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X-Over And Over Again ? Part 7: The Phalanx Covenant

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In the first six articles of the X-Over And Over series, we have examined X-Men crossovers both great and small. Some of these storylines labored under greater faults or poorer premises than others, but none has been completely without merit. While the subject of this week's article thankfully does not break that streak, it comes within shouting distance of being a waste of time, and at best settles for a dull mediocrity that stems partially from misguided planning and partially from flaws in execution. The X-over in question is, of course, The Phalanx Covenant.

The Phalanx Covenant was published over the months of September and October 1994, in Uncanny X-Men #316-317, X-Men #36-37, Wolverine #85, Cable #16, X-Factor #106, X-Force #38 and Excalibur #82. The plot concerns a conflict with the Phalanx, an offshoot of the techno-organic alien race that had spawned former New Mutant Warlock.

The Phalanx themselves were originally humans, driven by their hatred of mutantkind to infect themselves with the transmode virus derived from Warlock's remains, transforming them into cybernetic creatures bent on eradicating the mutant race. Helping to lead these efforts are Stephen Lang, a former creator and user of the Sentinel robots, and Cameron Hodge, who had survived the events of The X-Tinction Agenda due to his status as a cyborg.

Much like the Star Trek franchise's Borg Collective, the Phalanx exist as a hive mind, desiring to infect and assimilate other life forms, particularly mutants. When they discover that it is impossible to absorb mutants into their collective, they set out to tap into the X-Mansion's databases on the mutant genetic code in order to solve the problem, abducting the X-Men and replacing them with Phalanx doubles.

When on-again, off-again X-Man Banshee uncovers the ruse, he assembles an impromptu team, including former X-foe Emma Frost, teenage X-Man Jubilee, the psychopathic Sabretooth and new character Synch, to rescue several younger mutants who are targeted by the Phalanx from information in Xavier's files. This group would eventually become the new X-Men training team, Generation X.

Meanwhile, Wolverine and Cable, tipped off by Banshee, set out to rescue the other X-Men, enlisting the aid of Cyclops, Jean Grey, Professor X and the other X-teams. This multilateral task force discovers that the Phalanx are driven to construct an edifice known as a Babel Spire in order to contact the Technarchy, their progenitors, who will then travel to Earth and convert it entirely into techno-organic matter. With the aid of Douglock, a hybrid being made up of deceased New Mutants Cypher and Warlock, as well as the guilt-ridden Lang, the Babel Spire is destroyed and most of the Phalanx on Earth are purged.

The primary problem with The Phalanx Covenant is that, more than any other X-over to this point, it is a means to an end rather than an end in itself. One of the guiding principles in these analyses of the X-overs has been that a good story should exist for the merits of that particular story, not as an excuse for introducing some new element into the X-mythos.

There is nothing wrong with new characters or concepts, of course, but contriving a multi-month arc that ties up the entire franchise and throws off the creators' ability to tell long-term stories of their own merely to usher in Generation X is a waste of readers' time, readers' money and writers and artists' talents. Moreover, while there was no way to know it at the time, it must be noted that within a decade, all of the members of Generation X would be killed off, depowered or shuffled into character limbo. In other words there isn't even the argument of staying power to justify this mess of a crossover.

And that is exactly what it is – a mess. The X-franchise had become too unwieldy by this point to create a crossover that involved the casts of every single book and introduced new characters, to boot. Additionally, most of the marquee X-Men were removed from the playing field early on, leaving second-tier characters to carry the story.

Hampered as they are by the disjointed scripting and wildly inconsistent art, always a hazard when dealing with seven different creative teams, these characters don't even have the opportunity to shine in this moment in the spotlight. There is too much happening with too many characters being juggled, without any through-line of character arcs or subplots to increase the significance of these events for the protagonists. Barring the introduction of Generation X, which again could have been carried out in either of the X-Men titles or in the first issues of their own series, The Phalanx Covenant could be excised from X-history without significant impact on any character biographies.

Storylines where nothing really matters should be anathema, and nowhere is that more evident than in The Phalanx Covenant. Then again, as we'll see in next week's piece, X-overs can sometimes have almost nothing to do with mainstream continuity and yet still be a good time in their own right.


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