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Wednesday, July 22, 2020

X-amining Archangel #1

"Phantom Wings"
February 1996

In a Nutshell
Archangel meets a guilt-ridden, bird-attracting, telepathic ghost woman. 

Writer: Peter Milligan
Artist: Leonard Manco
Letters: Jonathan Babcock
Editor: Mark Powers
Editor-in-Chief: Bob Harras

Archangel flies off alone after an argument with Psylocke. Flying over New York City, he is psychically attacked & wakes up in a fortress-like building, the captive of woman named Tuesday Bird, who is deathly afraid of birds. She helps heal his damaged wings, while Psylocke & Jean search for him. Eventually, Archangel learns how Tuesday killed her abusive husband by causing their private plane to crash, which also killed a flock of birds. He realizes that her psychic powers are causing her guilt over the death of her husband to subconsciously call the attacking birds to her. He helps her escape the birds, and she lets him go, just as Jean & Psylocke discover that Tuesday died in the crash with her husband. In the wake of his encounter with Tuesday, Archangel finds himself more at peace with himself and his metal wings, though Psylocke is unsure how she feels about another woman - a ghost - being able to reach him when she couldn't.

Firsts and Other Notables
This is a special one-shot presented entirely in black & white with a wraparound cover by Steve Lightle, focused on Archangel coming to terms with his metal wings.

Both Psylocke & Jean Grey appear in this issue as well, though neither really sound like themselves.

In the course of his encounter with Tuesday, Archangel hallucinates there are feathered wings inside his metal ones; this will turn out to be the case, as the feathered ones return in Uncanny X-Men #338.

Creator Central
Peter Milligan, who will later revamp X-Force with Mike Allred (turning it into X-Statix), as well as take over X-Men from Chuck Austen, writes this issue. Leonard Manco, probably best known as a Hellblazer artist, does the art.

The Chronology Corner 
Technically, this issue is considered to take place after Uncanny X-Men #330, but it doesn't quite fit there. It notably takes place after Sabretooth #1, with the events therein referenced, but while Archangel's wings start off injured and Psylocke is said to be recovered from Sabretooth's attack, there is no visual or textual reference to her transformation by the Crimson Dawn which occurs in Uncanny #330.

A Work in Progress
The injury & loss of Angel's wings pre-Archangel, circa X-Factor #10-15, is referenced.

Archangel's wings are shown to be capable of wrapping around someone, enabling him to carry Tuesday in flight.

The injuries Archangel sustained via Sabretooth are seemingly healed (though I don't recall whether or not his wings are also healed elsewhere).

Austin's Analysis
Woof. More than anything, this reminds me of some of the one-off stories we'd see from Ann Nocenti in the late 80s, with its more artsy trappings and loose relationship with current continuity. Of course, even if those Nocenti stories were similarly arch in presenting characters that seemed more like authorial mouthpieces than their usual selves, Nocenti, to her credit, was usually trying to say something profound in the process. This, well, I'm not entirely sure what the larger point of it all is, aside from Archangel finding some inner peace by helping a bird-obsessed ghost come to terms with her murder of her abusive husband. Which, sure, that's a story, I guess, but it's hard to quite gather what Milligan is trying say with any of this. He's clearly attempting to draw some parallels between Tuesday's guilt and Archangel's sorrow over losing his wings, but that connection is...tenuous. The general idea seems to be that Tuesday represents a worst case scenario for Warren, someone too consumed with guilt and looking back to function, someone further along the path he is on, but it sure spins its wheels with a lot of flowery nonsense in the process.

Similarly, while plenty of stories benefit greatly from being presented in black-and-white, the art in this feels like the choice to go sans color was less an artistic one and more like it just got released before the colorist had a chance to do their thing, adding to the quizzical, half-formed feel of it all. The end result is an issue which feels both rushed and ponderously poured over at the same time, one which seems more interested in seeming like it's saying something profound than actually being profound. Even at this point in time, at the zenith of the X-Men's commercial power, when Marvel was pushing out as much X-content as possible, it's hard to see who the intended audience was for a an overwrought Archangel story with delusions of grandeur, where everyone sounds like a stock character instead of themselves, other than the most ardent of completists. 

Next Issue
Next week, Marvel continues to milk the X-cash cow with Logan: Path of the Warlord #1!

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  1. I love a lot of Milligan's stuff, particularly from around this era. I'd never heard of this book, and from the looks of it, that's probably a good thing.

  2. "Artsy trappings" is a great phrase to apply to this. I read it for the very first time last night and thought it felt a bit too pretentious for its own good. My thought was (and this will sound like I'm being pejorative, but that's not my intention) "This feels like a young British writer trying to do something extra British to make his mark on the biggest mainstream superhero franchise in the United States". And thus, we wind up with this weird... thing.

    I also find it odd that we're less than a year away from Archangel getting his feather wings back in UNCANNY 338 (cover-dated Nov. 1996), and we have this story about him coming to terms with the metal ones (which I feel like he'd already done two or three times at this point, but whatever). I mean, I know Scott Lobdell made everything up as he went along, but still -- the timing is bizarre.

    And I agree on the black-and-white. Art meant to be published that way usually looks like it was meant to be published that way, with lots of black, lots of zip-a-tone, etc. This just looks, like you said, as if they published the thing before they had time to color it. And what was a black-and-white book doing in the X-line of 1996, anyway? It feels way out of place.

    (Indeed, the reason I didn't buy it way back when was because I looked at it in the comic shop, thought "black-and-white? Screw this!", and put it back. Like you said -- who was the intended audience? Because I have a hard time seeing this appeal to the teens and tweens who would've been reading X-MEN at the time.)

    Lastly, I really don't like Leonardo Manco's art here. I'm generally not a huge fan of his style in the first place, but I can usually stomach it. But for whatever reason (maybe the lack of color), I find this issue really, really ugly.

    "Archangel's wings are shown to be capable of wrapping around someone, enabling him to carry Tuesday in flight."

    This bugged me so much! It makes no sense. If he's got her rolled up in one wing like a burrito, he shouldn't be able to fly with the other wing alone!

  3. I have to assume this was an attempt to draw Vertigo readers to X-Men. "Look, we can do body horror, overwrought emoting, and a literary lack of resolution too!"

    Milligan's run on Shade wrapped up this same year; maybe this was his Marvel tryout?

    1. The Vertigo comparison is spot-on, as this has the same "trying too hard to be ~important~" vibe as so much of that imprint has. I mean, no one called out the last name of the bird-controlling ghost lady "Bird" as too on-the-nose?

  4. "In a Nutshell
    Archangel meets a guilt-ridden, bird-attracting, telepathic ghost woman."

    Wait, and you're telling me this isn't something Ann Nocenti wrote for Marvel Fanfare circa 1988?

  5. “I think self-pity’s really sexy!” may be one of the best lines ever uttered in comics — especially Marvel comics, especially Marvel X-Men comics, and especially Marvel X-Men comics in the ’90s. (“Don’t just stand there looking apocalyptic!” isn't far behind.)


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