If you are confused now, you will hate this blog entry. Although Uncanny X-Men remained the number one selling comic throughout the '90s, there was considerable fan backlash to increasingly complex and confusing stories which either went unresolved or worse, poorly resolved.
While there are definitely some high points in this six year period, for the most part it will be remembered as the era that took the X-Men from the undisputed champion of comic book sales to just another comic book property.
And with that sterling introduction, we go to...
When we left off, we had just visited the dark alternate reality known as the Age of Apocalypse which was resolved in X-Men Omega. In order to capitalize on reader interest and refocus the franchise, they came out with another in the Greek character cycle. This was called X-Men Prime.
X-Men Prime brought us back to the regular world of the X-Men to show how things have changed... which is not all that much, aside from Cannonball moving from X-Force to become an official X-Man. The center piece of this issue is when Hank's girlfriend, the reporter Trish Tilby, goes on the news to report that the Legacy Virus has spread to humans. This causes an immediate backlash of anti-mutant paranoia which results in a young mutant being beaten to death by an angry mob.
But more meaningful for the reader is the introduction of the Age of Apocalypse refugees including Hank McCoy's infamous counterpart now known as Dark Beast (or sometimes Bete Noir), Nate Grey, Sugar Man, and Apocalypse's son, Holocaust. For reasons that escape me, the writers decided that Dark Beast and Sugar Man ended up twenty years in the past where Dark Beast created the Morlocks while Sugar Man was responsible for mutant slavery in Genosha.
Holocaust reappears in the present as little more than an extremely powerful skeleton. He is found floating above the Earth by the Acolytes who take him in, but this quickly results in a battle between himself and Exodus which destroys Avalon. As the space station collapses, Colossus takes the brain-dead Magneto to an escape pod and launches him to Earth.
Meanwhile, in X-Man #5 (the only title to survive the crossover), Nate Grey appears in Switzerland where he is naturally confused about the state of... well, reality. Fortunately, he meets a sexy redhead who can explain it to him. Unfortunately, that redhead is Madelyne Pryor. She is later revealed to be a psychic projection from Nate's subconscious creating a mother figure, but that never made much sense to me.
I really enjoyed the series at the time, but I have to say it never really went anywhere. I found Nate much more interesting than his gun-totting, futuristic counterpart. He is essentially just a lost and confused teenager with psychic powers to rival both Professor X and Jean Grey, but coming from an extremely violent world where hope is dead to a... less violent one is an interesting idea that was never fully explored.
Over in Uncanny X-Men, Beast, Bishop, and Psylocke are out in Jersey watching Pulp Fiction in its original theatrical release when they are interrupted by a meteor which turns out to be Juggernaut who was punched here all the way from Canada. When they ask him what happened, all he says is "Onslaught."
In other X-Men news, a series of attacks on humans and Morlocks lead the X-Men to discover an off-shoot of the Morlock's called Gene Nation. This crew was led by Marrow, a girl possessing external bone growths which could be used as weapons. The legacy of Marrow was not impressive. After a botched assassination attempt, Callisto flees to the X-Men where former Morlock leader in absentia, Storm, suddenly decides to defend her people. This leads to a duel between Storm and Marrow echoing her original fight with Callisto, however, this time she removes Marrow's heart. Marrow eventually recovers, having an extra heart as part of her mutation. She eventually comes under the tutelage of Callisto who tries to curb her extremist tendencies.
In Mexico, the escape pod carrying Magneto is discovered by a nun who nurses him back to health. Magneto, fortunately, seems to be suffering from amnesia. Even stranger, when his beard is shaven, it is revealed that he is much younger than before... approximately the age of most of the X-Men. After discovering his magnetic powers, he takes the name Joseph and heads off to find the X-Men, figuring he should seek out other mutants.
Meanwhile, Rogue is going a little crazy after kissing Gambit. She is aware of some dark secret, but not aware enough that she actually knows what it is... leaving the distinct impression that the writer doesn't know either. All that becomes clear is that it has to do with Mr. Sinister.
Back in Uncanny, Sabretooth finally makes his escape, attacking whoever he can in the process. The brunt of the damage is suffered by Psylocke who lies dying in the medlab while Angel looks on helplessly. At Wolverine's assistance, the two of them go to Chinatown to seek a mystic oriental cure for their mystic oriental comrade. With the help of Dr. Strange and Gomurr, they reach the Ebon Vein. Sacrificing a piece of his soul, Warren gives Betsy a new life and nifty tattoo.
But to me, this just made Psylocke even harder to explain. But it did make her darker and, in comic book math, dark = cool. The only real change to the character was her ability to meld in and teleport through shadows.
By the way, Sabretooth was recovered and sent to X-Factor where he was implanted with a control chip and put on a short leash. Between him and Mystique, it seemed that X-Factor was turning more and more into a team of mutant prisoners with their actions dictated by human concerns.
Meanwhile, Hank McCoy finally met his doppelganger when the Dark Beast captured Hank, locked him in a basement and hide him behind a brick wall. During this time, he died his fur blue and became a spy in the X-Men, although I'm not entirely sure why.
Over in Wolverine, fans were teased by this image of Wolverine with hoses attached to him evoking the image of the experiment which gave him his adamantium skeleton. The story follows Apocalypse's servant Ozymandias and Cable's son Tyler (yes, the Summers line gets even more complicated) as they attempt to graft adamanatium back onto Wolverine's bones. Along with some evil programming, they intended to make him Apocalypse's new Horseman of Death. Logan is apparently no equine fan because he rejects the adamantium, shooting it across the room as unbreakable spikes. In the process, Logan mutates into a creature more beast than man and unable to say much other than "grrr."
This follows a really bad habit in comics of offering something that everyone wants only to surprise you with something no one wants. The next few issues featured appearances from Daredevil's Elektra as she tried to reform him, but eventually this whole plot sort of fizzled out (most likely due to public backlash) and Logan just sort of became normal again.
In other mutant affairs, the Friends of Humanity, an anti-mutant hate group, were now stronger than ever as they announced the candidacy of Graydon Creed for president of the United States. The X-Men began to infiltrate the group and investigate their ties to the US government, particularly in a powerful new player by the name of Bastion.
The X-Men finally meet Onslaught when he launches an attack on the mansion. He takes them out fairly easily before revealing his true identity as Professor X. Over the course of this massive crossover which spills through almost every title in the Marvel Universe, it is explained that when Professor X wiped Magneto's mind, something new was created in the amalgamation of their psyches... a destructive entity based on the worst of both men. He consumed other psychics and absorbed their powers, particularly those of Nate Grey and the Fantastic Four's first born, Franklin.
The Onslaught Saga comes to a conclusion when the Avengers and Fantastic Four unite to take him down. Onslaught is destroyed, but in the process, so are all of Earth's greatest champions, namely Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, the Fantastic Four, and a few other Avengers. Soon after, Xavier surrenders himself to the law thereby taking responsibility for his actions.
This storyline was created as a lead-in to Heroes Reborn, an event designed to boost sales by outsourcing their properties to Image Comics. It was an interesting strategy to say that someone else can handle their characters better than them, but I imagine this had a lot to do with their recent bankruptcy filing. For one year, Image Comics produced Fantastic Four, Avengers, Captain America, and Iron Man using their top talent including Jim Lee and Rob Leifeld. For the most part, this was a failure although I personally enjoyed Fantastic Four quite a bit.
In the aftermath of Onslaught, public anti-mutant sentiment reached brand new heights. Most humans blamed all mutants for the death of their heroes making the Friends of Humanity in general, and Graydon Creed in particular, more powerful than ever. The X-Men continued to infiltrate the group, pretending to be mutie haters, particularly Bobby "Iceman" Drake who had become Graydon Creed's right-hand man. Yet after his father, a long-time mutant hating bigot himself, went on television in support of mutants following the Onslaught incident, Creed had his father beaten and killed, then left Bobby in the woods to find his father's body. He didn't know who Bobby really was. He just figured, like father like son.
This roughly coincided with the return of Warren's feather wings, which I can only imagine was due to the fact that real feathers look so much cooler than metal ones. Of course, the trade-off is that it once more makes Warren's powers seem comparatively weak to all of the other opponents they run into. It is a balancing act that they are still working on to this day.
Joining the X-Men following the Onslaught Saga was the mysterious Joseph who took to wearing a generic X-Men uniform and not adopting a codename. He soon became close to Rogue, echoing their relationship in Age of Apocalypse, and creating a love triangle with the now estranged Gambit. Using his magnetic powers and the Professor's alien technology, Joseph manages to give Rogue something Gambit never could... a normal kiss. The moment is soon interrupted by the Shi'ar Imperial Guard's Gladiator who transports them to an alien ship headed for deep space... but more on that later.
In X-Factor, Creed's candidacy comes to an abrupt stop when he is assassinated. Although this image implied Mystique's guilt, I'm not sure that the truth was ever revealed (can't even find it on Wikipedia), however the suspicion was clearly laid at Bastion's feet. This is probably just another plot hole that was more or less forgotten about.
Operation: Zero Tolerance
In the aftermath of the assassination, Bastion manages to institute Operation: Zero Tolerance which involves using Sentinel cyborgs called Prime Sentinels. These were placed in both volunteers and unwitting victims to capture or kill mutants across the country.
Things go bad pretty fast. Half the X-Men are gone in space and the other half get captured in the initial attack. It's even worse for X-Factor who is slaughtered by Sabretooth when he finally manages to escape. While the title limped on for another year, it might as well have been canceled here.
Interestingly, all hopes for stopping Bastion were laid on Iceman who formed a ragtag group of X-Men consisting of any mutant he ran across. The first was Dr. Cecilia Reyes, a force field projector who was recruited by Xavier long ago, but rejected his offer, having no interest in fighting people for a living. Instead, she chose a background in medicine which was destroyed by the Prime Sentinel attack. Before long, they were joined by Marrow, who had reconsidered her life choices with the help of Callisto and a chance encounter with Spider-Man. With the timely assistance of SHIELD and the US government, they manage to stay alive long enough for Bastion to be arrested and imprisoned. All in all, it is not their finest hour.
The Trial of Gambit
Meanwhile, at the Shi'ar homeworld, Rogue, Joseph, Gambit, Beast, Bishop, and Trish Tilby arrive at the far side of the galaxy only to discover the Shi'ar taken over by their old enemies, the Phalanx. In a battle that isn't worth mentioning, they won and returned to Earth... but became a little lost on the way... especially Bishop who did some unholy boot-knockin' with Deathbird then traveled the galaxy and ended up in the future for a while. In my opinion, he should have stayed there.
The other X-Men were soon captured by some old friends of Gambit who had never appeared before and would never appear again. They were hired to take Gambit to a cave in Antarctica where they once again encountered the android called Nanny. Here Gambit was held on trial for crimes against the mutant race by someone wearing the familiar guise of Erik the Red. In the course of the trial, it is revealed that Gambit was hired by Sinister to form the Marauders, leading directly to the Mutant Massacre that killed the Morlocks. Upon seeing what they had done, Gambit managed to save only one mutant, the child who would grow up to become Marrow. During the trial, the X-Men manage to escape, but leave Gambit behind. This show of disapproval lasted roughly two issues, but as they left, the identity of Erik the Red was revealed as Magneto... leading everyone to wonder just who the hell Joseph is.
The Slightly New, Slightly Different X-Men
Following Operation: Zero Tolerance, the team once more reformed, now with the addition of Cecilia Reyes, Marrow, and a character with the unfortunate name of Maggott. The character was never popular, his powers sucked, and he didn't last long, so the less said about him the better.
As for Cecilia Reyes, I always liked her and wish she had become a bigger part of the X-Men. Considering how often they sustained serious injury, it only made sense to have a full time doctor on staff. It was also fun seeing an X-Man who didn't really want to be an X-Man, but didn't have a whole lot of choice.
Marrow, on the other hand, quickly took over the role of the untrustworthy member of the team. Her feral nature brought to the group something that Wolverine had long lacked... an edge born from unpredictability. This was shown in one of the first issues when Wolverine picked a fight with Marrow to prove he is the alpha male. However, this backfires when she sticks one of her blades in his throat...
He got better.
Although Marrow quickly became unpopular, I kind of liked her. There was something to be said for her punk rock personality. Her own healing factor seemed to me more like a side-effect of her painful bone growths making her survive on pain. Sure, she could be a real bitch, but she had a pretty good excuse.
With the quality of the books falling by leaps and bounds, X-Factor and Excalibur were canceled, but for some reason, the adventures of Havok continued in a parallel universe under the title of Mutant X. The premise of the book was that, after an explosion where he was presumed dead, Havok awoke in another universe where he was leader of the Six, this universe's equivalent to the X-Men. Here Storm was still a vampire after her encounter with Dracula giving her the name Bloodstorm, Ice-Man's powers were out of control freezing anything he touches, Warren was called the Fallen (more demon than angel or machine), Hank was a mindless creature called Brute, and Havok himself was married to Madelyne Pryor.
Although the series started strong with a lot of promise, artist Tom Raney soon left and the writing skills of Howard Mackie gave us little more than random moments of "look at who is different in this world!"
The Mostly Old, Mostly the Same X-Men
Less than one year after the X-Men roster changed, it changed again as Nightcrawler, Kitty Pryde, and Colossus returned to the X-Men from Excalibur. By this point, Maggott and Cecilia had left leaving Marrow the only new X-Men.
In their first adventure, they are pitted against mutants claiming to be the X-Men and looking very much like an amalgamation of other X-Men characters. Their one claim to fame is that they are led by Xavier. However, we soon discover that he isn't really Xavier, but Cerebro having gained sentience and creating his own X-Men. Before long, the X-Men run into the Brotherhood of Mutants now run by the real Xavier who used their help to engineer his escape. They team up, destroy Cerebro, and now Xavier is back. All-in-all, a most forgettable adventure.
The Magneto War
The real story begins in the Magneto War when Magneto regroups his Acolytes and creates a giant machine to soup up his magnetic powers. Fortunately, the X-Men aren't the only ones out to stop him. Unfortunately, this story is mainly used to tie-up the Joseph plotline with a new character called Astra who supposedly cloned Magneto as a young man to make him younger and more powerful so that he could kill Magneto. Joseph dies reversing the damage done by Magneto, but is soon forgotten and never mentioned again. The only lasting reprecussions of this storyline is the decision by the UN to grant Magneto control over Genosha as a mutant safe haven... provided, of course, that he stop trying to destroy the world.
Well, the X-Men aren't happy about it, but they are soon whisked off to another dimension before landing in the Skrull homeworld of the past just as Galactus is about to eat the planet. If the words "Skrull" and "Galactus" don't register, don't worry about it. The only notable event here is Marrow being put in a Skrull healing chamber while fixes her mutation problem making her both pretty and nice. All-in-all, she becomes much less interesting. The X-Men hop into a Skrull ship and return to Earth, placing themselves in suspended animation so as to return to Earth in the appropriate time period.
They soon find themselves in another attempt to wrap up continuity as Apocalypse gathers "The Twelve" referring to twelve mutants that were important in some way when they were mentioned in a small piece of dialog over ten years ago. In the story, Apocalypse gathers the twelve as ingredients for creating his perfect vessel. Magneto and Polaris represent the magnetic poles; Storm, Sunfire, and Iceman represent the elements; and... well, I'm already bored. Wolverine is once more chosen as Death, but this time it works and he gets back his adamantium, to the joy of fans everywhere. Nate Grey is chosen as the vessel, but Cyclops leaps into the way thereby becoming Cyclopalypse who is either temporarily destroyed or defeated and runs off weakened.
The Return of Chris Claremont
Soon after, Marvel creates big hype with the return of Chris Claremont to the X-Men, but it turns out to be the biggest disappointment of the year. Whatever skills Claremont had had in his heyday had atrophied resulting in one dimensional characters, insubstantial villains, and way too much repetitive narration. Particularly jarring were the character summaries in every issue which became tedious to read over and over again. It was not an auspicious return.
Meanwhile in X-Force, Generation X, and X-Man, then hot writer Warren Ellis, fresh off of his groundbreaking work on The Authority and Planetary, is brought in to refresh these three failing titles. Unfortunately, his independent style mainly clashes in all three titles and before long, Generation X and X-Man are canceled. Nate Grey falls into comic book limbo, Generation X disbands, and X-Force... well, that's a story for the next blog.
Claremont's run soon winds to a close with Dream's End, a storyline centered around Senator Robert Kelly's bid for the presidency and Moira MacTaggert's attempts to cure the Legacy Virus. Both plans are interrupted by the Brotherhood of Mutants who kill Moira and blow up Muir Island. Professor Xavier's mind holds on to her as she slips away, leaving him with the cure that she had finally found, the only caveat being that it requires the sacrifice of a mutant life as the catalyst. The X-Men succeed in defending Kelly from the Brotherhood long enough for him to call for equal mutant rights, but he is immediately shot and killed by an angry human bigot. In the following story, Colossus injects himself with the cure for the Legacy Virus, sacrificing himself with the memory of his sister close in mind.
Eve of Destruction
Soon after, Cyclops returns from his amalgamated state with Apocalypse. Using their mighty psychic powers, Jean and Cable separate Cyclops from Apocalypse thereby returning things more or less to "normal." He returns just in time to launch a stealth attack on Genosha as Magneto rallies his mutant population for war with the human race. The fight is ended with Wolverine's claws severing Magneto's spine and leaving him, once more disabled... for the time being.
The current and (in my opinion) greatest X-Men era. Come back soon for the conclusion to this X-Men primer... unless it ends up too long and I have to split it into two.
Part 8 (coming soon)