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Wednesday, April 28, 2021

X-amining Uncanny X-Men '96

"Destiny's Child"

In a Nutshell
Bishop, Shard, Storm & Wild Child battle the Hound & Shard gets a new body! 

Writers: Howard Mackie & Terry Kavanagh
Pencilers: David Perrin & Nick Gnazzo
Inkers: Art Thibert & Harry Candelario 
Letters: Chris Eliopoulos
Colors: Kevin Somers
Enhancements: Malibu
Editor: Kelly Corvese
Editor-in-Chief: Bob Harras

The precognitive Preacher flees from government forces, who manage to capture only some of his paintings. This isn't good enough for their boss, still angry at the way they failed to retrieve the data from X-Factor's computers recently. Recognizing Shard from both the data retrieval failure and one of Preacher's paintings, he orders the Hound to be deployed in order to capture her. Later, Storm & Bishop arrive in Las Vegas to meet Shard & Wild Child. Shard wants to reconnect with her brother, while Bishop, cautious after having lost Shard twice, struggles with accepting the holographic representation of her as his sister. Just then Preacher finds them, and warns of the Hounds approach, but the hand manages to capture Shard's holographic matrix projector. Shard awakens in a government facility as the agents are trying to access her knowledge of the future. Bishop, Storm & Wild Child soon break into the facility and engage the Hound. During the battle, Shard destroys her projector and all the secrets it contains, then disappears. This leaves Bishop distraught, much to his surprise, and though the X-Men manage to defeat the Hound, they are forced to flee the base as it self-destructs. Aboard the Blackbird, Wild Child laments the loss of Shard, but she suddenly appears, now a photon-based life form, free of the projector. Bishop accepts her as is sister, though Storm worries about the government agency they battled, and whether Bishop & Shard's future may yet comes to pass. Elsewhere, Preacher has been found by another organization, one which watches over him and his paintings, an organization led by Bastian, which has zero tolerance for mutants. 

Firsts and Other Notables
Shard becomes a being of solid-light photons in this issue, ending her dependence on Forge's holographic projector to function. For all intents & purposes, the character is treated as the same as everyone else going forward. 

This issue brings back Preacher, the precognitive mutant who can paint the future, from Uncanny X-Men Annual '95. This is his last appearance to date. 

It also brings back the Hound, the weird-fleshy pink mutant hunter who debuted in X-Factor #123, as well as the shadowy government cabal that controls him and tried to hack into X-Factor's computers in that same issue. The group, and their leader, remain unnamed. 

Bastion turns up at the very end of the issue, having taken Preacher into custody (shockingly, nothing really comes of this). 

Creator Central 
I have read a lot of comics in my day, and I have honestly never heard of the pencillers of this issue nor seen their work anywhere else outside of it before. 

The Chronology Corner 
This story is considered to take place after "Onslaught", (specifically, between X-Factor #126 and #127 and after X-Men (vol. 2) #57), mostly because of the Shard developments, I assume, though the framing of Preacher's final Onslaught painting really makes it seem like it was meant to take place before the crossover. 

A Work in Progress
This issue establishes that Bishop was born in Las Vegas and that he and his sister grew up there. 

Throughout the issue, we see a series of flashbacks to Bishop's time period, including his time as a child with Hancock and references to the Summers Rebellion, both of which were first mentioned in the Bishop limited series. 

Bishop refers to "Luck Be a Lady Tonight" as an ancient hymn. 

Shard knows the Humanity's Last Stand organization as the secessionists who created the Gulf of Kentucky in the future.  

The site of the government project where Shard is experimented on is Area 51.

Artistic Achievements
Certainly, this is a common problem, especially around this time, but everyone is especially dead-eyed looking thanks to the white eyes in this panel. 

Austin's Analysis
Though this issue is considered to chronologically take place after "Onslaught", it's hard to know if, at the time it was written, the broad stokes of the "Onslaught" story, such as it is, were known to Kavanagh & Mackie. Because if they were, they missed a big opportunity to do more with Bishop in the wake of the resolution to the X-Traitor story and the end of his ostensible purpose for being in the past. Some lip service is paid to that idea, as Bishop tells Shard he's trying not to focus on the future/his past and find a place for himself in the here and now, but that's broadly been Bishop's character arc to some extent since he joined the X-Men. "Onslaught" changed that trajectory somewhat, and it's a shame this issue, built around Bishop & Shard, couldn't have done more with those changes - if the timing allowed for it, of course. 

Outside of scheduling quirks, Kavanagh & Mackie certainly are responsible for how blasé & humdrum this issue is, though. In a lot of ways, it is emblematic of both their styles: they're not incapable of referencing & building on past continuity, and nothing in their writing here is technically wrong, but nothing about it is very good, exciting or memorable, either. Take, for example, a scene between Wild Child & Storm, as the pair talk amongst themselves while Bishop and Shard catch up. Their dialogue is serviceable & workmanlike, consistent with their portrayals in the issue. But there's nothing distinctive about it. Two other characters could have been drawn in their place, and so long as one had a relationship with Shard while the other was Team Bishop, nothing would need to be changed. There's nothing in their interactions that says anything about them or gets across their unique points of view or experiences. 

Is this the first time these characters have met? If not, how do they know each other? How do they feel about one another outside their immediate concerns for Shard and Bishop? Unknown. They're functionally two indistinct characters simply reciting the dialogue assigned to them by the scripters. To be clear, answers to those questions aren't necessary to the scene or the story as a whole working; the necessary information to move the plot along is dutifully conveyed. But answers to those questions, some indication of the characters as fully-formed characters, would inject some richness to the narrative, some verve; quite simply, it would make the story work better. 

Next Issue
Next week, the last batch of "Onslaught" tie-ins: Avengers #402, Iron Man #332, Incredible Hulk #445 and Fantastic Four #416!

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  1. Wow, I had completely forgotten about Preacher.

  2. With a few notable exceptions, most of Marvel's Annuals have been more continuity adjacent than required reading. This annual feels like the definition of superfluous. I suspect it probably has more to do with editorial being indecisive about their plans than any failings on the writers' part. Though, in all fairness, stronger writers might have crafted a more entertaining diversion.

    David Perrin rings a bell but I couldn't say from where. The other guy is a total mystery. Though, given how close we are to the upcoming Marvel implosion that's not surprising.

    1. Funny, Drew -- I had the opposite reaction! I couldn't place David Perrin at all, but Nick Gnazzo sounded vaguely familiar to me. Turns out he co-penciled X-MEN UNLIMITED #10, so his name probably stuck in my head from reading that a few months back.

      Beyond that and this annual, it appears his only other Marvel work was as the regular penciler of PROFESSOR XAVIER AND THE X-MEN, the 99 cent series that retold Lee/Kirby X-Men stories in a 1990s style.

    2. David Perrin also penciled the first Domino mini series, which is why the name sounded familiar. His only other "Marvel" credit was Nightman #16 (which I have never read).

  3. So I just read this one for the first time. For whatever reason, I skipped it back in 1996. I see now that I made a wise choice. I imagine my rationale for not getting it back then was that I really didn't care about Shard, and the annuals, like X-MEN UNLIMITED, were generally "take it or leave it" for me. I just grabbed the ones that looked appealing.

    That said, I do like that Kavanagh was clearly trying to do something with Preacher, even if he had to spread the story out across two years' annuals and an X-MEN UNLIMITED issue. The character is slightly interesting, and the idea of Bastion (whose tolerance for mutants is zero, in case you didn't know) kidnapping and using him is cool. Too bad that plotline wasn't resolved during next year's crossover.

    Shard still makes no sense to me. I mean, I get how she was "created" in the 20th century thanks to finally learning a lot of it through your X-FACTOR X-Aminations, but it still seems so weird and convoluted. Honestly, if they really wanted Bishop to have a sister in the modern day, they should've just found a way for her time travel back too, from before she died.

    (Which would also have created a fun predestination paradox for her and a conundrum for Bishop, since he would know she was destined to die and would always be wondering how she would return to the future, and would have to wrestle with whether to try and keep it from happening, thus altering his future past even further.)

    "This story is considered to take place after 'Onslaught', (specifically, between X-Factor #126 and #127 and after X-Men (vol. 2) #57), mostly because of the Shard developments, I assume, though the framing of Preacher's final Onslaught painting really makes it seem like it was meant to take place before the crossover."

    Yeah, scheduling clearly hurt this one's chronological placement. It's not quite as egregious as Longshot joining the team in an issue that does not, by any stretch of the imagination, fit into the ongoing series' continuity, but still. The story had to have been intended to take place pre-"Onslaught", based on the final page. I was a little confused in fact, as I read it -- the issue is reprinted in the X-MEN: ONSLAUGHT AFTERMATH trade, but when I got to that last page, I was thinking it had to be a mistake and it should've been in one of the ROAD TO ONSLAUGHT books. But I guess if it's a matter of Shard's continuity (which I've never much cared about and so didn't consider), it would make sense.

    (Weird side-note: it's fascinating reading these in collected editions, but going by the original publication order per your posts. I currently have bookmarks in four different volumes for the core X-books alone! The ONSLAUGHT OMNIBUS for the X-MEN and UNCANNY covering the stuff that's happening "now", ROAD TO ONSLAUGHT vols. 2 and 3 for the upcoming X-MEN/CLANDESTINE and X-MEN/BROOD, which are both considered to take place prior to the crossover and quite some time before they were published, and the ONSLAUGHT AFTERMATH trade for this issue and last week's X-MEN UNLIMITED #12, which both apparently take place after the crossover.)

    "Bishop refers to 'Luck Be a Lady Tonight' as an ancient hymn."

    The idea of Bishop singing showtunes in the distant dystopian future amuses me to no end.

    "Is this the first time these characters have met? If not, how do they know each other?"

    This drove me nuts. Why did Storm keep calling him Kyle as if she knew him from way back? I don't think they'd ever so much as laid eyes on each other prior to this story!! (And, as I've mentioned before, I find this disappointing from Kavanagh. Mackie was always terrible with continuity, but for all his other faults, Kavanagh actually seemed to have a really good grasp of Marvel's past.)

  4. I was surprised when glancing through the Road to Onslaught trades to see later comics (publication wise) collected. Especially since, as far as I can tell, X-Men/Brood, the Clandestine and Apocalypse vs. Dracula have nothing to do with Onslaught and all of them came out later. In the case of Apocalypse vs. Dracula, much later.

    1. APOCALYPSE VS. DRACULA isn't in any of the ROAD TO ONSLAUGHT books. You might be looking at an incorrect listing of contents. Oh! Or you might be thinking of the RISE OF APOCALYPSE trade, which is composed of two 1990s miniseries, one 1990s one-shot, and then randomly that 2000s series.

      As for the other two series -- Marvel tends to use easily identifiable branding in order to collect everything, whether it's actually part of that branding or not. The ROAD TO ONSLAUGHT books were really just a convenient banner for Marvel to collect every issue of UNCANNY and X-MEN, along with all associated annuals, all X-MEN UNLIMITED issues, and other X-MEN-branded mini-series and one-shots, from X-MEN PRIME up to just before the immediate pre-"Onslaught" stuff (which is in the ONSLAUGHT OMNIBUS and other collections covering the event).

      Similarly, the ONSLAUGHT AFTERMATH trade has basically nothing to do with "Onslaught" in any real way. It was just convenient branding for Marvel to bridge the gap between "Onslaught" and their TRIAL OF GAMBIT trade (which collects a whole bunch of issues, only a couple of which have anything to do with the eponymous trial).

      While I've always found the choice to brand the books in this way a little weird, I get that Marvel needs a convenient title for each volume, and more importantly, I appreciate their dedication to collecting everything -- all the core issues, all the UNLIMITED issues and annuals, all the mini-series -- for a full 90s X-Reading experience. On my bookcase these days, between hardcovers and trades, I have the entire X-MEN/UNCANNY canon from X-MEN #1 through 2001's "Eve of Destruction" crossover.

      I also have the full Claremont run, of course -- but that's way more straightforward than the 90s stuff, considering it's mostly just a straight -- albeit long -- shot of UNCANNY issues and annuals with a few assorted mini-series here and there. And it's a given that Claremont would be collected in full, while I consider it a gift from Marvel that I have all of Lobdell/Nicieza/Seagle/Kelly/Davis/etc. on my shelf!

      It's kind of funny, though, to look at the bookcase and see the 17-year Claremont run taking up basically one shelf, while the ten years of the 90s take up one and a half -- and again, that's only X-MEN, UNCANNY, annuals, one-shots, and mini-series! I don't have collections of most of the satellite titles (though I am patiently, patiently waiting for a GENERATION X OMNIBUS someday... in the far distant future).

    2. You were right, Matt. I picked up those trades at the same time and got it confused.

      I wasn't aware that most of the 90s stuff had been collected. I'm not as well informed as I thought I was. I thought that the only 90s stuff to get collected were the initial Mutant Genesis issues, the mine series, and the cross overs. That means I have big gaps in my collected library that need to be filled, despite owning all of it in singles.

    3. Well, if it's of any use to you, I have a chart on my blog showing where every issue of X-MEN and UNCANNY from 1975 through 2001 was collected over the past several years: X-Men Collected Editions Chart.

      However, it's mainly a repository for how I, personally, own all these books, which means it's very hardcover-centric. At various times, most of the listed volumes were the only way to get the various issues, but over the years, some have been re-released in different formats -- hardcovers redone as trade paperbacks, or new packaging of contents in a similar format(example: the TPB X-MEN: A SKINNING OF SOULS collected a run of X-MEN issues that were eventually re-released in the X-MEN: SHATTERSHOT hardcover, so I removed A SKINNING OF SOULS from the list and replaced it with SHATTERSHOT).

    4. Thanks, I'll check that out after work. I'm sure many of those volumes are out of print and probably expensive to acquire but it will at least give me a starting point. Especially since the Epic Collections are sporadic and arbitrary in their release.

  5. That single panel effectively DESTROYS Preacher as a character.

    He was kind of interesting, to begin with. An artist who paints these horrible things from Age of Apocalypse. He thinks its art. We as readers know its something different.

    You could go a lot of ways with that. Go all Animal Man and have the artist struggle with knowing these were REAL things to REAL people.
    You could do the comedy, where he's teamed up with Deadpool who knows what's up and Preacher as the straight man. You could have Preacher HARNESS the power and host "What If?" In place of Uatu (since Jim Lee wants all the FF stuff for Heroes Reborn anyway).

    This? This just makes him an in-universe house ad with a bad haircut. Now instead of telling us "Age of Apocalypse" was big and important he's doing the same with Onslaught.

    Probably doesn't help that "Preacher" could be easily confused with the vertigo series involving a lot of blasphemy, sex and drugs, but even as a kid I could see his power was being used to shill stuff.

  6. You know what, I was thinking about why I thought Preacher had more appearances and then I remembered that Heroes had a character just like him! I've mixed the two up in my head!


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