Welcome to the X-Roulette! Shelfdust’s Patreon backers are asked to pick a number at random – and now I’m going to write about whichever corresponding issue of “X-Men/Uncanny X-Men” they chose! Well, I say “any”, but I couldn’t be arsed with this one so I asked Gregory Silber to do it instead. This issue was picked by Patreon backer Yonatan, who chose number 324 for the roulette – so off you go, pal!
By Gregory Paul Silber
When Shelfdust founder and editor-in-chief Steve Morris warned that he was assigning me a “cursed” X-Men comic to write about because he didn’t want to do it himself, I didn’t think much of it. I’ve read plenty of bad comics in my time, and they can be fun to write about, especially if I’m paid for it (support Shelfdust on Patreon!)
The problem with 1995’s Uncanny X-Men #324, “Deadly Messengers,” isn’t so much that it’s bad, although that obviously doesn’t help. It’s that it’s so thoroughly unremarkable that I forgot 90% of what I had just read within minutes of reading the final page.
In fairness to the creative team of writer Scott Lobdell, penciller Roger Cruz, inker Tim Townsend, colorists Steve Buccellato and Electric Crayon, letterers Richard Starking and Comicraft, as well as editor Bob Harras, I went into this issue cold. Much like when Steve introduced me to his favorite Soviet superhero last year by way of a (much better) Captain America issue, I did no research about what preceded Uncanny X-Men #324, and I don’t plan on reading #325.
This is… not a great comic, largely due to the fact that Scott Lobdell is a shoddy writer. I’m not just saying this because Lobdell has previously been called out as a creep. For a man who had been writing superhero comics for major publishers from the early 90s to just last year, I don’t think I’ve ever met a single reader who’s an unabashed fan of his work. The plot of “Deadly Messengers” is pedestrian, but what’s worse is Lobdell’s lack of fundamentals. In terms of both narration and dialogue, there’s a remarkable lack of flow from panel to panel and page to page. Lobdell’s prose has a stuttering quality, as if he can’t be bothered to have each clause transition smoothly from one thought to the next, opting to abuse dashes and ellipses instead.
Anyway, back to the issue at hand, “Deadly Messengers.” We kick things off with Psylocke (Betsy Braddock) infiltrating the mind of comics’ favorite Cajun, Gambit. Naturally, Gambit’s mind is straight-up New Orleans. Betsy justifies her actions via caption boxes explaining that she sensed something “dark… foreboding” in Remy’s head the day before, but what exactly that is won’t be fully explained in this issue.
Following that tease, the bulk of the issue follows Wolverine, Cannonball, Storm, Beast, and a detective character I’d never heard of named Charlotte Jones as they face off against the Gene Nation: a violent, monstrous-looking offshoot of the underground mutant colony known as Morlocks. The Gene Nation’s attacks are motivated, somewhat vaguely, by revenge. “For every mutant that has died at the hands of homo sapiens,” the green mutant monster says. “We will kill a hundred humans!”
For his part, “guest penciller” Roger Cruz’s art is extremely 90s, especially in the way he draws women; Psylocke’s costume goes right up her buttcrack and Storm has balloon boobs. I won’t shame readers who are into that kind of thing, but I just kind of find it embarrassing. Still, for what it is, it’s solid. If you’re into the likes of Todd McFarlane and Marc Silvestri and all those 90s superhero artists of that ilk, you’ll probably appreciate the touch of manga influence that Cruz brings to a familiar style (check out those big eyes he draws on a closeup of Rogue). From inkers to colorists to letterers, it’s all pretty standard issue mid-90s Marvel, but there’s a competency to the rest of the creative team that the writer lacks.
Meanwhile, Rogue (in an incredibly skimpy outfit) and Iceman visit a bar in the sparsely-populated town of Millstone, Arizona looking for… something? It’s never made entirely clear in this issue, but it apparently has a connection to Gambit, and a waitress at the bar appears to be none other than Emma Frost.
Needless to say I was a bit lost. I love the X-Men, but I’ve read comparatively few 90’s issues. Not to be rude, but that whole period after Chris Claremont’s definitive 17-year run on the franchise and before Grant Morrison’s landmark New X-Men… doesn’t interest me. I’m sure there were plenty of good X-Men comics by talented creators throughout that era, but most of the time when I pick up a random 90s X-Men issue, the writers seem to be doing half-baked Claremont impressions with some Jim Lee wannabe on art duties.
Is that reductive? Of course, but one could only attempt to get into 90s X-Men so many times before giving up and rereading that 1982 Wolverine miniseries where Logan fights a bunch of ninjas drawn by Frank Miller.
Despite Steve’s warnings, I don’t know that I’d describe Uncanny X-Men #324 as “cursed.” It’s bad, sure, but to describe it as cursed would be to suggest that the memory of it is so awful that it leaves semi-permanent psychic damage to the reader’s brain. “Deadly Messengers” is much too forgettable to leave such a strong impression one way or the other.
If there’s anything cursed about Uncanny X-Men #324, it’s Scott Lobdell himself, a writer who managed the incredible feat of continuing to get work from major publishers in spite of the ire of the fans he underwhelmed and colleagues he harassed. The editor on this issue, Bob Harras, is similarly cursed for the way he allegedly protected abusers like Lobdell and Eddie Berganza for years while more deserving talents were neglected or pushed out of the industry.
In that respect, perhaps Uncanny X-Men #324 is a cursed object, not because of the contents of the issue itself, but for what it represents as a small part of a much larger and all-too-familiar picture: that of a mediocre white man failing upwards.
Uncanny X-Men 324: Deadly Messengers
Writer: Scott Lobdell
Artist: Roger Cruz
Inker: Tim Townsend
Colorist: Steve Buccellato
Letterer: Richard Starkings
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