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Wednesday, September 14, 2022

X-amining X-Men (vol. 2) #62

March 1997

In a Nutshell
The X-Men team-up with Shang-Chi to hunt for a Legacy Virus cure! 

Plot: Scott Lobdell
Script: Ben Raab
Pencils: Carlos Pacheco 
Inks: Art Thibert
Letterer: Richard Starkings & Comicraft
Colorist: Chris Lichtner & Liquid Color
Editor: Bob Harras

Outside the Scottish home of an old associate, MI-6 agent Clive Reston, Shang-Chi, Master of Kung-Fu, is attacked by a group of ninjas. He fights them off, only to be attacked in turn by Wolverine, who wants to test him. Their fight is ended by a lightning bolt from Storm, angry at Wolverine's actions. Cannonball arrives, and the group is introduced to Shang-Chi, after which they go inside Reston's home, where Reston, Cyclops, and Phoenix are waiting. They explain that Sebastian Shaw, leader of the Hellfire Club, is seeking the Elixir Vitae, which he hopes to use to cure the Legacy Virus (and make massive profits in doing so). Since Shang-Chi's villainous father created the elixir, the X-Men need his help. Later, Shaw is at his Hong Kong offices when he's told the X-Men are en route to the city; he orders a "reception" for the group. Shortly thereafter, as the X-Men and Shang-Chi make their way through the streets of Hong Kong in a pair of cars, they are attacked by a group of Cyber-Ninjas. 

Firsts and Other Notables
Coming off his stint as the co-penciler on Excalibur, this marks the beginning of Carlos Pacheco's run as the series' new regular artist. He will stick around through issue #74 (outlasting Lobdell).  

Shang-Chi, title character of the 70s/80s Master of Kung-Fu series, is a character with a...complicated publishing history that makes featuring him in comics somewhat more difficult than most characters, guest-stars in this issue (and will stick around for the duration of the story). 

The opening page announces the arrival of both Pacheco and Shang-Chi. safdfd

The beginning of a three-part story that will find the X-Men battling Sebastian Shaw and the Kingpin over a possible Legacy Virus cure, this issue also features the new regular roster of the book: Cyclops, Phoenix, Wolverine, Storm and Cannonball (ie the X-Men left behind on Earth after the other half of the team got whisked off into space in Uncanny X-Men, marking the brief return to a status in which each of the two X-Men titles feature a different, distinct cast). This is the group of X-Men who will most directly deal with the events of the upcoming "Operation: Zero Tolerance", though they will mostly do it over in Wolverine while this series is handed over to an ad hoc team for...reasons. 

The MacGuffin of this story is the Elixir Vitae or "elixir of life", an immortality-granting potion used by, amongst others, Shang-Chi's father, Fu Manchu (who is only referred to indirectly in the story, due to licensing issues). Sebastian Shaw hopes to use the elixir to help create a cure for the Legacy Virus (and profit from it), making this the first time in a while that the Legacy Virus was an active driver of a plot. 

The panel of Cyclops laying out Shaw's plot seems like one of those images that often gets lifted to serve as the initial image in Wikipedia-esque entries on the character (I also used it as the logo for a fantasy football team once).  

The issue concludes with the X-Men being attacked by a group of cyber-ninjas, but these are NOT the same cyber-ninjas whom Marvel Girl and Iceman battled in X-Factor #63-64, but rather the "Si-Fan Cyber-Ninjas", per the Marvel Wikia.  

As with Uncanny X-Men #342, this issue features a variant cover, the first variant cover in the modern sense (ie commissioned at random and not the result of a newsstand version or second printing, or created as part of a specific gimmick tied to a notable issue, like this series' first issue) for the book. 

A Work in Progress
Shang-Chi can sense the telepathically-cloaked Cyclops and Phoenix. 

It's noted that Black Air's demise (in Excalibur #100) has led to a general restructuring of British intelligence operations. 

The Grim 'n' Gritty 90s
The then-upcoming expiration of Great Britain's lease of Hong Kong is noted. 

The Best There is at What He Does
Wolverine does another "pop two claws, hold back the middle claw" thing with Shang-Chi. 

Shang-Chi's old buddy Reston (a recurring supporting character in his earlier regular series) is, of course, an old pal of Wolverine's as well (whom he's simply never mentioned before now). 

Human/Mutant Relations
It's noted that having mutants as allies at the moment is especially dangerous.

Austin's Analysis
I always think of this three part Hong Kong/Shang-Chi story as an island of traditional formalism in a sea of loosely-connected, variable-cast issues chiefly concerned with setting up or closing out big crossover stories. While it connects to a larger subplot, it tells a finite story in its three chapters, featuring a specific cast of X-Men that stays consistent across its telling, and reaches out to engage the team with the wider Marvel Universe via both guest stars and villains, all while being told by the series' official creative team. Take away Wolverine's bone claws and the references to the Legacy Virus, and this could be a story from the mid-80s. There's something charmingly retro about that. 

This issue itself is pretty standard "part 1 of 3" setup fare. It opens in media res (adding to its retro feel) and mostly focuses on Shang-Chi, introducing the title characters through his interactions with them. It spends a bit more time introducing the guest-star to readers than is customary, but given Shang-Chi's relatively low profile prior to this, that's more understandable. After that, the basic thrust of the plot is introduced, and an issue-ending threat is unveiled. Again, pretty standard stuff. This is definitely a story whose whole is better than the sum of its part, but it's nevertheless fun to be reading something like that again. 

Next Issue
Wolverine returns home in Wolverine #111!

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  1. Okay, I'm excited! But first...

    I have a theory, and you touched on it a bit in your Take, describing the story as feeling "retro" -- that when Bob Harras became Marvel's editor-in-chief, he issued some form of mandate to bring back a sort of Bronze Age feel to the Marvel Universe. Mind you, I've never seen anything outright stating this, but I do know that I read someplace where Harras said he was a big of 1970s Marvel.

    Given that, it's not hard to wonder if this is Harras's doing. Right around this time, you start seeing characters like Shang-Chi, Iron Fist, Luke Cage, and other Bronze Age stalwarts returning to the spotlight. Additionally, within another year or so, notable Bronze Age creators like John Byrne, Steve Englehart, George PĂ©rez, and even Chris Claremont will all return to Marvel. Then there are the books written by Kurt Busiek -- THUNDERBOLTS and (in less than a year) AVENGERS, which sort of become (or at least, certainly felt like to me) the "flagship" titles of the Marvel Universe, and which both have a very heavy Bronze Age feel about them.

    Now like I said, I don't know that this can actually be laid at the feet of Bob Harras. It's entirely possible it's all a coincidence (and I don't think, for example, anyone ordered Busiek to write his books like Bronze Age series -- but I do think assigning them to him knowing his sensibilities in that direction could have been intentional), but regardless -- I do think there is absolutely a clear Bronze Age nostalgia boom across the Marvel line around this time -- and, as the kids say nowadays, I am here for it.

    Which is to say, I was there for it. I hadn't read a ton of Bronze Age comics at the point these issues were coming out, but I was familar at least with certain aspects of that era, and I loved it. So the return of Shang-Chi, even if I'd never read a comic with him, was great. (And likewise for all the other stuff I mentioned above.) I've said before several times in various places that Bob Harras's time as editor-in-chief was one of my favorite periods for Marvel, and was the last time I genuinely enjoyed their output on a linewide basis (though I've also noted that the Harras era lost me near the end with the X-Men's "Revolution" and "Counter-X" stuff, the Spider-Man relaunch, and Marvel Knights).

    Again, for all I know it's a complete coincidence, given I wasn't as enamored with that final year, year-and-a-half. But Marvel 1996 - 1999 or thereabouts is solid gold as far as I'm concerned.

    1. As for this issue... again, I was predisposed to like it, though you're right that as "part 1 of 3," it's not all that impressive. Still, it gets its own title page, and Marvel published house ads for it as well, using the variant cover art -- so they seemed to think it was going to be something special. (Speaking of which, my recollection is that Marvel had not done a lot of house ads for a while around this point, because I remember them starting to pop up at this time, and thinking they were really cool because I hadn't any -- or at least, not many -- for years.)

      Ultimately, I think the issue shines in large part due to the arrival of Carlos Pacheco at what is arguably the peak of his powers. I had warmed up to Andy Kubert over the years after initially being unsure what to make of him, but for me, age 18 in 1997, Pacheco was head, shoulders, knees and toes above Kubert. And his style, while quite different from Joe Madureira's, was more complementary to the work Mad was doing on UNCANNY, giving the core titles a slightly more unified visual. I was super hyped when it was announced Pacheco was coming to X-MEN, and his work here didn't disappoint me.

      (Nowadays I see some weird stuff in Pacheco's art -- there's one panel where Shang-Chi has grotesquely large eyes for some reason -- but I mostly still like it. I loved how much he messed around with foreshortening and crazy camera angles, frequently looking up or down at characters at extreme angles.)

      Speaking of the artwork, I agree with you; that shot of Cyclops shows up everywhere. Also, the big image of Storm when she appears on page 10 to break up the fight between Wolverine and Shang-Chi was the art accompanying her character profile in the MARVEL SUPER HEROES ADVENTURE GAME published by TSR in the late 90s. (That RPG is such a great time capsule of this era.)

    2. Oops, forgot one last thing: Doug Moench was not a fan of the dragon tattoo on Shang-Chi's arm. I recall him saying something about how it went against Shang's character, and he explained it away when he wrote a MoKF mini-series years later.

      Also, while I'm speaking of Moench, you can add him to that list of returning Bronze Age creators around this time. He came back to Marvel during the Harras era for a pair of MOON KNIGHT mini-series. Which means you can also add Moon Knight to the list of returning Bronze Age characters!

    3. Matt talking about the Bronze Age; for a minute there I thought I was on the wrong blog!

      As a big Bronze Age fan, I can say that if Harras was going for that feel, it was mainly because...everyone else was, in a way. There was a period between the all art, no plot Image era and the late 90s widescreen decompression of the Authority, started by Kingdom Come and then kicked into overdrive by Grant Morrison's JLA, of what wound up being called "dad comics": intensely nostalgic straight up main stream superhero stories with a retro feel. Which meant that comics in general were starting to draw on the Bronze Age in general, and Marvel was playing catch up. Kurt Busiek's work at Marvel around this time was a definite attempt to tie into that feel, especially with Perez on Avengers.

      You would think therefore that I would have come running back for this but-I didn't. I had almost totally drifted away from Marvel by this time, only occasionally popping in to see how the X-Books were. I largely read DC, Vertigo, and the Wildstorm books at Image. My one attempt at returning came during the disaster of the Kelly/Seagle era on the X-Books, and that killed my interest in Marvel period until Grant Morrison came to the X-Men.

      But yeah, this period was filled with a lot of Bronze Age retro.

    4. Jack, I talk about the Bronze Age everywhere!

      That's fascinating about the resurgence around this time. As a (mostly) "Marvel Zombie", I read very little from other publishers, so I had no idea! I really figured it was confined only to Marvel.

      But like I said, it was all over their line over these few years -- if not in directly obvious ways such as the new HEROES FOR HIRE series, the MOON KNIGHT and WARLOCK limited series, etc., then in more subtle ways such as Austin describes above -- a big return of the shared universe feel that had sort of fallen away by the mid-90s. Stuff like Foggy Nelson dating Liz Osborn in both DAREDEVIL and the Spider-books, the X-Men teaming up with Shang-Chi and having other encounters with the wider universe (think Archangel fighting the Abomination in an upcoming issue), and so forth. Even Spider-Man got into it, sort of -- the creators kept Peter and Mary Jane together despite editorial wanting to find a way to break them up, but they also sent them both back to college to get into that Bronze Age spirit.

      Heck, even the upcoming return of characters in corner boxes in a few months could be tied back to the Bronze Age feel. And when Marvel came back from "Flashback Month", for four or five months afterward, they put this banner at the top of every cover that said "The World's Greatest Comics", but really looked like an intentional nod to the old "Marvel Comics Group" trade dress from the 70s.

      I really, really, really love these years of Marvel. A lot. I call it "one of my favorite periods" for the company, but it is arguably my all-time, bar-none favorite. Partly that's due to my life at the time, and certain memories I have tied to these books, but the same can be said about comics from my childhood and early teens in the late 80s and early to mid-90s. So even taking that into account, for me there's something really special about this period. I wish it had lasted longer, but 4-5 years of it is nothing to complain about!

    5. What Grant Morrison was doing at DC during that period was actually nostalgia for the Silver Age not the Bronze Age, unlike Marvel.
      Morrison even referred to that period of JLA, The Flash, and Aztek as the “new Silver Age” period.
      Rather than it being representative of anything in the wider comic book industry, it was more about Morrison’s own preferences and feelings at that time.
      Marvel really was looking backwards at that time, following their bankruptcy and the bursting of the comic book speculative bubble. It was a fun time.

    6. I like the idea of a return to Silver Age/Bronze Age aesthetics as a response to the collapse of the market. Marvel saying (consciously or otherwise), "we went all in on 90s tropes and flooding the market with as much product as possible and it led to our bankruptcy and a chunk of our core titles getting farmed out to Image" so they respond by going back to the style of the era just before the 90s stuff took over. Might be an article in there somewhere...

      I do wonder, though, with some of the title choices, how much a desire to maintain copyright played into things. Moon Knight's solo series hadn't ended that long ago, but it had been awhile since Iron Fist had a self-titled book, and while Luke Cage headlined his own series in the early 90s, "Heroes for Hire" had been out of use for a good long while. So it's possible Marvel dusted off some of these characters/title names just to establish active use, and the timing of when they fell out of use the first time and when they came back just coincidentally falls into/contributes to the larger "back to the Bronze Age!" aesthetic.

    7. I don't know about Heroes for Hire, Kazar and others, but I do remember reading in either Wizard or Hero Illustrated that trademark concerns were the reason for The New Mutants: Truth or Death series being created. Which explains its throwaway nature, at least to me. So I guess that's probably true of those other titles.

      Of course, Marvel would have also delighted at the idea of enticing lapsed readers with a fondness for the '70s who had been very vocal about their distaste for the "Extreme Decade."

  2. I’m amused by Shang-Chi — more floridly but otherwise with pinpoint accuracy — nailing the series’ old log-line as he ruminates upon how the X-Men are “branded outlaws for the miraculous powers granted them by a genetic twist of fate… [yet] have nonetheless chosen to use their gifts to protect the same humanity that seeks to eradicate them.”

    1. "It was such a pleasure to meet Cyclops, Phoenix, Wolverine, Storm, Cannonball. Children of the atom, students of Charles Xavier, mutants!"

    2. The "Welcome to Hong-Kong, X-Men. You will not survive the experience" line it is also Based on the "Welcome to the X-Men, [SPECIAL GUEST CHARACTER NAME], Hope you will survise the experience" phrase which has been used several times.

  3. This was the first issue I read after an involuntary 8 month break. As I had only been reading comics since '89 I had no clue who Shang-Chi was. Still, it was a fun way to come back and I remember this short arc fondly.

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  5. Given that this issue marks the beginning of Carlos Pacheco's run as the series' new regular artist, and I see some commenters praising his art, I regret to inform you that Carlos Pacheco has revealed recently through social media that he has been diagnosed ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis).


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