Friday, January 9, 2015


Words and Pictures: Jeph Loeb & Tim Sale
Lettering: Richard Starking and Comicraft | Colors: Gregory Wright
Separations: Digital Chameleon (issues 1 & 2) & Malibu's Hues (issues 3 & 4)
Editor: Mark Powers | Editor-in-Chief: Bob Harras

Come with me now to the nineties, a decade extremely near to my comic book reading heart but one which I've covered very little (if at all?) since beginning this blog. In 1995, the X-Men were in a state of flux. The post-Chris Claremont era's status quo had changed somewhat following the "Age of Apocalypse" crossover, and it was an exciting time to be an X-fan. Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters had moved to Massachusetts under the stewardship of Banshee and the reformed Emma Frost. The name "Onslaught" (Who was he? What was he?) was on everyone's lips. And Wolverine was devolving by the day into a feral shadow of his former self.

Which brings us to VICTIMS, by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale. At the time Loeb was the regular writer of both X-MAN and CABLE. Over at DC, he had teamed with artist Sale on a handful of projects including three well-regarded BATMAN: HAUNTED KNIGHT Halloween one-shots, but, aside from a short annual backup story starring Bishop (more on that below), this was the duo's first work for Marvel.

Loeb and Sale use Wolverine's deteriorating humanity as the springboard for their story, as Gambit learns that an old friend in the London police is the latest victim in a string of modern day "Jack the Ripper" murders. Gambit heads to England to investigate and runs afoul of the law, as well as Wolverine, who is apparently the killer.

The ensuing story, all set over one night, finds the X-Men rescued from the authorities by a mysterious young SHIELD agent named Martinique. But Wolverine kills her as well, revealing her as a robot. It turns out Martinique is the daughter of the X-Men's late foe, Mastermind, and possesses the power to create telepathic illusions in her enemies' minds. She's teamed up with Arcade to get revenge on the X-Men, beginning with Wolverine and Gambit, but when she learns that Arcade is actually behind the murders (she wasn't in on Arcade's frame-job), she betrays him and escapes.

Sale's artwork is easily the main draw of VICTIMS. He presents stylized versions of Wolverine and Gambit, applying his pseudo-cartoony approach to the overly detailed Jim Lee costume designs. The result is surprisingly impressive. With the majority of the story set at night, Sale also gets to exercise the muscles that make him such a great Batman artist, with plenty of dark shadows encroaching on the action.

Some of Sale's choices, however, seem questionable. There are spots where he draws only a few panels on a page, leaving the majority of the space blank for no discernible reason. Such a choice can work artistically if it makes sense, but here it just looks awkward and, dare I say, lazy. But these moments are few and far between, and mostly VICTIMS a is a beautifully illustrated series.

Jeph Loeb is a writer who I rarely enjoy, but somehow his collaborations with Sale all tend to be very good. VICTIMS, while not up to the high standard of some of the duo's other work together, is well-written, notwithstanding a questionable psychotic break for Arcade at the story's conclusion. But Loeb has a handle on the Wolverine and Gambit of the nineties, presenting characterization for both consistent with the X-books of the era (though the X-office at the time was notorious for editorial rewrites, so some of Loeb's consistency may be owed to editor Mark Powers).

I particularly like Mastermind's daughter, here in her first appearance. Loeb and Sale plant some intriguing character bits for her which will get lost as subsequent writers muck about with her -- though, considering that she's later revealed to have a sister with the same powers thanks to editorial incompetence during the Joe Quesada years, I'm not exactly sure which Lady Mastermind is which these days.

But in any case, the Martinique see here bears a striking resemblance to Talia al Ghul of BATMAN fame (giving a hint as to what that character might have looked like, had she appeared in any of the Loeb/Sale collaborations at DC), and is downright disgusted to learn that Arcade was behind the serial murders. She abandons him to the X-Men at the story's end, informing Gambit that she now must atone for her indirect role in these killings.

Curiously, as she departs, her back to Wolverine and Gambit, it appears that her face changes, the beautiful visage we'd seen throughout the story an illusion hiding an ugly/older face, much as her father did during the "Dark Phoenix Saga". To my knowledge, neither this "mask" nor her regard for innocent life were ever touched on again, which is a shame. Martinique might've made a decent X-Man someday, but I believe instead her evil sister joined the team for a while before being revealed as an agent of Mr. Sinister.
VICTIMS takes me back to high school and the year between "Age of Apocalypse" and "Onslaught", one of my favorite points in X-Men history. As a teenager I was disappointed that the series' events were never referenced in the ongoing X-books, since I liked it so much. But other than its genesis in the then-current "devolving Wolverine" sub-plot, the series is very continuity-light, dropping a few Easter eggs for fans, but otherwise functioning as a standalone story. It's not the best Marvel work from Loeb and Sale, but considering it appeared in an era when Marvel was publishing X-Men mini-series after X-Men mini-series, most of dubious quality, it stands out as an above-average effort.

Bonus: UNCANNY X-MEN ANNUAL #18, published a year earlier in 1994, features a ten-page story by Loeb and Sale titled "And Nothing Will Ever Be the Same" (lettered by Joe Rosen and colored by Gregory Wright), which I believe is their first collaboration at Marvel. In it, time-displaced X-Man Bishop uses the danger room to replay a mission with his deceased subordinates, Malcolm and Randall, then makes friends with Jubilee after leaving the room.

I'll admit it: I was a Bishop fanboy in the nineties. I thought he was just the coolest. I still really like that iteration of the character, particularly when written by Scott Lobdell. He made a great straight man, especially for Gambit, with whom he developed a fun "Odd Couple" relationship over the years, and had neat powers. But the stories where he flashed back to his original timeline or moped about his past never appealed to me. I simply liked him because he looked and acted really cool, not because he was from the future or he was a fish out of water or anything else.

So this tale didn't do much for me at the time. But reading it now, heavy handed as it is -- Malcolm's hologram tells Bishop it knows he'll never let them down as it fades away in a symbolic recreation of the actual Malcolm's death -- it's a nice little character piece about the then-newest X-Man letting go of his past mistakes to embrace his new future. I like it. And even in the confines of this ten-pager, Sale finds room for some full-page splashes and even a spectacular double-page spread, so it's a great looking little story, too.

UNCANNY X-MEN ANNUAL #18 is available as part of THE WEDDING OF CYCLOPS AND PHOENIX trade paperback.


  1. "the year between "Age of Apocalypse" and "Onslaught", one of my favorite points in X-Men history"

    Interesting. That is probably one of my least favorite points.

    1. Yes, I get that response a lot. I don't know what to say, though. Certainly part of it is nostalgia. I got into the X-Men around "X-Cutioner's Song", but only reading X-MEN and not UNCANNY (unless there was a crossover). I became really invested beginning with "Phalanx Covenant", which was only a few months before AoA, which led directly into the year preceding "Onslaught". I picked up the UNCANNY with unconscious Juggernaut on the cover and kept on reading it along with X-MEN for the rest of the nineties.

      Once I get the third “Road to Onslaught” trade, I’m thinking about a post to elaborate upon this, since your reaction is pretty much universal.

  2. The X-Men are awesome characters with insane amount of back story that is essential comics history which hits the new reader into face like a sledgehammer and is forevermore associated with those first year's or so worth of X-Men comics. You see people online saying they bailed out at ~#175 because it got tedious but no one can still convince me that the bit from #199 to #214 isn't the best bit ever.

    1. I own all those issues and I've read them more than once, but I'm actually one of the people who has little interest after 175 (176 actually, as that contains the beginning of Cyclops's never-ending honeymoon). When Cyclops leaves and Storm goes punk, the X-Men just lose much of their appeal for me.

    2. That's the problem right there. For me the powerless punk Storm is the quintessential version of the character, Cyclops is someone circling at the outer spheres of the X-world (in other worlds I managed to jump in precisely the tiny window when Scott was living his intended-by-Claremont retired married life) and his daughter is perhaps the most important character ever.

      For someone else, because of timing reasons, the recording of Jeanie fatally failing to escape the one who BETRAYED the X-Men might be a moment of importance, but to me it's a horrible horrible misstep that never should have been taken.

    3. Well remember, I'm not talking about the "Onslaught" event or its execution here; I'm specifically speaking about the year of X-MEN and UNCANNY X-MEN between "Age of Apocalypse" and "Onslaught". As far as "Onslaught" goes, there were definitely some missteps -- the most prominent being not knowing what "Onslaught" was when they introduced the concept. I will give credit for what the character ultimately turned out to be, though -- whatever you think about the event and and behind-the-scenes goings-on, the concept of Professor X corrupted by Magneto's consciousness, tying all the way back to "Fatal Attractions" years earlier (and even further back to Xavier's dark side as seen in UXM #106), was a novel idea and a good use of past continuity.

      But, that said, would I have preferred the "traitor" angle was handled differently? Of course! Bishop came back in time in the 280s to solve that mystery, immediately identified Gambit as the villain, and then let the subject lie for about fifty issues! That storyline should've been resolved in a year, tops, and they should have just gone with Gambit, but unfortunately his popularity made that impossible.

      As for the rest -- it really does depend upon how and when you got into the series. If you became a regular reader during the 180s-210s, then certainly punk Storm and absentee Cyclops are the status quo you most identify with. For me, as much as I love the Byrne/Cockrum/Claremont stuff -- my favorite comic book run of all time is UXM 94 - 176 -- those aren't "my" X-Men. The group and status quo that is dearest to me is this one: Cyclops, Jean, Storm, Wolverine, Beast, Bishop, Psylocke, Rogue, Gambit, Archangel, Iceman, etc. all living in the mansion together with Professor X in his hover chair. So any story from this era automatically wins at least some points from me simply for existing.

    4. I just realized two things:

      1) I didn't actually really get to read the year between now that I look it up. The Legion Quest blew up not only the timeline but also the publication of our X-book, and we only got AoA and few pesky issues following it in "Special" one-shots and our Marvel anthology book before Onslaught. Which whole thing contributes heavily to my antipathy to the era, following me dropping off trying to actively follow what little X-Men (well comics really) we got soon enough afterwards though I continued subscribing the anthology book out of habit.

      2) Things getting picked up in Onslaught are from post-Claremont era, the immediate at that with the "traitor" plot. It was Lobdell's stuff all the way through? Kind of too clearly divides between Claremont and post-Claremont X-Men for my taste. Creative team changes is something so... late 90's

    5. I actually like the divide between Claremont and post-Claremont. 1991 onward drew heavily on stuff he had written, but it's really like a completely different series and that's one of the things I enjoy about it. It was basically a "soft" reboot of the franchise.

  3. "Bishop came back in time in the 280s to solve that mystery"

    No, he didn't. He was chasing down criminals from the future who escaped back to our time. That was how he ended up in our time. I think it might have been quietly retconned in the lead-up to Onslaught that he came back to solve the traitor mystery, but it wasn't the initial reason he came back.

    1. Sorry, I meant from a creative standpoint. His mission within the comics was originally to hunt down the escapees, but that was really just a means to get him to our time and kick off the "X-traitor" storyline.