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Monday, January 25, 2021

X-aminations in 2021 Part 1

Onslaught, Onslaught, Onslaught! 

After several months/what feels like years of build-up, the first half of 2021 finally brings us to the main event itself! And in a testament to the sheer bloat of the event (and the X-Line in general in the summer of 1996), "Onslaught" itself is...pretty much as far as we're going to get by this summer. Though some of the blame there does fall on my shoulders - while work-related travel and comic convention volunteering are still non-factors thanks to the pandemic, my wife and I are expecting our second child in early June (and, on top of that, are hoping to sell our current house and move into a new one in the next couple months - I love my comics, but moving them sucks!), so in an effort to both stay on top of reviews in the next few months and give myself a bit of cushion around the birth of the new baby, I am taking every opportunity to schedule a "single review" week between now and then, and clustering a bunch of those towards the end of May and into June. It helps, of course, that Marvel is just churning out X-stuff non-stop in this era - and if you think this is a lot, wait until after "Onslaught": I always map this stuff out a little ahead of these posts, and there are fully fourteen limited series and one-shots that either conclude or launch between the end of "Onslaught" and January 1997. Marvel will declare bankruptcy in December of '96, and they are clearly milking the cash cow that is the X-Men for every last drop at this point. 

In terms of "Onslaught" itself, I'm handling coverage a little bit differently than with past events. I am still adhering to my "review all the books within their publication month" rule, but within a given month, I do have the "Onslaught" issues ordered in what should be (based on my own hazy recollections and a few useful chronologies) the best possible reading order, thereby shaking up my usual weekly groupings of series reviews in many cases (it mostly worked out that there's really only one issue I'll be reviewing out of story order due to it being published a month later than other issues it takes place before). Additionally, with "Onslaught", like "Inferno" before it, branching out into the wider Marvel Universe, I will be reviewing non X-book tie-ins in two ways: issues that are impactful to the overall story or otherwise worthy of a full review will be covered on their own; issues in which the events of "Onslaught" are more about providing a backdrop to the otherwise-regular happenings in a title or don't impact the overall narrative much (ie the various "Spider-Man fights a Sentinel" issues) will be covered in a single omnibus review alongside their fellow incidental tie-ins published that month (not unlike how most of the "Inferno" tie-ins were covered). 

As always, if there's anything from this era you think I'm missing, let me know. Otherwise, we'll see you on the other side of "Onslaught", when I've hopefully developed the necessary muscle memory to always type "Onslaught" correctly the first time (without throwing the "a" before the "l")! 

On Sale May 1996
January 27: Uncanny X-Men #334
January 28: X-Factor #124
January 29: X-Man #7

February 3: X-Men (vol. 2) #54
February 4: X-Force #56
February 5: Wolverine #103

February 10: The Further Adventures of Cyclops & Phoenix #1-4

February 17: Generation X #17
February 18: Excalibur #99
February 19: Cable #33

On Sale June 1996
February 24: OnslaughtX-Men #1

March 3: Uncanny X-Men #335
March 4: Avengers #401
March 5: Fantastic Four #415

March 10: Cable #34 
March 11: Incredible Hulk #444
March 12: Excalibur #100

March 17: Generation X #18
March 18: Wolverine #104
March 19: X-Factor #125

March 24: X-Man #18
March 25: X-Force #57
March 26: X-Men (vol. 2) #55

On Sale July 1996
March 31: Uncanny X-Men #336
April 2: X-Factor #126
April 3: Onslaught Tie-Ins: Amazing Spider-Man #415, Spider-Man #72, Green Goblin #12 & Punisher #11. 

April 7: Cable #35
April 8: X-Force #58 
April 9: Excalibur #101 

April 14: X-Man #19
April 15: Generation X #19
April 16: Wolverine #105

April 21: X-Men (vol. 2) #56
April 22: X-Men Unlimited #12

April 28: Uncanny X-Men '96

On Sale August 1996
May 5: Avengers #402
May 6: "Onslaught" Tie-Ins: Iron Man #332, Incredible Hulk #445 & Fantastic Four #416

May 12: Onslaught: Marvel Universe #1

May 19: Cable #36
May 20: Uncanny X-Men #337
May 21: X-Men (vol. 2) #57

May 26: The Road to Onslaught #1

June 2: "Onslaught" Action Figures 

June 9: Unstacking the Deck: Ultra Marvel Onslaught 

June 16: Wolverine '96 

June 23: X-Force/Cable '96

June 30: X-Men/Brood #1-2

X-Book Power Rankings 

Here's where the nine regular ongoing X-books stack up against each other collectively on the eve of Onslaught. 

1. Uncanny X-Men 
2. X-Men (vol. 2) 

The flagship books are still the best of the bunch; with Nicieza gone and Mark Waid cutting his teeth, this comes down to Joe Mad vs. Andy Kubert, with Joe Madureira barely edging out Kubert. 

3. Generation X 
4. X-Force 
5. Excalibur 

Generation X is just barely hanging on to the #3 spot, in large part because Bachalo's return is on the horizon (and Grummett has settled in ably as his fill-in). But both X-Force and Excalibur are reliably consistent, neither doing anything flashy but both turning in solid stories, with Adam Pollina bringing a unique look to the line while Ellis continues to meld his particular brand of British sci-fi cynicism with the traditional super-heroics. 

6. Wolverine
7. Cable 

The line's two solo books are mostly stuck in wheel-spinning mode at this point: Wolverine has Adam Kubert (for now), but the run-up to issue #100 felt stretched out & time-killing, while the Cable/X-Man crossover was, ultimately, pointless filler and, similarly, felt like an effort to tread water before "Onslaught". 

8. X-Man
9. X-Factor 

X-Man still has Steve Skroce on pencils (for now...) so that helps it edge out the now Epting-less X-Factor and Howard Mackie's bland, routine writing. 

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  1. Yesss...! Excited for this. I'm not sure why I love this period so much, but I really, really do. Certainly a large part of it is nostalgic memories -- May through August of 1996 would have been the summer between my junior and senior years of high school (and summer vacation is always great), plus I incorporated some of the "Onslaught" plot points into the MARVEL SUPER HEROES ROLEPLAYING GAME campaign I was running for my friends at the time, too (i.e., their characters randomly battled Sentinels in Manhattan).

    But on top of all that, I really think this was the apex of my X-Men fandom for whatever reason. I continued to read and enjoy the X-books throughout the 90s, but this whole 1995-96 Scott Lobdell/Joe Maduriera/Andy Kubert/Bob Harras/Digital Chameleon/Malibu/Comicraft period left some kind of massive indelible imprint on my memory in a way few other comic book eras ever did.

    Other eras that left the same mark are the Ralph Macchio/J.M. DeMatteis/Howard Mackie/Tom DeFalco/Todd DeZago/John Romita Jr./Mike Wieringo/Luke Ross/Comicraft period for Spider-Man that immediately followed the Clone Saga, and the Kurt Busiek/George Perez/Mark Bagley/Fabian/Nicieza/Tom Brevoort/Comicraft AVENGERS/THUNDERBOLTS tandem that started prior to "Heroes Return" and ran for a few years after it.

    Yes, all these "eras" occurred in a very small timespan, roughly 1995 to 2000 or so. I've taken to calling that the "Comicraft Age" at Marvel since they were about the only constant on nearly every single Marvel title at the time, but you could also call it the "Bob Harras Age" since that's the exact timeframe during which he was Marvel's editor-in-chief. I seriously, seriously love that period for Marvel. Of all the years I spent reading new Marvel comics in real time (which started around 1988 and continued into the early 2000s), that was by far my favorite part. I've mentioned before that I consider that to be my "personal Golden Age" for Marvel comics, for a variety of reasons.

    Anyway, I got sidetracked. I can talk about Marvel circa 1995-2000 all day if you'll let me. Moving along... it's crazy to me how late X-MEN/BROOD was published -- and you haven't even scheduled X-MEN/CLANDESTINE yet! The ROAD TO ONSLAUGHT trades have both those stories taking place before "Onslaught" itself. Well before, in the case of CLANDESTINE, which they place between UNCANNY 326 and 327 -- issues you reviewed way back in March/April of last year, and which are cover dated a full year before the mini-series was published!

    X-MEN/BROOD, meanwhile, is placed between UNCANNY 330 and 331 (March/April 1996) for reading order, which sets it only seven months prior to when it was published (cover dated Sept./Oct/ '96). I skipped past both mini-series months ago while reading along with your reviews. Looking foward to eventually re-opening those trades to read them!

    1. ...and you haven't even scheduled X-MEN/CLANDESTINE yet!

      Ha! That is actually the next thing up after X-MEN/BROOD - the second issue of BROOD and the first of CLANDESTINE overlap publication months, so I went with BROOD first. But if I hadn't spaced things out towards the end there quite so much, CLANDESTINE would have been in this batch. It is wild how late those two minis are, chronologically, relative to their pub date (though I suspect they were commissioned and created with the intent of being more current and then various "Onslaught"-related status quo changes just moved them up in the timeline out of necessity).

      And while I am perhaps not *quite* as nostalgic for this era as you are - but then again, who could be ;) - I am still looking forward to getting into the meat of "Onslaught" at long last, and I too have fond memories of this time. Like you, this is probably the zenith of my nostalgic fandom - I started reading in '92 and it felt very much like everything was building towards "Onslaught" (even though I know now that's more happy accident than anything); obviously, I kept reading after this (to this day) and enjoyed plenty of stuff that came after it, but my critical skills sharpened over that time, and "Onslaught" is the last crossover where my more fannish tastes overpowered my critical eye (with "Operation: Zero Tolerance" the first crossover where that ratio flipped, and just being the next crossover featuring the X-Men was no longer enough to paper over the more apparent flaws/disappointments).

      Also, not coincidentally, "Onslaught" and it's immediate aftermath mark the end of the stuff I re-read multiple times. When I first started reading comics I'd go go back and re-read everything I had (since there was less of it and new stuff only came out so fast) over and over. As I got older and gained more access to more comics - both old and new - while the amount of time I had to read comics flatlined, or began to shrank, I was able to go back and read through my entire run of X-books less and less (I picked up all the Heroes Return titles, for example, and was reading more DC stuff, etc.). So while I've read the "All New X-Men" stuff up to just past "Onslaught" multiple times, most everything past OZT (beyond a few notable issues/stories) I've mostly only read once, and, for the most part, thus have far less nostalgia for it. So "Onslaught" really does mark a last hurrah of sorts for my initial, wildly unbridled, fandom (which is sort of appropriate given to what the story eventually builds, I suppose).

    2. And now I just realized that in my enthusiasm to write about mid-90s Marvel, I forgot to tell you congratulations! How old is your first now? Like five or so? Ours is four, and he's a real handful.

      I think my re-read stopping point was a bit later. I'm pretty sure I re-read OZT the last time I went through my full X-stuff. But of course, the later something came along, the fewer times it got re-read, so while I might have re-read "Onslaught" twice and "X-Cutioner's Song" three or even four times, OZT was probably just one re-read.

      I don't have nearly as much time for re-reads as I'd like, either. I don't read new comics anymore, but I read so many oldies that I've never seen, that I still don't have the time! I would seriously love to re-read all the "Heroes Return" books, plus give Roger Stern's Spider-Man yet another go-round.

      Someday, when I retire my blog, I'm just gonna go back and re-read everything I want, with no schedule to stick to. I'll be amazing. As much as love blogging, it does limit my time to read other things outside of stuff to post about! I kinda miss when I could sit down and read one or two or three issues of a series before bed, and not have to pay close attention in order to then write a post immediately afterward!

    3. I forgot to tell you congratulations!

      Thanks! Liam just turned six (and, I hate to tell you, is still a handful, albeit in a different way. :P). We weren't necessarily trying to have our second so long after the first/in the middle of a pandemic, but that's how it worked out, and we're excited!

      But of course, the later something came along, the fewer times it got re-read, so while I might have re-read "Onslaught" twice and "X-Cutioner's Song" three or even four times, OZT was probably just one re-read

      Exactly! I think I've maybe gone back to OZT once for that same reason.

      As much as love blogging, it does limit my time to read other things outside of stuff to post about!

      Trust me, I know what you mean. I still try to carve out some time to do some non-critical (or at least, less critical) reading, but it's hard. And, paradoxically, I also find myself wishing I had more time to write about more stuff, as I sometimes fantasize about starting whole new review series just to force myself to read some of that stuff I put off in favor of the books I need to review - because once I've committed to it in public, it becomes a priority.

  2. Can’t wait for this. AoA was the first crossover I experienced live, but Onslaught was the first time I read stuff which involved the wider Marvel universe and it felt massive to me. That issue of X-men when they are all standing on top of four freedoms plaza looking down at the sentinels is an image burnt into my brain. I also really appreciated how they worked in the x-men traitor storyline, at the time I thought it was the fruition of years worth of planning and was suitably impressed (obv that wasn’t the case but I was 13 and naive)

    1. I was just about a year or so older than you when I first read "Onslaught", but I was similarly naïve about how well-planned and coordinated the story was, naturally assuming it was the intended culmination of a plotline stretching back to 1992 and not just something largely made up on the fly (and then shoehorned into an even larger story to setup "Heroes Reborn").

  3. This was also the zenith of my X-Men obsession at the time. AoA and Onslaught felt like they could have been series finales. This was years of payoff happening in front of me! Then came OZT and the trial of Gambit, and I was disappointed. I started to get into manga at the time, and I stopped buying X-Men for a few years. I went back and read everything I missed, but I had also developed a more editorial eye for the stories they were telling. I realized that the book just had to keep going every month, regardless of whether there was something to say.

    1. "Series finales" is a good way to describe it - heck, "Onslaught" feels like a series finale for the whole Marvel Universe, which I assume is part of why a lot of the Epic Collections have thus far stopped reprinting issues as of "Onslaught" and the end of most of the classic series "volume ones".

  4. What's your plan once you're done with Onslaught? As someone who loved the 80s era X-Men and the 90s era until about 1996, I've heard bad things about the late 90s era after Lobdell leaves. From reading message boards and Wikipedia articles about that era, it sounds pretty bad.
    Since I was born in 1990, I caught up on what I missed through back issues, mostly picking up what I hear was good stuff. I learned the fandom seems to agree that Onslaught was a last hurrah as far as good stuff goes, Morrison's New X-Men is decent, Joss Whedon's Astonishing X-Men is great, and Chuck Austen's run on Uncanny X-Men is god awful. Do you have plans to keep reviewing indefinitely or will you eventually skip over some of the universally-hated stuff?
    If you decide to skip around, I'd love to see you cover some of the later series, especially my favorite series, Peter David's second X-Factor run. Pretty much everything from House of M until Second Coming in 2010 is great, IMO.

    1. For the most part, the plan is just more of the same - keep plowing ahead, an issue at time. As we move deeper into the decompressed era, I may end up shifting to storyline-based reviews (I imagine there's only so many ways to say "this is just 1/6 of story and it's hard to judge on its own as a result" before I go insane) but my hope is to keep the one-issue-one-review format for the main books at least. I may also try to come up with some kind of format that allows me to look ahead a bit at some notable stories further ahead (while still leaving the one-issue-review format open for when I get there). We'll see.

    2. I admire what you do. Keep up the good work!

  5. How about the ONSLAUGHT OVERPOWER cards that were randomly inserted into Marvel Comics at the time? And Marvel OVERPOWER cards in general, featuring all the X-characters?

    1. Oh, that would be a good post - OVERPOWER is one of the few CCGs I actually played; I bet I could get a decent "Unstacking the Deck" post out of that series in general.

    2. I own - and carry the Overpower CCG there, as well as VS System and Wildstorms, covering just about all the 90/00's era Comic related CCGs. If you need images or info for anything, I'd be glad to provide it.

  6. Congrats on the new baby and good luck on the move!

    I agree with what Nick said - this era felt like a series finale of sorts, not just for the X-books but (due to the sudden attachment for Heroes Reborn) the Marvel universe of this era.

  7. Congratulations on the addition to your family!

  8. Congrats on the new baby. Between having a baby and moving, you have two of the bigger life event items happening at around the same time. Good Luck!


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