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Thursday, March 18, 2021

X-amining Wolverine #104

"The Emperor of the Realm of Grief"
August 1996

In a Nutshell
Wolverine & Elektra learn the truth behind Onslaught's origins

Script: Larry Hama
Pencils: Val Semeiks
Inks: Chad Hunt
Letters: Richard Starkings & Comicraft 
Colors: Joe Rosas
Enhancements: Malibu
Editor-in-Chief: Bob Harras

Wolverine travels to the Massachusetts Academy in search of Gateway. Climbing the roof, he asks Gateway if he knows any info about Onslaught which the X-Men would find useful. Gateway responds by sending Wolverine back to witness the time he was forced to kill Mariko. Back in the present, Elektra arrives, having tracked Wolverine, intent on honoring the wishes of her mentor, Stick, to bring him back to humanity. Upon hearing Stick's name, Gateway proceeds to show Elektra images of her death & resurrection. They realize he is showing them the worst moments of their lives, presumably to prepare them for what he knows of Onslaught. He then transports their astral selves to Avalon, at the moment after Wolverine had his adamantium ripped out by Magneto, when Professor X wiped Magneto's mind. They observe in slow motion as, during the act, Magneto's dark ego implants a seed in Xavier's consciousness, a seed which led to the creation of Onslaught. Returning to the present, Wolverine laments that Onslaught's existence is his own fault, as his vulnerabilities in turn led Xavier to leave himself vulnerable to Magneto's infection. 

Firsts and Other Notables
Part of "Onslaught: Phase 1", this issue reveals that Professor X was infected by Magneto's dark side (represented by a goofy looking demon-y bug thing that is only visible on the astral plane) when he wiped his mind in X-Men (vol. 2) #25, and that said infection was the seed which later grew into Onslaught (explaining Onslaught's use of Magneto's design aesthetic and electro-magnetic powers) 

Wolverine and Elektra learn this information from Gateway; how Gateway himself knew it, or why Wolverine had a hunch that Gateway would know it in the first place, is never explained. 

A Work in Progress
It’s said  here that Wolverine is following up with Gateway based on a suggestion made by Scott & Jean, when in Uncanny X-Men #335 he seemed to be acting entirely of his own volition. 

Gateway shows Wolverine & Elektra the worst moments of their lives (setting up the idea that Xavier wiping Magneto's mind is the worst moment of his); for Wolverine, this is when he was forced to fill Mariko, in order to spare her a more painful death by poison, in issue #57

Larry Hama on writing Wolverine circa "Onslaught"
"I had various outside contracts including producer/writer deals at CBS, Disney, and other places. I was playing two nights a week with my band. I was just going with the flow and writing to fit the storylines that were cobbled in committees....I didn't have a lot of freedom, so I didn't have a lot of interest. I did my best with what I had, but they had managed to dampen my enthusiasm by then."

Mark Waid on the alterations to Onslaught's original origin
"As created, Onslaught was always just a manifestation of Xavier's darker corners of the mind, with the idea that a dark thought from someone so mentally powerful could take on a life of its own...Everyone seemed excited by that when we pitched it, but, as near as I can tell, there were later some second thoughts from my editor [Bob Harras] and from my co-creator [Scott Lobdell] that we needed to keep Xavier purer and more heroic, even though everyone has dark moments and the occasional dark thought. I was as surprised as anyone to read that Magneto was somehow involved."

Seely, Trent. "Inside Marvel's Onslaught Epic." Continuity Nod,

Austin's Analysis
The idea that Onslaught is a manifestation of Xavier's repressed dark side, that his wiping of Magneto's mind in X-Men (vol. 2) #25 gave further power & form to that dark side as Xavier adopted more Magneto-esque methods then and in subsequent scenarios, is thematically strong. It makes Onslaught (again, thematically), a synthesis of Xavier & Magneto's approaches to human/mutant relations: Xavier's desire to do good merged with Magneto's "ends justify the means" mindset taken form in a singular entity, one which serves as a dark reflection of Xavier and an even darker reflection of Magneto. 

Here, though, it is revealed (stupidly) that Xavier acting to wipe Magneto's mind didn't just represent the crossing of a line that empowered Onslaught on a thematic level, it opened him to infection by a little piece of Magneto's psyche, as Wolverine & Elektra witness a little impish demon-y thing leap from Magneto's body into Xavier's during the act. In short, it takes the metaphor at the heart of Onslaught and makes it literal: it's not that Onslaught is Xavier's dark side employing Magneto-like methods, it's that Onslaught is the result of Magneto's darkness literally infecting Xavier. It robs Xavier of culpability for Onslaught's actions (it's not really Xavier doing all this, after all, it's that bit of Magneto that is forcing him to do it) which, of course, is the intent (in order to allow Xavier to continue operating as at least a semi-viable character after the story ends, avoiding a "Dark Phoenix" style conclusion). But in doing so, it also robs the story of much of its thematic weight. "Onslaught", as we'll see (and have already seen, to some extent) is a bit of a mess in terms of plot, with the story getting twisted and contorted to meet the demands of marketing and to setup a further, largely unrelated, event. But the core of the story, of the X-Men facing off against a dark avatar of their founder formed of Xavier's rage & frustration, is a strong thematic through-line for the crossover. And this issue undermines it completely.   

Next Issue
Tomorrow, X-Factor #125. Next week, X-Man #18 and X-Force #57! 

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  1. I feel like Lobdell had some kind of plan for Gateway going back to Generation X #1. Unfortunately, it was one he never followed up on if he ever intended to.

    I was unaware of Hama's feelings on these issues and that explains much. I'm guessing that's why we are also close to the end of his run. This is too bad as his run on this series up through issue #90 or so was solid. It's obvious that editorial was taking a stronger hand with the direction of the books around this time. Most likely in response to the impending collapse of the comics market.

    As for the issue itself? The art does its job even if it's not overly memorable. Hama's writing feels very much like its going through the motions of trying to make any sense of the ridiculousness that was being forced on him. Elektra continues to be an interesting if puzzling co-star.
    I really wish that these two had been revisited again outside of Wild Thing.

  2. So I read this issue and I found some of Wolverine's dialogue horrendously stilted ("This once kind and just man has been transformed into the monstrous, evil entity who calls himself ONSLAUGHT" -- shudder) -- and I thought, maybe editorial added some stuff in -- but Bob Harris isn't that bad of a scripter either!

    Then I read your quote from Hama and it made a bit more sense. He was just phoning it in. Fair enough, though in that case, I wish editorial had rewritten some of this stuff to make it sound more like Wolverine and less like a generic Tom DeFalco-scripted character. (Apologies to DeFalco, who I usually like, but that line above sounds just like the sort of stilted exposition he would stick in characters' mouths now and then.)

    Funnily, I've actually read that quote from Hama before, but I don't remember where. It wasn't in the article you linked (which I'm about to go read with great relish), so maybe it was just something he said elsewhere. He probably has a canned response for questions about this point in his WOLVERINE run.

    As far as Magneto's little evil bug jumping into Professor X -- I'm of two minds on it. I do think it's kind of stupid, especially since Xavier was already known to have a dark side in a couple of prior stories. But I don't really mind it, either. I do agree with the idea at its heart, that infecting Xavier with Magneto's evil makes Onslaught's actions a bit more palatable to the reader (or at least to this reader).

    More than that, this could've been a great tie-in with Joseph, since at this point they intended him as the real Magneto. How he was de-aged would still be a mystery, but the idea that Magneto's evil had left his body could've confirmed Joseph as an honest-to-goodness good guy with no sense that he might revert someday. And then they could've found another way to bring back an evil Magneto with that little bug living inside Xavier.

    I dunno, I'm just spitballing here. It would've made more sense than what they eventually actually did with Joseph, at any rate.

    1. Is Mark Powers credited as an editor by this point? He's the most notorious re-scripter of the era.

    2. That was my thought too, but Bob Harras is the issue's editor, and it looks like Ben Raab was his assistant at this point.

    3. Powers certainly WAS working in the X-office at this point (he's over on CABLE, I believe), and obviously, Raab is another editor-turned-writer, so I wouldn't be surprised if some re-scripting was going on.

  3. A little late to this, but that "Magneto's evil infected Prof Xavier and that's why we got Onslaught" swerve is almost a dress rehearsal for "Parallax infected Hal Jordan and that's why we got Hal as Parallax". Right down to both entities being embodied as weird bug-demons.


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