(Use Your Illusion.)
It's the 20th anniversary issue! More or less, anyway. And what better way to celebrate two decades of stories than by re-heating a tale three years old?
Not that this story brings absolutely nothing new to the mix. For a start, we get to see the X-Men doing some gardening. Maybe that's not the most exciting idea in the world, but at least it gives the newly-returned Wolverine to tear into with his claws. Unfortunately it also gives Storm an opportunity to bitch about how much her new outlook has cost her. Look, lady, Logan just got his heart ripped out and eaten right in front of him, and Rogue's only just gotten back on her feet. No-one cares if you can't tell when a tree's had its chips any more. It'd also be easier to sympathise if you hadn't sold off your entire attic garden the instant you decided punk rock and leather jackets were more fun.
Before anyone has the chance to tell Ororo to buck her ideas up, a flare of energy announces the arrival of the Phoenix Force. It disappears again almost immediately, but leaves behind a gift; Cyclops, falling from out of the sky. Storm and Rogue bring him safely back to earth, but the Phoenix clearly is not messing about.
The Professor calls his X-Men together and outlines the plan. It's... not very good. The fact that Cyclops survived gives Xavier enough hope to play things cool, and try to make contact with the Phoenix before going in powers blazing. To that end, he points Cerebro towards the unstoppably powerful cosmic entity, and gets his brain flash-fried for his trouble. He's lucky the Phoenix didn't kill him.
Still, we can't blame Charles entirely. Whilst 'Crawler teleports him to the medical wing, Logan points out that Cerebro has safeguards in place precisely to make boiling its operator's noggin a tough things to pull off. The list of suspects basically has one name on it:
Phoenix has the whole team on the ground in moments, but announces she'd rather play with her victims for a while than executing them immediately, because that plan has never gone wrong for any supervillain ever. At least her definition of playing is pleasingly warped; her first order of business is to blow the Starjammer out of space, the second to reduce New York to a smouldering ruin.
Now, obviously, any remotely genre-savvy individual will be pricking up their ears at this point, figuring a two-panel farewell to some fairly major supporting characters (including Charles' lover) is implausible enough even before the largest city in the United States gets itself glassed. To Claremont's credit, he doesn't waste too much time in making that point explicit: Cyclops has a weird trippy coma-dream in which he meets his dead mother and is denied access to the afterlife, but once he recovers from this he immediately figures out the team is being manipulated, and he has a pretty good idea who's pulling the strings. After all, how many people outside the X-Men saw the Dark Phoenix the first time around, anyway?
But how can he get the word out? Everyone saw how at one point he was possessed by Phoenix before she left to blow up New York! Maybe he's still possessed! How can the X-Men be sure except immediately trying to punch him to death when he shows up! This month on X-Men: all the X-Men are fucking idiots! Because thirty-eight pages aren't going to fill themselves!
(That's enough exclamation marks for now, I think.)
Being a master tactician and their former field leader, Cyclops gets the upper hand very quickly, until Lockheed forces him to retreat, for fear he might accidentally injure the little dragon otherwise. You'd think refusing to fight the same monster Phoenix punched in the face a few minutes ago might cause the penny to drop, but today the X-Men are determined to be as irritatingly stupid as possible. The fight continues through the mansion and into the Danger Room, where we learn Scott has spent the last ten minutes rewiring the controls to lock everyone else out (he calls this a gamble; I call it an utterly ridiculous move that gets no points just because it ludicrously happened to pay off).
The fact that "Phoenix" seems to want to fight this battle using holograms and trickery at least makes the team stop and think for a few moments, but Rogue insists that all this proves is that Phoenix isn't as powerful as she's making out - this on the same day Phoenix obliterated New York. Storm too is determined to tear Cyclops to pieces - interestingly, not one of them seems to give two shits about where the real Scott is - and even he admits to himself that she's making the right call. I can only assume that Mastermind's powers have reached the point where he can make people unable to see the part of their brain that makes them not act like total berks. Either way, out in the simulated Savage Land under Xavier's mansion, the hunt is on...
So if all of this is just so much smoke and mirrors, then where's the real Madelyne Pryor? Turns out, she's an unwilling guest of Jason Wyngarde. His plan, which he insists on going to great lengths to detail (presumably this is why he didn't let the X-Men kill her already; who would be left to hear how great he is) is simple. He's persuading the X-Men that the Phoenix is back in town, and make things look so desperate that they take out Madelyne, to the horror of all and sundry once Mastermind pulls back the curtain. He's still a little sore over how the real Dark Phoenix made him lose his marbles some forty issues back - as a direct result of him trying the same on her, but never mind - and he's been trailing the X-Men for months. It was he who uncovered Yukio's ruse when she dressed up as Mariko in UXM #172, and who dropped the photo that sent Scott over the edge last time around. This, of course, would be the perfect time for him to fess up to have manipulated Scott's perception of her appearance as part of his master plan, but, no. Apparently it really is coincidence that she looks exactly like Jean Grey, and crashed her plane at the exact same moment Jean died. This will eventually be addressed, of course, but that doesn't make it any less annoying right now.
Back in the Danger Room, Cyclops is running rings around his team-mates. His superior knowledge of the program is proving decisive. He even had time to whistle up some poppies based on Rogue's medical files that stun her the instant she breathes in their pollen. Which, obviously, is bullshit on a bollock-stick, but whatever. It's a nice Wizard of Oz reference, at least (though horribly overplayed). With Wolverine and Storm unconscious, and Colossus trapped in simulated quicksand, Cyclops grabs the drugged Rogue and flees the scene.
Scott's hoping he can get the newest X-Man to Xavier and have her absorb his powers, so she can scan his mind and figure out what's going on. With calm analysis this probably wouldn't convince anyone, since Xavier didn't figure out Scott was possessed earlier, but then Cyclops just needs to get everyone talking for a little while. Of course, since Rogue has never to his knowledge borrowed the powers of a telepath, this could all end up going a wee bit Scanners:
Scott gets away with it, though, using his acquired vicarious experience via Xavier and Jean to keep Rogue more or less functional. Just in time, too, the other X-Men have escaped the Danger Room and are now more pissed off than ever.
And ohhhh! Now I get it. Mastermind has been making Cyclops look like Phoenix all this time. That wasn't very clear at all. He obviously reverted to looking like Scott when he fainted after "Phoenix's" initial attack, otherwise they'd not have put him in the medical wing, but Mastermind must have re-started the illusion after Cyclops woke up. It's not often one would say this, but it wouldn't kill Claremont to have spelled that out a bit more.
Rogue's attempts to calm the team down are only partially successful, but Mastermind must be panicking that she'll get through to them, because he immediately sends in another Phoenix illusion. Just to make things more interesting, though, he's brought along a silenced pistol as well, so he can shoot those people his illusions are targeting. He hits Cyclops in the shoulder this way, but unfortunately for him Wolverine's hyper-senses pick up the pistol's "PHUT", and the jig is up.
That still doesn't mean they can find Mastermind himself, though. Storm solves that particular problem by unleashing a tempest of terrifying force. It smashes Mastermind into unconsciousness, but the X-Men don't fare that much better, and both Kitty and Rogue realise that Ororo doesn't really care either way. Still, it's a happy ending at last, as they pump Mastermind full of drugs to keep him quiet until the authorities arrive, and an exhausted Madelyne is finally freed from the villain's confusing influence. Of course, she came within a hair's breadth of drowning in Storm's squall, but let's not get bogged down in the piddling details.
X-Men weddings, huh? You wait for ages...
Mercifully, this one goes off rather better than the last one. Scott spends some time in the grounds explaining his feelings to Jean's grave, which seems entirely reasonable, and then he goes back inside and ties the knot with her exact double who almost died on the exact same day, which, y'know, doesn't.
But let's not worry about the future we're all fully aware of. The whole Summers clan is reunited; Beast has popped over to quaff champagne (though if I can be blunt, it rather looks like he might want to lay off the booze for a little while, lest he find himself unable to squeeze into his black super-briefs); Banshee and Moira are there, it's all very nice. Congratulations, Mr and Mrs Summers.
Scott notes that twelve hours have elapsed since he was first attacked by the Phoenix (indeed this is a critical plot point, as it starts him thinking about what's really going on). That doesn't give Wolverine time to get back from Japan according to last issue's proposed timeline, but we can easily extend that by one day and have everything converge.
It's not clear how much time passes between Mastermind's defeat and the marriage of Scott and Madelyne, but under the circumstances - what if Madelyne goes all Mariko on Scott's ass? - one can understand how they might not want to let the grass grow and further under their feet, so we'll put the wedding day as being the very next Saturday. It's not like the superhero wedding guests lack for transport to get them there at short notice.
Storm also mentions that it's been weeks since she saw a Phoenix flare in Japan, but that tracks just fine.
1 Marvel year = 3.67 standard years.
(Colossus is 26 years old.)
|"You will not escape our vengeance!"|
Korean Airlines Flight 007 is shot down by a Soviet interceptor, after it strayed into USSR airspace due to a small autopilot issue. All 269 people on board were killed, including a US Congressman. The USSR denied the incident, switched to accusing the passenger plane of espionage once the truth was discovered, and refused to hand over the flight recorder until eight years later, following the Union's collapse. How lovely.
"Jason Wyngarde, ma'am, at your service. Or, as the X-Men know me: MASTERMIND. I am a villain."
You have to respect a man who loves his job. A man who's gone career evil.