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Wednesday, March 4, 2020

X-amining X-Men (vol. 2) '95

"A Sinister Heart" / "Words"
November 1995

In a Nutshell
Genesis targets Mr. Sinister through his relationship with a former actress.

Writers: J.M. DeMatteis & Ralph Macchio, Scott Lobdell with Matt Idelson (2nd Story)
Pencils: Terry Dodson & John Paul Leon, Ramon Bernardo (2nd Story)
Inks: Jon Holdredge & Shawn Martinborough,  P. Craig Russell (2nd Story)
Letterer: Richard Starkings & Comicraft
Colors: Mike Thomas, Mike Rockwitz (2nd Story)
Editor: Mark Powers
Editor-in-Chief: Bob Harras

Beast & Jean Grey are at Beast's cabin in the Catskills, awaiting the arrival of Cyclops & Archangel for a weekend of relaxation, when they're attacked by the Dark Riders. Jean is captured, but manages to leave a faint telepathic trail for Beast to follow. Jean is taken to a Hollywood mansion, where Genesis, master of the Dark Riders, has captured an old woman named Faye Livingstone, drawing the attention of Mr. Sinister. Genesis wants Jean to read Faye's mind in order to learn why Mr. Sinister secretly visits her every year. Sinister, held at bay with Faye captured, recalls his romantic relationship with her in Depression Era Hollywood, how she ultimately found his secret lab and he was forced to hold her captive in order to conduct genetic experiments on her. Beast arrives and fights his way inside the mansion, where he convinces Jean to do as Genesis is asking and connect Sinister and Faye's minds. Once she does so, the pair share a final dance, and Faye tells Sinister she knows that, despite his cruelty, he truly did love her. Faye then dies, and Genesis leaves, having found no weakness in Sinister to exploit. Mr. Sinister then allows Beast & Jean to leave as well. They return to the cabin, ruminating that it is not their powers, but their capacity for love - which Sinister rejected - that gives them their strength.

2nd Story
Brian Braddock receives a letter from his sister, Betsy. She tells him of a recent visit she and Archangel took to a county fair. As they enjoyed the fair's attractions, they pondered their relationship and whether, in light of all the romantic struggles of their fellow X-Men, they should embrace their feelings for one another. Ultimately, on the strength of their shared experiences of being manipulated by outside forces, they decided to take the leap and declare their love for one another. Flying home, Brian is proud of sister for taking the risk.

Firsts and Other Notables
This issue provides one of the first concrete glimpses into Mr. Sinister's past, revealing that he once lived in Hollywood in the 1930s, where he conducted clandestine experiments and ultimately fell in love with an actress whom he initially courted (and kidnapped) for her genetic potential.

Genesis, making a rare appearance outside of Cable and Wolverine, functions as the villain of the story, basically just attempting to eff with Mr. Sinister on behalf of the deceased Apocalypse (whom Genesis says was betrayed by Sinister), before shrugging his shoulders and heading off to continue his plans for Wolverine (which will unfold across issues #95-100 of that series).

In his flashback, Mr. Sinister references "a deal with the devil"; this is hinting at the relationship between him and Apocalypse (which will be fully detailed in The Further Adventures of Cyclops & Phoenix), in which Sinister pledged himself to Apocalypse in exchange for longevity and genetic knowledge.

Creator Central 
John Paul Leon, who will pencil the later Sinister-centric, Victoria-set Further Adventures of Cyclops and Phoenix miniseries, draws the flashback sequences in the first story.

The Chronology Corner 
Beast appears here between Wolverine #92 and Uncanny X-Men #325 (and just before his appearance in Avengers: The Crossing). Jean appears after X-Men #44 and Wolverine #91, and before Uncanny #325. X-Men Unlimited #8 takes place after this issue.

A Work in Progress
Mr. Sinister uses the alias "Nathan Essex" in 1930s Hollywood.

Beast bought a cabin in the Catskills that he and Iceman would bring dates to during the Silver Age.

Captain Britain finds himself with more patience since his trip into the timestream.

Brian refers to Kwannon as having been Chinese; I’m honestly not sure if that’s right or wrong (though I feel like later stories specifically say she is Japanese).

Angel refers to Scott & Jean having gone through seemingly 30 years worth of struggles, a clever acknowledgment of real world time within the context of the sliding timeline.

The Reference Section
Jean compares Beast’s attempted O5 reunion to the Boomer nostalgia-fest film The Big Chill.

Artistic Achievements
A coloring lapse makes it look like Jean was skinny dipping.

Young Love
Always appreciate a callback to Vera, Beast's Silver Age girlfriend (who last appeared in X-Factor).

Archangel & Psylocke declare their love for one another, predicated on their shared experiences having their bodies & minds manipulated by outside forces (which is thing that brought them together in the first place).

Austin's Analysis
This is far from a perfect issue - the art is muddy (especially, oddly enough, in the present day stuff by the Dodsons rather than the flashbacks by Leon, despite the flashbacks presenting a sort of mad scientist/monster movie vibe), the scripting, at times (particularly when Beast is ruminating on life and love), overwrought, and in Genesis, it features a character who ties the issue to a very specific moment in X-history (ie the year that Genesis was a thing) whose plot in this issue is questionable, at best - but as annuals go, this is pretty decent. Mr. Sinister is a character who has become more and more of a regular fixture in the books since the linewide relaunch in '91, having his fingers in multiple narrative pies at this point, yet this is really the first significant effort to flesh out his characterization and backstory a bit, showing a more human (but still pretty monstrous, Faye's questionable declarations of love at the end aside) side to the character while also teasing a connection to Apocalypse. And with Beast on hand as one of the two main protagonists in the story, this issue becomes another installment in the quiet "Beast develops a grudging respect for Mr. Sinister, biologist to biologist", following on from issue #27 and #34 of the main series. It has its problems, but all-in-all, this is a decent Beast/Sinister story, and a strong annual overall.

Next Issue
Next week, Generation X makes a new friend in Generation X '95!

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  1. I absolutely loved this issue when I first read it, and for years declared it to be my all-time favorite Mister Sinister story. I liked seeing a hidden human side to my favorite villain, and I ate up the hints about his past. Plus, I felt John Paul Leon's art fit the past sequences beautifully. I was really happy when he was subsequently picked to draw Sinister's origin in FURTHER ADVENTURES OF CYCLOPS AND PHOENIX.

    Re-reading it now, I still like the issue quite a bit for its dip into Sinister's past, but I also see things that make me squirm a bit -- notably, Sinister's treatment of Faye, which I either missed or didn't quite understand back then. She clearly seems to have developed some sort of Stockholm Syndrome toward him, rather than true love. (Though I do believe Sinister loved her, in his own way -- why else would he visit the nursing home every year to check on her?)

    Faye Livingstone seems meant to be a "generic" Golden Age radio star, but it's notable that her surname is shared with Mary Livingstone, Jack Benny's radio sidekick (and real-life wife).

  2. this issue really functions well as an annual. even feels stupid to type. but it's got a pocket deminsion quality. Genesis is the only serialized aspect. with some callbacks, flashbacks, and downtime for a small percent of the team's cast - we get something personal all around.

    also, hope I never have a mentor die. what if(?) an upstart pops up claiming to be heir / surveils me and forces a confrontations in front of a couple 'influencers' ..would I hafta force my romantic narrative on a sinister past?

  3. I feel like Sinister took a serious hit with the Apocalypse reveal and never really recovered. I'm not suggesting Claremont's aborted "immortal child" backstory would have been any better (pretty dumb, sorry), but yeah, Sinister's a lackey who has nothing better to do than obsess over that damn Summers DNA. Boring.

    1. You’re right. Until Inferno, I saw Mr Sinister and Apocalypse as equals. But, since his (unnecessary) return in X-Cutioner’s Song, Sinister was increased reduced to an odd figure, only talking about “the science” and/or “Summers family.” His condition as minor villain was further reinforced during the Age of Apocalypse, when Sinister became a subordinate who couldn’t dream on fighting Apocalypse and has to rely on X-Man, which he produced in a lab. You can see that even the X-Men didn’t see him as an actual threat anymore, at least not in the same level as before, when he could fight the combined X-Men and X-Factor.

      That was the problem with the X-Men in the 90s: creators had no idea of what to do with the several and excellent villains that the franchise had. Instead, they kept creating more and more villains, making them more and more powerful, to the point that the old ones were seen as less threatening. Onslaught is the best example of this “Dragon Ball Z-fication” of the franchise. Remember Omega Red? The guy who every fan thought was awesome when Jim Lee creates him? The same guy no one could remember just a few years later?

  4. I hope you're doing alright with all this coronavirus stuff. I'm excited for the Gen X '95 review. When will that be up?

    1. Ha, no worries, I appreciate the concern. Just my usual nonsense, fortunately; I was traveling for my day job earlier in the week (great timing, I know) and ended up with less time at my computer than I'd hoped for. Combine that with getting slammed with stuff when I got back in the office, and I fell behind.

      Should be caught up this week, and GENERATION X '95 should be posted tomorrow.

    2. I saw an ad on Mercado Livre selling Generation X # 1-25 and Annuals, but I didn't have the guts to buy it (it was too expensive). I regret that.


  5. I really like the idea of Hank getting a cabin up in the Catskills. Not the location in particular, just him being able to afford a place that meant something to him earlier in life that can be a respite from the usual angst. It’s nice that he can afford it by now and that we’re reminded not all of the team members need to be restricted to the mansion.

    That panel of Brian musing on the letter from Betsy is so full of absurdly expository thought-balloon win.

    I’ve admired the John Paul Leon & Shawn Martinbrough pairing for decades. They worked together prior to this for Milestone and went on to a short-lived Challengers of the Unknown revival at DC before Martinbrough began chiefly inking his own pencils. It’s honestly the only reason I’m looking forward to reading, or at least skimming, The Further Adventures of Cyclops & Phoenix.


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