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Wednesday, January 26, 2022

X-amining X-Man '96 #1

"Sons of the Father" / "Mindgames"

In a Nutshell
Nate Grey returns to the Age of Apocalypse!

Story: Terry Kavanagh, Ralph Macchio (2nd Story)
Art: Alan Davis, Terry Dodson (2nd Story)
Inker: Mark Farmer and Robin Riggs, Rachel Pinnock (2nd Story)
Letterer: Richard Starkings & Comicraft
Colorist: Tom Vincent, Joe Andreani (2nd Story)
Editor: Jaye Gardner
Editor-in-Chief: Bob Harras

Nate Grey traces recent ripples in reality to Sugar Man in Genosha, and confronts the villain in his stronghold. But Nate's attack plays into Sugar Man's hands, powering his "fargate" which opens a portal into the past of their shared home reality, from which Sugar Man plans to steal a deadly virus for use in his new world. Nate follows him through the portal, and is reunited with Forge and Magneto, both younger than Nate knew them. Together, the trio storms Sugar Man's fortress on word from Magneto's inside man, Morph, who helps rescue a captive Mastermind from Sugar Man. When Sugar Man deploys the virus into the water, Magneto uses his power to collect and destroy it. Nate tells Forge he wants to stay and change the future of his world, but Forge insists he return to what is now his home. With Mastermind's help, Forge tricks Nate into returning home, with Sugar Man getting caught up in the effects of the fargate and sent back as well. 

2nd Story
Curious about Madelyne Pryor, Sebastian Shaw's aide Tessa probes her mind. When Madelyne detects her, she attacks, and Tessa is no match for her power. Madelyne briefly considers killing her and making it look like an accident, but realizes Shaw would never accept that as the truth. Instead she wipes Tessa's memories of the encounter, though she remains grateful, for the confrontation has unlocked Madelyne's own memories. 

Firsts and Other Notables
Former Excalibur writer/artist Alan Davis pencils this issue, which features the first return to the "Age of Apocalypse" since the conclusion of that story (and the end of that reality) in X-Men: Omega. Since at this point in time the "Age of Apocalypse" reality is "dead", this requires Nate and Sugar Man going into the past of the AoA, to a time before the events which began unfolding in X-Men: Alpha

Somewhat less significantly, this does represent the first face-to-face meeting between Nate and Sugar Man, a quiet payoff of sorts to the earliest issues of the post-AoA series where Nate was battling Rex, an agent of Sugar Man's. 

Much of AoA Forge's actions in this story hinge on the fact that in his past, he was visited by an older time-traveling Nate Grey who told him to expect the encounter he has in this issue; while that seems like a setup for a future story, to date, that encounter has yet to be depicted. 

Similarly, Nate is inspired by his reunion with his "home" Forge to seek out the Forge of his new reality, but that never really comes to pass (I'm not even sure the pair have ever interacted directly on page to date, though I'm sure there's some big group shot from a crossover somewhere in which they're both in the crowd together or something). Also, while the trip to the AoA is credited in this issue as being possible due to some vestigial M'Kraan crystal energy (because, after all, the whole of the Age of Apocalypse conclusion was that it was prevented from ever having been created), it's established that said energy has now been depleted, suggesting no more trips to that reality (a suggestion that will soon be proven false). 

The second story features a battle between Tessa and Madelyne Pryor, in which a curious Tessa probe's Madelyne's mind and in the process unlocks Madelyne's memories of her past, something this iteration of Madelyne had previously lacked (given the later retcon that Tessa is an agent of Xavier's, it stands to reason she is familiar with Madelyne's history and shouldn't need, of her own volition, to probe her mind here, but maybe she's so deep undercover she doesn't receive regular updates on the various happenings of the X-Men). 

This issue concludes with a pinup from Davis. 

Through the Looking Glass
For what it's worth, this issue establishes how AoA Forge lost his eye and why AoA Mastermind is mute in the early X-Man issues. 

It also introduces the Age of Apocalypse version of Mimic, though he's mostly just a test subject for Sugar Man's virus here. 

Morph also pops up, having been sent in undercover by Magneto. 

The Reference Section
Stargates are hardly a creation of the film by the same name, but Sugar Man's "fargate" in this issue seems like a nod to that movie (and upcoming series). 

Austin's Analysis
Boy, putting Alan Davis on an issue of X-Man sure feels like a waste of talent. To the credit of that decision, this issue does represent the first proper return to the "Age of Apocalypse" since the end of that storyline, and while that is a well which will eventually be milked dry, at the time, that alone likely felt like a big enough deal to justify putting Davis to work on something like this. So, of course, the whole thing looks great, and it's easy to recommend on that alone. 

Storywise, unfortunately, this issue is a bit of a narrative cul-de-sac. Obviously, Nate isn't going to stay in his old reality, and the understanding of how that reality was created means (at this point in time) that both time travel and a closed loop are necessary (since the reality ultimately "ends" and there's no point in suggesting any kind of alteration to its history). Which means nothing that happens in the story really matters. Nate is the only character who can be impacted by the events (because he's the only person in the story, aside from Sugar Man, whose personal timeline will continue past the events depicted here), but he's more or less the same person coming out of the story as he was going into it. The whole thing then feels like a waste of time: whatever development the Age of Apocalypse characters experience is irrelevant, because they've already ceased to have ever existed, yet nothing happens in the story to have a big enough impact on Nate to justify the time spent on it. 

Granted, "largely pointless and ignorable" is par for the course for a lot of annuals. And there's worse ways to kill that time than looking at Alan Davis art. So in the grand scheme of things, this isn't as bad as it could be, even if it doesn't quite justify Alan Davis' involvement in the first place. 

Next Issue
Next week: Maverick #1 (no, not that one)!

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  1. What excellent (if over-colored) art in service of a story about which I could hardly care less.

  2. I feel like I read somewhere, years ago, that Davis did this annual at Kavanagh’s invitation, since they had worked together in the past when Kavanagh was Davis’s editor on EXCALIBUR. A few years later, Davis would return the favor, asking for Kavanagh as his scripter when he plotted both core X-books for a year-ish in 1999. These two seem to have a great deal of professional respect for one another.

  3. As far as X-Man goes, this was a pretty enjoyable one off. It was also, if I'm not mistaken, the first return to AoA since that storyline ended and it I liked that it actually gave a reason as to how it was possible to return. Something the later stories didn't bother with.

    This may not have been the best use of Alan Davis's talents but it is nice to see him nonetheless. It also has the unfortunate side effect of making me wish we had gotten Davis on X-Calibre. What might have been, eh?

    And Sugarman seems to be the very definition of "diminishing returns." He just never seems particularly effective outside of the Generation Next series. And I don't mean his plans. Super villains are never really effective or all of the heroes would be dead by now. I mean that he just doesn't seem to carry the same narrative weight that he once did. Ah well.

    I think the second story probably has a little more continuity relevance but it's also not as interesting to me. Terry Dodson's art sure is pretty though.


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