X-Over And Over Again - Part 10: Operation Zero Tolerance

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The final line-wide X-over until Messiah CompleX  was 1997's Operation: Zero Tolerance, which picked up almost immediately after the events of the Onslaught Saga.  Following the disappearance and presumed death of the Fantastic Four, most of the Avengers and the Hulk in the final battle with Onslaught, the X-Men were left to deal with the aftermath. 

With the mutant team seemingly responsible for the deaths of the world's greatest heroes, anti-mutant sentiment in the Marvel Universe began to surge as never before. Graydon Creed, the human son of Mystique and Sabretooth and an old foe of the X-Men as a leader of hate group Friends of Humanity, began aligning himself for a presidential run on an anti-mutant platform. His assassination, later revealed to be at the hands of his mother, set the stage of the activation of the U.S. government's worst case scenario for the "mutant problem" – Operation: Zero Tolerance.

O: ZT was an initiative headed by a mysterious figure known only as Bastion, who had somehow schemed his way to a high rank within the U.S. intelligence community. Aiming for nothing more or less than rounding up and exterminating as many mutants as possible, Bastion had seeded the entire country with Prime Sentinels – normal humans implanted with nanotechnology without their knowledge, that when activated would transform them into hunter-killer drones designed to track and eliminate mutants. In the months leading up to the crossover, Bastion had abducted Jubilee and Professor X, but the story began in earnest in X-Men #65 with the Prime Sentinels' attack on the X-Men as they returned from an adventure in Hong Kong.

The crossover itself ran through X-Men #s 65-69, Cable #s 45-47, Generation X #s 29-31, Uncanny X-Men #346, Wolverine #s 115-118, and X-Force #s 68-69. Take that list with a grain of salt; there were some ancillary goings-on in issues of X-Man and Deadpool, and not all the issues listed above were "officially" within the main arc of Operation: Zero Tolerance. This imprecision is indicative of the crossover's nebulous nature. 

The premise was serviceable if somewhat mundane, while Bastion had been established as a credible threat through cameo appearances following the defeat of Onslaught. A discernible story-arc, however, was nowhere to be found.  Operation: Zero Tolerance consisted almost entirely of the X-Men and their allies, in small and large groups, battling and/or running from Prime Sentinels, interspersed with Jubilee's attempts to escape from captivity. 

Bastion hovered around the periphery, going through the motions in a rote, flat manner that made him out to be about as threatening as Dr. Evil. The big, climactic confrontation pitted Bastion and some Sentinels against Iceman, former Morlock Marrow, newcomer Cecilia Reyes, and Israeli mutant Sabra…only to have S.H.I.E.L.D. intervene before anything can go down! S.H.I.E.L.D. also bails out the main team of X-Men after they escape from Bastion's compound, providing a comfortable deus ex machina that removes all agency from the hands of the characters whose names are on the book.

Operation: Zero Tolerance is without question the nadir of X-Men crossovers, outstripping even The Fall Of The Mutants and The X-Tinction Agenda in its poor quality. Bastion, later revealed to be a mystical hybrid of the Sentinel factory Master Mold and the time-displaced Sentinel Nimrod, never became the new archvillain he was clearly designed to be; his ill-fated resurrections have seen him defeated by B-lists such as Warlock and Wolfsbane. 

Cecilia Reyes, meanwhile, went on to become a member of the X-Men, but soon vanished into a special section of character limbo for failed '90s X-characters, slotting herself in neatly between Maggott and Revanche. Prime Sentinels still pop up from time to time, with one even joining the X-Men herself before being possessed by the psychic Marauder known as Malice. This sad litany is hardly the dramatic fallout you would expect from a major event running throughout a comic-book publisher's signature franchise. 

Operation: Zero Tolerance was, as a whole, dull as dirt and put the X-over into a decade-long period of hibernation from which it is only beginning to awaken. In those intervening ten years, however, a great deal has changed in the comic-publishing world. While editorial and corporate interests are still a powerful force, as can be seen in the ongoing One More Day/Brand New Day debacle, the plotting and writing of mainstream comics has improved overall, with writers often taking pride of place next to artists in the eyes of fans. Whether those improvements make themselves known in Messiah CompleX will be discussed next week, in the final part of X-Over And Over Again.

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