Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Matt Signal Presents The X-Men Present Thanksgiving: Uncanny X-Men #308, Nov. 1993

Thanksgiving is a hard holiday to shoehorn into a superhero story. It’s mostly cooking, eating and burping, which makes it better suited for sitcoms.

Unless, that is, you’ve just come off back-to-back crossovers and you need a breather issue. Which is why Uncanny X-Men #308 is a lesson in perfect timing.

The issue follows an especially rough few months for the X-Men. Illyana Rasputin dies of the Legacy Virus in #303. Magneto crashes her funeral in #304 and invites all comers to live with him and the Acolytes on his new space base, Avalon. Colossus, who’d also recently lost his brother, takes him up on the offer. Then, in X-Men (Vol. 2) #25, the X-Men storm Avalon, and Magneto rips the adamantium out of Wolverine’s skeleton. Wolverine then runs off to lick his wounds in issue 75 of his own book. Finally, the X-Men and the Avengers team up when Magneto’s new lieutenant, Exodus, goes rogue and turns the capitol of Genosha into CBS’ Under the Dome. Also somewhere in there the Phalanx made their first appearance, but meh.

Thanksgiving gave the X-Men the chance to finally get back to what they do best: hang out around the mansion, play sports and have sweet character moments.

Seriously, if you want action, don’t read this issue. The X-Men rake leaves, build a scarecrow, explain football to Bishop and his glorious mullet and eat dinner at the table from The Last Supper. There’s only one Claremont-style interlude foreshadowing the next big villain storyline, and it’s about the Phalanx.

Which isn’t to say that nothing happened. In fact, a very important something happened, as #308 is the issue in which Jean Grey orders Scott Summers to “Marry me.” And because Cyclops is so good at following orders, they were married literally two months later, in X-Men (Vol. 2) #30.

Other things to note:

My original copy has a non-house ad showing Scott and Jean at the altar a full 10 pages before the proposal. Considering the Internet was in its infancy and not everybody had a subscription to Wizard or Previews, that’s one hell of a spoiler.

There are two empty word balloons in the issue, at least in my copy, on opposing pages. There’s one on Page 20, as Xavier is about to be tackled as a result of a wayward football (note: This was not one of those periods when Xavier had the use of his legs). And on Page 21, after Jean says “Marry me,” Scott asks “What did you say,” and she says a white roundish void.

The dinner table includes some notable guests, including Kitty Pryde’s old dance teacher, Stevie Hunter; Trish Tilby, Beast’s news anchor girlfriend from the X-Factor days; and Iceman’s parents, which is shocking because Bobby’s dad is an unabashed mutant-hater, which is a major plot point later in Scott Lobdell’s run.

Check out the Psylocke twins sitting across from each other at the table. Betsy as we’ve known her since 1989 is smiling, while Revanche, who believes herself to be and looks far more like the original Betsy, is not, clearly miffed that the alleged imposter (actually the real deal) has gotten to spend all this time fighting and eating giant turkeys alongside friends and family. Revanche contracts the Legacy Virus but ultimately dies by the sword of Japanese crime lord Matsu’o Tsurayaba. The important thing is she’s dead.

Jubilee appears to have formed a bond with Beast in this issue, jumping into leaf piles together and generally goofing off. It was only a couple months before that Jubes had to say goodbye to her friend and original X-mentor, Wolverine, who had set off on a journey that would see him revisit his roster of villains sans adamantium.

There’s something comforting about John Romita Jr.’s art, all those squared shoulders and jawlines and hatchmarks. Maybe it’s the fact that he was one of the first artists whose work I remember encountering when I got into comics, maybe it’s the fact that he’s the scion of one of the original Marvel pencilers, maybe it’s the fact that he’d been drawing mutants since the ’80s, but whenever I see his art, be it in X-Men or Eternals or Captain America or now Superman, it feels like a warm, fuzzy blanket.

For some of the X-Men’s other great post-event cool-downs, check out:

Uncanny X-Men #138 (1980): Claremont did it first. After the nearly half-a-decade-long Phoenix arc, the X-Men mourn Jean Grey, a grieving Cyclops leaves the team (to find new women to love on), Angel decides to stick around for a while (before leaving for more questionable teams) and a young, wide-eyed Kitty Pryde arrives at the X-mansion to begin her training.

Uncanny X-Men #273 (1990): A too-many-mutants issue. After the X-tinction Agenda, the X-Men, X-Factor and New Mutants all find themselves fighting for the bathroom in the basement of the destroyed X-Mansion. The mutants mingle and argue philosophies with Cable, the guy who showed up out of nowhere and turned the New Mutants into his own personal paramilitary unit. At the end, Lila Cheney shows up and teleports whatever random X-Men she can find off to space to save Professor X.

X-Factor #70 (1991): The beginning of a beautiful friendship between Peter David and Marvel’s second-tier mutants. After the Muir Island Saga, which brought together the X-Men, X-Factor and a bunch of strays, Professor X ponders what to do with them all. (Beast’s response: “Eh, bag ’em.”) Notable for a scene in which Wolverine eats a cigar stub.

Uncanny X-Men #297 (1992): The best of Scott Lobdell’s breather issues. In the wake of the X-Cutioner’s Song, Professor X, who ever-so-briefly can walk again after being nearly assassinated by Stryfe, goes roller-blading with Jubilee. When Xavier’s legs finally give out, the reader’s heart breaks as much as Jubilee’s in that moment. Also: Beast and Archangel rebuild their old teenage haunt.

Uncanny X-Men #318 (1994): The X-Men ship Jubilee off to the Massachusetts Academy with a bunch of other mutants they picked up during the Phalanx Covenant so Lobdell could launch Generation X, aka the Newer Mutants. And Beast drives around new recruit Skin, who proves to be as much of a sad sack on the inside as he is on the outside.

Excalibur #91 (1995): The U.K. X-team heads to the mainland for a pub night following Warren Ellis’ Dream Nails storyline, in which Kitty Pryde and Pete Wisdom uncover government cover-ups and an alien race that killed its own god. Pete and Kitty admit they’re schtupping to the rest of the team, Brian Braddock and Nightcrawler politely but firmly threaten Wisdom, and then Colossus shows up after months in space and beats the crap out of him the next issue.

Dan Grote has been a Matt Signal contributor since 2014 and friends with Matt since there were four Supermen and two Psylockes. His two novels, My Evil Twin and I and Of Robots, God and Government, are available on Amazon.

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