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Wednesday, November 3, 2021

X-amining X-Men Unlimited #13

"Fugitive From Space" / "Junction"
December 1996

In a Nutshell
The X-Men team-up with Silver Surfer to save the galaxy! 

Plot: George Perez
Script: Jorge Gonzales  
Pencils: Duncan Rouleau, Jim Calafiore, Andrew Robinson
Inks: Rob Hunter, Mark McKenna, Al Milgrom
Letterer: Comicraft
Colorist: Tom Smith
Editor: Kelly Corvese

A group of five X-Men - Cyclops, Phoenix, Bishop, Beast and Rogue - are aboard the Starcore space station along with Binary, helping the scientists on the station with their research. Suddenly, Binary loses control of her powers, and when the Shi'ar suddenly appear to arrest Binary, she flies off, leaving the X-Men to be captured instead. Deathbird declares the X-Men will be executed for helping Binary escape, but Lilandra intervenes, revealing that the Silver Surfer has apparently destroyed his home planet of Zenn-La. The X-Men offer to help the Shi'ar get to the bottom of the situation. Meanwhile, Binary finds herself in a white hole, while a confused Silver Surfer is attacked by the Shi'ar and learns about Zenn-La. Back with the Shi'ar, Beast discovers a shared energy signature between the white hole, the place where Zenn-La was, and a third anomaly. He says that if all three were to go nova at once, the galaxy would be destroyed. Phoenix confronts Binary, breaking her free of the control of alien beings called the Inciters, while Rogue & Cyclops confront Silver Surfer inside the third anomaly. Rogue and Silver Surfer team-up to confront the Inciters, learning they destroyed Zenn-La and framed Silver Surfer for it. Working together, the X-Men, Silver Surfer and Binary destroy the Inciters and save the galaxy, but Lilandra and Deathbird decide to keep their existence a secret from the empire. 

2nd Story
On Halloween, Juggernaut returns to his hometown of Junction where, as a child, he was saved from some bullies by a girl named Marie. When he's framed for something he didn't do, he destroys the town in a rage, prompting Gomurr the Ancient to appear and tell him that his rampages will destroy people he cares about. Juggernaut discovers that Marie was injured by his actions, and he rushes her to the hospital. But he is turned away by the townspeople, so he leaves Marie outside and departs his hometown for good. 

Firsts and Other Notables
The X-Men team-up with Silver Surfer in this issue, which is, near as I can tell, the first direct encounter between the two. Certainly, they've been in stories together before - Secret Wars II, the various Jim Starlin "Infinity" sagas - but this is the first time they've interacted directly on-page with each other. 

In the course of the story, Silver Surfer's homeworld of Zenn-La is seemingly destroyed by a race of aliens called the Inciters; this is their first and only appearance, and I have no idea if this particular destruction of Zenn-La is legit (I can't seem to find reference to this issue in the context of Silver Surfer's history anywhere, and what I do know of his history suggests Zenn-La being destroyed - or not - is a semi-recurring thing). 

Artist George Perez (who penciled X-Men Annual #3, amongst many, many more prestigious things) provides the plot for the main story. 

The second story is a follow-up of sorts to the previous issue, with Gomurr the Ancient continuing to needle Juggernaut about his life choices and establishing a childhood hometown (Junction) for the character, though I'm not sure if this ever gets referenced again (and it seemingly depicts a young Cain's mother at a time in his life when that wouldn't be possible based on established continuity). It features early (non-porn-y) Greg Land art. 

Creator Central 
Future X-Factor penciler Duncan Rouleau pencils part of the main story, as does Jim Calafiore, who will show in a few places but, most notably for the X-Men, in the reality-spanning series Exiles

A Work in Progress
X-Force's recent encounter with Pulse - and their decision to help him evade Shi'ar authorities - in X-Force and Cable '96 is referenced.  

Silver Surfer's history gets a one-page recap. 

Jean is able to fly through space under her own power, something Dark Phoenix was capable of doing, but which Jean herself hasn't ever really done before.  

Later, Rogue's is able to talk in space, and while her invulnerability presumably affords her the ability to survive in a vacuum, it shouldn't capable of allowing sound to travel in one. 

Build-Up Your Vocabulary With Beast: Efficacious! 
/ˌefəˈkāSHəs/ (of something inanimate or abstract) successful in producing a desired or intended result; effective

Austin's Analysis
"X-Men in space" stories are hardly new territory for the franchise, given how many of their most acclaimed stories involve the characters going into space and/or fighting/teaming up with alien beings of some kind. Yet this is one of the most purely cosmic X-Men stories in a long time, featuring the team interacting directly with Marvel cosmic mainstay Silver Surfer for essentially the first time and never actually appearing on Earth as they get drawn into a wider conflict between the Surfer and their nominal allies, the Shi'ar. Yet while it's fun to see the team operating on this scale (something I wouldn't want all the time, as it strips the X-Men of a lot of what makes them unique and poignant, but is enjoyable in small doses), this is, unfortunately, another one of those X-Men Unlimited stories that feels stretched out and overly long. George Perez, while obviously acclaimed for his pencil work, is entirely capable of spinning a competent yarn, yet this reads like a regular issue plot stretched to fill a double-sized issue (and it's still not even as long as a full-length X-Men Unlimited issue). As a result, things like the bickering between Lilandra and Deathbird in the first third of the issue, while entertaining and novel at first, quickly become repetitive and irritating. 

Some of the plotting decisions are also questionable, as something like the apparent destruction of Silver Surfer's homeworld (the thing whose salvation prompted him to become Silver Surfer in the first place) feels like the sort of plot point that shouldn't be happening in a easily-ignored third string X-book. And cumulative merits of this series aside, it also doesn't seem like the sort of thing that should happen in any X-book and/or in a story where Silver Surfer is a guest star, especially when he has a contemporaneous series of his own. Given the way the events of this issue have apparently been ignored since it occurred, it seems history agrees. 

The story isn't helped by the art, either. While Jim Calafiore's pages are decent enough (he's an artist whose work I've come to enjoy more over the years) his work has a kind of jagged look to it that seems out of place in the story. It's still an improvement on the Duncan Rouleau art, which is muddied and unclear, featuring twisty, awkward figures and layouts for a story that cries out for smooth lines and big, sweeping panels. Rouleau's style has its charms as part of the post-Madureira, manga-esque movement, but it seems ill-fitted for a story like this, one with an unfamiliar setting and tons of new and alien characters. The art improves as the story advances (Andrew Robinson's work is...fine), but it never really becomes particularly engaging. Between that and some of the storytelling decisions, the end result is another issue which, like Generation X '96, would be better off if its writer was handling the pencils. 

Next Issue
Tomorrow, the X-Men, Generation X and X-Force hang out with a Sentinel in X-Men '96. Next week, Uncanny X-Men #340 and X-Man #23!

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  1. I can't think of something that sums up how messed up Marvel was at this time better than the simple fact that Marvel gets George Perez as a credit on a X-book...and it's plotting a book that was completely unimportant by then. That just says it all.

  2. I believe this was the first issue of X-Men Unlimited that felt completely superfluous to the X-Line. Which is too bad. Some of the earlier issues were some of the best X-Men comics at the time.

    I remember that there are some decent stories coming up but it's sad how quickly it turned into a mediocre anthology with inconsequential stories.

  3. George Perez was the writer on Silver Surfer at this time. Issue #122 had just come out with the revelation that Zenn-La had been destroyed over twenty thousand years previously and Galactus had created an illusion of the planet that had been negated when a bolt struck the Surfer from far off in space and sent him off on a strange adventure on the far side of the universe or somewhere (this together with the preceding Mike Lackey run was the utter low point for the series and really not something one wants to revisit to double check; instory even the Surfer has forgotten his adventure over there). Captain Marvel (Legacy/Genis-Vell) found the planet facing destruction and tried to save it but when the Surfer arrived he soon discovered the truth and accepted the planet's fate.

    The Bullpen Bulletins for issue #122 has a profile of Perez. It mentions the team-up with the X-Men but in Unlimited #14 and also radical plans for the Surfer "to get back that enigmatic quality that Jack Kirby and Stan Lee originally brought to the character!" The fact that Silver Surfer #123 which out a week after this issue is Perez's last and sees the character starting a run on Earth for a while suggests that this story was brought forward a few months.

    Who had destroyed the planet is not revealed in Silver Surfer #122 and it would seem that X-Men Unlimited #13 is Perez trying to tie this up as he left Silver Surfer (maybe Mark Gruenwald disagreed on this just before he died). However if you were reading Silver Surfer regularly as I was then this issue might as well not have happened and it wasn't promoted at all outside of the Bullpen Bulletins page mentioned above. Later Surfer issues written by J.M. DeMatteis reveal that Zenn-La was in fact destroyed in 1947 by a different alien race called the Other with Galactus creating the illusion to hide its destruction.

    (This retcon never sat well with me as it made a mockery of all the planet's interactions with the wider universe especially both Mephisto and the Great One.)

    1. Thanks, that rundown actually helps a lot. I've seen references to all the different retcons and stuff you mention here, just nothing about this issue in particular, and that helps explain why. It's less "the issue that destroys Zenn-La" and more "the issue that reveals WHO destroyed Zenn-La", which gets ignored at the time and then retconned out later, rendering this issue largely irrelevant.

  4. I've never read Perez's run on SILVER SURFER, but I just sort of assumed this story tied in with it! I'm surprised to learn, per Tim above, that was not the case.

    The artwork in this thing ranges from really, really bad to decent, but it's never very good. In a perfect world, Perez would've drawn it -- but at the very least, it would've been nice if he could have done the cover!

    I actually mostly like Greg Land's work on the backup. It's so weird to see what his art looked like in the 90s -- decent, competent comic book action -- versus what it would become within a decade's time.

    Anyway, this is a totally skippable issue as far as I'm concerned.


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