Posted on Tuesday, December 27, 2016
by Paul in x-axis
Technically that’s not the title. Technically this thing is Uncanny X-Men Annual #1. But Marvel’s annuals have come to embody Milk & Cheese‘s 1990s dream of a series composed entirely of issue #1s, so let’s call it something that’s actually vaguely informative instead.
The main story, “Balancing The Scales” by Cullen Bunn and Ken Lashley, is pretty much just an extra issue of the regular series – and it does at least matter to the plot.
Josh Foley, who was bumped off in an earlier issue to build up the Dark Riders, is back from the dead, because of his healing powers. He promptly heads off to Genosha to torture the Dark Riders (who were themselves killed by Magneto a few issues later) by raising them up and dropping them dead repeatedly. Precisely how he knows that any of this happened or where to find the Dark Riders is, shall we say, less than clear. Never mind. Magneto’s X-Men duly show up to try and bring the erratic omega mutant under control.
Reasonably enough, Josh is not desperately impressed by the X-Men’s offer of help – it’s not like it did him any good last time, and Magneto always has an ulterior motive. That gets us a scene where Josh starts trying to raise the entire deceased population of Genosha before passing out, and Monet of all people is pressed into service as the character who has to tell Magneto to think again about taking him up on the offer. There are some interesting character ideas in here: without Psylocke around to act as the team’s conscience, Monet can no longer maintain her ironic detachment and finds herself being drawn into the same role. And Magneto is persuaded, but only by the purely practical arguments, not by Monet’s protests that Josh should be seen as a person rather than a tool. Unfortunately, this gets somewhat lost under dialogue like “But what if he raised 16 million mutants as flesh-eating zombies?” (Judging from the 2009 “Necrosha” storyline, which was pretty much that plot, it would have been bad.)
Anyhow, the X-Men take Josh to some sort of refugee camp in Kansas City where mutant victims of the Terrigen Mists are being treated. And again, there are a couple of neat character ideas in here. Everyone else is understandably appalled by Magneto parading through a hospital as if he owns the place just because it’s something to do with mutants, but he simply blanks them. And there’s a comparatively subtle suggestion that Magneto is particularly infuriated by the Terrigen Mists because it’s a problem where his personal myth and his legend – one of his key preoccupations during his recent solo series – is totally irrelevant. He can’t use psychology or intimidation against them, and that impotence grates with Magneto as much as the impact on mutants.
But again, that’s the grace notes, and the plot is leaden: at first Josh is indeed powerful enough to cure M-Pox, but then he goes nuts and starts killing stuff again, which is not terribly interesting because it’s that comic book version of madness where people just kind of do random stuff without any particularly coherent idea beneath it all. There’s some blather about how Josh’s powers have some sort of balance between life and death, which he apparently needs to master now that he’s become this powerful, but this feels less like a theme and more like an excuse to pack him off to Xorn for some meditation.
So a couple of decent moments in here, but otherwise a story that clumps uninspiringly through the necessary plot mechanics of getting Josh back onto the board, presumably with a view to having him available for Inhumans vs X-Men.
The back-up strip, “Lady Luck”, is a Domino story written and drawn by Anthony Piper. Piper has a fiddly take on how Domino’s powers work: it’s not really luck, it’s that she subconsciously moves small objects telekinetically. I don’t particularly have a problem with that as an idea – “luck” is a very hazily defined thing – but it is a retcon, and it’s not something I’d have been inclined to do in a one-off back-up strip.
Then again, it is the focus of the strip, since the bones of the plot are a routine “mission to kill a baddie” thing. The schtick is that she drops some of her bullets on the way in, but one of them winds up falling back into her gun precisely when she needs it. It’s a visually clear story, and there’s some nice banter between Domino and Roberto da Costa (serving as her handler by radio), but I wonder if that central gimmick needed more explanation. On a first reading, it reads as if the whole losing the bullets thing was just a pointless complication. On a closer reading, I think the idea is that if she’d kept the bullets in the first place, she wouldn’t have had time to re-load, but because it happens this way round, they just fall into the gun – which is a nice enough idea – but I couldn’t completely swear to that being the intention, and it’s certainly not spelt out.
On the whole, pretty forgettable even by the standards of modern Marvel annuals. You do at least get a plot development in the main story, but not one that’s especially well done.