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Thursday, February 4, 2021

X-amining X-Force #56

"Crazy for You"
July 1996

In a Nutshell
Siryn & Shatterstar return to the Weisman Institute to rescue Deadpool

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

During a training session/game of tag with Shatterstar, Siryn suddenly remembers her time at the Weisman Institute and how Deadpool was captured trying to save her. Meanwhile, Warpath is in Miami with Risque, joyriding on a motorcycle. Back north, Siryn and Shatterstar proceed to the Weisman Institute and sneak in. Once inside, a troubled Shatterstar breaks off on his own; he's found by Dr. Weisman & Jeremy Stevens, who refers to him as "Benjamin Russell". Meanwhile, Siryn searches for Deadpool, and is confronted by multiple Deadpools of varying degrees of insanity. Eventually, she realizes they are all in her head, and she finds the real one, locked up in a padded room. In Miami, Warpath & Risque help a young man being attacked for being a mutant, but he turns out to be a disfigured human who is just as angry at mutants as his attackers. Back at the institute, as Siryn gets Deadpool out of his cell, she too is confronted by Dr. Weisman as well as Jeremy Stevens, and forces the Gamesmaster to reveal his control of Dr. Weisman. The game over, he allows Siryn & Deadpool to leave. Outside, they find Shatterstar waiting, and Siryn berates him for abandoning her, but he tearfully  tells her that after his encounter with Gamesmaster, he thinks his whole life is a lie. 

Firsts and Other Notables
Siryn finally has her memories of her time at the Weisman Institute (from which she was released in issue #47) restored, and goes back to rescue Deadpool (who was captured trying to rescue her). In the process, it is confirmed that the Gamesmaster has control of the institute and has been controlling Dr. Weisman (not the young Jeremy Stevens). 

The Shatterstar/Benjamin Russell subplot also advances, as Gamesmaster states here that Shatterstar is just an identity he crafted for the otherwise-normal Benjamin Russell, a patient at the institute, which is meant to explain the second identity the cops found for Shatterstar in issue #54 and his diminishing killer instincts of late (the truth of Shatterstar's identity will turn out to be...significantly more complicated). 

Adam Pollina takes a leave of absence from the series after this issue, presumably in order to draw the upcoming Rise of Apocalypse miniseries; he will return for issue #62 and then resume regular penciler duties with issue #65 and stick around (with, of course, the occasional fill-in) through issue #81.

A Work in Progress
Shatterstar & Siryn are said to be bonding over their recent losses: he of Rictor, she of Warpath, which in addition to being a nice bit of characterization is another example of the subtext in the Rictor/Shatterstar relationship becoming text.

Warpath wonders if he’s drawn to Risqué because being with her means he’s out...out of his brother’s shadow, his responsibilities, his relationship ties, etc.

The Reference Section
Deadpool sings a version of the Brady Bunch theme song. 

Human/Mutant Relations
There's a sequence in this issue where Siryn & Shatterstar rescue what appears to be a mutant from a group of people attacking him, but it turns out to be someone who was scarred in a fire, and he's just as mad at mutants as the people who attacked him. 

Austin's Analysis
While Jeph Loeb has his faults as a writer (especially in his later work), he still possesses a pretty strong grasp of the fundamentals involved in crafting a serialized story. Here, he uses two largely disparate events - the departure of Rictor from the team, and Warpath getting saved by/running off with Risque - to form a connection between the two characters who have been most directly impacted by those events and who, despite being on the team together a long time, haven't had a ton of direct interaction through the years. He uses their shared experiences as the basis for their interactions in this issue, but also to bring a pair of simmering mysteries to the forefront: the questions of what happened at the Weisman Institute with Siryn & Deadpool, and what the whole deal with Shatterstar's past is. 

In the process, he answers one question (Gamesmaster has taken control of the institute for his usual inscrutable reasons) while leaving the other one open after advancing it slightly (Shatterstar is theoretically the perfectly-human Benjamin Russell, but it remains unclear which identity - Shatterstar or Benjamin - is the game and which is the real thing). Thus, whereas X-Factor #124, similarly poised on the precipice of a big crossover event, mostly spun its wheels regarding its ongoing subplots and mysteries, here Loeb does something similar, but actually manages to move things forward, plot-wise (however incrementally) while also establishing & exploring a new dynamic between two characters. 

Next Issue
Tomorrow, Wolverine #102. Next week, The Further Adventures of Cyclops & Phoenix

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  1. I do think Loeb is a decent writer in terms of plotting, scripting, and story structure; he just has a tendency to follow some very bad impulses with regards to his story ideas. With an editor or collaborator to properly rein him in, he can be very, very good. (I point to all his work with Tim Sale as an example.)

    Anyway -- I can't remember if this was asked and answered yet, but do you have any plans to look at the ongoing DEADPOOL series when it starts up after "Onslaught"? It's not really an X-book, but it is a spinoff (and Siryn figures into the first year or so in a handful of issues). I recall you're not a huge fan of the character -- and generally I'm not either, but I love the Kelly run (and also Fabian Nicieza's CABLE & DEADPOOL series).

    1. Given that this was peak Harras era, I'm wondering how much of these stories are what Loeb wanted to do versus what Harras was dictating.

  2. I'm usually pretty obtuse when it comes to subtext but even I saw where Rictor and Shatterstar was going and I was all for it. I'm not the biggest fan of either character and this development actually made me interested in both of them.

    In my own opinion X-Force was the strongest book in the line at this time. I was enjoying the core X-Men books but the way Lobdell and Waid were writing made them feel a little out of synch with each other, despite the fact that they were basically a biweekly title at this point. I also liked Polina's art just slightly more than Joe Mad's.


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