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Monday, April 26, 2021

X-aminations in May 2021 & May 1996 Power Rankings

We made it. While "Onslaught" will continue to linger into June, this next month represents the conclusion of the story itself (as well as an ending, of sorts, to the Marvel Universe as it existed up to that point). Then it's time to start dealing with the fall-out, both in-universe and in the real world.  

On Sale August 1996
May 5: "Onslaught" Tie-Ins: Avengers #402, Incredible Hulk #445, Iron Man #332 & Fantastic Four #416

May 12: Onslaught: Marvel Universe #1

May 19: Cable #36
May 20: Uncanny X-Men #337
May 21: X-Men (vol. 2) #57

May 26: The Road to Onslaught #1

Power Rankings On Sale May 1996
Though there are clear standouts at the top and bottom, this is another month where the majority of books fall into the "okay" range, thanks to the general wheel-spinning going on ahead of "Onslaught". 

1. X-Men (vol. 2) #54: Thanks mostly to the way the rotation of the two titles broke, Adjectiveless gets the top spot thanks to being the issue where the actual Onslaught reveal occurs. 
2. Uncanny X-Men #334: The issue immediately preceding that reveal is no slouch though, featuring some great Madureira pencils and a sense of mounting dread. 

3. Generation X #17: Strong creative voices separate this issue and the next from the rest of the pack; here, it's the return of Chris Bachalo who enlivens a Skin/X-Cutioner showdown. 
4. Excalibur #99: Whereas for this isuee, it's Warren Ellis being his most Warren Ellis-ian as the various threads of his Black Air/Hellfire Club story come together. 
5. X-Force #56: This issue gets the edge over the similarly workmanlike effort from Jeph Loeb in Cable #33 thanks to the focus on the Shatterstar/Siryn pairing. 
6. Cable #33: It's not entirely this issue's fault that Post never became a thing, but it's still hard to really appreciate it when that's its main purpose. 
7. Wolverine #103: An issue that had to happen (Wolverine starts to bring himself back to humanity) but is pretty humdrum in doing so. 

8. X-Man #17: Once again, Steve Skroce keeps an otherwise lackluster & repetitive issue out of the basement. 
9. X-Factor #124: Even in a month where most books are spinning their wheels, this issue is especially static, merely pointing out a bunch of ongoing mysteries rather than doing anything about them. 

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  1. That promotional poster is killing my eyes for some reason. Onslaught somehow looks like a last-minute add-on to the image despite being right in the middle of it ...

    1. Hey, it could be possible! Maybe Onslaught's final design hadn't been settled on when Churchill started on the poster. He could've penciled in a nondescript figure to start and then turned it into Onslaught after he drew everyone else...

  2. Is this the first time there's ever been an issue of UNCANNY and an issue of X-MEN slated to be reviewed here in the same week? I feel like it's never happened before, but I could be wrong.

    Anyway -- we're getting close to an era of Marvel that is extremely dear to me. Not necessarily because of the X-Men, mind you, so I won't have much to say about it here, but because of, well -- everything else! I had been an X-Men and Spider-Man kid going back years at this point, and while I occasionally branched into other stuff, it was nearly always X- and Spidey-adjacent.

    It was after "Onslaught" that I started taking my first steps into the larger Marvel Universe. "Heroes Reborn" worked on me and I picked up those titles, though I wasn't overly impressed outside of Jim Lee's artwork. But more importantly, I dipped my toe into a bunch of the new stuff Marvel launched in the months after "Onslaught" ended: HEROES FOR HIRE, KA-ZAR, DEADPOOL, ALPHA FLIGHT, MAVERICK, and of course, THUNDERBOLTS. Some of those, I quit early on or after a year or so, but I stuck with H4H, DEADPOOL, and THUNDERBOLTS all to the end. (I mean, I stuck with MAVERICK to the end too, but it was canceled after only one year anyway.)

    And then came the "Heroes Return" stuff, which was really my first time reading the mainstream Marvel U. versions of AVENGERS, IRON MAN, CAPTAIN AMERICA, and FANTASTIC FOUR.

    And the other reason this era sticks out to me is because of the MARVEL SUPER HEROES ROLEPLAYING GAME I've mentioned around here once or twice. We started a new ongoing campaign that spun out of "Onslaught" and wound up lasting for about five or six years.

    And of course I still liked the X-Men and Spider-Man at this time too (I actually thought Spider-Man was really good in the final months of the Clone Saga and the couple years that followed it, before the Byrne/Mackie relaunch came along) -- but this is where they started to become overshadowed in many respects by the larger Marvel Universe in my reading experience.

    Now I'm getting all nostalgic. Which must mean it's a day of the week that ends with "Y", but still... I really love that 1996-2000-ish era at Marvel!

    1. And then came the "Heroes Return" stuff, which was really my first time reading the mainstream Marvel U. versions of AVENGERS, IRON MAN, CAPTAIN AMERICA, and FANTASTIC FOUR.

      Same. OZT was probably the last X-story that I was super invested in and, after Heroes Return, I was much more into these titles than X-Men. George Perez's Avengers and Mark Waid's Captain America in particular.

    2. I've dabbled in other Marvel titles but I've always really stuck with the X-Men. I did read all the Heroes Reborn stuff and followed the Heroes Return for about a year before I decided I just wasn't as invested as I was in the X-Men.

    3. Yeah, I know I've gushed about it here before -- and I wrote a couple of posts on my blog on the subject as well -- but the Busiek/Perez AVENGERS felt to me like the "heart and soul" of the Marvel Universe circa 1998-2000. Like it was Marvel's flagship title and everything revolved around its orbit. Like you couldn't afford not to read it because it was so important (and so very, very good)! That wasn't necessarily true, but it sure seemed like it in my imagination.

      And then when you added THUNDERBOLTS alongside it, both during the Busiek/Bagley and Nicieza/Bagley eras...! Those two series together were very easily my number one and number two comic book reads every single month at the time.

      When it came to Cap, I actually liked the Dan Jurgens run that followed Waid more than Waid's run. It's not that I disliked Waid's stuff, though. It was fine. Jurgens just resonated with me more for whatever reason. But, going back to the Avengers, I actually felt that Kurt Busiek wrote the best Cap of that period!

      I have a pipe dream for my blog someday, though I sadly doubt it will ever happen. I'd love to do a long-term retrospective, in the vein of "X-Aminations", looking at all the "Heroes Return" Avengers-related stuff (actually starting a bit before "Heroes Return", in the "Onslaught" aftermath) as it was released -- basically start with THUNDERBOLTS #1 and QUICKSILVER #1, then eventually read HEROES REBORN: THE RETURN when it pops up, then add in the "Heroes Return" AVENGERS, CAPTAIN AMERICA, IRON MAN, and THOR as they all enter the monthly rotation. Plus I would try to work in all the various annuals, mini-series, and one-shots, including AVENGERS/JLA, where appropriate.

      I would read T-BOLTS to #75 (essentially its final issue), AVENGERS to Busiek's departure (#56), IRON MAN to Busiek's departure (#25), CAP to its final issue (#50), and THOR probably up to Jurgens' departure (#79).

      (And by that point, THOR is concurrent with the AVENGERS/THUNDERBOLTS limited series, which leads into NEW THUNDERBOLTS, so I would probably have to read that too, up to Fabian Nicieza's departure in T-BOLTS #109.)

      The problem is, every time I think about this, it feels so overwhelming when I remember that I can barely manage a schedule of putting up one post a week, covering one single comic, these days! I got a little anxious/nervous/nauseous just laying it all out up there!

    4. This didn't really fit into the flow of the above post, so I saved it for a follow-up: some time back, I read some comments Busiek made on Twitter where he said that he felt he threw too much into the first year of AVENGERS vol. 3. He thought the pace was too breakneck, and the "kitchen sink" approach wasn't a good idea. I couldn't believe it! The first year of his AVENGERS (or really approximately the first 15 or so issues) is by far my favorite part of his run precisely because it's written that way. I love that the first year-ish feels like a runaway freight train, and I wish more comics followed that model.

      I get the same feeling reading the "All-New, All-Different" X-Men, for example, which is another run that I hold up as a gold standard of How It Should Be Done. I've always told anyone who would listen that Busiek/Perez AVENGERS and Claremont/Cockrum/Byrne X-MEN are absolute clinics in how to write a super-team series to appeal to me personally.

    5. I really wish modern publishers would remember that comics is a form of long term serialized storytelling. Dark Phoenix wouldn't be as effective or as fondly remembered if that had been the story Claremont started his X-Men run with. The Walking Dead is the only modern series that seemed to remember that building characters and seeding long term plans actually made for better payoffs story wise. Instead, we get these runs anywhere between 30 to 45 issues that aren't given the room to properly build or make people feel invested in the characters. I might have to go back and check out Busiek's run on The Avengers now that I have a better idea of how it was written. Plus, any reason to check out George Perez artwork is a good one.

    6. Yeah, I have a number of issues with modern comics from the Big 2 (though in fairness, some of my problems are probably outdated since I haven't read any Marvel series regularly in over a decade) -- but a lot of my problems would be easier to get past if they just went back to an older creative model, something akin to what you're talking about, Drew.

      While a writer may stay on a title for four, five, six years nowadays, the way those writers write changed around the turn of the century. The "write for the trade" mentality started it, but even as that became less of a mandate over the past several years, I believe that the approach of most writers has never really recovered from that mindset.

      You look at runs like Claremont's X-MEN, Roger Stern's SPIDER-MAN, Michelinie/Layton IRON MAN, Byrne's FANTASTIC FOUR, and several others I could name, and you see a similar approach from all of them: stories that generally last only one, two, or maybe three issues tops (even "Dark Phoenix" was really three 3-part stories, not one 9-parter), and lots of sub-plots threading through all those stories.

      For example, Byrne might be telling a tale of the FF in the Negative Zone, but he would be checking in with Alicia and Franklin on Earth, showing something about to happen to them, which would eventually become its own story in another couple months. And that story would turn out to be a stepping stone building toward a bigger story coming down the pipe in another year or more. And so on, and so forth.

      The important thing to me is those sub-plot scenes -- always there, moving things along as the main action is taking place elsewhere. Those are what make a comic feel like a comic. You can have an issue that's just the good guys fighting a one-off bad guy who will never appear again, but if there's some interpersonal character stuff and strong sub-plots building toward something in an upcoming issue, then the story with worth it to me.

      I just don't see that style of writing in current comics anymore, and that's probably the biggest thing that keeps me from reading them nowadays.

      (Though again, I do have other issues as well, but this is probably the biggest since it fundamentally affects my reading experience in a way the more superficial stuff doesn't.)

    7. My own issues with modern comics are actually some the issues I have with a lot of modern pop culture which I attribute to people losing their sense of whimsy.

      But I agree with you, Matt, on the importance of those sub plot scenes. For all their faults, both Jason Aaron and Tom King were actually pretty good about not only introducing plot lines but then building on them without the need to wrap it all up by issue 6. Kelly Thompson is currently doing the same thing on her Captain Marvel run which, I hope, leads to more writers doing this. We also seem to be finally moving on from the idea that every series has to be relaunched after five years. Certainly, Marvel is actually putting out issues #50 now which they were highly adverse to many of the years between 2020 to 2020. THe highest a book was allowed to go was issue #46 and then it got relaunched. Even if it was the same exact creative team and they continued their plotlines from the previous series. It was annoying.

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