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Wednesday, April 20, 2022

X-amining X-Force #63

"Wish You Were Here"
February 1997

In a Nutshell
X-Force is pulled into a conflict over the legacy of Doctor Doom!

Writer: John Francis Moore
Penciler: Anthony Castrillo
Inkers: Mark Morales with Chad Hunt
Letterer: Richard Starkings & Comicraft
Colorist: Lee Ann Clark with GCW 
Editor-in-Chief: Bob Harras

Meltdown awakens in a strange town and eventually runs into its only other resident, a man named Dimitri Fortunov who has been in the town for a week. Meltdown thinks back to how she got there: X-Force had been tasked by Nathanial Richards to acquire Doctor Doom's time traveling technology before it fell into the wrong hands. After infiltrating his castle, X-Force was attacked by Doombots and in the ensuing fight, Meltdown was knocked out and woke up in her current situation. Dimitri explains that he is the heir to Latveria following Doom's death, at which point a looming image of Cable in the sky reveals the truth: they've had their consciousnesses transferred into miniature synthetic clones and placed in Doom's artificial miniature city of Liddleville. Outside the castle, Sunspot, Warpath and Caliban wait as backup with a tribe of Romani whom Cable knows. When a woman named Sofia touches Warpath, she faints. Inside the castle, Cable restores Meltdown and Dimitri's minds to their bodies, and they proceed to Doom's time platform, only to find GW Bridge and SHIELD waiting for them. SHIELD wants the tech for themselves, while Dimitri wants to use it for the benefit of Latveria. During the ensuing fight, Dimitri is knocked into the platform's control panel. Outside, Sofia's mother explains that Sofia has precognitive abilities, and something in Warpath's future scared her enough to knock her out. Just then, the group is stunned to realize Castle Doom has suddenly disappeared! 

Firsts and Other Notables
Writer John Francis Moore, who briefly wrote X-Factor (as well as Factor X) and is relatively fresh off concluding X-Men 2099, takes over as the new series writer with this issue. His run will last through issue #100, making him easily the longest serving X-Force writer. His run also contains the relatively well-regarded "Road Trip" era of the series. 

This is the first appearance of Dimitri Fortunov, grandson of the King of Latveria who was deposed by Doctor Doom when he seized control of the country (as chronicled in Fantastic Four Annual #2). With Doom seemingly dead, Dimitri believes he is next in line for the throne of Latveria due to his lineage. 

He and Meltdown both find themselves placed in Liddleville, a microtown created by Doctor Doom and Puppet Master, which first appeared in Fantastic Four #236.

GW Bridge shows up at the end of the issue leading a contingent of SHIELD agents, looking to claim Doom's technology for the organization, continuing Bridge's antagonistic relationship with the title characters and furthering the question of just what his position within SHIELD is at the moment.   

When a Romani woman with precognitive abilities touches Warpath, she freaks out due to a terrible vision of his future she sees; as far as I know, this is never followed up on anywhere. 

Domino's solo miniseries takes place concurrently with this story, which is why she is absent during the mission to Latveria. 

A Work in Progress
Rictor (who appears briefly in the flashback then seems to disappear) appears to be wearing his pre-"Age of Apocalypse" uniform, which makes sense given that he left the team in issue #44 before everyone received their new "purple" unformed looks. 

Nathanial Richards mentions a previous time in which he impersonated Doom, a reference to Fantastic Four #382 (which occurred during a time in which both Reed and Doctor Doom were both considered dead, and given that didn't occur that long before this story - as a point of reference, the last issue of the volume is #416 -  you'd think the people of Latveria would be more wary at this point whenever they're told Doom is dead and gone. 

The events of Cable #41 (which hadn't been published yet) are cited as a motivating factor for Cable's desire to get Doom's time travel equipment under wraps. 

The Grim 'n' Gritty 90s
The old-fashioned nature of Liddleville is highlighted by Meltdown trying to use a rotary phone to call for help.  

The Cable Guy 
Cable has a past with the leader of the Romani group with whom Warpath, Sunspot and Caliban are hanging out, because of course he does. 

Human/Mutant Relations
The issue opens with Meltdown remembering a dream where she's chased by an anti-mutant mob which, amongst other things, yells "You took away Creed!"

It's in the Mail
A response to a letter in this issue says that whatever Jeph Loeb was doing with Shatterstar's origin confused them, too, which, fair, but also, given that these letters are usually answered by representatives of the book's editorial team, they could have also used their editorial power to push Loeb to have it make more sense. 

Austin's Analysis
One of the (likely accidental) side effects of "Heroes Reborn" and the absence of the Fantastic Four and the Avengers from the "main" Marvel Universe is that the X-books get pulled out of their self-contained narrative cul-de-sac a little and are forced to interact with the wider MU. We already saw that a little bit in X-Men (vol. 2) #59, and will see it again more going forward. Here, it takes the form of an X-Force adventure involving the legacy of Doctor Doom. Opening with a riff on a classic FF story, it takes advantage of the current status quo to explore the question of what would happen to Latveria and Doom's tech in his absence. Far from being random, X-Force's involvement is built on the burgeoning relationship between Nathanial Richards and Cable, born of their interactions in Cable #36 (and their shared status as older, vaguely cybernetic, time travelers). The result is a quiet yet auspicious start to John Francis Moore's run, showcasing his ability to build stories around little bits of continuity without that continuity weighing down the story or overwhelming characterization. Because above all else, it's simply fun to see X-Force in a story like this, referencing classic adventures, fighting Doombots, and playing, for a bit, in the wider Marvel universe.

Next Issue
Next week: Deadpool fears the loss of a friend in Deadpool #2, and the Acolytes return in Excalibur #106!

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  1. I love Moore’s run! The Road Trip storyline is a big highlight, seeing Moonstar join the team, the return of Stryfe, and just being a lot of fun. Moore is great at characterization and I’m excited to see you cover it.

  2. Has Sunspot ever looked more like Nightcrawler than he does in this issue?

  3. John Francis Moore's X-FORCE is probably top of my list of X-runs I've never read but want to try. I remember a friend of mine loved it at the time; I believe he considered it his favorite X-book (and he read nearly all of the X-books, unlike me). Someday when it's fully reprinted in Epic Collections or on Marvel Unlimited, I'll give it a try.

    "One of the (likely accidental) side effects of 'Heroes Reborn' and the absence of the Fantastic Four and the Avengers from the "main" Marvel Universe is that the X-books get pulled out of their self-contained narrative cul-de-sac a little and are forced to interact with the wider MU."

    This was probably my favorite side-effect of "Onslaught"/"Heroes Reborn" -- stuff like this, the X-Men meeting Shang-Chi and the Kingpin, and so forth. And it wasn't just confined to the X-books! You also had things like Foggy Nelson dating Liz Allen, which was acknowledged by both the Spider-books and DAREDEVIL, plus of course THUNDERBOLTS became sort of a convergence point for all corners of the Marvel Universe, with lots of cameos from various characters, and guest appearances by disparate figures such as Black Widow, Archangel, Hercules (wait... come to think of it, it was really just a bunch of guest spots for different members of the Champions!).

    I know I've said it before, but I'll repeat it anyway -- from a purely creative standpoint, I feel like the bankruptcy and drastic scaling back of their line was a great thing for Marvel. The number of monthly titles they released shrank considerably, and as a result the Marvel Universe took on a more organized, interlinked, and cohesive feel than it had had for quite some time. Mid/late nineties Marvel feels like Bronze Age Marvel to me in all the best possible ways.

    1. Yes, but it only scaled back for, what, a couple of months? I seem to recall a house ad that announced something like 12 new ongoing series, including Thunderbolts, that debuted over a four month period. Granted, it was a much more diverse offering than what was typical at the time. Specifically, I remember Ka-Zar and Heroes for Hire getting new series. It was also nice to see Quicksilver get a brief ongoing.

    2. Totally true, but even after they ramped back up, I don't think they were anywhere near the sheer number of titles they were publishing earlier in the 90s. I did a count once a while back, just for fun, choosing a random month in the early 90s and a random month in the late 90s, and if you counted everything -- licensed titles, reprints, etc. -- early 90s Marvel was publishing something like 80 or more books a month, while late 90s Marvel was around 50.

      But regardless, I also think that since they were almost "rebuilding" the line, that allowed editorial and creatives to get more aligned than they had been previously. I know there were hiccups -- sometimes even between titles in the same editorial family (I'm looking at you, Ralph Macchio's Spider-books) -- but overall the Marvel Universe just felt way more organized to me in the late 90s compared with the previous several years.

    3. And now, sadly, we seem to be back to the excess that defined the early 90's in terms of comics published.

      Based on Marvel: The Untold Story, Bob Harras had more to do with the Spider-Man books being in such disarray than Ralph Macchio did. Apparently, the Clone Saga was only supposed to run for a 12 issue arc. I know the popularity of the story kept it going longer, but Harras insisted that the Spider-Man office wait until after Onslaught to wrap it up. He was also the one that dictated that Norman Osborne was behind the whole thing.

    4. Yeah, the story goes that the Clone Saga was originally going to run for three months -- three issues each of the four core Spider-titles, not unlike "Maximum Carnage" a couple years earlier. But first the Mighty Marvel Marketing Department saw the sales spike and pushed for it to be extended -- which it was, for a full year longer than originally intended. Then, when it finally was going to wrap up for real, its conclusion would've been simultaneous with "Onslaught", so Harras asked that it run another six months-ish.

      Someone, I think J.M. DeMatteis, said that the writers used that extra time to really double down on making Ben Reilly a likeable character, so his eventual death would hit readers hard. It worked on me! I loved Ben. I didn't like him as a replacement Spider-Man, but I thought then, and still think now, that there would have been room in the 90s for both the Scarlet Spider and Spider-Man to co-exist side-by-side forever, so long as the question of who was real and who was the clone had been definitively settled.

      (For the record, I also didn't much care when Peter was revealed as a clone. Readers and, I think, WIZARD, were up in arms over the revelation, but why did it matter? For twenty years, he WAS Spider-Man, clone or not. Why would it make any difference if it was later revealed he wasn't the genuine Peter Parker? It didn't suddenly invalidate or cheapen any of his development or heroism over the years. The stories still happened, and in those stories, he was Peter Parker/Spider-Man.)

      Glenn Greenberg, who was an assistant editor at the time and was heavily involved in resolving the Clone Saga, says that Harras was very hands-on with the finale arc, "Revelations". Apparently Harras added a line to the final chapter in which Norman Osborn says, "This was never about the Green Goblin and Spider-Man. It was always about Norman Osborn and Peter Parker." Greenberg vehemently disagreed with this, noting that if you read all the old Lee/Ditko/Romita stuff, it very much was about the Goblin vs. Spidey, and aside from knowing one another's secrets, their alter egos rarely factored into that equation.

      Greenberg had a great quote about this, which I'm paraphrasing here from memory, but he said something like, "I would never argue with Bob Harras about the relationship between Professor X and Magneto, but regarding Spider-Man and the Green Goblin, he was totally wrong."

      In any case, I loved the Clone Saga as a teen. I ate it up, week after week after week for two years. I have terrific nostalgia for that era, in that it was one of my very favorite periods of reading Spider-comics in "real time". I've been meaning to go back and re-read it for years, but I just haven't gotten there yet.

      Anyway, circling back around -- Macchio's disorganization came later, post Clone Saga. Little bits of continuity were all wrong between the titles. It seemed the writers didn't confer with each other often enough, and Macchio was often asleep at the wheel with regards to getting them to fix their glitches.

    5. I dipped in and out of the Clone Saga while it was in progress. Spider-Man has been a character I wanted to get into but, for some reason, his stories never really clicked with me.

      It sounds like Harras was a pretty hand on person in everything. Which is unfortunate as the X-Men line tended to work better when he wasn't micro-managing and second guessing everything.

    6. The funny thing is that in Tom DeFalco's COMICS CREATORS ON X-MEN book, Harras tells DeFalco that by the time he became editor-in-chief, he wasn't able to be hands-on anymore. He says something to the effect that the position had changed since DeFalco had held it -- there was much less reviewing the actual books, and more financial/scheduling/etc. type stuff. But he still found some time to "help" on the conclusion to the Clone Saga -- though that was early in his tenure, when he was also still trying to retain editorship of the X-Books in addition to being EiC. He probably went more hands-off as time went on.

      I've always felt that Harras viewed himself as sort of the "showrunner", to use a TV term, of the X-books. Like, when Louise Simonson or Ann Nocenti or whoever else was in charge, they were true editors -- they were sounding boards for the writers, but otherwise let them do their own thing creatively. But I think Harras was far more involved in the creative process, often dictating plot points and storylines to the writers. Not unlike some of the editors you hear about from the Silver Age at DC.

      Personally, I think both are completely viable ways for an editor to run things, so long as writers know up front what they're getting into. If you sign on to write X-MEN with the understanding that you are working under a "head writer" (a.k.a. the editor), again using a TV term, then I believe that's totally fine -- but I believe most writers would expect a more traditional editor who would offer suggestions and advice but would otherwise step back and let them do their own thing -- and if you're that writer, but going into the "showrunner's" editorial office, then there's bound to be friction.

      It's interesting (at least to me) to note that when Marvel relaunched AMAZING SPIDER-MAN as the sole Spider-Title in 2008 with the "Brand New Day" era, and the series went three times monthly with a "brain trust" of writers, Tom Brevoort suggested the TV series model for how the book should be written. The very first "Brand New Day" trade paperback, which I read many years ago, included Brevoort's brief to then-editor Stephen Wacker about how he felt they should approach the series. Brevoort wanted to have a head writer/"showrunner" who would break stories with the individual writers, and then the head writer would do a final pass on scripts to keep everything consistent.

      Unfortunately Marvel didn't do it that way, and "Brand New Day" quickly became somewhat disorganized, dropping sub-plots for very long stretches and jumping all over the place in terms of tone and feel. You could easily tell it was being written by a bunch of different guys with different plots they wanted to follow, which was exactly what Brevoort was trying to avoid with his suggestion.

    7. Back to the X-Men of the 90s -- as I understand it, it was Harras's successor on the X-books, Mark Powers, who was the really notorious one with regards to editorial meddling. In the post-Scott Lobdell era, which is right around the point he took over, he forced Joe Kelly and Steve Seagle to scuttle their first year's plans midway through in favor of a crossover story ("The Hunt for Xavier") and the return of Shadowcat, Nightcrawler, and Colossus to the team, which led to both writers leaving.

      Powers then brought Alan Davis aboard to write the books for a while, but Davis did come in understanding what he was getting into -- he was given a bunch of plot points to resolve, and simply did as instructed (though he still turned out some of my favorite X-books in the process). But even he met with inflexible editorial direction when he was forced to "kill" Cyclops at the end of "The Twelve" storyline.

      Powers was also known to re-write scripts, far more than Harras ever did -- though Harras certainly did so himself sometimes. I think Larry Hama once said that he never (or very rarely) wrote any narrative captions on WOLVERINE, so any that appeared in the series were added to his scripts by editorial!

      Powers left Marvel during Grant Morrison's NEW X-MEN run. He edited Morrison's first few issues before vanishing. I've always assumed that was because his editorial style didn't fly under the new Quesada regime. I feel like if you were re-writing superstar Grant Morrison's scripts, you would probably get canned (or otherwise forced out) in a hurry.

    8. That's very interesting as I have never heard anything about Power's tenure as the X- Men line editor. Though, by the time he took over I wasn't paying as much attention to the "Behind-the-Scenes" dramas.

      I should also try to remind myself that, as the X-Men were Marvel's biggest money maker at the time, they were under a lot more scrutiny than they had been prior to 1991. I think Harras had a really good commercial mind and that almost always chaffs those who lean more to the creative.

  4. I'll no-prize the Warpath future vision thing by pointing out he goes to Hell 11 issues later.

  5. I don’t know when the family name of Dominic Fortune — the Howard Chaykin mercenary/adventurer — was revealed to be Fortunov but I’m surprised to find that apparently no relationship has ever been established between him and the family of Dimitri Fortunov.


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