Friday, March 23, 2018

X-MEN '92 #1 - #4

Writers: Chad Bowers & Chris Sims | Art: Alti Frimansyah
Color Art: Matt Milla | Lettering: VC's Travis Lanham | Cover Art: David Nakayama
Production: Carlos Lao | Assistant Editor: Heather Antos | Editor: Jordan D. White
Editor-in-Chief: Axel Alonso | Chief Creative Officer: Joe Quesada
Publisher: Dan Buckley | Executive Producer: Alan Fine

The ongoing X-MEN '92 series picks up precisely where the "Infinite Comics" left off: Professor Xavier has opened his school to a new class of young mutants, Bishop and Psylocke have recently joined the X-Men, and Cyclops and Jean Grey are on a leave of absence. We're still apparently set in the SECRET WARS universe, as the X-Men's "world" is referred to once or twice as Westchester (which gets a little confusing since their local municipality is also, as in the source material, called Westchester too). It's pretty clear at this point, if it wasn't already, that this really isn't a straight continuation of the X-MEN animated series. The initial team lineup as seen in the Infinite Comics was the same as on the show, but the similarity ends there. These X-Men have fought in a human/mutant war and are lauded as great heroes by the world, for one thing. For another, references are made to events that never happened on the TV series -- and I'll note some as we get to them.

I'm not necessarily complaining about this; the series is still fun, and -- I'll note for the umpteenth time -- it's a treat to see the X-Men running around in their Jim Lee costumes. But, as with Chris Claremont's X-MEN FOREVER, something of a spiritual forebear to this series, Marvel advertised a "continuation" but what we've actually wound up with is more of a reinvention. To put it plainly, if you tell me that a series is going to "continue" the X-MEN cartoon, I would expect the series to pick up precisely where the cartoon left off: with Professor X away in outer space with Lilandra while the X-Men, still feared and hated by the world at large, live in a loosely brokered peace with Magneto. Start there. It's a continuation. Pick up where the series left off. It's not rocket science, people.

(And I'll give Claremont some credit -- X-MEN FOREVER at least did begin practically exactly where X-MEN #3 ended, with the mutants searching for Fabian Cortez. It just went off the rails pretty quickly after that.)

Again -- not complaining, exactly. Just making a point. And it occurs to me that it's entirely possible X-MEN '92 was originally pitched as a direct, honest-to-gosh sequel to the X-MEN cartoon series, but it was only greenlit under the condition that it be rejiggered to fit into the SECRET WARS event. Who can say?

Anyway, on to the actual story! It begins with a bang as, after a brief introduction to the school's new status quo, Maverick shows up on the X-Men's doorstep, pursued by the People's Protectorate, heroes of the former Soviet Union who now count Omega Red among their number. There's a lot of (very nineties) talk about Maverick having a secret employer who hired him to steal a secret artifact from the Russians, and then we get a peek at the Upstarts -- a nineties-era idea created by Jim Lee and his proto-Image cohorts just before they left Marvel.

The Upstarts here are pretty much exactly as they were twenty-five years ago: a group of young mutants (Trevor Fitzroy, Shinobi Shaw, Andrea and Andreas von Strucker, Fabian Cortez, and a mysterious final member) presided over by a fellow called the Gamesmaster, who awards them "points" every time they kill a powerful mutant. The von Strucker twins activate Omega Red's predecessor, Alpha Red, a vampire, and sic him on the X-Men. Alpha turns Jubilee into a vampire, and when Wolverine, Maverick, Rogue, and Gambit track him down, he reveals he's turned the People's Protectorate as well, and then turns Maverick during their battle. Moments later, as they attempt to escape, Wolverine, Rogue, and Gambit are vampirized as well.

Meanwhile, Storm takes Psylocke and Bishop to seek out the help of Dracula, hinting at an unseen past between the two. This was, of course, originated by Chris Claremont and Bill Sienkiewicz in UNCANNY X-MEN during the eighties (and artist Alti Frimansyah gives us a really nice nineties-ized version of Sienkiewicz's classic cover to UNCANNY ANNUAL 6 as Storm mentions whatever version of that encounter occurred in this universe). The group returns to the X-Mansion with Dracula in tow, only to find that Jubilee has risen and turned her fellow students, while Alpha Red and his team of vampire mutants have laid siege to the place from without. Dracula reveals that Alpha is his son, and then the final battle breaks out.

While X-Men and vampires fight outside the mansion, inside, a student named Dead Girl finds herself in contact with the mysterious Darkhold, a sentient book which offers her a chance to turn all vampires on Earth into humans (a plot borrowed from the DOCTOR STRANGE comics of the eighties, I believe). After some deliberation, Dead Girl accepts the offer, and all those turned by Alpha Red revert to normal. Alpha himself dies upon his transformation into a human, while Dracula survives.

I'll admit that a big part of this series' appeal to me (besides the Jim Lee costumes) is seeing Bowers and Sims integrate ideas into their story which never made it to the X-MEN cartoon series. Seeing the Upstarts, lame as they were back in the day, brings with it a nice thrill of nostalgia (and a hope that these writers can do the plot a little more justice than did Scott Lobdell and Fabian Nicieza). I'm always a fan of Maverick, so it's fun to see him in action here too. And of course I'm pleased beyond measure to have the GENERATION X kids as supporting characters -- the first few issues feature appearances from Chamber, Skin, Husk, and M (and probably Synch, though he's unnamed on-page so we can't be a hundred percent certain).

And beyond the heyday of the nineties, which receives the most love in the form of these little touches, we see a few characters from more recent "mutants in training" series as well, like Dead Girl and U Go Girl (neither of whom I'm familiar with outside of the fact that I know they existed). and of course even the concept of Jubilee as a vampire -- an idiotic premise Marvel ran with for the better part of a decade -- had its debut somewhere around 2011 or so.

X-MEN '92 is off to a nice start. The mix of characters tickles my nineties sensibilities just right, and the picking and choosing of continuity and concepts from the eighties, nineties, and beyond is a fun touch which really only works in this sort of alternate setting. I've said before that I don't generally love alternate universe stories, and that's true -- but specifically I mean stories where "our heroes" travel to some alternate reality to meet other versions of themselves, or generally any other sort of alternate timeline within a story's main continuity. But this sort of alternate universe, I'm fully on board with -- it's not splintered from the "real" X-Men's world and it has no interaction with it. This world is it's own thing, and for me at least, it's far more entertaining than the mainstream X-Men universe nowadays.


  1. My Fenris will obviously always be the day-glo 80's one, but damn if they don't sell their early 90's nostalgia hard to me with the "The Book of Sin" namedrop in #1 blooming into full DARKHOLD plot with the Dwarf and all.

    They actually undid the Montesi Formula to have vampires back when the Midnight Sons shenanigans started back in the day so it's a bit upside down to re-pull that one here, buuut...

    1. Thanks, Teemu -- I can always count on you for some good Midnight Sons info!

      By the way, I don't know if you're on Twitter, but G. Kendall of Not Blog X is currently looking at the earliest issues of Howard Mackie's GHOST RIDER there.