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Thursday, April 22, 2021

X-amining X-Men Unlimited #12

"The Once and Future Juggernaut"
September 1996

In a Nutshell
With the help of Gomurr the Ancient & Tar, Juggernaut reclaims his power!

Writer: John Francis Moore
Pencils: Steve Epting & Ariel Olivetti
Inks: Kevin Conrad & Ariel Olivetti
Letterer: Richard Starkings & Comicraft
Colorist: Marie Javins
Editor: Bob Harras

Plot
Drawn to the X-Mansion, Doctor Strange discovers Juggernaut trapped inside the Crimson Gem of Cyttorak. Unnoticed, one of sorcerer Tar's neon spiders tries to grab the gem, but the newly-arrived Gomurr the Ancient stops it. He asks Strange to guard the gem as he goes inside to free Juggernaut. Inside the gem, Gomurr finds Juggernaut being psychically tortured by Spite, sister of D'Spayre. Freeing him from Spite, Gomurr takes Juggernaut on a journey through his past, hoping to make him realize the mistakes he's made and reject the power of Juggernaut as the curse it is. However, Spite appears & offers Juggernaut even more power, and he accepts. She takes him to Cyttorak, who reveals he intends to take over Juggernaut's body in order to escape to Earth. As he takes away Juggernaut's power, Juggernaut realizes he's been played. Elsewhere, Tar joins Gomurr, and the rivals team up to help Juggernaut in order to prevent the even worse Cyttorak being unleashed on the world. His power restored via Tar's magics, Juggernaut attacks Cyttorak, destroying him, which forces Cyttorak's power into Juggernaut as the dimension crumbles around them. As Gomurr & Tar flee, Juggernaut emerges from the gem, much to Doctor Strange's surprise. Having survived a grudge match with a god, he declares that nothing's ever going to stop him now, though Doctor Strange knows that the true legacy of Juggernaut's power is the ruination of his soul. 

Firsts and Other Notables
This issue circles back to Juggernaut, who played a sizeable role in the run-up to "Onslaught", depicting what happens to him after he is left trapped in the Crimson Gem of Cyttorak, sitting upon Xavier's desk, and concludes with Juggernaut escaping back into the world. 


In part, this involves battling Cyttorak himself, who appears here looking not surprisingly like Juggernaut himself. 


In the end, Juggernaut defeats Cyttorak by absorbing him into himself, permanently bonding the pair and ensuring that Cain Mark will always be the Juggernaut (though later stories mostly ignore all this). 

Doctor Strange appears at the start and end of the story, drawn by Juggernaut's plight to the X-Mansion, but it is Gomurr the Ancient, introduced in Uncanny X-Men #329 as part of the "Crimson Dawn" story, who serves as the Virgil to Juggernaut's Dante in this issue, genuinely believing he can convince Cain Marko to give up the power of Juggernaut, and then working to at least help him defeat Cyttorak and unleash a worse evil on the world. 


He is joined by Tar, the sorcerous from whom Archangel stole the actual Crimson Dawn used to heal Psylocke in Uncanny X-Men #330. It is revealed here that the pair of rivals previously teamed-up in their youth to bind Cyttorak in the Crimson Gem in order to prevent him from devastating the Earth (as far as I know, this pair gets left out of most future tellings/tweakings of Cyttorak & Juggernaut's history). 


This issue marks the first appearance of Spite, sister of D'Spayre, who is working for Cyttorak and trying to convince Cain Marko to reclaim his role as Cyttorak's avatar. She will next appear in a 1997 Juggernaut one-shot. 


Creator Central 
Former X-Factor penciller Steve Epting draws this issue; he is joined by Ariel Olivetti, who draws the flashbacks to Cain's past. Olivetti will later have a short run on X-Man, and then help launch Cable's second solo series in 2008. 

A Work in Progress
When Doctor Strange arrives at the X-Mansion, it seems decidedly not damaged, despite the events of X-Force #57.  


This issue also revisits Onslaught ripping the gem from Juggernaut in X-Men (vol. 2) #54


The flashbacks in this issue depict a young Xavier with hair, though I believe previous flashbacks depicted him as bald from a very young age. 


Something this issue briefly points out is that Juggernaut still doesn't know that Onslaught is Xavier, and it's not entirely clear if he's figured it out by the end of the issue.  


The Grim 'n' Gritty 90s
When Cyttorak taunts a seemingly-defeated Juggernaut, he responds with a very 90s "bite me". 


Austin's Analysis
Appropriately, perhaps, for an issue of a series called "X-Men Unlimited", this accomplishes a lot of different things. It earns its "Onslaught" tie-in status by dealing with the immediate aftermath of Onslaught trapping Juggernaut inside the Crimson Gem of Cyttorak (and ultimately freeing him from it). It brings back Gomurr the Ancient and Tar, from the "Crimson Dawn" story in Uncanny X-Men. It does a bunch of status quo-changing stuff for Juggernaut and his relationship with Cyttorak, effectively making Juggernaut Cyttorak's embodiment on Earth and not just his avatar, theoretically making it so that only Cain Marko will ever be Juggernaut, stuff that mostly gets ignored by later stories. It teases, and, disappointingly, fails to capitalize on, the notion that with the reveal of Onslaught as a manifestation of Xavier's repressed rage, it's possible he and his stepbrother are more alike than either thought. But the most entertaining thing it does comes towards the middle of the issue, when Juggernaut is trapped in one of those "here are scenes from your past, to escape, you must give up the part of yourself represented in those scenes" scenarios, and ultimately decides, "nah, I'm good". 

It's perfectly in keeping with Juggernaut's character, who isn't a world-destroying threat but isn't a fundamentally good guy, either, but it's genuinely refreshing to see that kind of scenario, one which appears a lot in various forms throughout genre fiction, end with the subject rejecting the opportunity for personal growth, accepting - and preferring - who they are. Of course, it's not like this story was ever really going to end with Cain Marko rejecting Cyttorak and ending his time as the Juggernaut, but once the possibility was raised, it was still entertaining to see him say, essentially, "nah, I'm a jerk and I like being a super powerful jerk". 

All in all, this is another strong issue for the series, using its extra length to tell a character-focused story that wouldn't necessarily work as well if serialized in the pages of another series spread out over multiple issues, while still maintaining a bit of narrative relevancy, using happenings elsewhere in the X-books to set up its own narrative, rather than be immediately beholden to those happenings. Splitting up the art between Epting & Olivetti by having Olivetti draw the flashback material is also a smart division of labor that keeps the back and forth between the two from feeling jarring. Certainly, the story feels a little bit padded in parts (using Doctor Strange as the vehicle to introduce Gomurr the Ancient, only to have Gomurr then be the mystical guide on Juggernaut's journey, is a bit excessive), and it's a shame more wasn't done with the way Onslaught could possibly recontextualize the Juggernaut/Professor X relationship. But for the most part, it continues the little hot streak the series has been on over its last few issues. 

Next Issue
The Hound returns in Uncanny X-Men Annual '96

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2 comments:

  1. Coming back into comics a few months after Onslaught was done this particular issue was the only part of the crossover I had trouble tracking down. I was pleasantly surprised to find the hunt worth the effort once I read it. This comic was the first time I thought I might actually be able to enjoy Juggernaut as a character. Previous encounters tended to be predictable and a little one note. My appreciation for Juggernaut only grew once I read the fight with Collossus in the bar.

    Revisiting this event I'm struck at how strong the crossover adjacent books are over the main event. Much like the recently concluded King in Black.

    John Francis Moore is another writer of the era who hints at how great the X-Men books can be if a certain editor would have simply stepped back from micromanaging the line. I have a hell of a rant saved for Zero Tolerance when its time comes.

    I didn't care much for Steve Epting at the time. I was too busy being wowed by people like Madureira and Weiringo. Now I find I prefer the Neal Adams quality of Epting's line work. I also much prefer Olivetti's art here than the "painted" work he did for Cable later on. Though that's a matter of personal aesthetics over the quality of the work.

    And not that it means anything, but this was the last issue of X-Men Unlimited I bought until the Maximum Security crossover. I finally filled the gap this last year and I look forward to reading them.

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  2. So this was another X-MEN UNLIMITED I actually picked up, since it showed what happened to Juggernaut after his last appearance. I think this is the end of a stretch of three straight issues I bought, after not reading it for something like a year and a half. After this one, we go into a nother period of not picking it up, with one upcoming exception, for a very long time.

    I like that Marvel was willing to dedicate an entire issue of the double-sized, quartely comic to a story with no X-Men in it whatsoever (outside of the brief cameo in Spite's fantasy sequence). The entire issue is about one of their villains teaming up with a guy just introduced a few months earlier, with the only other established Marvel character to appear being Doctor Strange!

    Funnily, my recollection was that Strange played a larger role in this story. I was surprised to see him sidelined a couple pages in. I had really vivid recollections of the first couple pages where he arrives at the mansion, and the final page where he watches Juggernaut reaffirm his mantle, so that made me think he must be in it all the way through.

    Also, it's interesting Strange has come to the mansion looking for the crystal, and idly wonders where everyone's gone and what Onslaught is. There's a footnote stating that the issue takes place after ONSLAUGHT: X-MEN, but when, exactly, it's set is a mystery. If it's immediately after that issue, then the X-Men, Avengers, and X-Force should all be at the mansion (and it should also be daytime)! But if you set it too far after that story, then as you said, the mansion should be damaged -- and besides that, Strange should be well aware of Onslaught with everything going on in Manhattan.

    (I do like that this story supplies a reason for Strange to not show up in ONSLAUGHT: MARVEL UNIVERSE, though. Assuming he doesn't appear there, that is. I can't remember, but I guess I'll find out soon enough.)

    Juggenraut's exclamation of "I'm the Juggernaut!" on the last page makes me think of everyone's favorite line from X-MEN 3 as he screams at Shadowcat...! I can't read it without chuckling a bit. It might be time to break out the Comicraft fonts and doctor the page...

    Lastly, I want to re-read "The Eighth Day" crossover now. I can't remember if anything in that storyline contradicted what we learned about Cytorrak and his gem here. It was only a few years later, so I would hope not, but you never know.

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