Talking about comic books, TV shows, movies, sports, and the numerous other pastimes that make us Gentlemen of Leisure.

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

X-amining X-Men (vol. 2) #56

September 1996

In a Nutshell
Joseph meets Xavier & Dr. Doom joins the fray as the heroes prepare for their final assault on Onslaught! 

Plot: Scott Lobdell
Script: Mark Waid
Pencils: Andy Kubert
Inks: Art Thibert
Letterer: Richard Starkings & Comicraft
Colorist: Joe Rosas
Enhancements: Malibu
Editor: Bob Harras

Atop Four Freedoms Plaza, Joseph tells Captain America of he and Rogue's recent encounter with a Sentinel, and how they were saved by Doctor Doom. Cap then proceeds downstairs to continue planning for the assault on Onslaught, while Joseph is greeted by Professor Xavier. The two commiserate on the roles they played in the creation of Onslaught. Xavier tries assuage Joseph's fears of becoming like Magneto, then sends him down to join the others. Meanwhile, in his Citadel, Onslaught reads the mind of the captive Nate Grey to learn more about Nate's home reality; he becomes enraged upon seeing how even in a mutant-dominated world, mutants cast off their domination, then absorbs Nate's power for himself. Back at Four Freedoms Plaza, Professor Xavier disables the tracking on his hover chair and sets out alone. Jean senses his departure during Captain America's briefing, and warns Cyclops that Xavier intends to face Onslaught himself. Cyclops tells her to telepathically rally the X-Men: Xavier won't have to face Onslaught alone. Meanwhile, Xavier arrives outside Onslaught's citadel. Onslaught leaps down to confront him, and Xavier insists that humanity's destruction is not mutantkind's gain. To his surprise, Onslaught agrees, then declares that no one, neither human nor mutant, will survive Onslaught!

Firsts and Other Notables
This is Mark Waid's final issue as the series' writer, bringing his short run on the title to a close as he is credited with scripting over Lobdell's plot, reportedly due to friction between Waid, Lobdell, and editorial (a claim that was denied at the time in places like Wizard, but which Waid & Lobdell more or less admitted to in later years). 

Professor Xavier & Joseph meet one another for the first time in this issue, an encounter which has a lot more resonance when it was still intended for Joseph to be Magneto, and not just his clone.  

Doctor Doom appears in this issue, joining the fight against Onslaught. This is all more or less to make it so Doom can be used in the "Heroes Reborn" Fantastic Four title, but he does give a reasonably good explanation for his involvement, saying he has no desire to rule over a destroyed world, and thus wants to help stop Onslaught (it's certainly better than having him cry about 9/11). 

There's a "preparing for the final battle" scene towards the end of the issue, in which Captain America goes over the plan to stop Onslaught (it's mostly vague); during his briefing, the X-Men set out to join Xavier in confronting Onslaught themselves, setting up the opening of Onslaught: Marvel Universe

Collection Recollection
The summer after my freshman year of high school, I went with my best friend to visit his family in Virginia. During the trip, we took an additional trip, to the North Carolina beach in order to visit with the wider family. While there, I found a little beach-adjacent comic shop, which is where I bought this issue, because it had come out after I had left town, but I simply couldn't wait to get back into town to find out what happened in "Onslaught" next!

(Incidentally, another comics-related memory I have of that trip is that I filled my carry-on bag with a big stack of comics, as I was in the middle of big re-read through of all the X-books at the time and didn't want to leave that behind for the duration of the trip, and of course, this was before widespread collected edition availability, so instead of a couple books like a normal person I hauled comics onto the plane to read there and during downtime on the trip. It was...a heavy bag). 

What's the Plan, Stan? 
At one point in this issue, it's revealed that Onslaught's overall goal is to wipe out humanity, in order to let mutants rise to power (in which case, I guess we can assume that the Sentinels are massacring people which seems...dark). 

We find out Onslaught captured Nate Grey in order to use his power to help Onslaught gain control of his physical transformation, as Franklin is resisting him. 

He also probes Nate's mind for more information about the "Age of Apocalypse" (why he couldn't just learn about it from Holocaust or Dark Beast, both of whom are labeled as his minions elsewhere in the issue, is not made clear), and then absorbs Nate's power, adding it to his own.  

After learning about the Age of Apocalypse from Nate, specifically the fact the X-Men there rose up and overthrew the mutant-dominant government of Apocalypse (I guess he never picked that up from Bishop earlier on), he decides that even mutant dominance isn't good enough, as mutants will still just ruin everything. Instead, he's just going to destroy the entire world, human and mutant alike.   

A Work in Progress
Onslaught talks to Nate about his various minions, who are depicted collectively in a panel together, though they've not all worked together directly. 

It's also said they are responsible for bringing Nate to Onslaught, which isn't the case; Onslaught very obviously grabbed Nate himself in X-Man #19.

Austin's Analysis
This issue can be roughly divided into two parts. The first half, in addition to introducing Doctor Doom into the narrative, is chiefly centered around the first encounter between Joseph & Xavier. This is an interaction the story almost had to do, given the origins of Onslaught, and while there is some resonance in seeing these two frenemies commiserate on the role they played in giving birth to Onslaught, in hindsight, the whole thing lacks a bit of its intended punch given later revelations about Joseph & his relationship to the Magneto who played a more direct role in Onslaught's creation. 

The second half of the issue, then, is all about setting up the finale of the story, in terms of the heroes regrouping & Onslaught shifting his motivations to outright worldwide destruction, both of which are somewhat jarring. For one, there's still a bunch more tie-in issues to come (most of which are set in the same "calm before the storm" vein of this issue's second half). For another, this issue suggests we're on the verge of the finale, yet Onslaught hasn't really *done* anything. He tried to recruit/kill the X-Men, then went to New York, grabbed Franklin, raised his citadel, & called in his army of Sentinels, all of which, structurally, is mostly just setup. Since then, he's done very little, here or in tie-in issues, to make clear his objectives or push the narrative along. He lost Xavier & changed his appearance, then grabbed Nate Grey and...that's it. It really isn't until this issue that his goal - wipe out humanity to allow mutants to prosper - is clearly stated, and even then, it's immediately replaced by his new goal - mutants suck, too, so let's just kill everyone - in the span of a few panels. Which is unfortunate, because all else aside, Onslaught as a manifestation of Xavier & Magneto's methodologies taken to the extreme is vastly more interesting than "Onslaught: Super Nihilist", and it's not like the escalation is necessary to justify the events of the finale. 

What it really underscores, with the end of crossover now looming, is just how little story there is to the whole thing. "Inferno", for example, was similarly sweeping in terms of pulling in other titles from across the Marvel Universe, and had similar months of narrative build-up before the launch of the crossover. But it required four issues, one of which was double-sized, apiece of Uncanny X-Men & X-Factor, plus three issues of New Mutants (and an additional limited series) to fully tell its story. "Onslaught" as a crossover is just as sprawling, but the central narrative, such as it is, unfolds in a scant few issues. To be clear, "Onslaught" doesn't really need more tie-in issues, it just needs a stronger story and a villain with clearer goals & objectives to fill out its middle chapters. It's ultimately a story with a great premise and a clear (if editorially/marketing mandated) endpoint, but once it's done establishing its premise, it doesn't really know what to do until it's time for that finale, and this is the issue which really underscores just how much the story is missing any semblance of a middle. 

Next Issue
Tomorrow, X-Men Unlimited #12. Next week, Uncanny X-Men '96!

Like what you read? Then support us on Patreon & gain access to exclusive reviews of X-Men: The Animated Series and more!


  1. I love Andy Kubert's art in this issue. The way Onslaught dominates every panel he's in makes him feel overwhelming and powerful. It reminds me of the Demon Bear Saga.

  2. I say again that I feel this story would've been better served if it was simply an X-Men event and hadn't been co-opted to set up "Heroes Reborn". That said, I really liked the panel where Cap, Giant-Man, Reed, Sue, Cyclops, and Jean were planning strategy. You didn't usually see that sort of inter-team stuff at this point in the Marvel Universe.

    I enjoy Art Thibert's inks on certain pencilers. He's a very splashy, 90s inker, but he also inked old-school guys like John Byrne during the Spider-Man relaunch and Dan Jurgens when Jurgens drew CAPTAIN AMERICA, and I thought he brought a really dynamic flair to both their work. But for some reason he does not go well with Andy Kubert. You'd think he would, with Kubert being in full 90s mode at this point as well, but I just found the pairing very unattractive in several places.

    I like that Professor X is floating around Four Freedoms Plaza in a "4"-branded hoverchair. And you know Reed just whipped it up for him in like five minutes between issues. Though I find it questionable that he can order the FF's computer to let him take an aircraft, and to wipe said craft's flight logs.

    Also, I noted that the narration suggests Franklin is somehow keeping Onslaught from fully maintaining his "final form", which is a nice way to explain why he keeps appearing in his original form in all the tie-in stories.

    "...reportedly due to friction between Waid, Lobdell, and editorial (a claim that was denied at the time in places like Wizard, but which Waid & Lobdell more or less admitted to in later years)."

    I remember a roundtable interview with Lobdell, Waid, and Kurt Busiek in WIZARD when "Heroes Return" was starting, where the interviewer directly asked Lobdell and Waid about this. They basically said that since they would not be working closely together (with Lobdell on FANTASTIC FOUR and Waid on CAPTAIN AMERICA respectively), there would be no friction.

    Then, of course, Lobdell wound up quitting FF after three issues due to editorial conflicts (and Waid quit CAP, albeit nearly two years in, for the same reason)!

    "Incidentally, another comics-related memory I have of that trip is that I filled my carry-on bag with a big stack of comics, as I was in the middle of big re-read through of all the X-books at the time and didn't want to leave that behind for the duration of the trip..."

    Been there! I remember bringing all of Roger Stern's Spider-Man run on a family trip once, as well as many other random big bags of comics. Nowadays, all I need to bring on vacation for comic reading is my iPad!

    "He also probes Nate's mind for more information about the "Age of Apocalypse" (why he couldn't just learn about it from Holocaust or Dark Beast, both of whom are labeled as his minions elsewhere in the issue, is not made clear)..."

    That's bizarre. They should know more about the workings of that universe anyway, since they were both part of Apocalypse's inner circle! The funny thing is, until you mentioned it here, that thought didn't even occur to me.

    1. Nowadays, all I need to bring on vacation for comic reading is my iPad!

      It's so, so nice.

      The funny thing is, until you mentioned it here, that thought didn't even occur to me.

      If it makes you feel better, the thought never occurred to me until I re-read the issue for this review. Something about taking a screen cap of Onslaught's assorted minions made me realize 50% of the AoA expatriates are amongst their number. :)

    2. Oh man, The very first thing I'd do when going on vacation/getting to the hotel was open the phone book and find all the local comic and sports cards stores and try to convince my parents to go to all of them.

      I took so many trips with a suitcase full of comics. Either because I brought them to read or I found them while on vacation.

      Today I usually take a few TPBs with me. Still have never owned an iPad and I dislike looking at comics outside of print.

  3. And we're almost there. Despite everything, I'd still been largely following Uncanny and X-Men, though missing an issue here and there, continuing the run going back to the first Claremont/Cockrum days. It had never been totally unbroken-I'm pretty sure I missed some issues in the Outback era-but it was close enough for rock and roll.

    If you count the conclusion to Onslaught as an X-Men issue, this is the second to last X-Men book I bought before I took my first extended break from the line. If you don't, then this is the last. Essentially it was the end of twenty years of reading the X-Men for an appreciable period of time.

    What did it for me was the singular fact that this issue drove home to me: nobody had a *expletive deleted* clue what story they were telling. Because after fifteen years of Claremont seeding subplots that never properly got paid off, and several years of Lobdell ad-libbing, the line wasn't telling stories. It was setting up the next event, and each event was becoming less coherent in the through-line. Onslaught makes no sense. At all. The character has no plan, no motivation other than to destroy, his schemes changing literally from panel to panel. The slow burn build-which in fairness I enjoyed-and even then pay off of who Onslaught was, even if it absolutely did not fit the set up-but as soon as the cross over went off, well, the only part of it I legitimately enjoyed was Warren Ellis doing his thing in Excalibur. Things just never paid off. Nothing made sense. The art was good, but then, the X-Books rarely had bad art, did they?

    So I took a break. I came back after Operation Zero Tolerance was done, having heard there were wholesale creator changes and maybe things would be better, and...well, I'll save that for when you get to the Kelly/Seagle period. Since then, my longest run on the X-Books was Grant Morrison's, and as much as I enjoy their work, it's nowhere near as good as their JLA or Doom Patrol runs. I lasted 13 issues of Ed Brubaker's run, and walked away for good after Messiah Complex. Even Jonathan Hickman only brought me back for the hardcover of his initial arc.

    Strangely, I've been saying good bye to the X-Men for longer than I was a devoted fan.

    1. I love stories like this, Jack!

      I think I mentioned a month or two back that I had recently gotten onto AOL when "Onslaught" took place, and I was a regular visitor to the Marvel forums. I was amazed how many of the "older" fans (probably only in their 20s at that point!) were fed up with the X-books at the time. To me, a teen who had only been reading regularly for about four years by then, it was all great. Even though I had read (and adored) the Bronze Age stuff -- Claremont/Cockrum/Byrne/Cockrum/Smith) at this point, I still loved the current material as well.

      I stuck around after "Onslaught", through "Zero Tolerance", and kept on going through Seagle/Kelly and Alan Davis as well. But I will state that after "Onslaught", I started seeing more cracks than I'd ever noticed before. I still enjoyed the books for as long as Lobdell was on them, but Seagle and Kelly didn't really click with me. (Though I did like some of their stuff, but I've come to realize over the years since that the parts of their run I enjoyed were the things forced on them by editorial!)

      Still, I kept on, and I really liked the 1999 Alan Davis run quite a bit. I know I said it somewhere recently, but I can't recall if it was here -- that Davis run was the closest the X-Men of the 90s ever got to feeling, in some intangible/spiritual way, like the X-Men of the 70s, which was a massive plus in my book.

      Then came Claremont's return with "Revolution". Again I continued reading, but I really disliked that period due to it sweeping aside so much of the 90s stuff I'd grown up with in order to focus on Claremont's new concepts. Plus, I despised all the new costumes after spending the past near-decade with the Jim Lee looks for most characters.

      And after that was Grant Morrison and Joe Casey/Chuck Austen, which is where I finally pulled the plug. Those stories, and their depictions of the characters, were so unfamiliar to me that I gave up. I did keep reading both NEW X-MEN and UNCANNY via a friend's copies when I visited his house, but I was voting against that material with my wallet.

      (I did, however, read X-TREME X-MEN all the way through, even though it was really only any good while Salvador Larroca was drawing it.)

      Since then, I read UNCANNY again when Claremont returned in the mid-00s for a run with Alan Davis, and I kept with it through the Ed Brubaker run that followed and the "Messiah Complex" crossover, then into the start of the Utopia era (also reading X-MEN: LEGACY around this time), which is where I again dropped out. I haven't bought a new mainstream X-comic since, though I've perused issues here and there on Marvel Unlimited, and I've read various out-of-continuity mini-series, like X-MEN FOREVER and X-MEN '92, all the way through.

      I'm really "X-cited" (heh heh heh) for X-MEN LEGENDS to hit Marvel Unlimited. I'm especially looking forward to Fabian Nicieza's initial arc. (Yes, I know it's odd to "look forward" to something that's already been released, but again -- waiting for MU to get it.) 90s X-Men fighting Eric the Red?! I've wanted to see that since around 1994!

    2. The first time I stopped collecting X-Men was Uncanny X-Men #297. I had been reading the X-Titles since Uncanny #257 and was edging into things like Ghost Rider and Sandman. It was a short lived absence and I cam back with Fatal Attractions. Financial difficulties made me quit again just two months before Onslaught started. I was back six months later and have pretty much been with them ever since. I did almost quit for good during the "Childhood's End" arc of New X-Men (the second series). It felt like the X-Men were get depressingly dark and hopeless and I wasn't sure I could follow that anymore. But, I stuck with it and have been pretty much okay with the line since. There were some dark days, of course, and times I wondered what was going on at Marvel and why they couldn't remember what the X-Men were supposed to be but I haven't regretted sticking with them.

      I really liked the first arc of X-Men Legends and am reasonably excited for the next two arcs. I also have a high amount of anticipation for Claremont's arc. I just hope the series can continue the quality of the first two issues.

    3. I wish I had a better "X-Men Reading History" story; I started reading in '92, eventually went back to read everything I'd missed while continuing forward, and just never stopped. Certainly, there's stories, creators, and runs in that (checks the math, shudders) 30 year history I've liked more or less than others, and the AMOUNT of X-books I've bought has waxed and waned over that time (from "everything" at some times, to "little more than one or two of the 'core' series" at others), but there's always been at least a couple books I've kept up with at any given time.

      @Drew: I really liked the first arc of X-Men Legends and am reasonably excited for the next two arcs.

      I did an advance review of X-MEN LEGENDS #3 for ComicsXF and it's really good! Weezie & Walt don't miss a beat, and if not for the modern coloring (which isn't bad, but is unmistakably modern), you'd think it truly was issue #42a of X-FACTOR. The art, especially, is a standout.

    4. Jack I am right there with you. Basically the Image Exodus really hurt my feelings towards the X-Books. Lobdell just felt like he got very little done that actually made sense. While I kept buying and looking at them, they didn't make sense. Magic, Star Wars CCG and Star Trek CCG took up most of my hobby time at this point. I was working, high school, tennis team, basketball at the YMCA, church involvement, etc.

      The ending to Onslaught was beyond frustrating to me. Operation Zero Tolerance didn't make me feel better as it just didn't mix right.

      I found so much more joy in finishing off the 200's issues and then 100 issues and I was probably around 60 total issues off from having every X-Men issue at this point. I was buying collections from people, trading them in for credit. That was the joy I was getting from X-Men at this time was that hunt and feeling of completion vs actually enjoying these issues.


Comment. Please. Love it? Hate it? Are mildly indifferent to it? Let us know!