THE WEDDING OF CYCLOPS AND PHOENIX, which we covered last time, we've skipped five issues of X-MEN. This can be seen in greater detail over on my popular X-Men Collected Editions Chart. This gap is notable for being the only chunk of Fabian Nicieza's X-MEN uncollected, as well as one of only two chunks (along with issues 58 - 61) of uncollected X-MEN in general when using Scott Lobdell's five-year run on the sister title as a measuring stick (which itself is only missing issues 338 - 340 at this point). With any luck, someday in the near future, Marvel will plug these small holes and we'll finally have a full run of the Lobdell/Niciza UNCANNY and X-MEN in collected format.
At any rate -- "Phalanx Covenant" was 1994's X-Men event, pitting the merry mutants against the techno-organic Phalanx, a sort of mutated offshoot of the alien Technarchy which begat deceased New Mutant Warlock. The hardcover collection starts up with the obligatory recap, before moving into some lead-in material preceding the crossover proper. Remember when X-MEN: FATAL ATTRACTIONS skipped UNCANNY X-MEN #306 but included issue 315 as an epilogue? Well, PHALANX COVENANT is here to fix that little problem, plugging the issue 306 hole by printing that Phalanx-centric tale here, but skipping the non-Phalanx issue 315 instead. It's almost like they planned it that way!
UNCANNY 306's inclusion is due to the fact that it's the X-Men's first encounter with the Phalanx, as writer Scott Lobdell and artist John Romita, Jr. send Archangel and Jean Grey into the clutches of their old enemy Cameron Hodge at Archangel's one-time home in New Mexico. This represents something Lobdell did often during his run on UNCANNY; something I really like: he introduces the villain of the following year's crossover somewhere in the vicinity of the current year's. In this case, the X-Men were in between chapters of "Fatal Attractions" when the Phalanx were introduced.
(There's no such tease for the following year's events during "Phalanx Covenant", though, perhaps owing to the fact that "Age of Apocalypse" would occur a scant few months later, with the next proper crossover, "Onslaught", being more than a year-and-a-half off at this point -- but, just following the conclusion of "AoA", Lobdell would tease Onslaught -- and right before the start of "Onslaught", Lobdell would introduce Bastion, the villain of 1997's crossover, "Operation: Zero Tolerance".)
Following from issue 306, we receive a second recap page, filling readers in on the events of THE WEDDING OF CYCLOPS AND PHOENIX. Then it's on to UNCANNY X-MEN 311, a story unrelated to the Phalanx which happens to be the final issue of John Romita, Jr.'s second run on the title (I'm unsure if he was ever the "official" regular penciler, though; by my count he illustrated nine full installments between #300 and #311 in addition to participating in the "jam" #304).
UNCANNY 312 and 313 feature the return of the Phalanx after their debut back in 306 and introduce Joe Madureira as UNCANNY's new penciler, a gig he would maintain (with frequent fill-ins) for just about four years, through issue 350. (And it's interesting to note that, while I generally find things like comic book runs felt more "stretched out" as they were occurring month-to-month when I was a kid than they seem looking back in retrospect, I'm actually surprised Madureira was on the title for so long! I would've guessed two years, tops.)
UNCANNY 314, drawn by Lee Weeks, follows; it has no real Phalanx action to speak of, but it's here to continue a cliffhanger from the conclusion of 313. The book then skips over issue 315, which -- as noted earlier -- was already printed as an "epilogue" in the FATAL ATTRACTIONS collection.
An unexpected treat appears next, as we receive a recap for recent issues of EXCALIBUR, along with an except from issue 77 of that title. Then the book proceeds into EXCALIBUR 78 - 81, plotted by Scott Lobdell with scripts by Chris Cooper and art from a number of pencilers and inkers, guest-starring Professor X and laying some seeds for "Phalanx Covenant" by introducing Douglock, the techno-organic reincarnation of late New Mutant Doug Ramsey, while spotlighting the android from Cable's future, Zero.
"Phalanx Covenant" proper begins on page 228 of the volume. "Phalanx" was a crossover divided into three "acts" -- the first segment, titled "Generation Next", threads through UNCANNY X-MEN 316, X-MEN 36, UNCANNY 317, and X-MEN 37. This arc spotlights the unlikely team of Banshee, Emma Frost, and Sabretooth as they protect the next generation of mutants from the Phalanx. Writing on the UNCANNY issues comes as usual from Scott Lobdell, with Fabian Nicieza on X-MEN. Madureira and Andy Kubert, respectively, provide artwork for the two halves of the story. (And, much as I love Mad's artwork, he and Kubert are highly incompatible artists at this point -- and their styles will only drift further apart over the next few years.)
"Life Signs" is the second storyline, taking place in X-FACTOR 106, X-FORCE 38, and EXCALIBUR 82 as we see the secondary X-teams united against the Phalanx's attempt to bring more of their forces to Earth. Lobdell plots the first and final chapters with scripts from Todd DeZago, while Nicieza, X-FORCE's regular writer, handles the middle segment. Art comes from a who's who of pencilers, with only one chapter, the X-FORCE segment by Tony Daniel, drawn by a single artist.
The third part of the event, "Final Sanction" is covered by WOLVERINE 85 and CABLE 16, both written by Larry Hama with Adam Kubert and Steve Skroce on art, and featuring the return of Cyclops and Jean following their "honeymoon" limited series, THE ADVENTURES OF CYCLOPS AND PHOENIX -- not to mention the newlyweds' first interaction with Cable since raising him to adulthood in the future, as seen in that very story.
After all this we have ten bonus pages: a house ad, foldout timelines spotlighting several different characters as originally printed in the various crossover issues, reproduced here at half size, a MARVEL AGE article on "The Phalanx Covenant", a MARVEL YEAR IN REVIEW 1993 parody ad, and some original artwork at quarter size (which I've complained about before -- what's the point of reprinting original artwork that small??). We also have trading cards of the era strewn throughout the book between chapters.
But, most of all, the bonus features include (drumroll) -- the Pizza Hut ad!!
Anyone who read Marvel comics as a kid in the mid-nineties probably still has a perfectly vivid image of this thing in their head. It's a dynamic Joe Madureira drawing of several core X-Men, and it was ubiquitous across all Marvel comics for several months (at least) back then. It's weird, but this is probably my favorite piece of archival material in any of these reprints I've looked at so far. Not because it's rare or because I don't have ready access to it -- I own literally dozens of comics containing it and it's easy to find with a simple Google search -- but just because, due to sheer repetition, it's almost more of a touchstone to my teen years than these comics themselves. Every time I came across this double-page ad in a comic back then, I would stop and stare at it for a minute or so, admiring Joe Mad's energetic artwork, before moving on with the story at hand.
As usual -- and at what point do I begin to sound like a broken record? -- this is a very nice book. We have trade dress-free cover art beneath the dustjacket, and the graphic design is really nice. I might've preferred one of the "Generation Next" covers for this thing over "Final Sanction", but I guess Wolverine sells better than Banshee (for some reason). But, speaking of "Final Sanction", the restoration quality on WOLVERINE 85 is abysmal. It looks like a muddy scan, and I don't understand how this sort of thing can happen when almost all the other chapters are so beautifully reproduced. (I say "almost" because, while CABLE 16 looks better than WOLVERINE 85, it's also just a bit off.)
Examples of WOLVERINE #85's sub-par restoration.
Beyond the reproduction on "Final Sanction", I do have one more small complaint about the contents of this book: I really wish UNCANNY X-MEN 318 had been included. A "quiet issue" featuring Jubilee leaving Xavier's school to join Generation X, it's about as close to an official epilogue to the storyline as you can get without stamping the event logo on its cover, and it would've been a nice way to close things out after the nonstop action of "Final Sanction". (Plus there's precedent for this sort of thing; see UNCANNY 297 in the X-CUTIONER'S SONG hardcover or the afore-mentioned UNCANNY 315 in FATAL ATTRACTIONS.) That said, there is a modern reprint of issue 318 out there by way of the GENERATION X CLASSIC volume 1 paperback, where it is, in fact, rightly included as the epilogue to "Generation Next" before leading into GENERATION X #1.
Okay -- I unabashedly love this crossover. I know I say it every time, but I have my nostalgic reasons for all of them. "X-Cutioner's Song" was my very first X-crossover. A year or so later, "Fatal Attractions" was my first as a regular reader. "Phalanx Covenant", meanwhile, comes from the post WEDDING OF CYCLOPS AND PHOENIX era when I was really into X-Men. As I noted last time, my fandom took off during the lead-up to the wedding issue, and it totally clicked into place by this point. Plus, I had read a lot of classic X-material by the time "Phalanx" started as well, and I loved seeing Banshee, who had become one my favorite X-Men of the Claremont/Cockrum/Byrne era, back in action, and in his original green & yellow costume to boot. (Archangel as well returns to his classic red-and-white outfit during "Generation Next", and while he looks a little odd in that costume with blue skin, I can't complain too much since it's my favorite uniform for him.)
All that said, I've never much cared for the "Life Signs" installment of the event, finding it pretty dull any time I've revisited it (I remember literally dozing off while reading one of the chapters before bed way back when) -- but the rest of this stuff is great. I may have soft spots for all of them for various reasons, but there's a certain confluence of memories -- I recall exactly where I was when I read most of the chapters, for whatever reason -- which make "Phalanx Covenant" the nineties X-crossover I look back upon with the most overall fondness.
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