Oh, this book. This book hurts me so, so much.
The X-Men Unlimited title served many different functions over it’s tenure, sometimes varying from month to month. With this issue, titled Hard Promises, it sought to bring some closure to the long-running Shi’ar storyline that had served as the alien-nature wing of the X-Franchise almost since the onset of the Claremont run.
Spinning out of the success of Star Wars (it’s true people, deal with it) the Marvel creative staff decided to have their team of misfits trying to fight for inclusion in a society that finds them uncanny… go to space, and save a princess. Yup, that totally fits. Okay, I’m being a little harsh. What is horrendous in concept works in execution under Claremont’s pen, but even with that small miracle, one just has to stand back and shake their head at the sheer incredulity of it. It’s just such a major misunderstanding of what the franchise is about.
Anyway, say what you will about the Shi’ar in general and the X-Men-In-Space in specific, but when X-Men #200 rolled around and the creative staff wanted to try something fresh with the book, it was a good excuse to get Professor X to symbolically die without actually dying. Critically wounded, he goes to live among the clouds… a clear metaphor for heaven, but in this case literally tearing around the galaxy with his cross-species bird-girlfriend, Princess Lilandra. There he stayed, barely being seen from at all, until almost X-Men #300. It wasn’t quite 300, but it was darn close. And I’m not too lazy to look it up, just saying: almost 100 issues. For 1/5 of the original Uncanny volume, Professor X was nowhere in sight.
Anyway, they brought his back in time for X-Men (second series) #1, made Magneto a villain again, and balance was restored to the lords of status-quo. But they left the Shi’ar plot-line pretty alone, either not caring enough to give it closure or more than likely not wanting to close the door on Xavier going back if the new stories proved unfavorable. But by the time Hard Promises rolled around, I guess Marvel was pretty sure where the franchise was headed over the next few years: Phlanax? Apocolapse? Onslaught? We need Xavier for all that. Time to nuke the Shi’ar.
The story begins with possibly the most oddball grouping of X-Men ever — namely Storm, Jubilee, Forge, and Professor X — being attacked by a Shi’ar warrior. Except they weren’t really attacked, it was the obligatory misunderstanding. Once that’s cleared up, they’re wisked away through the Stargate because Lilandra has use of her “consort” Xavier (consort being a very royal way of saying “bedroom friend”).
The X-Men are expected to appear at a royal function on the recently annexed Kree homeworld of Hala.
Hala is in ruins and the assembled mutants are bothered to find that Lilandra’s sister and erstwhile terrorist Deathbird is to be viceroy. All the while, Xavier struggles with the growing distance in his relationship with Lilandra.
At the same time, Jubilee befriends an alien girl who just0so-happens to be a part of a terrorist cell. They’re planning on destroying the Shi’ar stargate, and Jubilee gets the X-Men to covertly stop them, knowing the trouble it will cause the entire solar system. But while Xavier and the rest sympathize with the radicals plight even though they see they needed to be stopped, Lilandra does not and imprisons them. Realizing that their duties have made them grown apart, Xavier and Lilandra end their relationship.
There really isn’t anything going on here except the desire to finally pull the trigger on ending a romantic relationship which hadn’t had any in-story reason or consequences for existing for quite some time. The only thing I can’t figure out is whether they based this decision on simply the fact that the Shi’ar hadn’t been used in so long, or if they were planning ahead for the road Xavier was going to go down over the next few years/storylines. Either way I don’t disagree with the change, as I’ve never been a big fan of the space-faring arm of the X-Men franchise anyway.
Also: you gotta love how freely pre-9/11 comics threw around the word “terrorist” and still expected the audience to sympathize with those the word was describing. This would never, never happen today. They conversation would have been between Lilandra and the X-Men trying to figure out who got to light the match that burned them. I know I’m being flip, but I’m not really saying that’s a positive change. There’s something to be said about understanding where all sides of a fight are coming from, and the X-Men have always been about taking the side of the ‘uncanny’ or the ‘other.’ Only in the ’90s, an era with relatively few military actions, could this story have been framed the way it was. For kids reading this review and not knowing what I’m talking about: this was a magical time between the end of the Cold War and the beginning of the War on Terror, which happened to also coincide with a booming economy. Things were alright.
That cultural shift cripples (sorry Xavier) this comic, but in the end it’s just a boring tale that seems like it was necessitated by wanted to take-out the Xavier/Lilandra relationship. There’s really no logical reason for Lil to have summoned the X-Men, she just does. And the writers chose possibly the strangest and most boring assemblage of X-Men ever to take. There’s so much working against this.
Hard Promises by John Francis Moore
My rating: 1 of 5 stars
“you gotta love how freely pre-9/11 comics threw around the word “terrorist” and still expected the audience to sympathize with those the word was describing.”