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Wednesday, October 7, 2020

X-amining X-Men (vol. 2) #51

"Deathbound Train"
April 1996

In a Nutshell
Bishop, Gambit & (Dark)Beast attempt to stop an out-of-control train filled with wildly-mutating humans.

Writer: Mark Waid
Pencils: Pascual Ferry
Inkers: John Dell, Mark Morales, Vince Russell 
Letterer: Richard Starkings & Comicraft
Colorist: Marie Javins
Separations: Malibu Hues
Editor: Bob Harras

Plot
After finishing the repairs on Cerebro, Professor X detects a sudden surge of mutant energy in New Jersey. Bishop takes Gambit & Beast to investigate, and they find a commuter train out-of-control & overrun with mutates, humans infected with a disease that triggers mutations and is passed by physical contact. Meanwhile, Cyclops & Jean Grey are visiting Jean's parents when Graydon Creed announces his candidacy for president on TV. This prompts Xavier to contact Ambassador St. Croix and prepare him for the fact that the X-Men may need to take drastic action to stop Creed. Back on the train, Bishop & Gambit head for the engine while Beast cobbles together an anesthetic to knock out the mutates. After he does, Mr. Sinister appears on the train, claiming credit for the virus. At the head of the train, Bishop & Gambit are unable to stop the train, but Gambit comes up with an idea, and begins charging the train with kinetic energy, effectively turning it into a massive bomb heading right into Manhattan!

Firsts and Other Notables
This is Mark Waid's first solo outing as the regular writer of the book, taking over for the long-departed Fabian Nicieza. It comes as Waid is riding his star high: he is in the midst of a defining run on Flash, took over Captain America from long-time writer Mark Gruenwald to much critical acclaim, and the first issue of Kingdom Come, with Alex Ross, launches a few months after this issue is published. Becoming the writer on one of comics' best-selling titles at the time was viewed by many (ie Wizard magazine) as the coronation of Waid as comics' biggest & best writer. Yet for all that, his run on X-Men is mostly remembered for its brevity (he is on the book only through issue #56, the series' last official "Onslaught" tie-in), and the circumstances of his departure, which found him in conflict with editorial & Scott Lobdell amid disagreements over the identity of Onslaught and the course of the story 

Graydon Creed's presidential run, previously established in issue #45, is publicly unveiled in this issue via a press conference Creed throws.



This prompts a call from from Professor X to Ambassador St. Croix, the member of his Mutant Underground introduced in Uncanny X-Men #305 (and who will later be revealed to be Monet's grandfather). Xavier makes some cryptic comments about the X-Men possibly taking drastic action to stop Creed's presidency, but nothing ever really comes of this (the X-Men do move against his company by inserting Cannonball & Iceman into his campaign staff, but they don't ever do anything as ominous as what Xavier suggests here), and this is Ambassador St. Croix's final appearance to date.


Speaking of little-mentioned and oft-forgotten supporting characters, Jean Grey's niece and nephew Gailyn & Joey, appear in this issue as Scott & Jean visit Jean's parents. They last appeared at Scott & Jean's wedding, but no mention is made here of their recently-confirmed-dead mother, Sara. At one point, Cyclops seems to be testing them for mutant powers, but nothing comes of this, either (they will next appear in the X-Men vs. Brood miniseries, and then in X-Man of all places during "Operation: Zero Tolerance", before being killed many years later in the "End of Greys" story).


Creator Central 
Pasqual Ferry fills in for Andy Kubert this issue; drawing in a Madureira-lite style, he'll pop up in a few places across the line in a similar capacity in the months ahead.

A Work in Progress
Cerebro, destroyed by Banshee at the opening of “Phalanx Covenant”, is brought back online this issue.


Cyclops says he’s twenty-five, which, as mentioned before, simply doesn’t work if Beast is also meant to be thirty at this point (as Nicieza asserted earlier in the series).


One month (publication time) after assuming Beast's identity in order to hide himself from Mr. Sinister, this issue, Dark Beast comes face-to-face with...Mr. Sinister. 


Austin's Analysis
Mark Waid is aboard as the new series writer, but this issue nevertheless kicks off another little two-parter that seems mostly designed to kill time before Onslaught shows up (the third - and thankfully final - such story for this title in the last six months, after the X-Babies and Dark Beast/Fatale two-parters that preceded issue #50). And even by those standards, this is a quick, light read, with the main plot moving along seemingly at the same speed as its out-of-control train. The best part of the issue is when Dark Beast comes face-to-face with the very person he infiltrated the X-Men to hide from, in his very first adventure posing as Regular Beast. It's a hilarious plot turn, one which (presumably unintentionally) also makes Dark Beast's whole plan seem even more questionable/plot-mandated in retrospect. But aside from that? Next please.

Next Issue
Tomorrow. X-Force battles the X-Ternals in X-Force #53. Next week, Generation X #14 and Excalibur #96!

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8 comments:

  1. Well, Cyclops actually says he's "twenty-fi--" before being cut off. Lots of ways that sentence could end.

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    1. Really? Jean jokingly says he's forty, so Scott replies with his actual age and I'm not sure how "twenty-fi..." could possibly end with any other number in the twenties besides "five."

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  2. Might want to edit the credits for this issue. Kubert is incorrectly listed for pencil duties. Correctly, you mention that Pascual [SIC] Ferry fills in for Kubert in the Creator Central section of the article. First name is actually "Pasqual."

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    1. Thanks! Totally forgot to adjust the creators from the template.

      Looks like he's credited as "Pascual" in the book itself so I spelled it as such in the credits, but updated the spelling in Creator Central to Pasqual.

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  3. wanted to pipe up and say Pasqual's Madureira-lite was a rousing success!

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  4. Yeah, I remember Waid taking over X-MEN being heralded as a Really Big Deal by
    WIZARD. As far as debut issues go, this one is good. I hate when writers come onto a comic and immediately try to “make their mark” by going in their own direction — which basically is what Waid did when he took over CAP, immediately jettisoning all of Mark Gruenwald’s plotlines and supporting characters (aside from addressing the fact that Cap was, uhh, dead when he came aboard, which sort of needed to be resolved in order to move forward).

    But fortunately, you couldn’t come onto a high profile, editorially-driven series like X-MEN in the mid-90s and expect to be able to do something like that. So rather than feeling like the first issue with a brand-new writer, this feels fairly seamlessly like “just another issue” of X-MEN, complete with a sub-plot (Grayson Creed) that I’m certain was dictated to Waid by editorial. Obviously, mileage varies by reader as to whether that’s a good thing, but I consider it a positive. My preference in a long-running comic is always that you should be able to strip out the credits and never know from issue to issue whether the writer had changed. Of course that’s rarely ever the case, though it was more common in the Silver and Bronze Ages — and here, it does work out that way. Waid doesn’t script like Scott Lobdell, but he’s versed enough in the 1990s X-Men “house style” that this still feels like a comic Lobdell could have written. The story may not be anything particularly special, but my recollection is that the two parts together make up a pretty good action story.

    Speaking of the script, it also fits perfectly with what has come before, narration and all. I suppose it helps that Waid had already done a fair amount of scripting for the X-office by this point. The captions are just the right amount of melodramatic, and the dialogue feels “right”. Plus there are things Waid throws in that I like, such as Bishop being the de facto leader of this little trio of X-Men (even though you’d expect it to be Beast), and Gambit’s phonetic accent being just as over-the-top as when Scott Lobdell writes him.

    And in my book, you can never go wrong with Mister Sinister. I distinctly remember being shocked when I read this issue that he was proactively going out and doing “villain things”. It never occurred to me before this point that, much as I loved him and considered him my favorite X-villain, I’d rarely seen him do anything particularly villainous! He generally just lurked around making cryptic comics (which was how he won me over, but still — it was nice to see him “in action” here).

    Cyclops describing himself as twenty-five has bothered me for (funnily enough) nearly 25 years, though. As I mentioned in my comment on UNLIMITED #10, Beast’s classmate was identified as 30 there, which means Waid was acknowledging that Beast was 30 too, as established by Fabian Nicieza. So does that mean that, circa UNCANNY #1, when Beast was maybe 17, Cyclops was 12??? It’s inane and I’m not sure what Waid was thinking. If Beast is 30, then Cyclops, Jean, and Angel are all 28/29, and Iceman is 26/27. End of story, impossible to debate.

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    1. It never occurred to me before this point that, much as I loved him and considered him my favorite X-villain, I’d rarely seen him do anything particularly villainous!

      It's funny that you mention that, because I recently really came to appreciate just how much Apocalypse - for all that he's a tier 1 X-Men villain - generally tends to appear only in finite stories (at least after his earliest X-FACTOR appearances). So he's dies in X-FACTOR #68, then comes back (and dies again) in "X-Cutioner's Song", and is off the board until just before "Onslaught" (and, of course, "Age of Apocalypse, but that's a *different* Apocalypse). Then he's pretty much gone until "The Twelve", and so on. He pops up for a big story, does his thing, then is gone.

      If Beast is 30, then Cyclops, Jean, and Angel are all 28/29, and Iceman is 26/27.

      Right. I don't even have a problem if people want to argue with the age range (maybe Beast is 25. Maybe he's 40!), but the ratios of ages amongst the O5 is pretty locked in. Iceman is a little bit younger; someone wants to argue Beast or someone else is year or two older than the rest, fine. But they're all within a couple-three years of each other no matter what.

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    2. Yeah, Apocalypse was very sparingly used in the 90s. When you think about it, so was Magneto -- or at least the "real" Magneto. He's the villain (or, more accurately, antagonist) of X-MEN 1 - 3 in 1991, then "dead" until "Fatal Attractions" in 1993, and then he becomes a vegetable until 1995.

      Yes, he's in AoA, but aside from the "Legion Quest" flashbacks where he's not yet become the Magneto we know, he, like Apocalypse, is an alternate version of the character.

      And even when he comes back in '95, he's still not the "real" version. He's de-aged and amnesiac, and ultimately we're told that he's a clone. The actual, real Magneto doesn't return until UNCANNY 350 in 1997, and doesn't really factor into any stories until "Magneto War" in 1998.

      So when you think about it, the actual, real, villainous/anti-hero Magneto only headlined three major stories from 1991 to 1998. Kind of crazy. Of course, after "Magneto War", Marvel kept him around a lot, with a couple of mini-series, being one of "The Twelve" in 1999, and so forth. But if you wanted the iconic, orange-and-purple Magneto through most of the 90s, you were out of luck except for a small handful of stories.

      (I think most of us kids of that era had our major exposure to both Magneto and Apocalypse on the cartoon series -- outside of back issues and sporadic flashbacks, of course.)

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