Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Review # 89: "X-Men - A Skinning of Souls"

Partially out of completion, partially out of nostalgia and partially out of sadism, here I go again with some more 90s X-Men work from the Harras/Lobdell/Nicieza trio. Major credit to Marvel for continuing to fill the gaps between major events. This collects what happened in the pages of "X-Men" between what's been released in "X-Cutioner's Song" and "Fatal Attractions."

What started out as the X-line's hot new title with its "A" characters under the drawing and plotting of Jim Lee really stumbled after his departure. While Andy Kubert's pencils fit right into the style Lee developed (for good or ill depending on your opinion,) what was left behind firmly slid behind Scott Lobdell's better-but-far-from-excellent work on the original "Uncanny X-Men." As an example, the first story has the X-Men traveling to Russia for Colossus to visit his family. Through a complicated series of events (that appears to rip off DC's Scarecrow but takes a different turn,) they discover the government is attempting to take control of Peter's sister Illyana. This leads to Illyana returning to America to a crucial 90s X-Men plot point. But does it happen here? No. It happens in "Uncanny." "X-Men" is given the short straw, and ooooooooooooh boy is it bad.

The most, erm... "memorable" part of this trade begins earnestly enough with the continuation and escalation of Cyclops and Psylocke having a mutual attraction, despite Scott once again being attached to Jean Grey. But as that love triangle is about to come to a head, we are instead treated to the arrival of Revanche, who was in possession of Betsy's old British body. She immediately accuses the new Asian Psylocke of being a ninja imposter.

While they intentionally don't let Revanche's accusation carry much weight, this twist is preposterous and completely unnecessary. It appeared pretty damn clear in Chris Claremont's original story during "Acts of Vengeance" that Betsy's body had merely been modified to appear more Asian. In fact, Wolverine recognizes her face despite its transformation. The team figures out fairly quickly that Betsy and Kwannon's personalities have been slightly meshed in each, but as far as I see it it's pretty obvious the "real" Betsy is in Kwannon's body. What would be the point otherwise?

Meanwhile, Cyclops heads to his grandparents' home in Alaska to clear his head about his relationship and the possibility that the madman Stryfe was his time-displaced son Nathan (Spoiler alert: he wasn't. Scott's son is Cable.) Scott discovers his grandparents' neighbour is a disguised Mr. Sinister, which actually isn't too preposterous given how he's been meddling with Cyclops his entire life. The two end up battling Apocalypse's Dark Riders and Sinister lets slip that Cyke has another brother besides Havok. (Oh boy. Did THAT ever turn into a giant mess...)

With that done, Scott returns home, embraces Jean and the Psylocke subplot is dropped like a bad habit. Fabian Nicieza would later say the point of the Scott-Betsy tease was to enforce the Scott-Jean relationship. If that's true, and it wasn't an editorial decision, then congratulations on a piss-poor job. There's no reference to their flirtations, just more Psylocke-Revanche garbage. What we DO get relationship-wise is an issue that focuses on the least interesting romance in X-Men history, Rogue and Gambit. It goes exactly like you would expect. Just say "mon cherie" a few times and throw in "ah want to touch y'all but ah can't!" now and then.

Given that the next installment ended up being arguably the definitive single "X-Men" issue of the 90s, I have to say I'm stunned that things turned around that quickly. I'll give points to "A Skinning of Souls" for Andy Kubert and Brandon Peterson's art and Marvel's inclusion of a lot of fan-service bonuses (though "The Survival Guide to the Mansion" isn't nearly as cool now as it was when I was 12,) but if you'd like to know what was going on in this series between "X-Cutioner's Song" and "Fatal Attractions," this isn't worth your time.

Rating: 4.5/10

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