June 1993 – “Follow the Leader”
Okay…so it’s been a couple weeks since I posted one of these so I apologize. I like to try and keep these coming out twice a week, but two issues arose.
1) Life got a bit busy.
2) Honestly, I’ve been going back and forth over what to say in this post and how to say it. Mostly because everything I was typing just wasn’t coming out right. I’ve actually had a draft sitting up here for about a week now but it just didn’t “feel right”.
So I figured I’d fix it. Going to try something new. I think the problem was I was splitting my early thoughts about the book and the actual review into two sections so it was a royal pain in the ass trying to figure out what to say when. So I fixed it. And now, First up: the synopsis!
The story opens with Cyclops noticeably wounded, missing his visor, calling out for Storm and Professor Xavier as he shivers in an arctic locale. We’re not sure what happened yet, but he starts calling out for Xavier with his thoughts. Xavier, who is sitting helpless in the wreckage of the Blackbird, hears the mindcall and links with Cyclops, leading the temporarily blind mutant back to the crashed plane. Cyclops, with his eyes closed, carries Xavier and they quickly find Storm, who is curled up on the ground, complaining about feeling the planet’s pain.
Elsewhere, a girl (around 18 years old) wakes up in the snow. Turns out, she’s the one who made the three X-Men leaders crash. She heads into a monitoring station in the arctic filled with scientists who are working for her, monitoring the situation. However when the Gamesmaster announces she failed in her bid to kill the X-Men, she loses her temper and destroys the entire building.
Back at the X-mansion, Bishop and Psylocke look for their missing leaders…nothing to see here, folks, move along.
In Antarctica, we see Cyclops use his belt to blindfold himself so that he does not actually unleash his optic blast on a friendly target. While trying to repair the computer, the determine that the radar and communication are damaged beyond repair. As an excuse to find out what they were doing in this part of the world, Xavier uses his powers to recall the events leading up to their crash. We see that the three were visiting Ka-Zar in the Savage Land. A powerful blast had torn their ship apart. Storm went outside to try and use her powers to ease their descent. She can’t do it alone, so Cyclops goes to the open door. In the process, the winds tear off his visor, but he uses his optic blast to tear off part of the aircraft, making it lighter so that hopefully Storm can get them to the ground. The remaining part of the Blackbird crashed spectacularly.
Back to the present, Storm feels that the weather is being manipulated by someone other than her and she rushes outside to correct it. However, after a fierce battle to control the elements, Storm burns herself out and she drops to the snow. Cyclops, still blind but guided by Professor Xavier, rushes to her aid. He carries her into the Blackbird but finds out something interesting about her powers. She is not automatically “immune” to weather, but her body instead automatically compensates for temperature differences by raising or lowering its own temperature. Here, in sub-zero temperatures, her body is burning up. (oddly enough, I don’t think any writer since this issue has ever paid attention to this little tidbit) As she is in and out of consciousness, Xavier helps her body cope with the extreme heat it generated until finally it subsides. When she wakes up, Cyclops has modified his blindfold by inserting a small piece of ruby quartz they found in the wreckage. Now he really IS a cyclops!
After a short period, they notice Professor Xavier missing. They also notice one of the all-terrain vehicles kept in the Blackbird also missing. In the blizzard, Xavier comes across a giant tower but before he can investigate, he loses consciousness while trying to crawl through the storm. Meanwhile, Cyclops and Storm frantically search for Xavier but instead they come across the woman responsible for destroying the Blackbird: Siena Blaze!
She quickly attacks the X-Men, subduing both Storm and Cyclops…or so she thought. Before she can deliver the blow, she realizes that her victory had only been a mental image inside her head as Storm and Cyclops are both around Xavier. The trio demonstrate why they are the leaders of the X-Men as they defeat Blaze, culminating in Xavier depriving her of access to her powers. However it’s then revealed that she needs a way to release the energies or they build up until a forced release. The X-Men quickly retreat to the Blackbird wreckage when Blaze’s energies burst forth, throwing the escape pod and the X-Men leaders high into the air. The pod is caught in a tractor beam from the other Blackbird, circling overhead, piloted by Bishop and Psylocke.
As they head for home, we are treated to a shadow figure, the one who saved Xavier from death in the cold, watching them depart.
This book was released and promoted as a series that would feature a handful of X-Men in each issue and would change the focus each issue. As such, I’ll admit, I didn’t buy it at first. In fact, I pretty much skipped it until I was an adult and started to realize just how many stories I was missing that tied into the main X-Men Universe. The Unlimited series was a bi-monthly series and each book was slightly larger than a normal monthly book. Not all of them were good, but many of them were enjoyable. Each issue is pretty much a stand alone issue (at least they were at first) but would have ramifications in the X-Universe. Still, I viewed this as being yet another series that I had to buy and that was very irritating to a teenager who essentially lived on his allowance.
So when I did finally get around to buying this issue, it had been out for a few years. I was fairly impressed, although this particular issue is rather difficult to place in the chronological comic order. What I found was odd was that an artist that I had come to dislike, Chris Bachalo, is nearly unrecognizable here. Most artists seem to get better as they age (seriously…did you ever read any of Jim Lee’s old stuff…check out his old Alpha Flight issues) but Bachalo seemed to go the other way around. It really did seem like he was still searching for his own unique style and what he settled on was to make every single person look like a child. He didn’t do that in this issue and so it wasn’t until years later that I even realized this was Bachalo’s work.
The premise behind the Unlimited books was to give a little more character development than the normal books could offer. They would each focus on a handful of characters, although to be honest, I don’t see how this was any different from the regular books. A good author could easily develop characters, so the Unlimited series, even back then, seemed a bit redundant to me. Still, I enjoyed the story. I especially loved the interactions between Cyclops and Xavier. Professor X tries to get Cyclops to call him by his first name, but the one-eyed mutant is unable, even going so far as failing on the first letter and finally declaring that “I could call you – by your first name, if I wanted to. I just choose not to.” The “son” being treated as an equal and unable to really get over that relationship barrier is priceless (and for the longest time I had the same problem with parents of friends).
I had three problems with this issue.
(1) Storm is really relegated to a plot device. She never really serves any purpose and we don’t get any real development from her. You could have put Rogue with Storm’s powers and gotten the same result. I love Storm, when she’s written correctly, but this issue really didn’t do it for me.
(2) Siena Blaze. I really never liked this character. She was too powerful (as was the Gamesmaster who makes a cameo in here…I always hated him too) and didn’t really have any depth to her. She just liked to destroy. And maybe that worked for the Joker, but it creates a problem with a character who is supposedly powerful enough to go toe to toe with Storm. I believe the term is Deus Ex Machina. The character is so powerful that essentially she can’t be beaten unless the writer comes up with something out of their ass. I would always cringe every time I’d see her in action.
(3) I have tried and tried, but I cannot figure out where to put this into the continuity of the X-issues back then. The trip to the Savage Land wasn’t made in the regular issues and the events that took place around the time of this issue’s release don’t really allow for time to make a convenient trip. I know it’s nitpicky, but it drives me nuts (kind of like the X-Men comics in the 2000’s only not quite that bad).
Overall, this issue seemed unnecessary, but it’s a decent read. Art is some of Bachalo’s best work, and some of the writing is definitely enjoyable.