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Wednesday, September 2, 2020

X-amining Storm #1-4

"Sunburst & Snowblind" / "The Ghost Has No Home" / "The Tinderbox of a Heart" / "She Will Destroy You
February - May 1996

In a Nutshell
Storm is transported to the Hill, where she encounters Mikhail Rasputin and a new Gene Nation.

Story/Dialogue: Warren Ellis
Artist/Storyteller: Terry Dodson
Inkers: Karl Story
Letters: Ricjard Starkings & Comicraft
Colors: Rosas/Lenshoek, Ariane Lenshoek (issues #2 & 4), Lenshoek & Hoston (issue #3)
Separations: Malibu Hues
Editor: Suzanne Gaffney
Editor-in-Chief: Bob Harras

Plot
Issue #1: Struggling with her recent murder of Marrow, Storm asks Cable to show her the Ceremony of Light, so she might apologize to the dead Morlocks for failing them. As the she performs the ceremony, a dimensional portal opens, pulling her through. When Cable returns to the site of the ceremony, he finds a disfigured corpse and no psychic trace of Storm; he informs the X-Men she has died. However, Storm awakens in another world, and realizes the energy effect which took her there was similar to Mikhail Rasputin's.

Issue #2: As the X-Men deal with the apparent death of Storm, Storm herself grows familiar with her surroundings, which consists of a massive hill, in which the descendants of the Morlocks whom Mikhail sent to the world battle one another in an effort to climb ever higher up the Hill. Flying towards the summit, Storm passes Callisto, and reaching the top, locates the master of the Hill: a still-alive Mikhail.

Issue #3: On Earth, Cable informs Forge of Storm's death. On the Hill, Mikhail introduces Storm to the latest round of Gene Nation terrorists, who are planning on traveling to Earth to detonate a bomb at X-Factor headquarters. Storm attacks them in an effort to stop the bombing, and Callisto joins her, revealing that Mikhail murdered a girl to leave behind a corpse resembling Storm. Just then, the dimensional travel effect begins against Mikhail's will, and Storm orders him to send her home. But Gene Nation says that, if he does, they'll detonate the bomb, killing them all. 

Issue #4: Cable is performing the Ceremony of Light in order to say goodbye to Storm, triggering the dimensional transfer from the Hill. To end their standoff, Storm puts a knife to Mikhail's throat, telling him to send all of them - including Gene Nation - to Earth. They arrive, landing atop Cable, and Storm uses her power to send the bomb high into the sky where it detonates harmlessly. Callisto flees, while Mikhail teleports himself away at the same time Storm hits him with lightning, leaving Gene Nation to believe she's killed him. Properly cowed, Storm says she is going to send them to a village in Africa, where they will work peacefully with the people there to help them survive. Elsewhere in the tunnels, Callisto is found by Marrow, who survived her encounter with Storm, while Dark Beast - who had been secretly giving orders to Mikhail - expresses dismay at the disruption of his plans. Later, back at the X-Mansion, Storm reveals a new look to Cable, Cyclops & Phoenix.

Firsts and Other Notables
Storm's first solo series, this concludes with the character shedding her Jim Lee-designed/animated series-adjacent costume for a new, somewhat Manga-esque, look that will serve as her default appearance (with some color tweaks) more or less for the rest of the 90s (I don't know who designed it, but Joe Madureira's influence is present in the two long strands of hair, and he is technically one of the artist's responsible for drawing her in it at the time).


This series explores the origins of Gene Nation, bringing Storm to the extradimensional world (dubbed "the Hill") where the Morlocks ended up after Mikhail transported them out of the flooding Morlock tunnels in Uncanny X-Men #293.

It reveals that Mikhail survived the events of that issue, and continues to lead the Morlocks (and the Gene Nation agents sent to Earth) as the master of the Hill (despite Callisto having implied, in Uncanny #325, that the exiled Morlocks killed him after arriving at the Hill). He disappears at the end of the series, but will return in New Mutants: Truth or Death before being inexplicably involved in the "The Twelve" crossover towards the end of the decade.


It is also revealed, in issue #4, that Dark Beast has functioned as Mikhail's secret master, directing his actions to some extent. This ties in with the general retcon that Dark Beast is responsible for the "creation" of the Morlocks (and the notion of using a dimension where time moves faster to test out his experiments and see the results quickly is certainly fitting), but nothing more ever really comes of it.


Callisto returns in issue #2 of the series, having somehow made her way back to the Hill following the events of Uncanny #325. She receives some facial scarring in the course of the story, but I don't recall that ever being referenced again.


She runs into Marrow, revealed to be alive after all, in issue #4. The pair will return in Cable #42, ahead of Marrow working with (and shortly thereafter joining) the X-Men during "Operation: Zero Tolerance".


In issue #3, Mikhail introduces a new Gene Nation, consisting of a handful of new members along with some returning members (like Hemingway and Sack). I don't believe any of the new members shown here appear again (though the returnees do).


The first issue of the series comes with a cardstock, gold foil-embossed cover, because the 90s.

The first issue concludes with a Storm pinup by Terry Dodson.


Creator Central 
Excalibur writer Warren Ellis writes this series (fresh off the Starjammers limited series) while Terry Dodson provides the pencils, in his most high-profile work in the X-office yet.

The Chronology Corner
This series takes place between Uncanny X-Men #333 and #334, with Cable appearing between issues #32 and #33 of his series.

Collection Recollection
I'd never actually read this series prior to reading it ahead of this review; for whatever reason, despite buying & reading everything else the X-line was putting out at this time (including the similarly-priced Askani'son limited series), this I never picked up. It's entirely possible I missed the first issue at my local shop (and thus wasn't going to pick up the rest) or my limited budget just couldn't swing another $2.95 a month for four months, I honestly can't remember.

A Work in Progress
The first issue does that thing Rob Liefeld did a lot in early X-Force issues, where it presents narrative captions listing a very specific time (ie "4:57").

As the series opens, Storm is continuing to struggle with her forced murder of Marrow in Uncanny X-Men #325.


Storm is taught the Morlock Ceremony of Light, first shown in Cable #15, by Cable (who learned it from Thornn in that issue). It turns out to be an event which triggers the dimensional portal to the Hill (which was shown in Cable #15 when the little Morlock girl Sarah crossed over, after which she grew up there to become Marrow).


Cable & Cyclops have an exchange in issue #2 with some really awkward dialogue in it (it seems weird that Cyclops wouldn't think Cable would know who Colossus is, for example).


It was established in Uncanny #325 that time moved differently on the Hill; that's referenced explicitly here, though of course, it has no bearing on this story (ie Storm doesn't return to find years have passed while she was gone, or emerge from the Hill an old woman, etc.) because now a main character is being used as the POV figure.


Young Love
Cable creepily makes mental note of Storm's scent at one point.


He later likens Storm to his deceased wife, Aliyah.


Austin's Analysis
This is an odd series. For one, it's written by Warren Ellis, but plot-wise, it heavily involves Gene Nation, Mikhail Rasputin, and the interdimensional world he banished the Morlocks to, all of which have largely been the province of Scott Lobdell. And for its B-plot, such as it is, it draws on the burgeoning Cable/Storm relationship that has been almost entirely the purview of Jeph Loeb in Cable's solo series. As a result, the series reads very much like one of those writers intended to write it, got busy, and handed off some plot notes to Ellis (though Ellis receives full writer credit throughout, so if that's the case, neither of the other two writers are citing credit).

For another, it's visually a dark book: Terry Dodson is today largely know for cheescake-style art, and while that style is certainly present in his figure work here, his inkers' lines are very thick & heavy throughout. Additionally, many of the panels are light on background detail, with scenes instead playing out over dull, monochromatic backgrounds. And finally, it's weird how the through-line of the series is clearly meant to be Storm reconciling her feelings over her apparent murder of Marrow, but that journey gets a bit lost in the weeds as the story progresses (and then is mostly rendered moot by the sudden return of Marrow at the end). The effort - both in creating a place for Storm to grapple with her actions and in giving some background details on Gene Nation - is appreciated, but the actual results are fairly workmanlike.

Ultimately, there's very little to recommend about the series, even though it's competently crafted (a bit of awkward Ellis-ian dialogue aside). It largely stands as little more than a historical footnote (having never read this until just a few days before this review, I can say I never felt like I was missing much, and it turns out, I wasn't), the place where Marrow came back and Storm debuted a new look. Which, given Storm's still-diminshing role in the franchise since the '91 relaunch, and the potential for some rich & interesting character work in the wake of her (now attempted) murder of Marrow, is a shame.

Next Issue
Next week: Onslaught makes a move in X-Men (vol. 2) #50, X-Force battles the Blob in X-Force #52, and Wolverine comes face to face with the Dark Riders in Wolverine #99!

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6 comments:

  1. Did Storm really send the Morlocks to (generic) “Africa?” Honestly, how serious are the links between Storm and “Africa?” Yes, she was born in a country in that huge continent, but I only remember her back in those two issues drawn by Barry Windsor Smith.

    Once she sent them there, where would they stay? Because Africa in the 90s was essentially taken by dictators everywhere. Brutal ones, in fact. Do the Morlocks even speak the national language of whichever country to which they were sent?

    Why am I wasting time trying to understand this?

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    1. Did Storm really send the Morlocks to (generic) “Africa?”

      The story itself goes into a little more detail (not a lot, but a little...). The idea is supposed to be she's sending them to the village she visited in Uncanny #197-198 (issue #198 being the second BWS' drawn "Lifedeath" issue). The logistics of how that would work are...not explored at all.

      Why am I wasting time trying to understand this?

      I ask myself this question often. :)

      Delete
  2. Wasn’t she born in the United States?

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    Replies
    1. She was (in Harlem). I should have included a note about how Jean's summary of Storm's history displays Ellis' grasp on X-continuity, which is generally "close, but not quite all the way there".

      Delete
  3. I remember reading this when it was first published, with my main takeaway being that they could've just devoted a page in an issue of UNCANNY to Storm adopting her new costume and haircut, and not bothered with the mini-series. True, it does bring back Marrow, which will turn out to be important later on, but still -- it felt unnecessary in the moment.

    Also, I will never understand the 90s X-office's insistence on trying to make Mikhail Resuputin a "thing". I mean, I'm of the mind that Whilce Portacio and Jim Lee made a mistake in bringing him back in the first place, but even if we accept that story as written in stone, there was no need to return to him multiple times thereafter. He's a lame character!

    Is this series supposed to be take place after X-MEN UNLIMITED #10? I notice "Black" Beast looks like our version here.

    As for Storm's new look: I hate the hair. It looks stupid. That said, I like the costume itself. It's a little generic, but it feels closer to her original costume that what she'd been wearing for a long time up to this point, so it gets bonus points for that. I think it looks pretty good later in the decade, circa the Adam Kubert run, where Storm is drawn with her normal hair and her classic headdress, in this costume. Though by that point it had become purple rather than the black we see here, and I like the black better. (I actually seem to recall that it becomes purple immediately, or at last by the time of "Onslaught". In fact, this may be the only time it was shown as black!)

    Speaking of black costumes, I remember when I read this, I wondered why Dodson and the colorists all got Storm's costume wrong. It's clearly drawn here to be black. I had seen this "mistake" a handful of times in the 90s, usually in annuals or done by guest artists, and it always bugged me. It was years later that I realized I was wrong! The Jim Lee costume is supposed to be black. But due to the way Lee and most other artists drew it, specifically how much negative space they left open (which was usually left white), to me it always looked -- and still does -- like super shiny, chromatic silver.

    I have the same issue on the animated series side of the coin, by the way -- I often see people saying that Storm's costume in the show was white. I don't see that either. As with the comics, the cartoon costume looks like shiny silver to me, based on the way the artists usually applied black streaky details all over it. I suspect that whoever designed the costume for animation interpreted the comic book costume the same way I did, as silver.

    The funny thing is that whenever a toy or statue is made of Storm in her 90s costume, it's nearly always cast in either black or white plastic/resin/whatever to look like one of two things: how the comic was meant to have been perceived, or how the TV show was often perceived. But to match how I (admittedly incorrectly*) perceive it, any toy of Storm in that outfit should really be painted a super shiny, metallic silver. Not as shiny and reflective as chrome on a car, but basically like the paint on a freshly waxed silver car.

    *Note: my perception of the artists' intent is incorrect, but it's also the unequivocally correct way to perceive the actual drawings those artists produced. There's no way on any planet that Jim Lee's (or Whilce Poractio's or Andy Kubert's or Joe Madureira's) Storm looks like she is wearing anything other than a shiny silver costume, and I will take that belief to my grave.

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  4. According to Rob Leifelds podcast, the reason the colloring is so bad from 1996-1999 is because all these books were sent to (was it Scottland or Ireland) to be done by a group there that would do it for $20 a page but needed 3,000 pages each month. It washed out all the colors and everyone made fun of how bad the coloring was. YIKES, this was Marvel in full Cheap mode here.

    Personally, Dodson looks terrible in comparison to Whilce, Jim, Marc. I look at this storm and it looks like something out of a kids coloring book. Most pages don't even have backgrounds. It just felt like the X-Line was spread way too thin, no one had anything really interesting to say. This storyline could have been done in two issues and drawn out to four. Oof, this was a dark time for the X Office.

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