Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Forgotten Comics: X-Men Unlimited #14

For a new series on this blog, I am going to be highlighting some of my favorite lesser known comic books, individual issue-style.

First up is X-Men Unlimited #14. For those unfamiliar with X-Men comics... they are basically my favorite. Many of the stores that are going to be dealt with this for this series are going to be X-Men, and they are going to be from the '90s when Marvel was over saturating the comic book market with 'em. In my opinion, it was also a creative high point in X-Men history. Many great stories took place. In 1997, this rare gem was published.

Without going too much into the convoluted history, the X-Men had just been more or less betrayed by their founder, Professor X. Tainted by Magneto's evil influence, Xavier had become an amalgam of himself and Magnus to form a villainous entity known as Onslaught. It also created what big comic companies love: a gigantic crossover, where you have to buy a lot of titles to understand what the heck is going on. Basically, Onslaught was such a threat pretty much the entire planet was in trouble. Hence, not only the X-Men banded together to stop him, but the Avengers and the Fantastic Four as well. Since this is an X-Men story, I'll skip to the end and tell you that our merry mutant band survived. Avengers? Fantastic Four? Not so lucky. Onslaught apparently kills them.

All that action aside, this story takes a look at the young son of Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Woman: Franklin Richards. Despite being an honorary member of the young group the Power Pack, the younger Franklin Richards was little more than a supporting character. When the Onslaught story starts, we basically learn that Franklin is one of, if not the most, powerful mutants ever. He can essentially create and destroy energy, mold reality in any way he sees fit, etc. Onslaught uses him for a time until the combined heroes save him. When his parents die, the X-Men are given custodianship of the young boy by his time traveling grandfather.

I don't think grandfathers lost in time should make the "these people should raise my grandchild" decisions, but... hey, I guess the X-Men are the best equipped to deal with Franklin should he use his powers to turn the world into ice cream or whatever.

Which, up to this point, Franklin just might. He didn't have a lot of emotional resonance for readers. Like I said, he was a Fantastic Four background character. I don't want to point fingers or place blame, but the FF might have been killed off because their book wasn't selling well and no one really cared about them. If the main heroes don't matter, it's a safe point no one's paying attention to their kids, either.

::Whew:: All that set up, and we haven't even gotten to our actual story.

A small group of the X-Men are at Hank McCoy's home. Hank is the Beast, the blue furry guy. He grew up in Illinois (thanks Wikipedia - I forgot that) where this story takes place. In tow along with Beast are Storm, Gambit, and a lesser known team member named Joseph. At the time, everyone thought Joseph was Magneto with amnesia. In true comic book form, it turns out he's some kinda clone, but at this point, let's just go with "He's Magneto with amnesia." The four X-Men have brought along Franklin, Artie Maddox and Leech. Artie is a mute kid with pink skin that thinks in 3-D pictures (which, think about it... is awesome!) and Leech negates mutant powers in physical proximity. He's green, not like in the third X-Men move when they ruined him.

The tale begins with Franklin having nightmares about his parents and Onslaught. We learn quickly that part of the reason this group of X-people are in Illinois is half to de-stress, but also to bring Franklin, Artie, and Leech into a more stable, family-friendly environment. Hank's parents live on a farm, are still married, and for all intents and purposes, are wholesomely adorable. They make breakfast for everyone. And embarrass Hank. This story really made me want them in X-Men comics all the time. It's good that they're not, because if they were? They'd probably end of clones of Magneto, too.

Franklin is getting along with Artie and Leech famously (the pair become a fun threesome for about two years in the ongoing Generation X before writers lost interest), but is still pretty upset and sad about his parents dying. Here is a kid who can do anything... except bring people back from the dead, it turns out. While farm-filled wackiness ensues, Franklin eventually gets Joseph alone for a tractor ride. There, he begins to beat the living tar out of him. I'm talking about the 8-year old Franklin taking on a dude with Magneto's power (considerable, if you didn't know). Joseph, in this story, doesn't really stand a chance. If Franklin wasn't grief-stricken, the implication is... in his right mind? Franklin probably could have killed him in less than a second.

The panels with a broken hearted Franklin begging Joseph to bring back his parents back to life gets me. Every. Single. Time.

Gambit, who pretty much hates this Joseph guy for putting the moves on his girl Rogue back in New York, initially watches the exchange with a mischevious glee. Only Gambit can do such delight in others' pain with class. But when Franklin starts using his omni-power to (at least begin) melting Joseph's brain, he intervenes. Eventually, Hank is able to get Leech there who siphons off Franklin's powers. You realize the X-Men are pretty smart pairing Franklin with Leech for just this reason.

Franklin is still upset at the end, so there's no real resolution. You just realize the kid's never going to get over it. That's sad, but that's a great one-issue comic. This one issue alone makes Franklin one of my all-time favorite comic book characters. Since it's an Unlimited, it's unlikely you'll find it as part of a collection. But it was a nice little ending piece for a crappy gigantic crossover. It's also proof that out of over hyped marketed comics, a really great character piece can emerge and shine.

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