90’s Villains Come and Go in Uncanny X-Men #20

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Writer: Matthew Rosenberg / Artist: Salvador Larroca / Marvel

“I don’t know If I can make myself stupid enough for you all to understand” – Dark Beast

While Rob Liefeld retroactively injects new mutants into the timestream over in the Surge-fueled Major X mini-series, Matthew Rosenberg’s Uncanny X-Men continues to purge some of the X-Men’s biggest threats. Previously, Emma Frost emerged as the mastermind behind the X-Men’s orchestrated targeting of their villains. The revelation was Frost herself is merely a puppet of the O.N.E. forces working to annihilate any and all living mutants. Issue #20 of the so-called “Last X-Men” story signals the return of a whole crew of recognizable, but forgotten foes: The Upstarts, Nasty Boys, and one-time Acolyte Fabian Cortez.

Earlier in Uncanny X-Men, Wolverine and Kwannon discovered Emma Frost and her new Hellfire Club. Mystique disguised herself as Captain America in order to gather him for their side after attempting to free Mr. Sinister. This issue rewinds two days before that moment before dropping back into the present. Here, Emma makes a huge decision that may signal the tipping point of the mutant’s last stand.  While on the hunt for the Nasty Boys in Manhattan’s Cloisters, the X-Men arrive to find Sinister’s old henchmen already dead. Rather than trying to hide, the perpetrators are just waiting.  The Upstarts — Trevor Fitzroy, Shinobi Shaw, Seline Blaze, and Fabian Cortez — were once a loose team of assassins used by one-time Black Queen Selene to create her own Inner Circle. They, however, know something the X-Men do not. As the Upstarts are defeated, Shinobi Shaw kills himself rather than be taken prisoner. He warns the X-Men they are all merely chess pieces in “her” game…most likely referring to Frost.

Before they can even process what the incident with the Nasty Boys and the Upstarts, the X-Men return to Harry’s Hideaway. In the meantime, Dark Beast has cured the “X-gene” vaccine with some advice from Mr. Sinister.  He tells them that the only way to implement it, however, is through airborne dispersal. Havok objects because, of course, Dark Beast is still a twisted eugenicist (and you know this?!?!). Hope reminds him of the new committee-style leadership of the team, however, and the others ultimately decide Dark Beast’s cure should do less harm than good.

Wrong.

Using Banshee’s flight and Magick’s teleporting powers, the X-Men quickly dispatch the cure into the atmosphere. As reports start to emerge of sudden mutant deaths caused my extreme manifestations of their powers, Dark Beast mentions the fine print of his cure: it’s only 98% percent effective. The other 2%…is lethal. Most of the team are shocked and ashamed at what they have taken part in. Ilyana, however, just makes the executive call and ports Dark Beast’s head somewhere away from his body. Meanwhile, Wolverine and Kwannon strike the Hellfire Club, but are ultimately overwhelmed by the interference of the O.N.E. forces. Frost knowing that the war is reaching a pivotal moment pulls her last card – she restores the memories of Cyclops.

This issue is best read multiple times, because so much is packed into just 32 pages. As all remaining mutant factions and the O.N.E. stand ready for a final showdown, the lines of morality are blurred beyond distinction. Former X-Men Marrow and Elixir fight alongside Frost as members of the Hellfire Club. Juggernaut stands with the X-Men once more, along with onetime-MLF members Hope and Banshee. In terms of action, the brutality and intensity are almost Grant Morrison-levels of dark for the mutant death toll. For instance, Shinobi Shaw phasing his hand through his own skull is a palpably creepy and disturbing image that sets the mood for this issue. Not holding back on the intensity, the climax features two brutal battles: Mystique vs. Kwannon, and then Wolverine vs. everyone else. Subtly, the fight makes nods to the infamous scenes in Uncanny X-Men #133 where Wolverine remorselessly rips through the Hellfire Club members. Once again, the economical art and layouts by Larocca give a classic X-Men feel without being too flashy.

Rosenberg and Larocca’s flagship run ends in just two more issues. Cop those and believe the the body count will be high, and the consequences far-reaching. Since joining the X-Offices, Rosenberg has woven together several narratives and character arcs that all subtly tie into this current Uncanny X-Men run. His previous gigs include 2018’s Astonishing X-MenNew Mutants mini-series, Multiple Man, and even Phoenix Resurrection. They have all planted seeds for the current status quo for this book’s main and supporting cast. Those books are definitely worth a first or second look if you want delve deeper into Rosenberg’s distinct mark on the mutantverse.

Rating: 9 out of 10 Kwannons

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  • Jon-Carlos Evans is a Berlin based filmmaker, audiovisual artist and writer. He holds a B.A. in Film Production from Webster University-St.Louis and a MFA in Media Arts Production from the City College of New York. Under his musical alias Klaas von Karlos, Evans is also is the founder of experimental-electronic collective ReVerse Bullets and creative director of the GLITCH performance series/music label. As Klaas von Karlos, he is also a member of music projects BIINDS, Naked Sweatshop, and Divan Rouge

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