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Wednesday, May 29, 2024

X-amining Uncanny X-Men #344

May 1997

In a Nutshell
The X-Men battle the Phalanx for the fate of the Shi'ar Empire

Writer: Scott Lobdell
Guest Penciler: Melvin Rubi
Inkers: Joe Weems with Scott Hanna, Marlo Alquiza, Harry Candelario & Tim Townsend
Letters: Richard Starkings & Comicraft
Colors: Steve Buccellato
Editor-in-Chief: Bob Harras

With the Phalanx already in control of the Shi'ar royal palace, the X-Men arrive to rescue Lilandra. They realize the Phalanx are targeting the hatchery, home to the next generation of Shi'ar. Rogue dispatches Bishop and Deathbird to defend it, while Beast works to devise a way to separate the Phalanx techno parts from the organic ones. On Earth, Senator Kelly meets Henry Peter Gyrich at the Hulkbuster headquarters of Operation: Zero Tolerance. Despite his own anti-mutant sentiments, Kelly is growing concerned about the amount of power Bastion has amassed. Back at the Shi'ar palace, Bishop and Deathbird grow closer as they defend the hatchery. At the palace, the sight of all the dead Shi'ar triggers Joseph's memories of the Holocaust, and he attacks, blowing the X-Men's cover. Rogue and Gambit join the fray after him, until Beast succeeds in shutting down the Phalanx. 
Firsts and Other Notables
The cover of Uncanny X-Men #344 features speech bubbles on it. This is the first time speech bubbles have appeared on a cover of Uncanny X-Men since issue #273. It is also the last time any speech bubbles will appear on an issue of this series at least through the end of its first volume with issue #544 (I didn't look any further past that, but barring any kind of retro variant cover or something like that in subsequent volumes, I bet it stands as the last Uncanny issue with speech bubbles on the cover). 

In a scene that quietly lays some of the groundwork for the ultimate resolution of the "Operation: Zero Tolerance" storyline, even staunch anti-mutant advocates Henry Peter Gyrich and Senator Kelly express their misgivings about Bastion and the reach/power of his organization. 

More groundwork laying comes in the form of the Bishop and Deathbird team-up, as the pair start to recognize a mutual attraction between them, which will play a role Bishop's forthcoming exit from the series. 

Creator Central
Joe Madureira is off this issue, leaving fill-in duties to Mel Rubi (another artist who pops up as a frequent X-book fill-in guy around this time) and a cadre of inkers. 

A Work in Progress
The Phalanx attacking the Shi'ar have a sleeker, darker look to them, more akin to the futuristic Sentinels from the Days of Future Past movie than their Warlock-esque predecessors

While Joseph isn't able to single-handedly defeat the Phalanx, in part because of their Borg-like ability to adapt to his energy signature, it does underscore how Magneto was off the board (as a result of Professor Xavier's mindwipe) for the "Phalanx Covenant", leaving the heavy magnetic lifting for Polaris (which never really got much play cuz her side of the crossover focused more on Forge and Wolfsbane). 

The X-Men ultimately win when Beast is able to devise a signal which causes the Phalanx to separate into their composite parts — technological and organic — with neither being able to survive without the other (the word "dominion" is also used in relation to the Phalanx, a word that has greater meaning given recent events). 

Austin's Analysis
It's amazing what a difference the absence of Joe Madureira makes. This entire story arc is, in the grand scheme of things, relatively slight. Once a threat that drove an entire nine part crossover, the Phalanx spend most of this story as a mounting threat in the background, only to be dispatched in the space of a few pages in Uncanny X-Men #344 by an ad hoc team of five X-Men, one reporter, and an injured Deathbird. But for the most part, the previous chapters of the story got by thanks to the presence of Joe Mad injecting energy and innovation into the issues. Given the ho-hum resolution of the plot here, that is needed more than ever. 

Yet with Madureira gone, it's left to Mel Rubi — doing his best Joe Mad-by-way-of-Jim-Lee impression — and a small army of inkers to wrap it up. The end result lacks the verve Madureira brought to the previous chapters. The settings and backgrounds are generic. The figures consistently drawn in a middle range between closeup wide shots, robbing them of both emotion and grandeur. These Phalanx lack the asymmetrical body horror element of the Earthbound ones, making them a far more visually bland antagonist. Ultimately, Rubi and co.'s work is both competent enough to get the job done, and not exciting enough to make up for the limitations of the paper thin plot. 

Next Issue
Nate joins the Brotherhood in X-Man #27!

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  1. It's no small wonder X-Men '97 adapted OZT instead of this storyline!

  2. "The cover of Uncanny X-Men #344"

    The cover is quite possibly the best thing about this issue.

    "The Phalanx attacking the Shi'ar have a sleeker, darker look to them"

    Most probably inspired by Madureira's being influenced by manga and anime at the time.

    Yeah the Phalanx were beaten rather easily here, which given how much of a threat they were built up previously, is really kind of a downgrade for them.

    This storyline being so...meh, overall, pretty much sums up the two X-men titles (and the possibly the line overall in general) at the time. As much as I dislike the post-AOA/pre-Onslaught era, at least it provoked some reactions from me, whereas the post-Onslaught/pre-OZT era was just so bland and again, so meh.


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