UNCANNY X-MEN #491 (2007)
This was the conclusion to Ed Brubaker and Salvador Larroca’s “Extremists” storyline, the final issue of Uncanny before Messiah CompleX kicked off, and—to the best of my knowledge—the last really significant appearance by the Morlocks. There’s an interesting cameo from Magneto as we learn part of Masque’s whole plan in unearthing/fabricating ancient Morlock prophecies was to rile the Master of Magnetism up into being a mutant baddies again, but instead Skids turns out not to only be a secret S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, but also have loyalty to Mags, whom she reports on the whole event to as he plots his comeback (it would happen about a year later when the X-Men relocated to San Francisco); neat continuity nod by Brubaker, as Skids was a former Acolyte of Magneto. My favorite bit about this issue though was a conversation Hepzibah has with Cyclops asking his permission to basically have sex with Warpath, because she was dating Scott’s dad but he’s dead now; it’s awkward and weird and somehow made perfect sense because Hepzibah is a crazy alien humanoid skunk so why not. I greatly enjoyed the Hepzibah/Warpath pairing—and Hepzibah as an X-Man in general—so it’s a shame it got more or less cut off when the latter moved over to X-Force and they drifted apart; either or both character would make a great addition or additions to either current X-Force book. Where’s Sam Humphries’ number (speaking of which, in the Endangered Species back-up, Beast tries to get Spiral—of Uncanny X-Force by Sam Humphries fame—to help him with his mutant extinction problem, but it’s no dice, so off to Doctor Strange)…
I remember this story well as Chuck Austen’s first standalone issue of Uncanny X-Men, and one I thought boded well for his future writing the book. Northstar is the focus as Professor X offers him a teaching position, which he turns down, but he does agree to transports a young boy with an uncontrollable mutant power causing his to explode from Canada to the U.S. for treatment (he can’t travel by plane because he might blow it up, but Northstar can move fast enough to escape the explosion—there are probably holes in the plot, but I liked it enough to ignore them). It’s a clever structure that allows Austen to introduce the various aspects of Northstar—he’s arrogant, he’s gay, he doesn’t have a lot of patience—to an audience that might now know him while also keeping a compelling story going with a literal ticking time bomb. Some of it comes off a bit heavy handed (the stuff about homosexuality), but not so much that it derails the rest of the story; by the end, I felt connected to Northstar, but his edgier qualities weren’t diminished. Sean Phillips provides art and turns in really strong work, demonstrating how good he is at conveying tension and making quiet moments dramatic.
I picked this issue up of eBay or some other online dealer during my post-college attempt to acquire the full run of the series (I did not complete it, but did pretty well). It’s got a holo-foil-something cover and features the “Trial of Gambit,” revealing at long last Remy Lebeau’s secret past that had been touted as a huge deal for several years. The big revelation was that when he was a mercenary/thief, he took a job for Mister Sinister and recruited the Marauders, who then went on to perform the Mutant Massacre. I guess playing a fairly key role in such a big tragedy in X-Men history is significant, but I always felt like this was a letdown, in that Gambit didn’t actually do anything bad directly—arguably—he was just the guy who enable bad stuff to happen; it made him redeemable, but also lacked punch in my opinion. It certainly didn’t seem like enough for Rogue to leave him stranded in Antarctica, which she does at the conclusion of this issue. There were some nice touches, like Archangel—who lost his natural wings as a result of the Massacre—being forced to play the role of Gambit’s defense attorney and then freaking out on him midway through the trial when the truth is unveiled. There’s also Spat and Grovel and the end revelation that the guy conducting the trial is Magneto dressed as longtime X-Men in-joke Erik the Red, a pretty poorly kept secret. Great art by Joe Madureira, who was winding down his X-Men run, I believe.
Now we’re talking—“X-Cutioner’s Song,” aka my favorite X-Men story of all time! When I was 10 years old I was racing to the card shop a few blocks from my house each week with my friend Matt to grab these and then tear the polybags off ASAP. The big draw in this installment was the full-fledged return of Apocalypse, and since I was still newbie, this was my first real exposure to the character. It was only later when digging into back issues I’d learn Apocalypse was more of a behind the scenes schemer, because here he wipes the floor with Storm, Colossus, Beast and Iceman (I think) and looks darn impressive doing so. Brandon Peterson’s art style was completely different back then from what it’s evolved into today, but I thought he rendered a bad ass Apocalypse, particularly post-battle when he’s shifting back into his usual form, excess mass literally dripping back on as he stands all cool. This issue was also notable for one of the crossover’s many classic melodramatic soliloquies from Stryfe, Cable running into Wolverine and Bishop to set up a big fight the next week in X-Factor, and a fun scene in which Havok and Gambit good cop/bad cop Cannonball into helping them track down the Dark Riders. It’s also noteworthy as the Uncanny X-Men chapters of “X-Cutioner’s Song” had the Uncanny part of the logo running up and down to the left of X-Men as opposed to above, the only time I can ever recall that happening.
I honestly have no idea what happened in this issue. I own it, but I can’t remember what happens in it. Something with Longshot and Havok, presumably. Marc Silvestri drew it and it’s the final issue before Fall of the Mutants—that’s all I’ve got.
In the midst of the Brood saga, this is an issue of transformations, where Carol Danvers, the former Ms. Marvel, gets messed with by the aliens turning her into Binary, while back on Earth between pages Colossus’ little sister Illyana gets kidnapped to Limbo and returns as Magik. Obviously Magik remains a vital part of X-Men lore today—despite dying for a decade or two—while Binary went back to Ms. Marvel then to Warbird then back to Ms. Marvel and now she’s Captain Marvel. I’ve enjoyed Carol Danvers in all her incarnations, but Binary always get a bit of the shaft, I felt, joining the Starjammers then not being seen for years at a time. Dave Cockrum gave Binary a great design and the idea of the Earthborn hero exploring the cosmos is one I always feel has juice; her powers weren’t anything special, but there’s something very neat in her having not adjust merely to having them, but that they’re different from the Ms. Marvel abilities she’s used to. Indeed I think the fact that Carol had years of experience as a tenured but very different hero could have been the twist that accelerated her, but oh well, what we’ve got now is pretty great too. This issue also contains the crushing scene where Wolverine finally lets his teammates know they’ve got Brood eggs growing inside them, essentially delivering a death sentence and leading to some intense and emotional stuff to come, particularly from Colossus and Kitty Pryde.
The conclusion to the original Phoenix Saga, written on a grand scale by Chris Claremont with Dave Cockrum really getting to show off with dozens of characters and the most exotic settings imaginable. The X-Men and Starjammers team up for the first time, we get introduced to the impish but nigh omnipotent Jahf—who punches Wolverine through space—and Phoenix prevents D’Ken from getting his hands on the M’Kraan Crystal, setting the table for years of cool stories featuring the Shi’ar. There’s also a nice quiet moment after the action where Corsair learns via Phoenix that Cyclops is in fact his long lost son, but requests she not tell him, feeling like the absence of a relationship where there could have been one will hurt more than thinking one another dead. This whole story was adapted pretty perfectly for the animated series in the 90’s, particularly a feat when considering any adult or violent themes had to be removed and the likes of Colossus and Nightcrawler got subbed out for Rogue and Gambit.