This was (I believe) the penultimate chapter of “The Extremists” by Ed Brubaker and Salvador Larroca, where Masque was trying to twist ancient prophecies to serve his own ends and rally the Morlocks around him while Storm and the X-Men were trying to stop him. This was the issue with the “Skids is an Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.” reveal I liked. That would be a neat plot thread for somebody to follow up on even today. Skids is an interesting character in that she was something of a blank slate personality-wise when she first showed up in X-Factor (spunky teen girl), but probably because she was seen as expendable, she’s been subjected to so much trauma through the years (getting brainwashed by Stryfe, getting brainwashed by Magneto, watching Rusty get killed, getting kidnapped after trying to start a normal life) it makes her a potentially interesting character by default, and the S.H.I.E.L.D. angle would be cool to explore.
The Morlocks are another X-Men standby that to the best of my recollection have been recently untouched, possibly even since this story. They’re a great classic Claremont creation—the mutants so ugly and disenfranchised they make the X-Men seem accepted—who have actually always translated well to other mediums for my money (I love the Morlock episodes of the 90’s animated series and there was some great stuff in X-Men: Evolution as well). I’ve also always been intrigued/disturbed by Masque, who doesn’t seem to have a particularly dangerous power, but uses it in aggressive ways like taking away people’s ability to breathe, and makes up for physical shortcomings with a cult of personality approach.
This issue also guest-starred The Thing, as Storm was part of the Fantastic Four at the time. That was a fun era that flew by too briefly, but what I liked here was getting to see a relationship between Ororo and her new teammates, as her hubby The Black Panther got the bulk of the attention elsewhere.
With the first part of a story arc called “Hope” began the controversial X-Men writing tenure of Chuck Austen, so because while he had some fans, he had more—or at least louder—detractors who point to his run as among the weakest in franchise history.
I’m not going to talk about that run as a larger body here, though, but rather this issue, which I dug at the time and felt represented a great jumping on point for new readers and a nice more classic super hero alternative to what Grant Morrison was doing over on New X-Men (and Joe Casey had done in his preceding work).
The issue began with the introduction of Sammy, a boy with a squid head who would become the poster child for those who did not enjoy Austen’s work, but here represented a mutant living with an outward curse and no real awesome gift to balance it—he could breathe underwater—tormented by bullies and without a stable home life. Professor X and Beast come to retrieve him and bring him to the Xavier School, basically his wish fulfilled, and in the process Austen gives a nice microcosm of what X-Men is all about: outcasts who are able to find safety and grow in a safe haven populated by those with similar experiences.
On the action end of the spectrum, the X-Men team Casey left behind of Archangel, Wolverine, Nightcrawler, Iceman and Stacy X plus somewhat random addition M respond to a distress call from Muir Island and end up crashing. Professor X must psychically coach Stacy to save the lives of the others and then Juggernaut shows up for the cliffhanger.
There was a lot more character development and soap opera than fighting, which would become a knock on Austen’s run, but I still like this 10 years later as a decent comic to hand to a neophyte and say “Here, this is X-Men.” One of the best of all-time? Not even in the discussion to be in the discussion, but a story that accomplishes what it set out to.
I’m pretty sure I’ve read this issue. I may even own it. But I don’t really remember it. It came out during the period I wasn’t reading comics in high school, so it’s likely I picked it up during my binge attempt to fill any X-Men gap I had around 2003-2004 (still haven’t read much of Claremont’s second run or the next issue on this docket).
What I can recall from context is, given that it’s two issues prior to #350 and Rogue and Gambit are on the cover, it probably focuses in large part on the latter’s secret past finally being revealed as a result of machinations by Magneto. I can also see from the cover that this group of X-Men was still clad in the weird Shi’ar space miner outfits Joe Madureira put them in for an outer space storyline—which also means this issue had sweet Joe Madureira art!
Searching the Internet tells me this issue was significant due to Rogue and Gambit having their powers dampened and thus sleeping together for the first time (or so it was heavily implied in those innocent days!), so there’s that, but this was really during the period where Scott Lobdell seemed to be spinning his wheels after the awesome run that extended over most of my childhood, so not much more to say.
Another issue I’ve never read, and another Morlock story, in fact (billed as “The Last Morlock Story,” which, if you didn’t make the odd choice to start reading this post from this section, you know was not true). I believe this was the story where Colossus and Magik’s crazy brother, Mikhail Rasputin—who was first mentioned way way back around issue #98 or so as an astronaut who died on his big mission but was revealed to be alive, living in another dimension and a mutant like 15 years later because X-Men—drowned most of the Morlocks because he had been named their leader and though that was a the only solution to their suffering. I know this mostly because I just read a flashback about it in Cable Classic Vol. 3 recently.
I would like to someday get to checking out the brief blank spot I’ve got from between Bishop’s arrival and X-Cutioner’s Song, and I believe the Essentials should allow me to do so soon if not already.
To be continued…