Sunday, February 12, 2017


Hardcover, 2012. Collects 1997's UNCANNY X-MEN #346, X-MEN #65 - 70, WOLVERINE #115 - 118, GENERATION X #26 - 31, X-FORCE #67 - 70, CABLE #45 - 47, and X-MAN #30

In its way, "Operation: Zero Tolerance" seems to have had just as many hiccups behind the scenes as did "Onslaught" a year earlier. We got a taste of this last time in our look at THE TRIAL OF GAMBIT, and I'll elaborate further below.

But first, the contents: This volume opens withe the standard recap page, bringing readers up to speed on the status of the X-teams circa 1997. From there we move into GENERATION X #26 and 27 by Scott Lobdell with artists Joe Bennett, Chris Bachalo, and Pop Mhan, followed by X-FORCE #67 from the well-regarded John Francis Moore/Adam Pollina run. A short recap and an excerpt from X-MEN 64 featuring Jubilee and the crossover's villain, Bastion, come next. Then it's back to GENERATION X for issue 28, again by Lobdell (writing his final issue of the series) and Bachalo. The X-Men join the fray in X-MEN #65, which features most of the team (minus those off in space as seen in THE TRIAL OF GAMBIT) captured by Bastion's forces. UNCANNY X-MEN 346, which we discussed last month as part of THE TRIAL OF GAMBIT, comes next, and then we get another recap leading into GENERATION X 29, where temporary guest-writer James Robinson joins Chris Bachalo.

Next, X-MEN 66 by Lobdell and Carlos Pacheco follows the adventures of Iceman and introduces Cecilia Reyes to the X-Men's world. Then we catch up with the captured X-Men in WOLVERINE 115 by Larry Hama and Leinil Francis Yu. X-FORCE returns for issue 68, which continues into CABLE 45 through 47 by James Robinson with art from Randy Green and Rob Haynes, before returning to X-FORCE for #69. WOLVERINE 116 continues the saga of the X-Men, while GENERATION X #30 and 31 feature Jubilee's escape and the long-teased secret of team members Monet and Penance revealed, as Chris Bachalo follows Scott Lobdell off the series they had created together two-and-a-half years earlier.

Iceman's adventures continue in X-MEN 67 and 68, and then the escaped X-Men meet up with Jubilee in WOLVERINE 117. Terry Kavanagh, with Roger Cruz and Cary Nord on art, brings us X-MAN #30 next, then Iceman comes face-to-face with Bastion in X-MEN 69 as the villain is beaten in Scott Lobdell's final issue as writer (we already saw him depart UNCANNY X-MEN in last month's coverage of THE TRIAL OF GAMBIT). The X-Men make their way home in WOLVERINE 118 as Larry Hama departs the series following more than eighty issues as regular writer. (A lot of longtime X-creators left during this crossover, huh?) X-Force takes off on a road trip in issue 70, and finally, the X-Men's lineup is revamped as the spacebound mutants return to Earth in X-MEN 70 by incoming writer Joe Kelly, closing out the volume.

Fourteen bonus pages follow, including an unused pencil page by Carlos Pacheco, several house ads, and an interview with Scott Lobdell from UNCANNY X-MEN #-1, which describes a storyline somewhat different from the OZT with which we wound up (more on that below). Last up are the original cover to the first OZT trade paperback along with its introduction from assistant editor Jason Liebig, as well as thumbnail-size versions of the covers of every issue reprinted in this volume, sans cover copy.

Once again, as with PHALANX COVENANT, we find that Wolverine apparently sells books even if he's not the most appropriate character to spotlight on the cover. The front of this volume's dustjacket features the cover to WOLVERINE #115, a kind of boring solo shot of the character, rather than something more thematically appropriate such as X-MEN #65. That would've been a great, dynamic cover for this collection, spotlighting a group of Bastion's Prime Sentinels ambushing the X-Men, but -- I'm assuming -- since Wolverine isn't pictured on that cover, it was passed over.

Reservations about the cover aside, however, this is a nice, quality volume as usual. It's not plagued with any reproduction issues that I can see, which is a welcome improvement over a couple of prior mid-nineties X-collections, where the computer colors of the time seemed to confound Marvel's restoration team to some extent. And, while in general I have no objection to giant hardcover "bricks", OPERATION: ZERO TOLERANCE weighs in at a very reasonable 640 pages, making a nice size to hold comfortably in almost any position.

I'll speak to the crossover's story in a moment, but first: "Operation: Zero Tolerance" features mostly great artwork all the way through. Carlos Pacheco on X-MEN is at his best here, while Leinil Yu, who didn't appeal to me all that much in 1997, has really aged well. Plus you have Joe Madureira on one chapter, which is never a bad thing. I have to admit that I never really got on board with Adam Pollina and I still don't find his work particularly attractive (not that it mattered at the time since I never really read X-FORCE in the first place) -- but it's certainly not awful. Joe Bennett does a decent fill-in for the first GENERATION X issue here, but Chris Bachalo quickly returns to the series and turns in the worst artwork of the crossover, and -- in my opinion -- of his career. While his layouts and page design are very creative and interesting, I just can't get past this bizarre phase where he felt that every character should look like a child regardless of their actual age. Jubilee looks prepubescent here, while Emma Frost appears to be about thirteen years old, and it's all really off-putting.

Okay, I have to admit -- and I already went over this once with the contemporaneous issues of UNCANNY X-MEN last month -- this was the point where the bloom began to escape the rose for me as a monthly X-reader. That's not to say I didn't continue to enjoy the X-Men for a few more years, but certainly this was the first X-crossover that just didn't float my boat in almost any meaningful way. Partly that's due to the fact that only one of the two core X-books participated in "Operation: Zero Tolerance". For some inexplicable reason, scheduling was fouled up to the point that UNCANNY X-MEN's spaceborne mutants remained separated from the action through the entire crossover, with only one single issue of the title participating -- and the only way it managed that was by devoting the issue to Spider-Man instead of the X-Men!

But, as noted to begin this piece, OZT's behind-the-scenes goings-on would most likely have resulted in an unsatisfying experience even with UNCANNY's participation. For one thing, this story wasn't conceived as a line-wide crossover. Go all the way back to the X-Men solicitations released prior to the previous year's "Onslaught" event, and you'll find that the original plan called for Bastion -- introduced just before "Onslaught" in a single ominous issue of UNCANNNY -- was supposed to attack the X-Men immediately following that event's conclusion. Scott Lobdell intended for the villain to hit the X-Men while they were weakened, to destroy their mansion headquarters, and to send them on the run, underground, for an indeterminate amount of time.

But it seems editorial got wind of the idea and decided to hold OZT in reserve for a year, building up Bastion across multiple series -- much as had been done previously with Onslaught -- before unleashing him on the X-Men. The idea to destroy the X-Mansion was scrapped as well; something I'm okay with in theory; I prefer the merry mutants residing in Westchester rather than anywhere else, even if the decision did neuter Bastion's threat somewhat. The end result of this was a scheduling snafu that ultimately kept half the X-Men and one of their core titles out of the crossover and put the X-series in a bit of a holding pattern -- the material between "Onslaught" and "Zero Tolerance" sometimes reads like filler -- for a year.

The thing is, not every big event needs to be a line-wide crossover. "Zero Tolerance" does not require Cable and X-Force or X-Man to be involved.* (Generation X I'll allow, since Lobdell wrote it and tied Jubilee into the main story pretty well.) This story would've worked just fine as Lobdell originally conceived it -- a smaller story specific to the X-Men themselves without all their ancillary teams thrown into the mix. Marvel would seem to have learned this lesson by the following year, as 1998 did not feature a line-wide X-crossover, instead simply giving us "The Hunt For Xavier", an event contained only within X-MEN and UNCANNY X-MEN.

Further, OZT ends with Bastion's defeat, something Lobdell had not intended for his originally conceived story. When Bastion attacked the X-Men and destroyed their home, he was to become a major player in the X-Men's world, dogging the mutants nonstop for quite some time; Lobdell has stated his intention to eventually make Bastion as large a presence in the X-mythos as Professor X and Magneto. His defeat here -- arrested by SHIELD rather than stopped by the X-Men, no less -- is a bit of a let-down in comparison with Lobdell's original plans.

I had followed credits and read letter columns for some time prior to these issues, so I was aware of the concept of creative teams and the fact that different writers handled the characters in different ways -- but this is very close to the point where, between "Onslaught", the flip-flopping of Peter Parker's origins in Spider-Man's "Clone Saga", and -- perhaps biggest of all -- the advent of the internet pulling a curtain away from those creators, that I really became fully conscious of the fact that there were a bunch of adult guys making all this stuff up as they went along -- and, while I continued to enjoy the X-Men with few reservations for about four more years after this point, a certain amount of innocence on my part was lost shortly after this run.

So, in a way, OPERATION: ZERO TOLERANCE seems an appropriate point to conclude this retrospective of X-Men collected editions. In terms of creative continuity, it brings us up to Scott Lobdell's final X-issues, a milestone I've cited before as one of my major collected edition goals. In terms of nostalgia, it takes us to the point where I began to realize there was more to explore in Marvel beyond just Spider-Man and the X-Men. The "Heroes Return" series started up at the tail end of "Zero Tolerance" and I suddenly found myself branching out into things I'd never read before. At this point, as I've said elsewhere, I started to enjoy Marvel more on a line-wide basis than ever before. And, yes, I kept up with the X-Men as well, and I found things to enjoy in the subsequent runs of Joe Kelly, Steve Seagle, and Alan Davis -- but right here, with the final crossover of Scott Lobdell's run in the X-universe, is where I can close the book on the X-Men stories with which I grew up, and which, forever more, informed my belief in what the characters and their world should look like.

Available on Amazon
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* Interestingly, "Zero Tolerance" is the first X-event since 1992's "X-Cutioner's Song" to totally omit EXCALIBUR from the proceedings for whatever reason. X-FACTOR, meanwhile, is absent as well; its first omission from an X-crossover since they started doing them in 1986 with "Mutant Massacre"!


  1. I can't say I have too terribly fond memories of OZT.

    My first issue of Uncanny was #98, cover dated April 1976, which means I was quite the veteran of the books and had seen a ton of changes over the eleven years I'd been reading them. OZT was the point where I first asked myself "is this trip really necessary?" The books had been wrecked by the nonstop crossovers, and I was just plain tired of it. I'd already cast aside most of the secondary titles, and focused on Uncanny and X-Men, by the time OZT came along in its incoherent lack of glory, I was primed for a change.

    The Seagle/Kelly era, short as it was, did me in. There was one double sized issue at one point in the run that was completely unreadable; I had no idea what was going on and could care less. Editorial meddling had completely ruined the X-Men, and I jumped ship until Morrison showed up.

    You'd like to think a crossover this bad would have cured Marvel of doing them. Twenty years later-twenty years that have seen me largely abandon reading Marvel period-they're still at it.

    1. I already didn't read the ancillary titles, except for GENERATION X, so there was nothing for me to drop by this point!

      I recall at the time not being a big fan of Seagle/Kelly, though I've gathered it has its fans and it might have turned out pretty good had it not been for editorial conflicts. Apparently Mark Powers was an even more intrusive editor than Bob Harras had been, frequently rewriting scripts and dictating stories even after directions were previously agreed upon.

      Interestingly, Marvel did abandon crossovers for a while, during the "continuity-lite" Quesada/Jemas era, but it was a few years after OZT when that change took place, and in the long run, it didn't really last for very long. I think they were back to crossovers, by way of "House of M", within just a couple years of stopping them.

      I have nothing against crossovers in general, and in fact as I've described over the past year-plus, I'm very soft on many of the X-events from the nineties. But most of those, under Bob Harras's guidance, were at least fairly well plotted and thought out. I just don't like mandated annual events. Let the crossovers occur organically or not at all.


  2. // I just can't get past this bizarre phase where he felt that every character should look like a child //

    Yeesh! What the hell is going on there?

    When did Sentinels get malleable human facial expressions, let alone hair and fingernails? That isn’t necessarily a rhetorical question, as I’m not familiar with much X-Men stuff in this period. Nobody has to answer it, though; Google will serve.

    1. I kind of wonder if Bachalo was trying to emulate Joe Madureira's style, which was all the rage at the time, and failing miserably -- but I'd like to give him enough credit as an artist to believe he knew what he was doing. Why he chose this direction is a totally different question, though. I liked him early on GENERATION X, but by this point, with his characters looking like they did, I was happy to see him leave.

      I know you said you'd Google it, but for posterity: Bastion's Sentinels were "Prime Sentinels", humans modified by nanotechnology to transform into mutant-hunting cyborgs at his command. Part of the concept of OZT was the fact that (dunh dunh DUHHH) anybody could be a Prime Sentinel! Some people didn't even know they'd been modified until the transformation happened!

    2. Blam the reason is by this time japanese anime was very much the thing (pokemon, dragonball z),therefore characters had become more cartoony/childlike. And during that was highly popular and successful among x-men readers because; it was a break from the highly detailed graphic jim lee, rob liefeld, marc silvestri Image Comics style of art that really ruled from 1989 until 1995. People I gather just wanted a break from what was there before. As for me personally..I like chris bachalo overall but I detested chris bachlos anime style art of this era..I also think operation zero tolerence is the worst crossover I ever read and then I stopped reading x-men back issues from 1997-2001 era. But I read everything before 1997 and much after 2001. Nowadays people look back at the 90's decade as being a dark age. I actually like the 90's a lot...but I have to agree that the late 90's (at least) was a bad period. But like I said, I was turned off after zero tolerance (from the style of art and story) and I never gave the rest of the 90's 1997-2001 a fair I am a bit bias.

    3. Yeah, I guess that probably is a case of Bachalo trying to do a Joe Mad/manga thing, but clearly he took the wrong lessons to heart when attempting to work in that style!

      If you ever want to try any further X-Men stuff from the nineties, I would suggest the Alan Davis run from around 1999 or so. He plotted both X-MEN and UNCANNY and drew UNCANNY. I really loved that run as it was coming out. It begins with the "Magneto War" crossover and concludes with "The Twelve" (followed by a little coda called "Powerless". Unfortunately, only about half of it has been collected at the moment, but I doubt back issues cost much.

    4. Oh cool you wrote back to me! I was browsing around google images for some unrelated x-men thing..I saw an image from the 90's x-men. Due to the cartoony anime influence...I Immediately recognized it was from the mid to late 90's..thought I could learn something new (as I indicated in my previous comment..I read or own everything from 1976 to 2010 but never chased after the 1998-2000 stuff. After I read zero tolerance..I then had zero tolerance for the late 90's. I bought a trade of it, liked the art thought it was unique, but found the story to be overly rushed and focused on weird sup plots/characters. I have only ever had a bad experience with the x-men 3 crossover times. Phanlanx Covenent and Inferno Crossover then the OZT. I msut say all 3 of them are great concepts. And had lots of potential...but Phalanx and Inferno I felt had overly rushed art the turned messy..and the plotlines were so mixed up and underwhelming. Even though Inferno is a classic in the X-Men world...I kinda like their semi sequel attempt at this story when they did X-Infernus. I don't hate inferno..when they announced they were doing that project I felt...they get a second chance to get it right now. Inferno I feel like they tried to do tomuch in to few issues..S'ym and N'astirh, sinister, marauders, goblin queen and havok; plus magik all tied together, it was way over done in plotlines. But a good story was there underneath all the clutter..same thing I found with phalanz..bat at nut mixed in story...they were doing warlock/cypher/cameron hodge/alien phalanx/white queen becoming a good guy/sabertooth being rehabilitated/ introduction to generation x characters..too much, but good parts and story mixed in. I can't remember what I didn't like about OZT..but it had to do with uninteresting characters of the time that went no where..Cecilia reyes, maggot, marrow. I have no problem with those 3 except I don't think they did good job with them. Marrow started of real strong and then her storyline crashed, the other two really never went anywhere. True Cecilia had been around for a while but really became an official x-men in the mid 90's. But think about this in the late 80 early 90's so many new characters that became personal favorites joined the team and are still among my favorites today...jubille joined followed by ninja version psylocke, followed by gambit and then bishop..all home runs. But mid to late 90's characters were no where near as special...except for Joseph and maybe X-Man..both who started off way better than even marrow but their storylines crashed and fell apart in the worst ways. Anyways I randomly came to this page and was like...Heyy didn't I read this article randomly like 2 months ago. I then scrolled down and wouldn't you know it..I actually commented here before...I hardly comment. I never got your/response notification. Don't know why...I remember after commenting I left this page open...and the very next morning I checked it and their was no response. Turns out you wrote back in the afternoon of the same day! I always wanted to chat with someone with a vast knowledge of X-Men and who writes these kind of blogs. But now that I have a chance...I don't even know what to ask you you like infernos??? I don't you think the X-Creators lot the formula to make good unique characters after the early 90's??
      The very best and most popular characters to come out of the 00 decade are x-23 and daken (clones of Wolverine) and cukoo sisters (clones of emma frost)..I love all of them but nothing unique. There were some interesting villains though but no more A+, B+ Heroes. What went wrong voer the last 25 years with the formula.

    5. Sorry, sometimes I take a while to respond to comments, so hopefully you'll see this one at some point -- I mostly like "Inferno", though in general the "Outback" era is one of my least favorite periods for the X-Men. But I love Mister Sinister, and since he's a major villain in "Inferno", it gets a bit of a pass from me.

      I actually really like "Phalanx Covenant". I have a post on here talking about it. It's not the best crossover, but Banshee is one of my favorite X-Men and I really loved the Joe Madureira artwork in that story.

      I do think that a lot of the characters who've come along since the early nineties have been kind of lame. I never liked Maggot and Reyes didn't do much for me either. I kind of liked Marrow, though. I did really like the Generation X kids, and I'm bummed they were all either killed off or written into the sidelines after their series ended.

      I'm not sure if there was any formula lost, but I don't really know what happened. Part of it, I believe, is that creators come up with characters they want to write, and then when they leave a series, the next creators aren't interested in the new characters and just want to go back to the classics or create their own. There's not a lot of enforcement from editorial for subsequent creative teams to continue developing characters they didn't create, unless it happens to be a character who was a huge success commercially, like X-23.

      That's my opinion, anyway!

  3. I did not seem to get the response for this message. I just happened to check today, I think I checked a week ago. So just random, don't know what is going on. Anyways So many things I have always wanted to discuss you narrowed them down. (1.) Yeah of course I like sisnter and I think I mentioned before, inferno had awesome intentions but it was way to much at one time and it felt to cluttered. Mr. Sinister and the Marauders, mixed in with S'ym, N'astirh, power struggles then magik, goblin queen..havok being corrupted and confronting his brother. X-factor being mad that the X-Men played dead for so long, baby nathan being sacrificed,goblin queen vs jean, And then Sinister's whole story about Cyclops and the orphanage.....any one or two of the points would have been enough for a good, interesting story crossover but not 11 things at once. This was a lot even for claremount who also over writes when it comes to dialogue. I found all other claremount crossovers (of this era) to be far superior...fall of mutants, mutant massacre and extinction agenda...all of these have verious plot points...that drum their way down to suitable conclusions. But I feel like inferno story plots are all resolved but they are really all over the place. Like extinction agenda reads like a war epic...they go an invade a foreign country to rescue their younger is the x-men vs genosha. But inferno felt like it was a horror epic..then it became standard superheo x-men vs marauders vs x-factor..and then all this conspiracy orphanage/cyclops/clone/mr. sinister/origin stuff not to mention whole other inferno issues going on in excaliber and the new just wasn't focused enough for my liking. This was the first time I felt claremount did not pull off a crossover. I also find the art to be very rushed...especially for such a stunning artist like silvestri. I find this is his worst art in here and then the x-factor issue artist was even worse than silvestri. The Inferno crossover Probably had the worst art on x-books for the 80's. I personally like silvestri art more than john romita jr...but just not in this crossover. I think this was the only time silvestri did an x-men crossover pencils, so maybe he just was not ready for it.(2.) Well the Phalanx crossover..I agree with joe mad (he did a very good job and that is when he began to shine on uncanny) but the other artists on x-factor and regular x-men..not so much...there is nothing worse than looking at some real nice art like joe mad, finishing the issue and then seeing something so jarring in the next really brings out the difference between the lesser artist's short comings. Again this phalanx issue (x-factor, x-men) might have been the worst art (like inferno has the worst of the 80's) but this time phalanx had the worst art of the 1990's. Phalanx leads to a very terrific generation x #1 issue. Inferno I found it all bad including the mark silvestri (who was usually pretty good). Phalanx I liked joe mad...but joe mad art didn't save it for me..just too rushed story on very few issues. Douglas ramsey, warlock carmon hodge return and also out of no where is an invasion of the phalanx. It started out good though with the invasion of the mansion. It was another good plot idea that didn't pan out. I do like the all the other 90's crossovers from 1990-1995.Some of the best ones came from that period. Then in 96 onslaught was mediocre. 97 operation zero tolerance good art...very little bad except another rushed out forgettable story. I find zero tolerance to be worse than inferno and phalanx but had better art. I do agree that bachelos art of making emma frost look 14 years old was so bizzare and distracting lol. Inferno did have one or two issues that semi-tied with exacliber and was drawn by alan davis..I think. Those early exacliber inferno issues were for me are excellent...that was my favorite part of inferno but it was like an isolated mini story.It's the main story that didn't draw me in.

  4. (#3-4) Generation X and all the new characters as well as what happened to the x-men formula, or how can you save the bring up some very intriguing points, that I would like to discuss with you. In fact I find the new characters are tied to the sinking x-men formula. But that is a different conversation for another day. First let's finish up on the crossovers and artists, Let me know your favorite crossovers or least favorite. You know all the X-Crossovers but also add in god love man kills and dark phoniex into your list (eventhough they are not technically crossovers but they are still sort of milestone x-events). I'm curious about someone like you who has put so much thought when reading this stuff when you must have well constructed opinions. So yeah curious to know what you think. Do you have a page where you rate this stuff lol ?? You should put a voting/poll page to..might be interesting to see what some of your readers think.(I might also try to post this comment in your inferno review page, see if that does something..maybe I will start getting notifications)

    1. I don't have a rating page, but that's not a bad idea. Speaking in terms of X-events, whether crossover or not, I would probably put "Dark Phoenix Saga" at the very tippy-top. I actually like other parts of the Byrne/Claremont run more, but nothing else they did was an event on that scale -- and I consider their run to be the absolute peak of X-Men stories, so by default it would win first place.

      After that, and bearing in mind I'm not overly familiar with any X-stuff post 2000 or so, aside from certain shorter runs, I would place "X-Cutioner's Song" pretty high, and probably "Fall of the Mutants" and "Mutant Massacre" too. I know everyone loves "Age of Apocalypse", but alternate universe stories have never done a ton for me, so I'm not as fond of that one as most fans.

      As to some of your points about "Inferno" -- I agree about the artwork. I think Silvestri did okay, but it wasn't his strongest work. And the X-FACTOR art by Walter Simonson is really hard to look at, which is weird since Simonson is such a great artist. I can only think that maybe he was under deadline crunches, and his inker, Al Milgrom, probably didn't do any favors to the penciled work either.