Uncanny X-Men #301-303
Issue(s): Uncanny X-Men #301, Uncanny X-Men #302, Uncanny X-Men #303
Trevor Fitzroy has somehow managed to capture Selene and is torturing her in a way only possible in a John Romita Jr. comic.
Selene notes the irony of her capture, since she says she founded the Upstarts as a way to forge the next generation of mutant leaders. That's a program that really went sideways quickly.
Fitroy is then summoned to a meeting of the Upstarts on the astral plane. I love that Graydon Creed's psychic avatar is lifting weights.
I'm also not so sure about that form, Graydon. Maybe i should give JRJR the benefit of the doubt and assume that Graydon is sitting on a bench that didn't come over to the psychic realm. And even with that said, i'm still not so sure about that form.
Anyway, the point of the meeting is a) to introduce Siena Blaze to the group and b) inform everyone that for the next 24 hours Forge is the target that is worth the most points because he is important to the future of mutantkind in some unspecified way. This is why the Upstarts suck (or one of the reasons, anyway). That's our plot for the arc; the bad guys roll a mutant on the random encounter table and away we go.
Forge currently has Mystique as a houseguest, so she is around when the Upstarts attack. And Storm and Bishop happen to be on their way to Forge's house to get help for Illyana. When they detect trouble, Iceman, Angel, Jean Grey, and Colossus are summoned as well, and Colossus isn't happy about getting pulled away from his sister.
When the X-Men arrive, some of them have to deal with the fallout of an explosion happening at Forge's building, which brings a horde of anti-mutant protesters and the obligatory good cop.
I'm a fan of Iceman using his powers like the Sandman but it seems like overkill when dealing with humans.
Terrifying a world that hates and fears them. (Also not sure if that reference to Cap being in Dallas is meant to be anything specific.)
After Fitzroy is seemingly defeated, we go through a few rounds of the lethal/non-lethal debate. Forge assumes that Bishop is trying to kill Fitzroy while Bishop really just knows that Fitzroy is dangerous and deceitful. When Fitzroy does indeed turn out to be playing possum, Colossus joins in and starts pounding on him, blaming mutant villains and "even Professor Xavier in his fashion" for perpetuating mutant wars. Jean Grey and even Bishop have to calm him down and tell him he's going too far. I agree with them in principle, but the problem is what you do with villains like this once they're defeated. It's said that due to his injuries Fitzroy is handed over to "Federal authorities" and based on a skim of his next appearance in X-Force #32 he was probably immediately released after that.
Anyway, issue #303 is the important one. I don't know if it's a coincidence that JRJR is not on art for this one, but Richard Bennett provides less stylized, more human art. It's told in flashback from the perspective of Jubilee and Jean Grey after the death of Illyana. Kitty Pryde had heard that Illyana was sick, so she came from Britain to visit, and she helped facilitate the conversation between Jubilee and Illyana (who only speaks Russian).
Jubilee was actually unaware that Illyana had previously been teen-aged.
Eventually it's determined that the only ting to try with Illyana is putting her into a Shi'ar helmet that will put her in a vegetable-state coma. It's a bit too obvious a topical life-support debate issue getting inserted into the story and it's a little distracting to read now since i know that the Shi'ar helmet turns out to not be relevant to the ending. But beyond that, Scott Lobdell is actually really good about these kind of melodramtic non-fighting issues. Killing off Illyana felt to me like a cheap way to get attention (and further ruin Colossus) at the time, and that could really be said of the Legacy virus story as a whole, but Lobdell nonetheless gets good mileage out of it.
I mentioned on the review of Uncanny X-Men #185 that i went with my friends to a Claremont signing event at a comic store in our state, and we told him about the death of Illyana, which he wasn't aware of (or did a good job of pretending not to be). To him it was further evidence that Marvel didn't know what the hell they were doing with the X-characters (and/or he did a good job of reading us and acting accordingly, because that was certainly our opinion and he reinforced it). In retrospect, it's now clear that when Louise Simonson de-aged Illyana, she did it with a backdoor allowing for this to be an alternate universe version of the character. Granted it was years before anyone used that door, but it does make her death feel less consequential. At the time, it did signal that anyone could die of the Legacy virus, even classic villains like Mastermind or former New Mutants like Illyana. And it had immediate consequences for Colossus. Consequences that i still don't like, because the angsty stuff that is being done to Colossus removes everything that made him enjoyable as a character (i.e. the "heart and soul of the team").
Quality Rating: C
Chronological Placement Considerations: This takes place after X-Men Unlimited #1 and after Colossus is injured in Uncanny X-Men annual #17. Illyana Rasputin dies here. Kitty Pryde will continue to appear in some other (core) X-books around this time. All of those appearances should go in the same gap between Excalibur issues, after Excalibur #68-70. In issue #303 it's said that half the team was still "hanging out in Japan with the head twins", so the X-Team in X-Men #20-23 probably shouldn't appear anywhere else before this story.
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (11): show
Illyana's death was pumped up as a massive deal at the time, but I think Marvel misjudged the impact a bit since a lot of their new readers (like me) were kids that came on in the Image era and we had no idea who Magik was or why she was important. The New Mutants were largely before our time. It would have been a bigger deal if they'd killed off the comic version of a character that appeared in the Fox X-men cartoon.
As to The Upstarts, well, they were an idea with some promise but had bad execution. I don't think Nicieza or Lobdell had as much passion for the idea as the Image guys who started the plotline did, possibly because it was another thinly veiled swipe from Highlander done by the Image crew.
It's also a bit nonsensical in hindsight that these very different characters would all participate in the Gamesmaster's plot. I don't think they even knew anything about him. The readers sure didn't. In my opinion the Upstarts would have been better as a simpler concept, something like the cruel mutant children of wealthy elites that have a competition amongst themselves to kill other mutants for fun.
Posted by: Red Comet | November 2, 2016 5:42 PM
If you review only one X-title this month, this issue must be it!
I hadn't thought about it before, but Red Comet's right. My first experience with the X-Men was the cartoon, followed by the arcade game, followed by issues such as 303. I'd never read any stories with Magik, so while I thought it was well-done, that was more due to how it impacted characters I did know than Illyana herself.
Posted by: Mortificator | November 2, 2016 6:06 PM
I, on the other hand, was old enough to grow up with Illyana and this issue crushed me. And with Magneto's obvious return coming the next issue, it looked like I was going to be done with comics again.
I have to give credit to Lobdell. The two bits - the idea that you love her enough to let her go and that we are born alone and die alone and it's all the times we're not alone in between that matter - are still incredibly moving to me.
Crap. 23 years later and this issue still gets to me.
Posted by: Erik Beck | November 2, 2016 6:27 PM
I more or less only really knew of the X-Men cartoon at this point; and the stupid thing there is that it was one of those things they imply happens but don't really explain when they showed it in the show: they have this two-parter about Bishop and Cable going back in time associated with the Legacy Virus and one of the many multitudes they show dying of it is Iliyana. They don't explain how or why, she just does and they don't explicitly say she's a mutant. It was just one of the many, many winks to the comics the show tended to do for the fans. (like the random cameoes and appearances that have nothing to do with the show)
Posted by: Ataru320 | November 2, 2016 7:48 PM
Note that Gamesmaster refers to Graydon Creed's "heritage" and Mystique seems to be trying to say "Graydon" when she's injured.
Posted by: Michael | November 2, 2016 8:23 PM
Excalibur 68-70 takes place before this story.
Posted by: Michael | November 2, 2016 8:23 PM
The Legacy virus and the Upstarts have something in common: both plot lines go nowhere because they're premised on having X-Men that Marvel is content to kill off. Since there are none, the stories can't advance. The Upstarts can't score any more points: after eliminating the Hellions and Reavers, and supposedly Magneto and Shaw, in their first appearances, they should start killing X-Men; but they can't. The legacy virus is meant to be 100 percent lethal--so no X-Men can get it. (Madrox is the closest it comes to infecting an X-Man.) The X-Cutioner and the "survival of the fittest" Dark Riders have the same problems, so once those storylines begin, they too go nowhere before they're simply dropped.
Skillful writers could make these premises work, but the premises seem to be editorially dictated, yet Harras isn't developing stories, just concepts, and the writers seemingly lack the authority to develop and resolve the stories themselves. (This is one reason Nicieza eventually resigns.)
Posted by: Walter Lawson | November 3, 2016 1:41 AM
I loved #303. Lobdell often gets derided as a crappy writer (rightly deserved most of the time) but he is pretty good at these "quiet reflection post (or pre) crossover moments.
The key here is the story being told from Jubilee's focal point-of-view, which can actually accommodate the perspective of Red Comet and Mortification. See Jubilee isn't that familiar with Illyana or her background either. The point here is that Jubilee (a character that has been rather flippant and cocky at this point, reacting to events with lots of 'tude or frivolity) is experiencing the tragic death of a little girl that she "bonded" with the only briefly. (This, by the way, becomes a big turning point in Jubilee's character as the death hits her hard , paving her way to Generation X). I must be a total sap, but that was one of the few comics that almost made me cry.
Posted by: Jon Dubya | November 3, 2016 9:50 AM
Walter, the funny thing is that, from what I hear, the X-people are currently experiencing a "mutant plague" right now (and combining it with a similarly problematic "M-Day" situation to boot), so obviously Marvel is more fond of the idea than you might think (and given that the X-Men franchise as a whole has become "C-list", the team really shouldn't be so assured nowadays that that they'll be unaffected)
Posted by: Jon Dubya | November 3, 2016 10:00 AM
This one (well, #303) has always gotten me, then, now, whatever. As Jon said, the key here is Jubilee; as much as this is about the death of Illyana, it's really about Jubilee's reaction to Illyana's death, and that's the in for readers at the time (like me) who may not have as much experience with Illyana. We're told she was a New Mutant, Kitty's best friend, and we know she's Colossus' sister, so that's enough to make her death seem bigger than some random bystander, but it's really watching Jubilee grapple with mortality and the shitty circumstances of this little girl dying that brings all the feels.
For all his faults, Lobdell really was good at the "quiet" issues, and because many of them (#297, #303, #318) featured Jubilee, he's kind of the definitive Jubilee writer for me.
Posted by: Austin Gorton | November 3, 2016 10:41 AM
For some idiotic reason, Marvel really wanted to have their own version of AIDS.
Posted by: Bob | November 12, 2016 10:30 PM
I must say that Forge's retort to Fitzroy boasting about his armour is one of my favourite '90s X-Men moments. "Fair enough. Before I fire it, there’s something you should know. This geo-thermal .960 I’m holding is constructed out of a vibranium polymer. It hurts like all get out. It was created by me. This morning. Over breakfast. (...) And if you haven’t noticed... I’ve always been just a little bit ahead of my time."
Posted by: Mormel | November 13, 2016 6:44 AM
That Selene panel is probably the only time I felt sorry for the character. Yikes! (It's also one of the few times I'm grateful for the blocky stylings of John Romita Jr, because that imagine would probably be a lot more squeamish-inducing under a more visceral artist. Shudder.)
Posted by: Jon Dubya | January 25, 2017 10:18 AM
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