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Wednesday, December 2, 2020

X-amining Uncanny X-Men #333

"The Other Shoe"
June 1996

In a Nutshell
The X-Men infiltrate the Pentagon and encounter Bastion, leader of the new multi-national anti-mutant Operation: Zero Tolerance. 

Writer: Scott Lobdell
Guest Penciler: Pascual Ferry
Inkers: Tim Townsend, Hunter, Morales & Hunt
Letters: Richard Starkings & Comicraft
Colors: Team Bucce
Editor-in-Chief: Bob "Don't Call Me Chief" Harras

Late one night, Senator Kelly receives an expected visitor: Cyclops. He tells Cyclops he needs help. Meanwhile, a group of X-Men are hovering, cloaked, over the Pentagon, as Gambit & Jean Grey infiltrate the building in an attempt to observe an important meeting. They join a crowd entering a room labeled "Operation: Zero Tolerance". Meanwhile, in Colorado, Archangel is training with Psylocke as both attempt to recover from their recent injuries, when they are attacked by a massive psionic presence asking for help, which knocks them both out. At the Pentagon, Gambit & Jean watch a presentation from Bastion, the leader of the multi-national Zero Tolerance operation that hopes to end the threat of mutants once and for all. At Senator Kelly's home, Kelly warns Cyclops about Operation: Zero Tolerance, saying it's worse than previous anti-mutant government programs. Just then, one of Graydon Creed's men tries to assassinate Kelly, with Cyclops moving to protect the senator as his house explodes in flames. At the Pentagon, Bastion reveals he is aware of Gambit & Jean's presence, and they are forced to fight their way out, though Jean is disturbed to find the guards waiting outside fast asleep, a gift from Onslaught. In Colorado, Psylocke & Archangel wake up, but an ominous shadow looms over them. 

Firsts and Other Notables
After a couple shadowy, cameo appearances last month, Bastion makes his first full appearance here, looking a little off-model to his later, more angular look (but consistent here with his look in X-Men Unlimited #11). The primary villain of "Operation: Zero Tolerance" (the linewide crossover which follows "Onslaught").

Bastion will eventually be revealed to be a hybrid form of the Nimrod and Master Mold sentinels who entered the Siege Perilous (along with Rogue) back in Uncanny X-Men #247. It's unclear if that was the plan from the start (the actual reveal comes after "Operation: Zero Tolerance" has run its course and Scott Lobdell has left the X-books), but there are hints of it here from the start, including his color scheme/design, the way he takes about the problem of mutants, and the way he can seemingly nullify mutant powers from acting on him (Jean can neither read his mind, nor grab him with telekinesis). 

"Operation: Zero Tolerance" is also the name given to Bastion's organization, and gets a big sign outside the Pentago meeting room where Bastion reveals himself. 

Bastion is used to further tease "Onslaught" as well, citing Onslaught's recent attacks (like the capture of the Sentinels from X-Men #46), alongside the Legacy Virus, as examples of why he needs to act against mutants. Gambit, meanwhile, is surprised to learn about these moves by Onslaught, and is suspicious over the fact Professor X is seemingly unaware of them. 

Onslaught himself makes a brief appearance (as a psionic entity) to Jean at the end of the issue, similar to his appearance in X-Men #50, setting up the events of X-Men #53. 

Since last we saw her in issue #332, Psylocke has regained consciousness and is working to rebuild her physical strength. She and Archangel are attacked by a strange shadow-being this issue; this will be revealed to be Juggernaut in X-Men #53. 

Creator Central
Pascual Ferry pencils this issue, continuing his "guest artist" tour through the line. 

A Work in Progress
Early in the issue, Cannonball asks why Cable and/or X-Force isn't conducting the "infiltrate the Pentagon" mission. 

Iceman asks a similar question about X-Factor, suggesting as the government-based mutant team, they should be the ones looking into Bastion (Professor X says they're busy with another mission). 

Dark Beast is already regretting his "take the place of the real Beast to hide from Mister Sinister" plan, finding it increasingly difficult to maintain the ruse. 

As Senator Kelly tries to warn Cyclops about Bastion, he is targeted by Graydon Creed (Cyclops saves him). 

Human/Mutant Relations
Senator Kelly takes great pains to assure Cyclops (and the readers) that Operation: Zero Tolerance is the worst of the worst when it comes to anti-mutant problems, with stuff like the Sentinels and Project: Wideawake not being as bad (they didn't want to kill all mutants, just control them!). 

Austin's Analysis
There is, perhaps, nothing more 90s than the fact that this issue, coming out one month before the crossover event to which the entire line of X-books has been building for nearly a year is set to begin in earnest, is chiefly concerned with setting up the next linewide crossover event to follow it, introducing the central villain of that story (and even dropping the name of the crossover into the story), and it's easy to laugh at that and the general notion of 90s excess which sought to wring every last dollar out of a once-robust market. At the same time, the serialized nature of these stories is a large part of what draws us to them, and keeps us reading month after month, year after year (decade after decade...), with readers constantly wondering "what's next?", sometimes even before the current story has concluded. Feeding that engine of serialization, then, is both necessary to sustaining it and largely worthy of appreciation (and there are some additional Onslaught teases here as well, so it's not entirely cutoff from the more immediate narrative events). But for as much crap as I often give Scott Lobdell here for his "make it up as he goes along" approach to long-term plotting, I have to give him credit for at least having the villain, title, and general thrust of the next story towards which the entire line will soon build prepped and ready to go, before "Onslaught" even begins, let alone finishes. 

Next Issue
Tomorrow, Sabretooth battles the Hound in X-Factor #123. Friday, X-Man battles Holocaust in X-Man #16. Next week, X-Men (vol. 2) #53!

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  1. Claremont and Simonson were much more adept at building their annual crossovers once that became the norm though I do appreciate Lobdell's seeding of Zero Tolerance here.

    I remember early on Lobdell said he was setting up Bastion as a third/human viewpoint on mutant acceptance to counter Xavier and Magneto. In hindsight, I'm wondering if that was misdirection on his part or if that got changed later on.

  2. First, let me say I have finally caught up with this journey after five years! I decided to begin a full read through on my honeymoon (beach reading material, ya know) after being an X-Men fan as a kid (starting with adjectiveless #1 and going until about issue #50 before losing interest), more through the trading cards and cartoon show than the comics to be honest.

    I started with X-Men #1 in 2015 and moved slowly through the years, reading every issue of Uncanny, X-Factor (O5 only, I did not continue with the Havok team), and adjectiveless. I discovered this website about 2 years ago, when I was right about at Mutant Massacre -- you guys were way ahead of me, but I spent lots of downtime reading through the back entries and comments and loved the insight and comments. It felt weird to comment on entries that were years-old at the time, so I've been silently reading for the time being (and contributing to the Patreon as Andrew C.)

    At long last, I have timed it perfectly such that I am now fully caught up, and read Uncanny #333 just two days ago and can now fully participate in this great comment section. I am sad I missed out on commenting on some of my favorite arcs (late-era Silver Age; that initial battle with Juggernaut and Black Tom in the early All-New era; X-Factor's side in the Fall of the Mutants; Inferno) but I'm happy to now be jumping on board where I have ZERO idea of what comes next!

    Now, on to my thoughts on this issue. It's getting a bit tiresome and difficult to follow the constant wind-downs/wind-ups between events, where it doesn't really feel like there's a lot of consistency in the story. That being said, this is a pretty good set-up issue compared to some other recent ones. Seeing Gambit all clean-cut was funny to me, as he looked totally different than he normally does, I would've had no idea it was him if we didn't get that Cajun-accented writing. The Kelly-Cyclops reluctant alliance is a cool idea but let's see if it goes anywhere.

    Lastly, I'm definitely excited to see what happens in Onslaught given all this build-up. They definitely have mastered teasing a story at this point, although I wasn't a huge fan of Phalanx Covenant so not sure how this next one will go.

  3. Yeah, I think I mentioned this a while back, but I've always liked how in the 90s, they would seed the following year's crossover before or during the current year's. They did it with "Phalanx Covenant", having the X-Men fight those proto-Phalanx things during "Fatal Attractions" (which itself, while not exactly seeded during "X-Cutioner's Song", began to be built toward shortly thereafter), they introduced the idea of Onslaught immediately after "Age of Apocalypse" ended, and now here we've met Bastion just prior to "Onslaught" starting.

    That said, as I mentioned on Twitter last night, my understanding is that Scott Lobdell wanted to get to Bastion much faster than actually happened. One of the Marvel in-house hype thingies (MARVEL VISION or an "X-Facts" page or something along those lines) even had a short solicit for the first post-"Onslaught" issue of either UNCANNY of X-MEN, which said Bastion was going to attack the mansion.

    I believe what happened was that Marvel (probably the marketing department) decided that would make a great premise for the following year's crossover, and so Lobdell was told to hold Bastion in reserve for several months. Which I tend to believe is partly why the year-ish between "Onslaught" and OZT feels so aimless. Not that Lobdell was known for having a razor focus in his writing, but the post-"Onslaught" stuff, to me, felt a bit less thought-out than usual.

    I wish I could find that solicit/blurb/whatever online somewhere. It may even have been in WIZARD, but for whatever reason I just have this really strong recollection of it being in an actual Marvel publication.

    As far as this issue goes, I like it. The X-Men infiltrating the Pentagon brings to mind fond memories of UNCANNY 158, even though the circumstances and cast are drastically different here. And of course it's obvious that they've settled on Professor X being Onslaught based on the clues (Gambit wondering why Xavier is unaware of Onslaught's doings, and Xavier concentrating hard just beore Onslaught appears to help Jean and Gambit).

    It occurs to me that to this day, I've never read X-FORCE 55. I have no idea how Cyclops and Senator Kelly escaped the bomb or what happened after. Looking forward to finally findint out in a week or two!

  4. It's funny that Mystique's kid is trying to assassinate Senator Kelly.

  5. "X-Factor (O5 only, I did not continue with the Havok team)"

    I highly recommend you check out Peter David's 1st run of X-Factor (Havok's team) at some point. #71 - 92 would be a nice stretch. David only goes to #89 or so but it's a nice run. Plus you get Larry Stroman, Jae Lee, and Joe Quesada on art.

    1. Yes I definitely intend to. Now that I'm caught up in the core X-books with this website, I'm intending to go back and catch up with X-Factor, Wolverine solo series, and Excalibur. I'm not really interested in the New Mutants/X-Force. I know both have their fans but I tried picking up New Mutants when they came in and I just couldn't get into it.

    2. If you ever do end up diving into New Mutants, maybe start with the Demon Bear Saga and go from there. That's what I did, and really enjoyed it. Basically issue #18 - 34 as it features mostly Claremont and Sienkiewicz. The first three annuals are a blast as well, with more Claremont. Also, the one-shot by Claremont and Art Adams.


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