Sunday, November 22, 2009

Sunday Afternoon Awesome: X-Cutioner's Song Toys

Wandering through Target in the Palisades Mall this past Saturday evening, my friends and I were congesting the aisle containing the actions figures per usual and causing the poor red-shirted employee who wanted to re-stock to wonder why a group of charismatic, handsome 20-somethings would be so interested in a Brave and the Bold: Batman/B'Wana Beast two-pack while their wives and girlfriends looked on impatiently.

Before I could answer this gentleman's inquisitive gestures (which I was not going to do), what should I spy with my little eye but the embodiment of awesome in adorable toy form...

...none other than a friggin' Super Hero Squad X-Cutioner's Song four-pack that included not only Wolverine, Cyclops and Jean Grey (or "Marvel Girl" as the packaging labels her) in their vintage 90's costumes as seen on X-Men: The Animated Series, but a cute and cuddly rendition of the Chaos Bringer, Mr. "Stab His Eyes!" himself, Stryfe! Let's take a closer look...

Before anybody asks (because these pics don't really show it), yes, on the top of the package it does indeed say "X-Cutioner's Song," so I'm not just coining it that because of the character assortment. TJ made the astute observation that this was a curious branding given that likely nobody born in this or last decade has any idea what that title means, but I surely didn't care as learning that we somehow were involved in the production of the this toy in 2009 made me tickled pink to be a Marvel employee.

Here is the long version of what "X-Cutioner's Song" was. The slightly shorter (or maybe longer, we'll see) is that it was a twelve-part crossover between Uncanny X-Men, X-Men, X-Factor and X-Force that came out in 1992 when I was ten and in the midst of becoming a ginormous X-Men fanatic. Me and my buddy Matt Corley would ride our bikes to the comic shop each week to pick up the newest chapter then race home to take turns reading them (being one year older than Matt and playing the seniority card was awesome in this case).

The gist of the plot is that mysterious X-Force villain Stryfe poses as Cable, whom he is the identical twin of (but we didn't know why at the time), attempts to assassinate Professor X, kidnaps Cyclops and Jean Grey so he can take them to the moon and whine to them about how awful his childhood was, and also manipulates Apocalypse, Mr. Sinister and their various lackeys into assorted tasks that keep the X-Teams preoccupied. My favorite chapter was probably the fourth, where the X-Men and X-Factor hunt down X-Force, who didn't know where Cable was but were presumed guilty accomplices until proven innocent, and the younger team holds their own for a bit before getting demolished.

There were other free-for-all skirmishes throughout the crossover, as the X-Men also scrapped with the Mutant Liberation Front, Dark Riders, and various other henchmen types as well as going up against Apocalypse and then Stryfe himself. I remember one particular issue of X-Factor where Wolverine and Bishop went after Cable in a fight drawn by Jae Lee that at the time I thought was hideous, but looking back from a perspective that is able to tolerate not every art style needing to look like Jim Lee find quite stunning. The melees were broken up nicely by Stryfe's oft-over-the-top Shakespearean soliloquies and laments to Cyclops and Jean about how awful his life was and how it was all their fault. Throughout, obviously the implication was that Stryfe was the grown-up child Cyclops had once sent to the future, but it was never explicitly stated.

X-Cutioner's Song is a story I'm in no great rush to go back and read now, simply because I remember it through such fond childish eyes and would possibly be let down when it doesn't live up to my recollections. However, it was probably the single story that hooked me for certain as a lifelong comics fan, and hokey and bombastic as parts of it were, I will maintain it was fast-paced, well-constructed, and flat-out fun; it wasn't Watchmen, but it wasn't aspiring to be. It also had the artistic talents of the aforementioned Mr. Lee, Andy Kubert, Brandon Peterson and Greg Capullo going for it in tandem with the seasoned writing trio of Peter David, Fabian Nicieza and Scott Lobdell.

Anyways, finding these toys 17 years later, in Super Hero Squad form no less, was a joy for me. Even better, the package and online listing for the product does indeed provide a brief if somewhat inaccurate synopsis of the story (Wolverine wasn't the one who had the necessary power to save Cyclops and Jean on the moon, it was Cable and Havok by virtue of Styfe constructing a forcefield that would only allow in people with Summers and/or Grey DNA; Wolverine didn't do much after tracking down Cable). That this info will not be lost to future generations is a tremendous relief to me.

5 comments:

TJ said...

Personally, I love how it looks like the Wolverine figure is just casually shrugging his shoulders like "Okay, we can fight if you REALLY want to."

Matt said...

Somewhere in Newton, I have a signed copy of the first comic in the series, in which Professor X was on the receiving end of an assassin's bullet. I don't know who it was that signed it though...

Ben Morse said...

I think it was the writer, Scott Lobdell, but I can't remember for sure. I totally remember that, though, because the first chapter was the only one I didn't have and I had to borrow yours, which had the autograph.

Mike said...

X-Cutioner's Song was the same kind of event for me. I was eleven and was so impossibly stoked about it, but didn't have any income. In a gesture I try to remember every time I think she's going to push me to a nervous fit, my mother went to the comic store and got me each individual issue as a Christmas present. Awesome.

I did go back and re-read it recently, and it is, unfortunately, kind of awful. Nicieza's Claremont-lite prose seems like high literature to a pre-teen, but goes down like undercooked birthday cake as an adult. Jae Lee's art was staggering, though. I spent a lot of time re-creating his Stryfe and Apocalypse panels. I don't think I'll ever need to read it again EVUR, but I am glad for its influence in cementing me as a comic reader for life.

Zach said...

Now if only someone at Marvel, perhaps involved with the digital side of things, would bring back the X-Cutioner, who used alien weaponry to hunt the X-Men. I loved that costume, and the Toy Biz toy was my prized possession for a while, discarded in a moment of folly. A Superhero Squad version would be an acceptable stopgap, until new storylines warranted Legends-hood.