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Wednesday, August 18, 2021

X-amining X-Men (vol. 2) #58

"Testament"
October 1996

In a Nutshell
Gambit & Joseph comes to blows on the anniversary of the Morlock Massacre. 

Story: Scott Lobdell & Ralph Macchio
Pencils: Bernard Chang
Inks: John Holdredge
Letterer: Richard Starkings & Comicraft
Colorist: Joe Rosas
Enhancements: Graphic Colorworks
Editor: Bob Harras

Plot
On the anniversary of the Morlock Massacre, Storm journeys into the former Morlock tunnels to pay her respects, and is stunned to find Gambit there, doing the same. Meanwhile, Trish Tilby conducts an interview with Graydon Creed, who is assisted by an undercover Iceman. During Tilby's debate with Creed, one of the members of the studio audience loudly calls out Creed's anti-mutant rhetoric, and Iceman is stunned to discover it's his father. At the X-Mansion, Joseph wakes a sleeping Rogue, telling her he may have found a way to allow her to make physical contact with someone. He waits outside while she gets dressed, where Bishop and Wolverine are discussing Bishop's future now that he knows who betrayed the X-Men. Just then, Gambit returns home and, spotting Joseph hovering outside Rogue's window, attacks him. Joseph fights back, but Rogue eventually breaks up their tussle, telling them she's not terribly impressed by either of them. Elsewhere, J. Jonah Jameson continues his investigation into Graydon Creed even as he is unknowingly watched by Havok, who says to himself that if Jameson learns too much, he'll end up dead. 

Firsts and Other Notables
The whole "what did Gambit do in his past that freaked out Rogue and made Psylocke suspicious?" mystery is brought up again this issue, an effort by Lobdell to put it back in reader's minds ahead of the big reveal in Uncanny X-Men #350, as Storm finds Gambit mourning the Morlocks killed in "Mutant Massacre" despite having not been a member of the team at the time nor being familiar with any of the Morlocks as far as Storm knows. 


This issue takes place on the anniversary of the Morlock Massacre, which is also when Uncanny X-Men #325 took place, meaning it's meant to be a year since that issue occurred, which really doesn't work within the context of the sliding timeline (unless Storm and Gambit are honoring some kind of monthly - or even weekly - anniversary). 

Also, at some point in time a Morlock graveyard was established in the tunnels. Not sure who's buried there if it was erected after Mikhail flooded the tunnels in Uncanny X-Men #293, or how it survived that flooding if it was in place prior to the flooding (or, for that matter, what bodies would be buried there in the first place considering Thor burned all the dead at the end of the massacre, unless the Morlocks who died outside the tunnels later were placed there). 

Iceman's dad, having been established previously as being bigoted and at least somewhat anti-mutant, turns up at a televised Graydon Creed interview in this issue, yelling back to Creed about how shitty his views on mutants are, the beginning of a short arc involving Iceman and his dad that culminates in Uncanny X-Men #340, with Iceman's dad getting attacked for his pro-mutant views. 


That Iceman subplot, as well as this issue's closing pages, which tees up a plotline involving the now-evil Havok attacking J. Jonah Jameson that will unfold in Uncanny X-Men #339, are examples of how, with Scott Lobdell now essentially writing both X-Men titles once again (and for the foreseeable future), the two books will once again function essentially as one bi-weekly title, passing characters and plotlines back and forth between them, for the next few months, before Lobdell sends one group to outer space in Uncanny while chronicling "Operation: Zero Tolerance" in Adjectiveless. 


Creator Central 
Bernard Chang fills in for Andy Kubert this issue (though next issue will be Kubert's last on the series), and while I'm sure I disliked the art at the time for being from a fill-in artist, reading it again, I like it quite a bit more. Chang will pencil a few random issues of Cable and the New Mutants: Truth or Death limited series, but otherwise doesn't make a huge contribution to the X-books. 

A Work in Progress
Gambit is wearing a shorter version of his usual leather trench coat, something we'll see from him occasionally around this time. 


It occurs with a relative lack of fanfare, but Rogue's self-imposed exile from the X-Men that began after the return from "Age of Apocalypse" is over, as she's shown sleeping/settled in the mansion in this issue. 


Bishop is pondering what the future holds for him in the wake of "Onslaught" and the fact that he knows who the X-Traitor is now, and is definitely living in an alternate timeline to his own. 


Also, Wolverine is drawn pretty normal looking in this issue (he has regained much of his humanity in his solo series, but is still drawn much more hulking and animalistic then here). 

Young Love
Rogue busts up the Gambit/Joseph tussle with, essentially, her version of "I choose me" (in a scene that evokes, intentionally or not, the Gambit/Rogue/Bishop confrontation in issue #8). 


Austin's Analysis
Cover hyperbole aside, a showdown between Gambit and Joseph, outside their wartime détente during "Onslaught", probably did have to happen. Thankfully, while there's still some Gambit/Rogue/Joseph love triangle elements to it, the actual fight in this issue is less about Gambit's jealousy of Rogue and Joseph and more about his jealousy that Magneto, in the form of Joseph, has been absolved of his past sins, something Gambit, suffering more than ever the sins of his own past, desperately covets. To Lobdell's credit, it's a subtle shift in the dynamic between the two characters, though perhaps too subtle a shift; it becomes more clear in hindsight, knowing exactly what it is eating away at Gambit in this issue, but Lobdell does what he can to set it up in the opening scene with Storm finding Gambit in the Morlock graveyard. The end result is that the confrontation hyped by the cover hits some different notes than their interactions have previously, making it less of a rehash of prior fights and thus more compelling.  

Next Issue
Tomorrow, Wolverine #107. Next week, X-Factor #128.

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10 comments:

  1. Storm’s relationship with the Morlocks was a disaster. Claremont shouldn’t have made her their leader. At least she should have returned the position to Calisto. Her errors:
    1) Never cared about the Morlocks’ well-being until the Mutant Massacre
    2) Mutant Massacre occurred and Storm’s involvement with it was minimal. Only a single issue devoted to the X-Men trying to stop the Marauders and it was essentially a defeat (at best a draw since the Reavers actually fled). She did nothing after that, except for asking to Wolverine to find out more about the Marauders and their leader.
    3) She ignored the Morlocks during the aftermath of the massacre and completely forgot about them once they went to Australia. More of them were killed when the Reavers attacked Muit Island.
    4) Sabertooth was killing more of the remaining Morlocks while she was having fun as a teenager with Gambit.
    5) Morlocks were led by Masque and were drawn by Rob Liefeld (worst punishment they suffered so far).
    6) The few remaining Morlocks are killed by Rasputin (or not, something about them living in an alternate reality or something).
    What is the point of showing her “caring” about them in these issues? For long time readers it feels odd and hypocritical.

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    1. Storm being made leader of Morlocks is definitely something Claremont tossed off without thinking through the ramifications of. In part, I think, because he never intended the Morlocks to be a community of hundreds but rather a small group of maybe a dozen (which is partially why the massacre occurred in the first place). For us longtime readers, I'd argue that showing Storm "care" here (which is done specifically in this issue mostly to setup the mystery of Gambit also caring) is very much on-brand for Storm: her angst over the fate of the Morlocks was a frequent well to which writers returned despite her (and the rest of the X-Men) saying "well, it's okay if you want to live in the sewers while we chill in our mansion because you're ugly". They'd just done that whole Storm miniseries that was about her guilt over the Mikhail-ing of the Morlocks. To have her suddenly NOT care would seem more out-of-character than not.

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  2. Oh man, that cover looks like the art inside will be Travis Charest light and then you open it and it looks like Terry Dodson light. Looking at this today, I like the art more than I do Dodson's but it's still not that cover art. That Rogue might be one of the most realistic versions of Rogue drawn in a comic. Looks like an average woman of that time. Bravo!

    I've owned this book since release but never really opened it. For whatever reason, around this period, these X-books really are a blank slate in my mind even though I bought them. Reading the review, this is all setup and still getting nowhere. I remember Bishop goes to space, hooks up with Deathbird and I have no idea how that ends. Looking at the covers of the next few issues of X-Men, I have no idea what happens in them but I can guess just from knowing Lobdell and what's on the cover.

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    1. I remember Bishop goes to space, hooks up with Deathbird and I have no idea how that ends.

      He gets a short-lived solo series, then comes back to Earth in time to be part of "The Twelve".

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  3. I have mixed feelings on the Gambit reveal. I'm glad that didn't create something too heinous so the character would be easily redeemed. On the other hand, Scott Lobdell is very clumsy at the way he uses retcons. Not as bad as Nicieza's Psylocke retcon, but still fairly clumsy. The original Mutant Massacre made explicit how the Marauders ended up in the tunnels and it is very odd that Gambit never seemed to feel any guilt or worry about hiding this revelation until Rogue kissed him in X-Men #41.

    Otherwise, this is a pretty workman like issue from Lobdell. It's possible he was just burning out after a few years of writing X-Men or from writing two at a time, but these later issues lack much of the charm that I usually associate him with.

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    1. Also, in the complaint department, Mr. Drake's heel turn on mutants kind of comes out of nowhere unless I missed some scenes somewhere. I'm glad he changed his mind but confused as to where that particular epiphany came from.

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    2. Drew, I agree with both your points -- I do think Lobdell was suffering some degree of burnout at this point, though I also chalk it up partly to this not being his "home" title. I still think his work on UNCANNY was always superior to his work on X-MEN whenever he was writing both series. (And his work on GENERATION X was above both!)

      And yeah, Iceman's dad comes out of nowhere here. A scene or two in prior issues showing him changing his viewpoint, even slightly, would have helped.

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  4. Like an earlier commenter, I have absolutely no memory of this period in X-Book history. I have clear memories of "Operation Zero Tolerance" and the aftermath up through "The Twelve", but for whatever reason this period is just a black hole for me.

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  5. I don't have much to say about this issue except for the fact that my favorite little moment almost gets lost in the shuffle of everything else: when Gambit comes back to the mansion to find Wolverine and Bishop sitting outside, Bishop calls Gambit "my friend." I just love that. Their path goes from Bishop all-out attacking Gambit the day they met, to an uneasy truce as X-Men, to a "buddy cop hostile bromance" thing, to outright and undisguised friendship. It's great development, done subtly over the course of five-ish years.

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    1. Moments like that are what made XmX-M so great throughout the 80s and early 90s. Nowadays from Bishop's first appearance to that moment would have occurred over 12 or so issues and lack the weight of it.

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