Issue(s): X-Men #17, X-Men #18, X-Men #19
Even though the Presence is an illusion, seeing him along with Darkstar and Blind Faith in an X-Men book is a little surprising. Granted they are mutants, but the X-Men books tend to be a bit insular and separated from the larger Marvel universe, especially more obscure characters like the Soviet Super Soldiers (now the Exiles). We can thank Fabian Nicieza for that. He wrote these character in the Soviet Super Soldiers one shot. The fact that he is writing so many books also creates connections between this book and X-Force and the New Warriors, as we'll see below. I, naturally, like this, since it makes the Marvel universe feel more "real", even if it's mostly thanks to one writer weaving in their own plot threads from other books. But it's not just that; this story also pivots somewhat off of Larry Hama's Wolverine, at least in the basic sense that it shows that the X-Men are arriving here after a recent adventure in that book.
Both Darkstar and Blind Faith are mentally attacked by the creator of the Presence illusion. "Three days" later, we see Colonel Alexei Vazhin (who is a semi-regular X-Men supporting cast character) and Valentin Shatalov (who may or may not be a Crimson Dynamo at the moment, but not for this story) meeting with Fyodr Shelkov, liason to the People's Protectorate. They decide to get Omega Red to investigate whatever is going on in Neftelensk.
Another three days later, the X-Men are finally heading to Colossus' family's farm. And apparently the Cyclops/Psylocke thing is still going on; i thought that was settled during X-Cutioner's Song.
There's more of this after the X-Men settle in at the Rasputin place, with Cyclops awkwardly walking in on Psylocke when she's coming out of the shower and acting like a school boy.
It's later said that Omega Red has been missing for 48 hours, but the KGB has been watching the Rasputins' house and they're aware that the X-Men are there. So it's decided to get the X-Men to do their work for them. But that's actually a hastily devised back-up plan; the KGB actually intended to do something with a mystery Red Flag #133, but Vazhin says that "she's" not ready.
We learn that Omega Red is fighting with someone called the Skinner of Souls, and he eventually becomes his thrall.
Vazhin gets the X-Men to agree to help. They head to Neftelensk and find Darkstar and Blind Faith catatonic like the rest of the town, and then they're attacked by Omega Red.
During that fight, we see Skinner of Souls trying to attack Cyclops with his mental powers, but he hesitates when he learns that Cyclops has lost a baby, "like me". He wonders how Cyclops can live with such guilt. We'll learn that Skinner of Souls found out that his wife was really an agent of the state, assigned to keep tabs on him, a mutant. And she also allowed their daughter to die, so he killed her, and "Now I Live only to find pain in others".
Most of the X-Men are defeated, but Colossus and Vazhin manage to escape. Vazhin is wearing metal body armor that protects him from Omega Red's death spores. They investigate the town and find that all of the children have been put in a single building, and unlike the rest of the townspeople, they are not catatonic.
Meanwhile, we see the KGB talking with Matsuo Tsurayaba of the Hand, and they decide to go forward with activating Red Flag #133 after all. We see armored goons enter the Rasputin house and gun down Colossus' parents, and then take Illyana.
The Russians have a process that will genetically evolve Illyana, (re)activating her mutant powers so that she can teleport Skinner of Souls to another dimension. Unaware that his parents have been killed, Colossus almost allows this to take place. But Skinner of Souls makes Colossus aware of what happened to his parents. Skinner is instead defeated when Colossus has Psylocke user her psychic knife on one of the children of the village. This, uh, floods the Skinner with their innocence or whatever, taking advantage of the fact that the Skinner is already overwhelmed with guilt over the loss of his daughter. He goes catatonic, but Vazhin takes it a step further and kills him.
Back at the X-Mansion, Rogue is still blind after her encounter with Strobe during X-Cutioner's Song. Gambit continues to stick with her, although it's debatable whether he's helping her or playing mind games.
Observing them, the Beast thinks about when the original X-Men "were their age". I know Rogue was initially shown to be pretty young, but i generally don't think of the original X-Men as being that much older than the newer waves.
And X-Force have learned about the death of the Hellions. Cannonball and Warpath want to go to Nova Roma to tell Magma and Empath. Professor X can't let them use a Blackbird because legal matters with X-Force are unresolved, but he says he can turn a blind eye to their temporary departure and suggests that Firestar, who they're also going to go with, might be able to provide transportation.
In another subplot, an assassin with an odd accent and purple hair turns up in Tokyo.
She says that she's finally prepared to find the X-Men. She then goes to a guy that sure looks a heck of a lot like the Mandarin when he wore business clothes circa Uncanny X-Men #256-258, but he's identified as Lord Nyoirin. And she's called Kwannon.
Sometimes i appreciate the post-Claremont X-Men stories for the fact that they actually conclude. This is a three part story with a villain that we don't need to care about again. But this is also a very bleak story, with the fairly casual death of Colossus' parents and tons of talk of all the guilt and pain that everyone lives with.
And i like Andy Kubert's art from a certain point of view, but he also contributes to a feeling of messiness.
I do think it's interesting that the return of Magik is sort of teased but that's not the direction that we're going in. Quite the opposite, in fact. Actually, that's probably part of my uneasiness with this plot. There's nothing too horrible here, but this story has the seeds of three really crappy upcoming developments: the death of Illyana, the revelation about Nova Roma, and the whole Revanche mess. So even while i'm mostly ambivalent to the Skinner of Souls plot, there's a lot here that has me pre-emptively grumbling.
Statement of Ownership Total Paid Circulation: Average of Past 12 months = 967,808. Single issue closest to filing date = 717,000.
Quality Rating: C-
Chronological Placement Considerations: At least six days pass during this story. The X-Men were already in Russia for Wolverine #66-68 and stop at Colossus' family's place on the same trip. The result of X-Force going to notify Empath and Magma about the death of the Hellions is shown in New Warriors #31, which takes place before X-Force #19.
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (1): showAlexandra Rasputina, Beast, Blind Faith, Cannonball, Colonel Alexei Vazhin, Colossus, Crimson Dynamo VI, Cyclops, Darkstar, Gambit, Iceman, Illyana Rasputin (Alt-Limbo version), Jean Grey, Jubilee, Matsuo Tsurayaba, Nikolai Rasputin, Nyoirin Henecha, Omega Red, Professor X, Psylocke, Revanche, Rogue, Storm, Warpath, Wolverine
After watching the X-Men cartoon, this (or a British reprint of it, at least) was the first comic I ever read, at the age of six.
I didn't have a clue what was going on whatsoever.
Posted by: James M | August 26, 2016 6:13 PM
Several readers complained that Psylocke was wearing a parka over her skimpy costume instead of dressing conservatively when it was freezing.
Posted by: Michael | August 26, 2016 6:40 PM
Speaking of the above sequence, the Skinner refers to the deaths of Mariko and Silver Fox and Bobby's troubles in his relationship with Opal, so I don't know if you want to include those as references.
Posted by: Michael | August 26, 2016 6:41 PM
Thanks Michael. Added Nyoirin and a few references from Skinner of Souls' illusions.
Posted by: fnord12 | August 27, 2016 1:23 PM
I also had a problem with Beast saying he was "30" even when I read this the first time at age 13. Cyclops, Jean and Archangel are the same age as the Human Torch, Rick Jones and (roughly) Spider-Man. Beast is only supposed to be a year or so older.
With the sliding timeline since Franklin's birth acknowledged by most Marvel editors as roughly real years to one Marvel-time year, the original teens of the MU should be just pushing 30 in current (2016) comics.
Anyway: When I was a kid I hated the art in this story but loved that the X-Men blue and gold squads were beginning to trade off members as needed permission (see Colossus here and Gambit in "Uncanny" 298). As an adult, I mostly stand by that, although I have a better appreciation for Kubert's art now.
Posted by: Jeff | August 27, 2016 2:28 PM
In addition to the three plotlines you mention, this is also when the "emotionally destroy" Colossus storyline (of which the death of Illyana is a part) really kicks into high gear (after Mikhail's "death" in UXM #293): his recently-returned brother is gone, now his parents are dead, soon his sister will be as well, he'll be stuck in armored form, and join the Acolytes. It's a rough few years.
As Michael mentions, Beast's mention of age is inconsistent, but is also the start of a "mid-life" crisis subplot Nicieza starts for Beast, but never really finishes. There's lots of "I'm older now and I haven't done anything with my life, especially when it comes to curing the Legacy Virus" coming up.
Agreed on the messiness of Kubert's art - that's always bugged me, especially when I first encountered it. It gets progressively better (I don't recall this story being as bad on that score as his "X-Cutioner's Song" work, probably because that was done under a pretty tight deadline), and sometime in the mid-20s it seems to get a little more polished and less scratchy, probably due to whomever starts inking him then (I forget who it is offhand).
As Jeff said, I really like the fluidity that emerges between the two titles around this time, and like you said, I really like the way Nicieza is tying in stuff from his other series and other titles in general (with WOLVERINE, NEW WARRIORS and X-FORCE all tying in, however, indirectly, to this story).
Posted by: Austin Gorton | August 29, 2016 10:10 AM
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