X-Over And Over Again - Part 6: Fatal Attractions

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Welcome to this week's installment of BF's review of the famous and infamous X-Men crossovers of the last twenty years, as Messiah CompleX continues to unfold in the current X-titles.

By 1993, the comic book publishing landscape was in a total state of flux. While an extended discussion of the forces at play is outside the scope of this article, it should suffice to say that the explosion in popularity of upstart companies such as Image and Valiant coupled with the speculator boom had put tremendous pressure on Marvel to maintain and expand its market share.

Storytelling, in many cases, became even more of an afterthought to marketing and commercial concerns than it had been in the past. Often, this meant poor scripting and art gilded by hype and eagerly snapped up by rabid collectors. Sometimes, however, the relative merits and deficiencies of a competent storyline would be just as obscured within a marketing blitz, never giving it the chance to stand and fall on its own merits. The 1993 X-over, Fatal Attractions, was just such an event.

Following the previous year's X-Cutioner's Song, the status quo of the X-franchise had changed drastically. X-Men, Uncanny X-Men, X-Factor, X-Force, Excalibur and Wolverine all contested for readers' attention and dollars. The new enemies of the 1980s and early '90s (Apocalypse, Sinister and Stryfe) had all been removed from the playing field, at least for a while, and just in time for the X-Men's thirtieth anniversary, bringing with it the return of their archnemesis: Magneto.

Following his split with the New Mutants and subsequent return to his traditional antagonistic role, Magneto had recruited a new group of mutant disciples, his Acolytes. Largely absent from the landscape for two years of real-world time following the X-Men's first encounter with this group, Magneto and his followers reappeared in X-Factor #92, the first of six parts in the Fatal Attractions saga (followed by X-Force #25, Uncanny X-Men #304, X-Men #25, Wolverine #75 and Excalibur #75.)

Fabian Cortez, Magneto's successor following his apparent death in the destruction of Asteroid M, offers Quicksilver his rightful place as Magneto's heir. The speedster refuses, as does X-Force when they are given a similar offer of sanctuary by Exodus, a powerful new mutant also acting on behalf of the Acolytes. Cable and his team discover this sanctuary to be another orbital base, Avalon, constructed around Cable's former space station headquarters. Cable attempts to destroy Avalon, only to be stopped by Magneto, barely escaping with his life.

Magneto and the Acolytes then descend on the funeral of Illyana Rasputin, younger sister of Colossus and victim of the Legacy Virus. A grieving Colossus elects to join their cause, returning with them to Avalon as Magneto unleashes an electromagnetic pulse that paralyzes technology around the globe, a prelude to the destruction of mankind. Professor X, rendered mobile using an exoskeleton, assembles a team of X-Men, plus Quicksilver, and travels into space with the intent of disabling Avalon and stopping Magneto. In the heat of battle, Magneto rips the adamantium alloy in Wolverine's skeleton out through his skin, leaving him near death; Professor X retaliates by telepathically erasing Magneto's mind, leaving him comatose.

The consequences of Fatal Attractions were real and enduring. Wolverine barely survived his injuries, but also discovered that he possessed natural bone claws, calling his origins further into question. Despite an attempted intervention by Professor X and his allies in Excalibur, Colossus elected to remain with the Acolytes to care for Magneto and monitor the group's activities. Magneto would not be restored until 1999, drastically altering the tenor of the franchise, with the symbolic Malcolm X to Xavier's Martin Luther King reduced to a vegetable for half a decade.

Wolverine's adamantium, meanwhile, would not return until 2000. His new status threw the character into turmoil and spurred him to leave the X-Men for a time, embarking on a journey of self-discovery that would increase his knowledge and control of his mutation, introduce new foes from his past such as Cyber and Bloodscream, and briefly reduce him to a feral state in which he would murder many of the Dark Riders.

Perhaps the biggest consequence, however, was for Professor Xavier. The destruction of Magneto's mind left a permanent psychic stain within the subconscious of the mutant leader, a stain which would fester and transform into the malevolent psychic entity known as Onslaught. While this will be discussed in greater depth in the Onslaught article three weeks from now, the Professor's actions during Fatal Attractions would prove to have devastating consequences for the entire Marvel Universe, as well as providing answers to a plot thread that had been dangling since the introduction of Bishop in 1991.

Fatal Attractions is representative of both the best and worst aspects of the comic book crossover. The story itself is a substantial success. The disproportionate physiques and occasionally unclear visual storytelling endemic to this era aside, this conflict with a perennial foe like Magneto had the potential to rehash older books or not raise the stakes sufficiently to warrant a storyline that wound through the entire X-franchise.

The introduction of the Acolytes, a virtual army of mutants under Magneto's control, coupled with the grandiose scope of his plans and his apparent ability to see them through made it clear from the outset, however, that this would not be the standard done-in-one throwdown with the Master of Magnetism. The implications for Xavier, Wolverine, Colossus and Magneto himself would reverberate for years and became integral parts of their backgrounds and character arcs. Content-wise, Fatal Attractions is everything a major X-event should be: portentous and potent philosophical musings on tolerance and racism coupled with dynamic superhero action and drama.

It might have been easy, however, to lose all of those positives in the noise of the Mighty Marvel Marketing Machine. Issues of the arc were printed with holographic covers and packaged with collectible trading cards. Advertising and press hyped the drastic change in the status of Wolverine, then and now the franchise's marquee character, at the expense of other equally key plot points and events.

The attendant publicity frenzy may well have turned some readers off at the time, in addition to coloring the recollections of readers of today, many of whom tend to lump it in with the mindless, hollow material that it appeared alongside on the newsstand. Revisiting Fatal Attractions might prove a pleasant surprise to those of you in the latter category, as this well-conceived and well-executed arc holds up even now, while many of its contemporaries are clearly not worth the glossy paper they were printed on.

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