"Need to Know"March 1996
In a Nutshell
Dark Beast captures Beast in order to take his place amongst the X-Men.
Writer: Mark Waid
Pencils: Frank Toscano & Nick Gnazzo
Inks: Art Thibert
Letterer: Starkings & Comicraft
Colorist: Matt Webb
Editor: Bob Harras
Determined to learn more about his counterpart in order to better hide from Mr. Sinister amongst the X-Men, Dark Beast visits Beast's now-elderly principal and learns about young Beast's insatiable curiosity, then kills him. Meanwhile, at the X-Mansion, Beast continues his near-obsessive study of the Legacy Virus, much to the growing consternation of his teammates, unaware that Dark Beast has hacked his computers. As he observes Beast, Dark Beast injects himself with a serum, triggering further physical changes. Later, posing as Beast, he meets with Mindy, a high school sweetheart of Beast's. Learning what he can from her, he kills her, too. At the X-Mansion, Iceman tries to get Beast to take a break, but he refuses. Elsewhere, Dark Beast meets with Beast's priest and, after a brief interview, blows up the church. At his lair, he continues to experiment on himself, further changing his appearance. He proceeds to visit Beast's parents, but finds himself unable to kill them. Later, a message appears on Beast's computer screen with information about the Legacy Virus; determined to find the source, Beast tracks it to the abandoned Brand Corporation building. Dark Beast is waiting, and the two fight. Learning of the deaths Dark Beast has perpetuated, Beast snaps, becoming more beast-like than ever, but Dark Beast snaps him back to his senses by telling him that if Dark Beast dies, Beast will never learn where he came from. This gives Dark Beast an opening to knock Beast out. He awakens to find himself being walled up by Dark Beast. He pleads with Dark Beast, asking him why he's doing this, but Dark Beast simply says "because" as he lays the last brick.
Firsts and Other Notables
This issue marks the point at which Dark Beast captures Beast and replaces him on the X-Men, having altered his appearance (which features gray, coarser fur than Beast) to better reflect his 616 counterpart and gained an understanding of Beast's background and temperament by visiting people from Beast's life. All subsequent appearances of Beast amongst the X-Men from this point forward are meant to be Dark Beast, with the real Beast not to be released until X-Factor #126 (Dark Beast notes he's keeping him alive in case he needs more information from him to maintain his ruse, which is a decent enough explanation to the question of why Dark Beast doesn't just kill the one person who can most easily expose his ruse).
Here, Dark Beast's desire to replace Beast is attributed to his desire to hide from "a very powerful man", though we know from X-Men #49 that this refers to Mr. Sinister.
Incoming X-Men writer Mark Waid writes this issue. It is drawn by two artists whom I have never heard of and am unaware of any other work they've done.
A Work in Progress
Beast's initial transformation into blue(ish) and furry in Amazing Adventures #11 is recapped here.
Beast's Silver Age "origin", of being born a mutant as a result of his father being exposed to radiation through his job at a nuclear power plant, is referenced here when Dark Beast visits Beast's parents. His dad also underlines the point that Beast's intelligence is natural and not the result of his mutation.
The Reference Section
Beast's school janitor is very clearly as pastiche of Groundskeeper Willy from The Simpsons.
Iceman compares himself to the Man in the Yellow Hat to Beast's Curious George (which is another way Waid underlines curiosity as the force driving Beast's actions leading up to the climax of the issue).
Dark Beast chaining up Beast then building a wall around him is not explicitly called out as reference to it, but it always makes me think of The Cask of Amontillado by Edgar Allan Poe.
The Grim 'n' Gritty 90s
Beast is wearing a Toronto Blue Jays shirt at one point; presumably someone in the creative team was a fan, with the team winning back to back World Series in 1992 and 1993.
This issue has one job to do, and that's to initiate the switch between Dark Beast and Regular Beast, setting up a plot point that will be explored (sort of...) in other issues of other series. But doing so doesn't exactly take up a lot of pages, yet this has sixty-four of them to fill. So Mark Waid uses those pages to present an extended character study of sorts for Beast, as Dark Beast goes around learning about his counterpart by interviewing people from his past (the better to impersonate him, of course). Waid's brief run on X-Men and within the X-office isn't terribly well-remembered, for a variety of reasons, but regardless, Mark Waid is, at the very least, an established and competent comic book writer, and thus, this issue is far better than the mercenary plot purpose at its core.
While it suffers some of the same beats these kinds of stories always do (like the heretofore unheard of childhood sweetheart who provides cunning insight into Beast's character, or the throwaway notion of Beast having a family priest despite religion never really being part of his character), and the art is pretty standard fare for the time, neither interesting enough nor humorously bad enough to elicit a reaction, for the most part, Waid succeeds in his efforts. In particular, his emphasis throughout the story on Beast's curiosity regarding how things work, while not a heavily-established aspect of his personality (like, say, Storm's claustrophobia or Wolverine's bestial urges) certainly fits with the general "egghead scientist across multiple disciplines" portrayal of the character for much of the last decade, pays off nicely as the thing that snaps defeat from the jaws of Beast's victory. Certainly, in terms of executing the required plot beat, it's certainly a lot more engaging than just having Dark Beast shoot him with a tranquilizer when he's not looking. Does the execution of the plot point require a full sixty-four page issue? Is that plot point, ultimately, worth all the hubbub? Not really, no. But Waid does his best to elevate the task, and does so by keeping with the more character-focused work found in this series' best issues so far.
Next week: Uncanny X-Men #331, X-Factor #121 and Cable #30!
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