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Wednesday, February 3, 2021

X-amining X-Men (vol. 2) #54

"Inquiring Minds"
July 1996

In a Nutshell
The identity of Onslaught is revealed! 

Story: Mark Waid
Pencils: Andy Kubert
Inks: Dan Panosian
Letterer: Richard Starkings & Comicraft
Colorist: Joe Rosas
Separations: Malibu
Editor: Bob Harras

Cyclops is consoling Cannonball, upset over the lecture he received from Professor X, when Gambit & Bishop, leading a charge of X-Men, announce that Juggernaut is somewhere on the mansion grounds. As Cyclops splits the group into search parties, Jean enters the psychically-shield Z'Nox chamber beneath the mansion with Juggernaut in order to dig into his mind and learn Onslaught's secret undisturbed. When she seals the room, Cyclops feels his telepathic rapport with Jean end, prompting him to seek out Xavier. As the rest of the X-Men continue the search, the real Beast breaks out of the prison where Dark Beast had been holding him, only to be confronted by two shadowy figures. At the mansion, Cyclops informs Xavier about Jean, and he promises to search for her. When Cyclops tells him about Juggernaut, Professor X tells Cyclops to lower the mansion's defenses in order to lure Juggernaut to his target, Xavier, at which point the X-Men can defeat him as they so often have before. As Jean works to open Juggernaut's mind, Xavier begins to search telepathically for Jean, but is distracted by his frustration over his many recent failures, until he finally expresses all his pent-up anger in a burst of rage. Below, Jean is able to pull Onslaught's identity from Juggernaut's mind; horrified, she tells him Onslaught is inside the mansion, and he needs to run as far away as possible. Juggernaut does so, but as soon as he emerges from the chamber, he is mentally snared by Onslaught, who leads him to Xavier's study, where a waiting Onslaught rips the gem of Cyttorak from Juggernaut, removing his powers, before revealing himself as none other than Charles Xavier. 

Firsts and Other Notables
This issue reveals that Professor X is Onslaught; more will be detailed on this in future issues, but the general idea is that Onslaught is all of Xavier's repressed anger & rage given sentience (something hinted at here) and later, form, thanks to Nate Grey's ability to pull beings from the astral plane (where Onslaught resides) to the physical world. Up to this point, Onslaught functioned liked a split personality (in the more classical dramatic sense vs. a psychological one), in which he operated independently of Xavier without Xavier being aware of said operations or the fact that the being the X-Men were chasing after was he himself. From this point forward, Onslaught is in full control of Xavier. 

Cyclops finds Xavier having been researching Franklin Richards, with no memory of doing so (because, of course, it was Onslaught conducting the research); Franklin will prove to be a key component of Onslaught’s plans and the vehicle for bringing the larger Fantastic Four universe into the story.

It is the "thunder of his failures" (great line from Waid), such as not curbing Sabretooth’s rage, preventing Wolverine's devolution, and wiping of Magneto’s mind, weighing on Xavier and contributing to the creation of Onslaught. 

Following up from last issue, Regular Beast does escape here (with Waid using Beast’s thoughts to cover for some of the plot holes inherent to the original setup), only to be caught again by somebody off-page (this will turn out be Fatale & Random, and Beast’s story will continue in X-Factor #126).

There’s an early (non-joking) “to me, my X-Men” (following from Wisdom's use in Excalibur #93) as Onslaught telepathically reaches out to the X-Men at the end of the issue and declares “come to me, my X-Men”.

A Work in Progress
This issue opens with Cannonball sitting in a tree outside Xavier’s study, screwing up enough courage to tell him off after their conversation in Uncanny #334, except you’d think the world most powerful telepath would sense the mind of someone creeping outside his window.

A footnote points out that Jean is wearing different clothes now than when she entered the Z’Nox chamber with Juggeranut in Uncanny #334, offering a No-Prize for an explanation of the change.

Juggernaut remembers the time in the Silver Age when Xavier faked his deaths (Juggernaut did indeed battle the X-Men during that time) and is impressed Xavier would lie to his students like that. When Jean points out he didn’t lie to her, Waid once again (obliquely) references the whole “Xavier has the hots for Jean” thing when Jean reacts to Juggernaut’s teasing.

Iceman and (Dark) Beast reminiscence about the first time the X-Men faced Juggernaut, and while Iceman has the right of it, this is another example of Dark Beast sucking at the whole “impersonate the real deal” thing.

Storm rightly points out that Juggernaut is not a mutant and therefore undetectable by Cerebro.

It’s been weeks, per a news report, since the events of X-Men: Prime.

A news story about one of Dennis Hogan’s killers (in which he insists he did nothing wrong because Dennis was a mutant and plenty of other people would have done the same) finally pushes Xavier over the edge, prompting him to release all the anger & rage he’s built up in his life, at which point he finally learns the truth about Onslaught.

Onslaught is able to remove the Crimson Gem of Cyttorak from Juggernaut, thereby rendering him mortal.

Austin's Analysis
Waid & Kubert pickup where Lobdell & Madureira left off, not just in terms of plot but also tone, as the ominous feeling of something big coming on the horizon continues this issue, capped off by the well-executed reveal that Onslaught is Xavier as "mounting dread" shifts to "dread" (and, for more than a few readers, including myself back in the day, genuine shock). That reveal is, perhaps, the most well-executed part of the whole story of "Onslaught", both on the micro level (Wait & Kubert effectively build tension as they cut back and forth from Jean & Juggernaut to the other happenings, and lining up the explosion of rage from Xavier with Jean knocking down the final mental block and learning the truth) and the macro level in the context of the larger crossover to come. 

For as much as later developments in the overall plot of "Onslaught" and the specific goals of the character won't quite gel with all the hints & teases seeded thus far, for the most part, this reveal does: from first targeting Juggernaut (an early source of fear & anger for a young Xavier) to the nascent Onslaught testing the X-Men in issue #50 (because Xavier thinks in terms of teacher/student relationships), to the attempted recruitment of Jean last issue (the first mutant student whom Xavier helped), the pieces, however unintentionally or the result of a happy accident, fit. And like the best reveals, the hints aren't so obvious as to ruin the initial surprise of the reveal, but become much more obvious after the fact. All in all, this is a strong finish to the heightened "prelude" that comprised the last two issues and Uncanny X-Men #334, one which effectively sets the stage for Onslaught: X-Men and the crossover to come. 

Next Issue
Tomorrow, Deadpool returns in X-Force #56. Friday, Wolverine trains with Elektra in Wolverine #103. Next week, The Further Adventures of Cyclops & Phoenix #1-4!

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  1. Absolutely loved this issue! I seem to remember sorta twiggin that Xavier was Onslaught as things progressed but the double page spread of him standing over Juggernaught still floored me. I deff stared at it for a good 5 minutes. This time was deff the pinacle of My X-fandom so the next few months are gonna be a real treat.

  2. I had to stop buying comics for a while around Uncanny #328 and didn't get back into them until Uncanny #341. It took me a while to get around to the issues I missed so when I did finally read this issue I already knew who Onslaught was. It's interesting to read your reaction to the reveal as I can only imagine what my own would have been.

    Not having read these comics for years i had forgotten that Onslaught didn't initially have a physical manifestation. Do they ever explain how he knocked Juggernaut across the country? I had assumed that that was a physical confrontation.

  3. The “original plan” for Onslaught was a fantastic concept, that Xavier would take his idea of unity too far, creating a totalitarian peace using his abilities. I love the idea of that being the literal manifestation of his shadow self, fed by all his intentionally repressed desires and actions. That also resolves the conflict of all the shady stuff Xavier did over the years, with the moral prestine nature he had for some time. I really dislike how he’s become more and more morally ambitious over the years, but there’s no depth to it beside “yep he’s actually bad and a hypocrite!” Having a shadow alter emerging throughout the years, unknown to xavier, both responsible for those actions, and xavier going to the furtherest extreme to suppress it to live up to his ideals that he is no longer conscious of it, is way more interesting. And that building to a head, creating the manevolent version of his dream is a compelling consequence. In the aftermath, there’s a more interesting place for the character to go, it reminds me of Winter Soldier as Cap. Xavier has done these awful things he can never wash away, and he can never be the ideal version of himself he created, but he has to strive to anyways. He must face himself fully, darker impulses and all. He’s facing a struggle we all face, but without the psychic crutches he’s relied on. In some ways, he is now handicapped in mind. And he has to learn to walk again. He must solider on anyways, knowing like the rest of us we can never be 100% of our ideal selves but strive for it anyways.

  4. I chuckled a bit at Jean berating Juggernaut for not closing the chamber door. Like, what makes it his responsibility? When I have a friend over to my house and we go out to grab a bite to eat, I don't snap at them for not locking my door when we leave.

    (Man, I remember when "having a friend over" and "going out to eat" were actual things people commonly did...! What a year it's been.)

    Anyway -- yes, this was a genuinte shocker, and having read the Claremont/Cockrum stuff that included "Dark Shroud of the Past" and seen its semi-adaptation in the animated "Phoenix Saga", it felt like a reasonable development. In fact, I'm kind of surprised that nobody went all-out with Xavier's dark side prior to this; the closest we got was the X-MEN/MICRONAUTS mini-series.

    It really is remarkable how so much of the early Onslaught teases line up with this revelation. Of course, there's a number of things that don't quite fit either, but notably, most of those came in other series rather than X-MEN/UNCANNY. If one didn't actually know that Onslaught's identity wasn't settled on until very late in the game, one might imagine that Lobdell actually had it worked out from the start!

    In sum, I'll basically reiterate what I said last week -- while the "Onsalught" event itself may not be up to snuff, I really do like the build-up.

    1. "A footnote points out that Jean is wearing different clothes now than when she entered the Z’Nox chamber with Juggeranut in Uncanny #334, offering a No-Prize for an explanation of the change."

      Andy Kubert was just really bad at cooperating with other artists on characters' clothing/looks. It's annoying, because it makes him seem like he just didn't care. Certainly, this could be down to editors not getting him the correct reference, but when you look at the fact that Joe Mad clearly knew to put Jean's in the exact civilian clothes she wore in X-MEN 53 when she arrives in UNCANNY 334, and then he explicitly put her in her costume for her meeting with Juggernaut, I have to believe that Kubert is just not doing his job.

      The whole Colossus Acolyte costume thing alone is something I've mentioned several times in comments here, but there have been other examples as well over the years, and they pretty much all happen when Kubert is picking up from an immediately preceding story drawn by another artist. (Though there's also the fact that he stubbornly kept drawing Archangel with long hair after Madureira gave him a trim, but my recollection is that other artists didn't get that memo right away either.)

      That said, he clearly looked at UNCANNY 328 when drawing that little montage of Xavier's failures, because that is very clearly an interpretation of Madureira's Sabretooth vs. Psylocke fight. (Also, is it just me, or does Xavier in that image look almost like a swipe from Joe Mad?)

      "Onslaught is able to remove the Crimson Gem of Cyttorak from Juggernaut, thereby rendering him mortal."

      Funny, I somehow found myself reading your review of MARVEL TEAM-UP #150 a few days ago, and there was a whole thread in the comments about the gem and how it had physical form in that issue, but was later inside Juggernaut in this one, and nobody was sure whether there was ever a story that showed how it became part of him.

      Lastly, speaking of re-reading your old reviews, I just went back to look at the afore-mentioned "Dark Shroud of the Past" thanks to your sidebar spotlight. I'm shocked that it's been very nearly ten years since you looked at it, and possibly more shocked that I've apparently been reading and commenting on your posts for around ten years as well (I think I came in just around the start of Claremont/Cockrum). I hadn't even met my wife yet when I stared reading this blog!

    2. (Also, is it just me, or does Xavier in that image look almost like a swipe from Joe Mad?)

      I've had this issue since it saw print and didn't realize Xavier looks like that until just now when you pointed it out (I DO love the Kubert version of Psylocke vs Sabretooth).

      As an aside, Kubert swipes from X-Men #25 on the same page! In all seriousness, in comics is it frowned upon to swipe YOURSELF?


    3. @Matt: // When I have a friend over to my house and we go out to grab a bite to eat, I don't snap at them for not locking my door when we leave. //

      And you’re not even telekinetic!*
      (*I mean, so far as I know, but I feel like it would have come up…)

  5. One thing that always undercut Onslaught for me, at least on reveal, was I looked at the story and went "So. Xavier's dark, repressed side, doing evil things without his knowledge. The Entity from the X-Men/Micronauts limited series then." I'm pretty sure that by then there were likely rights issues that didn't allow that to be actively called back to to justify Onslaught-I recall the Micronauts characters appearing in Cable at some point, but by then they'd been stripped of anything not created by Marvel-but it would have actually supported the idea that this was possible.

    Xavier as Onslaught worked via a lot of happy accidents, starting with Lobdell using the Juggernaut as the first victim of Onslaught, but the whole edifice starts falling apart the further into the storyline you go. I give this particular issue credit because it NAILS the reveal, big time (hats off to Mark Waid to that) but the crossover itself works far less well, and it being, eventually, the means to bring back the Image boys for a year of less than good comics definitely takes a lot of the shine off for me. But if you want someone to write a story that depends on old continuity to pull off, it's good came during Waid's brief tenure.

  6. I remember this was the first issue I bought at my LCS rather than just picking up at CVS. As much as the greater crossover doesn't work, I loved this twist, this is soap opera storytelling at its finest.

  7. Professor Xavier is a jerk.

  8. I started reading comics with X-Men vol 2 #19 and this was THE MOST HYPED I had ever been for a single comic book issue. THE SECRET REVEALED!!!!!!!!!


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