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Tuesday, November 29, 2022

X-amining X-Force #64

"The Haunting of Castle Doom"
March 1997

In a Nutshell

Writer: John Francis Moore
Penciler: Anthony Castrillo & Mark Pajarillo
Inkers: John Holdredge & Marlo Alquiza
Letterer: Richard Starkings & Comicraft
Colorist: Marie Javins
Editor-in-Chief: Bob Harras

In the present, Warpath, Sunspot, and Caliban watch in shock as Castle Doom suddenly disappears, though their Latverian companions are unperturbed, saying this sort of thing happens all the time in Latveria; one of them even saw ghosts while working in the castle as a young girl. Back in 1941, Dimitri Fortunov is stunned to realize they have arrived in the time when his cruel grandfather Baron Sabbat ruled Latveria. Sabbat is reluctantly hosting Baron Wolfgang Strucker of Hydra, who is testing a new machine designed to harness the powers of the cosmos. Nathanial Richards realizes it is that device which is preventing him from resynching Doom's time machine and sending the time traveler's home. Appearing as ghosts to the people living in 1941, X-Force works to destroy the machine, in the process staving off an assassination attempt on Sabbat by Strucker. Once Rictor manages to destroy Hydra's machine, everyone — as well as Castle Doom — returns to the present day. Cable destroys the time machine, telling Bridge SHIELD can do as it pleases with the rest of Doom's technology. Bridge surprisingly lets Cable and X-Force walk away without a fight, while Cable parts on friendly terms with Nathanial Richards, not knowing that Richards has his own agenda. 

Firsts and Other Notables
In the past, X-Force helps stop Baron Von Strucker (the guy Xavier and Magneto fought in Uncanny X-Men #161 and who would later father Fenris, everyone's favorite incestuous euro-trash mutant twins) from seizing control of Latveria and developing a "Storm-Catcher" machine that would "harness the power of the cosmos". The whole thing is presented as a closed loop, ie X-Force always time traveled to that point in time and stopped Strucker's plots. 

The issue concludes on an ominous note involving Nathanial Richards signing deal with the devil, but this seems like Moore tossing out a tease without having any concrete plans for it, as it never comes up again (or anywhere else) as far as I know.  

A Work in Progress
Shatterstar describes himself as "the reincarnation of a warrior born in the future", which I don't think is quite what that perplexing Shatterstar story meant to establish, but is definitely more straightforward than whatever it actually established.  

Sunspot mentions that he doesn't believe in ghosts, which seems like a weird thing for a character to say who has experienced everything he has experienced. 

Amidst the talk of ghosts and missing teammates, Warpath briefly reminisces about his deceased brother, Thunderbird. 

To the EXTREME!!!
Despite his personal dislike of Cable and their technical status as fugitives, GW Bridge lets X-Force walk away without a fight at the end of the issue, further cementing their status at this point as something more akin to a standard superhero team that operates fast and loose with the law vs. a team comprised of federal fugitives being actively pursued by SHIELD and their like. 

Austin's Analysis
This is one of those issues that is hard to write about. It concludes the story begun in the previous issue well enough (if a bit rushed, but that's hard to avoid in a two-parter). It has the same flaws (too many characters overshadowing X-Force) and strengths (it's fun to see X-Force playing in the wider Marvel Universe). The art, by 90s standards, is clear with strong fundamentals but lacking in style and panache. X-Force mostly sounds like themselves, but also aren't asked to do much more than serve the advancement of the plot. In the context of 1997, this story is almost quaint, the kind of thing that countless series would do at the height of the Bronze Age but was becoming increasingly less common. And there's definitely some charm to that quiet quaintness, especially in the wake of "Onslaught" and the looming specter of "Operation: Zero Tolerance". Just as this story is part of a seeming larger effort to integrate the X-books into the wider Marvel Universe at this time, it's also part of a similar seeming effort to bring some classic formalism to the X-line between sprawling crossovers. It's hard to get too excited about an issue like this, but it's hard to criticize it much, either. It's basically a high floor, low ceiling issue, which is at least somewhat notable in this era. 

Next Issue
Deadpool creeps on Siryn in Deadpool #3!

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  1. These are the kinds of stories I dismissed as a youth but appreciate as an adult. A kind of low stakes adventure sandwhiched betweem larger stories. It's just unfortunate that the larger stories in this case are crossovers.

    While the art on display isn't going to impress anyone it's certainly better than the art in some of the other books. The ones that look like they were pulled from an amateur self-published comic. This art actually appears professional and polished. Even if it's lacking some flair.

    And I agree with you about Bobby's statement. I did struggle for a few moments trying to remember if Bobby had encountered any ghosts by this point but I'm drawing a blank. I think Thereasa Cassidy may have in a back-up story but not Bobby. Unless you count Franklin Richards in Days of Future Present.

    1. I too dismissed these as a youth, and enjoy them more as an adult. Just not as an adult who has tasked himself with coming up with something interesting to say about all them. ;)

      I did struggle for a few moments trying to remember if Bobby had encountered any ghosts by this point but I'm drawing a blank.

      I too couldn't think of an immediate "Bobby has seen a ghost before!" gotcha, but it still seems odd given all that he has seen. I mean, one of his best friends was an Asgardian death maiden for a good long while, so it's not that far a leap to "maybe ghosts are real".

  2. The art here gets the job done and each character shows expression and is easy to recognize. The color pallet helps with this. I'd take everything here over the majority of art and stories I see in books today.

  3. Basically, it's perfectly cromulent.

    And yes, with everything Bobby has seen so far - Asgard, the Beyonder, various aliens, time travel, etc - are ghosts really that shocking?

  4. I’d completely forgotten the Byrne impression that Anthony Castrillo was doing.


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