It’s really hard to be an X-Men fan right now. At least it is for me, and I’ve been through some pretty awful periods of the X-Men. Two weeks ago, I said on Generation X was doing me in. Then last week, Iceman threw me a pretty hard stinker. This week – well, let’s just get to it. We’re looking at:
- Cable #153 in which one of the poorer 90’s stories gets dug up and made worse.
- Phoenix Resurrection The Return of Jean Grey #3 in which the X-Men continue to wait for the series to end so they can get Jean Grey back to start X-Men Red.
- X-Men Blue #19 in which some back peddling is done with the teenage X-Men.
- X-Men Gold Annual #1 in which the old Excalibur team reunites for the return of a story that didn’t involve a single one of them.
I also picked up the latest issue of Archie, but I’m going to cover that book in a separate post. It’s actually really good.
So SPOILER WARNING and all that.
If I had to go back and pick the most 90’s of the 90’s-era X-Men stories that we’re retreading now, I would have to look at a) forgettable concepts with strange one-dimensional characters that b) were said to be a big deal but ultimately did nothing and c) were not spoken of since pretty much 1997. I would pick three finalists: the Upstarts, the Mutant Liberation Front, and the Externals. The latter two were creations of the Rob Liefeld-era X-Force. And guess who else was from that era? I’ll give you a hint. His name is in bold right above this paragraph.
So now that James Robinson is gone from this title after it’s first story, we’ve pretty much dropped the premise established to instead turn it into a tribute band of the Liefeld/Nicieza X-Force. It involves Cable scraping together a ragtag group of random X-Men characters who look cool and throwing that at one dimensional villains who have no purpose beyond being the villains. Here, it’s the return of the Externals – the band of immortal mutants who had high plans for society that never amounted to anything before they all died off of the Legacy Virus or were killed by Selene. They weren’t very get at being immortal. Except they’re back now, because we can’t do an Externals story if the Externals aren’t alive in it, am I right?
Originally, the Externals concept was a story running through the background of the late issues of New Mutants into its transition to X-Force in which a group of shady immortal mutants were running a sort of Illuminati-style empire throughout some “major” concepts in the X-World. Kind of like a new Hellfire Club, but not in the way that the Upstarts were also a new Hellfire Club, being that these mutants were a) immortal and b) called the Externals instead of the Upstarts.
The main character of this was named Gideon, who murdered Emmanuel DaCosta, father of Sunspot, so Roberto could inherit his father’s empire under Gideon’s guidance. Because Roberto was believed to be an External, and once brought into the fold, his huge empire and fortune would come with it. The problem with that came when the newfound Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, led by Toad (remember that one?), attacked X-Force and Sauron killed Cannonball by skewering him with his wing. Cable, as it turns out, was waiting for this to happen, as he had originally come back in time to the New Mutants for this incident and Cannonball woke up from being dead, fit as a bluegrass fiddle, because he was an External.
Except he wasn’t, really, as later writers came to reveal. And then the Externals all died. And then everyone forgot to ask how Cannonball had recovered from death. And Cable’s whole point to coming back from the future was kind of ignored when he was revealed to be the clone of Stryfe, who was the real son of Cyclops and Madelyne Pryor. Until he wasn’t actually a clone, but the actual son. This is the era of X-Men we are currently celebrating.
Oh, I now realize that I haven’t really covered what actually happened in the issue. So Gideon, who has been dead for a long time, wakes up to the company of a sexy robot from a glass coffin sitting in the middle of a desert or something in the year 5348, then wanders around the world until the year 5361 until he comes to the ruins of Central Park, in which the X-Mansion is still standing, and pulls open a locker which is holding “one of Cable’s robot arms” which apparently has a time machine in it, which he uses to travel back to the present. I think he wants revenge or something.
If you had told me when I started this blog that I would be reviewing a 2017 comic about the Externals that makes the early 90’s ones seem good, I would have probably smacked you.
For one, why is Gideon’s glass coffin floating in the middle of a desert? Two, who is the sexy robot and why is she there waiting for Gideon to revive?
Three, how does the X-Mansion manage to survive in simply merely a mildly condemned state 3350 years into the future? I’m going to come back to this entry the very issue that the X-Mansion moves from Central Park. BECAUSE YOU KNOW IT’S GOING TO MOVE.
Four, why was Cable’s robot arm just sitting in a locker in the mansion?
Okay, wait. Why does someone who gets paid to professionally write the character with an editorial staff think that that’s how Cable’s arm works? The point of Cable’s arm is that it was an infection of the techno-organic virus. It’s the reason he was sent into the future to begin with. The infection was held in check by his telekinesis, which is why he wasn’t able to fully utilize his potential as a psych, which is why he had to depend on using all of the enormous guns.
I’m pretty sure he managed to cure his infection at one point, basically just giving him a metal arm, but I’m also pretty sure that the cure was undone later. I know that the infection came back up during Second Coming, which was after the fact. What I’m trying to say here is that it’s not a “robot arm”. Just like his father doesn’t have “heat vision”.
This book sucks. There is little to do redeeming factors to it, unless you just enjoy looking at pictures of Cable.
PHOENIX RESURRECTION THE RETURN OF JEAN GREY
I handled the previous issue last week, and there’s not really a lot more to say about it. The X-Men are still standing around for the Phoenix to show up (even though the Phoenix has already shown up). Again, they complain about how much Cerebro would help if they ONLY had a psychic around to help them use it. But all of their psychics (unless you count Psylocke, who’s napping, and Prestige who…hasn’t really appeared or been mentioned since issue one, or any of the other psychics whose presence would make this story not work) are missing because of the events going on in Jean Grey.
So, lacking any other options, Kitty swallows her Pryde and goes to the recently-turned-evil lady herself, Emma Frost, back in her sexy White Queen look. Which is really lucky since last we saw Emma, she was all tied up with…let me check my notes here…THE EXACT SAME THING THAT HAPPENED TO ALL THE MISSING PSYCHICS. She even says it to them. So apparently, the X-Men have been waiting around for an issue and a half for a missing psychic to show up so they can find Phoenix until they get bored and go ask one of the missing psychics. It’s like falling down a well and after failing in all attempts to escape, simply going home to get a ladder.
Thankfully, Emma tells them that Jean is already back and she’s on a random plateau in New Mexico. And you may be asking me why would she be there?
Well here’s the thing that is the case with this story. And it was also pretty true about the previous telling of this same story back in AvX. To tell a new Phoenix story, apparently the creative team just pulled a trade of the original Dark Phoenix Saga and maybe the first appearance of the issue and flipped through it. They picked up all the familiar terms, like Jamiaca Bay, and the space shuttle, and the New Mexico plateau, and are using them in this story so all the people who have read that go “oh, I remember!”.
But here’s the thing. The original Dark Phoenix story took place in 1983. That was, as of this writing, 35 years ago. In those 35 years, there has been a lot of development of the story of the Phoenix. One of the key parts of that story, that no one seems to ever remember now, is that the original Dark Phoenix was not Jean Grey. It was the actual Phoenix Force, taking a human form based on Jean Grey who herself was placed in a healing cocoon in the bottom of Jamaica Bay. To this point, that has never been undone. Jean eventually got the memories of that time, but she herself was not that character.
So here, we have Emma reveal that when she was bonking Scott Summers, she got all up in his brain and found that the most special event he ever shared with Jean Grey was a moment just before the X-Men’s ill-fated assault on the Hellfire Club in which he had a passionate plateau-top evening in which she telekinetically held his optic blasts in check so she could look into his actual eyes. She was really powerful.
Of course, X-Factor kind of swept all the importance of that time with Phoenix away when she struggled to resume her life, her place amongst the original team, and her relationship with Scott while showing that she and the Phoenix were two different people. But of course, no one cares about any stories the X-Men have ever told unless they were Dark Phoenix, Days of Future Past, or on an episode of the 90’s cartoon. Because no one bothers with the incredible history that Marvel touts about its universe. Only nerds care about that. Nerds who blog.
So another issue down, and just two more to go before we can finally ignore this story just like all of the others when the next writer in another book doesn’t bother to read what comes before.
Now this one is getting a little interesting…as long as you don’t think about any other issue going on, but I’ll get to that in a second. As you might recall, the original concept of this team was that the current Beast went back in time and scooped up the original X-Men as teenagers and brought them to the present to make a point to Cyclops. It was a pretty awful idea.
The kids stuck around for awhile, but eventually traveled back to their past, only to find themselves still in the timeline, fighting the X-fight as if they had never left. It was assumed that because they had changed during their time in the present, they could no longer seamlessly return to their own time, and basically the timeline had repaired itself by kind of putting them back in it so they could grow up to be the present X-Men. The out-of-time kids basically became unique characters by having a past of their own that required their time travel. It would have been a way, as good as any other, to keep the teenage versions in the present while not worrying about how to eventually fix the past.
Now there’s a little bit of back peddling going on, if that was actually the concept at all. As it turns out, the X-Men they had seen in action weren’t actually themselves, but impostors disguised as the X-Men, apparently in an attempt to take their place, I guess? The actual Professor X has been kidnapped and wired into Cerebro to do their bidding by the future evil X-Men team introduced a while back. It’s got the cute girl from Runaways in it as a grown-up.
Now the idea is that the X-Men had simply assumed that the timeline had fixed itself and were actually dumb to think that and can theoretically remain in the past. Xavier might even have summoned them to him. They also have the Silver Age Magneto with them, who is still in his “kill the heroes, rule the world” maniacal version, which is pretty fun. And actually, it’s an interesting direction for this crew to be going into. I don’t think having two versions of the original X-Men is a good idea, and the concept has pretty much run its course, especially if you’re going to be bringing the real Jean Grey back.
The only problem I see here is that the teenage Jean Grey has a completely different story going on in her solo book, which directly leads into (or is supposed to, at least) to the Phoenix story that is going to be in X-Men Red. How does this one fit into that? If she’s needed for that story in the present, then obviously this one in the past isn’t going to have lasting ramifications. So what happens?
X-MEN GOLD ANNUAL
I wanted to be excited about this issue when I saw the cover. An Alan Davis-drawn Excalibur reunion? AWESOME. Unfortunately, he only drew the cover. But that’s okay – I loved the original Excalibur run, and a fun little adventure with them might be nice for an annual.
The book lost me on it’s first page.
That one page set up the entire issue. You grab an old story, bring back the defeated villain, and have him go after the same goal. Told right, even a forgettable single-issue second-coming-of-Claremont villain can have fun run, especially in the goofiness of an Excalibur setting.
There’s just one problem.
You see, I didn’t remember a story from Uncanny X-Men in which a survivor of the murdered asparagus race from the Dark Phoenix Saga sought revenge. And I thought it would be weird that he would have come after Rachel Grey, especially in a story in the late 300’s of Uncanny. You see, Rachel, who was still a Summers at the time, got booted from the Marvel present and flung into the distant future in an issue of Excalibur just after the Fatal Attractions crossover. That was when Uncanny was in its early 300’s. Rachel did not appear in another issue of Uncanny until far later. She wasn’t even brought back to the present until Chris Claremont was wrapping up X-Treme X-Men, then was brought into the cast of Uncanny in the mid 400’s. That’s where she took the last name of Grey, as a thumb in the nose to Cyclops.
So what was this issue of Uncanny X-Men that was being referenced here? Fortunately, I own every issue of Uncanny from #180 until it’s end, so I simply opened the longbox and pulled the issue. That’s actually what those little *see issue marks are for. You know, why they put them on the page of the story they are writing. So you can go back and look at the earlier story to see that it happened in the way that makes the current story work.
To actually read the story so you can see and make sure that it happened in the way that makes the current story work.
So that issue, Uncanny X-Men #387:
There’s a pretty good reason that I didn’t remember what happened in this issue: it was pretty forgettable. This was during the time just at the turn of the millennium just after the first X-Men movie had come out in which Chris Claremont had been welcomed back with open arms to the book he had put on the map and given full control of both titles to do whatever he wanted. And he put out some pretty mediocre stuff. This was at the tail end of it, just before he got booted to create X-Treme X-Men while Grant Morrison took over the flagship and launched it to another dimension.
And, going back through the issue, it was some basic second-coming Claremont stuff. Old concepts from long ago that he brought back like the Xavier/Lilandra romance and the Starjammers, and the asparagus people murdered by the Dark Phoenix. This issue finally gave them some revenge, when one of their survivors decided to get his revenge on Phoenix, only to find that the actual one that had wiped out his planet wasn’t actually the one he found, not that it really mattered to him. Revenge was revenge, right?
Unfortunately for today’s story, the one he found wasn’t Rachel either.
You see, this old issue of Uncanny actually does the very thing that I constantly complain that Marvel doesn’t do anymore. It goes back to the source story, then develops a new one also using what has gone on since. Yes, Starhammer does come to Earth looking to eliminate Phoenix for revenge. But he instead finds the actual Jean Grey, who tries to explain to him the story of what happened when the Phoenix Force copied her and went mad. It was the Phoenix Force in her guise that had destroyed his planet. In doing so, the story tells the reader who might not have followed up on the later stuff what actually took place, reminding newer fans that their hero here was not the villain of old.
Of course, revenge is revenge, so when he won’t hear of it, she mind-whammies him into thinking that he had actually succeeded, then sent him on his way, never to be seen again. He got his revenge and his peace, and she got to live on without having to pay the penalty for someone else’s crime. It was a fairly decent story, and far better than the later one that Claremont did in which some Shi’ar commandos show up and murder every relative Jean Grey ever had so that they can never be the Phoenix again. Or something. That happened too.
So now you have this story, in which Starhammer’s mind whammy wears off and he is disgraced when he finds out that he didn’t actually avenge his people and goes off to do it again. Except, the creative staff of this issue didn’t do what I did in the span of about 5 minutes. You know, READ THE SOURCE MATERIAL AND MAKE SURE THAT THE CHARACTER YOU ARE USING IS THE CHARACTER THAT THE STORY REQUIRES.
Rachel Grey was not the one that Starhammer came after. Rachel Grey did not wield the Phoenix Force at that time. Rachel Grey was not in existence at that point of space and time. And you know what? I would almost be willing to give this the benefit of the doubt and just chalk it up as a weak concept if a) the issue itself did not specifically point me to the issue to learn of this mistake or b) finish up by having Rachel remember who Starhammer was and what she had done to him. And by she, I mean the real Jean Grey, who is not back from the dead yet.
The entire story is based upon that interaction, and it is such a simple, yet completely fatal mistake that it killed the entire story for me. How can this be allowed to happen in a professional organization? And why do I keep asking that question week after week?
Oh, but the Braddocks have rebuilt the Excalibur lighthouse, if anyone cares. I’m pretty sure that sits on a portal between the multiverse, but don’t quote me on that. I’m really rusty on my Alan Davis Excalibur. Not like anyone cares about getting the details right anyway.