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Thursday, August 5, 2021

X-amining X-Man #21

"Open Case"
November 1996

In a Nutshell
Nate & Threnody explore New York City

Writer: Terry Kavanagh
Penciler: Roger Cruz 
Inker: Bud LaRosa
Letterer: Richard Starkings and Comicraft AD
Colorist: Mike Thomas
Enhancements: GCW
Editor: Jaye Gardner
Editor-in-Chief: Bob Harras

Nate Grey and Threnody wander through Washington Square Park, coming across various street hustlers and con artists. When Nate's powers help him expose their acts, the pair draws the attention of the passersby, prompting Nate & Threnody to fly off. Unbeknownst to him, Madelyne Pryor sees him leave, making her feel conflicted. Elsewhere, Fitzroy arrives on Sebastian Shaw's yacht, and is soon joined by Selene; the pair propose joining with Shaw and reforming the Hellfire Club's Inner Circle as a check against Bastion's growing anti-mutant operations. Back in the city, Nate and Threnody arrive at the Rainbow Room, where Nate uses his telepathy to make everyone see them as celebrities. However, when they later dance and Nate uses his powers to lift them into the air, the crowd takes them for mutants and begins to panic, prompting Nate to wipe their memories of the incident before leaving. The pair land atop the Statute of Liberty, and Nate offers to try and remove Mister Sinister's psi-bafflers from Threnody, but she turns him down, and the pair share a romantic kiss. 

Firsts and Other Notables
Roger Cruz joins the book as the new regular artist, his first recurring gig after serving as a sort of de facto pinch hitter across the line for the last couple years. I still don't love his work, but I like it much more when its expected versus when he is filling in for a better artist somewhere else. 

Marvel editor & continuity guru Mark Gruenwald, who had a lengthy run writing Captain America, spearheaded the creation of the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe, and was the model for the office drones at the Time Variance Authority, is memorialized in the credits of this issue; he died in August 1996 of a heart attack, the weekend after he reportedly read the first issue of Rob Liefeld's "Heroes Reborn" Captain America series for the first time. 

A Work in Progress
Everyone in New York this issue seems oddly chill and at peace relative to how they're depicted in the aftermath of "Onslaught" everywhere else. 

Nate taps into his past as part of traveling acting company to bring out his inner performer and start hustling bystanders as "Nate the Great". 

Madelyne, on an errand for Selene, almost bumps into Nate into the park, and is shaken by the encounter. 

Later, she briefly sees the Empire State Building in its transformed state from "Inferno". 

Artistic Achievements
This issue has one of those "art superimposed over a still photo" covers. 

The Grim 'n' Gritty 90s
When Nate makes the diners at the Rainbow Room perceive he and Threnody as celebrities, they appear as super model Namoi Campbell and director Quentin Tarantino, a pretty 90s pair of celebrities. 

Human/Mutant Relations
Selene & Fitzroy propose aligning with Sebastian Shaw (colored like he's Blaquesmith's brother, for some reason) in a new Inner Circle this issue, with Selene citing the rise in anti-mutant sentiment as her motivation for proposing it. 

When Nate & Threnody start dancing in the air, the diners at the Rainbow Room assume they're mutants and start freaking out. 

Austin's Analysis
"A superhero takes in New York" is hardly groundbreaking material at this point, especially in a Marvel comic, which has made its New York setting an integral element to many of its characters for decades now. But there is nevertheless something charming in seeing Nate and Threnody explore a little sliver of the city in this issue. In part, this is because while the New York of the MU is old hat to readers, it's new to Nate, yet Kavanagh smartly keeps this subtle and doesn't have Nate constantly comparing how this New York compares to the hellish landscape of his home reality. Instead, he uses Nate's past as part of an itinerant theater troupe, someone familiar with putting on ad hoc performances for passing crowds, as the lens through which Nate's New York experiences are filtered, allowing Nate to be an authority figure even as he's encountering new things. It's an effective way to ground the happenings in something specific to the character, while not retreading familiar ground (or returning the character to his more whiny countenance). 

Meanwhile, looping in the growing sense of anti-mutant sentiment in the wake of "Onslaught" and ahead of "Operation: Zero Tolerance" (in the Rainbow Room and Selene/Shaw sequences) helps the series feel connected to the larger world of the X-books independent of a direct crossover or appearance by some other X-character. I can quibble a bit with the depiction of a back-to-normal New York here relative to its depiction in other X-Books of this time, but that aside, this is another solid issue. X-Man is having a little run here (graded on a curve, but still), and I'm as shocked as anyone. 

Next Issue
Next week: Unstacking the Deck looks at the fifth Marvel Masterpieces set!

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  1. It was the addition of Roger Cruz, who I really liked at the time, plus the promise of the Hellfire Club returning, that got me to finally try this series out -- despite my reservations about Terry Kavanagh writing it. But next issue was actually my first. I either missed this one or chose not to pick it up because it looked boring.

    Nowadays, as you said in your review, it sounds surprisingly decent!

  2. Think this might be Ella's last appearance? I was always curious what her deal was... Just another dropped subplot.

  3. This was my first issue of X-Man I bought after my first collecting hiatus. I found myself interested in Threnody more than Nate but this was good enough for me to keep buying the series. It was never my favorite but I found i liked it better than X-Factor and post-Ellis Excalibur. As a result I kept getting this series even after I dropped X-Factor (at #132) and Excalibur (at #105).


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