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Wednesday, February 8, 2023

X-amining X-Men Unlimited #14

March 1997

In a Nutshell
Franklin Richards deals with the aftermath of "Onslaught". 

Writer: Terry Kavanagh
Pencils: Jim Cheung
Inks: Andrew Pepoy
Letterer: Richard Starkings & Comicraft
Colorist: Kevin Somerset
Editor: Kelly Corevese
Editor-in-Chief: Bob Harras

Franklin Richards is having nightmares of his family disappearing and being replaced by the man he blames for their deaths, Joseph. In the morning, he wakes and is comforted by his friends Artie and Leech. All three boys are visiting Beast's childhood home along with Beast, Gambit, and Storm. Later that morning, Beast's father Norton invites the kids on a tractor ride. Meanwhile, in the nearby town of Dunfee, a group of men led by Grange Janssen discuss the recent assassination of Graydon Creed and the influx of mutants like Hank McCoy in their town. Grange decides its time they do something about it. Back at the McCoy farm, Franklin uses his powers to disable the tractor, creating an opening that allows the boys to run off into the woods. Gambit warns Storm, but when she flies off to find the boys, she is shot by Grange and his posse, who capture Artie and Leech as well as Beast when he intervenes. Unaware of his friends' capture, Franklin uses his powers to teleport Joseph to him, then attacks, angrily holding him responsible for the death of his family. Joseph is confused, but unable and unwilling to overpower Franklin. In the woods, the police arrive and defuse the situation, arresting Grange and his posse. Out in the field, Gambit comes to Joseph's defense and helps convince Franklin not to kill Joseph. But by then, Franklin's power has grown out of his control, and it takes the timely arrival of Leech, delivered by Beast, to shut it down. Having at least made peace with Joseph, Franklin resumes playing with his friends. 

Firsts and Other Notables
X-Men Unlimited #14 represents more or less the most direct examination of Franklin Richards' grief post-Onslaught that we're going to get (though the character will continue to hang around the fringes of the X-office until "Heroes Return" brings back his family). Said examination comes mostly in the form of him yelling and throwing energy at Joseph. 

The ball next to Franklin on the cover of the issue is presumably the same one which appeared at the end of Onslaught: Marvel Universe and which will later be revealed to contain the contents of the "Heroes Reborn" universe. 

Art comes from Jim Cheung, still not quite yet Jim Cheung (but close), just ahead of his work on the Maverick solo series. 

Chronology Corner
Franklin, Artie, and Leech appear here between Generation X #20 and #25, just before the events of the Daydreamers miniseries. Joseph, Beast, and Gambit appear before Uncanny X-Men #341 and their subsequent outer space adventure, while Storm appears before the Shang-Chi/Hong Kong story in Adjectiveless as well her upcoming appearances in Wolverine.

A Work in Progress
Joseph mentions that he is working on the Z'Nox Chamber, a reference to his efforts to use it to nullify Rogue's powers, as revealed in Uncanny X-Men #341.

Intentionally or not, this issue reads a little bit like a prologue to Shi'ar story unfolding in Uncanny X-Men, given Beast, Gambit, and Joseph are all on hand for it. 

Human/Mutant Relations
Beast's mom tells him about his dad believes things are getting worse for mutants. 

Austin's Analysis
Given the events of Onslaught: Marvel Universe seemingly wiped out his entire family and the majority of his family's co-workers, a story focusing on Franklin Richards in the wake of those events makes a lot of sense, and with the core Fantastic Four and Avengers off in "Heroes Reborn", doing it in one of the X-books also makes a lot of sense (particularly since Generation X is already featuring the character). A double-sized issue of the quarterly anthology series, then, becomes the perfect vehicle for this kind of story. 

Yet for all that, X-Men Unlimited #14 is a disappointment. Some of that comes down to genre expectations: while Franklin is at the center of the story and does get to express some grief (and rage) towards Joseph, the issue also apparently needs to find time for a handful of other X-Men and a plot involving the bigoted elements of Beast's hometown targeting Artie and Leech, in order to get in the seemingly requisite number of punch-'em-up pages. The story is also complicated by the fact that Joseph gets roped into being the strawman for Onslaught somewhat unfairly and quizzically; if anything, Franklin should be more mad at the X-Men as proxies for Xavier than Joseph as a proxy for Magneto, given it's not like Magneto asked Xavier to wipe his mind and create an opening for his evil impish essence to infect Xavier. Maybe we chalk this up to Franklin being eight, or awash with grief, or simply being unwilling to bite the hand that is currently feeding him (literally and metaphorically) in the X-Men so he's lashing out at Joseph instead. Either way, it muddies the story and its presentation of Franklin's emotional state and any catharsis he might experience.  

Perhaps at the end of the day, for all the sense doing a story like this seems to make, a one-off issue of the quarterly anthology series that is part of the most commercially viable franchise in superhero comics in 1997 simply isn't the best place for a complex examination of a young child's post-traumatic stress disorder. Or maybe Terry Kavanagh simply isn't the correct writer for the job (he almost certainly isn't). Either way, the end result is another lackluster X-Men Unlimited issue, albeit one that gets some credit for intention even if the execution is ultimately muddled and disappointing. 

Next Issue
The X-Men's Hong Kong adventure continues in X-Men (vol. 2) #63!

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  1. I was a fan of the moppets (as Jay and Miles call them) in Gen X but was, like the author, underwhelmed by this. Poor Joseph just gets grief everywhere it seems...

    Liked the Jim Cheung art though, having recently read the Maverick series its interesting to see his early stuff

  2. Hmm. I was going to say that like you, Austin, I can’t disagree that a story on this subject was broadly speaking a good idea but that X-Men Unlimited — admittedly in large part because I didn’t read the main titles — seemed far more interesting to me in its anthology phase, letting unexpected creators take a stab at shorts featuring the various characters in that stable; then I clicked through the series at the GCD and found that it didn’t become that until way later in its life than I had thought.

    1. It seemed like Marvel didn't know what to do with the Unlimited book for the last 20 issues or so of that run. While I can appreciate the anthology format it also made it feel less essential. That's not to say there weren't some good stories. There absolutely was, it just felt very separated from the rest of the line.

    2. Since I wasn’t reading the other X-titles, I likely appreciated the experimental nature of the anthology content more than someone who looked to the series as a place for stories that tied into the larger saga playing out in the monthly books at the time if not actively crossing over with them the way I think Spider-Man Unlimited did for, say, “Maximum Carnage”. I bought a few issues based on creative matchups. For that very reason, I suspect retailers didn’t love the nature of the series during that stretch, although I just took another look at the GCD and found that its frequency went from not even quarterly to monthly for its final year of publication, so I guess either there was inventory to burn through or completists stuck with it until they didn’t.

    3. The page count was also decreasing as the book shipped more regularly, it must be remembered. The book started out as a quarterly title with 68 pages of content. It moved to a mostly bi-monthly title with 48 pages per issue. By the point where it was monthly, it had decreased to a comic with the regular page count.


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