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Mar 18

X-Force #18 annotations

Posted on Thursday, March 18, 2021 by Paul in Annotations

X-FORCE vol 6 #18
“Shadows of the Mind”
by Benjamin Percy, Garry Brown & Guru-eFX

COVER / PAGE 1.  Kid Omega… um, crying psychic energy, I suppose. Explosively.

PAGES 2-4. Black Tom is attacked.

Obviously, this is the psychic creature that XENO created using Kid Omega’s body. It’s not really clear to me how we’re meant to read this scene – whether Black Tom is cut off from part of Krakoa, or whether he’s connected to Krakoa but Krakoa can’t sense the psychic entity, or whether being unable to sense something on Krakoa has become something nightmarishly wrong for him.

The opening line, with Tom talking in his sleep, refers to his long-running partnership with Cain Marko, the Juggernaut. There are some stories that portray them as extremely close friends.

We’re told later on that the psychic entity’s attacks are tied to “the unguarded mind”, which usually means a strong emotional state. In Tom’s case, however, it seems to be just sleep.

PAGE 5. Recap and credits.

PAGES 6-7. Sage gets attacked.

Pretty straightforward. We’re told later on that she’s developing a drinking problem, and I’m racking my brains trying to think of anything that would really lay a basis for it. Nothing’s coming to mind, to be honest. At any rate, her vulnerability to the psychic attack seems to be just because she’s drunk.

PAGES 8-9. Wolverine and Jean Grey in the Summer House.

Wolverine is referring to the ongoing vampire storyline in his solo book.

PAGES 10-13. Quentin and Phoebe discuss the situation with Sage.

When we left Quentin and Phoebe last issue, they were just being attacked by Jumbo Carnation (again, under psychic attack). We’re offhandedly told that they snapped him out of it pretty easily. That’s hardly surprising – they’re two rop-tier telepaths and he’s a non-combatant. It’s not the sort of fight scene we really needed to see.

Phoebe believes that the danger is linked to Quentin and affects those around him, but from the look of it they’ve just got back to Krakoa – if so, attacks were happening without them.

Sage clearly doesn’t like being described as cold, though it’s not too far removed from her standard personality. Note that although Phoebe will claim later that Quentin lacks empathy, he’s the one who seems to have a better grasp of (at least) how to deal with Sage.

PAGES 14-16. Beast’s flashback.

He gets attacked while he’s asleep, and experiences a dream where the psychic attempts to get him to reveal secrets about Krakoa. Presumably his resistance to this attack is what causes his stroke. Phoebe’s reaction to the dream sequence seems a bit over the top – on the grand scale of cruelty in X-Men villains, giving somebody an anxiety dream about school seems pretty low down, and doesn’t really seem to merit her response. The story appears to want us to believe that this creature is some sort of acute exploiter of emotional vulnerability, and I’m really not seeing it.

PAGES 17-18. X-Force discuss what they’ve seen.

Quentin recognises the psychic entity as a version of him. With traditional self-loathing, he concludes that the creature is evil and exploitative because of the features it took from him, rather than because of the influence of whoever expropriated it. This could be seen as a rather self-centred reaction (and one that doesn’t want to acknowledge that a version of him isn’t in control). That said, Phoebe’s reaction suggests that we’re meant to believe that Quentin was like this himself at some point, and feels his past is catching up on him. I wouldn’t say that exploiting vulnerabilities been a central feature of Quentin’s behaviour but I guess you can find some examples, such as him making public figures reveal personal secrets on television in X-Men: Schism. Still, this feels like a story that has to reach a long way back in order to work.

The Pale Girl is a villain from the current Wolverine run (and Quentin fought her over there).

Sage and the Beast apparently have a deal to just kill each other when they get injured, instead of trying to heal. The reasoning isn’t terribly compelling: killing them loses potentially several days of memory, and by Marvel Universe logic you’re still left with a dead body with valuable memories in it.

PAGE 19. Data page. Sage explains the plot. Reasonably enough, she worries that there might be effects on her mind from her encounter with the psychic attacker even if they aren’t noticeable. It might be argued that Sage doesn’t disclose these worries to Quentin and Phoebe, but they seemed to figure out for themselves that she had had an encounter with the entity, so it’s not like she’s actively concealing it either.

PAGES 20-23. Quentin enters the psychic plane.

There’s a pretty strong suggestion that Jean Grey could wind up returning to this book as part of an arc when Beast’s bad ideas finally come home to roost.

Quentin’s claim that he doesn’t need Jean is maybe not phrased all that convincingly – he doesn’t need her, “the same way you don’t need Emma or the Cuckoos”. Maybe Phoebe doesn’t need them, but she’s a lot stronger alongside them, and pretty strongly attached to them.

What Quentin witnesses here is presumably a version of the XENO lab where his copy was created. Again, this creature is keen to exploit Quentin’s fear that its evil is just a reflection of him.

PAGE 24. Data page.

More about Sage’s drinking. I have serious difficulty with the idea that she’s spent any significant amount of timing dancing to Mariah Carey or, indeed, anyone else. As for the “number of landmines I almost stepped on as a child”, this refers to her back story from X-Treme X-Men which has her growing up in the Balkans; thanks to sliding time, this fits well enough with the Yugoslav Wars of the 1990s.

PAGE 25. Trailers. The Krakoan reads NEXT: HEADACHE.

 

Bring on the comments

  1. Si says:

    There’s an awful lot of alcoholic superheroes. And yet not one is addicted to painkillers or marijuana or any other drug. Nobody’s even struggled to give up tobacco. But they keep going back to that drinking problem trope, again and again and again.

  2. JD says:

    Wait, didn’t X-Treme X-Men show Sage & Xavier in Afghanistan ? Did this get retconned later on ?

    (Yes, Lucifer crushing his legs was initially in “Central Europe”, but clearly Claremont felt the need to change it…)

  3. Chris V says:

    It would seem like more superheroes would be addicted to painkillers, if they aren’t impervious to being hurt.

    To be fair, and he’s not a superhero nor a Marvel character, but John Constantine got lung cancer due to his addiction to Silk Cuts.

    Oh, and Speedy had a jones for Smack during the ‘70s.

  4. Si says:

    Yeah I didn’t want to talk about Speedy and his dead alley cat, but from memory the original 70s story was a bit more sound. I certainly can’t think of any examples of drug abuse from Marvel, except for that Morrison thing that turned out to be a sapient virus or whatever, which barely qualifies.

  5. Uncanny X-Ben says:

    Because alcoholics aren’t breaking any other laws.

  6. Joseph S. says:

    The art was pretty rough this issue. Some good bits for sure but some parts feel much more rushed than stylistically loose.

    I can see Sage developing a drinking problem. She’s not using substances to augment her work; she doesn’t need that given her power set. But drinking to suppress the stress from her very difficult job? That’s very believable, especially because she’s generally depicted as so tightly wound and detached.

  7. Col_Fury says:

    I’d have to go back and check, but wasn’t Daredevil taking a lot of painkillers at the start of the current DD volume?

    And if I remember right, the Iron Man Demon in a Bottle story was originally supposed to have Tony Stark hooked on coke instead of booze. That got changed, obviously.

  8. Allan M. says:

    Col_Fury, that’s actually an online myth. They did a Comic Book Legends Revealed thing about it on CBR years back. The origin is that David Micheline said during an interview in 2000 that if he did the “Iron Man becomes an addict” storyline “today” (2000), it would’ve been cocaine instead of alcohol to start, but that, Tony being Tony, he would’ve started inventing new drugs to create the ultimate high for himself. Online discourse being what it is, that got stripped down to “it would’ve been cocaine”, which is how both of us heard it, but it’s not quite right.

    Unrelated, but I find it interesting that we on one hand, we have the dopey but broadly heroic Cable treating the Cuckoos as interchangeable girlfriends to date, whereas Quentin, the asshole, is showing real affection for Phoebe and is pushing her to be more independent. Being more independent is on-brand for Quentin generally, but it seems sincere. I think he’s trying to build her self-confidence, and expressing his trust in her, on top of his newfound determination to prove he can pull his weight.

    The Sage/Mariah Carey thing threw me, and I’m torn between thinking it’s glaringly against her established characterization, and thinking that it’d be nice if Sage had more than one character dimension, so hey, maybe she likes pop music?

  9. Si says:

    @Uncanny X-Ben, there’s a lot of legal drugs that can become a problem. Prescription opiates is probably the most poignant option, considering the physical damage they all put themselves through, giving a completely valid and moral reason for starting the habit.

    @Joseph S, the problem isn’t that Sage doesn’t have the right motivations for abusing alcohol, it’s just that the story has been done so many times already.

  10. Uncanny X-Ben says:

    Yeah for sure, but people who get hooked to legal prescription meds like opioids tend to quickly spiral into buying them illegally. Or get into harder stuff.

    Superhero comics are veeeery old fashioned about this stuff. Well and pretty much everything else.

    Alcoholism is… more culturally acceptable?

    Does anyone want to see Sage do meth?

  11. MasterMahan says:

    This is just foreshadowing Sage’s role in the upcoming superhero rehab book, Alcohol-X.

  12. Uncanny X-Ben says:

    I’d read that.

  13. Bengt says:

    Harry Osborn had a drug problem in the 70s (I think this was when Marvel dropped the Comics Code) though I guess he’s not a hero per se.
    One of the billion spider girls had a MGH drug problem in a Jessica Jones comic. I think there have been several other MGH stories as it’s a safe fake drug.

  14. Krzysiek Ceran says:

    Patriot in the original Young Avengers run is what comes to my mind – he was using MGH because he didn’t actually have powers, not until he got a blood transfusion from his grandfather later on.

    But I read those years ago and I can’t quite remember how Heinberg approached the subject.

  15. Luis Dantas says:

    @Bengt: those issues in the #120s or so of Amazing Spider-Man Vol 1 were indeed published without the Comics Code Association approval and seal, but that was many years before Marvel truly dropped the CCA.

  16. Evilgus says:

    One of Sage’s tics under Claremont was always having a nice bottle of red wine to hand when on ‘downtime’. Which reminds me, I’d like to see her and Bishop interact again.

    I quite enjoy Sage’s palpable frustration with never quite being ‘one of the gang’. She can’t loosen up enough. I found the Mariah Carey throwaway gag quite funny. Of course Sage enjoys dancing… By herself. In private.

    But yes, I’m not sure I need another ‘alcoholic superhero’ story.

    Also, rare to get a smidge of sympathy for Beast these days.

  17. Col_Fury says:

    re: Allan M.

    Good to know, and thanks!

  18. SanityOrMadness says:

    Paul> When we left Quentin and Phoebe last issue, they were just being attacked by Jumbo Carnation (again, under psychic attack). We’re offhandedly told that they snapped him out of it pretty easily. That’s hardly surprising – they’re two rop-tier [sic] telepaths and he’s a non-combatant. It’s not the sort of fight scene we really needed to see.

    On the one hand, you’re right. on the other, it’s not much of a cliffhanger if you’re not going to show them getting out of it, so perhaps it was a bad choice to end the issue on in the first place? Thinking more of the TPB than the single.

    [Also, “rop-tier” typo]

    Paul> Quentin’s claim that he doesn’t need Jean is maybe not phrased all that convincingly – he doesn’t need her, “the same way you don’t need Emma or the Cuckoos”. Maybe Phoebe doesn’t need them, but she’s a lot stronger alongside them, and pretty strongly attached to them.

    It’s still interesting that *Phoebe* suggests Jean rather than Emma and/or the other Cuckoos to help, however…

  19. SanityOrMadness says:

    Also, tangential thought – do the other Cuckoos know about Phoebe/Quentin? Or is Phoebe personally involving herself in the Cable relationship – even though Quentin’s the one she’s actually interested in – to hide it? The only scene I remember (the psychic hot-tub scene from Cable) suggests the latter.

  20. Allan M. says:

    Per Cable #2, one of the Cuckoos does not seem interested in the head games they’re playing on Cable. It’s almost certainly Phoebe though she’s not named in the scene. She claims in X-Force #11 that she’s just being possessive of Quentin, but the memories she restores to him last issue are of the two of them alone.

    I’m not sure how you keep secrets when you’re part of a telepathic hive mind, but the evidence thus far suggests that this is a secret. Note that Emma is keeping a close eye on Esme and Cable. If she knew about Phoebe and the vastly less stable Quentin, I think she would’ve made her presence known by now.

  21. Mike Loughlin says:

    This comic loses a lot without Joshua Casara. With so many telepathic characters, the cast needs a visual stylist of his caliber to make the psychic scenes work.

    I’m thinking of dropping X-Force. I like the series fine, but I don’t look forward to it or remember the plot between issues. Seeing new issues of New Mutants, Marauders, Hellions, X-Factor, and SWORD on the shelves makes me happy. When X-Men comes out, it’s a roll of the dice. When it’s X-Force’s week, I’m like “oh yeah… this.”

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