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Wednesday, November 4, 2020

X-amining X-Force #54

"Q & A"
May 1996

In a Nutshell
In custody, X-Force tells the New York Police about Selene's devastation of the Externals. 

Writer: Jeph Loeb
Penciler: Adam Pollina
Inker: Bud LaRosa
Letterer: Richard Starkings & Comicraft
Colorist: Marie Javins & Bellman
Enhancements: Malibu
Editor-in-Chief: Bob Harras

Taken into custody by the NYPD, each member of X-Force is interrogated individually by a series of detectives, including Charlotte Jones. Collectively, they tell of their encounter with Selene and the death of the Externals at her hands: how Siryn tried to find Warpath but couldn't, how Selene absorbed the life force of Absalom and Krule, how Cable arrived on the scene and Selene tried to absorb his life force as well, but couldn't, due to the techno-organic virus inside him, and how Selene proceeded to overpower the rest of X-Force, telling Meltdown that the Externals had outlived their usefulness, and revealing that Cannonball is not an External, as X-Force had been led to believe, before teleporting away. Unbeknownst to X-Force, Blaquesmith was present, but he removed the memories of his presence, as well as Cable's, from their memories just as the police arrived. Having heard their protestations of innocence, Charlotte Jones releases X-Force, but is then confronted by a mysterious stranger, upset that she released the mutants, telling her he and his organization have "zero tolerance" for the kind of injustice she has perpetrated by letting the mutants walk free. 

Firsts and Other Notables
This issue effectively marks the end of the Externals (aside from Apocalypse, Selene herself, and maybe Cannonball; see below) as, after killing Saul & Gideon last issue, Selene kills Absalom & Crule (who does not rule in the end) by absorbing their life forces for nebulous reasons (she next turns up in X-Man, where she'd made a few appearances before this, and none of this really comes up). Though the Externals will, of course, return, it won't be until nearly the end of the 2010s, giving them a good long chunk of time off the board. 

Selene says that after her attack, only one more External remains aside from herself; it is unclear if she is referring to Apocalypse or Candra (the Thieves Guild benefactress who remains alive). When Meltdown suggests she's referring to Cannonball, Selene dismisses the notion that Cannonball was an External and directs Meltdown to Cable for further explanations, explanations which never really come (to this day it remains unclear if Cannonball was an External and, if not, how he survived the events of X-Force #7). 

There is more teasing this issue of the upcoming "let's complicate Shatterstar's backstory for no good reason" plotline, begun during Siryn's tenure at the Weissman Institute, as the police recognize Shatterstar as one Benjamin Russell. 

Warpath, who was threatened by an unseen Selene at the end of the previous issue, is notably absent throughout this issue; the circumstances of his disappearance will be addressed in the next issue. 

The issue closes with another shadowy appearance by (an unnamed) Bastion (similar to his first cameo appearance in X-Men (vol. 2) #52), as he expresses his dissatisfaction at X-Force's release from police custody and name drops the title of the next linewide crossover after "Onslaught". 

The Chronology Corner
Cable & Blaquesmith appear here directly after Cable #31 and the end of the "Identity Crisis" crossover with X-Man

A Work in Progress
Archangel’s former love interest Charlotte Jones is one of the cops interrogating X-Force; either everything involving mutants always seems to happen in her precinct, or she just constantly gets called in whenever something involving mutants happens anywhere in the city.

Selene mentions a dark cloud on the horizon, which prompted her move on the Externals. Not sure if that’s a reference to Onslaught or something else.

The Reference Section
The cover of this issue is an homage to the poster for The Usual Suspects.

Austin's Analysis
The motivations behind this story have always been puzzling. The Externals weren't exactly topping very many readers' "favorite character" lists, but it would have been easy enough for a relatively new-to-the-series writer like Jeph Loeb to just ignore them (in fact, issue #37 felt very much like Fabian Nicieza's attempt to tuck the characters away to be forgotten). To bring them back, just to kill them off, seems like an odd decision (no one was clamoring for anything to do with the Externals), especially when it's done for no real purpose: Selene isn't a character with deep ties to X-Force, she doesn't need the cred nor do her actions here add anything to her character, and wiping out the Externals doesn't really clear the field for something else to take its place. And while just eliminating the Externals for the sake of it would be one thing, in doing so, Loeb also further complicates Cannonball's character unnecessarily: sure, Cannonball being a secret immortal mutant is a dopey idea, but it's not like that dopey idea was getting in the way of better stories. Most readers had likely forgotten it, and, like the Externals themselves, it would have been easy enough to just never bring it up again (especially since Loeb isn't, you know, writing Cannonball regularly at this point). 

In retrospect, this seems like something Loeb does to build-up his take on Cable: he's already established Cable as a messianic figure destined to take on Apocalypse over in his solo series, and there's been no mention in that of the original stated reason for Cable's trip to the past: to prepare Cannonball for his ascension as one of the Externals. But, again, there's no reason Loeb couldn't have just ignored that while he moved forward with his adjustments to Cable's back story and again, by not just ignoring it, he unnecessarily complicates things instead of simplifying them. Rather than just move forward with his ideas, he drops Selene into this series out of nowhere, has her wipe out the Externals for the vaguest of in-universe reasons, raise questions about past events involving Cannonball that never really get answered, then pops her out again. The flashback-told-via-police-interrogation conceit of this issue is a nice change of pace (the actual events being depicted would be rather dull if told in a conventional fashion), and it's hard to get too worked up over the death of the Externals, of all characters, but still: whatever Loeb was hoping to add to the mythos with this move never really materializes, and if he was hoping to make the narrative cleaner, for Cannonball, for Cable, for anyone, all he really does is muddy up the waters with a bunch more questions.  

Next Issue
Tomorrow, Wolverine #101. Next week: Generation X #15 and Excalibur #97! 

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  1. That Bastion silhouette actually looks like Bastion. I was a little surprised by this until I remembered that he appears in full in the very next issue of UNCANNY, so his character design had to be finalized by this point. I think I was under the impression he couldn't have been finalized yet because of his Caucasian hand in X-MEN 52, but I guess that was just a coloring error.

    1. I had completely forgotten Bastion was in this issue, honestly.

  2. "(to this day it remains unclear if Cannonball was an External and, if not, how he survived the events of X-Force #7)"

    I know it's just a fan theory, but I've always agreed with whoever postulated that Dani intervened to restore Sam to life, and that's what got her kicked out of Asgard. It neatly resolves two continuity questions in one (how'd Sam survive and why was Dani banished from Asgard), and restores the illusion of danger to Cannonball for future stories.


  3. To be fair, Selene has a history of just popping up. Like, after being introduced in the first Magma / Nova Roma story in New Mutants, she’s next seen in X-Men at the bar in New York that Wolverine and Colossus happen to visit at the same time as Juggernaut....

    // it remains unclear if Cannonball was an External and, if not, how he survived the events of X-Force #7 //

    MAYBE HE DIDN’T {theremin}


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