I’ve been working on an extended history of the X-Men following the main team’s 45 year history. As I sat down to work on it, I realized there was quite a bit in the way of details that I had forgotten, so I went back and started to re-read the series. With my biggest hole in knowledge falling in the mid-90s, I created a reading order list for the two main titles (Uncanny and X-Men) and got to it. Why it took me so long to realize that this would be a good time to work on From the Box is anyone’s guess. But I digress – let’s move on.
This storyline comes at somewhat of a transition point for the X-Men. Falling after Onslaught but just before Operation: Zero Tolerance, the story is basically using three issues to kill time while reminding everyone that the plot point of the Legacy Virus is still out there. Another transition point is that Scott Lobdell was still pulling double duty on the X-Titles, as a replacement for Mark Waid had not yet been added, so while Lobdell was handling plot, Ben Raab took scripting duty. I am familiar with Raab as the closing writer for Excalibur, having the unenviable task of following up an enjoyable run by Warren Ellis. Tough luck, man.
But the main story on the creative team is that it’s the debut issue on art for Carlos Pacheco, and to celebrate the occasion, #62 was released with two covers – both by Pacheco. Even though the book was in its 60s by this point (issue count, not age), Pacheco was just the third regular artist for the title, following Andy Kubert, who came in when Jim Lee left the book. Pacheco would stick around for a year before heading off for other projects, and it was more often good art for Marvel’s merry mutants.
The story features an odd grouping of the X-Men in Cyclops, Wolverine, Phoenix, Storm and Cannonball as the rest of the team – Rogue, Gambit, Beast, Bishop and Joseph – had been sent to Shi’ar space over in Uncanny. These X-Men answer a summons from an old acquaintance of Wolverine’s, but come across a battle between Shang-Chi (Master of Kung–Fu!) and a bunch of ninjas. No, really. Wolverine helps out, threatens Shang for no reason, then all is explained and they go after the fabled Elixir Vitae of Shang-Chi’s father, which may or may not be able to cure the Legacy Virus.
Now let me stop right there, because that’s really all you need to know about this story. Nothing else substantial happens. The X-Men come across a very-much alive Sebastian Shaw who sends them to Wilson Fisk (Kingpin) who actually has the Elixir, then after Shaw and Fisk threaten each other, Storm blows the whole thing up and no one gets anything. Seriously – that’s it. There’s not really even a climactic moment to finish it up – Storm gets tired of waiting for one and blows everything up. The X-Men fly home and all is fine.
There were 2.5 character returns in this story, in Shang-Chi, Kingpin and half of one to Shaw, who had actually returned to life quite a while earlier in the pages of X-Force. Shang-Chi served no purpose in the story, aside from lending his father’s Elixir to the story. For those of you not up on your Marvel B-listers, Shang-Chi’s father was Fu Manchu, though by this point Marvel no longer had the rights to use his name, so he was simply referred to as “your father”. Kingpin had been chucked from the New York underworld by Daredevil, though I have no idea as to his timeline, so I couldn’t tell you how this all lined up. Apparently, though, this was a big deal. To my knowledge, this remains the only interaction between Wilson Fisk and the X-Men, but I’ll fact check myself later.
What really makes this story suck, though, is the writing. Lobdell’s plot is pretty thin, and Raab’s script is downright awful. I cannot recall a storyline in which more exposition has been tossed out in page after page. An entire page is used for Kingpin to share through inner-monologue the entire history of Hong Kong. Shang Chi thinks about the X-Men’s mission statement once per issue. He starts calling Storm ‘wind-rider’ right after he meets her. He also refers to the Legacy Virus as that thing he had been hearing so much of in the news, though the X-Men had just explained it all to him a few minutes prior. Cannonball repeatedly refers to himself as the ‘greenest’ of the X-Men (demonstrating how badly the character was handled at this point) and both Wolverine and Jubilee (in an O:ZT interlude) take turns mentioning that he is the best at what he does.
Pacheco’s art is the bright point of this story, as all of his characters are quite nice to look at, though Phoenix and Storm have a bit of the overly rounded look (if you catch my drift) that was so prevalent in the 90s. His Wolverine looks awful, but that’s hardly his fault. This was during the time when somebody thought it would be a good idea to devolve Wolverine into a beast-like humanoid, and give him a perpetually ripped costume with bandana. He looked strange in it, and downright horrible with ‘street clothes’ on. Fortunately, just after O:ZT, the look was abandoned and Wolverine returned to being human.
This story is recommended only for completists and those wondering just how the X-Men got on a plane for the start of O:ZT. Other than that, try to stay upwind from this one. It’s a stinker.