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Friday, March 26, 2021

X-amining X-Men (vol. 2) #55

August 1996

In a Nutshell
The combined might of the Avengers, Fantastic Four & X-Men face off against Onslaught's Sentinels!

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

As Onslaught's Sentinels descend on Manhattan, the X-Men & Avengers gather with the Fantastic Four on the rooftop of Four Freedoms Plaza, watching as chaos engulfs the city. Joined by Rogue, Gambit & Joseph, Captain America leads the heroes off to help the city and rescue Franklin Richards. Meanwhile, Onslaught tries to harness the captive Franklin's powers. Elsewhere, the Blackbird races back to New York, carrying Cyclops, Phoenix, Archangel & Psylocke, as well as the information from the Xavier Protocols which will hopefully help defeat Onslaught. At Four Freedoms Plaza, Reed Richards, Hank Pym and Iron Man attempt to come up with a way to counter Onslaught's powers. As the heroes continue their fights against the Sentinels, a massive citadel suddenly appears in Central Park, the result of Onslaught manipulating Franklin's powers. From atop the citadel, he declares the day marks the ultimate ascendance of the mutant race, then triggers a massive electro-magnetic pulse which sends the Blackbird crashing and leaves the heroes at Onslaught's mercy. Elsewhere, Ozymandias finds himself carving a statute of Onslaught, not as he is, but as he will be, while standing atop the ashes of the world. 

Firsts and Other Notables
The Sentinels launched at the end of X-Factor #125 arrive in New York this issue, serving as Onslaught's enforcers as they set about doing...what, is not quite clear (more on that below). 

With the help of Franklin Richards' reality altering powers, Onslaught also creates his citadel this issue, a massive structure in Central Park that is reminiscent of Apocalypse's "Age of Apocalypse" citadel (which, of course, Onslaught knows from having read Bishop's mind and seen his memories of "AoA"). 

Then, at the end of the issue, he launches a massive electro-magnetic pulse that devastates Manhattan (an echo of when Magneto performed a similar act in X-Men (vol. 2) #25. Curiously, it's said that the pulse damages the FF/Avengers' equipment and clearly causes Vision pain, but doesn't outright deactivate him (though it probably should).  

The issue concludes with Ozymandias carving out an image of Onslaught as he'll become, foreshadowing his later transformation into a more monstrous, less human, form. 

Joseph is introduced to the contingent of heroes not present in Avengers #401 (including Bishop & Iceman, who are shocked to see Rogue alongside Magneto) and is now sporting the basic yellow-and-blue X-Men training uniform; that will be his default look moving forward. 

What's the Plan, Stan? 
So as Onslaught sets about doing stuff in this issue, I thought it might worth trying to track what, exactly his plan and overall goals are. Here, we see the Sentinels isolating Manhattan but beyond vague notions that they're terrorizing innocent bystanders, it's not at all clear what they're doing or why Onslaught wants them to do it. Are they just slaughtering humans? Capturing and imprisoning them somewhere? Just forcing people to stay inside their homes? Unclear at this time. 

Similarly, while his EMP has thematic resonance with "Fatal Attractions" and serves an immediate plot point of hobbling the heroes to some extent, it's also not clear how that fits into whatever his larger plans are. It's not something that, like, actively kills a bunch of humans (though some certainly died as a result of transportation & medical failures) but rather, largely seems to serve to inconvenience them. 

A Work in Progress
Onslaught references the time Mister Fantastic took away Franklin's powers in Fantastic Four #141, a deep cut of continuity that had to have been Mark Waid's doing. 

The "Muir Island" contingent of X-Men are traveling back to New York this issue from Excalibur #100 with the designs for anti-Xavier psychic armor, while at the same time, a brain trust of Reed Richards, Hank Pym and Teen Tony Stark is trying to replicate Nathanial Richard's anti-Franklin armor as a means to block Franklin's power. 

The Reference Section
Iceman refers to Gambit, Rogue, & Joseph as Archie, Betty, & Veronica, and now I'm having a ton of fun trying to decide which of the X-Men corresponds to which Archie character (is Gambit the Veronica?!?). 

Austin's Analysis

"Onslaught" as a crossover works much better on a micro level - chapter-to-chapter, moment-to-moment, than it does on a macro level, as a cohesive, intricately-plotted story. This issue is a good example of that: it's the most "crossover-y" chapter of the story since Onslaught: X-Men, and arguably the most fun, as, after a couple of teases, we get a full-on crossover with various members of the Avengers, Fantastic Four and X-Men all intermingling and working together, which gives Andy Kubert the chance to draw a large chunk of the Marvel Universe (some of which are in bad 90s costumes, but still). It's also the first chapter of the story since its launch to really feature Onslaught as a character (and not just an offscreen presence), and have him doing stuff: setting his Sentinels against New York, erecting his citadel by tapping into the captive Franklin Richards' powers, and unleashing a massive EMP. Why he's doing all this, what goals he hopes these steps will bring him closer to achieving, remain frustratingly vague and nearly non-existent. But on the micro level, this is a lot of fun; Onslaught is doing villainous things, there's relationship drama amidst the action, Reed Richards is building stuff, Captain America is taking charge, etc. It's everything you want to see from this kind of story, and it all long as you don't step too far back and try to take in the bigger picture of it all. 

Next Issue
Next week: Onslaught evolves in Uncanny X-Men #336, Beast battles Dark Beast in X-Factor #126, and a whole bunch of heroes fight Sentinels in the first collective batch of "Onslaught" tie-ins! 

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  1. I'm guessing Iceman's making an "unrequited love triangle" joke, which would Gambit the Veronica (as the bad boy/girl), Joseph (the well-meaning, somewhat naïve one) is the Betty, and Rogue is the Archie (since both characters are undeniably horny but also completely inept romantically.)

    Now that I think about it, that's an almost eerily accurate comparison.

    1. That "Archie, Betty, and Veronica" line cracked me up (like, a laugh-out-loud moment), and I agree with Bob on who's who in the analogy.

  2. Not much to say on this one that you didn't already say in your analysis. The art here works well and Waid does a pretty good job of keeping things moving smoothly.

    Looking at this event and Marvel's love for crossovers I am actually very surprised that Marvel has never done an X-Tinction Agenda style crossover with the Avengers, Fantastic Four and X-Men. It's one of those things that seem like a really obvious idea and, yet, it's never been done.

    1. It is kind of wild they've never a crossover like that; they've all been involved in big linewide ones like this, but nothing featuring just those three sets of characters.

  3. I tried to track the High Evolutionary's plan when I looked at "Evolutionary War" for my blog years ago. It really didn't add up in the end, but it was fun to do, and amusing to find the discrepancies and outright contradictions from chapter to chapter/writer to writer. So I'm glad you added this category, because it'll be interesting to see how poorly Onslaught's "plan" comes together.

    I really like the artwork in this one. Kubert seems to be having a lot of fun with Avengers in action, and his Sentinels are amazing. I like the shot in one of the early pages, where a Sentinel is looking quizzically at the Statue of Liberty. I've never seen a mutant-hunting robot with such fun body language!

    Oh, I also like that the psychic armor in Cyclops' schematic is the same that Xavier wore on the astral plane when he first met the Shadow King.

    Otherwise, not a lot to say here. The issue is fine, but it's very much just sort of a "moving things around" chapter.

    The list of X-Men in the Xavier Protocols took me by surprise for some reason. My first thought was, "Is that it?" It looked like too few names. But I counted and it's eleven characters, which is about right. It's kind of remarkable that the X-Men's lineup had remained mostly static since X-MEN #1 at this point. Aside from Colossus and Jubilee leaving and Bishop and Cannonball joining (the former of whom came in so soon after X-MEN #1 that he's basically considered a member of the "Mutant Genesis" lineup), this is the exact same group we've been reading for the past 55 issues/five years. (Or really, I guess it's more like 110 issues since UNCANNY and X-MEN started sharing characters here and there pretty early on.)

    I'm not sure why I find this remarkable, other than that I have this idea in my head where the X-Men are constantly adding and losing members, but that's really not true -- or at least it hadn't been up to this point. There had been lots of reinvention of the team lineup over the years, especially post-"Mutant Massacre", but once settled, the rosters usually lasted for at least a few years.

    Anyway, we've got about another year or so of the "Mutant Genesis" lineup (aside from Joseph joining to shake it up a tiny bit) before things really get revamped coming out of "Zero Tolerance" (though we'll see the team split in half between the two books for a good bulk of that time). I guess it's not odd that I consider this group "my" X-Men. With very few changes, I was reading the same team lineup from eighth grade through the end of high school.

    Much as I worship the Claremont/Cockrum/Byrne stuff -- and much as I appreciate the Silver Age lineup for starting everything off -- it's the 1991 - 1997 team, in their Jim Lee costumes, who will always be the definitive X-Men in my head.

    1. I miss that consistent line-up factor. First with the originals, then the All-New, All-Different line-up and finally the Mutant Genesis line-up. Nowadays it's a new team every time there's a new #1 and it drives me nuts. When Spider-Man, Daredevil and, too a degree, the Avengers relaunch it's usually with the same characters just starting a new adventure. With X-Men, it's usually one or two carry overs and a bunch of other characters who weren't in the previous series, sometimes with new characters mixed in. It creates a strong disconnect from series to series. I feel like the X-Men have lost something over the years and I think it's that sense of consistency.

    2. Yeah... I'm trying to figure out when that started. Seagle and Kelly kept going with most of the same lineup (and storylines) they inherited; they just had certain characters leave during their run. Alan Davis did likewise, taking up the group where Seagle and Kelly left them. Even when Chris Claremont came back for "Revolution", I seem to recall he used most of the same characters Davis had left off with, merely shaking up the inter-team dynamics among those characters with the "six-month gap".

      I suppose maybe it was when Grant Morrison, Joe Casey, and Claremont started on their trio of core X-books. They divvied up all the characters and went into, basically, three separate runs.

      "Revolution" was sort of the start of the characters getting brand-new costumes every time a new creative team comes aboard, though. You could argue it began with Jim Lee, but about half his costumes were him putting characters back into older looks or keeping existing ones -- and most of his new costumes became "iconic" to boot. When "Revolution" hit, every character except Wolverine was in a new (ugly) costume. Then came Grant Morrison and Joe Casey and more new costumes. Then Joss Whedon and John Cassaday and new costumes. And so on and so forth.

      I'm not saying the X-Men should remain with a static team lineup forever and ever; far from it. I just agree with you that it's ridiculous when every new writer makes a clean break with a brand-new group. Lineup changes should occur organically over the course of a run, even if it means having characters leave and join one or two at a time over the new writer's first six months on the book. It would still feel a bit unnatural, but it's better than every writer's first issue suddenly having a new group.

      (And I also wish Marvel would settle on "offical" costumes for the X-Men and keep them that way. You have about three sets of iconic looks for many of the X-Men -- the "All-New, All-Different" era costumes, the "Mutant Genesis" era costumes, and the mid-00s ASTONISHING X-MEN/Utopia era costumes. I think they're mostly all great. There's really no need to keep coming up with new looks at this point. You rarely see the Avengers or the Fantastic Four (or, over at the Distinguished Competition, the Justice League) totally redesigned on a regular basis. There are tweaks here and there, like sometimes the FF are in black-and-blue and sometimes it's black-and-white and sometimes the colors are reversed and so forth, but it's always cosmetic changes to the same basic costume. And even when they add all kinds of dumb pouches and body armor lines to Captain America's uniform, it's still the same basic outfit. Thor always has those discs on his torso. Iron Man's armor is (mostly) always red-and-gold.

      I wish the X-Men would follow suit and, whenever they must be redesigned, simply modify existing looks rather than totally redoing things from scratch. (And to be fair, I see they've done some of this in the Krakoa era, with Cyclops back in a cross between his Bendis-era costume and his classic look, Jean in her Marvel Girl costume, and Wolverine in his brown-and-tan.) Mind you, there have been times when total redesigns have worked for the X-Men -- I love Jean's Phoenix costume and think all the Jim Lee costumes are great -- but those were done sparingly, not every few years, and they generally lasted a while when they happened. I feel like in the past couple decades, little thought is given to the longevity and "iconic-ness" of some of these character designs. And if you can't come up with something you know will stand the test of time, just go with something that already did instead!

    3. It would also help if each relaunch didn't come with a total and unexplained status quo shift. I get the feeling Marvel doesn't really know how to handle the X-Men anymore. And they really haven't since the New X-Men era. I thought the recent "Blue/Gold" era got really close but it seems I may be in the minority in that.

      At least there are the older comics to go back to.

    4. I've been on the outside looking in at Marvel for over a decade now, but I agree that the "Blue and Gold" period, based on what I read about it, sounded the closest to something I would enjoy out of everything since I quit reading in 2008/9-ish. Also, that short run by Matthew Rosenberg before Hickman started looked like it was in line with my sensibilities, too.

      The Hickman/Krakoa era looks absolutely terrible to me, again as someone not actually reading the books but seeing people talk about them on Twitter and other sites. No problem with people liking it; I realized long ago that modern Marvel stuff isn't for me, so I'm happy to let others enjoy it. Like you say, there's plenty of older stuff I can happily read, between runs I know I love and like returning to, and things I've never read but have always wanted to. I'm perfectly fine imagining that the Marvel Universe, for the most part, ended somewhere around 2001, which is my cutoff for most of the trade paperbacks and Omnibuses on my bookcases.


    5. @Matt: // I also like that the psychic armor in Cyclops' schematic is the same that Xavier wore on the astral plane when he first met the Shadow King. //

      When I saw that I almost literally gave the screen a head nod of respect.

  4. Matt, every time I read one of your posts I’m amazed how similar our tastes and reading history align, it’s slightly ridiculous 2bh! So that being said I can’t recommend House of X/ Powers of X enough. It really is the best the X-men have been in years and is well worth your time.

    1. Hmm... an intriguing recommendation, Nick! Maybe I'll check out the Hickman stuff eventually. Like I said, I'm only seeing it from the outside, but so much of it just feels wrong to me, like the X-Men living with Apocalypse and Sinister, Cyclops, Jean, and Wolverine in a polyamorous relationship, and the fact that from some of the previews I've seen, the whole group reads like some creepy cult. Like, they appear to be the guys the heroes should be fighting!

      Also, I just cannot get past that ugly, ugly, hideous lowercase lettering.

      Nonetheless, perhaps I'll give it a try someday on Marvel Unlimited...

    2. If it makes you feel any better Matt, the Cyclops/Jean/Wolverine stuff is much more subtext than text, with very few stories directly addressing it and none built around or centering the idea.

      There's some bits with the Apocalypse/Sinister stuff that bug me, but for the most part, the initial HOUSE OF X/POWERS of X series set up fairly well the notion that circumstances are such that "being a mutant" supersedes other concerns like "fought us in the past", even as that tension continues to be addressed in subsequent books - like, none of the writers are acting like it's not a big deal that the X-Men are hanging out with people who have tried to kill them in the past, and work that history into the stories when relevant (HELLIONS, one of the best books of this iteration of the franchise, is all about answering the question of what to do with the bad guys who are, you know, fundamentally bad). Overall, it's not unlike when Magneto first joined the team in the 80s (and most of the stuff that bugs me is little things, like a big group shot in an issue set at a social gathering where Apocalypse, Scott & Jean are shown sharing a drink & talking, and my first thought was "I wonder if Cyclops is asking him if he remembers the time he infected his son with a TO virus and forced him to send him into the future?", but at the same time, that's just an artist not knowing their history and/or an editor not calling it out; it's not like there're stories built around the idea that Cyclops & Apocalypse are best friends now or anything, and there's nothing about the HoXPoX setup that suggests Cyclops has to be HAPPY about Apocalypse being involved, even as he acknowledges the necessity of it).

      The cult stuff is more a matter of perspective (and it's presented the worst in the FF/X-Men miniseries that was written outside the X-office). The core idea at the heart of Krakoa is largely altruistic (or at least mutually beneficial): "you let us mutants live here on this island and leave us alone, and in exchange, we'll sell and/or give you life-altering miracle drugs." Most of the ongoing external conflicts thus far have come from forces who refuse to accept the help being offered on behalf of their citizens who need it, or people/groups incapable of leaving the mutants be regardless, just because they're mutants (ie old-fashioned anti-mutant prejudice).

      Which is not to say everything in every issue of the Hickman era is perfect or that the characters are always presented with 100% fidelity to their past depictions, but I'm willing to accept some bending of characterization & continuity in the name of a good story, and for the most part, the various writers have managed not to break any characters while telling some really good, interesting, & entertaining stories. Everyone's mileage may vary, of course.

      The lettering thing, well, I can't help you there. :)

    3. I’d just like to agree on the shout out for Hellions, it has no right to be as good as it is and is second only to Hickman’s X-men in terms of the X book i look forward to reading the most every month.


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