Here’s a really weird instance the can almost only happen to someone planning a review for this site. See, some of my reviews are easy because the collections of the issues already exist in nearly-perfect ways, like with X-Men: Fatal Attractions. But sometimes Marvel hasn’t gotten around to collecting things yet, so rather than post a review for each individual issue as some sites would, I take it upon myself to group them together into storyarcs on my own, with varying degrees of success, as with Shattered Fates or the like. So these pseudo-collections require a little more forethought than others, because I have to decide what gets collected together. When my reading list told me I was going to be reading the X-Force/ Cable 1996 Annual, I was at first going to do a compare and contrast with the 1995 Annual… but then something interesting happened: there are references to the Silver Surfer in there. I knew that Silver Surfer #123 was on my reading list as well, so looking ahead, I saw that right before that was X-Men Unlimited #13, which also guest-starred the Silver Surfer. Assuming these three to actually be one loosely-connected story,
But no, as it turns out, it isn’t. These stories are barely connected, in ways that is head scratching, because in true ’90s fashion, each book hints at connections without actually paying them off.
Starting with the X-Force | Cable 1996 Annual, we get a story from John Francis Moore revolving around a space battle with the token X-Men aliens, the Shi’ar. This is more than a little ironic, since it was Moore that (for all intents and purposes) wrote them out of the X-Men ongoing stories back in Hard Promises. But I digress. The story features the Shi’ar, led by Deathbird, chasing after a lone alien cyborg named Pulse. Nearing Earth’s orbit, Pulse flees down to Westchester and to the X-Men, where X-Force currently resides and are undergoing field training operations.
When Pulse first arrives his circuitry interacts with the holo-projectors of the Danger Room and causes the simple training procedure to become deadly, now that the non-lethal emitters have been turned off. Pulse proceeds to change into versions of different robotic characters, including Ultron and Warlock, as though trying to find the correct one. In fact he is trying to find the correct one, the crash having rendered him amnesiac, he is dimly aware that he is a non-organic lifeform and is trying to find the truth of his existence among Xavier’s files, but with each new form he (on some level) acts appropriate to that form, meaning that as Ultron he attacks X-Force and manipulates the Danger Room into an appropriate setting for that match.
Eventually Pulse realizes who he is. The reason he had come to the X-Mansion in the first place wasn’t out of some desire to harm or get help from the X-Men, but rather as a inorganic life form he needed some Shi’ar tech to heal and the Danger Room was the only source of it within our solar system. When Deathbird shows up to take out Pulse, X-Force (seeing him as a good-intended rebel much as they are, someone outside the system represented by Deathbird) cover his escape. On his ship, he looks out at the stars and ponders if his next ‘target’ will be as forgiving: The Silver Surfer!
A few things: this is actually a very well-written story. It isn’t trite, it doesn’t talk down to the reader, and on first glance it is much less “random villain that has no effect on continuity” than the average Annual at this time would be. I say that because I assumed that Pulse would be the main character linking these three issues together into a non-storyarc… but as you’ll see, I was mistaken.
And yes, I kind of regret placing all of these together, because X-Force | Cable 1996 Annual doesn’t deserve to be saddled with these… things, but at the same time: well, here we are. X-Men Unlimited #13 is a story of the X-Men in space interacting with, wait for it, Deathbird and the Shi’ar, along with the Silver Surfer. So you’d think this would all be related, right? Well, so did I.
And to be fair, Deathbird makes mention of her recent spat with X-Force and Cable, but interestingly Pulse is left out of it entirely. As the story picks up, Cyclops, Jean, Bishop, and Beast are already in space, along with Binary (Captain marvel, nowadays, for those keeping track). There’s no explanation given as to how they got there or why they’re there. Actually there is, but it’s done so weirdly I found it unfollowable. There are flashbacks over and over again, every page or so, that aren’t clearly marked and don’t last long enough. The crux of the story seems to center around the fact that Zenn-La has gone missing, and somehow this is affecting things here, and there’s a space station in trouble, I think the same one from The Dark Phoenix Saga… I dunno. I really wouldn’t be able to tell you. In addition to Perez proving himself to be not-the-best writer, the art is just horrible… which is ironic, because I feel like things would have been a lot simpler if Perez would have just written and drawn it: at least the art would have been good, and I feel like the story could have been more coherent then too, as things that are currently made unclear by the art could have been accurately portrayed. The story ends with the Surfer looking devastated, as he has finally learned that Zenn-La, his home, has vanished from the stars.
That’s a pretty heavy revelation to happen in X-Men Unlimited #13, when Silver Surfer has his own monthly book. I can only assume that the next issue of Silver Surfer, #123, will be mainly about dealing with the repercussions of this, possibly dealing with Pulse as well, right?
Nope! A quick search online tells me that Pulse has never shown up again, which is jaw-dropping. There should be a monthly Marvel book, in the Marvel Fanfare style, specifically for dealing with loose threads from around the Marvel Universe like this. It could be so much fun if they wanted it to be.
The X-Men literally only appear in one panel of this Silver Surfer comic. They only appear, still in space, commenting on the Surfer’s fall to Earth. This story was also written by Perez, so the fact that they aren’t more linked is even more baffling. They even go to the trouble of showing it to be the same group of X-Men, and Binary, still in space from the last issue, acknowledging that yes, this does take place immediately after X-Men Unlimited #13… which begs the question, why does the Surfer not act as though it takes place right after that???
The issue itself, despite angering me in not being a part of the larger story I was expecting, is actually quite good. Instead of linking into the Pulse non-story (I can’t well call that one appearance a story) it instead links into the Onslaught storyline, as the Surfer returns to Earth for the first time since the Fantastic Four disappeared. The Surfer (in what I assume is an ongoing storyline) has lost a great deal of his humanity though, and walks the halls of the damaged Four Freedoms Plaza remembering his friends but unable to feel the emotional weight their memory should illicit and becoming frustrated by that. Eventually he visits Alicia Masters, the human who originally turned him from Galactus, and she helps him start down the road toward feeling again.
I liked this issue a lot. Despite his non-emotional nature, there is a strong sense of Survivors Guilt hovering over the Surfer as he walks the halls of Four Freedom’s Plaza. It’s enough to make me with the “Heroes Reborn” experiment had worked out and lasted a little longer, so that we could have had more time in the main Marvel U to deal with a world without heroes. If I hadn’t paired it with X-men Unlimited #13 it would have gotten a 5 star grade, but I put them together and XU#13 was so bad it balances down to 2.
To sum up: I can’t sum up, because I thought this was all one story and it wasn’t. Nor are there real elements present to both that I can use to compare and contrast. The only lesson to be learned from this is that Marvel should have taken the logical hint from Hard Promises and let the X-Men stay out of space. Forever.