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Wednesday, February 9, 2022

X-amining Marvel Fanfare (vol. 2) #4-5

"Cause and Effect" / "Life Lessons"
December 1996 - January 1997

In a Nutshell
Longshot and Dazzler lead the fight against the now-despotic Mojo II (the Sequel). 

Writer: Jaimie Campos
Penciler: Steven Jones
Inker: Mike Witherby
Letters: Jon Babcock, Caroline Wells and Jeff Powell; Sue Crespi and Caroline Wells (issue #5)
Colors: Brian Buccellato
Editor: James Felder
Editor-in-Chief: Bob Harras

Issue #4: On Mojoworld, Longshot, Dazzler and Quark lead their rebels forces against the oppressive regime of Mojo II, stopping another of his public executions. Meanwhile, Mojo II schemes with his aide Pet and decides to goose his ratings by executing a member of the previous Mojo's regime, the captive Major Domo. Learning of this, Longshot's rebels decide to rescue Major Domo, leading Quark to battle Mojo II's executioner, Spiral. He defeats her, but when he spares her life, she disappears. Meanwhile, Longshot and Dazzler rescue Major Domo, who throws in with the rebels out of gratitude. Issue #5: Some time later, Mojo II's forces attack the rebel base. As Longshot leads the fight against them, Dazzler discovers a traitor in the rebels' midst, who knocks out and captures Dazzler and Quark. Major Domo then switches sides again, after which Mojo II buries Longshot in his base. After he regains consciousness, Spiral teleports into the base and offers to help Longshot escape. She delivers him to the site of Dazzler and Quark's pending executions. Once the rebels are reunited, Major Domo switches sides again, and helps turn the tide against Mojo II. Spiral takes Mojo II for punishment, while Major Domo is ultimately accepted by the rebels. 

Firsts and Other Notables
While the original Marvel Fanfare was a vehicle to both showcase top talent and a place to run inventory and fill-in stories that had been commissioned and completed but which could no longer serve their intended purpose, this second volume is part of Marvel's mid 90s "Under a Buck!" line of $0.99 comics, intended to counteract the rising cost of individual issues by offering a a series of titles in which each issue cost only ninety-nine cents. Of course, one of the ways they kept the price down was largely by hiring existing Marvel editors and newer, untested, artists to write and draw the series (both the writer and penciler of this series are unknown to me). As a result, most of these series, with a few exceptions, were routinely terrible (one of those exceptions is Untold Tales of Spider-Man by Kurt Busiek and Pat Olliffe). 

This specific two-parter features Longshot and Dazzler leading their rebellion against the forces of Mojo II, who was installed as the ruler of Mojoworld in X-Men (vol. 2) #11. In that story, Mojo II helped Longshot and Dazzler overthrow the original Mojo and was presented as, largely, a benevolent alternative to the original Mojo; clearly, that changed between that issue and this story, as Mojo II is basically just a different version of Mojo here and offers little new by being the antagonist of this story instead of the original. 

That said, though he appears in stories which take place after this one chronologically, this is the last published appearance of Mojo II until 2018's Unbeatable Squirrel Girl (vol. 2) #32-33, and his defeat here in issue #5 is presumably what allows the original Mojo to return to power as seen in later stories (and, in his next chronological appearances, he will once again be seen aiding Longshot to varying degrees).

Major Domo ends this story seemingly committed to the rebel cause and fully accepted by them, but the next time he appears (in the X-Force/Youngblood crossover), he'll be back at the side of (original) Mojo without explanation. 

Longshot and Dazzler are joined by fellow rebel Quark, making his first appearance since X-Men (vol. 2) Annual #1, when he was brainwashed into serving Mojo; it's unclear how he broke free of Mojo's control and rejoined Longshot. 

This story also introduces another named rebel into Longshot's group, Kragar, a character who, as of this writing, as yet to appear outside these issues. 

Similarly, Brahams, the rebel revealed to be a traitor in issue #5, makes his first and only appearance in that issue. 

The Chronology Corner
This story takes place in the wake of X-Men (vol. 2) #10-11, placing it before Dazzler's appearance in X-Men (vol. 2) #47, the events of Wolverine #102.5 (the Mojoworld story originally told on the back of trading cards) and the X-Force/Youngblood crossover, as well as Longshot and Spiral's appearances in X-Force #59-61

A Work in Progress
Longshot is shown to be able to read the psychic imprint of a young child; previously, his psychometry powers only worked on inanimate objects. 

Spiral mentions having once fought at Longshot's side, which could be reference to her time fighting by his side as Ricochet Rita, or when Freedom Force teamed up with the X-Men during "Fall of the Mutants", or her rebellion against Mojo in the wake of X-Factor Annual #7

As is consistent with his power, Longshot's luck deserts him when he's acting with less than pure motives. 

Austin's Analysis
The funny thing about this pair of issues is that it's a Mojoworld story played entirely straight. Usually, these things come with either a veneer of satire, or they involve "outside" characters, such as the X-Men or X-Force, getting drawn into the conflict, which by default slots the trappings of Mojoworld into more of a supporting role (ie whatever inner politics are happening in Mojoworld are secondary to whatever is going on with the "main" characters). Here, we just have Longshot and Dazzler leading their rebellion against Mojo (II), with nothing else happening. Putting aside the inconsistency issues involved in casting Mojo II as the bad guy, the end result is the rare Mojoworld story that's just about the happenings on Mojoworld. It thus serves as an example of WHY so few stories are *just* about Mojoworld. 

Stripped of those satirical elements and guest stars that force Longshot and his allies into a regular "leading man" kind of role, the end result is a pretty bog standard "small force of rebels fight back against an oppressive regime" story. And while that sort of thing is fine (there's a reason it happens so often in stories), it requires some kind of additional twist or hook to really work. None of that is here. For example, lip service is paid to the notion that Mojoworld's rule is determined by ratings, but none of the mechanics of how that works are ever explored, nor is any reason ever given for why Longshot doing basic comic book stuff against Mojo II wins the day when it should require something more than that based on the structure of Mojoworld's society. Similarly, it's never quite clear where Longshot's rebels are coming from; again, the idea is supposed to be that Mojoworld is populated by Mojos, and Longshot is part of a bipedal slave race leading a revolt. Yet here, there seems to exist an entire society of bipedal (non-slave) beings living in some reasonable facsimile of Earth society. 

Granted, this is hardly the first story to present Mojoworld in an inconsistent way. But it is one of the first to present it so straightforwardly, without any elements of satire or high profile guest stars to take the spotlight and push all the questions about the mechanics of Mojoworld into the background where they matter less (the closest thing we get is Major Domo's repeated flip-flops which admittedly is kind of funny). Without any of that, there's nothing to distract from those questions. Nor is there anything else in the narrative to elevate the story above a kind of base genre adventure featuring some mildly familiar characters. The combination of the two - a basic story in a setting that invites more questions than anything - results in a lackluster and pretty unexciting two-parter. 

Next Issue
Next week, more Wolverine solo action in Logan: Shadow Society #1!

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  1. I read the first part of this but didn't bother with the rest. Nothing here was actively disappointing, it was all just kind of "meh." Which is unfortunate because I really like Longshot and was excited to read more of his adventures. But even 99 cents felt like a little too much for what was basically a cover band doing a bland set.

  2. I've never read this, but based on you review, I had a funny thought: I probably would've liked this more as a kid than I did the other Mojo stuff. The satire of Mojoworld always went way over my head. I think my favorite Mojo story by the time I was in my teens was the 2-parter in X-MEN nos. 10 and 11, and that one, aside from its introduction of Mojo II: The Sequel, was fairly light on satire (plus it was drawn by Jim Lee).

    Nowadays, I find a lot of the Mojo stuff, particularly by Claremont, pretty funny (and I'm on record as believing that Claremont's attempts at humor often fell flat), while I think I'd find this straightforward version boring.

    It occurs to me that there's a way to do a straightforward action story in the Mojoverse while retaining a bit of a satirical element: just do it as a self-aware parody of an 80s Stallone/Schwarzenegger/etc. movie.

    1. I would actually read the hell out out of that. I think there is a lot of fodder for really good Mojo stories these days but, as satire is seemingly lost on the masses, it would probably result in a large outrage rather than accolades.

  3. According to the Marvel wiki Jaimie Campos's only writing was on four issues of this series (which folded after just six). I found the series awful at the time and largely blanked it from my mind.

    That said much the 99 cent line's failure was not down to the content but rather retailer apathy. The line was designed for newsstands in the belief that a cheaper line of comics in a more easily accessible venue could bring in new readers - isn't that what so many have been saying for years? - but the newsstands refused to take the line at the per unit profit was too low. So Marvel resorted to combining two books in a flip book format - only to produce a hybrid that was an awkward combination and made even worse when the individual titles had different frequencies and cancellations. Thus Untold Tales of Spider-Man was combined variously with Fantastic Four Unplugged, Avengers Unplugged and then Uncanny Origins. Marvel Fanfare seems to have been created just to replace Over the Edge in filling out a flipbook with Professor Xavier and the X-Men. It's actually amazing that these flipbooks lasted as long as they did (20 or 16 issues respectively). The content was pretty much an afterthought.

  4. Let's be honest here: the only reason Mojo II exists is because Jim Lee probably hated drawing Mojo, just like he hated drawing anything that wasn't a 0% body fat humanoid in an action stance or chest-puffing pose (see also: his terrible work with the Brood.)


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