Sunday, September 27, 2015

X-MEN/AVENGERS: ONSLAUGHT OMNIBUS

Hardcover, 2015. Collects 1996's CABLE #32-36; UNCANNY X-MEN #333-337; X-FORCE #55 & 57-58; X-MAN #15-19; X-MEN #53-57, X-MEN ANNUAL '96; X-MEN UNLIMITED #11; ONSLAUGHT: X-MEN; ONSLAUGHT: MARVEL UNIVERSE; ONSLAUGHT: EPILOGUE; AVENGERS #401-402; FANTASTIC FOUR #415; INCREDIBLE HULK #444-445; WOLVERINE #104-105; X-FACTOR #125-126; AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #415; GREEN GOBLIN #12; SPIDER-MAN #72; IRON MAN #332; PUNISHER #11; THOR #502; X-MEN: ROAD TO ONSLAUGHT; and material from UNCANNY X-MEN #287, EXCALIBUR #100 & more.

I've been waiting years for this thing. For many fans, that statement is enough to raise questions about my sanity. But I can't help it; I have really, really strong feelings attached to the "Onslaught" crossover.

Earlier this year I wrote a bit about how much I love the year or so of X-Men comics that came between "Age of Apocalypse" and "Onslaught" -- and while, as an adult, I recognize the "Onslaught" event is not as impressive as I found it in my teens, there's still a lot to like about this book.

Some years back, Marvel published a SECRET WARS II OMNIBUS. I didn't pick it up as I really dislike that storyline, but the cool thing about the book was that it included all the various crossover issues -- and SECRET WARS II crossed over with pretty much every book in the Marvel line back then. So if one were to read the SWII collection, they'd essentially be looking at a time capsule of Marvel's continuity circa 1985-86. The ONSLAUGHT OMNIBUS provides a similar experience for the Marvel of a decade later. This book gives us a wonderful snapshot of Marvel's 1996 line, for better or worse: Noseless Wolverine. Shirtless Thor. "Joseph". Ben Reilly as Spider-Man. Teenage Iron Man. The Punisher with a ponytail. G.W. Bridge in command of S.H.I.E.L.D. -- and more. It may not all be to everyone's taste -- much of it isn't even to mine -- but the fact remains that this is, in a way, "my" Marvel. And because of that, I have very fond memories of all of it, even the stuff I don't (and didn't) like.


Marvel may have branded this as an X-MEN/AVENGERS book, but "Onslaught" was really an X-Men event which happened to have far-reaching consequences for the Marvel Universe -- not just the Avengers. To wit, the book begins with an excerpt from UNCANNY X-MEN 287, in which Bishop sees a posthumously recorded message from Jean Grey declaring that a traitor has murdered the X-Men. This is followed by a lengthy recap telling us what all the denizens of the Marvel Universe have been up to as the "Onslaught" crossover begins.


Then the actual reprinted issues begin, starting with lead-in material from CABLE 32, UNCANNY X-MEN 333, X-FORCE 55, X-MAN 15 - 17, X-MEN 53, X-MEN UNLIMITED 11, CABLE 33, UNCANNY X-MEN 334, X-MEN 54, and one-page excerpts from FANTASTIC FOUR 414 (misidentified by the book as 416) and AVENGERS 400. That's nearly three hundred pages of material before the crossover even officially begins, and not all of it is directly related to "Onslaught". I have to admit that I wonder if these issues might have been better off in a fourth ROAD TO ONSLAUGHT trade paperback rather than in this book, to make the Omnibus a slimmer package. But I suppose the mandate of the ROAD TO ONSLAUGHT books was specifically to collect X-MEN issues and their related tie-ins, rather than a broader look at the X-universe of the time, so doing it this way probably does make the most sense logistically.


The "Onslaught" event finally kicks off with the ONSLAUGHT: X-MEN one-shot, then moves from there into "Phase 1" of the crossover. "Onslaught" was branded "Phase 1" and "Impact 1" on the first month's issues, where "Phases" were considered "essential" chapters while "Impacts" were less tied in with the main storyline. For the most part, the issues collected in this book follow the phases, but there are occasions where a "Phase 2" chapter pops up admid the various "Phase 1" issues for better story flow purposes. I obviously haven't read the book through yet, but I trust the usually sterling record of Marvel's collected editions department to get this stuff hammered into the best possible reading experience (orderwise, of course -- they can't do anything about the content).


Thus the event proceeds after ONSLAUGHT: X-MEN through Phase 1 in the pages of UNCANNY X-MEN 335, AVENGERS 401, FANTASTIC FOUR 415, CABLE 34, HULK 444, a six-page excerpt from EXCALIBUR 100, WOLVERINE 104, and X-FACTOR 125. X-FACTOR 126 immediately follows, beginning "Phase 2", and from there it's on to AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 415, GREEN GOBLIN 12, SPIDER-MAN 72, X-MAN 18, X-FORCE 57, X-MEN 55, UNCANNY X-MEN 336, CABLE 35, X-FORCE 58, X-MAN 19, HULK 445, IRON MAN 332, AVENGERS 402, PUNISHER 11, THOR 502, WOLVERINE 105, FANTASTIC FOUR 416, and X-MEN 56.


The crossover caps off in ONSLAUGHT: MARVEL UNIVERSE, another one-shot, but the book's still got several pages to go after that. We get the immediate aftermath in CABLE 36, UNCANNY X-MEN 337, and X-MEN 57, which sees Professor X depart the team. After that it's the X-MEN ANNUAL '96 from a month later, with a story tangentially related to "Onslaught", and then we get the slightly more important ONSLAUGHT: EPILOGUE, which was published about six months after the crossover concluded, to close out the volume's narrative.


But the book isn't over there, folks. As usual, Marvel has supplied copious bonus materials for those who wish to relive the Summer of '96 in as complete a fashion as possible. We get THE ROAD TO ONSLAUGHT, a one-shot published shortly after the event whose purpose I still don't understand. ROAD TO ONSLAUGHT gave a lot of behind-the-scenes details about the crossover's genesis and build-up, and was essentially Marvel broadcasting to the world that they had no idea what the heck they were doing when they put this thing together. But in any case it was published, and it's preserved for posterity in this Omnibus.


We also have, strewn throughout the volume between issues, several pinups from X-MEN UNLIMITED #11 and a number of trading cards from the era reprinted at original size (nine to a page). At the back of the book are an "Onslaught Recap" which appeared in several Marvel comics at the time, copious articles from MARVEL VISION magazine, house ads, posters, unused covers, and cover art from previous collected editions which contained the issues reprinted in the Omnibus.


The book itself is a big thick brick, as is the norm for an Omnibus of this scope, with the usual sewn binding and a dustjacket. I have to admit that I'm not a fan of the jacket, which features way too much negative space for my liking (plus Ian Churchill's artwork, which I adored in my teens, has not aged very well). I feel like there must have been a better piece of artwork they could've used to represent this event on the cover; something simple like one of the house ads, perhaps.


When the dustjacket is removed, we get Churchill's artwork presented as a full textless image wrapping all the way around the book which, while a cool touch as always, once again suffers from just not being a very good picture. Marvel even omitted their trade dress from the spine, which is something they don't seem to do very often to the best of my recollection.


I have to admit that I get a lot of warm memories looking at the stuff in this book. Granted, some of the artwork is atrocious -- but there's some really good work in here, too. Joe Madureira, Andy and Adam Kubert, Mark Bagley, Carlos Pacheco, and John Romita Jr., several of my favorite artists from this period, look tremendous in the oversize format. Likewise Steve Epting and Steve Skroce, neither of whom were to my taste in the nineties. Pascual Ferry, as well, turns in a tremendous job on ONSLAUGHT: X-MEN, and Mike Deodato Jr. inked by Tom Palmer, one of the weirdest combinations imaginable, isn't bad either.


As for the story -- well, like I said -- I haven't read the book yet. I know the stories about what a mess "Onslaught" was behind the scenes, and I'm well aware this stuff isn't for everyone. Most of it wasn't even for me when I first read it. I only read the X-MEN and UNCANNY X-MEN chapters, as well as the bookend one-shots and the few "Impact" books I was picking up regularly (AMAZING SPIDER-MAN and SPIDER-MAN were pretty much it, I think). So part of me looks forward to re-reading it someday for the good memories, and part of me wants to read it to see what I missed in all the ancillary titles. And of course, a third part wants to read it with a modern-day critical eye to see if it's just as bad a mess as everyone tells me it was.


It's noteworthy that this book doesn't contain every book that was branded as part of the "Onslaught" event. GENERATION X had an "Impact" issue or two, but those stories really had nothing to do with the storyline other than that they featured the White Queen attempting to hide the Gen-X kids from Onslaught. There was also X-MEN UNLIMITED 12, which guest-starred Doctor Strange and featured the conclusion of Juggernaut's story arc begun early in this book. It seems Marvel's main concern was to collect the main thrust of the crossover without any tangentially related material.

(Though I would argue X-MEN UNLIMITED 12 is more integral to "Onslaught" than the included X-MEN ANNUAL '96. Dare we hope for a trade paperback called ONSLAUGHT AFTERMATH or something to that effect? There's not a whole left to be collected to bridge the gap between this Omnibus and the OPERATION: ZERO TOLERANCE hardcover released a few years ago, after all, and keeping up the Onslaught branding might make the most sense. But this is speculation for another day...)


The book carries a cover price of $125, and unlike other recent offerings from Marvel, I'd say that price is justified for the amount of material. (Again -- amount, not quality.) It can be found for up to 50% off at many online retailers, so if you're interested in reliving your childhood, if you want to see this much maligned event with your own eyes, or if you'd simply like to own a book to make Mark Waid sigh in disgust when you present it to him for an autograph, know that with rose-tinted glasses firmly affixed to my face, I recommend checking this volume out.


Available now at Amazon.com.

6 comments:

  1. . ROAD TO ONSLAUGHT gave a lot of behind-the-scenes details about the crossover's genesis and build-up, and was essentially Marvel broadcasting to the world that they had no idea what the heck they were doing when they put this thing together.

    Even more than that, what I always took from it was that their plans (according to the issue) were better than the actual story. There was more detail about what Onslaught was using the Sentinels for (which fit some of the "Road to..." scenes better), and the whole idea of his master plan being to use the inter-dimensional Morlock tunnels to spread his psionic essence (or whatever) all over the multiverse was loads better than his master plan (which was to...punch things, I think? And absorb Nate & Franklin?).

    I've yet to pull the trigger on any of these big X-books (since I already have all the single issues), but I really do appreciate the size and completeness of it, and I love that it opens with a teaser, followed by a narrative recap of what everyone is up to. That's all story-centric omnibuses (as opposed to ones just collecting a run in huge chunks) should start.

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    1. Yeah, something was seriously lost in translation from the original Onslaught plans and the final execution. I just don't understand how; it's not like the writer or the editor changed mid-stream. It was always Scott Lobdell and Bob Harras all the way through!

      It's funny; originally, when Marvel's trade/hardcover program really took off about ten years ago, I was only picking up collections of stuff I hadn't already read. But eventually my philosophy changed and I decided I would like to own really nice, archival versions of the stuff I had enjoyed growing up, both for myself and for my eventual offspring. (Because what kid doesn't want to read all the exact same stuff their dad did when he was their age?) Plus I stopped reading modern monthly comics entirely a few years back, and this is practically my only hobby, so I'm able to justify the money I spend each month that way.

      Nowadays it's almost reversed; I still buy collections of series/runs I never read, but I think I may actually be picking up more books of material I already own. And most of the "new" stuff is usually tangentially related to the stuff I remember anyway, like a Spider-Man mini-series I may have missed as a kid, or an X-ongoing I never read back then.

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    2. Yeah, I've definitely changed my buying habits and shifted to a more archival approach that simply buying stuff I don't have/haven't read, but for whatever reason, I still have a hard time doubling up on the X-Men stuff too much. Part of it may be that, on top of the single issues, I still have a lot of individual trades for stuff like "X-Tinction Agenda" and "Zero Tolerance", from back before Marvel's reprint output was as robust as it is now. So it's almost like tripling up. But still. Having "Onslaught" in one big collection wouldn't be a bad thing...

      Because what kid doesn't want to read all the exact same stuff their dad did when he was their age?

      See, now you sound just like my wife. :)

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    3. I understand that -- I've rebought a few things I already owned in trade -- "X-Tinction Agenda", which you mentioned, is one of them. But generally Marvel includes enough additional material that I can justify it. Again, with regards to "X-Tinction", the hardcover they released a few years ago includes the original Claremont/Silvestri/Leonardi story as a lead-in, and at the time I don't believe that had ever been collected anywhere else. (Though it finally popped up in sequential order in the INFERNO PROLOGUE hardcover last year.)

      For the most part, though, I haven't had much trouble justifying the rebuying to myself for a couples reasons: One, in single issue format, I really only ever read X-MEN and UNCANNY, so if a collection includes issues of NEW MUTANTS or X-FACTOR or X-FORCE or CABLE or whatever else, chances are I never read those. And two, for collections, besides the extras and bonus features, there's also the coloring. A lot of Marvel's old trades had ugly dot-matrix colors. I think they used the same separations as in the comics, but the trades were usually on better paper and you could practically make out all the individual dots in the colors. It just looked ugly. Nowadays they reseparate (or re-color or whatever) everything, so it's much more attractive than either previous trades or previous single issues.

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    4. One, in single issue format, I really only ever read X-MEN and UNCANNY, so if a collection includes issues of NEW MUTANTS or X-FACTOR or X-FORCE or CABLE or whatever else, chances are I never read those.

      Ah, that makes sense. Unfortunately, I can't use that justification, as aside from stuff like Dazzler or Deadpool that I don't really consider X-books (and really new stuff, like all the various Wolverine series), I have pretty much every single issue of every X-related series from UXM #97 forward.

      I do really like the idea of having some of this stuff in one easy-to-read/lookup format though; I'm really considering getting the re-issued "Age of Apocalypse" omnibus coming out in a few months just to have that whole thing in one massive chunk, instead of spread out across all those single issues in my longboxes.

      A lot of Marvel's old trades had ugly dot-matrix colors. I think they used the same separations as in the comics, but the trades were usually on better paper and you could practically make out all the individual dots in the colors.

      You're right about that - my old "X-Tinction Agenda" trade, which I still have mainly for the nostalgia of it being one of the first trades I ever bought, has terrible art reproduction, with the dots clearly visible all over the place.

      I really should replace it with a newer version, especially since much of that story isn't even on Marvel Unlimited, for whatever reason, so I've only ever read via the original issues or poor reproductions thereof.

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    5. The AoA Omnibus is really nice. It starts off with "Legion Quest" and then goes into X-MEN ALPHA, all the core AoA titles, and then X-MEN OMEGA. It doesn't include some of the secondary AoA material though, such as the X-MEN UNLIMITED replacement (CHRONICLES OF THE X-MEN)? and the UNIVERSE series that showed what all the other Marvel characters were up to during the AoA.

      Since I recently announced I'll be reviewing my X-Men hardcovers one per month, I should get to a full post on the AoA book someplace arounnnd... counting my books... checking my calendar... next October.

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