Wednesday, July 21, 2010

X-Men Unlimited #1

X-Men Unlimited #1
Writing: Scott Lobdell
Art: Chris Bachalo

Once upon a time the X-Men titles were easily Marvel’s bestselling books. With two ongoing titles selling well, the House of Ideas figured that three ongoing titles would sell even better. So began X-Men Unlimited, a bi-monthly anthology title to add to the exploits of the other two titles. X-Men Unlimited was a place for stories that writers wanted to tell, but might not have space for in the monthly titles. Initially the title was a success because it dealt with stories that were relevant to what was going on in the other titles (such as the revelation that Mystique was Nightcrawler’s mother or Sabretooth joining the X-Men), but eventually the stories started drifting to obscure character spotlights and day in the life stories of the X-Men that really didn’t have any impact on the characters or continuity. I never followed the series per se, but I figured I’d include the first issue since it loosely ties into what I’ve been discussing. Plus it’s good to mention the title since it was important at the time.

What Went Down: The story starts in media res with Cyclops crawling out of the wrecked Blackbird in the middle of the Antarctic; he has to keep his eyes closed since he has lost his visor. By mentally calling out, he is able to find Professor X, who in turn is able to find Storm. Storm is upset because the balance of nature has been disrupted.

Elsewhere, the villain of the story, Siena Blaze, is walking back to an outpost provided to her by the Upstarts; she is the mutant Fitzroy wanted to join that was mentioned in Uncanny X-Men #299. Inside there are a number of paid scientists monitoring the results of Siena’s attack. Unfortunately for them, they cannot tell if the X-Men are dead because Siena Blaze’s power disrupts their sensors. The Gamemaster beams down to let her know that they are still alive, and Siena uses her powers to blow up the outpost and kill the scientists. We learn that every time she uses her powers, Siena Blaze risks disrupting the E.M. spectrum and destroying the planet. Obviously, this doesn’t happen in this story.

At the mansion, Bishop and Psylocke are worried about the others. In the downed plane, the events leading up to the crash are mentally replayed by the Professor in a clunky bit of exposition. The X-Men were visiting Ka-Zar, Shanna, and their baby Michael in the Savage Land on a trip to get vibranium to power their cloaking device. On the way home they were shot out of the sky and had to cut the ship in half to save it. Storm tries to control the weather outside, but she is overwhelmed by the unnatural storm. Because her power tries to compensate for climate extremes, Storm’s skin is burning in response to the super blizzard; Xavier uses his powers to help her, despite the concussion he suffered.

Then an awkward scene occurs where Cyclops is physically unable to call Professor X Charles, although I am pretty sure it has already happened before in a previous book. Bishop and Psylocke rush off to Antarctica in the spare jet, but they cannot get past the wall of electro-magnetic flux. Meanwhile, Cyclops is able to make an eyepatch out of a broken piece of ruby quartz.

In the morning, Cyclops and Storm discover that the Professor has taken an ATV outside to search for help. Xavier has discovered a citadel, but his ATV dies before he can reach it. This means that Xavier has no choice but to start crawling in the snow.

Siena Blaze attacks Cyclops and Storm, and the two heroes are too tired to put up a fight. Siena is winning until it is revealed that the fight was an illusion created by Professor X. The X-Men fight back, but instead of surrendering, Siena uses her powers to create a vacuum by destroying a chunk of the E.M. field. Storm uses her power to carry the Blackbird’s escape pod out of range until Bishop and Psylocke can rescue them. Finally safe, Xavier reveals that he was rescued by an unknown individual who carried him to the shelter and provided him with transportation. This individual turns out later to be Magneto, even though the point is almost forgotten about.

How It Was: This story does seem tailor made toward Scott Lobdell’s strengths. Since the story is really the characters against nature, that leaves plenty of room for Lobdell to explore the characters’ reactions and desperation. He does succeed in setting a hopeless tone, even though we all know that these characters are never going to die, and he does a good job of presenting situations and conflicts that feel original. Storm’s reaction to the disruption of the planet, Cyclops’ helplessness and frustration, and Xavier’s candor and self sacrifice all feel genuine to the characters and the situation. On the other hand, Cyclops’ inability to simply call the professor Charles is really silly and not as cute as Lobdell thinks.

If this story was about half as long, and it was just about the X-Men crashing in a blizzard, it would be okay. Unfortunately this issue deals with Siena Blaze, who is a little bit of a mess of a character. Her power is just plain ridiculous because even though it is supposed to potentially destroy the planet, Marvel is never going to let that happen, so why bring it up? Second, her motivations are all very vague and even her reason for being an Upstart is never cleared up. She doesn’t care if her powers destroy the Earth, but she wants to achieve immortality through the Upstarts; how does that make sense? Also, we never learn why Fitzroy wanted her to join, so really it’s best not to think too hard about this character as she never appears in X-Men or Uncanny X-Men, except for an Annual back story that predates this issue.

Bachalo’s art works very well for this issue. His snowy wasteland is very detailed and the sequence where the jet is crashing is particularly excellent. The only part it struggles with is a panel depicting the mansion that looks like it is located in the Savannah. This is a very inauspicious debut for the title. It’s nothing to write home about, but there are a few nice moments in what is essentially a forgettable setup to yet another story that never took place.


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