October 1991 – “Fresh Upstart”
Last week, I reviewed X-Men #1, widely credited (at least by me) as heralding the start of the “90’s era X-Men”. However, that particular issue was not the only one released that signaled a new start. The adjectiveless X-Men series focused primarily on the “Blue Team” (at least for about a year) while Uncanny X-Men would focus instead on the “Gold Team”, comprised of Storm, Jean Grey, Archangel, Iceman, Colossus and, to a lesser degree, Forge.
If we compare the two “re-starts” of the X-Men, this one is definitely lacking compared to the Jim Lee X-Men. Whilce Portacio is an enjoyable artist, although not one of the better ones out there. The story is good, but not great (although I admit to being biased when it to Claremont). The book does feel like the start of a new era, but it simply doesn’t blow me away like X-Men did.
However, if we look at the two arcs, I do feel that Uncanny had more of an impact to long-time readers of X-Men. X-Men introduced Fabian Cortez, a whiny little Upstart (pun intended), and resulted in the temporary “death” of Magneto. However, Uncanny X-Men saw the deaths of the Reavers (other than Lady Deathstrike and Cylia), the death of Donald Pierce, the death of the White Queen, the death of the Hellions, the introduction of Trevor Fitzroy (I personally preferred him over Cortez), and the introduction of the first African American male X-Men: Bishop (probably the biggest contribution). Uncanny definitely had a bigger impact on the X-universe.
I’ll also admit, I didn’t buy this issue initially. Remember: 13 year old kid. I didn’t have the money to get these issues every single month and I didn’t even have an account at the comic stores yet (that would come about 2 years later). I didn’t even start picking up Uncanny until # 283, the first full issue with Bishop. However, I quickly made an effort to go back and pick this one up and when I did, my first reaction was: who the heck are all these people dying and why should I care? I knew nothing about the Reavers and even less about the Hellions (the Reavers, at least, I’d seen in Uncanny #248, but I had no idea the Hellions were primarily a New Mutants foe). It’s funny how one’s lack of knowledge and a story told a particular way and shape certain assumptions. I actually thought Jetstream’s powers were psychic in nature because of a certain scene. I guess that kind of speaks to poor storytelling by the artist/writers.
This issue also marks a new aspect in storytelling that had been pretty much ignored, despite having three X-Men titles. This issue wasn’t part of a cross-over, but thanks to editing and writing, it fits into the reading order very easily. X-Men #4 (which would come out three months later) explained why only a handful of X-Men were part of this story and directly tied into this book. For many years after, it was fairly easy to place the X-Men in an appropriate reading order as each book would often tie-in to the other (at least in some minor way). Characters wouldn’t appear repeatedly without explanation (unlike the books from 2000 onward). The 90’s had its problems, but I really enjoyed this aspect.
The story starts out in the Australian outback. The Reavers joke about beating the X-Men when suddenly Sentinels rip off the roof. One of the trio (either Macon or Reese, you can’t really tell who) as well as Prettyboy are immediately killed by the attacking Sentinels. Of course, like any good story, this is just meant to get us interested. We immediately shift scenes to the Hellfire club. The X-Men have been called to the club, but tensions run high between them and the Hellions. Suddenly, a figure is thrown through a door and the White Queen follows.
Elsewhere, Shinobi Shaw and Trevor Fitzroy (a new character) enjoy watching the Sentinels tear apart the Reavers. Turns out, Fitzroy sent the Sentinels as part of a contest that both Shaw and Fitzroy are involved in. Fitzroy walks off, promising to eventually win Shaw’s ring.
Back at the club, The White Queen begins her interrogation, but the psychic backlash is painful for Jean. When Storm comes to her friend’s defense, the X-Men jump into action, as do the Hellions. Before any real injuries can be dished out, Jean stops everyone with her telepathy. Once things have calmed down, the Queen reveals that the Hellfire Club is under assault (in case you were not aware, the Black King, Sebastian Shaw, was murdered by Shinobi in X-Factor #68). The person the White Queen was attacking was sent there to assassinate the Queen. The Hellion Jetstream begins the interrogation, but suddenly, Fitzroy appears behind him, encased in armor, and drains his life-force. Scratch one Hellion.
Back in the outback (no pun intended) Pierce flees from the Sentinels. He finds Lady Deathstrike and Cylia. Deathstrike puts herself between Pierce and the lead Sentinel and cuts off its arm with ease. She then stands there in shock as the Sentinel grabs miscellaneous machinery and uses it to reattach its arm. It then attempts to smash Deathstrike but Cylia knocks her out of the way. The Sentinels resume their attack on Pierce who has escaped to the outdoors. Pierce then runs to Gateway and orders the mute aboriginal to send him to whomever ordered the attack. A portal opens and Pierce, followed by three Sentinels, runs through it. The remaining Sentinels fly off as their quarry is no longer present.
At the club, Beef stands there in shock at his murdered teammate when Fitzroy gives him the ol’ backhand, sending Beef through several buildings to land on the pavement, several stories down. Scratch another Hellion. The White Queen takes things into hand as she launches a psychic assault, but Fitzroy cloaks himself (thanks to his suit). He uncloaks behind Storm, hoping to get another kill, but Storm quickly lifts him up with a gust of wind and Colossus catches him, holding him in place. Even as the White Queen confronts the killer, a portal opens and out stumbles Pierce. However, a laser blasts from the light of the portal, cutting off Pierce’s arm. Sentinels emerge, finishing off Pierce and assaulting the White Queen. Even as Storm and Bevatron (another Hellion) combine their powers to free her, the Queen drops to the ground, dead. Seriously, we know this for sure. After all, Empath tells us so.
Okay… see, I have a big problem with this. at the time, I didn’t know any different, but first of all, Empath couldn’t sense emotions, he could only manipulate them. Second, someone who is totally unconscious would most likely not have any emotions to sense. Thirdly, Empath was still in the Amazon jungle with Amara Aquilla (formerly of the New Mutants). Whoever this guy was, he was an impostor (which I attribute to bad writing).
A battle ensues as the X-Men and remaining Hellions attempt to fight off this trio of Sentinels. Most of the Hellions are hopelessly outmatched as they are knocked down one by one (not killed, as we find out next issue…that comes later). Even Colossus has trouble and Iceman, Storm, and Archangel must come to his aid. This leaves Jean by herself against two Sentinels who quickly prove too much for her to handle. Before she is killed, she mentions “one chance. If I only have the time.”
Fitzroy, pleased with his Sentinels’ performance against the X-Men leaves with his two remaining Sentinels. The X-Men are left to mourn their fallen comrade.
Honestly, this issue was plagued with inaccuracies, inconsistencies, and poor characterization. Many of the X-Men team have never even encountered the Hellions before (Jean, Archangel, and Iceman) and the others have only encountered a handful of them. Uncanny #193 is the only encounter between the two teams I can think of and in that issue, they only run into Roulette, Empath, Firestar, and Warpath. There shouldn’t necessarily be any bad feelings between the two teams as the Hellions were more of a competition for the New Mutants. There’s of course my issues with Empath above. And that thing with the White Queen. I also can’t believe that the X-Men would divide their attention so much to leave Jean, whose greatest strength is her telepathy and thus she’s over half useless against these things, alone against the mutant hunters. Also, if the Sentinels’ only target was Pierce, and they would only attack those who got in their way, why didn’t they go after him initially? They actually started on the other Reavers, but they left Deathstrike, Cylia, and Gateway alone (although you could argue that the last one there was never a Reaver). Like I said: “inconsistency”. As far as action, the issue is fantastic. While Portacio isn’t anywhere near the caliber of Jim Lee, but he holds his own. The reading is fast paced and gives you good glimpses into other scenes while tying them all together at the end. However, unless you’re a new reader to X-Men, or just not as nit-picky as I am, you’ll probably have plenty of problems with this one.