. I commented in X-Men (vol. 2) # 45 about the improvement in Andy Kubert's art. I've been thinking about it and maybe Cam Smith's inks made the difference.

    2. I think they did have an inkling of what they wanted to do with Bishop around this time, between his AoA memories (referenced this very issue), Fatale, etc. — but this is the point when the X-books really and truly started to go into the mode that everybody seems to associate with the bulk of the 90s: backburnering of sub-plots into nonstop holding patterns forever and ever.

    3. I think Cam Smith's inks make a difference, and the improvements in coloring/paperstock around this time, but I agree, Kubert often gets overlooked when discussing notable X-artists. A lot of it, I think, is that he followed on from Jim Lee (arguably the biggest X-artist ever, in terms of sheer popularity), and right around the time he hit his stride on the book, Joe Mad came along on UNCANNY and became the "it" X-artist everyone talked about.

    4. Andy Kubert is honestly one of my favorite artists. His work on X-Men, Batman vs. Predator, fill-ins on Wolverine, and OGNs like Wolverine: Rhane of Terra are all great. I've always preferred his work to his brother Adam's. At this point on X-Men his style did start to change... for the worse. You will really see the difference in how he draws long hair (usually on women) around the time of Onslaught. Andy went from being pretty realistic to cartoony land, which I believe was him trying to change with the times as artists like Joe Mad were becoming all of the rage (ewww).

  3. It's ironic that not only does Bishop go on to betray the X-Men himself, but his actions are far more heinous than anything Gambit ever did. I hated that storyline.

    1. The character assassination of Bishop was one of the straws that got me to drop the X-books for good shortly after “Messiah Complex”. (I had already dropped them once when Grant Morrison and Joe Casey/Chuck Austen were writing, but I came back after they left.)

    2. The thing was, it was so awful that I kept waiting for the punch line. Like, this isn't Bishop, he has to be possessed or something, right? And in all his time with the X-Men, he never once mentioned the child that destroyed his future? And when it seemed like it was happening in front of him, he never thought to ask his teammates and friends for help? Like, let's just kill freaking Charles Xavier? And to my knowledge, the damage was never really undone. The Bishop we see is aged twenty years and he just sort of said he was sorry.

      I know comic books are comic books but I can't believe garbage like that ever got approved.

    3. There was a period, starting in the early 00s, and really ramping up in the mid to late 00s, where it seemed most Marvel writers simply wanted to break all the toys. Like, they felt it was incumbent on them as the characters’ custodians to just blow everything up in as extreme a manner as possible, to the point none of it could ever be easily fixed.

      At least, that was always the impression I got when I read stories by guys like Morrison, Bendis, Millar, JMS, Brubaker, and so forth. And while I acknowledge that some of those stories may have been good in a vacuum (I even liked a few myself), a lot more were utter garbage, and — like I said above — resulted in damage that was nigh-impossible to repair without some serious ret-con backflips.

      Thankfully, Marvel seems to have somewhat walked that attitude back among the current generation of writers, but for me the damage was done. I haven’t read a new Marvel comic in at least ten years. 00s Marvel totally killed and buried my interest. Mind you, it wasn’t just the writers that drove me away; it was also editorial attitudes toward things like continuity and seemingly imposing a “house style” for story pacing and scripting — and that side of it has never gotten much better.

      But at least I have back issues and reprints!

    4. The post-"Messiah Complex" Bishop stuff was just garbage. I almost appreciate the way it was handwaved away and now ignored just because it was so terrible, except for the fact that they HELLA committed to it at the time, which makes it that much harder to ignore.

  4. This was pretty much the end of the line for me for adjectiveless until Morrison came in. I like some of the Kelly and Davis stories, but Lobdell's issues feel like pointless inventory stories to me. It felt like Uncanny was getting his full attention and this wasn't. It's a big drop off from the Nicieza issues for me.

  5. 12-year old me thought the lady picking tomatoes in the Magneto interlude was totally hot. Why doesn't she bend her knees when bending over to gather the tomatoes?! Keeping her legs straight and sticking her butt out? Man, I'll never forget... and I just had to make this comment because I just HAD to tell someone!

  6. I think once at best was enough for the X-Babies, but Gambit holding arithmetic flash cards on the cover is a cute gag.

  7. With what we know today, it really looked like Bobby wanted to tell Jean that he is gay. But then he "only" talks about his Emma problem ...


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