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Wednesday, April 22, 2020

X-amining Uncanny X-Men #327

"Whispers on the Wind"
December 1995

In a Nutshell
An amnesiac Magneto stumbles across an orphanage and is given the name Joseph.

Writer: Scott Lobdell
Penciler: Roger Cruz
Inkers: Tim Townsend & Al Milgrom
Letters: Richard Starkings & Comicraft
Colors: Steve Buccellato & Electric Crauon
Editor-in-Chief: Bob Harras

Plot
A mysterious man stumbles across an orphanage, speaking German & displaying magnetic powers before falling unconscious. Later, he awakens and is tended to by Sister Maria, caretaker of the orphanage. As the man reveals he has amnesia tells him he can stay until he is well enough to travel. He is christened Joseph by one of the children. Time passes, and having grown fond of the children, he remains at the orphanage, helping work the land and look after the kids. Eventually, word of his mutant abilities reaches Colonel Ramos, who is eager to have a mutant's power at his disposal to further his criminal efforts. To that end, he has Sister Maria and the children kidnapped, to be used as leverage to coerce Joseph's cooperation. It doesn't work, however, as Joseph uses his power to force the location of the captives from Ramos. Joseph then goes to an old church where Maria and the children are being held in the basement. Sister Maria knows Joseph has come to save them, but when they emerge from the basement, they are shocked by the horror Joseph visited upon their captors. Seeing their disappointment in him, Joseph decides to leave the next morning, with Maria pointing him towards the X-Men as a potential place where he could find a home. Later, Maria recounts the tale of Joseph to Father Heclio, wondering if she has loosed the villain Magneto out into the world. Helcio responds that perhaps instead, she has given him the faith he needs to use his power to help humanity. All they can do now is pray that he finds his place in the world, and that the place is on the side of the angels. 

Firsts and Other Notables
Following a brief cameo appearance in X-Men #46, this issue marks the first full appearance of Joseph. Initially intended to be (and presented here as) Magneto, still amnesiac following the Xavier mind-wipe in X-Men #25 and mysteriously de-aged, the character will eventually be revealed to be a younger clone of Magneto created as an act of revenge by Astra, a theretofore unknown member of the original Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. At the time, Joseph was presumably an attempt by the creators to play around with a more heroic version of Magneto (and, specifically, to recapture some of the spirit of the heroic Magneto from "Age of Apocalypse" and his relationship there with Rogue). He is effectively presented as the real deal until issue #350 reveals that the actual Magneto is still around (thereby creating the question of who or what Joseph is, which lasts until the whole clone reveal in "Magneto War").


As far as I know, during the time when everyone was still acting like Joseph was Magneto, no explanation was ever given as to how he got de-aged, a question that gets raised here in his first appearance.

Roger Cruz, having fully completed his transformation into a Joe Madureira mimic, fills in on this issue, Madureira having apparently exhausted himself drawing two consecutive issues.

A Work in Progress
It's not stated here, but issue #345 will establish that this story takes place in Guatemala.

Joseph instinctively speaks German.


Sister Maria has an old copy of Time magazine, with the Silver Age X-Men on the cover, which prompts her to point Joseph in the direction of the X-Men.


In a great bit of characterization, when the children ask Joseph to assure them he’ll protect them, he unequivocally answers yes. It's a subtle bit, but it highlights one of the differences between Magneto and, say, Xavier, who likely would have hedged his response, recognizing he can't realistically guarantee the children's safety without any caveats and it's not fair to promise them otherwise. But Magneto is just like "yes, I will protect you no matter what" (which of course then further fuels his rage when he's proven wrong).


The Grim 'n' Gritty 90s
Joseph & Sister Maria gaze up at a lovely CGI moon.


Artistic Achievements
A narrative caption describes a barn as burned to the ground even as the art shows it still standing.


Austin's Analysis
Hindsight makes this a tricky issue to evaluate: the Joseph retcon is one of the more hamfisted & inelegant retcons in a complex serial narrative with no shortage of retcons, and it's also one of the better examples of the shortcomings in Scott Lobdell's "throw out an idea and make up the rest as you go along" style of plotting, as it becomes clear pretty early that no one is quite clear what to do with the character before later writers come up with the retcon & shuffle him off the board. But putting aside the "Joseph" of it all, this is not a bad issue. In fact, it's ultimately a pretty decent character study of Magneto, one which, via a fairly standard plot, reaffirms one of the core tenants of the character: he is someone willing to do wrong things in the pursuit of something right.

Variations on this kind of Magneto story, in which the character ultimately crosses a line while trying to protect/avenge the innocent shows up a lot (it's a favorite device of the X-Men films, especially), but given that the last we saw a fully conscious Magneto (in this universe/timeline, at least), he was ripping the adamantium out of Wolverine's body, the telling of it here seems like an attempt to re-establish Magneto as a somewhat more nuanced character, at least respective to some of his "Fatal Attractions" appearances, someone with a genuine desire to protect the downtrodden, even as he all too easily reaches for extreme measures to do so. It's not quite Chris Claremont's Magneto, but it is much closer to that (and, of even more relevance for the time, much closer to the "Age of Apocalypse" depiction of the character) than the guy who crashed Illyana's funeral and murdered one of his own followers in cold blood. That this "restart" for the character eventually spins out before going off the rails entirely shouldn't, as much as is possible, be held against this issue, which accomplishes what it sets out to do quite well.

Next Issue
Tomorrow, Howard Mackie's return to the events of "Fall of the Mutants" begins in X-Factor #117. Friday, Nate Grey meets Professor X in X-Man #10. Next week, more X-Baby shenanigans in X-Men (vol. 2) #47!

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14 comments:

  1. I can't believe it got to the point where either the colorist or some 3D graphics person created things like the moon or clouds instead of the penciler/inker.

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    1. I'm sure the penciler and inker actually did the moon, but the colorist then did his own thing over it. I agree, it's kind of annoying. This was around the time colorists were really going nuts exploring what they could do, but it seemed like they were using the published comics as guinea pigs, rather than testing elsewhere to perfect the process before using it on work to be published.

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  2. Yeah, they really should've found a better solution to the whole Joseph thing. I remember being honestly surprised at the time that they made him a clone, since Marvel had been insanely clone-shy following the whole Spider-Man thing. And the invention of Astra (or more specifically the ret-conning of her into a character who had been around since the beginning but never once mentioned) was pretty bad. I think I rank it up there with "Tessa worked for Xavier all along" as one of the dumbest X-Men ret-cons. (And I generally liked Sage as a character, but the ret-con was still stupid.)

    They should have found some way to resolve the Joseph plot Joseph him as the real Magneto -- but of course that was impossible thanks to Lobdell's final issue (final page, in fact). And it's a funny thing, because I remember in an interview at the time that Lobdell said he was simply engaging in a time-honored tradition where a departing creative team would set up a mystery for the incoming team to solve... which I don't think is something that ever happened intentionally! Usually, mysteries were left dangling when a creator left at title prematurely and had no time to wrap it up (see Roger Stern and Hobgoblin, for example). Lobdell had a bit of a contentious departure from the X-books, but I don't know that any writer leaving on bad terms ever specifically came up with a curveball just to stick it to the next guy in the position.

    But anyway, with both Joseph and the "real" Magneto running around, they were kind of stuck for a solution. But I still think they could've gotten creative and made Joseph the real thing, and had the other Magneto be a clone. Maybe somehow working the whole Alpha/Moira/Eric the Red de-aging/genetic tampering/re-aging into it. That would've drawn on existing continuity and, I think, would have actually been a bit of a surprise compared with what they did.

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    1. Now, all that said, I will add that "Magneto War" led into a period on X-Men that I really enjoyed at the time, when Alan Davis was plotting both X-books. It also resulted in probably my favorite status quo for Magneto, when he was the ruler of Genosha. It's a shame that was blown up (literally, by Grant Morrison) after just a couple years -- but at the same time, they didn't really get much mileage it. A couple limited series and the "Eve of Destruction" crossover are all that came out of it, as I recall. And Quicksilver talking about it in AVENGERS too, I think. (Props to Kurt Busiek for that. I loved how he would integrate all these little bits and pieces of ongoing continuity into the series back then.)

      I'm really looking forward to re-reading that Alan Davis run when you get to it, but I'm also a little nervous. I really, really liked it at the time -- I think in large part because it was the closest the X-Men of the 90s ever got to feeling like the X-Men of the 70s. There was something very Bronze Age-y about Davis's run, at least in my recollection. But when Not Blog X covered those issues years ago, G. Kendall didn't speak very highly of them... I'm really curious to see what my take will be.

      But that's still a few years off! As for this isssue, I was pleased to find that it lived up to my memories. I like it. It works great as a reintroduction for (the character who at the time was intended to be) Magneto. And I like how Lobdell would periodically do these issues that have no actual X-Men in them (the Acolyte-centric 315 being another example). Though I wish Joseph would've cut his hair along with shaving. I never liked him with the long hair, but of course it fits with wanting him to be more like AoA Magneto.

      This was also, for me at least, some of Roger Cruz's better work recently. Miles ahead of his fill-ins on GENERATION X, to be sure. I wonder if Tim Townsend made the difference? He knows how to ink Madureira, so maybe he applied those sensibilities to Cruz's pencils for a more appropriate result.

      Geez, I wasn't expecting this comment to be so long!

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    2. My memory is that I *did* like the Alan Davis issues! Okay, I'm sure I griped about Kavanagh's scripting, and the lame circumstances around Cyclops' "Death" (especially when looking back on it, and knowing now Davis also objected), but I do recall enjoying that run overall as they were released.

      Regarding this comic, my major memory is feeling that Roger Cruz was a good enough Joe Mad clone, and wishing he'd do more fill-ins.

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    3. Oops! I don’t know why I thought you didn’t like those issues. Now I need to go back and re-read your reviews. I do seem to recall that you singled out Kavanagh’s scripting, but for some reason I thought it was Davis’s run in general. Maybe I mixed it up with something else? The later Seagle/Kelly issues with all the editorial interference?

      Anyway, sorry for misrepresenting you!

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  3. As far as a more interesting turn for the Joseph reveal I recall reading that he was going to be revealed as Proteus during the sadly aborted Seagle/Kelly run.

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  4. I didn't need to comment, but now I just want to throw in with an accomplished comment section..

    +always thought Joseph was tied in with that Xorn guy somehow. and this was one of the last xcomics I read as it shipped for quite awhile.

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    1. Yeah, Xorn is a whole 'nother "needlessly complicated Magneto-adjacent retcon" situation. :)

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  5. Why was Magneto de-ages? If I’m not wrong, he was already quite young, around the age of the X-Men, when he was turned to an adult by Erik the Red, and I believe that was confirmed in UXM#200 (his trial), right? I think the we rotes simply forgot that and assumed he was older looking.

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    1. "If I’m not wrong, he was already quite young, around the age of the X-Men, when he was turned to an adult by Erik the Red".

      I recall that too. He was thirty-something in Uncanny X-Men #200.

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    2. Yeah, it really wasn't necessary (and Lobdell never really did much with it beyond mentioning it here). Maybe he thought it was something that needed to be done in order to pair him up with Rogue, but a 30s-ish Magneto isn't that much older than Rogue at this point.

      Of course, it's also possible that Lobdell forgot the whole de-aging business that happened with Erik the Red and still considered him a biological peer of Korean War vet Xavier, but it seems like Harras or someone should have caught that.

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    3. " Maybe he thought it was something that needed to be done in order to pair him up with Rogue, but a 30s-ish Magneto isn't that much older than Rogue at this point."

      And Rogue and Magneto had engage at least in some flertation during their time together at Savage Land - it was even remembered during X-Men (vol. 2) #25 by a jealous Gambit.

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