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Thursday, October 7, 2021

X-amining X-Force #61

"Ask Me No More Questions and I’ll Tell You No More Lies!"
December 1996

In a Nutshell
X-Force stops Mojo while Shatterstar's soul is transferred to Benjamin Russell. 

Writer: Jeph Loeb
Penciler: Kevin Lau
Inker: Andrew Pepoy 
Letterer: RS & Comicraft
Colorist: Marie Javins
Editor-in-Chief: Bob Harras

Plot
Having been digitized by Mojo, Cable & Shatterstar are stuck in a holovid program depicting Shatterstar's final battle with Mojo 100 years in the future, during which Shatterstar suffers a mortal injury. Meanwhile, Mojo is absorbing all the ambient energy from the humans captivated by his broadcast, growing more powerful. In Mojoworld, Spiral approaches Longshot and X-Force, telling them she can help save Shatterstar. As the rest of X-Force and Longshot's rebellion fight to destroy Mojo's broadcasting capabilities, Spiral teleports Longshot and Spiral into the holovid program where they retrieve Cable & Shatterstar. Spiral then delivers them to the Weisman Institute, where Siryn brings them to the comatose Benjamin Russell. Longshot then performs a ritual in which Shatterstar's soul is placed in Benjamin's body, at which point he wakes up with all of Shatterstar's memories. On Mojoworld, X-Force stops Mojo's broadcast, then return home to their teammates, unaware that they're being watched from afar by Gamesmaster. 

Firsts and Other Notables
The "Shatterstar Saga" concludes, with Shatterstar's soul being placed into the body of Benjamin Russell, the mental patient who is physically identical to Shatterstar, which is presented as if that answers all the questions raised about the two when, in fact, it does nothing more than suggest even more questions. 


This is also Jeph Loeb's final issue as the series' regular writer, ending a run that goes back to issue #44 and the series' post-"Age of Apocalypse" tightening of ties with the larger X-universe. Despite closing on an image of a looming Gamesmaster suggesting there is more to the Benjamin/Shatterstar story to come, whatever plans he had for the character leave with him, and when Shatterstar eventually gets a (plenty convoluted) origin in the 2010s, all this Benjamin Russell stuff is mostly ignored. But I do believe that, technically, from this point forward, Shatterstar physically is Benjamin Russell (though I guess his powers travel with his soul, as he continues to possess them). 


Loeb also pens a little goodbye note on the final page to the creators he worked with on the book. 


Kevin Lau pencils this issue and its cover (as well as the cover to last issue). One of the manga-influenced artists who came up in the wake of Joe Madureira's popularity whose influences were most overt, Lau seemed poised to make a splash at the time, when any kind of manga-esque art was becoming supremely popular (if memory serves, Wizard may have pegged him as someone to watch), but outside of contributing to next issue and a few other things years down the road, he never really becomes a thing at Marvel. 


Rounding out the Mojoworld Greatest Hits characters, Spiral pops up in this issue.  


She is shown to be uncharacteristically helpful towards Longshot and Shatterstar, and it's suggested she has some kind of feelings for/connection to Shatterstar andor Benjamin Russell which is informing her actions, but like so much else from this story, whatever that is remains unknown. 


Loeb does some world-building in this issue, suggesting the concept of a transferrable soul of sorts that exists within the Mojoworld slaves (which are all technically creations of Arize). It mostly exists to serve as a means to merge Shatterstar and Benjamin Russell, and I don't think it ever comes up again in later Longshot/Mojoworld stories. 


A Work in Progress
Cable realizes he and Shatterstar have a lot in common in their respective backgrounds. 


Mojo is able to absorb the energy of everyone on Earth watching his TV show. 


Cable is meant to be telepathically inducing Dr. Weisman to let them inside, but the art seems to be depicting Siryn. 


Austin's Analysis
It's Jeph Loeb's final issue on the series, and he goes out the way all writers want to depart a book: by leaving a big mess behind. While this story ostensibly set out to provide the definitive origin of Shatterstar and settle the "Benjamin Russell" question once and for all, by this third and final chapter, there's barely any room for that, as Loeb wraps up the "Mojo takes over the world!" plot that ended up being the actual thrust of the story. In the end, an "answer" of sorts is given by having Shatterstar's soul placed in Benjamin Russell's body, but that doesn't really address the larger questions. Why do the two men look the same? Why did Shatterstar seem to have Benjamin's memories before this soul-merging? What shared history does Spiral (who, keep in mind, is a character from Longshot's era of the Mojoverse, not Shatterstar's future-set Mojoverse) have with both men, as suggested here? And what does the Gamesmaster have to do with any of this? 

This story provides no answers, and with Loeb's departure, he takes whatever ideas he originally had planned with him. Certainly, there is nothing wrong with a writer leaving narrative breadcrumbs for a subsequent writer to follow (even if the later writer ultimately declines to do so) but Loeb is doing much more than leaving breadcrumbs behind here. By specifically setting out to address the Shatterstar mysteries he himself introduced, and then failing to do so, he's essentially pulling a narrative bait-and-switch. As a Mojo story, this is fine, I suppose: it lacks the satirical elements of a good Mojo story but does present him as a worldwide threat for one of the first times, and it certainly plays all the hits in terms of bringing in the various Mojoworld characters (not that they have much to do, thanks for showing up regardless though, Dazzler). But as an "origin" for Shatterstar, it's a complete failure. It not only doesn't answer the previously raised questions about his past, it leaves the character in a worse, more confusing, place than he started. In doing so, it completely sours Loeb's departure and the end of a run that, while not always successful, was reliably entertaining and pushed the characters in some interesting new directions. Loeb tried for one last such push on his way out the door, but unfortunately, it was one push too many. 

Next Issue
Next week, the X-Men team-up with the crew of the USS Enterprise in Star Trek/X-Men #1!

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4 comments:

  1. I think Kevin Lau is a little too manga in his artwork. It's actually distracting from the story itself, which is too bad.

    I'd be really curious to know what Loeb was going for and what his future plans were. While I haven't looked into it, I get the feeling Loeb is a little more reticent when talking about past projects.

    I think most writers aren't really sure what makes an actual Mojo story outside of Nocenti and Claremont. Certainly, I can't seem to recall anyone getting it right but I haven't read everything, so maybe there were one or two good stories I missed somewhere.

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    1. Additionally; it's strange that Lau seems to only draw the women characters in the manga style while the men are, more or less, drawn more realistically. It's also a little strange that he draws Spiral in a more realistic manner.

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    2. Yeah, I think you hit on why Lau never really became a big deal in the wake of the manga-Marvel trend. His stuff isn't really consistently styled, and what manga influence is there is kinda... Ben Dunn-esque, in that it's too "stereotypical manga style".

      I'm distracted by Dazzler (a) looking like an elf & (b) apparently wearing the Malice choker.

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    3. @Drew: Yeah, Loeb rarely seems interested in looking back on past projects, for what I assume is a variety of reasons.

      @Mela: Ha! It's almost as if Lau used as reference something from UNCANNY #214 when she had the Malice choker.

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