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Wednesday, September 23, 2020

X-amining X-Men Unlimited #10

"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
Separations: Malibu
Editor: Bob Harras

Plot
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.

Creator Central 
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.


Austin's Analysis
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 Issue
Next week: Uncanny X-Men #331, X-Factor #121 and Cable #30!

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10 comments:

  1. I think this issue was my first exposure to a lot of Beast’s backstory, so I liked it for that reason — but at the same time, I’ve always been a bit uncomfortable, even when I first read it, with Dark Beast being depicted as a mass murderer/serial killer here. I mean, I get that he’s a bad guy and is willing to kill in the course of his experiments, but seeing him go around and off the entire staff of the nursing home and all the people in the restaurant is creepy.

    I noticed that Dark Beast refers to Mindy as being 30 years old, which means Waid is abiding by the fact that Fabian Nicieza established Beast as 30 a few years back. So why Waid thinks he can say that Cyclops is “only twenty-five” in an upcoming issue mystifies me. Hank isn’t five years older than Scott! He’s like one year older, or maybe two at the absolute most.

    “... the throwaway notion of Beast having a family priest despite religion never really being part of his character...”

    It’s established (as far as I know) by Jim Starlin in INFINITY CRUSADE, of all places, that Beast is somewhat religious. His faith is strong enough that he’s recruited to the Goddess’s team in that story. Knowing Mark Ward’s undying fidelity to continuity, I’d bet the priest here is a reference to that. But yeah, you’re right — “devout” isn’t exactly a word anyone would associate with the super-sciency Doctor McCoy.

    Lastly, there any reason why this issue has to take place before X-MEN 50? I mean, I know it officially does — it immediately precedes that issue in the ROAD TO ONSLAUGHT vol. 3 trade paperback — but the last page of this one says that it will be continued in UNCANNY #331. And Beast’s characterization in X-MEN 50 really feels like the authentic article rather than his doppelgänger. I think I kept this issue filed after X-MEN 50 in my long boxes, and I still feel that’s where it should slot in terms of continuity.

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    1. Forgot to mention that I appreciate Waid giving at least a flimsy rationale here for why Dark Beast never thought about Beast since arriving twenty years ago. Rather than go with the bizarre implication that McCoy didn’t realize he had a counterpart, Waid has him state that he always assumed he had one but never bothered to dwell on it since he had more important things to worry about. Like I said, it’s flimsy — Beast was an Avenger, for Pete’s sake, something mentioned more than once in this very story — plus it feels incredibly unlikely that such a self-proclaimed inquisitive mind as Dark Beast wouldn’t have researched his alternate self over the decades — but at least it’s something!

      Honestly, why didn’t they just say that he knew about his counterpart? A bit of the narrative would need to be tweaked, but simply revealing that McCoy had been well aware of Beast and was keeping tabs on him for twenty years before finally deciding the time was right to replace him would’ve been a lot easier to swallow.

      Also, does Beast not age (or age slowly) or something? He came over from the AoA and spent twenty years lurking underground! Look, I’m 41. I feel like if my 61-year-old alternate universe doppelgänger tried to take my place and live among my closest friends and family, they might notice, even if he did make himself look exactly like me.

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  2. I had genuinely forgotten that Dark Beast actually did a Cask of Amontillado riff to get rid of Hank. Which says a lot about how my attention was beginning to waver around then.

    And I'm with Matt here. If I tried to replace my 20 years younger self right now, people would catch on fast. For one thing, they'd wonder why I occasionally favored one leg because I have arthritis now in my left knee! Sometimes I wonder if one of the reasons they went with Professor X is Onslaught was just so he could say "yeah, I knew you were an impostor, I just covered it up" because, really, what was his plan for faking out all the telepaths in the X-Men's orbit otherwise. (If he actually HAD one, I forgot it.) Never mind the little things, like interpersonal interactions and body language, twenty years difference in age is a LOT.

    You could really tell, in hindsight, that the X-Office was running without a real plan. When you start asking questions, it falls apart fast.

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    1. In story it was later explained no one noticed because Beast had stayed isolated in his lab so much in the months leading up to the switch. A bit flimsy but still it was sort of addressed I suppose.

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    2. @John: Yeah, I think the dual explanations are "locked in his lab so much he'd lost touch with everyone" and "Onslaught helped cover it up", both of which are doing a LOT of heavy lifting for the story.

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  3. Mortar on bricks takes 24-48 hours to harden. Beast's Marvel Card have him able to lift 1 ton....he's not able to break through that wall? I was working for a curbing company when this released, I was beyond stumped when I saw this pannel and still am today.

    What does he eat/drink if he's locked in there? He's in there for months.

    When a brick wall stops one of the smartest characters in the MU with super strength, the Shark has been Jumped!

    AND THIS IS A MARK WAID WRITTEN BOOK! REALLY.....REALLY?! Couldn't think of anything better?

    This book has so many plot holes in it. The age difference of 20 years, not knowing that there was a counterpart (wasn't it explained later that his memory was lost when he came to this world and a young Emma Frost helped restore some of it so that might explain why he didn't look for this earth's Beast), a brick wall holding him prisoner, being able to act and have relationships as if you came from this world when you know next to nothing about the people your interacting with, etc.

    At least in the Parent Trap the girls were twins and the same age.

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    1. I'm a construction superintendent and I laughed at that too. A small child could push that wall down, especially since he seems to have not poured grout into the blocks. Hell, one of the first things I ever did as a construction worker was demolish a cinderblock wall, I weighed 140 pounds soaking wet and I did it with a six pound sledgehammer!

      Moreover, I am now imagining Dark Beast buying a ton of bricks, mortar, and tools at the local Lowes. Since I don't remember a lot of details of this issue, are the bricks even EXPLAINED? Or are they just there? I get wanting to make a Poe reference, but damn this is silly.

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    2. Stop ruining The Cask of Amontillado for me!

      Hank's chained arms and legs with vanadium chains. He can't reach the brick wall.

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    3. At least in the Parent Trap the girls were twins and the same age.

      Ha!

      And yeah, he is chained to the wall, to keep him from busting down the wall and escaping.

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  4. There's a water dropper bottle placed in there eventually (shown when Hank is rescued) and Beast will be fed to be kept alive. Presumably after forced into physical exhaustion to keep him from attempting escape.

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