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Wednesday, August 4, 2021

X-amining Uncanny X-Men #338

"A Hope Reborn, A Past Reclaimed"
November 1996

In a Nutshell
Archangel's feather wings return

Writer: Scott Lobdell
Pencilers: Joe Madureira & Salvador Larocca
Inkers: Tim Townsend & Vince Russell 
Letters: Chris Eliopoulos
Colors: Steve Buccellato
Editor-in-Chief: Bob Harras
Separations: Digital Chameleon

Wracked with pain, Archangel is visited by Ozymandias, who tells him his transformation into Archangel was only the beginning, shortly before his metal wings shatter to reveal feathered wings again in their place. Meanwhile, at the X-Mansion, Jean Grey leads Joseph through a series of tests to determine the extent of his past knowledge of Magneto's actions. Just then, Psylocke appears from the shadows, to the surprise of her teammates, announcing that Archangel has gone missing. In San Diego, J. Jonah Jameson attends a Graydon Creed rally, while Cannonball and Iceman settle in to their undercover roles within his campaign. Back in New York, the X-Men use Cerebro to track Archangel to a church in Brooklyn, but he's not alone: Pyro, dying of the Legacy Virus, is there as well. His powers raging, he attacks the X-Men, but the sight of Joseph  the one-time founder of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants - seems to calm him down. As he's about to tell them about a pending assassination attempt, Avalanche arrives and carries off his old teammate. The X-Men return home with Archangel, who is left wondering if his latest transformation is all part of Apocalypse's plan, or if he's finally his own self again. 

Firsts and Other Notables
Archangel's wings transform from metallic back to feathered this issue (though the blue skin he received at the same time as the metal wings remains). Most of the explanation for the change comes in the form of vague mutterings from Ozymandias, but the general idea is that, unbeknownst to Archangel (or us), the metal wings were just in place while his original ones healed and regrew; with that process now complete, the metal shatters and falls away. The feather wings will remain in place until the start of the third volume of X-Force during the "Utopia" era, where he'll gain the ability to transform back and forth from white skin/feathered wings to blue skin/metallic wings. 

This issue reveals that as a result of her interaction with the Crimson Dawn, Psylocke can now move through shadows. Both this and Archangel's recent changes will be explored further in the upcoming Crimson Dawn miniseries. 

Cannonball & Iceman are shown to be working undercover in Graydon Creed's campaign in this issue, a subplot that will run for the next few months before ending when Creed is assassinated in X-Factor #130. 

Pyro, seemingly on the verge of dying from the Legacy Virus, his powers raging out of control, appears in this issue, the second in a trio of appearances around this time in which the character acts like he's making his last appearance, only to continue to turn up in subsequent issues (the first was Daredevil #355; the next will be Uncanny X-Men #351). 

He is ranting about a mysterious "her" wanting to kill "him", presumably references to Mystique, who worked with Pyro in the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants/Freedom Force, wanting to kill Graydon Creed (also, him being quieted by Joseph, who he views as the founder of the Brotherhood, is an odd beat, as Pyro never served with Magneto and always seemed to have a more mercenary attitude towards the Brotherhood's goals). 

Creator Central 
Salvador Larocca pitches in on this issue; building on a few prior fill-in appearances, he will pencil the aforementioned Crimson Dawn miniseries and a few issues of Excalibur, eventually turning in lengthy runs on both Uncanny X-Men and Adjectiveless/New X-Men, as well as Chris Claremont's X-Treme X-Men. His work here is much more in the style of a manga-inspired Joe Mad clone than his later photorealistic style in stuff like Invincible Iron Man and Darth Vader 

A Work in Progress
Ozymandias turns up while Archangel is "molting", saying he questioned Apocalypse's interest in him. 

J. Jonah Jameson continues to show interest on Creed's campaign. 

Artistic Achievements
A Danger Room sequence intended to probe the depths of Joseph's knowledge of Magneto gives Joe Mad a chance to draw the original X-Men in their classic uniforms. 

The Grim 'n' Gritty 90s
As of this issue, Marvel is officially on the internet! And this might be the most 90s thing I've ever posted (ask your parents about "AOL keywords", kids)!

For Sale
There's ad in this issue for the Star Wars collectible card game, of which I had a few cards but never played. 

There's also an ad for the cult favorite sci-fi show Sliders

Bullpen Bulletins
The Bullpen Bulletin page touts Marvel cleaning up the latest round of Wizard fan awards. 

Austin's Analysis
While the thing I remember about this issue is the reversion of Archangel's wings from metal to feathered - which is also what gets featured on the cover - this issue isn't really about that. In fact, frustratingly-little is suggested about why this happening, or why now, aside from the some vague ramblings from Ozymandias, who in his handful of appearances thus far has perhaps never spoken a straightforward sentence that isn't dripping with cryptic hints and double-speak. This issue really isn't about any one thing in particular, aside from setting up or furthering an assortment of different plotlines: the business with Archangel's wings, Joseph settling in with the X-Men, Psylocke's new powers, Iceman & Cannonball going undercover into the Creed campaign and J. Jonah Jameson's investigation of the same, whatever the hell is going on with Pyro. To Lobdell's credit, the issue isn't entirely devoid of narrative - Archangel goes missing, the X-Men track him down and end up fighting Pyro in the process - but aside from that barebones plot, it's hard to consider this as an issue that's about anything more than setting up other stories for future issues. 

Next Issue
Tomorrow, Nate & Threnody explore the Big Apple in X-Man #21. Next week, "Unstacking the Deck" takes a look at the final series (for now) of Marvel Masterpiece trading cards! 

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  1. The Star Wars CCG was an amazing game, I started playing when it released through today. Decipher made the game until 2001 when they lost the license to Star Wars but the Star Wars Players Committee took over running events and creating new cards for the game. It still has a large player base of players and collectors. You can find the Facebook group at if you still have an interest in playing/collecting/talking more about the game.

    If I'm not mistaken, didn't Marvel sign on originally with a online provider that wasn't AOL and it was a complete disaster and the company went out of business before Marvel then went to AOL. If I remember correctly, Wildstorm and Top Cow both were online earlier than Marvel and DC. DC felt like it didn't catch onto the web for some time after all the other comic companies. I don't remember Rob or Todd jumping into the online area or am I off on that?

    The last time I used AOL or dialup was on my honeymoon in 2006 when we were at a condo without internet in Hawaii and I wanted to get online and I had a sealed Wizard magazine with a AOL disk and used the free trial while we were on our trip. My family had high speed internet as of 2001, so it's crazy to think that Wizard was still giving out AOL disks as late as 2006. Maybe I just was reading and older issue of Wizard that I hadn't opened, I just knew I had it for the flight.

    1. I don't know exactly when Wizard stopped including AOL free trial discs with their magazines, but I do know it was definitely much, much later than you'd expect.

  2. Despite my age, I still don't know what you were supposed to do with AOL keywords. I can make an educated guess but I've never used them. I live in a rural area and we've only had satellite internet out here for about 10 years or so. Also, my AOL email is still my primary email. You should see the look on people's faces when I tell them.

    Archangel has never been one of my favorite characters and this didn't help. I suppose there were people who were happy to see him start returning to his classic status quo but I wasn't one of them. It actually feels like a huge step backwards.

    1. Drew, my wife also still uses her AOL account as her primary e-mail address! I was a little surprised when she gave me her e-mail all those years ago! (Coming up on a decade since the day we met in a few months.)

    2. Same! I always preferred Archangel and I'm shocked it wasn't until Rick Remender's X-Force that he regained his metal wings.

    3. Once you signed in to AOL, you could enter the keywords into a specific box on the browser interface. It would take you to a special page or site for the company just for AOL users. I would use the keyword Nick for the Nickelodeon channel all the time in the late 1990's.

  3. Angel regains his feathered wings and then what? The whole point about him becoming Archangel was to allow him to become more powerful and useful as a teammate in then-current times, when adventures and battles were becoming larger and more threatening. He’s back with his original wings, but remains blue, which was another error. I think he works much better as a kind of Colossus type, in which his wings and skin can change back and forth.

    I believe that the return of his wings is the best example of how clueless writers were on how to handle this character. He couldn’t be dark and brooding forever, then they made him nicer and even found a girlfriend to him. But it goes nowhere. The problem is not only with Archangel, but with the X-Men in general: there are too many characters around, no clear team roster, and writers had to develop storylines knowing that they had to make them work with whatever big annual crossover was next. In this regard Chris Claremont was far wiser: keep most characters either in the background or in reverse, and bring them back for a couple of issues to spice things a bit.

  4. I had stopped reading X-Men around the time of Age of Apocalypse, but I remember seeing this issue in a back issue bin and buying it just based on the cover. Even as a kid, I thought metal wings were incredibly dumb as a "mutant" power (wouldn't he be a cyborg, not a mutant?), and once it became clear they were done with the "wings are influencing him to evil" plotline, they no longer served any purpose. (He could kill with them, but X-Men don't kill; and theoretically he could fly faster, but of course he can fly as fast as any writer needs him to fly, feathers or metal.)

    So I was thrilled to see a cover promising a return to the feathered wings. I still don't know why Lobdell left Warren with blue skin, unless he had some plotline in mind that never came to fruition. (Or knowing Lobdell, just vaguely thought maybe he'd do something with it someday.) And as much as I love Uncanny X-Force and enjoy most of X-Force, I still wish they hadn't brought the metal wings back. It was an interesting temporary status quo that ran on way too long; it didn't need to be revisited, certainly not permanently.

    1. Oh, and I also played the Star Wars CCG as a teen. Only one of my friends played, so he played Imperial/Dark Side and I played Rebels/Light Side. I still remember us going in on a box of the Dagobah expansion set and opening them all together in one evening. (I got Yoda, so Mission Accomplished!)

      As I recall, your Force sensitivity doubled as how easy/difficult you were to hit with weapons, so all the non-Jedi main characters like Han Solo and Grand Moff Tarkin had to be 3 ("Force sensitive") so they wouldn't be as easy to kill as regular grunts. (4 and 5 were "Force attuned," I think, and then 6 was Jedi Knight and 7 was Jedi Master.)

    2. It took me a minute to realize that we share a name and that I hadn't posted in my sleep. Or had a split personality.

  5. I agree; this issue is wanting. I know I've gone on record as liking all the myriad and random bottomless mysteries thrown out during this time, but this issue is just a bit too cryptic for its own good. It's all set-up, of multiple mysteries, but it's all superficial. We needed a bit more to work with on at least one of these kernels, and I think I wouldn't mind as much.

    I don't really expect that from Lobdell. For whatever faults he might have with follow-through, I've always felt that did a very good job of disguising his spinning wheels with the facade of a plan. That just doesn't feel the case here. The developments here feel like incredibly brazen wheel-spinning/water-treading/whatever you like to call it, and nothing more.

    (Oh, and how is Pyro generating flame? His power was always that he could control it but not create it; hence the wrist-mounted flamethrowers and backpack.)

    I will agree with one of the Drews but disagree with the other (and with Licinio) in that I was very happy to see Warren's feather wings come back. I was also happy that Ozymandias called him "Angel" and hoped that meant he was returning to the original codename too, but for whatever reason that didn't happen. I was disappointed his skin stayed blue. Like, why restore one aspect of the transformation but not the other? It's weird. (And, believe it or not, we can actually thank Chuck Austin for finally correcting that oversight years later!)

    I'm not a fan of the changing back and forth thing, either. I had stopped reading X-Men by the time that X-FORCE run started, but I remember hearing somewhere that he could now swap between "Angel" and "Archangel" at will and it just struck me as incredibly dumb.

    I generally consider Angel one of my favorite X-Men. I like him a lot when he pops up during the "All-New, All-Different" era, and I like him a lot in the 90s. I just prefer him as a Caucasian, feather-winged trust-fund baby (in a red and white costume) over anything else.

    1. "As of this issue, Marvel is officially on the internet! And this might be the most 90s thing I've ever posted (ask your parents about "AOL keywords", kids)!"

      This was right around the time we got the internet at home, too. I remember going to the AOL Marvel are often, posting on message boards, joining chats... fun times, in retrospect.

      "There's ad in this issue for the Star Wars collectible card game, of which I had a few cards but never played."

      I played this, and Decipher's other big card game, STAR TREK, a lot. A lot. Contrary to Scott up above, I never liked the STAR WARS game as much as TREK, and stopped collecting SW around the time of the Special Edition movies.

      TREK, on the other hand...! As I recall, Decipher's original license was limited to TNG (as it was the only 24th century series that existed when the game started) and was going to be a set game of one starter set and four expansions, one set a year over five years, then done.

      But right around this time, Decipher renegotiated the license to expand to all TREK properties, and released a FIRST CONTACT set to much acclaim -- followed by a DS9 set, and then tons more expansions at a rate of about three sets per year. They even converted the game to a second edition around the time NEMESIS came out and kept going for a few more years after that under 2E! And I played the game nearly all the way through.

      As with STAR WARS, TREK lives on via the "Continuing Committee" which continues to release unoffical expansions, though I haven't played it in a very long time at this point.

      On a side note, I think Decipher eventually went bankrupt when it came to light that the company's CFO -- a best friend of the founder/CEO -- had secretly embezzled millions from the company.

      Anyway, nowadays I have no interest in CCGs. I don't like blowing all my money on blind buys. Pre-fixed card games are the way to go.

    2. I miss those chats! I used to spend hours in the chat rooms and that is something I lament no longer having. I've tried social media to engage other fans in conversations to no avail. Most people these days put out a single opinion on whatever article they read the headline to and then move along. I haven't gone to Reddit yet but I'm told it's basically message boards?

    3. "I generally consider Angel one of my favorite X-Men. I like him a lot when he pops up during the "All-New, All-Different" era, and I like him a lot in the 90s. I just prefer him as a Caucasian, feather-winged trust-fund baby (in a red and white costume) over anything else."

      Yes, I could not agree more. Archangel was always my favorite as a kid because I thought his uniform and metal wings looked cool, and he could be drawn so cinematically (for lack of a better term). He and Bobby also seemed to be the "forgotten" O5 X-Men in the animated series (which I loved at the time) so I had an affinity for those two.

      I still like Warren (and Bobby) a lot, but now that I've read the material from the O5 to the 2000's, the rich, snobby, not-really-high-powered Angel is my favorite version. The fact that he's the least powerful of the X-Men makes his Mutant Massacre storyline all the more heroic in my mind.

    4. I have to agree about the Mutant Massacre story. For me, that was peak OG Angel. My preference for Archangel probably stems from my Goth youth and his angst was probably more identifiable to me than the somewhat arrogant rich playboy who looked like a literal angel. At the time this issue came out, I had never read a story with OG Angel. I have just started reading the original 1963 run so I've only gone back so far as Giant Size #1 where he largely just dodges obstacles in the air. Perhaps my feelings will change once I've read more of him as the standard Angel.

      On a related note, I liked him more in Bendis' run once he got the flame wings, so maybe not.

    5. Matt I also played the Star Trek CCG starting with First Contact through around Trouble with Tribbles. I played in the middle Tennessee area with some of the best players for both Star Trek and Star Wars. I'm involved with both games still as it is my line of work, I own where we deal with out of print CCGs from the 90's through today with over 50 different ones to choose form. Eventually I'll get comic cards on there as well.

  6. I liked Arc/Angel best when he was able to flip back and forth. The conflict between his personalities gave him more depth than I think he'd ever had. Otherwise, he's pretty useless. Plenty of other mutants can fly, throw or shoot things, and have money. Hanging out in the background is probably best for him at this point, but for a while he was actually interesting (in Uncanny X-Force at least).

    Also, I guess drawing the X-Men in the '90s was super easy since you only had to know two action-figure body types. The final panel of that third image, with all the characters lined up and basically the same height, is completely ridiculous.

    -- Thom H.

  7. As far as this story goes, none of it makes sense. If his wings were growing back, you'd think he was feeling that. Having his metal wings appearing and disappearing on command later on makes more sense but where do they go? He doesn't have more bulk to his body. At least Logan's claws fit in his wrists. ARG so much of this just doesn't work. It makes him basically useless in battle. When does he lose the blue skin, why not now, or make it so he can switch? He's white again before he has his scene with Paige.

  8. This is possibly the nadir of '90s X-books. Seemingly random nonsense thrown together, arbitrary character changes, hints at secret schemes that are never revealed, and "encouragement" to buy another book with ongoing plots that make even less sense than what you're getting here. Not to mention an artist that can't finish the issue. There are chapters of "Hunt for Xavier" that might be worse, but this sets a low bar.

  9. I don’t know to what extent this matches up with how the book was actually produced at the time but at several points reading the issue now — most especially Psylocke emerging from the shadows and the other X-Men’s visible reactions to her doing so — I wondered if Lobdell was just having to constantly dialogue to whatever crazy stuff the artists were giving him, heedless of any conversation or written plot that might have existed prior to penciling. The return of Angel’s natural wings is something that was presumably discussed beforehand, given its significance to the myths and primacy here. So many of the story beats, however, could easily be the result of a scripter getting handed pages on a tight deadline — a dangerous game when working extre(eeeee)mely “Marvel-style”.


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