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Wednesday, June 3, 2020

X-amining Uncanny X-Men #328

"Precipice"
January 1996

In a Nutshell
Sabretooth escapes captivity & brutally injures Psylocke.

Writer: Scott Lobdell
Penciler: Joe Madureira
Inkers: Tim Townsend
Letters: Richard Starkings & Comicraft
Colors: Steve Buccellato & Electric Crayon
Editor: Bob Harras

Plot
Having realized during a telepathic scan that Sabretooth was faking his recent docile behavior, Professor X finally gives up hope of curing him of his homicidal rages, and prepares to turn him over to Val Cooper for government incarceration. As they wait for her arrival, Boomer confronts the restrained Sabretooth in the Danger Room, angry at him for making her think he was helpless & appreciative of her care. As Psylocke watches from the control room, Sabretooth taunts Boomer, and Psylocke telepathically urges her to get out. But Boomer loses control and launches a massive bomb at Sabretooth, intending to kill him. But instead, it simply destroys his restraints as his healing factor works to repair his injuries. Just then, Psylocke intervenes, saving Boomer as she engages Sabretooth in a vicious fight. As Boomer calls for help, Psylocke is forced to resorts to giving Sabretooth the telepathic "glow" to calm his homicidal urges, only to discover it no longer affects him. As Cyclops, Beast & Archangel rush into the Danger Room in response to Boomer's calls, they discover Sabretooth gone, and Boomer cradling a badly injured Psylocke.

Firsts and Other Notables
This issue effectively ends the "Sabretooth living in the mansion filling a Wolverine-adjacent role in the series while Wolverine is off doing his own thing and Professor X tries to cure him of his homicidal tendencies" plotline that's been running since X-Men Unlimited #3/X-Men (vol. 2) #28, with Xavier having resolved he can't cure Sabretooth while it's revealed here that Sabretooth has been faking his recent tranquility (to some extent; as has often been the case with the "docile Sabretooth" subplot, it's unclear if the idea is Sabretooth has faked being docile since the return from "Age of Apocalypse", or if he was legitimately docile for a time, and only regained his original, evil, personality after his mind healed).

Sabretooth's subsequent escape triggers a fight between him and Psylocke, an overt callback to their first direct encounter in Uncanny X-Men #213 (when a pre-Asian/ninja Psylocke took on Sabretooth one-on-one towards the end of "Mutant Massacre").


In the ensuing fight, Psylocke is gravely injured, setting up the events of the next two issues (as Wolverine & Archangel work to save her life) which will, in turn, lead to further changes for Psylocke (this marks the beginning of her "Crimson Dawn" period).


Xavier has decided to turn Sabretooth over to the government, in the form of Val Cooper, setting up his eventual presence in X-Factor. While the ramifications of Sabretooth's attack on Psylocke will be followed up in this series, the hunt for the now-escaped Sabretooth will unfold in Sabretooth Special #1, later this month.


In a brief moment, Jean tries to comfort Xavier about the Sabretooth situation, and he curtly brushes her off, which could be pointed to as a subtle indication of the presence of Onslaught (in general, the overall failure to cure Sabretooth will be cited as one of the frustrations which leads to the creation of/causes of increased power/control to Onslaught).


A Work in Progress
Sabretooth says he never asked to be cured of his homicidal rages, which doesn’t quite gel w/X-Men Unlimited #3, where Sabretooth agrees to come to the mansion for treatment of those rages.


Cyclops gives a pretty decent argument to Bishop for why the X-Men don’t kill their enemies.


Upon hearing Bishop talk of his experiences "coming back" from the "Age of Apocalypse", they realize it sounds similar to their own experience spending ten years in the future raising Cable, and ponder that perhaps their rapport has helped them process that experience better than Bishop.


Boomer confronts Sabretooth, angry about the whole "she fed him and cared for him and almost got kicked out of X-Force for it, only to find out he was, to some extent, faking it all" thing.


When Psylocke tries to subdue Sabretooth during their fight by giving him the telepathic "glow" which calms him down and suppresses his homicidal rages, it doesn't work; he claims Wolverine' claw-to-the-brain is the cause (though I have no idea how he'd know that, or even that the glow no longer affected him).


For Sale
Marvel Overpower gets an expansion set.


Bullpen Bulletins
The X-Facts page is another "designed with crude 90s graphics" mess, highlighting the upcoming Book of Askani oneshot (and Storm miniseries).


Austin's Analysis
With this issue, Joe Mad goes full manga, leaning in to the development of his style in that direction to maximum effect (it becomes even more apparent starting next issue, as Lobdell begins to write material which speaks to his collaborator's style, but comparing this issue even to, say, just #325 - let alone his earlier issues on the book - make it clear). And, to his credit, his work here, as with issue #326, does do a lot to sell the various plot beats. The big Sabretooth/Psylocke fight isn't as well choreographed as their previous direct encounter in issue #213 (let alone as well choreographed as something like Wolverine vs. Silver Samurai in #173 or the Wolverine/Shingen stuff in the initial Wolverine mini), but some of that is down to the pacing & structure: Lobdell doesn't leave him a lot of space for an epic fight, as he builds the tension ahead of Sabretooth's breakout, and similarly, the cutaway to the X-Men responding to the fight, in order to setup the reveal of Sabretooth's escape & Psylocke's injury, takes panels away from the fight itself.

But Madureira sells the threat of Sabretooth, making him a hulking monstrosity, barely held in check by his restraints and then towering over Boomer & Psylocke once released. And while the whole "Boomer is emotionally wounded by Sabretooth's betrayal" lacks the intended punch even if you've been reading it unfold over in another series (and especially if you haven't, in which case it more or less comes out of nowhere, another example of the inter-connectivity of the X-books at this time and the expectation from the creatives that everyone is reading everything), Madureira still sells the anguished sense of betrayal & rage from Boomer. Even if it's not fully clear why she is as hurt & angry as she is, Madureira makes it clear just how much she is. So while this an important issue narratively speaking - ending Sabretooth's time in the mansion, setting up Psylocke for further changes in her character & physiology - it's even more important in the development of Madureira's style and its impact, as he fully embraces his passions and a more energetic, anime/manga-infused approach to his art, one that brings a whole new look to not only this series, but, eventually, the franchise, and superhero comics on the whole.

Next Issue
Tomorrow, Havok battles Random in X-Factor #118. Friday, X-Man battles X-Cutioner in X-Man #11. Next week, X-Men (vol. 2) #48!

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14 comments:

  1. I know there's little long-term forethought in a serial, but stuff like Cyclops's "pull that trigger" speech makes the ruthlessness he discovers around Messiah Complex even more jarring.

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    1. Not to mention Cyclops killing Xavier, and feeling little guilt or mourning his loss. I felt his characterization after AvX was so off...His plan technically worked, but he played with a planet destroying entity, things didn't go according to plan, and it ended with him going so far he killed Xavier. Intentional, accident, Phoenix force or not, that chain of events should have deflated his over-confidence as a leader, had him wondering if it was all worth it, and wrestling with guilt and grief.

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    2. Same here. The 2000s have definitely lost the thread for him as a character, and it doesn't feel like he's going to be recovered any time soon.

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  2. 1) Two years wasting readers’ time and patience for nothing. Sabertooth only mattered during the Phalanx storyline.
    2) Then, Boomer is responsible for this entire mess. I’m sure that the writer could have made up a different excuse for Sabertooth’ escape in a way that Boomer would look an reckless fool. Did she ever ask whether Psylocke was better after this? I don’t recall them meeting afterwards.
    3) The next two issues is a complete waste and I’m certain it was merely an excuse for Madureira to draw “Japanese stuff.” In fact, I’m certain that the whole idea was his.
    4) Yes, that’s the real Cyclops, not whatever happened to him after 2000, and especially after 2010.
    5) The entire Sabertooth “can be cured” plotline was dumb from the start and I think the creators realized that. He was, since his inception, a mass murderer. He killed dozens of Morlocks and a past UXM issue, also drawn by Madureira, showed that he killed far more. You can’t have someone around without tarnishing the X-Men. The whole point should be Xavier trying to “fix” Sabertooth, but intending to deliver him to authorities afterwards, so that he wouldn’t be a menace and could pay for his crimes.
    6) Onslaught is stupid.
    7) I honestly disliked this tendency at Marvel that married couples had to appear together all times. After they married, Cyclops and Marvel Girl would only appear together and embracing or touching each other. It’s like Cyclops couldn’t lead a mission with a team that didn’t have Jean in it. In fact, when was the last time he led a team into a mission? I don’t recall. What a waste of a great character.

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    1. 1) This resolution is weak, but I enjoyed several of the Sabertooth stories along the way. The subplot drives some of the best X-Men character work of the 90s -- Xavier's confrontation with Sabertooth in the mindscape, Gambit and Rogue, Jean and Jubilee.

      2) Yeah. This is sloppy. "Girl has emotions and lets uncontrollable murder monster free" is lazy and reductive.

      4) This is a perfect Cyclops moment. Agreed.

      5) Strong disagree. There was a seed of something interesting in a homicidal maniac was asking for help. Unfortunately, it seems it was the brainchild of Nicieza and Lobdell seems to have little interest in it after Nicieza's departure. I think all of the character moments I list in #1 are from Nicieza's book.

      6) Yup.

      7) I agree that 90s Marvel had a lot of unnecessary hugging moments, like Scott and Jean here. It was a lazy way to up the soap operatics of the book. But if you're suggesting that Cyclops and Jean as an action-adventure unit is a bad thing, then I disagree strongly. In fact, one of the most baffling choices of the Blue-Gold split was separating these two. In their 33 years of publication history (as of this issue), they were on a team together for all but six years in the 80s (from Phoenix's death in 1980 to X-Factor's launch in 1986) and from the five years since the Blue-Gold split in 1991. And I cannot possibly imagine that Cyclops would ever in a million years agree to Jean being on a separate team after losing "her" in 1980 and then losing Nathan at the end of X-Factor -- or that Jean would agree either. These two were a package deal.

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    2. Personally, I don't think that Onslaught is stupid. The execution was poor, but I love the idea of Professor X being consumed by his dark side and becoming a bad guy as the starting point of a crossover. Plus, he looks really cool in his final form, and the crossover itself has some really cool moments.

      Also, I agree with Michael on the "Sabretooth in the mansion" stuff. Nicieza sold the premise really well in X-MEN UNLIMITED #3, and all the stuff he did with it was great. Heck, Lobdell's one real issue devoted to the plot prior to this one, UNCANNY 326, was good too (and followed up on some of Nicieza's stuff). The fact that it wraps up so abruptly is probably due more to editorial wanting to move Sabretooth to X-FACTOR than any other reason.

      As far as Boomer causing Sabretooth's escape, I don't really see the issue. She had confided in him and from that, he learned how to push her buttons exactly right. I think it makes perfect sense that he could manipulate her into getting him out.

      Though as sort of a counter to Austin's point above, I actually find that that their relationship works better for me when I haven't read the X-FORCE stuff. I've gotten all I need from the core X-books. There's one scene in one issue where she brings Sabretooth some milk and somebody comments on it. That sets this up. Then we have this scene here. I never read X-FORCE back then, and I haven't been reading along with it now, but I can fill in the blanks for myself in ways that the actual X-FORCE issues probably didn't!

      (I've said the same thing about Onslaught in the past, too. If all you're reading are X-MEN and UNCANNY, you don't get as many contradictory clues as if you're reading everything else. That doesn't mean the Onslaught reveal is well executed, but does feel a little less random based solely on what you see in the two core titles. Not being a completeist has some advantages!)

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    3. Oh, also -- I'm sure Lobdell did indeed write the next two issues precisely because Madureira wanted to draw "Japanese stuff", and I'm honestly not sure why that's a problem? Lots of writers (including Chris Claremont) come up withe stories that will cater to their artists' interests.

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    4. As far as Boomer causing Sabretooth's escape, I don't really see the issue. She had confided in him and from that, he learned how to push her buttons exactly right. I think it makes perfect sense that he could manipulate her into getting him out.

      I don't have an issue with Boomer causing Sabertooth's escape. It's execution is just poor. I don't recall that Boomer's ever had such a hair trigger in New Mutants or X-Force, or that she'd experienced anything outside of this issue that would cause her to react so quickly or emotionally. It's just "Sabertooth pushes her buttons and so she throws bombs at him." It gets the job done, but it has none of the emotional impact (on me, anyway) that Lobdell seems to think it will.

      Even just a small change to this set-up would go a long way here. Say, if he'd pushed her buttons and she was about to bomb him, but then she stopped at the last minute because she realized what he was doing. But like, it was too late because she doesn't really have as good a control of her powers as she thinks she does, and something goes off and he manages to break free. (Just spitballing here.)

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    5. Meant to respond to this too!

      Personally, I don't think that Onslaught is stupid. The execution was poor, but I love the idea of Professor X being consumed by his dark side and becoming a bad guy as the starting point of a crossover. Plus, he looks really cool in his final form, and the crossover itself has some really cool moments.

      I very much like the build-up to Onslaught. This run of issues between AOA and Onslaught in the core books is one of my all-time favorites. But the mega-crossover climax is such a letdown that I really don't know I've ever gone back and looked at the event outside of a couple of issues of Uncanny and Adjectiveless.

      I can take something like Sabertooth in the mansion and accept (even enjoy!) a weak climax to an otherwise entertaining subplot because ... it's just a subplot. It gets wrapped up here in one issue. I can't really accept or enjoy a weak climax to Onslaught because it's the biggest event ever. (At least at its time.) The X-Men! The Avengers! The Fantastic Four! Spider-Man! Hulk! Dr. Doom! Magneto! Sentinels! All come together for ... this kind of boring, nonsensical mess. It's like taking all your action figures out and not even smashing them together in an entertaining way.

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    6. Michael -- "I don't recall that Boomer's ever had such a hair trigger in New Mutants or X-Force, or that she'd experienced anything outside of this issue that would cause her to react so quickly or emotionally."

      Good point, and that's probably why this isn't a big deal to me. I've read precious little with Boom Boom/Boomer/Meltdown. I never read classic X-FACTOR and I never read X-FORCE, outside of its participation in crossovers. Honestly, my main exposure to the characters is probably first appearance in SECRET WARS II! So she's basically a blank slate for me in this story.

      "I very much like the build-up to Onslaught. This run of issues between AOA and Onslaught in the core books is one of my all-time favorites. But the mega-crossover climax is such a letdown that I really don't know I've ever gone back and looked at the event outside of a couple of issues of Uncanny and Adjectiveless."

      Yeah, I remember we both waxed nostalgic on our love for this span of issues a while back here. I do agree that a lot of "Onslaught" is a letdown from the larger perspective, but same as I mentioned above, with not being a completist, I've never actually read the full event. Only the two bookends and the core X-books, GENERATION X, and EXCALIBUR (which barely participates), plus the Spider-Man crossover issues. It was actually shortly after "Onslaught" that I finally began to branch out in my Marvel reading beyond just Spidey and the X-books.

      That said, I do seem to recall that I liked the big sacrifice scene in ONSLAUGHT: MARVEL UNIVERSE -- but I haven't read or even looked at it in probably close to twenty years, so I'm interested to see what I think when get back there.

      (Spoiler: I'll probably still like it. More than with anything else, I have a really, really hard time divorcing nostalgia from my critical brain when it comes to X-Men comics from the early to mid-90s.)

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  3. I've been looking forward to this one! As can be inferred from my comment above, I really like this issue. As a retroactive building block toward Onslaught, it works well enough. The fight between Sabretooth and Psylocke is a nice callback to her earliest days wiht the X-Men, though I wish she'd put up a better showing here.

    Sabretooth's time in the mansion comes to a somewhat abrupt end, but I have no problem with that. It was fairly apparent by this point that the creators were just spinning their wheels, so why not dump the plot and move on?

    (That said, I wish Sabretooth had stayed "dead" after the upcoming one-shot for at least a little while, but I'll talk about that when you get there.)

    But above all else, what I love, love, love about this one is the artwork. Right from the cover, which is one of my all-time favorite images of Psylocke, Madureira's pencils are spectacular, Tim Townsend's inks are perfect, and the colors are brilliant too. Everyone looks exactly on-model to how I remember Madureira's run.

    I also like Madureira's tweaks to Bishop and Cyclops. Bishop looks perfect in his original costume with the shaved head and no bandana. I seriously wish they'd kept this look rather than going with the dumb costume Andy Kubert gives him in upcoming issues.

    But more importantly, Madureira made one long, long overdue modification to Cyclops's Jim Lee costume: he dumped those stupid straps on this thighs. I never liked them. They served no purpose and just looked dumb. Now, at long last, they're gone. At least when Madueira draws him. I seem to recall Kubert kept them around for some unknown reason.

    (Also, Mad has removed the "X" from Cyclops's belt buckle, which I kind of like too. He doesn't need two promenent X's on the front of his costume!)

    My recollection from my teenage years is that from this point up to "Onslaught", UNCANNY fires on all cylinders (while X-MEN is way more hit-or-miss). I'm psyched for the next few months' worth of posts!

    Now, all that said, I do have a couple nits to pick with this one:

    1. What's the deal with the timeline? Xavier talks with Sabretooth, then immediately afterward, right outside the danger room, he speaks with Cyclops and Phoenix and leaves. Then we cut to the danger room and suddenly Boomer is there. Sabretooth gets her mad, Psylocke shows up, big fight, etc. -- and it all happens really fast, like in a span of minutes. Then Cyclops comes back, apparently dressed to go swimming or something?! And remember, he lives outside the mansion in the boathouse at this point. There's no way he left the mansion, went to the boathouse, changed clothes, and then for some reason came back to the mansion (and went underground to the danger room level) in the amount of time the Boomer/Psylocke/Sabretooth business happened. And all Madureira had to do was keep him in costume for the final scene, and this wouldn't be an issue.

    2. Psylocke charges into battle against Sabretooth and yells at Boomer to "alert the others!"

    .......

    Psylocke? You're a telepath. You could literally alert everyone in the mansion and on its grounds with a thought.

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    1. Psylocke? You're a telepath. You could literally alert everyone in the mansion and on its grounds with a thought.

      You know, I love this issue -- and, like you, I love this whole run leading up to (and even including the core X-issues of) Onslaught -- but, in 24 years, this has literally never occurred to me! Yikes. What a dunce.

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    2. As a #213 bookend, Sabretooth fooled her by keeping her busy.

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  4. LOVE Joe Mad's art in this issue, but wanted to point out that his Psylocke just SCREAMS Capcom. And since "Children of the Atom" hit arcades in '94 it's gotta be intentional. Looks great, but whoever designed that sprite (words like Sprite and Arcade get confusing when it comes to X-Men and video games) deserves some credit too.

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