Talking about comic books, TV shows, movies, sports, and the numerous other pastimes that make us Gentlemen of Leisure.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

X-amining Sabretooth Special #1

"In the Red Zone"
January 1996

In a Nutshell
The X-Men hunt the escaped Sabretooth.

Writer: Fabian Nicieza
Penciler: Gary Frank
Inkers: Joe Holdredge with Mark McKenna
Letters: Richard Starkings & Comicraft
Colors: Dana Moreshead
Separations: Electric Crayon
Editor: Mark Powers
Editor-in-Chief: Bob Harras

Having escaped from the X-Mansion, Sabretooth is being hunted by the X-Men. He is found by Caliban in the Morlock Tunnels, but manages to knock out Caliban, eliminating the X-Men's best chance of tracking him, as Jean finds it difficult to locate Sabretooth telepathically. A series of confrontations between Sabretooth and the original five X-Men ensue as they hunt him across New York City, with Sabretooth always managing to escape. Analyzing Sabretooth's movements in one consistent direction, Jean realizes he is heading to Massachusetts in order to target Xavier's School and the next generation of mutants in Generation X. The X-Men converge on Sabretooth once more, and hold him in place long enough for a government strike team led by Val Cooper to arrive on the scene. The X-Men ultimately overpower Sabretooth, but when he moves to attack one of the soldiers, they open fire at close range, killing him. Val orders the body taken away and congratulates the X-Men on limiting the causalities to Sabretooth. The problem, Cyclops tells her, is that Sabretooth is the one they were trying to save.

Firsts and Other Notables
This issue concludes the "Sabretooth escaped!" story which began in Uncanny X-Men #328 (officially ending the "attempt to rehabilitate Sabretooth in the mansion" storyline), earning itself a special double-sized one-shot with a gimmick cover because the 90s. In the course of the issue, Sabretooth is seemingly killed and his body claimed by government agents led by Val Cooper. He will turn up, alive and well, in X-Factor #119 next month, in which he'll be pressed into service on that team, his death here more or less faked by Val.

One of Archangel's wings is injured by Sabretooth this issue, with his claws shredding Archangel's metal "feathers". This injury will last for several months and be reflected in Archangel's appearances (notably in the "Crimson Dawn" story in Uncanny which follows on from Sabretooth's attack on Psylocke in #328). 

I'm not 100% sure (and I haven't been able to confirm online), but I think elements of Code: Blue, the NYPD's superhero response division that featured heavily in Tom DeFalco's Thor run, are involved in the capture of Sabretooth in this issue.

Fabian Nicieza writers this issue; his involvement is something of a surprise, given that he was effectively fired off X-Force & Adjectiveless not long before this. It's possible he had this issue scripted before he left (there's nothing terribly specific tying it into current continuity aside from the immediate escape of Sabretooth), though at the same time, it's hard to believe the X-office had already worked out Sabretooth's escape over three months ahead of time.

In other creative notables, Mark Powers is credited as editor of this issue; while I don't believe this is his first credit for the X-office, this is generally around the time he starting working in the line, as Bob Harras begins to transition into the full Editor-in-Chief mode (instead of the EiC of the X-titles during the "Five Editor"/editorial silo era). After Harras leaves the X-Books once and for all, Powers will become the next editor to guide the line, well into the late 90s (including the era in which its generally considered that editorial is directly plotting the two main X-books).

Pencils come from former Incredible Hulk artist Gary Frank.

This issue features a wraparound chromium enhanced cover a la Generation X #1 and X-Men's Alpha, Omega, and Prime.

The Chronology Corner
Caliban appears here after X-Force & Cable '96 and before X-Force #49. Otherwise, this issue clearly takes place between Uncanny X-Men #328 and #329.

A Work in Progress
One on page, Caliban & Sabretooth's past encounters in Louise Simonson's pre-'91 relaunch X-Factor & New Mutants get footnoted, making this little continuity nerd's heart sing.

Jean is unable to telepathically track Sabretooth, for vague reasons that mostly amount to "in order to draw out the hunt and make the issue longer".

Archangel uses his little-used “eyes like a hawk” power in this issue.

Cyclops explains that the difference between the chances the X-Men have given to former villains like Rogue or rough-around-the-edges people like Wolverine is that they expressed a desire to change for the better, something Sabretooth no longer does.

Beast flashes his Avenger's ID card in order to establish his and the X-Men's authority.

The Grim 'n' Gritty 90s
Per a narrative caption, Sabretooth calls X-Force the “MTV Slacker group”.

The Awesome and Terrible Power of Cyclops
Cyclops is able to use his optic beam as a lock pick.

Later, he freaks the eff out when Sabretooth knocks off his glasses, just like in the good ol' days.

Austin's Analysis
This issue is fairly basic, plot-wise: the X-Men hunt Sabretooth in a series of confront-retreat encounters, and eventually he is shot and (seemingly) killed by government forces. But it is interesting nevertheless in a couple way: for one, it is written by Fabian Nicieza, returning (?) to the X-books to close out the storyline he started in X-Men Unlimited #3 (and which he seemed most invested in exploring/furthering). There's really no grand summation regarding the ultimately-failed efforts of Xavier to cure Sabretooth of his homicidal urges (at least not anymore so than was covered in Uncanny #328) or any similar attempt to provide some kind of capstone to the story, but it's still appreciated to see Nicieza back to finish out the story he essentially started (and his knack for continuity pulls is almost certainly responsible for stuff like the Caliban/Sabretooth encounter that leads off the issue).

The other interesting thing is that, aside from that aforementioned (and relatively brief) encounter with Caliban, this issue features the original five X-Men taking on Sabretooth. This is interesting because, for the most part, the Original Five have very little history with Sabretooth (Archangel battled him in Weezie's X-Factor and Nicieza did some stuff with Sabretooth & Jean in X-Men #28, but that's about it), especially compared with characters like Wolverine & Gambit or even Rogue (who, like the currently-injured Psylocke, did battle with Sabretooth in Uncanny #213), and it's also interesting because it goes entirely unremarked upon in the issue itself. Nobody points out that it's the "Original Five" going after Sabretooth, nor do any of the narrative captions make that point. It would almost seem to be a coincidence, but for the fact that there's really no good reason to not have any of the characters with a stronger connection to Sabretooth or investment in his fate involved other than a desire on Nicieza's part to specifically feature only the Original Five.

And to be clear, it's not a bad kind of interesting: with the O5 scattered across two teams in the '91 relaunch, it's been awhile since all five have been depicted in action together, so it's a treat to see them all together in action again. All in all, it adds a little something extra to an otherwise straightforward issue, even if it is a somewhat random or arbitrary occurrence.

Next Issue
Next week, the X-Men get some pizza.

Like what you read? Then support us on Patreon!


  1. It's original X-Factor team battling Sabretooth here and then he is forced to join the current X-Factor team.

    1. Of course! I never put that together (probably because the then-current X-Factor lineup feels one or two teams removed from the "original" second X-Factor lineup, such that I never made the connection that one X-Factor is shepherding Sabretooth to the next).

    2. I made that connection reading this post.

    3. I feel better about missing it then. :)

  2. I loved this issue as a kid and I’m pleased that, in my opinion, it still holds up today. Rereading it just the other night, I found it as well-written and riveting as I remembered.

    I was glad to see Nicieza back to wrap up the Sabretooth story that he started. Besides his nods to past continuity, I also loved his reference to one of his own works, bringing back the “firecracker/atom bomb” analogy between Sabretooth and Jean that he had introduced in X-MEN 28. I also loved Cyclops’s “I hated it” about the ending to BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID, as he takes Sabretooth down to prevent his committing “suicide by cop” — not that it makes a difference.

    Which brings us to my one major complaint here, though it’s not exactly about this particular issue, but rather its aftermath. It’s insane that after a two-year-ish storyline with this epic conclusion, Sabretooth comes back to life as a “good guy” just one month later! He should’ve stayed “dead” for a while after this story, at least a year if not more. But he was a popular character and Marvel was (too) eager to recreate his relationship with Wild Child from AoA as soon as they could, so of course that was never a consideration. But in a perfect world, it should have been.

    That said, I will once again note that not being a completist had its advantages back then. For me, Sabretooth was dead and gone after this issue. I didn’t read X-FACTOR and so as far as I was concerned, his death here was the final word until whenever I might have to pick that series up for a crossover event. Which wasn’t all that long with “Onslaught” looming, but still. It was better than getting him back a month later!

    1. Sabretooth comes back to life as a “good guy” just one month later! He should’ve stayed “dead” for a while after this story

      Yeah, it's pretty wild the turnaround is so fast. Even having read all this stuff in real time, up until this review, I had it in my head that there was at least a few months before he showed up in X-FACTOR. I think I remembered him joining circa #122 or so, three-ish months after this. But then I double-checked, and nope, he's popping up in X-FACTOR next month.

  3. I..think..the thundercats crash landed in pods/coffins like that in ep1(?). and lol @ Duke's lockpick - gotta imagine the door swinging loose to reveal a pinhole thru every other opposing wall. and the telltale shaft of light being the only source of light in the room..

    bet no one ever thought these covers would refuse to be photographed. it's as if you caught your copy leaving the courtroom under duress.

    the 05 do seem the best equipped to capture/disappear/silence anyone that may have escaped Xavier's(Onslaught) narrative. does help the Sabertooth is a killer and that Charles is unraveling.

    1. found Michael Golden credited with the cover.

    2. The chromium covers of this era are indeed not friendly with scanning/photography technology.

  4. I remember that in the uk reprint of this for the uk essential x-men reprint comic we have this was published as the 35th anniversary issue. so america got the return of shadowcat, nightcrawler and colossus and we got...this

  5. I bought every mutant book for most of the 90s, this was a extra 3.99 on the comic budget (ouch)
    Creed was sure is scary looking in this issue,
    even his clothes are bad ass
    Nicieza was progressing the Sabretooth story and doing it with a Xmen/Factor grouping, awesome

  6. I think the O5 being the ones to take down Sabretooth makes a lot of thematic sense. Wolverine or Gambit would be seen as too bloodthirsty or venegeful (something dealt with a little by Caliban here), but having CYCLOPS say "Creed, you're not right for the dream" highlights just how far gone Sabretooth is. Wasn't Scott telling Bishop NOT to kill Creed a mere issue ago? Having that guy turn around and insult Sabretooth is powerful stuff.

    Also always loved Beast's "I'm shedding" line as Sabretooth tries to grip his fur.

    Speaking of Beast, why the heck does that one guy want another reason than Beast's Avengers ID? You'd think with all the anti-mutant nonsense in the X-books at the time the guy would be THANKFUL to see an Avenger on the scene where a killer mutant psycho was brought down.

  7. 1.) I lost track of the number of times Sabretooth became a "good" guy or got drafted into an X-team. Not counting AoA, was...three?

    2.) At what point did Sabretooth become someone who could take on five X-Men simultaneously instead of just one of the Marauders? I feel like it happened so gradually I didn't notice.

    1. 1. His stint w/X-Factor...Mike Carey's run...what am I missing?

      2. It definitely was gradual. I think it started w/the Jim Lee redesign in X-Men #6 (which bulked him up, but also had him fighting a bunch of X-Men at once in the course of the story). Plus, the animated series tended to depict him as generally physically stronger than in his earlier comic book appearances, and some of that probably bled through, too.

    2. “Weapon X-Force” is actually a thing that was actually actual? Holy $#!%… That’s like the 2010s-iest ’90s callback ever, almost Morrisonian in its absurdist inevitability.


Comment. Please. Love it? Hate it? Are mildly indifferent to it? Let us know!