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Wednesday, May 5, 2021

X-amining "Onslaught" Tie-Ins Part 2

"Dancing in the Dark" / "Night Neverending" / "The End of the Line" / "Unfinished Business
October 1996

In a Nutshell
The Avengers, Fantastic Four and Hulk prepare for the final battle against Onslaught. 

Incredible Hulk #445 by Peter David & Angel Medina
Iron Man #332 by Terry Kavangh & Joe Bennett
Avengers #402 by Mark Waid, Mike Deodato & Tom Palmer
Fantastic Four #416 by Tom DeFalco & Carlos Pacheco
(Please visit the GCD for full credits from each issue)

Incredible Hulk #445: After rescuing a subway car full of stranded passengers, Hulk, angry with the way Onslaught used him & frustrated by the heroes' lack of action, decides to take the fight to Onslaught. Though Captain America cautions against it, Hulk is joined by Falcon, Hawkeye, Vision & Crystal. Together, Hulk & Crystal dig a tunnel beneath the city & into Onslaught's citadel. They attack, and though his allies are killed, Hulk succeeds in destroying Onslaught, happy to have won despite the losses. Suddenly, he's back in Four Freedoms Plaza, the entire attack a result of a telepathic illusion created by Onslaught and shared amongst the heroes, leaving the group more distrustful of Hulk than ever. 

Iron Man #332: Iron Man, Giant Man, Quicksilver & Black Panther evade Sentinels on their way to the Wakandan embassy, where Black Panther uses vibranium to help Iron Man create a series of psionic inhibitor devices.

Avengers #402: Captain America leads a detachment of Avengers to meet up with Iron Man's team. On the way, they help rescue a stranded subway car, then meet up with Black Widow. After getting the psionic inhibitors from Iron Man, the Avengers are attacked by Post & Holocaust. Together, the Avengers defeat the villains, much to the adoration of watching bystanders, then proceed to Four Freedoms Plaza before taking the fight to Onslaught. 

Fantastic Four #416: The captive Franklin Richards sends a telepathic message to his parents; Onslaught detects the message, and decides to twist it to his purposes. At Four Freedoms Plaza, the Fantastic Four and their allies are suddenly attacked by an assortment of their greatest villains. As more of their fellow heroes join the fight, including Doctor Doom, Mister Fantastic realizes the villains are all constructs of Onslaught, and builds a device that destroys his energy and makes the villains disappear. Though Onslaught remains a threat, Invisible Woman is heartened to learn Franklin is still alive, and rallies her family & friends for the final fight against Onslaught. 

Firsts and Other Notables
The big development plot-wise in this set of issues is the creation of the psi-shields, working off Professor Xavier's design retrieved from the Xavier Protocols on Muir Island, in Iron Man #332 and their deployment to the wider contingent of Avengers in Avengers #402. Ultimately, I don't believe they amount to much in the larger fight with Onslaught, other than providing a behind-the-scenes answer for why Onslaught doesn't simply telepath everyone to death as soon as they attack in the upcoming battle. 

A point is made in Avengers #402 that Black Widow - who was not that long ago leading the Avengers - is operating independently of the group, helping bystanders; because of this, she will not be with the rest of the team when they sacrifice themselves against Onslaught in Onslaught: Marvel Universe, and will end up wracked with guilt at being the only surviving Avenger in the aftermath of the story. 

Post & Holocaust turn up in Avengers #402, operating in their most henchman-y role. Post will next turn up as part of Xavier's Brotherhood in the "Hunt for Xavier" story, while Holocaust next appears in an X-Man annual. 

Giant-Man fighting a Sentinel is the kind of thing it would have been nice to see more of in this crossover. 

Nathaniel Richards says he the FF are fated to die in battle with Onslaught, but if he knows that, you’d think he would also know they’d eventually come back from it.

The Chronology Corner
These issues all take place during X-Men (vol. 2) #56

A Work in Progress
Perpetual sidekick Rick Jones is trying to get into New York in Incredible Hulk #445.

Falcon sides with Hulk out of appreciation for how Hulk helped out Falcon's nephew Jim Wilson, who died of AIDS in the groundbreaking Incredible Hulk #420. 

Black Panther also joins the fight against Onslaught in Iron Man #332. 

I feel bad for the poor Sentinel who has to read off all of Hank Pym’s code names.

There's some sloppiness on display in Avengers #402: at one point, narration starts in a caption and then ends in a speech bubble, while Thor goes back and forth between his more elaborate 90s costume and his minimalist shirtless look from panel to panel. 

Similarly, when Captain America manages to orchestrate the defeat of Post & Holocaust, Wasp treats him with a deference that seems excessive for a founding Avenger who technically has seniority over him. 

Beast has made his way to New York after escaping from Dark Beast and is helping tend the wounded in Four Freedoms Plaza.

The guy whose name suggests he has excellent vision complains about having to keep watch, saying it’s a waste of his talents.

Not surprisingly, Onslaught appears in his original armored form in Fantastic Four #416. 

Doctor Doom arriving to help the Fantastic Four and being appalled at the notion that he'd be hired by Onslaught is the most Doom thing ever. 

Artistic Achievements
Tom Palmer provides the painted cover to Avengers #402, similar to the ones he did for Marvel's original Star Wars series. 

"Heroes Reborn" disrupting the numerical (and, briefly, the narrative) continuity of the first series of the modern Marvel age is a shame, but that's a hell of an image to go out on. 

The Reference Section
When the Hulk drags a stranded subway car down the tracks, a kid compares it to the King Kong ride at Universal Studios; I miss that ride. I like the Mummy ride that replaced it but I think the park is missing something without the Kong ride, just because that’s such an iconic character for the studio.

At the end of Fantastic Four #416, Invisible Woman initiates the "four hand group cheer" move, which is an homage back to the first issue of the series. 

Young Love
Would you describe the Reed/Sue romance as a “fairy tale” one? I’m not sure I would.

Austin's Analysis
As opposed to the previous batch of tie-in issues, these four are much more connected to the overall plot of the crossover (such as it is), filling in little narrative gaps in the run-up to the climax of the story: Iron Man #332 deals with the creation of the psionic inhibitors crafted from the Xavier Protocols info, Avengers #402 deals with getting those devices back to Four Freedoms Plaza while taking Post & Holocaust off the board, and Fantastic Four #416 brings in a bunch of supporting characters for the big fight, notably Doctor Doom (the Hulk issue is mostly just about showing how the Hulk is a jerk). But beyond that, these issues represent the final issues of these series (except, again, for the Hulk issue), series which stretch back to the creation of the Marvel Universe. They will be relaunched, first for "Heroes Reborn" and shortly thereafter again for "Heroes Return" (and then, several more times after that, as Marvel makes chasing the "big sales for #1 issues" dragon part of their ongoing publishing strategy), but no amount of relaunches can change the fact that a certain amount of history comes to an end with these issues. 

As such, these issues have the challenge of both tying in to the crossover (a crossover that is only tangentially, at best, related to any of these books otherwise) and sending off the characters; really, in some ways, they're saying goodbye to the history of the Marvel Universe up to this point. Of the three "final" issues, Fantastic Four #416 is the clear standout. Iron Man, which already had it's internal history rejiggered somewhat a few months prior thanks to "The Crossing" and the whole Teen Tony business, doesn't really bother; Avengers tries, but it's hard to feel too much like a celebration of the series' history when they're fighting the likes of Post & Holocaust in their final issue. The conceit of Onslaught twisting Franklin's mental cry to his parents into an attack, and for that attack to take the form of classic Fantastic Four villains, is a clever & effective way to use the crossover to celebrate the series' history. Meanwhile, the threat of Onslaught (and, seemingly, the onslaught of old villains) makes a perfect excuse for a bunch of supporting characters to show up and pitch in, many of whom, like Namor and the Inhumans, are classic Marvel characters with rich history of their own. It also helps, as much as I personally enjoy Tom Palmer's inks, that Fantastic Four #416 has the strongest art of the batch, as it's a real treat to see Carlos Pacheco drawing a bunch of classic Marvel characters (and, uh, Fantastic Force). 

Certainly, if there was no avoiding the decision to cut out a core chunk of the Marvel Universe and mercenarily hand it over to a pair of dudes who significantly burned the company just a few years earlier, then it would have been nice for that chunk to receive a proper sendoff (especially with how much "Heroes Reborn" was billed as a permanent thing at the time; no one knew it would crash & burn and the characters, at least, would be back (and better) in a years' time), one which engaged with the history of the respective series and said something about their unique place within the wider Marvel Universe. These four issues aren't that, but they at least makes some effort, however minor, to that end and/or to make some narrative impact on the overall crossover, with Fantastic Four #416, at least, standing out as the best possible lemonade to be made from the twin lemons of "Onslaught" and "Heroes Reborn". 

Next Issue
It's the end of "Onslaught" (and, to some extent, the Marvel Universe) in the aptly-named Onslaught: Marvel Universe

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  1. Thor #502 doesn't get an Onslaught logo on the cover but must have been solicited as a tie-in, because I picked it up during the event. It's basically Thor and supporting cast waiting for the final battle to start.
    I'm sure I remember that I somehow knew at the time that Heroes Reborn would be only 12 issues, similar to how it was reported in the press that Age of Apocalypse would run for 4 months... It did end up being 13 issues instead.

    1. It was a twelve month contract with options for early termination (as happened with Liefeld) and reportedly for extension if it was deemed a success. The thirteenth month issues were reportedly an emergency extension because of delays with Heroes Return.

      By several contemporary accounts it was the brainchild of executives who were no longer in post by the time it actually held the shelves so nobody expected it to make the huge numbers of the early 1990s or actually get extended.

  2. I didn't read any of these, since I wasn't a regular reader of the four series, and nothing in them felt essential to "Onslaught" -- but that FF issue sounds really good, and a fitting capstone (or as fitting as might've been possible in the middle of a big crossover) for the Marvel Universe as it had existed up to this point.

    I really liked Black Widow's direction after "Onslaught". She had a 3-part arc in JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY, she popped up in DAREDEVIL, and then she became a thorn in the sides of the Thunderbolts in a couple issues of their own series. I liked that Marvel kept her in circulation as sort of a "wild card" throughout the line.

    I also like that Hercules and Quicksilver have a little sendoff in an upcoming issue of X-MEN. Herc would soon join the cast of the upcoming HEROES FOR HIRE, while Quicksilver would get his own ongoing as well, though both would be canceled fairly quickly.

    I've always thought the idea of giving Quicksilver his own series was an odd one. They can't have expected that to catch on, can they? But nonetheless, I appreciated the experimentation. I mentioned in another recent comment that Marvel launched a bunch of new ongoing series starring classic characters coming out of "Onslaught", and I loved the diversification of the line.

    Is it weird that I sort of want to start reading the entire Marvel Universe in sequence following ONSLAUGHT: MARVEL UNIVERSE? Like, in addition to reading along with your reviews, I just wanna start reading the Spidey titles, THUNDERBOLTS, HEROES FOR HIRE, etc., etc. as well. Basically relive that entire 1996-2000-ish era one month at a time.

    The more I think about it, as if I didn't know it already, that really, really is my all-time favorite period of my life in terms of reading new Marvel stuff as it was published.

    1. My all time favorite time is roughly 1990 -1997. I think "The Twelve" is where I went from loving it to just enjoying it. I wasn't particularly hating anything but it wasn't exciting me much either. There have been other periods later on that excited me but nothing like that half decade or so. I suppose part of that is just getting older while the other part is just that so much of what's published since then strayed so far from what I liked about Marvel in general and the X-Men in particular.

    2. Yeah, in the past I've actually said that my "Personal Golden Age" in its entirety was roughly 1992 - 2000, starting with X-MEN #20 and ending with AVENGERS vol. 3 #34. There was stuff I liked before that and stuff I liked after, but that period is really where Marvel fired my imagination like nothing else.

      That said, I was mostly only reading Spider-Man and the X-books (plus certain other things like the 2099 books and all of Jim Starlin's "Infinity" stuff) during the first four years of that timeframe -- which is why the period I mentioned in my previous comment, 1996 - 2000, is my best-remembered era of reading the much wider Marvel Universe, and gives me a bit more nostalgia than the earlier part.

      But digging even further, much as I love Spider-Man, nothing from '92 up to the start of the Clone Saga elicits that much of a memory from me. It was okay, but nothing I especially looked forward to every month (I like a lot of stuff prior to '92, circa 1988 on, but I was nowhere near a regular monthly reader at that time). X-Men had me hooked, though, immediately from the afore-mentioned #20 (my first issue as a regular reader). So I guess it's fairer to say that my "Personal Golden Age" for X-Men is about '92 - 97 (the lead-up to "Fatal Atractions" through the end of Scott Lobdell's run), with a resurgence in '99 (Alan Davis's run), my "Personal Golden Age" for Spider-Man is around '95 - '98 (the Clone Saga up to the start of the Byrne/Mackie relaunch), and my "Personal Golden Age" for the Marvel Universe as a whole is '96 - 2000 (beginning with THUNDERBOLTS and ending with George Perez leaving AVENGERS).

      I'm rambling now, so I'll leave it at that!

    3. Drew, I got so carried away talking about my Golden Ages, that I forgot to address this part of your comment, which really resonated with me:

      " I suppose part of that is just getting older while the other part is just that so much of what's published since then strayed so far from what I liked about Marvel in general and the X-Men in particular."

      G. Kendall once posted a theory, I think on Twitter, that there's a certain age where people just stop accepting new things in comic books (I think he may have specifically said this about new characters, but to me that can be expanded to new concepts in general). I forget what age he felt that was, but it was somewhere in your teens. I definitely fall into that camp. I was already there, to some extent, when I was in my late teens, reading the build-up to "Operation: Zero Tolerance" and Maggott and Cecilia Reyes popped up as the newest X-Men. I was more accepting of Marrow joining the team because she was "grandfathered in", having existed since the early "Gene Nation" stuff -- even though her character by the time she joined was vastly different from what it had been in those stories.

      I look at a lot of the stuff that Marvel does nowadays (and has been doing for like 15-20 years), and I just sigh and shake my head. Obviously it appeals to people and I think that's great, but most of it is just not for me -- and I think that's because I passed G. Kendall's marker a long time ago. New ideas and characters just don't feel "authentic" to me like they did when I was a kid and in my early to mid-teens.

    4. The same largely holds true for most pop culture. You hear it all the time about music, movies and now you're even starting to hear it about video games. "It's just not as good as it used to be."

      Part of that may be because we have time, energy and desire to be culturally aware when we are younger. As we get older we have less time to digest new information and more important things take priority. Also, as a general rule, the next generation likes things to be as different as possible from the previous generation, hence the preference for vinyl over CDs these days. I also get the feeling that that is why manga is growing in popularity.

      The thing is, I'm not sure that the problems with changing times is really the problem. I think the real problem is corporate penny pinchers trying to squeeze out more money by trying to offer a "different" approach to entice a new audience. After all, anyone starting comics now eventually finds their way back to Chris Claremont, Frank Miller, Roger Stern, etc.

  3. Of these, Fantastic Four is definitely the strongest in terms of celebrating its history. Avengers has gone through so many changes and endings that this feels like a Tuesday.

    In general, these titles are hurt by the larger crossover. Some worse than others, though I doubt there was ever going to be a good Iron Man one with Young Tony.

    It's also worth noting that this is the last time these titles get co-opted by an X-Men event. House of M is as much Avengers as it is X-Men (despite X-Men having more tie-ins).

  4. I don't think there's a better summary for everything wrong with Marvel Comics as the 90s wore on than ending the run of Fantastic Four vol. 1 to hand it over to the Image crew as a sideline to an X-Men centric crossover.

    That Marvel keeps relaunching titles every 18 months with new #1s, at this point, is the definition of insanity being "doing the same thing and expecting a new result."


  5. I don’t recall Hulk being such a jerk or so distrusted by his peers during his merged personality but admittedly I’ve only read a handful of issues from David’s run to this day and probably none before from this specific era.

    The Power-Skrull didn’t ring a bell with me at all but I appreciate the winky juxtaposition of his name with Super-Skrull’s. Was it never made explicit (or even realized) that his powers mimic some X-Men’s — Wolverine’s and/or Thunderbird’s heightened physical abilities, Colossus’s armored form, Storm’s lightning, her and/or Angel’s flight, and Iceman’s frost powers — the way Super-Skrull’s do the FF’s?

    Related: Until shown ironclad proof to the contrary I’ll assume that editorial had to prevent David from borrowing Power-Skrull for a Hulk story titled “Paibok’s a Bitch”.


  6. // why Onslaught doesn't simply telepath everyone to death //

    Judicious noun-as-verb humor for the win.

    // Black Widow … will end up wracked with guilt at being the only surviving Avenger in the aftermath //

    “Why didn’t Jim and Rob want me? *sob*
    “I mean they -- they used Swordsman for God’s sake!”

    // I feel bad for the poor Sentinel who has to read off all of Hank Pym’s code names. //

    Ha! Meanwhile, I wish it had kept going through them in strict identity-shifting order: Henry Pym / Ant-Man / Giant-Man / Goliath / Yellowjacket / Ant-Man / Yellowjacket / Ant-Man / Yellowjacket / Henry Pym / Giant Man …

    // Wasp treats him with a deference that seems excessive for a founding Avenger who technically has seniority over him. //

    And who’d led the team as well by that point. I had the same reaction.

    // that's a hell of an image to go out on //

    Yep. Pacheco’s work on FF is so far beyond the art on the other three issues that it’s almost funny instead of just sad. The scripting by DeFalco — not so much bad necessarily as practically archaic juxtaposed against Pacheco’s neo-classic style — doesn’t help on that score. Pacheco’s talent, like that of Alan Davis and certain others but very unlike the stereotypical Image school, allows him to render typical superhero iconography that’s grounded in sound figure work more suited to dialogue from the likes of Waid, Busiek, or even Claremont for that matter than DeFalco.

    // The conceit of Onslaught twisting Franklin's mental cry to his parents into an attack //

    I will tip my hat to that move, and the results were quite neat on a fan level; also, for the record, I’ve enjoyed some of DeFalco’s more explicitly, intentionally throwback projects.


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