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Wednesday, June 30, 2021

X-amining X-Men: Brood #1-2

"Day of Wrath"
September - October 1996

In a Nutshell
The X-Men defend Hannah Connover from assassins sent by the Brood Empress!

Writer: John Ostrander 
Penciler: Bryan Hitch, Bryan Hitch & Sal Velluto (issue #2)
Inker: Paul Neary, Neary, Anyd Lanning & Harry Candelario (issue #2)
Letters: Richard Starkings & Comicraft
Colors: Joe Rosas
Separations: Malibu
Editor: Jaye Gardner
Editor-in-Chief: Bob Harras

Issue #1: Hannah Connover, wife of Reverend William Connover, suffers from nightmares in which the Brood Empress tells her to submit to the Brood Queen inside her, or be killed by the Empress' assassins. Hannah's mental anguish is sensed by Jean Grey, vacationing nearby. As she and Cyclops try to track down Hannah, Professor X assembles a group of X-Men to assist them. Meanwhile, Hannah grapples with her past actions, infecting various followers of her husband's mission with Brood eggs before her humanity re-asserted itself. As the Brood Empress' Firstborn assassins arrive on Earth and are greeted by Josey Thomas, the Brood who infected Hannah, Hannah heads into town with two of the followers she infected. Tracking her, the Firstborn and the X-Men collide, with the Firstborn killing Josey and Hannah's Brood. The X-Men manage to fight off the Firstborn and escape into the desert with Hannah, where she is joined by more of her followers. Though Wolverine insists Hannah needs to die to kill the Brood Queen inside her, the rest of the X-Men vow to defend her. Hannah, however, begs them to kill her. 

Issue #2: As the police question William Connover about his wife, she urges the X-Men to kill her. When they refuse, she orders her Brood to attack them so she can escape. Hannah and her followers regroup, and are found by the Firstborn; Hannah prepares to die. Meanwhile, the X-Men split up to try and find her. Wolverine & Jean locate her first, repelling the Firstborn assault, while Beast speculates on the possibility of freezing Hannah to stop the takeover of the Brood inside her and convince the Firstborn that she's dead. However, when she senses that the Firstborn have kidnapped William, Hannah's Brood form emerges fully and she runs off from the X-Men. The X-Men follow her, and defend Hannah against the Firstborn's trap, holding them off while Jean, Beast, and Iceman put Hannah in suspended animation. Once she's frozen, the Firstborn break off their attack, and the X-Men take Hannah with them to the X-Mansion, where they hope to find a permanent cure for her. Meanwhile, William Connover returns to his ministry, preaching a message of love & hope despite the absence of his wife. 

Firsts and Other Notables
Presented as two 48 page issues with no ads, this limited series follows up on a dangling plotline from the "Earthfall" story in Uncanny X-Men #232-234, in which a group of Brood who came to Earth and infected a small group of mutants, drawing the attention of the X-Men in a battle in and around the ministry of Reverend William Connover. That story ended with the implication that Hannah, William's wife, was infected by the Brood as well. This story confirms that Hannah infected by a Brood Queen egg, and that she subsequently infected a number of individuals in and around the ministry, before her humanity re-asserted itself, which is where the story opens. 

It also introduces the concept of a Brood "empress", a matriarchal figure whose authority supersedes the other Brood queens, though she does not directly appear in this story and has yet to appear outside of it. Her agents are the "Firstborn" Brood assassins loyal only to her, which are more powerful than the average Brood. 

The story concludes with the X-Men putting Hannah in suspended animation, in order to trick the Firstborn into thinking she's dead without killing her, allowing them to (theoretically) buy time to find a cure. Ultimately, she is never seen or mentioned again after this story, which is somewhat ironic given that the story intended to address the dangling plotline left by "Earthfall" and then ended with a different plot dangling...

Josey Thomas, the Brood-infected paramedic from "Earthfall" who infected Hannah in that story, is killed by the Firstborn in the course of the story, so at least that dangler is closed off. 

The evolution of the phrase "To me, my X-Men" takes a significant step in issue #1; first uttered jokingly by Pete Wisdom in Excalibur #93 and then used, in longer form, by Onslaught in X-Men (vol. 2) #54, here we see Xavier using the shortened "To me, my X-Men" that will later become a notable enough catchphrase that it leads off the Hickman Era of the X-Men for the first time.  

Both of these issues have wraparound covers, neither of which look terribly good (the first issue's cover, for example, has the entire back side dedicated to one depicting one of the Firstborn's...backsides). 

Creator Central
Artists Bryan Hitch & Paul Neary pencil and ink much of this story; the duo will later find much acclaim on WildStorm's Authority and the first two volumes of The Ultimates, the Ultimate Universe version of the Avengers that inspired various facets of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. 

The Chronology Corner
This story obviously takes place before both "Onslaught" and Wolverine's de-evolution in Wolverine #100. Specifically, it falls just before Dark Beast takes Beast's place circa X-Men Unlimited #10.

A Work in Progress
The issue opens with Scott and Jean vacationing with Jean's parents and her niece and nephew, continuing Joey & Gailyn's brief mid 90s renaissance of reminding readers they exist. 

It's noted here that Jean has never fought the Brood before (though I believe that's also true of Iceman, as well). 

The Firstborn land on Earth by crashing into it, a scene reminiscent of the Brood landing in Uncanny X-Men #218 (though they don't use a giant space shark for a ship here, unfortunately). 

Cannonball reflects on the fact that that while he was once unable to land himself, now he’s flying & landing the Blackbird.

Cyclops says the X-Men don’t take human lives; his insistence on saving Hannah vs. Wolverine's insistence on killing her echoes a lot of the discussion from the original Brood Saga, though Cyclops resolve against killing was ultimately softened there. 

Bishop notes that there are factions of Brood in his future, some of which are benign, suggesting a possible future outcome for Hannah. 

Cannonball says he’s not invulnerable til he’s airborne, which isn’t really the case: one of his arcs in early X-Force issues was learning to use his protective blast shield without flying.

At one point during the Brood fight, Jean is forced to help reign in Wolverine’s bloodlust.

Iceman notes it’s difficult to find moisture to work with in the desert, a consideration that doesn’t often factor in when he’s in action.

Bishop gets a chance to show off his tactical knowledge (not that Storm, no slouch as a tactician herself, should be the one asking).

The Grim 'n' Gritty 90s
In general, the Brood seem more like Star Trek: The Next Generation's Borg here, with a specific matriarch in term of the hive amidst discussions of expanding the collective & propagating their species. First Contact, the Borg-centric Next Generation film which introduced the Borg Queen, was released in November of 1996, a few months after these issues were on sale. 

When Professor X gives a briefing on the Brood, it is presented with one of those floating holograms of the subject meant to show off the era's computer effects, but the central image is indistinct and just makes the surrounding figures look off. 

Something that would be handled via a text recap nowadays, the first two pages of the second issues are dedicated to recapping events of the first issue.

The Firstborn are said to move surprisingly fast for their size.

Narration says that “no quarter” is “given or taken” during a Wolverine/Brood fight.

The Awesome and Terrible Power of Cyclops
It’s not entirely clear what prompts it, but Cyclops freaks out about losing his visor at one point.

The Best There is at What He Does
Wolverine laments having bone claws, a rare instance in which his lack of adamantium proves to be a deficiency.

Human/Mutant Relations
This series states on a few separate occasions that William Connover is one of the first major religious figures to come out on the side of mutants (something previously established in "Earthfall"), which of course puts him in contrast with the likes of Reverend Stryker. 

Austin's Analysis
Curious in conception (one wonders if John Ostrander had a burning desire to revisit "Earthfall" or if this was something assigned by editorial, working off some sort of "lingering/unresolved plotlines" list) while clear in intent (ie to add to the onslaught of X-Men content amidst the imploding comic book market), this two-part miniseries is far from perfect. It's a bit overlong: at two ad-less 48 page issues, it is, essentially, the same length as a four issue miniseries, and there's not nearly enough story here to sustain that. Much of the second issue, especially, is repetitive & circuitous, with the characters rehashing the same arguments repeatedly and Hannah running from and being found by the X-Men several times. And Ostrander is a little fuzzy on some of the smaller character beats, stuff like Storm turning to Bishop for tactical advice or Cannonball being presented as more of a rookie than he actually is, a common problem, granted, for writers in this era. And, of course, the conclusion is a classic non-resolution that solves the immediate problem but punts a long-term solution to a story that never happens. 

But for all that, there's still plenty to like here: the Brood are always good fodder for arguments about morality, and Ostrander displays a strong enough grasp of the various players to make those arguments work. Most of all, the art is a big draw. Bryan Hitch had done assorted fill-in work for the X-office prior to this, but these two issues are really the first time his stuff looks of a piece with this later style, when his work on The Authority will come to define "widescreen" art and launch a raft of imitators within the industry (not unlike how Joe Madureira was inspiring a wave of "manga-ized" art at the time this series was on sale). Somewhat ironically, his work here is effective not because it's "widescreen", but because it is more zoomed in: with the story set mostly against the backdrop of some generic Southwest desert landscapes, Hitch and his inkers manage to inject energy and variety into the pages by keeping a sort of medium focus on the action, highlighting the smooth figure work and crowding out the backgrounds. It does, unfortunately, add somewhat to the repetitive feeling of the second issue, but ultimately, it's a strength of the series. 

Ultimately, whatever the motivations behind this series, if Marvel is going to insist on flooding the market with X-Men material in 1996 and 1997 (and boy howdy, are they ever!), they could (and will, unfortunately) do worse than this, a series aiming to resolve a long lingering plotline from a classic story, attempting to, on however basic of a level, to use the sci-fi/comic book trappings to say something about the human condition, and featuring top-notch artwork from an artist on the rise.  

Next Issue
Another pre-"Onslaught" two-issue miniseries, as the X-Men meet the ClanDestine in the aptly titled X-Men/ClanDestine #1-2!

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  1. If Marvel wasn’t desperate to flood the market or to have annual crossovers, this story could have been used in one the monthly X-Men books to greater success. It’s sad how little is used for the benefit of the overall story when they bring back something from the past that could have been used to show how some of the characters reacted to it.

    When this miniseries was released, I hated it. Brian Hitch felt like a poor man’a Alan Davis and at this time I was already tired of copycat artists at Marvel. It made me dislike even more the fact that he couldn’t draw the alien as if they resembled in any way the Brood. And the lack of a clear ending was problematic. Waste of time.

  2. I think that there are the seeds for a truly disturbing history here, will the Brood becoming something akin to a cult in which the people gets infected to be healed from ills and maladies, or even to find some peace of mind becoming uncounsciously part from a greather whole (the Brood Hive). That would turn the Brood from its original xenomorph to something closer to the Warhammer 40.000's Genestealer Cult or the H.P. Lovecraft's Esoteric Order of Dagon.

    As a continuation of the "Earthfall" plot from eight years before, "Day of Wrath" felt flat to me. The mistery of whether Hannah got infected or no was more interesting.

  3. I guess I'm a little more generous than others in my assessment of this series. I thought it was a nice little diversion, even if it has zero impact on continuity. I'm actually very surprised that it was collected in the Road to Onslaught trades since it doesn't actually tie in to that storyline at all.

    I wonder if Marvel will hire Ostrander to finally tie up this story in X-Men Legends? I highly doubt it but it could be fun.

  4. I remember reading this at the time and, while I liked the story well enough (and appreciated the callback to “Earthfall”, which I read basically contemporaneously thanks to a triple-sized reprint issue Marvel released around the same time), I didn’t like the artwork. I’ve mentioned before that I wasn’t a fan of Hitch at this time. He was too different from the art I was used to on the core titles, whether we were talking Madureira or Kubert.

    But as usual with Hitch, I find that I appreciate the artwork a lot more now than I did then. I still prefer the Madureira and Kubert of the era more, but you can do a lot worse in stuff from this period than a knockoff Alan Davis (such as many of the knockoff Joe Mads).

    As for the story, I still think it’s fine. Not great, but I like it. This X-era is so precious to me personally that I’m nearly always happy to read “bonus” stories about these X-Men, in these costumes, outside the two core books.

    I agree Ostrander is a bit off in some of his characterizations, but he does seem to have a good grasp of the history and continuity with which he’s working. Though I do question the bit at one point where Reverend Connover says the “Earthfall” story occurred “about a year ago.” Even in the compressed Marvel timeline, that doesn’t sound right at all.

    I just read that article you linked to about the origins of “To me, my X-Men,” and I was shocked! I had always assumed it was a recurring thing in the Silver Age. (I’ve still read very, very little of the pre-Thomas/Adams stuff.) But from the way you see it pop up now and then around this era and beyond, it seems clear that a lot of the creators of the time must’ve thought they were homaging something. Very weird.

    1. With the sliding timeline scale still in place, these events now probably occur within a couple of months of each other. I believe the current Marvel U has established it's been roughly ten years since Fantastic Four #1. I kind of wish they would move the Marvel U a little further along but I don't see that happening. Most of the heroes aren't allowed to age past 29. The worst part about that is that now a character like Jubilee is about ten years younger than Cyclops instead of 15. Another decade or so and she'll be the same age.

    2. I try not to let the sliding timeline bother me too much, because if I ever spend any appreciable amount of time thinking about it, I want to tear my hair out. I eventually got to a point where I just view everything in terms of runs. There's "the past" (everything before the run I'm currently reading) and "the present" (the current run), and that's it.

      I will never understand why creators can't let young characters remain young -- be it Jubilee, Kitty, Franklin Richards, or whoever. Like, sure -- maybe you, Mr. Writer of the moment, want Jubilee to be a young adult, but did you stop to consider that you don't own the character, and subsequent creators might like to write her as the teenager she was created to be?

      (Though I say this fully admitting that I grew up on Spider-Man and X-Men who were all in their twenties, and I prefer them that way over the high school age teens they were originally. I'm nothing if not contradictory.)

    3. That's pretty much how I look at it.

      As for keeping them young, I look at something like The Simpsons who have been doing that for 30+ years now. It would certainly make more sense to just stay in a nebulous "now".

      Jubilee is an interesting case as she was 15 when she was introduced but aged down to 13 for Gen X.

      At any rate, it's better than "Linearverse" IMO.

    4. Yeah, I forgot about Jubilee's de-aging. I do recall Scott Lobdell mentioning in interviews around the time GEN X launched that she was going to be younger. For whatever reason, going backwards doesn't bother me as much.

      Though going forward and then backward again does. In AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, circa the early-mid-90s, Billy Connors, who had been an elementary school-age child in all his prior appearances was aged up to be a teenager. And so he stayed for a little while, but eventually he became a child again. And I know this almost goes against what I said above about aging up young characters, but the idea of aging someone up and then regressing them is even dumber to me than simply aging them up in the first place!

      Of course, Billy was eventually eaten by his father during one of his Lizard rampages, so the whole thing became a moot point -- and also a wonderful illustration of why I don't read current comics anymore.

      (And I know he came back later on, but something that tasteless and gruesome should never have happened in the first place.)


  5. Hitch still has Beast’s face all wrong.

    Scott’s visor is not drawn as missing or damaged at any point near the panel where he angsts over it.

    I’m not sure how consistently Jean’s been using the Phoenix name since claiming it but glad to see her do so here.

    Ostrander writes some good character stuff, agreed, even if the issues are overall negligible.

    Hannah languishing frozen in the bowels of the mansion really is a far more substantial plot point to leave unaddressed then her potential infection nearly a decade earlier.

  6. Ugly artwork by Hitch. I passed on this as a kid because it looked like crap.


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