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Wednesday, March 31, 2021

X-amining Uncanny X-Men #336

"A Voice as Deep as Thunder"
September 1996

In a Nutshell
Professor X is freed as Onslaught evolves! 

Writer: Scott Lobdell
Penciler: Joe Madureira
Inkers: Tim Townsend with Dell, V. Russell, and Milgrom
Letters: Richard Starkings & Comicraft
Colors: Steve Buccellato
Editor-in-Chief: Bob Harras

Inside Onslaught, Franklin Richards tries to wake up the prone form of Professor X. Outside, as the Watcher & Apocalypse watch from afar, the combined Avengers, X-Men & Fantastic Four work to help those affected by Onslaught's EM pulse. At Four Freedoms Plaza, Bishop & Giant-Man tend to the heroes felled by the blast while Mister Fantastic continues gathering data on Onslaught. At his citadel, Onslaught begins to evolve, and Professor X wakes up, telling Franklin he needs to fight Onslaught no matter what. But the newly-transformed Onslaught appears and disappears with Franklin. Outside, Joseph attacks Onslaught, and is quickly joined by a contingent of heroes. When Onslaught reveals the form of the trapped Xavier, existing on both the physical & astral planes at the same time, the heroes combine their powers to crack Onslaught's armor, creating an opening which allows Thor to pull Xavier free. However, rather than end Onslaught, he declares that he is at last free, and triggers a psionic maelstrom to swirl around his citadel, causing further damage. Nearby, the Watcher & Apocalypse agree that Onslaught has become a greater threat than ever. When Apocalypse asks what's to be done, the Watcher tells Apocalypse he already knows the answer, and shows him an image of Cable. 

Firsts and Other Notables
This issue kicks off "Phase 2" of "Onslaught", with all the subsequent tie-ins now featuring updated logos attesting as such. It comes as Onslaught evolves into a new, more monstrous form, as his armor becomes less Magneto-inspired and more wild, with touches of gray that are reflected in his new face. 

This comes in part because Onslaught has evolved past Xavier, becoming, essentially, his own being, a notion punctuated by the fact that Thor is able to physical remove Professor X from Onslaught's form, after which Onslaught remains, all of which being part of the story's larger effort to draw a line between Onslaught & Xavier (something began by the revelations in Wolverine #104) in order to make the eventual post-"Onslaught" Professor X a more workable character, slightly less responsible for every direct action of Onslaught. 

In the aftermath of his removal from Onslaught, Professor X realizes he has lost his telepathic abilities; he will remain powerless until the "Hunt for Xavier" storyline, a little over two years, publication-time, down the road. 

What's the Plan, Stan? 
Onslaught continues to covet Franklin Richards' power and talks about eliminating humanity throughout this issue, and ends it by triggering another big blast of energy (psionic, apparently, this time, instead of electro-magnetic) that blows some more stuff up, but little else is revealed about his overall objectives or desires. 

A Work in Progress
In more "let's make Onslaught sound like a big deal" talk, the Watcher and Apocalypse stand around talking about how Onslaught is a big deal. 

After Gambit gives Joseph the benefit of the doubt, he and Rogue reconcile, effectively ending the post-"Age of Apocalypse" schism between them (though they aren't back to being a romantic couple, nor has Gambit's big secret, which drove Rogue to leave the X-Men in the first place, been addressed yet). 

Also, for some reason, Joe Mad draws Gambit in a shorter, more traditional jacket rather than his longer trench coat, throughout this issue.  

Scenes at Four Freedoms Plaza show Ant-Man, Vision, and Iron Man recovering from Onslaught's EMP in X-Men #55 (Teen Tony Stark is back to needing the Iron Man armor to survive, explaining his condition; I guess Ant-Man got hurt cuz he was wearing his helmet when the blast hit?).

In a bit of metatextual commentary, Jean refers to Reed Richards as the father of the modern heroes (which is also meant to sell the impact of upcoming events).

The crashing Blackbird from X-Men #55 is resolved off-panel, as everyone aboard turns up this issue alive and well without comment. 

Cable & Storm, following on from Incredible Hulk #444, join up with the rest of the heroes this issue, with Cable attesting to the fact that Cyclops knows all too well the pain of sacrificing one's child.

Professor X is able to exist simultaneously on the physical & astral planes. 

The Grim 'n' Gritty 90s
Onslaught taunts the heroes by showing Xavier held captive in black goo on Onslaught's back; this image will later be immortalized in the Onslaught action figure. 

Austin's Analysis
The art in this issue - on a panel-to-panel level - is rather gorgeous. Joe Madureira seems to be turning in richer and more evocative art with each issue; the scenes with the captive Franklin Richards are the emotional through-line of this issue, and Madureira does an excellent job at both conveying Franklin's emotions and supporting those emotions via the depictions of his surroundings. But on a storytelling level, things get a little sloppy in this issue. Characters come and go with little explanation (a point is made of Cyclops & Invisible Woman staying "on the ground", so to speak, but then they're joined by other heroes, seemingly randomly) and the action is depicted at such a zoomed in level that it's difficult to tell where in space everyone is relative to each other. Similarly, while the notion that Xavier, while trapped in Onslaught, is existing on both the physical & astral planes is a cool way to showoff Onslaught's power (and also allow for the freeing of Xavier and the diminishing of his culpability for Onslaught's actions), it makes it less clear where, exactly, the scenes with Franklin & Xavier are taking place. Inside the astral plane, inside Onslaught's citadel, both - your guess is as good as mine. 

Again, on a microlevel, there's some really cool moments here (this will become a refrain of "Onslaught", if it hasn't already): the various heroes converging on Onslaught, using their powers in concert to achieve small gains, Cyclops ripping off his visor to launch a full-strength, uncontrolled blast that cracks Onslaught's armor, the whole "defeat snatched from the jaws of victory" moment where the freeing of Xavier just makes Onslaught stronger, this is all fun stuff, the kind of things you want to from a crossover like this. Heck, Thor ripping Xavier out of Onslaught is one of the storyline's biggest fist-pumping, "eff yeah!" moments. But it all still feels weirdly unmoored from the larger whole of the story. Onslaught is evolving into something else, but we still don't know what he wants or is trying to do. Apocalypse and Uatu are still hanging around talking about how Onslaught is a Big Deal, but we don't know why. Even his big power play in this issue is more or less the same as the one which ended "Phase One" in X-Men #55; Onslaught is basically just blowing up the rubble he already blew up once. The individual moments are landing, but as the crossover enters its second phase, we're still left waiting for those moments to coalesce into a larger whole. 

Next Issue
Tomorrow. X-Factor #126. Friday, the "Onslaught" tie-ins part one. Next week, Cable battles Apocalypse in Cable #35! 

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  1. While I loved Madureira on X-Men I think it's a missed opportunity to not have him do an arc or two on Fantastic Four. His style is well suited to dynamic action scenes with Mr. Fantastic and really selling the scale of The Thing. Not that I'm a FF fan but I would have bought those issues.

    While entertaing on a micro level, this issue is very much a study of a comic tying in to a crossover but not being able to really move it along because there's still several more chapters scheduled to fill.

    That said, this issue really showcases Lobdell's strength as a writer. His interactions between characters flow well while making sure everyone sounds like they're supposed to. I feel like Bendis could have learned a thing or two from him.

    I don't buy the whole Apocalypse discussing Onslaught with the Watcher. I get that they're trying to sell Onslaught as a threat but we've already seen a reality where Apocalypse had all but ended the world. It's not as bad but comes across as disingenuine as Dr. Doom crying over the Twin Towers.

    1. Yeah, the Apocalypse/Uatu stuff never really pays off. Uatu, sure, especially since this is supposed to lead to the "death" of the FF and Avengers. But Apocalypse doing the same thing feels a bit much.

  2. About the idea of Joe Madureira drawing "Fantastic Four", do you see some similarities between his style and the art of Mike Wieringo? Because the first thing that came to my mind when think about a Madureira drawn "FF" was the "Imaginauts" arc by Waid/Wieringo.

    Looking at the images posted, when looking close at Professor Xavier's pupils when we see his face from the insides of Ounslaught, he seems to have each pupil slightly misaligned towards the other. And looking at the picture which showns him captive on Onlaught's back, Charles seems to have spent a lot of time in the gym, because his physique is enviable.

    1. Both Madureira and Weiringo have cartoonish styles but Mad is definitely very manga influenced while Ringo's is closer to a western style, I think. Ringo is definitely a good choice for FF however. I think there are certain titles that work better with a more cartoonish style. Fantastic Four is definitely one of those.

  3. As a kid, I definitely expected Apocalypse to have a major part in Onslaught's downfall somehow or other, what with all these cameos, being mentioned by Sinister over in the X-Force/X-Man sub-crossover, the "big deal" talks with the Watcher, etc. It seemed to be building toward something unexpected and my Apocalypse hype meter had been cranked up to 11 ever since AoA. Then all we get is a one issue team-up with Cable. This was _by far_ the most disappointing part of the crossover for Young Michael.

    1. It's really bizarre that for his first big, in-universe appearance since "Age of Apocalypse", they have Apocalypse do so very little and then just quietly exit the stage again.

  4. This issue may not mean much to the larger Onslaught storyline, but as an issue of Uncanny X-Men its pretty good. Joseph's deal gets murkier, Gambit and Rogue get some on-panel time, Cable and Cyclops move their storyline to basically being a disfunctional family (in the space of three wonderfully understated panels. I hadn't read any of Lobdell's earlier Scott/ Nate stuff when this came out, but reading it now it's a perfect cap on what could have been a dangling plot, and Lobdell deserves a lot of credit for how Cable turned out). Even Xavier gets a shot to be a hero in his own book before the crossover takes over, fighting Onslaught as best he can.

    Cyclops and Jean being paired with Sue and Reed has got to be a teaser that for things to come, the father and mother of the superheroes is going to change, and that's a nice touch.

    As is THOR of all people taking orders from Cyclops. There's a real cameraderie in all the heroes. That scene also has Scott fire off the Mega Optic Blast from the Capcom video games, which I KNOW was intentional on Madureira's part. Guy loves his Capcom.

    Speaking of Joe Mad, I think this is the last time we see him pencil any Avengers until (shudder) Ultimates 3? He makes them look great.

    1. As is THOR of all people taking orders from Cyclops.

      I think this really is the last time we get all three of these groups - the X-Men, Avengers, and FF - operating together smoothly and w/limited friction for a good long time. "Maximum Security" is really the only linewide crossover post-"Heroes Return" and pre-Jemas/Quesada (when everything really gets siloed) and they don't interact much there, and then the X-Men sit out most of Bendis' big 00s/10s events, until AvX which is by definition the opposite of these groups getting along. :)

  5. This is an example of how sound effects were getting out of control, as seen in the picture of Thor pulling Xavier out of Onslaught: "Sbloshktrunch!" reads more like a cat walking over a keyboard than an actual sound. Chris Eliopoulos was also doing this.

    1. Now I'm just picturing the letters running their fingers over the keys of the keyboard and hitting "save".

  6. I agree with your assessment, and with most of the comments here. I had pretty much the same reaction as all of you when I read this last night: a lot of good character interactions, both between the X-characters themselves and between the X-characters and the Avengers and Fantastic Four.

    Great artwork as well, though I found it painfully obvious what pages were not inked by Tim Townsend (and specifically, what pages were inked by Al Milgrom, who I do think is a perfect fit with certain pencilers, but who goes with Madureira like oil with water).

    But beyond all that, even with the plot advancement of Onslaught "evolving" and Xavier being rescued, I found myself thinking, "That's it?" when I finished the issues. Things happened, yet somehow it felt as if nothing had happened. I do think part of it is the "zoomed in" aspect you mentioned. Like, we mostly only see the heroes in this one. We needed more random shots of panicking bystanders and maybe little cameos from Spider-Man and Daredevil reacting to everything to help sell the scope of this thing.

    1. I found myself thinking, "That's it?" when I finished the issues.

      Yeah, in my memory, this was a big, turning point issue for the story (which, I suppose, it technically is w/Xavier getting out and Onslaught taking his new form), but when I re-read it for this review and got to the end, my reaction was basically "wait, that's it?"


  7. // Onslaught has evolved past Xavier //

    I don’t know how it read then — and my oft-stated X-Men blind spot amidst keeping up with the comics scene comes into play here — but it feels like “Onslaught is Charles Xavier!” lasted all of a hot minute before the backtracking started. While there’s some weeping and gnashing of teeth in satellite books, notably Excalibur, I found the ominous weight conveyed surprisingly well at times just pre- and peri- the big reveal quickly undermined by the conflicting grammatical person, the introduction of Magneto’s psychic parasite splotch, and now the bodily removal of Xavier from Onslaught in short order.

    Of course that’s understandable in terms of the Marvel PTB wanting Professor X to be a viable character going forward, as you’ve noted, Teebore; I’m curious, though, whether and how much this might’ve been cold feet necessitating a change to initial plans.

    // Professor X realizes he has lost his telepathic abilities; he will remain powerless until the “Hunt for Xavier” storyline, a little over two years, publication-time, down the road //

    I had no idea that he was bereft of his abilities for that long, so this may be a case of fallout delayed in depiction — he’s in shock, or nothing’s worth mentioning if it’s doesn’t pertain to an immediate plan of action — rather than ignored, but given that we’ve seen characters rightly devastated by the loss of their psychic senses in the past I found mention of that conspicuously lacking.


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