Wednesday, February 12, 2014

I've Got the Runs: Scott Lobdell's Uncanny X-Men #286-350

When people write about legendary X-Men storytellers, they usually start with Chris “Pappy” Claremont, who took one of Lee and Kirby’s lesser efforts, stripped out what he had no use for and told 16 years of generally brilliant long-form, interweaving arcs.

Then they talk about Grant Morrison, who brought a dark, leather-jacket wearing, indie sensibility to New X-Men, gave Charles Xavier an evil twin, killed Jean Grey (A-gain) and made us care about a guy who looked like a sickly chicken.

But there’s a third guy, in between those two, one who fell into fortune as Marvel saw a mass exodus of talent in the early 1990s and ended up guiding its then-top franchise through most of the decade. And making Colossus miserable.

The story of how Scott Lobdell took over Uncanny is the stuff of legend. In short: He happened to be walking past editor Bob Harras just as Harras needed somebody to finish some X-scripts in 1992. Scripting turned to full-on writing duties at the tail-end of a revolving-door period in which Claremont, Jim Lee, Whilce Portacio and John Byrne all left the X-books.

What follows is six years of crossovers: 1992’s “X-Cutioner’s Song” (Stryfe attacks Xavier, cripples Apocalypse, kidnaps Cyclops and Jean Grey and claims they’re his parents), 1993’s “Fatal Attractions” (Magneto founds Avalon, convinces Colossus to join the Acolytes during his sister’s funeral), 1994’s “Phalanx Covenant” (introduces Generation X), 1995’s “Age of Apocalypse” (creates an alternate reality ruled by En Sabah Nur), 1996’s “Onslaught” (shunts the Avengers and Fantastic Four into a pocket universe) and 1997’s “Operation: Zero Tolerance” (human-sentinel hybrids imprison mutants).

For his grand finale, Uncanny X-Men #350, in which he passed the torch to Steven Seagle, he wrapped a long-developing story tying Gambit to the massacre of the Morlocks.

In between, he created what was intended to be the next wave of mutant heroes in Generation X, a team of largely brand-new characters with the exception of co-headmasters Banshee and Emma Frost and teammate Jubilee. Where are those kids now? Well, Jubilee’s a vampire teen mom, M recently migrated from Peter David’s X-Factor to Brian Wood’s X-(Wo)Men, Synch and Skin are both dead, Chamber was revealed to be a descendant of Apocalypse, Penance was revealed to be two mutants in a coat and Husk went on to have a creepy romance with first-generation X-Man Angel during Uncanny’s gas-leak year.

Crossovers and forgotten characters aside, Lobdell, like Claremont, was a master of the breather issue, those great standalones in which the X-Men would stop whatever it is they were doing to play softball or have Kitty fight demons on Christmas. And it is with that in mind that we present the 10 best issues from Lobdell’s initial run (he came back in the early 2000s to put Colossus out of his misery and cure the Legacy Virus).

297: The post-X-Cutioner’s Song issue. Jubilee bonds with Professor X by taking him rollerblading, as he had temporarily regained the use of his legs, an event that has happened more frequently through the years to the point where it’s no longer special, but at this point it still had some punch, especially during the scene in which, as Xavier’s lower half weakens once again, Jubilee guides him back to his chair. 

303: Illyana Rasputin dies of the Legacy Virus. It’s real sad.

308: The X-Men play football instead of softball. Jean proposes to Scott, and I’m reminded of every joke Chris Sims ever wrote about Cyclops.

309: Xavier does some hardcore flashbackin’, during which we see a young, pre-Acolytes Amelia Voght nurse Charles back to health after he had been crippled. They apparently dated right up until Charles started collecting X-Men like Pokemon, because she thought his “Gotta catch ’em all” attitude would draw unwanted attention to them.

315: Colossus, who defected to the Acolytes after a rough couple months in which his brother turned out to be both alive and a madman and his sister died, plays defense counsel during a kangaroo-court trial of the Neophyte on charges of aiding the enemy. Voght plays prosecutor. Judge Exodus, in charge on account of Magneto's current vegetable status, is swayed just enough by Colossus' complete lack of legal training that he lets the Neophyte off with mere banishment from Avalon.

318: The post-Phalanx Covenant, pre-Generation X issue, in which we learn Skin is as much of a sad, wrinkled sack as he looks, and Xavier ships the team's spunky, youthful heart down to the freshman squad. Also, Beast rocks out to the Stones.

325: Lobdell shows us how much he loves Claremont by having the X-Men play softball AND recreating the old "Storm fights the leader of the Morlocks in the sewers" gag. Also, Colossus returns to the mansion for an issue before heading over to Excalibur to beat up Pete Wisdom.

336: OK, so no one’s trying to defend "Onslaught," but as a recovering Teenage Cyclops Fan, there's a panel in this issue, after Onslaught has taunted the heroes with the imprisoned Charles Xavier inside him, where all you see is half of Scott's face, fangs bared, and a quiet "Take him." At this point, he's not just leading the X-Men into battle, he's commanding members of the Avengers and the Fantastic Four. Joe Madureira might as well have drawn a panel showing Scott’s testicles grow two sizes like the Grinch’s heart on Christmas Day.

340: Iceman started growing around this time, beyond the traditional "Let me show you your true potential" stories that got written every few months. At this point, he and Cannonball had been working undercover inside Graydon Creed's presidential campaign. Bobby got found out, and in retribution, the Friends of Humanity beat the crap out of his dad, who himself was an FOH-level mutant-hater. This leads to a great Bobby-Bastion confrontation later on in Operation: Zero Tolerance.

341: By this point, Cannonball had been an X-Man for about two years, and Lobdell had done a whole bunch o' nothing with him. The X-Men didn't need a Cyclops Jr., so he ended up playing a hayseed rookie as if he weren't leader pro tem of X-Force when Cable was out of town. In this issue, however, he finally gets to shine by wailing on Gladiator.

Dan Grote is the author of OfRobots, God and Government and My Evil Twin and I. He and Matt have been friends since Bane broke the Bat.


Michael Morgan said...

Sorry, Lobdell's run was awful to bland, the only high mark was what Fabain did on X-Men at the time. Truthfully Uncanny was an insult to both Claremont and the fans as everything that made the book great was gutted. Only Austen as ever to do a run that was near this horrible, but never quite.

Anonymous said...

Eh, Fabian Nicieza's run wasn't perfect, either. Keep in mind he's the one who came up with the Psylocke/Revanche storyline. His later issues did show improvement, at least, and to his credit, he helped define X-Force. Overall, though, he's done most of his best work after his X-Men run, e.g. Cable & Deadpool and the "Redemption" arc in Superman.

Some of my favorite Lobdell issues are the ones he did when he returned. The Kitty issue and the Cyclops/Corsair issues were great examples of how good he is at standalone stories.