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Wednesday, July 7, 2021

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

"Dreams of Darkest Destiny" / "The Destine's Darkest Dreams
October - November 1996

In a Nutshell
The X-Men meet ClanDestine

Writer/Penciler: Alan Davis
Inkers: Mark Farmer
Letters: Pat Prentice
Colors: Rosas & Laughlin
Editor-in-Chief: Bob Harras

Issue #1: Xavier has a dream which he realizes is a memory, of helping two mysterious women repel an invasion by a demon named Synraith. As the original X-Men head into town, leaving Xavier to ponder this newfound memory, one of the women, Gracie Gamble, learns of Synraith's imminent return. She casts a spell to try and stop it, but instead, the spell splits and causes unforeseen happenings in two locations: the Xavier Institute, and Ravenscroft, home of Gracie's superpowered family, the clan Destine. There, Adam Destine and Kay, the other woman from Xavier's memory, are pulled into a portal, which the rest of ClanDestine traces to the X-Mansion. Meanwhile, when the Danger Room starts to act funny during a training session between Wolverine, Storm & Cannonball, Forge & Colossus are called in to help investigate. Just then, another rift opens, pulling in Xavier & Colossus. The X-Men debate going through the portal after them, but pull up short as it appears something else is coming through. 

Issue #2: ClanDestine emerges through the portal in the Danger Room; each side believes the other is responsible for their disappeared teammates, until ClanDestine teens Rory & Pandora convince everyone to stop fighting and compare notes. However, Wolverine's senses go haywire, prompting him to attack one of the ClanDestine and be grievously injured in turn. Meanwhile, Xavier, Colossus, Adam, Kay and Gracie seemingly find themselves on Synraith's homeworld. The telepaths combine forces to try and stop Synraith from going to Earth, while at the X-Mansion, the rest of ClanDestine realizes the increasingly erratic X-Men are trying to separate them, triggering another fight. Elsewhere, Colossus tries to help the telepaths against Synraith, but ends up horribly mutated in the process. He manages to throw the indestructible Adam at Synraith, but Adam simply emerges in the Danger Room. A recovered Wolverine recognizes him, and he suddenly realizes what his senses have been trying to tell him: all the X-Men present except for him and Storm are Danger Room robots being controlled by Synraith. When Storm manages to disrupt the Danger Room systems, it becomes clear everyone, including the people in Synraith's "dimension" are actually in the Danger Room, the telepaths actually working to pull Synraith to Earth rather than repel him. Realizing this, they hold Synraith in the portal until it collapses, destroying him. Later, goodbyes are said, with Adam saying he and his family are likely not to be seen again; Wolverine, for one, hopes he is wrong. 

Firsts and Other Notables
As the title suggests, this two issue series features the X-Men and the ClanDestine, a family of superpowered individuals overseen by the long-lived family patriarch, Adam Destine (making them the Clan Destine, and because they keep their abilities secret, they are...clandestine...superbeings as well). Created and chiefly written/drawn by former Excalibur artist/writer, Alan Davis, the ClanDestine (a name they don't really use in-universe) debuted in a 1994 Marvel Comics Presents story before receiving their own series shortly thereafter (originally intended for the Marvel UK imprinted, it was published under the regular Marvel banner when the UK imprint folded before the series launched). This limited series comes in the wake of that book's cancellation after twelve issues, the last four of which were completed without Davis' involvement, prompting him to retcon those events away here. 

Davis created ClanDestine because he wanted to do a team/group book unencumbered by decades of history, but set it within the Marvel Universe so he could still pull in familiar characters, and decided to make the group a family to explore that dynamic (something team comics don't often feature, outside of the Fantastic Four), as well as the concept of superpowered individuals who weren't immediately drawn to using their powers to stop crime/fight evil/etc. The group never quite caught on, but, likely thanks to his clout within the industry, Davis is still able to return to the characters for the occasional miniseries or story here and there. 

Both Forge and Colossus appear in this series, with little explanation as to their current status (at publication time) as members of X-Factor and Excalibur, respectively. Most likely, Davis drew them in without knowing or caring what their current status was, because he needed a scientist inventor type and a strong metal guy he could melt. 

The final page reads very much like Alan Davis saying goodbye to the ClanDestine characters. 

The cover to issue #2 is an homage to the "two teams of characters lined up vertically running at each other, like X-Men #100 or Avengers #53.

The Chronology Corner
The Marvel Chronology Project has this occurring after Uncanny X-Men #325 and before Uncanny #328, when Sabretooth breaks out of the mansion, which is odd, simply because so much of it takes place in the Danger Room, where Sabretooth was, uh, living, and he never appears or is mentioned to be displaced. 

This is likely because the MCP also puts Colossus here ahead of Excalibur #91, the beginning of his run as a regular cast member there, suggesting that he isn't so much coming back to the mansion for this story, as this story is occurring after he came to the mansion with Callisto in Uncanny #325 and before he left to seek out Kitty on Muir Island. 

Forge appears between X-Factor #115 and #116.

A Work in Progress
As issue #1 begins, the original five X-Men are heading into to town for a comeback performance from Bernard the Poet, the beatnik poet who popped during the Silver Age when the O5 would visit the Coffee-a-Go-Go club. 

Davis continues writers of this era's penchant for painting Cannonball as a green rookie (despite having been the seasoned leader of X-Force when he was "promoted" to the X-Men), opening issue #1 with an extended sequence in which the original X-Men put him through his paces on their way out the door. 

Rory and Pandora hang a lampshade on the fact that the X-Men and ClanDestine are having a Classic Misunderstanding Fight. 

He turns out to be a Danger Room robot, but Gambit immediately hitting on one of the ClanDestine suggests the Danger Room knows what it is doing when creating simulacrums. 

During the battle with Synraith, Colossus is melted; this all turns out to be an elaborate illusion, but it's still pretty horrific. 

Colossus performs a Fastball Special with Adam Destine, throwing him into Synraith. 

The Reference Section
Pandora complains about having "Peg Bundy" hair ("Kitty" also makes a crack about all the costumes she went through in her younger days). 

Artistic Achievements
Issue #2 opens with a big X-Men/ClanDestine fight, in which, seemingly, a bunch of characters from spinoff books like X-Force and Excalibur have shown up and joined the fight between issues. This turns out to be part of the whole "Synraith" uses the Danger Room against the heroes" plot, which is basically an excuse for Alan Davis to draw various characters. 

Similarly, when the Danger Room orders up a fresh batch of X-Men robots later in the issue, it's a chance for Davis to draw older/more classic characters including, elsewhere in the issue, Juggernaut. 

The Best There is at What He Does
We can add "Adam Destine" to the list of characters whom Wolverine has met and interacted with prior to joining the X-Men. 

Austin's Analysis
It's mildly interesting that between this series and X-Force and Cable '96, there's two stories, released in the same month, by entirely different creative teams, which feature the central antagonist using the Danger Room against the heroes. I'm sure it's just a coincidence, but is interesting nonetheless. 

All of which is to say, I am probably not the best equipped person to review this series. This is my first time reading it, and aside from appearances in a trio of random Alan Davis written-and-drawn annuals from around 2012 that I skimmed a few months back on Marvel Unlimited, this is my first encounter with ClanDestine, whom I generally gather to be a group of characters that is basically all the most Alan Davis-y parts of Excalibur in one place (this is why I skipped these two issues back in the day, knowing nothing about ClanDestine and feeling like I wouldn't be missing much, X-Men-wise, by passing on it). And given that the page time split in this series clearly makes it a ClanDestine story, it's hard for me to judge how well this works without, you know, knowing more about ClanDestine. 

As an X-Men story, it's mostly non-existent. It's mainly a Professor X story (which is an interesting coincidence in its own right, given that it was published in the middle of "Onslaught"), and even then, he functions more like an engine of power than a driver of the action. The whole thing looks *fantastic* of course, because Alan Davis, and the Danger Room gimmick makes for a fun excuse to have him draw a bunch of classic and contemporary characters beyond the handful featured in the story in issue #1. But this is definitely a series more focused on ClanDestine than the X-Men, and while the ClanDestine as a concept along with a couple of the characters featured here are intriguing, in terms of the X-Men, I'd frankly have rather followed the original X-Men into town for the Bernard the Poet revival show. 

Next Issue
Next week: Excalibur #102 and X-Factor #127. Regular, normal, non-crossover issues!

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  1. I read the 2008 ClanDestine limited series and, it being my first time reading about them, it was a fun read. It features one of the characters travelling through time to join the Excalibur team during their "Cross Time Caper" in the early issues of that series. I remember thinking Hex was pretty cool and Wallop was a funny character as a successful romance novelist who uses a women's pen name and occasionally transforms into a Hulk-like monster. Very original concept. Alan Davis is the man. You'd should check out that limited series because of the Excalibur connection.

  2. I'm a huge Alan Davis fan, but ClanDestine is generally not my favorite work by him. Which is to say, the original series is not his best work, though I really enjoyed the revival limited series (as mentioned above, the Excalibur run-in is a particular highlight). The X-Men/ClanDestine mini is fun but disposable and, as you note, much more for the ClanDestine fans than the X-Men fans.

  3. I skipped this one back when it was first released as well. I was into the Image style and the Joe Mad style at the time, and Davis's more classical artwork didn't appeal to me. It's hard to imagine that nowadays, as I consider Davis possibly my all-time favorite comic book artist. Plus I had no idea who the ClanDestine were, so I just had no interest.

    I finally read these issues for the first time about eight years ago when, after finishing the full Marvel U.K. run of CAPTAIN BRITAIN, I decided to follow Alan Davis to CLANDESTINE. Marvel had released hardcovers of CLANDESTINE CLASSIC (all the Davis material from the original series plus this mini), CLANDESTINE: BLOOD RELATIVE (the 2008 mini-series mentioned above by Spenstar1990), and MARVEL TALES BY ALAN DAVIS (the trio of annuals you described in your review), so I grabbed them all for a marathon read.

    In the end, I had basically the same reaction to the whole thing as you had to this mini. The artwork is gorgeous through all of it, but -- exactly as you said -- it's overwhelmed by the quirkiness. And the combination of quirkiness and unfamiliar characters just doesn't work for me.

    (For anyone who cares, I wrote about the all the CLANDESTINE stories on my blog years ago:
    Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3)

    One last note: Marvel appers to have two different sets of digital files for this series. The version on Marvel Unlimited is fairly pristine, but the version in the digital editions of both CLANDESTINE CLASSIC and ROAD TO ONSLAUGHT vol. 2 look like really poor scans of the original comics.

    "This limited series comes in the wake of that book's cancellation after twelve issues, the last four of which were completed without Davis' involvement, prompting him to retcon those events away here."

    I love how brutally and efficiently Davis ret-cons things he finds stupid. He did it in an EXCALIBUR issue too, when he spent a few pages mercilessly disavowing one of the annual specials.

  4. I've only recently become a fan of Alan Davis artwork. I wasn't overly fond (initially) of the work he did when he was writing both X-Men and Uncanny. Over the last couple of years, however, I have found that his style has grown on me. He's still not in my top 10 artists but I respect his talent.

    As for Clan Destine, I passed on them initially because I didn't see anything that interested me, plus the title was a little strange to my younger ears. I haven't read the original series and only read these because of of the X-Men (and because they were listed in the Road to Onslaught). I think it would have been better to collect these with the initial 8 issues of their own series rather than in an X-Men collection where much of the context is missing.

    Having said all that, while I didn't really get everything about this series I did find some enjoyment in it. I have a soft spot for these brief one-off adventures.


  5. // which is basically an excuse for Alan Davis to draw various characters //

    I don’t mind a bit. That’s part of the fun of special issues and crossovers, as is throwing certain combinations together in pairs or small groups — see the recently covered last Fantastic Four before Heroes Reborn, or Avengers / Ultraforce, or even The Uncanny X-Men and the New Teen Titans. Unfortunately, as is often the case with such animals, it doesn’t otherwise impress much.

    One jeer within a cheer, as TV Guide used to say: I appreciate the idea of Scott controlling his optic blast to the point that it can hold Sam aloft in place safely but, in a recurring pet peeve of mine, he shouldn’t have that kind of precision without his visor; the whole source of his angst is that just lifting up his glasses to expose his eyes will unleash his full power. Yeah, I'd rather have followed the O5 too — great observation.

    I also found it heartwarming yet dubious in-universe that Rory went fanboy upon meeting the X-Men — even calling his tour of the mansion a lifelong dream. Perhaps his family’s status as a long-lived retcon has made him privy to things not known by the general public.


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