Ultimate X-Men #92 hit the stands this week, and I have your review after the jump. If you haven’t read the issue yet, beware of spoilers!
Writer: Robert Kirkman
I’m a big fan of Kirkman’s Image work on The Walking Dead and Invincible, and I enjoyed his original Marvel Zombies series a lot. I haven’t been as fond of the second Marvel Zombies series, and his run on Ultimate X-Men has left me underwhelmed so far. This issue succeeded in changing my mind about his UXM stuff, and I’ll explain why a bit later in the review.
Artist: Salvador Larroca
I’ve enjoyed Larroca’s work since Heroes Return in the late 90’s, around the time I got back into comics after a long hiatus. He’s been hit or miss with a few projects, but he’s definitely on his game with this current work in UXM. The art is consistently tight in this issue, and I especially like the way he’s drawing Jean Grey.
Lead-up: For months, Kirkman has been building something with this book. He brought Bishop and Cable into the Ultimate universe via time travel and teased about their motivations, their rivalry, and their future. All along, Bishop has been the good guy sent back to fight Cable, the bad guy. And then there’s some thing about Cable being Wolverine in the future (as opposed to the son of Cyclops and Madeline Pryor, as is the case in the classic X-Men universe). All of it came to a head when Cable seemingly killed Professor X. Cyclops, believing Xavier dead, abandoned the X-Men, and Bishop stepped in to mentor the remaining mutants. Recently we learned that Bishop and Cable have in fact been working together to manipulate the X-Men to prepare for the coming of Apocalypse, an event that had seemingly disastrous effects in their time (and in the current X-Men’s future). Cable didn’t kill Xavier but in fact dragged him into the future to get him ready for the role he must play.
Synopsis: This issue opens with Wolverine leaving the hospital to jump back into the battle. Last issue, while fighting Apocalypse, he lost his left arm. This is a neat tie-in to the Wolverine (aka “Weapon X”) of the classic Age of Apocalypse series, who also was missing his left hand. Back in the fray, Apocalypse is controlling all the mutants who tried to fight him, and he has them fighting against each other and other heroes, creating general mayhem.
It is then that Cable and Xavier return from the future to end the battle with Apocalypse and to save mutantkind and, likely, the world. Xavier uses his telepathy to break Apocalypse’s hold on the mutants near him and returns free will to them. He and Cable then reveal the plan while the Fantastic Four reenter the battle. Cable explains to the X-Men that he did not kill Xavier and instead has been training him for a year to fight Apocalypse. He also tells them about his secret alliance with Bishop and explains that Bishop’s role was to push the “late bloomers” among the X-Men so that they would be ready when it was time to fight this battle.
Still reeling from the revelations, Cyclops accepts Cable’s story, and Xavier leads the X-Men against Apocalypse. Despite Xavier’s training, Apocalypse is able to withstand the assault and defeats him easily. Apocalypse begins to steal Xavier’s telepathy and moves in for the kill. Horrified, Jean gives in the power within her and unleashes the only force that might have a chance against Apocalypse—The Phoenix.
Analysis: The connections to the classic Marvel comics are always fun to find in the Ultimate comics. The first obvious one here is Wolverine’s missing arm / hand. Another tie to the classic comics is that Xavier and Cable both are wearing familiar costumes when they return from the future.
Xavier is wearing something similar to the classic Onslaught costume. The classic Onslaught story is far too involved to fully describe here, but the gist of his origin is (thanks to the Marvel wiki):
“When Charles Xavier telepathically rendered Magneto catatonic, he unknowingly absorbed Magneto’s dark ego. Magneto’s negative emotions merged with Xavier’s suppressed urges, forming a powerful, dormant psionic entity – the self-dubbed Onslaught.”
The classic Onslaught initially learned to be corporeal after Xavier attempted to scan Nate Grey’s mind and Nate accidentally pulled Xavier’s astral form into the physical world. I was left wondering if something akin to that happened in this issue when Apocalypse made an aborted attempt to steal Xavier’s telepathy. We see tendrils of reddish yellowy something emanating from Xavier’s head just before Jean unleashes the Phoenix.
The second familiar look in this issue is Cable in something similar to the classic Stryfe costume. Stryfe’s original story is another tale that’s too involved to fully explore here, so I’m deferring to this clip from the character’s Wikipedia entry for a brief rundown of who he was:
“After the Askani tribe of the 39th century transported the son of the X-Man Cyclops and his wife Madelyne Pryor to their time to cure his techno-organic virus, they created a clone in case the so-called “savior child” died. The clone was captured by the immortal mutant Apocalypse and became Stryfe, while the original became the freedom fighter known as Cable.”
The Ultimate versions of these costumes can be seen on the cover (at the top of the review), so judge for yourself: What’s going on with the Xavier / Onslaught, Cable / Stryfe stuff here?
Conclusion: As I said before, #92 changed my feeling about Kirkman’s overall run on Ultimate X-Men. Previously his stories felt pretty arbitrary to me, like he was trying to go in some entirely left-field direction with the characters and the series. With the revelations about the partnership between Bishop and Cable and the overarching plan to stop Apocalypse, it’s clear that Kirkman succeeded in pulling one over on me. I really think this issue makes his previous issues better for a second reading.
I’m feeling more confident about the direction of the series now, and I’m glad Kirkman is bringing Phoenix into this. The Hellfire Club story early in the UXM series was a let-down and a disservice to a classic story and a pivotal character. It’ll be good to see what will happen with Jean / Phoenix vs Apocalypse in the next issue. And I’ve gotta say, the best Phoenix-unleashing sound effect ever was on the next to last page: “FRAGGA-BA-WOOSH.”
Verdict: 4 FRAGGA-BA-WOOSHes out of 5