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Wednesday, November 4, 2020

X-amining X-Men (vol. 2) #52

"Collector's Item"
May 1996

In a Nutshell
Gambit, Bishop and (Dark) Beast stop the mutant train but are captured by Mister Sinister. 

Writer: Mark Waid
Pencils: Andy Kubert
Inks: Cam Smith
Letterer: Richard Starkings & Comicraft
Colorist: Marie Javins
Enhancements: Malibu
Editor: Bob Harras

Trying to stop a runaway commuter train filled with passengers infected by a virus mutating their genetics, Gambit charges up the train with kinetic energy, then advises Bishop to absorb that energy and re-channel it; the resulting kinetic backlash brings the train to a stop. However, the X-Men, including Beast, are knocked out by Mister Sinister. Meanwhile, Rogue rents an apartment in South Carolina, hoping to start a new life away from the X-Men. Back at the site of the train incident, local investigators have their evidence confiscated by the mysterious Bastion. In Sinister's lab, Beast awakens to find himself restrained. Sinister tells the captive X-Men the effects of the virus are temporary, then turns his attention to Bishop, who, hailing from the future, isn't part of Sinister's vast collection of mutant DNA. As he proceeds to examine Bishop's memories, Beast (who is actually Dark Beast in disguise) becomes terrified that Sinister will discover him. However, Gambit is able to escape and free sBishop & Beast, and in the ensuing fight, Sinister is chased away as his work on the virus is destroyed. The X-Men emerge from Sinister's lab, which Gambit recognizes as being outside St. Louis, prompting Dark Beast to suspect Gambit & Sinister shares some secrets, a revelation he plans to keep to himself until it proves useful. 

Firsts and Other Notables
Bastion, the villain of the linewide crossover after "Onslaught", makes his first appearance in this issue, though it's really more of a cameo, as he only appears in the shadows in one panel (and later developments involving the character retroactively make the circumstances of his appearance here - routine, low-level field work - somewhat odd). 

A few months before the identity of the X-Traitor will be revealed, Mister Sinister’s stroll through Bishop’s memories reminds us of that long-simmering subplot (though Bishop did not specifically come back in time to stop the X-Traitor, as Sinister claims here).

The back half of this issue is heavy on teases regarding the Gambit/Sinister connection, notably when Gambit recognizes the location of the Sinister lab to which he, Gambit and (Dark) Beast were taken, something which doesn't escape the notice of Dark Beast. 

Also, Gambit fakes being injured in order to facilitate his escape, and Dark Beast seems to think Sinister is concerned with Gambit’s well-being. It reads like a further Gambit/Sinister tease, but it’s really not.

Mister Sinister's cache of mutant DNA, which was seemingly destroyed by the X-Men and Threnody in issue #34, is still up and running here (and will become a somewhat notable plot point again in the current "Dawn of X" era). 

A Work in Progress
Bishop calls Gambit “Remy”, which seems odd (if he wasn’t going to use his codename, “LeBeau” feels more in-character for Bishop).

Rogue (who last appeared in X-Man #11), continuing her quest to get away from the X-Men, rents an apartment in South Carolina in this issue. 

Human/Mutant Relations
Rogue’s new landlord doesn’t like mutants.

Austin's Analysis
While this issue marks the conclusion of the brief "Mutant Train" two-parter (Mark Waid's first solo story on the book and the last in a series of (seemingly) time-killing two-parters) and wraps up the A-plot of the story cromulently enough (I'm not sure the logic of Gambit's, er, gambit involving his and Bishop's powers and the stopping of the train holds up to much scrutiny by the standards of even comic book logic, but this also isn't a story that necessarily invites much scrutiny), it also feels much more concerned with teasing future stories. Not just the nigh-imminent "Onslaught" (via the references to the X-Traitor storyline), but also "Operation: Zero Tolerance" (via the introduction of Bastion), the next linewide crossover after "Onslaught", and the "Trial of Gambit", as the connection/past associations between Gambit & Mr. Sinister are once again highlighted. What's most interesting about all that setup work is that, with the exception of "Onslaught", Mark Waid will not be around to actually work on any of those stories, but also, he's not the originator of any of those plotlines, either. It really does underscore that, while Waid may be the sole credited writer on this issue, the books (at least the two main X-Men titles) are still very much editorially-driven, with a groupthink approach driving the overall narrative that supersedes the story needs of any one individual title. 

Next Issue
Tomorrow, Selene takes out the X-Ternals in X-Force #54. Friday, the X-Men meet the new Wolverine in Wolverine #101. Next week, Generation X #15!

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  1. Only Mark Waid, at the dying end of the speculator boom, would call a story "Collector's Item." That's just perfect.

  2. Nice Kent Brockman reference in the TV news report.

  3. Yeah, I came here to say basically what you covered in your review -- the credits may say that Mark Waid wrote it, but he's really just moving pieces around in the service of the greater editorial game (which I think is part of why he soon quit, unless I'm misremembering).

    That said, I do like this issue for just those reasons. I hadn't read this thing (as is the case with all the issues I'm re-reading with you) in close to two decades, but for whatever reason I had even lesser recollection of this one than of most of the others. I was actually amazed at how much ground this issue covered in terms of reminding readers of certain sub-plots and even hinting at Bastion. This is actually the sort of issue I really like, simply for all its references to stuff like that. Even if you're not going to further a sub-plot, you need to remind the readers that they exist at least somewhat regularly, and that's an area where Scott Lobdell was often deficient.

    I also appreciate the check-in with Rogue here. Not having read X-MAN, this would've been my first peek at her since issue 45.

    Lastly, I just have to say that Andy Kubert's art is, as they say, "on fire" in this issue. This has to be one of his best-looking installments in recent memory, aside from a couple of really weird foreshorting/perspective shots. I kind of wonder if he felt like he was in competition with Joe Mad at this point, because I feel like he's really throwing a ton more dynamism than usual into his action scenes.

    1. which I think is part of why he soon quit, unless I'm misremembering

      Yeah, I believe he just didn't like editorial steering the direction so much in general. Just the idea of being part of a larger group and not being to do his own thing.

      Lastly, I just have to say that Andy Kubert's art is, as they say, "on fire" in this issue.

      Agreed - I probably should have called it out. He's been getting progressively better since the return from AoA, and this issue was a real standout even though it's relatively uneventful in the grand scheme of things.

  4. recently bought an x-force/cable !!MeSsIaH WaR!!trade on the cheap that had some Bishop back-matter. The Life and Times of Lucas Bishop 1-3, to be exact. really great/terrible Larry Stroman art.. just braggin'

    1. Stroman's art tends to cause such divisiveness. I LOVE his first run on X-Factor. His background/pedestrian art is so entertaining, usually modeled off stereotypes. Sometimes they look fantastic (early X-Factor work) but other times they just look like disfigured humanoids (Life and Times of Lucas Bishop; second X-Factor run). I think he had issues with hitting deadlines, at least, that's my theory. Give the guy time to work and his stuff is rad - super unique style.

  5. "I kind of wonder if he felt like he was in competition with Joe Mad at this point, because I feel like he's really throwing a ton more dynamism than usual into his action scenes."

    I totally feel that was the case, as I mentioned in the comment section some issues ago:

    "Andy's art here is good, but I still prefer his older style seen in earlier issues of X-Men Vol. 2, Wolverine, and Batman vs. Predator. He was succumbing to the pressure of Joe Mad's popular cartoony style at this point, and it only gets worse. Not sure if Cam Smith on inks is partially responsible as well."


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