In a Nutshell
Dark Beast & Sugar Man plot to capture Bishop while the X-Men play poker
Writer: Scott Lobdell
Guest Pencils: Luke Ross
Guest Inker: Andy Lanning
Letterer: Richard Starkings & Comicraft
Colorist: Steve Buccellato & Electric Crayon
Pit Boss: Bob Harras
As a group of X-Men play poker along with the Thing, Cyclops & Phoenix meet with Bishop at Harry's Hideaway to discuss the strange memories of living another life with which he's been grappling. They are unknowingly being monitored by Dark Beast, who is visited by Sugar Man, upset that Beast hasn't told him that Bishop knows of their home reality. Meanwhile, Professor X tends to the gravely wounded Psylocke in the wake of Sabretooth's attack. Back at the poker game, Cannonball turns out to be a surprisingly adept player while, during a break in the game, Iceman asks Storm for help with his powers, and Beast is hit with a sudden revelation about the Legacy Virus. Back at Dark Beast's lair, Sugar Man & Dark Beast realize that Bishop's knowledge of their world threatens their plans, and they need to kill him before Mr. Sinister realizes Bishop holds all the answers to the questions that have plagued him for the last twenty years. At the poker game, Gambit & Cannonball are the two players left standing, but after Cannonball shows his final hand, Gambit blows up the table rather than show his, despite having held the winning hand.
Firsts and Other Notables
This issue kicks off a plotline in which Dark Beast & Sugar Man target Bishop out of fear that his knowledge of the "Age of Apocalypse" will lead Mr. Sinister to discover that Beast & Sugar Man are the sources of mysteries that have been plaguing Sinister for decades (thereby making them targets of Sinister), all of which is setup for the reveal that Sinister ordered the Mutant Massacre because Dark Beast experimented on the Morlocks using techniques he learned from the Sinister of his reality (that's the mystery that has been bugging Sinister referenced here). This whole business will unfold over the next issue and #51-52 (sort of), after which it gives way to & gets lost in the shuffle of "Onslaught". It also effectively marks the zenith of the "Bishop has memories of the Age of Apocalypse" plotline.
Dark Beast & Sugar Man meet for the first time this issue since coming over from the Age of Apocalypse. It turns out they have a pact to share info with each other (which Sugar Man accuses Dark Beast of violating by not telling him about Bishop's memories) and it’s also suggested that their minds were messed up by the reality jump, which may be an in-universe explanation for why it took them twenty years to do anything direct.
Pam, the Harry's Hideaway waitress who seemed familiar to Bishop in Uncanny X-Men #298, returns in this issue, setting up next issue's reveal that she's Fatale in disguise (which, of course, isn't what Lobdell had in mind when teased that familiarity, because Fatale didn't exist as a character yet, and Lobdell never has anything in mind when he throws these cryptic teases out).
Though he has yet to wear it in a story, this issue's cover features Bishop in his new costume.
Between the previous story's setting inside a strip club casino and this issue's poker game, it seems like Scotty Lobs must have had a gambling itch that needed scratching around this time.
Luke Ross provides guest pencils on this issue, doing his best impression of Roger Cruz's Jim Lee impression.
A Work in Progress
Making a rare guest appearance during the "editorial silo" era (in which Marvel's titles were split into five "families", each overseen by a different editor-in-chief and keeping largely to themselves), the Thing appears briefly as part of the X-Men's poker game.
Lobdell, at least, is under the impression that Sabretooth was genuinely docile for a while, but was faking it by the time of his confrontation with Gambit in Uncanny #326.
Following up on their realization of a having a shared experience with Bishop in Uncanny #328, Cyclops and Phoenix try to help Bishop deal with his Age of Apocalypse memories here.
This issue tries to sell "McCoy" as the official designation of Dark Beast, but it doesn't really stick.
Xavier notes that Sabretooth seems to have wounded Psylocke critically but in a way that would keep her alive (whether that's meant to tease something or just serve as a in-universe explanation for her survival, the notion doesn't go any further than this).
Iceman asks Storm for help with his powers given their shared elemental nature, but I don’t recall that this goes anywhere.
Something Cannonball says during the poker game sparks an idea in Beast regarding his approach to the Legacy Virus; this also never goes anywhere (and can be added to the pile of "random tossed off teases about the Legacy Virus").
Similarly, whatever mysterious reasons Gambit had for blowing up the poker game despite having the winning hand remains a mystery.
With Fabian Nicieza gone and Mark Waid still on his way, it's time for another fill-in issue (even moreso than the previous two which, while narratively slight and largely irrelevant, were still at least drawn by Andy Kubert), albeit one that kicks off a plotline (such as it is) that will largely carry the series through to "Onslaught" as Dark Beast, Sugar Man & Mr. Sinister all vie over Bishop and his "Age of Apocalype" memories. Beyond that, the main set piece of this issue is the poker game, one of those light, mostly comedic running bits that allows for various plot & character advancements to happen around it (Beast has a Legacy Virus revelation, Iceman reaches out to Storm for help with his power, etc.).
This particular one, though, features one of the better uses of "Graduated Cannonball", as he essentially uses his "aw, shucks" demeanor to shark the other players. It's so effective even I bought into it: I initially made a note after the first page expressing frustration at how the one-time "Cyclops of X-Force" didn't know better than to not look over a player's shoulder and call out the player's hand, before it was revealed that he was playing up his ignorance to his benefit (in my defense, it's been a long time since I last read this issue). In the grand scheme of things, it's not that big a victory for "Competent Cannonball" and by no means does it mark the end of his "in over his head" phase, but it does at least show that Cannonball as the starstruck rookie who keeps screwing up isn't an ironclad depiction, and that variations are possible within that characterization.
Tomorrow, X-Force battles Cable in X-Force #50. Friday, Wolverine battles Chimera in Wolverine #97. Next week, Generation X #11!
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