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Wednesday, October 28, 2020

X-amining Uncanny X-Men #332

"The Road to Casablanca"
May 1996

In a Nutshell
The X-Men try to find the devolved Wolverine, and encounter Ozymandias in the process. 

Writer: Scott Lobdell
Penciler: Joe Madureira
Inkers: Tim Townsend
Letters: Richard Starkings & Comicraft
Colors: Team Bucce
Editor: Bob Harras

Plot
Wolverine - transformed by his recent encounter with Genesis - pauses on a hilltop overlooking a temple. He senses the presence of someone nearby, watching him, but when he turns, the person is gone. Meanwhile, Professor X confronts Zoe Culloden at the Casablanca office of Landau, Luckman and Lake, trying to find Wolverine. She is reluctant to help, citing attorney-client privilege, but outside the office, Jean suddenly senses Wolverine nearby, and leads Cyclops, Iceman and Cannonball towards him. Meanwhile, Wolverine draws closer to the temple, and falls through a trap door. Deep inside the temple resides Ozymandias, a former disciple of Apocalypse transformed into animate stone. He confronts Wolverine, threatening to kill him if he doesn't explain why he's there. Just then, the X-Men arrive, and Ozymandias animates stone representations of assorted friends and foes of the X-Men, setting the constructs against them. During the ensuing fight, Cyclops is knocked into a deep chasm. Wolverine attempts to save him, but Ozymandias grabs him and prepares to throw him after Cyclops as well. 

Firsts and Other Notables
This is the first appearance of Ozymandias, a seeming acolyte of Apocalypse rendered in living stone (with the power to animate stone, along with some kind of precognitive/time & space-spanning clairvoyance). He will serve as a herald of sorts for Apocalypse, playing a minor role in "Onslaught" and featuring in the Ancient Egypt-set Rise of Apocalypse miniseries, before settling in as one of those characters who pops up in Apocalypse and Apocalypse-adjacent stories. 


Professor X confronts Zoe Culloden in this issue, furthering her cryptic role in Wolverine's transformation without really revealing much about it. She next appears in Deadpool's solo series, which I've never read, but I suspect her contributions there do little to resolve exactly, what, LL&L were doing or trying to do with Wolverine over the ten-ish months of stories. 


During their confrontation, Xavier telepathically "games" an encounter between the two which leads Zoe to believe she's shot Xavier, after which Xavier makes it clear he's playing by different rules than usual and that, while he lost Sabretooth, he won't lose Wolverine, all of which retroactively ties into the Onslaught reveal and the general notion of Xavier's dark side gaining strength as the defeats & setbacks pule up (it's also established here that Xavier is aware of Landau, Luckman and Lake’s extradimensional holdings, for what that's worth).


Starting this month, the relevant issue number for each series returns to the top left "corner cover box" on all standard covers. It had been forced into the UPC box when the publication of "deluxe" versions of each issue (with the higher quality paper) began, in order to highlight that status. Going forward, the paper remains (and Marvel will continue to print an alternate, cheaper, newsstand edition of each issue, on traditional newsprint, for a number of years) but the "deluxe" label is gone, allowing the issue number to resume its rightful place on covers. 

A Work in Progress
Narrative captions in this issue go into more detail regarding what happened in Wolverine #100, saying that Wolverine surrender his humanity in order to break free of Genesis’ bonding process to rescue Cannonball.


The X-Men appear to be driving Professor Xavier’s old Rolls Royce from the Silver Age (despite being in Casablanca).


Trying to cheer up Cannonball, Iceman calls his time with the Champions a mistake.


The events of X-Cutioner’s Song are said to have occurred “months ago”.

The Further Adventures of Cyclops & Phoenix miniseries (the first issue of which goes on sale a month after this issue) gets a footnote, as Jean compares Ozymandias to Mr. Sinister. 

Ozymandias creates stone avatars of an assortment of X-Men foes. 


Having yet to meet him, Jean doesn’t recognize the Nate Grey stone avatar created by Ozymandias. 


The Grim 'n' Gritty 90s
Iceman is wearing an Orlando Magic jersey this issue, coming at the height of Shaq fever.

Artistic Achievements
When Ozymandias grabs Wolverine from behind, it gets a "grab" sound effect. 


For Sale
There's an ad in this issue for a contest involving the Generation X TV movie. 


Austin's Analysis
Even before Scott Lobdell took over the writing on the second X-Men title ahead of Mark Waid's arrival, he and Fabian Nicieza passed characters and plotlines between their series with relative ease. With this issue, Lobdell does the same thing with Larry Hama, picking up after the events of Wolverine #100 to deal with the immediate aftermath of Wolverine's feral devolution, and kicking off a "quiet" crossover with that series ("quiet" in that it's 1996 and the story clearly continues from one issue to the next, but it doesn't get its own title, cover branding, promotion pinup, etc.). It works, despite the fact that it makes for another set of books directly crossing over with each other one month before a massive line-wide (and very much not "quiet") crossover is set to begin, in large part because it makes sense: Wolverine is a recurring cast member in both X-Men books, so it stands to reason that one of them should address the changes in the character wrought in his solo series head-on. It also works because Lobdell is able to add some further context to what happened to Wolverine (given the way Hama structured issue #100, it didn't allow for a lot of introspective third-person captions explaining what decisions Wolverine was making inside that tube). The Ozymandias stuff is much less effective (and largely random), though it is fun to see Joe Mad drawing stone golems of assorted X-Men villains (and X-Man), but as an attempt to work Wolverine's new status quo into the fold with the proper gravitas and a touch of additional elaboration, this issue works pretty well. 

Next Issue
Tomorrow, X-Factor meets their new member in X-Factor #122. Friday, "Identity Crisis" concludes in Cable #31. Next week, all aboard the mutant train in X-Men (vol. 2) #52! 

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4 comments:

  1. I generally like this issue, but I don't really have much to say about it. I guess it's essentially the "middle part" of a 3-part story, if you consider WOLVERINE 100 to be part 1. The art and colors are phenomenal, though. I remember thinking at the time (and still believe today) that in terms of art and production values taken together as a whole, UNCANNY X-MEN was the crown jewel of the Marvel line -- at least during the months when Joe Mad found time to draw it. I think in part it's because his and Tim Townsend's work really marries well with glossy paper, computer colors and Comicraft's letters, in a way that not all artists of the era did (even the really good ones, like John Romita Jr. and the Kuberts).

    "I suspect her contributions there do little to resolve exactly, what, LL&L were doing or trying to do with Wolverine over the ten-ish months of stories."

    As I recall, in DEADPOOL, LL&L spends the first 25 issues grooming Deadpool to become "the Mithras", a warrior destined to defeat some alien threat. Captain America is also a candidate to be the Mithras. I suppose it's possible that Wolverine was considered for the role too, but I don't remember if that was ever mentioned. It's been over 20 years since I last read the series. In any case, though, it could be a retroactive No-Prize reason for what was going on here.

    On a side note, I've always found it a little odd/interesting how Zoe -- and to a lesser extent her associate Noah -- were semi-regular players in WOLVERINE for a few years, even popping up in the core two X-books once or twice, and then right about here they were abruptly jettisoned, pretty much completely, from the X-titles and shunted over to DEADPOOL instead (which, while being X-adjacent, was under the purview of a different editor.

    Speaking of, will you be reading DEADPOOL when it launches? I know you covered his first two mini-series, but they were way more X-adjacent than the ongoing (though it does feature several appearances from Siryn early on, as well as one or two Wolverine guest-spots). I really liked the series though, at least for those first two years. Joe Kelly stuck around another year or so after, but my recollection is that with his big Mithras epic resolved, the series felt somewhat aimless until his departure. And I was never too partial to any of the runs which followed his, aside from Gail Simone's at the very end of the series.

    "...(it's also established here that Xavier is aware of Landau, Luckman and Lake’s extradimensional holdings, for what that's worth)."

    I was confused why this was treated as some sort of revelation. Couldn't Wolverine simply have told him off-panel at some point? He wasn't shy about letting Jean in on it a few issues ago in his own series.

    "...the "deluxe" label is gone, allowing the issue number to resume its rightful place on covers."

    One step closer to the return of the traditional corner boxes, coming out of the "Flashback Month" event a year or so from now! I remember how excited I was when they debuted that trade dress in 1997. Having learned in recent years that Bob Harras was a big fan of Bronze Age Marvel, the return of the classic corner boxes more-or-less coinciding to his promotion to editor-in-chief makes a lot of sense.

    I actually associate that trade dress with one of my all-time favorite periods reading Marvel comics, due to it featuring on the "Heroes Return" books, the Alan Davis X-Men run, and a number of 1999/2000 mini-series that I really enjoyed.

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  2. I did not know the Deluxe printing is why the numbering went at the bottom of the cover. Not having it standard drives me a bit nuts when going through my collection.

    The regular newstand versions of many of these issues in NM condition are very highly sought after now and are much more expensive than the Deluxe versions. It's insane how the lower print run and higher chance of being destroyed or damaged has lead to a larger collectors interes today.

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  3. The "grab" sound effect is amazing.

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  4. While I definitely bought the Deluxe versions I blame them for the accelerated price increases. It seems Marvel used to love taking advantage of X-Men fans.

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