Issue(s): X-Factor #106
If you've been following Comic Reading Best Practices and have been avoiding post-Alan Davis pre-Warren Ellis Excalibur, you've got a lot of catching up to do, and this issue isn't going to hold your hands with luxuries like "footnotes" or "exposition" or "introductions". It's up to you to figure out for yourself that this guy, seen from the back, is Captain Britain, now calling himself Britanic after returned from being lost in time-space.
And the lady standing next to Rictor (of all people) is Amanda Sefton, now a formal superhero under the name Daytripper.
Most significantly for this plot, you will learn that Douglock has been hanging out with Excalibur (the scene below is from a flashback explaining how the X-characters learned about the Phalanx).
Again, if you came to this crossover because you (like most people, surely) were following the X-Men, the last you saw of Douglock, he was with the Phalanx in Uncanny X-Men #312-313. His defection seems like a pretty big plot point that you'd think would be part of this storyline. We do at least eventually get a recap with a footnote for this, but not until page 35; the scene below is from the same flashback as above.
Anyway, the big conflict for these issues is whether or not the former New Mutants accept Douglock as the return of Doug Ramsey and whether or not they should trust him now that he's Phalanx. As i said, it's not much of an X-Factor plot. Wolfsbane is very ready to believe that Doug is real and good. Cannonball takes the other extreme. Douglock himself says that he's only an imprint of the real Doug.
The argument is temporarily halted when Forge examines Douglock and becomes in awe of his perfect technological body (this is presented as a huge waste-of-space two page spread).
Douglock then provides Forge with a lengthy history of the Phalanx which goes back to the X-Tinction Agenda. It's nice to see things wrapped up, but it all comes with no footnotes, and some of the scenes - like the captive Lang from Uncanny X-Men #291 - are fairly obscure.
But the big news is that while the Phalanx were intended as a new kind of Sentinel program, they are actually acting on instructions encoded into their alien DNA.
As someone who was always interested in Warlock's race, i think this is interesting, but it's worth noting how quickly this story has gone from being a sentinels vs. mutants plot to basically an alien threat. The Generation Next portion of the story was well served by the Phalanx being essentially sentinels (although the focus on their inability to absorb mutants was something of a distraction). But i guess once you bring Doug Ramsey "himself" into the story, you have to get back to Warlock's origins, and that takes us away from core mutant themes.
Meanwhile, we meet a Phalanx Dog Man named Shinar.
Shinar is a problem for the Phalanx because he has independent thought. Lang is concerned, but Hodge is not. Lang is presented as losing control of his increasingly rebellious creation, which ties in with the revelation from Douglock.
After continued prodding from Cannonball, Douglock seemingly goes bad and grabs Wolfsbane, Cannonball, and Forge, saying that "Babel must be destroyed". The other X-characters are left behind, with Professor X saying that he's unable to track them mentally.
Aside from some very unreasonable in-fighting, this issue is entirely a history lesson, with a tiny bit of set-up for the next two parts of this subsection of Phalanx Covenant. I complained that Britanic and Daytripper didn't get any exposition, but based on the clunky and footnote-free way the Phalanx backstory is covered, we may be better off without more explanations.
I've often heard from critics that the downfall of the X-books from this era is the "impenetrable" continuity and i've always been ambivalent about that. But this issue does show the problems that the creators were facing. The entire issue is basically spent explaining the Phalanx, and it's done in a clumsy overly wordy way that doesn't feel like a story and yet still feels like it's left out some key points. The truth is that that you can sort out who Britanic and Daytripper are with a little reading, but it shouldn't be so hard to provide some backstory while keeping things entertaining. And of course this is all a problem of the creators' own making; it often feels like the writers drop in plot elements without any idea of where they are going (the Lang scene from Uncanny X-Men #291 being a prime example) and then are left to do consolidation issues like this one years later.
It's also worth noting how much the secondary X-books X-Factor and Excalibur are subsumed by X-Men plots. Granted, this is a crossover and it's not an uncommon thing for the casts to get mixed up in those circumstances, but it adds to the impression that the books are both rudderless due to changing creatives teams. The unique styles of Peter David's X-Factor and Alan Davis' Excalibur have given way to generic stories co-plotted by Scott Lobdell.
Quality Rating: D+
Chronological Placement Considerations: This is part one of Phalanx Covenant: Life Signs. Part two is in X-Force #38.
A flashback showing Nightcrawler contacting the Beast (really a Phalanx imposter) takes place just before the explosion of the X-Mansion in Uncanny X-Men #316. So the main story here begins significantly later than Phalanx Covenant: Generation Next. And Xavier says that he's already sent Cable and Wolverine off to locate the X-Men, which gives us a sense for where this takes place relative to Phalanx Covenant: Final Sanction (which begins in Wolverine #85 with Wolverine and Cable locating Cyclops and Jean Grey).
Crossover: Phalanx Covenant
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (1): showAmanda Sefton, Boom Boom, Cameron Hodge, Cannonball, Captain Britain, Forge, Havok, Meggan, Moira MacTaggert, Nightcrawler, Polaris, Professor X, Rictor, Shadowcat (Kitty Pryde), Shatterstar, Shinar, Siryn, Steven Lang, Strong Guy, Warlock, Warpath, Wolfsbane, Zero
Todd DeZago writes Strong Guy like he's piss drunk in this issue. Its so bad.
Posted by: Bonez | January 16, 2018 6:06 PM
Lang and Hodge are beyond tiresome, so I think unhitching the Phalanx wagon from them to go full alien infiltration horror is for the best. Things get a little too generic at the end, though; Shinar's line could have come out of the mouth of almost any Kree or Skrull.
Posted by: Mortificator | January 16, 2018 6:17 PM
Clearly, they were missing at least one issue to explain all those plot points, but the editor felt that the Generation Next part should be its own thing, and probably forced the Excalibur creative team to shoehorn all those explanations. I hated Excalibur comic after David’s left. The art was always awful and the plot as well.
Posted by: Lecen | January 16, 2018 9:11 PM
It seems like it was intended that Graydon Creed was behind the Phalanx. In Uncanny X-Men 291, the nurse speaking to the man who frees Lang makes reference to "Friend with a capital F" and the guy actually looks like he could be Graydon Creed with his hair miscolored. In Excalibur 79, Hodge and Lang talk to a mysterious figure that never appears again- that guy might have been intended to be Creed. In this issue, it's stated that the Phalanx got their volunteers from the Friends of Humanity but it's not clear that Creed was one of the people behind the whole operation. If this was the intention, it would have been nice if it had actually been clearly stated in the story- we never get a clear explanation as to who the dude in Excalibur 79 was.
Posted by: Michael | January 16, 2018 9:43 PM
Michael, that makes sense. Certainly this era has a lot of plots that seemed to make more sense in the editors’ heads than in what we see on the printed page.
Speaking of which...Shinar. Why is he red? Why does he have a bestial face? When I bought and skimmed these awful comics in real time, I wondered if Shinsr was supposed to be related to N’Astirh, who also had a red t-o form with a bestial appearance. A different bestial appearance, sure, but we’re past the point where artists were expected to stay on-model, so who knows.
Posted by: Walter Lawson | January 16, 2018 10:07 PM
11 year old me loved this comic. Sometimes you just want to see all the characters from your trading cards in one issue.
Posted by: Bigvis497 | January 17, 2018 12:59 AM
If not Graydon Creed, could it be Bastion that's involved? (which would also make that his first appearance!)
Bastion and Phalanx - surprisingly seem to go hand-in-hand. We'll later seen Bastion use the tech to resurrect Phalanx-y zombies of Graydon Creed and other anti-mutant bigots as well as bankrolling and enabling them all too pursue their various different anti-mutant campaigns, groups and militias. Looking back now, it'd be kinda easy to apply him to there. Although, I'm sure there's plenty of stuff that contradicts that idea. It'd be a nice link though.
Posted by: AF | January 17, 2018 7:03 AM
fnord, I think one of your references has an error. Uncanny 308 is a Thanksgiving downtime issue. The Phalanx Van scene IS from that issue, but Archangel (and Jean) meeting more Phalanx is not. They see the first real Phalanxy characters, resurrected Hodge and Candy, two issues earlier, in Uncanny 306.
Posted by: J-Rod | April 26, 2018 11:32 AM
Posted by: fnord12 | April 26, 2018 12:29 PM
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