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Wednesday, March 24, 2021

X-amining X-Man #18

"In the Company of Stranger"
August 1996

In a Nutshell
Mister Sinister seeks out Nate Grey, who is being guarded by X-Force. 

Writer: Terry Kavanagh
Penciler: Steve Skroce
Inker: Bud LaRosa & Rob Hunter
Letterer: Richard Starkings & Comicraft
Colorist: Mike Thomas
Editor: Jaye Gardner
Editor-in-Chief: Bob Harras

In Egypt, Mister Sinister checks Apocalypse's tomb, confirming Apocalypse has returned. At the Xavier Institute, X-Force tries to determine their next move in the wake of Onslaught's attack. Nate Grey, staying with the team in the event that Onslaught tries to capture him, is impressed by their camaraderie, even as he worries about the girl he left behind. Meanwhile, Threnody is attacked at a church in Manhattan by the Marauders; she defeats them, but is then confronted by Sinister himself. Later, Sinister arrives at the X-Mansion, seeking Nate. He easily sidesteps the mansion's defenses and fights his way past X-Force, until only Domino & Nate are left standing. Sinister greets Nate, saying he may well be responsible for Onslaught's very existence. Nate attacks the counterpart to the man who killed Forge in Nate's reality but Sinister, who says he's studied Nate's abilities for the last week, takes control of his mind, putting Nate's massive power at his disposal as he turns to face Domino. 

Firsts and Other Notables
This issue kicks off a little sub-crossover between this title and X-Force which takes place under the larger "Onslaught" banner, as X-Force and Nate Grey team-up to battle Mister Sinister in the wake of Onslaught's emergence. Despite it doing very little to advance the overall plot of "Onslaught", it is labeled as a "Phase One" tie-in as opposed to an "Impact One" tie-in. 

This results in the first meeting between Nate and this reality's Mister Sinister, whom Nate recognizes as the counterpart to the person who killed Forge in issue #3

In the course of their confrontation, Sinister underscore the notion that Nate inadvertently led to the creation of Onslaught both in more general terms (that his arrival in this reality contributed in some way to Onslaught's burgeoning existence) and the specific notion, mentioned previously, that by pulling Xavier out of the astral plane in issue #10, he showed Onslaught how to give himself form in the physical world. 

Sinister also comes face-to-face with Caliban, noticing on site both that he was once a Morlock and also has been altered by Apocalypse (which happened back in the original X-Factor). It's presented as though this is the first time Sinister has seen/met Caliban (or at least, the first time since his Apocalyptian modifications), but Caliban was amongst the Horsemen of Apocalypse who delivered Cyclops & Jean Grey to Mister Sinister (who was posing as Apocalypse) at the start of "X-Cutioner's Song", in X-Factor #84.  

In the course of that interaction, we also get the first indications of the motivations behind Sinister ordering the Marauders to slaughter the Morlocks during "Mutant Massacre", as Sinister notes that Caliban shows the same traces of his work as the other Morlocks whom he ordered to be wiped out (the idea being that Dark Beast experimented on the Morlocks in the now-revised past, using techniques taught to him by the AoA Sinister, and Sinister, recognizing his own methods in the Morlocks but unsure how that could be, had them eliminated to protect his methods). 

A Work in Progress
The issue opens with Sinister visting Apocalypse's tomb and verifying that he has, in fact, revived. He refers to Apocalypse's hibernation periods as "Nextnight", something I don't think has ever been used before or since.  

Nate & Domino meet this issue, with the former recognizing Domino as the counterpart to the assassin who killed a bunch of his friends in "Age of Apocalypse". 

He tells Domino that "war is what I do best", which...isn't really accurate. The bulk of Nate's life in "Age of Apocalypse" was him palling around with Forge's theater troupe, specifically NOT using his powers much, with the thrust of this series' AoA issues detailing his coming-of-age of sorts, as he embraced his powers and used them offensively for the first time. He then did a bunch of fighting in X-Men: Omega, and has had his fair share of battles in the rest of the series since crossing over, but he's nowhere close to being a seasoned warrior on the level of, say, Cable or Domino. 

Nate is also worried about "the woman he left behind" aka Threnody, who has gotten a bit lost in the narrative; she was last seen in the previous issue, suggesting Nate go seek out the Avengers. He did so, appearing there in Avengers #400 before popping up in Uncanny X-Men #335, but with no mention of Threnody. Here, she's hanging out at a random church and Nate's dialogue suggests they had some kind of significant goodbye, but that never happened (on panel, at least). 

Threnody is attacked by another iteration of the Marauders, though she manages to fight them off on her own (before Sinister arrives, at least). 

Austin's Analysis
The notion of having Nate Grey (an alternate reality Cable) cross paths with X-Force (the X-Team most closely associated with Cable) is such an obvious one that it's a wonder it took this long to happen (it's mostly a result of the X-office's seeming & somewhat inexplicable desire to keep X-Man largely sequestered from the rest of the line in its early goings; heck, the even more obvious Cable/Nate Grey crossover only happened a few issues prior to this). Kavanagh, to his credit, hits some of the expected beats here, mostly through the interactions between Domino & Nate, as Domino is confronted with a younger, more powerful version of a man she knows intimately while Nate comes to face-to-face with the doppelganger of a woman who killed a bunch of his friends. Similarly, this turns out to be a fairly important issue for this series in general, as Nate confronts this world's Mister Sinister for the first time, thereby running headlong into the alt-version of the man who both created him and killed his father figure back in "Age of Apocalypse"; that's both a big deal for the character (and it's almost a shame that the order of titles in this mini crossover isn't switched, so that Nate's reactions to this meeting could more fully unfold in his own book) and something the series has been dancing around for awhile (with a far more understandable delay). 

Beyond the plotting, Kavanagh's writing isn't the tightest (he seems to have lost track of Threnody between issues, for example) and the plotting is still being graded on a curve: having an alternate reality character cross paths with people that are important to both iterations of the character is sci-fi writing 101, but this series has resisted doing these kinds of basic story beats for so long, it's refreshing just to finally see it happening. And, of course, while this issue has very little to do with "Onslaught" itself (it uses the crossover as the excuse to smush Nate and X-Force together, and that's about it), there is some pleasant irony in the fact that a series born in one crossover event gets its biggest narrative boost & most compelling issue yet while participating, however perfunctorily, in another. 

Next Issue
Tomorrow, Sinister's attack continues in X-Force #57. Friday, X-Men (vol. 2 #55). Next week, Uncanny X-Men #336!

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  1. I can appreciate Marvel wanting to let X-Man build up its own identity but its best issues are the ones that actually interact with the rest of the X-Men. Though I do believe that speaks more to the weaknesses of the X-Man series.

    TheresT a lot of fun to be had with the sci-fi tropes on display and I think it succeeds for the most part. Kavanagh has never been the strongest writer but I get the feeling he tries harder than, say, Howard Mackie. I feel like there's more energy in the dialogue if nothing else.

    The art here carries the most appeal for me in this series. Skroce is getting a little better each issue and his style doesn't take over the narrative flow. It also stands out among the anime and/or Jim Lee style artists working on the X-Line.

    I don't really have a problem with the Dark Beast retcons per se, but I feel like there were less clumsy ways of executing them. Of course, hindsight and all that. I hadn't read the X-Men comics before Inferno when Onslaught was coming out so it worked for me at the time.

  2. "It's presented as though this is the first time Sinister has seen/met Caliban (or at least, the first time since his Apocalyptian modifications), but Caliban was amongst the Horsemen of Apocalypse who delivered Cyclops & Jean Grey to Mister Sinister (who was posing as Apocalypse) at the start of "X-Cutioner's Song", in X-Factor #84."

    This is a little disappointing to me, because as much as I've never been a fan of Kavanagh's writing for several reasons, his grasp of continuity was always really good.


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