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Tuesday, August 16, 2022

X-amining Uncanny X-Men #342

"-- Did I Miss Something?"
March 1997

In a Nutshell
A contingent of X-Men are flung into Shi'ar territory via an out-of-control spaceship!

Writer: Scott Lobdell
Penciler: Joe Madureira
Inkers: Tim Townsend
Letters: Richard Starkings & Comicraft
Colors: Steve Buccellato and Team Bucce!
Editor-in-Chief: Bob Harras

Teleported by Gladiator onto an out-of-control starship, Beast, Bishop, Rogue, Gambit, Joseph, and Trish Tilby find themselves hurtling through space on a pre-set route as the ship threatens to blow apart around them. Beast manages to stabilize the vehicle, but can't alter its course, even as it heads into an asteroid field. Joseph steps up, and uses his power to clear the field in front of the ship until it reaches the Shi'ar stargate. Back on Earth, Cannonball alerts the rest of the X-Men to what happened, and they try to contact the Shi'ar. When no one answers, Cyclops must decide whether to go after their teammates, or focus on the numerous earthbound threats facing the X-Men. Back in space, the X-Men don Shi'ar uniforms as the ship arrives at its destination: a massive and heavily damaged Shi'ar space station. Exploring the wreckage, the X-Men find only one survivor: Deathbird!

Firsts and Other Notables
Picking up where last issue left off (with Gladiator having teleported the New York-set X-Men and Trish Tilby into space to save the Shi'ar galaxy), this issue begins the series' next story arc, an "X-Men in Space!" riff that sees the return of the Phalanx. It also marks the beginning of a short period of time in which the two X-Men titles will once again feature separate casts, with the group sent off to Shi'ar space here more or less comprising the cast of Uncanny X-Men from now until Uncanny X-Men #350 (which is also Scott Lobdell and Joe Madureira's final issue). While this immediate story won't last the entirety of that separation, it does mean that this group of X-Men will entirely miss out on the events of "Operation: Zero Tolerance", with the Marrow-and-Spider-Man-starring issue #346 serving as this series' only contribution to that crossover. 

The X-Men (and Trish) all get new looks this issue, as they adopt Shi'ar uniforms they find stored in the ship. In a neat visual touch, Joseph's space uniform is reminiscent of Magneto's classic look. 

A brief interlude back on Earth shows Cannonball (who was with the X-Men in New York last issue, when he fought Gladiator, but was left behind when Gladiator sent the rest away) informing the rest of the X-Men what happened to their teammates; this group (Cyclops, Jean, Wolverine, Storm and Cannonball) will form the cast of Adjectiveless X-Men until the start of "Operation: Zero Tolerance". 

Deathbird, last seen in X-Men Unlimited #13, pops up at the end of the issue, having been injured during the attack on the space station; she will team up with the X-Men in the course of the story, ultimately helping shepherd Bishop off the team  

While not quite on the scale of the present day, Marvel begins experimenting with variant covers in this month, offering the same issue with two different covers (the one pictured above is the "main" or A cover, this one is the B cover). While previous issues had been released featuring covers with different colors to denote a second printing or in deluxe and newsstand versions, this is the first issue to receive an "intentional" variant in the modern sense. However, it will be remain an infrequent gimmick at least over the next few years. 

A Work in Progress
For what it's worth, we learn the "Trish" in "Trish Tilby" is short for "Patricia" in this issue. 

Continuing his post-"Onslaught" malaise, Bishop admits to Rogue that he's struggling to know what to believe in now that both the legend and reality of Xavier have let him down. 

When Joseph offhandedly mentions that Gambit is a man of many secrets, Gambit ominously thinks to himself that he hopes Joseph never finds them out.  

The Grim 'n' Gritty 90s
The question, Beast, isn't "why is Trish wearing a Shi'ar navigator's uniform?", it's "why is a Shi'ar Navigator's uniform so skimpy?"

Who wants to join Mile High Comics new "e-mail" list? 

For Sale
Around this time, Marvel started running 2-3 page previews for notable issues in each comic; this issue features a look at the revamped Ghost Rider. 

The launch of Thunderbolts also gets a house ad in this issue. 

Bullpen Bulletins
With this issue first on sale shortly after the calendar rolled over from 1996 to 1997, the bullpen bulletins page asks the (remaining) staffers how they plan to spend their holidays, with at least a few responses taking on some added meaning knowing they were given in the midst of massive layoffs and Marvel's declaration of bankruptcy (which occurred just before the end of the year). 

Austin's Analysis
Reading this story, it's hard to escape the feeling of it being the beginning of an end - of Scott Lobdell's relatively long tenure, of Joe Mad's shorter but arguably more impactful one. Though the immediate Shi'ar/Phalanx story doesn't extent to the ends of their runs, this does begin an extended sequence for this group of characters which will keep them as the central figures in this series and isolated from the rest of the X-books until after both creators have departed. At the same time, part of the reason this issue feels so connected to the larger extra-narrative currents of the series is that not a ton happens in it. It's certainly not a bad issue. After "Onslaught" and consistently juggling a larger cast, both creators seems to be enjoying having a smaller core group of characters on which to focus. Joe Mad gets to design new looks and the space setting plays to his strength. Lobdell does the necessary work of setting up the story and giving each of the small cast a moment to express themselves via their reactions to their current circumstances. But the competent execution doesn't change the fact that the issue is light on incident. It's necessary work done well, but it's not enough to keep broader ruminations on its place in the narrative and future happenings at bay. 

Next Issue
Next, Nate is reunited with his mom's alternate reality doppelganger's clone in X-Man #25. Then, the X-Men go to Hong Kong in X-Men (vol. 2) #62!

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  1. I don't think I ever read this issue, but judging by the selected pages here, it's tough to gauge the effectiveness of Madureira's "space setting" since he seems either uninterested in or completely incapable of drawing backgrounds. I like his cartoony style (he draws some particularly expressive faces,) but everyone here looks like they're hanging around in heavily-shadowed closets.

  2. Mile High Comics, where every new comic is marked at $80 but you can get 50% off with our email list discount code. I wonder if they were as expensive back then.

    1. I placed a few orders from Mile High back in the 90s -- mainly G.I. JOE and X-MEN back issues from the 80s. My recollection is that they were not out of line with the prices you'd see in the longboxes at the local comic shop -- but then, I was also a frugal kid and was not looking for anything particularly rare or expensive.

  3. Between the two X-Books at the time, this Shi'ar arc had my interest where regular X-Men didn't appeal to me at all.

    1. I was the opposite! I was excited for a good ol' fashioned "X-Men in Space"/Shi'ar epic, but the inclusion of the Phalanx put me straight to sleep. I really don't like them.

      On the other hand, the X-Men on Earth, drawn by Carlos Pacheco, teaming up with Shang-Chi and fighting the Kingpin of all villains, had my complete attention and enthusiasm. (Though the upcoming Spider-Man issue of UNCANNY was fantastic.)

  4. It's been a loooong time since I read this issue, but I remember this being relatively fun. Even if the Phalanx are somewhat defanged from the threat that had presented earlier.

    I really appreciated the two X-Men titles feeling like separate entities again. While I appreciate a tight continuity, I wasn't thrilled with having what was essentially an endless crossover between the two titles.

    I believe that the rest of Lobdell and Madureira's run will be the last time until Grant Morrison that it will feel like X-Men has anything resembling a solid direction so it will be interesting to see if my memory holds up in that regard.

  5. Having to send in a letter to join an email list is the most 90s thing ever.

  6. Wooo! Awesome to see you back, Austin!


  7. I take it you mean that variants on reg’lar ol’ non-special issues pretty much start here. X-Men #1 in 1991 had five direct-market variants alone, without counting the newsstand edition(s) and later printings. Legends of the Dark Knight #1 kind-of started it all in 1989 with the four different colors of protective outer covers — although that’s maybe near as much like the polybag situation as distinctly illustrated covers — while Team Titans #1 in 1992 had variant covers and stories (really making them effectively different issues entirely despite roughly 50% of the interiors being common to all editions).

    The “Next: Where No X-Man Has Gone Before” come-on amused me because it’s, appropriately, in a font mimicking TNG’s logo and presumably meant to call back to the first tale of that name. Although I peeked ahead to see if the following issue actually used that title and discovered that, spoiler, it does so in a TOS font, bringing me to the horrifying consideration that maybe Lobdell et al. didn’t know Claremont & Cockrum had already used it for a Shi’ar / Imperial Guard story…

    Speaking of titles, I recommend you take another look atop the post, which is doing the opposite of missing something. 8^)

  8. "[...] until Uncanny X-Men #350 (which is also Scott Lobdell and Joe Madureira's final issue)."

    Actually, Lobdell's last issue is #349. Uncanny X-Men #350 is written by Steve Seagle (finishing Lobdell's plot and revealing Gambit's secret).

  9. You describe this as the beginning of an end, and that's exactly what it was for me. After many years of reading, I stopped after #350, when this limp arc finally wrapped. After loving the 'X-Men: Onslaught' issue that kicked off the crossover, things went downhill fast for me, with the rest of the crossover and its aftermath falling totally flat. Joe Mad was still bringing it, which was probably the only thing keeping me around at that point, and once he left, that was it for me. I'll look forward to reading your post #350 recaps, though, to catch what I missed.

  10. I'm a bit late to the party on this one!

    Agreed on this feeling like a "beginning of the end" of an era for X-Men. I know I spoke to it a bit during "Onslaught" as well, but really this whole year is sort of a transitional phase from the "Mutant Genesis" era X-Men into something different. It would take Grant Morrisson in a few more years to truly reinvent the X-Men, but from 1997 - 2001, they go through a lot of much less notable transitions. After "Operation: Zero Tolerance", the lineup is pared down, then it expands again in the leadup to "The Twelve", but after that everything is blown up by Chris Claremont's return via "Revolution".

    Not to close the door on this Lobdell era yet, as there are still several issues of both core titles to get through, but I'm looking forward to revisiting Seagle/Kelly and Alan Davis. Back in the 90s, the former left me cold while the latter thrilled me with the return of a sort of Bronze Age feel to the X-Men.

    "Continuing his post-'Onslaught' malaise, Bishop admits to Rogue that he's struggling to know what to believe in now that both the legend and reality of Xavier have let him down."

    It's funny that he literally says "After Onslaught it seems I am without direction." I know I said it before, but he really should've died saving the X-Men in X-MEN: ONSLAUGHT. I love Bishop -- he's one of my all-time favorite X-Men -- but nobody, not even Scott Lobdell, the guy who wrote him the most throughout the 90s, knew what to do with him after he fulfilled his destiny. If he had died in the process, it would've given his arc a definitive finale, and it would've raised the stakes against Onslaught from the outset.

    (Plus, then we would've been without Bishop for twenty-five years and everybody would've been all excited to see him come back on Krakoa.)

    "The question, Beast, isn't 'why is Trish wearing a Shi'ar navigator's uniform?', it's 'why is a Shi'ar Navigator's uniform so skimpy?'"

    That's not what the guy sitting in Chekov's chair in UNCANNY X-MEN 105 was wearing! I feel like Beast is just confused... Rogue must've found the navigator's uniform. Trish found a courtesan's closet or something.

    But seriously, are we supposed to infer that all the X-Men are wearing Shi'ar uniforms here? Because none of them bear any remote similarities to one another. I feel like they actually found a bunch of spare Imperial Guard uniforms -- which could actually make sense if Gladiator teleported them aboard the same ship and his Guardsmen used to come to Earth.

    Speaking up which -- I don't know when it's coming on the schedule, but I'm excited for the IMPERIAL GUARD mini-series when you get to it. For some reason I absolutely loved it when it was first published.


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