Friday, June 28, 2019

The Psycho-Man Bids.... Death!

To hear the conversation that takes place in the opening pages of the 1998 X-Men/Fantastic Four Annual, you would think that the X-Men never shared a word with Wolverine about a 1996 game of poker that took place in the Angel's Soho loft, where Sam Guthrie was revealed to be a card hustler of the first order--playing the innocent farm boy from Kentucky angle for all it was worth, before he was invited into the game by his fellow X-Men (at the suggestion of Ben Grimm, the Thing) and subsequently proceeded to deprive the other players of their chips in no time.

For this evening's game, which the Thing will host at the FF's headquarters (now located at Pier Four), it would seem that Sam is laying the foundation for yet another hustle--no mean feat, since Logan has become something of a regular at these poker get-togethers and would probably see someone like Sam coming a mile away. Though he appears to be so focused on his plans for Sam that it doesn't occur to him that it's not the Thing he should be keeping his eye on tonight.

As for Ben, he's sweeping Reed and Sue Richards out the door as inconspicuously as he can--but Johnny is another matter, since on this night Ben plans on initiating his young partner into the big leagues.

But tonight, even a villain will want to be dealt in at

We have to assume for the sake of the story that even Ben never got wind of Sam's shenanigans at the game in Soho, otherwise he'd see right through Sam's act of ignorance here tonight. But we're asked to accept something else, as well: the fact that Ben doesn't appear to even recognize Sam, when we know he should since he met him at the Soho game. If one didn't know better--and regrettably, we don't--it's almost as if writer Joe Casey is recycling the circumstances of the prior game while simply "shuffling in" Logan and Johnny in place of the other X-Men, which throws a cloud over what should otherwise be a fun story for the issue's readers. But let's assume it was all an oversight. One that slipped by the story's writer, two pencillers, four inkers, five colorists, and two editors.

That aside, this joint annual really is well-produced, with the poker game "dealt in" nicely with the story of a bitter, rejected scientist by the name of Bradley Beynon who seeks revenge against Reed by appropriating the equipment of Psycho-Man as well as a robot cast in his image. But Sam Guthrie is on the way to doing a little appropriating of his own, right under the noses of two very seasoned players.

But as the evening goes on, it becomes painfully apparent that Lady Luck has been with another player at the table--though even Ms. Luck would have to be chuckling right about now, having deferred the evening's winning streak to a talented "newcomer."

As we can see, our demented villain has arrived by remote control, powered by an A.I. of Beynon's that unfortunately isn't able to cope with the Thing's patented haymaker. (Could you??)

Beynon then puts Plan B into motion, using Psycho-Man's emotion inducer to attack Reed and Sue at the gala event they were attending, with our own "fantastic four" from the poker game joining in on the action. When the dust settles, Beynon's scheme has been exposed, and things turn sour for him when the real Psycho-Man shows up to deal with him.

Yet though the evening is late, there are two die-hards who are still at it, even though their young charges are fast asleep. As for who finally took the pot, that's between Ben and Logan--though it isn't exactly Ben's finest hour, as he confirms Logan's expectations of his behavior this evening.

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