Three guys talking about comic books, sports, movies, TV shows and the numerous other pastimes that make us Gentlemen of Leisure.

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

X-amining Uncanny X-Men #331

"The Splinter of Our Discontent"
April 1996

In a Nutshell
Iceman seeks out Emma Frost while Archangel & Psylocke take a leave from the X-Men.

Writer: Scott Lobdell
Guest Penciler: Bryan Hitch
Guest Inker: Paul Neary
Letters: Richard Starkings & Comicraft
Colors: Steve Buccellato
Editor-in-Chief: Bob Harras

Plot
Members of X-Force respond to an explosion at Beast's lab, pulling him out and extinguishing the fire. He is taken to the medlab, saying he'll be his loveable old self soon enough. Meanwhile, in New York City, Iceman confronts Emma Frost at the offices of Frost Enterprises. In Colorado, Gambit, Bishop & Xavier see that Archangel & the recovering Psylocke are settled in Archangel's home. Back in New York, Iceman tells Emma he needs her help to transform back to his human form. Elsewhere, Cyclops & Phoenix have returned to the site of Post's attack on the X-Men, only to find the landscape vastly different than during their battle. In New York, Banshee & Jubilee wait outside Frost Enterprises, while inside, Emma uses her telepathy to taunt Iceman with a series of illusions, forcing him to push himself and finally unlock his powers, enabling him to return to flesh-and-blood.

Firsts and Other Notables
Iceman confronts Emma Frost in this issue, looking for her help (via her greater understanding of how his powers work thanks to her time hanging out in his body in issue #314) to make sure that when he transforms into human form, he doesn't die as a result of the big gaping hole in his chest, which occurred in X-Men #50. She helps believe in himself and transform back to human form, and this effectively marks the end of the "Iceman tries to further his powers/thinks Emma Frost is messing around in his head" subplot.

Archangel & Psylocke take a leave of absence from the X-Men in this issue, returning to Archangel's Colorado home in order for Psylocke to further recover from the attack by Sabretooth and her encounter with the Crimson Dawn last issue. Though the pair will continue to appear here and in Adjectiveless through "Onslaught", this marks their formal departure from the team going forward, and while they will continue to make semi-regular appearances following "Onslaught" (including in their own shared limited series) neither will rejoin the X-Men and become a recurring presence in an X-book until around the time of "The Twelve" and Chris Claremont's late 90s return to the franchise.

This issue opens with an explosion in Beast's lab and it leads to the first time Dark Beast's impersonation of Regular Beast is acknowledged in one of the main books (via loaded dialogue and a footnote to X-Men Unlimited #10). I remember reading this sequence and believing that the explosion was triggered by Dark Beast cover the moment of his insertion (ie make a big explosion and then if he seems off, well, it was the explosion!) but there's actually nothing in the text which makes that explicit. The Marvel Chronology Project considers Dark Beast to already be in the mansion as of X-Men #50 (which explicitly takes place before this issue), though there really isn't anything in that issue to suggest it is Dark Beast (or that is HAS to be Dark Beast retroactively).


The Chronology Corner
Emma, Banshee and Jubilee appear here before Generation X #12.

A Work in Progress
Apparently, Bryan Hitch didn’t get an updated reference sheet for Meltdown’s new look.


Gambit & Bishop, accompanying Archangel & Psylocke to Archangel’s home for some reason, continue to do their trust me/don’t, will they/won’t thing.


Archangel is depicted with stubble and it’s...weird.


Cyclops and Phoenix return to the site of the battle with Post from X-Men #50, only to find it nothing like the environment the X-Men experienced, which prompts some Onslaught build-up as they speculate that Onslaught might be the biggest threat they’ve ever faced.


The Grim 'n' Gritty 90s
Banshee is smoking his pipe in one panel.


"Professor Xavier is a Jerk!"
When Xavier bristles at Archangel’s suggestion that he could telepathically force Archangel to stay with the X-Men, he reminds Xavier of all the times he wiped minds in the Silver Age.


Austin's Analysis
This is, seemingly, Lobdell's attempt to wrap up the "Iceman worries he's not using his powers to their fullest" subplot (or, at least, this current/active iteration of it), as he uses Iceman's encounter with Post in X-Men #50 and the resultant gaping hole in his chest (another example of Lobdell essentially writing both series as one) to push another confrontation with Emma Frost, one which ends with Emma forcing Iceman to...believe in...himself(?), thereby resolving his issues. It's all very vague and unsatisfyingly pat (what, really, did Emma do to make him think/act that differently in this issue?), but it's resolved, I guess, so that's something.

But while that stuff forms the narrative spine of this issue, such as it is, this is really a deck clearing transitional issue, positioned as it is between the end of "Crimson Dawn" and a small crossover with Wolverine, as Lobdell starts moving pieces around ahead of "Onslaught". So Archangel & Psylocke leave the team, putting the follow-up to "Crimson Dawn" on the backburner for now, while the Iceman/Emma Frost plotline gets put to bed. Meanwhile, the series' openly acknowledges Dark Beast's insertion, while doing more ominous Onslaught foreshadowing by having Cyclops & Jean talk up what a BIG DEAL he is. Lobdell, of course, handles this sort of thing well - it's not exactly a patented Post-Crossover Quiet Issue, but it's in the same wheelhouse - even if the narrative purpose is a bit more obvious here, and while my younger self was likely irked by the presence of guest artist Bryan Hitch just on the principle of him not being the regular artist/Joe Mad, his work here, still early in his career, is still effective & quite nice.

Next Issue
Tomorrow, Forge battles the Adversary in X-Factor #121. Friday, Cable battles X-Man in Cable #30. Next week, X-Men (vol. 2) #51!

Like what you read? Then support us on Patreon!

4 comments:

  1. There are many hints to Bobby's later confirmed sexuality in this issue. Maybe the mosy explicit hint ever.

    On a side note, I love Emma as she's written in this era by Lobdell. Much better than the manipulative witch she has become.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I remember reading this sequence and believing that the explosion was triggered by Dark Beast cover the moment of his insertion (ie make a big explosion and then if he seems off, well, it was the explosion!) but there's actually nothing in the text which makes that explicit.

    My instant thought was that the supposed effects of the blast were an intentional cover-up job to provide a plausible explanation for why he suddenly may feel a bit different (and maybe a bit singed over the edges) to people who have known him very very well for a very long time.

    He's smart, like. He had thought about the things people pointed out in the comments of UNLIMITED #10

    ReplyDelete
  3. You mention Bryan Hitch, I know my teenage self hated Hitch's art.
    Now that I'm older, still don't like it
    I really do not like his character faces or bodies.
    And I really hated his Beast.

    To me,Hitch was a poor version Alan Davis art,
    And I was never much for Davis.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I know what you mean about the "resolution" to the Iceman plot not really feeling like a thing. I do think Scott Lobdell is generally a good writer, but every so often he writes scenes where characters just talk a lot of words at each other and you're left scratching your head over what they actually said. The stuff between Iceman and Emma in this issue is a perfect illustration of that tic.

    That said, while this issue's "cover story" doesn't really impress me much, I do like all the rest of it. And I agree with your description of this being not quite a quiet issue, but something close. It's one of those things that I used to mention often, especially when Fabian Niceiza was still on X-MEN -- a "pseudo quiet issue" with a smidge of a fight (between two characters on the same side) to meet the requirement of being an action-adventure comic. This was something the X-comics did often in the 90s, and I've always liked it.

    "The Marvel Chronology Project considers Dark Beast to already be in the mansion as of X-Men #50 (which explicitly takes place before this issue), though there really isn't anything in that issue to suggest it is Dark Beast (or that is HAS to be Dark Beast retroactively)."

    Yeah, this issue of course answers the question I posed of X-MEN UNLIMITED #10 -- why did X-MEN 50 need to be set after that issue? The answer, as is usually the case with these things, comes down to one teeny tiny continuity glitch: the gaping hole in Iceman's chest, which occurred in X-MEN 50 and is fixed here, and where here Beast has clearly been replaced by Dark Beast, which happened in X-MEN UNLIMITED 10, which featured a fully intact Iceman.

    I still think Lobdell intended the Beast in X-MEN 50 to be the real thing, though, and editorial kind of screwed up by allowing Iceman to appear in X-MEN UNLIMITED 10 without his wound.

    "Archangel & Psylocke take a leave of absence from the X-Men in this issue..."

    I sort of liked this setup. I mean, I'm a fan of both these characters (I typically list them both among my favorite X-Men), but the X-Men don't really need a dozen or so members. I like the idea of writing certain characters out while keeping them around on a recurring basis. Like regulars on a TV show who leave the main cast but return a couple times a year as special guest stars or something. And thinking back, I do remember them both popping up enough times over the next few years to feel like they were still part of the family even when they weren't showing up as everyday team members.

    "Gambit & Bishop, accompanying Archangel & Psylocke to Archangel’s home for some reason, continue to do their trust me/don’t, will they/won’t thing."

    WHY DO THEIR CLOTHES MATCH??? Are those supposed to be uniforms or something? It looks really weird.

    "Cyclops and Phoenix return to the site of the battle with Post from X-Men #50, only to find it nothing like the environment the X-Men experienced, which prompts some Onslaught build-up as they speculate that Onslaught might be the biggest threat they’ve ever faced."

    I wonder if they had finalized yet that Xavier was Onslaught? Because this clue definitely works in that direction, if he used his powers to make the X-Men "see" totally different terrain.

    Hey, imagine a version of this saga where Post was a figment created by Xavier for that one story, and was never seen again! I feel like the world would be a better place if it had gone down that way.

    ReplyDelete

Comment. Please. Love it? Hate it? Are mildly indifferent to it? Let us know!