Thursday, April 16, 2015

Fit to Be Tied In: A History of Marvel Crossovers and Events- Part 4: X-Cutioner’s Song to Age of Apocalypse: More X-overs

For more than a year from the debut of X-Men #1 in fall 1991, the X-books remained crossover-free. The interim saw some creative upheaval, with Chris Claremont, Jim Lee, Rob Liefeld and John Byrne all leaving, and Scott Lobdell and Fabian Nicieza becoming the main architects of the X-verse, with new names like Andy Kubert and Greg Capullo coming up on art.

The new crew got their first big story in 1992’s “X-Cutioner’s Song,” a 12-part event that spanned Uncanny X-Men, X-Men, X-Force, and X-Factor. The main antagonist of the Song was Stryfe, the pointy, silver-suited supervillain who had shown up about the same time as Cable, the paramilitary leader who turned the New Mutants into X-Force. Stryfe is out for revenge on a number of important X-characters, including Professor X, Cyclops, Jean Grey, Cable and Apocalypse. Late in the story, he appears to reveal himself as the baby Cyclops sent to the future in X-Factor #68, all grown up. This is later debunked, with Cable proven to be the child and Stryfe the clone. Stryfe is defeated, but in a last act of villainy tricks Mister Sinister into releasing the Legacy Virus, a disease that will go on to kill a number of mutants. He also unleashes Stryfe’s Strike File upon the world, so that’s two posthumous F-Yous.

In 1993, after 30 years of existing, Magneto gets to be the main bad guy of a crossover. “Fatal Attractions” sees Big M build a new orbiting space base, regain control of the Acolytes from Fabian Cortez and invite along any X-Men who would like to completely isolate themselves from civilization. Colossus bites, getting up in the middle of his sister’s funeral (she died of the Legacy Virus) to join the X-Men’s sworn enemy. Professor X launches an attack on Magneto’s new digs, which results in Magneto ripping the adamantium from Wolverine’s body, which remains one of the most badass things I’ve seen in a comic. Xavier responds by turning Magneto into a vegetable. Wolverine – whose claws are revealed to have been part of his skeleton all along – leaves the team to go find himself.

Magneto’s goons weren’t done playing with the X-Men, though. “Fatal Attractions” was quickly followed by “Bloodties,” an X-Men/Avengers story in which Fabian Cortez, the former leader of the Acolytes, kidnaps Luna, Magneto’s granddaughter by Quicksilver and the Inhuman Crystal, and foments civil unrest in Genosha, which can’t get its act together in a post "X-tinction Agenda" world. Things go from bad to worse when Exodus, Magneto’s current capo di mutie, shows up and drops and big-ol’ psionic dome over the Genoshan capital. The good guys win, but the Avengers lose their U.N. charter for interfering in Genoshan political stuff.

As the crossovers continue through the years, the number of X-books expands, and writers and editors struggle to spread the events to all the books in the line, as opposed to three or four books. “The Phalanx Covenant,” for example, is spread out over Uncanny X-Men, X-Men, X-Factor, X-Force, Excalibur, Cable, and Wolverine (By today’s standards, that’s a downright reasonable number of X-books. Scary). The Phalanx are a techno-organic alien race that crept on the scene immediately after Fatal Attractions (and who would many years later team up with Ultron to menace the Kree Emprie in Annihilation: Conquest), assimilating thought-dead characters such as Stephen Lang, Cameron Hodge, Doug Ramsey and Candy Southern. At the opening of the covenant, the Phalanx have taken the X-Men, and it’s up to a B-team made up of Banshee, Emma Frost, Jubilee and Sabretooth to gather more mutants, specifically the team that would become Generation X. Elsewhere, Cyclops and Jean Grey, fresh from their honeymoon in the future raising Baby Cable, team up with long-rogue Wolverine and Adult Cable to shoot, snikt, teke-blast, and eyeball-laser their way to the rest of the X-Men. The ancillary teams, meanwhile (Factor, Force and Calibur), are charged with figuring out a way to stop the Phalanx on Earth from contacting reinforcements from their home planet.

Just a few short months later, Xavier’s son, Legion, goes back in time and accidentally kills his father (he was gunning for Magneto), forking the timestream and creating everyone’s favorite Age, “The Age of Apocalypse.” For 30 years, Bishop is trapped in a world where Apocalypse rules all of North America, Magneto leads the X-Men, Cyclops has one eye, Wolverine has one hand, Colossus has one red do-rag and so-on. All the X-books, right down to the just-started Generation X, were put on hold for four months to create an alternate reality that Marvel’s revisited a couple times since and is making part of the Secret Wars’ Battleworld. Uncanny and adjectiveless X-Men became Astonishing and Amazing X-Men and were about Magento’s core team. X-Force became Gambit & the Xternals, in which the thief is hired to swipe the Shi’ar M’Kraan Crystal. X-Factor became Factor X, about the Summers Brothers working for Mr. Sinister. Excalibur became X-Calibre, about Nightcrawler’s adventures in the Savage Land. Generation X became Generation Next, about a team of young mutants overseen by Colossus and Kitty Pryde. Wolverine became Weapon X, about Wolverine and Jean Grey running covert ops. And Cable became X-Man, about the genetically engineered child of Scott Summers and Jean Grey. In the end, Magneto (quite awesomely) kills Apocalypse, and four characters – Nate Grey, Holocaust, the Sugar Man and the AoA version of the Beast – escape to the restored 616 reality. As a result, the X-Man series became an ongoing. For those of you keeping score at home, that means we’re up to nine ongoing X-titles, plus the quarterly X-Men Unlimited.

In our next installment, we’ll traipse through yet more X-overs, from Onslaught as far as my self-imposed word counts will allow. Expect Bastion to show up a lot.

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