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Wednesday, July 8, 2020

X-amining Uncanny X-Men #329

"Warriors of the Ebon Night: Part 1"
February 1996

In a Nutshell
Wolverine & Archangel set out to find the Crimson Dawn in order to save Psylocke

Writers: Scott Lobdell & Jeph Loeb
Penciler: Joe Madureira
Inker: Tim Townsend
Letters: Chris Eliopoulos
Colors: Richard Starkings & Comicraft
Editor-in-Chief: Bob Harras

Plot
Observing events in his scrying pool, Dr. Strange realizes Wolverine & Archangel may soon need his help, whether they realize it or not, and sets out in his astral form to assist them. Meanwhile, Wolverine brings Archangel to a tea house in Little Asia, insisting they will find the help Psylocke needs inside. Their entrance is noticed & reported to a shadowy figure who says he was prepared for their arrival. Shortly after they sit down, they are attacked by the Steam Ninja. The ninja's weakness towards metal gives Archangel the edge in the ensuing fight, but it takes Wolverine seemingly killing an old woman in the back of the shop to dissipate the ninja. Archangel is outraged at Wolverine seemingly taking a life, but Wolverine reveals the old woman was actually a man named Gomurr the Ancient, who was controlling the ninja, and is alive and well. Wolverine convinces Gomurr to aid their quest to find the Crimson Dawn, the one substance Wolverine believes will save Psylocke's life. Just then, Dr. Strange arrives, and joins them on their quest as well.

Firsts and Other Notables
With the conclusion to Sabretooth's escape last issue wrapped up in Sabretooth Special #1, this issue kicks off the two part "Crimson Dawn" story as Archangel & Wolverine seek out a mystical cure for Psylocke's Sabretooth-induced injuries, one which will lead to additional changes to her character that carry through the rest of the decade. For now, it's mostly just an Asian-tinged buddy comedy-style story starring Wolverine & Archangel.

Dr. Strange, somewhat randomly, involves himself in the proceedings (Strange, as Marvel's Master of the Mystic Arts, certainly has a connection to the story; his presence within the context of this particular X-Men story is still a bit random).


The diminutive Gomurr the Ancient and Tar (the shadowy figure who is made aware of Archangel & Wolverine's arrival at the tea house) make their first appearances in this issue. Gomurr is another in the long line of "old acquaintances of Wolverine he's never mentioned before".


Creator Central 
X-Force/Cable writer Jeph Loeb joins Scott Lobdell to write this issue.

Electric Crayon's Richard Stu gets a special thanks int he credits for his work on the Steam Ninja.

A Work in Progress
Wolverine argues that since her transformation into an Asian ninja was mystical, Psylocke needs magical help to stitch her body back together.


Archangel is still suffering from the injuries he sustained in the Sabretooth one shot.


He also objects when Wolverine seemingly kills someone to end the threat of the Steam Ninja.


Wolverine notes that Archangel has been riding Wolverine since he joined the X-Men, a reference to, amongst other things, the Classic X-Men #1 backup story that saw them butt heads over Jean and the time Angel quit the team rather than be on it with Wolverine any longer.


The Grim 'n' Gritty 90s
The Steam Ninja is rendered via some very 90s computer effects (which isn't to say it isn't cutting edge for the time).


Artistic Achievements
As Dr. Strange’s Astral self floats across the city, Joe Mad does that Jack Kirby thing where he superimposes the drawn figure over a photographic background.


The Best There is at What He Does
Wolverine does the old “threaten to pop the third claw” routine to convince Gomurr to help them.


Austin's Analysis
Joe Mad goes full manga with this issue, as Lobdell & Loeb give him a plot clearly catered to the artist's tastes & sensibilities, shifting from the tension & visceral horror of Sabretooth's escape last issue (with the immediate aftermath of which being handled in a standalone oneshot) to a lighter, quasi-mystical story colored by anime & manga tropes. But as much as this represents the moment when Madureira lets his inspirations be truly known, it is, beyond all that, a really well-drawn issue. The Steam Ninja effects are dated, certainly, and the shift in tone between issues is somewhat jarring, but Madureira's figure work is dripping with characterization, such as the way his Wolverine is diminutive, hunched over, and almost ape-like while Archangel is tall, lithe, and willowy: it would be clear who was who even if they were rendered in silhouette, or with no dialogue, or without their respective signature claws & wings. Stuff like that is a reminder that, as much as it is the more obvious manga trappings that stick out in this issue (and that Madureira is remembered for, in large part due to the wave of imitators his popularity inspires), it's his understanding of fundamental storytelling that enables Madureira to get away with his stylistic touches, that the visual depth in his work shows his style is more than a novelty act.

Next Issue
Tomorrow, X-Factor prepares for the Adversary by hanging out with Bishop's holographic sister in X-Factor #119. Friday, Nate Grey continues to do his best to avoid the X-Men by running into Excalibur instead, in X-Man #12. Next week, more fun with Bishop in X-Men #49!

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7 comments:

  1. This little two-parter is a low-key favorite of mine. Alongside AOA's Astonishing #4 and a couple Onslaught issues, these issues are what I think of when I think of Joe Mad. He was just so insanely cool at this time and you can feel his excitement for the trappings of this story. (Though this is about when every character started having blank white eyeballs -- a pet peeve of mine.)


    With the conclusion to Sabretooth's escape last issue wrapped up in Sabretooth Special #1 ...

    I got my comics off a spinner rack in a local store, and one-shots and miniseries were hit or miss there. As such, I missed the Sabertooth Special (I think your review of it is the first time I ever saw the inside of it, tbh), but thankfully there's little to miss. Archangel's injury is the only thing that matters, and that was pretty easy to pick up from this issue.


    Dr. Strange, somewhat randomly, involves himself in the proceedings [...] The diminutive Gomurr the Ancient and Tar (the shadowy figure who is made aware of Archangel & Wolverine's arrival at the tea house) make their first appearances in this issue.

    This is news to me! I definitely came away from this issue as a kid thinking Gomurr and Tar were big deals in the Marvel Universe. My reading was limited to X-Men, but I knew of Dr. Strange, so seeing him here with these two other characters gave me the impression that they were big parts of the mystical corner of the universe. (Even after my reading list expanded post-Heroes Return to include George Perez's Avengers, Mark Waid's Captain America, etc., I never had an interest in mystical Marvel so I never realized they were minor figures.)


    The Steam Ninja is rendered via some very 90s computer effects (which isn't to say it isn't cutting edge for the time).

    It may be dated, but ... I kind of think it still works? That it looks so out of place underlines their otherworldly nature in a way that pencil-drawn steam figures may not.

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    1. Though this is about when every character started having blank white eyeballs -- a pet peeve of mine

      Yeah, I noticed that in this issue; probably should have commented on it...

      As such, I missed the Sabertooth Special (I think your review of it is the first time I ever saw the inside of it, tbh), but thankfully there's little to miss.

      Similarly, I should have mentioned in that review, I too somehow missed that issue back in the day (despite routinely buying my books from one of two different comic shops at that point...) and never felt like I was missing much.

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  2. "Wolverine argues that since her transformation into an Asian ninja was mystical, Psylocke needs magical help to stitch her body back together."

    That's...some kind of logic.

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    1. Well. Usually Hand ninjas turn into smoke ninjas when they are felled. Some of that mojo was put into Betsy, with a twist obviously.

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  3. Yeah, the steam ninja looks dated today, but I remember thinking it was really, really cool at the time.

    This is a fairly sparse issue; a little talking, a long fight, then it’s over, but I like it just the same. In large part that’s due to Joe Max’s phenomenal artwork as mentioned above, but I also enjoy the “odd couple” pairing of Wolverine and Archangel, two characters who, as dialogue notes, never had much use for one another in the past — but who both have a link to Psylocke and want to see her better.

    Overall it’s just setup, though. My recollection is that the next issue is where all the good stuff happens, but it’s been so long that I have no idea if I’m right!

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  4. I agree that this issue and the next one (as well as AoA's Astonishing X-Men) were what made Joe Mad.... well, Joe Mad. It's to his credit that while I can tell he was INFLUENCED by Ninja Scroll or Ghost in the Shell (his Rogue in Astonishing is almost a blatant Masamune Shirow homage) or whatever Manga video put out in the 90s, he STILL does right by designs and body language enough that it still seems natural for the characters.

    Joe Mad gets a lot of flack (some of it deserved) for his video game habits but him taking inspiration from Capcom's X-Men games is NOT a bad thing. In fact, I daresay this is the best anime-esque X-Men we'll ever get.

    On the writing side, that tiny acknowledgement from Wolverine that Archangel has toughened up is pretty touching. Warren's character has essentially been whining about what Apocalypse did to him for YEARS, and now he's grown a bit since caring for Psylocke. Warren's worried about someone else for a change. Which is thematically important because of how Logan, Warren and Betsy all have the bond of being radically changed by forces beyond their control.

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