The Small Lebowski:
X-Men Unlimited #3
Issue(s): X-Men Unlimited #3
In my first year of college, me and a few friends joined a comic club. It turned out to be not much of a club; me and my friends comprised about half the group. But one interesting thing we did was pay a group visit to one of the two comic book stores that were in town. This store was a traditional mom & pop type place: cramped and musty, but cool. The other store in town popped up thanks to the speculation craze. It was much more "corporate" and it placed much more of an emphasis on the stuff that was Hot. They also had sales agents that would follow you around and try to upsell you stuff, which was annoying. But it was costing the other store business, so the guy that ran that shop delivered a little tirade (which we all agreed with) about how the comics market was a mess due to speculation and an overemphasis on kewl characters and relaunches and other gimmicks. He thanked us all for shopping at his place, and as part of that thanks, he let us pick out any current issue to have for free.
To the collective groan of everyone else there, i picked out this issue.
In my defense, anything that i thought was actually good (which was basically Hulk) was already on my pull list. And i had a lingering love of Sabretooth thanks to the Claremont days. And this issue does have a cool Bill Sienkiewicz painted cover. And if you're gonna get something for free, it might as well be the overpriced $3.95 book.
But ok, i admit it. I was Part Of The Problem.
This series continues the trend of turning villains that got popular enough into quasi-heroes. It's not quite as bad as reforming Venom. But Sabretooth already got to be the star of his own miniseries, and with this story he "joins" the X-Men, sort of. By the end of it, it really feels like he's replacing Wolverine (who is gone thanks to his loss of adamantium).
There is some merit to this. A big part of Wolverine's appeal early on was that he was a violent killer who got civilized in part thanks to the influence of Professor X and the X-Men. But that development happened in an unplanned way. Which is good because it was organic, but it can also feel a little haphazard (which issues would you pick out for a trade to demonstrate Wolverine's changes over time?). And in any event, at this point Wolverine, like the Thing before him, has become domesticated and is a lot less scary. You can rehash the old character arc by having him lose control again, but that gets tedious. So putting Wolverine's villain counterpart in this role has some potential. The problem is that while Wolverine may have killed in the line of duty, Sabretooth is a straight up murderer who took pleasure in his kills. So on the one hand the set-up for this has to be that he's a prisoner of the X-Men. But as the mini-series started to show up, the other side of this is to establish that Sabretooth can claim an insanity defense. The idea is that he's kept a telepath (Birdy) around to keep him relatively under control, but (as this story says) she was more treating the symptoms than dealing with the root of the problem. So Xavier can now theoretically "cure" Sabretooth and maybe he won't necessarily be held responsible for his past actions (although as the scan above says, Xavier still expects him to pay for his crimes).
Of course, like everything in the 90s, this situation will get dragged out until we lose sight of the original intention, so we don't really get to re-experience the early Wolverine days in a more controlled way. But that's not to say that the idea here didn't have potential.
Most of this issue is about getting Sabretooth into this situation. After the loss of Birdy in the mini-series, Sabretooth has been searching for a new telepath. But Fabian Nicieza (as usual) overcomplicates matters and Sabretooth is also killing a string of people for reasons that i'm not getting into.
That brings him into contact with Maverick...
...and someone that Sabretooth is targeting tries to hire Commcast to protect him.
Commcast just puts the guy on hold for hours and hangs up on him whenever he manages to get through.
Eventually the X-Men and Maverick set a trap for Sabretooth at Clan Yashida's compound with the Silver Samurai, using a telepath who it turns out is a vegetable thanks to having been at Hiroshima.
Sabretooth escapes but goes after Professor X at the X-Mansion.
Xavier enters his mind and begins the healing process.
During all the fighting, Rogue gets a rematch from when she was taken out way too easily in Uncanny X-Men #213. She does better this time...
...but Sabretooth has a torn glove and they wind up making contact in a way that affects her more than him. So it's another loss for her.
In the end i have no regrets about picking up this comic. The story isn't great, and the interior art is definitely not at the Bill Sienkiewicz level. But for my peculiar purposes this is a necessary issue since it puts Sabretooth with the X-Men. I grant you that being a Marvel Zombie doesn't acquit myself from being Part Of The Problem, but it's far too late for me to apologize for that.
I've got one additional stray observation. It's one that i've made before, but it particularly struck me this time. There's only one footnote in this book, to Sabretooth's mini. But if you look at the References, you'll notice there is quite a bit of referencing of past events. It's often said that continuity in the X-books was a roadblock for new readers. I've often scoffed at that in the past. After all, when i started reading comics there was also a lot of continuity and i was able to figure stuff out just fine. But when i started, there were lots of footnotes and lots of expository flashbacks. More and more, we get none of that, but it's not like the references stop. This series in particular is the sort of thing that you might expect a casual fan to pick up the occasional issue of. Personally, i had been reading the X-Men until recently, so most of this stuff was familiar to me. But it was just as likely that someone might not have read any X-Men since Claremont's days and only picked up this story for Sabretooth. And yet if that were the case, they'd have to contend with characters like Maverick and Commcast and a whole bunch of casual mentioning of various things. And that's on top of the superfluous plot about Sabretooth hunting people that Nicieza tacks on to this. When you're reading all of this stuff without context, it can get confusing and therefore offputting. I don't mean to single this issue out in particular, but it's part of a trend of the X-books getting increasingly insular.
Quality Rating: C
Chronological Placement Considerations: Takes place after Wolverine leaves after Fatal Attractions, and before X-Men #28 when Sabretooth is shown to be with the X-Men.
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (2): showBeast, Bishop, Commcast, Gambit, Maverick, Professor X, Rogue, Sabretooth, Silver Samurai
Beast and Sabertooth permanently look like they just smelled something nasty in this book.
Posted by: Berend | March 30, 2017 1:53 PM
I'm not 100% sure, but I think I got this: https://www.comics.org/issue/53096/
I've always liked McKone's art, but something always felt a little off about it to me, and I'm not sure what that is. It's definitely very stiff here and sparse on backgrounds and 180 degrees different than Sienkiewicz.
Posted by: Wanyas the Self-Proclaimed | March 30, 2017 5:41 PM
I'm a fan of McKone's art too. It seems he got better since drawing this issue, since the poses seem more stiff than usual and the faces are a bit odd in some panels. Also, Maverick in that panel where he's with Beast and Silver Samurai vaguely looks like he has a John Byrne-drawn face.
Posted by: Enchlore | March 30, 2017 6:53 PM
I always wondered what Xavier meant when he referred to spending a small amount of time in the place Sabretooth lived- shutting down Magneto's mind?
Posted by: Michael | March 30, 2017 8:18 PM
I think a lot of the potential of this story was squandered but it does lead to a nice Wolverine character moment immediately pre-Age of Apocalypse, and a pretty great Boom Boom (Boomer, Meltdown, whatever) moment after they all come back.
Posted by: Greg T | April 2, 2017 9:58 PM
@Michael: There is a good chance that it was a hint for a future plotline that may or may not have factored into the eventual Onslaught fiasco, certainly.
But if I had to guess, it is probably a reference to the precursor of Onslaught: Evil Xavier from the X-Men/Micronauts miniseries. By extension, it may also be a remembrance of the time when he killed Farouk, later revealed to be the Shadow King, back in X-Men #117 (cover date Jan 1979).
Posted by: Luis Dantas | April 2, 2017 10:31 PM
Man, I really like McKone's later art (think circa the first Exiles series), but here it's......not good. Clearly, he had a lot of growth to do as a writer in subsequent years.
Posted by: J-Rod | April 4, 2017 4:12 PM
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