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X-Men '97
by yo go re

In the late '80s, Marvel had a few big summer crossovers that ran through all their books' Annuals, but starting in 1990, the idea split a bit, giving readers several smaller stories involving just three or four related titles (all the X-books, or all the Spider-Men, etc.) 1993 dropped the idea entirely, going instead for a unifying theme: every Annual would introduce a new character. Of the 27 characters created for those stories, exactly three have had any kind of lasting presence: Genis-Vell, Adam X the X-Treme, and X-Cutioner.

A mercenary and weapons specialist with high-tech, homemade tactical gear, Carl Denti - A.K.A. The X-Cutioner - is determined to make mutants pay for their perceived wrongdoings toward humankind.

In the comics, Carl Denti was an FBI agent who used confiscated alien technology to bring extra-judicial justice against mutants who had killed - basically, "Punisher, but for mutants." But then, like any other cop, he let his power go to his head and decided he knew better than everyone else did, so his self-appointed standards got looser and looser. Also like any other cop, he focused on the weakest targets he could find, which is why two of his first attempts were medically incapacitated: Mastermind on his deathbed and Emma Frost in a coma. (He failed to kill both of them, because also also like any other cop, he sucks at his job.) X-Men '97 saved time by just making him a hateful bigot from the start, cutting out the rhetorical middleman.

The 616 X-Cutioner was designed by Jason Pearson, whose distinctive, chunky style made for a very striking visual that probably explains at least 50% of why the character survived beyond that first appearance. The cartoon keeps most of it the same - the diamond armor on the arms, the half-cape held to the shoulder by a giant buckle, the style of the boots, the hood that somehow hangs down to his shins - but makes a few changes to both tie it in closer to the show's story, and to make it even more "90s" than it originally was. His belt buckle has the letters FOH on it, in honor of the Friends of Humanity (because hate groups love consistent branding), and he now wears a sleeveless trenchcoat over the whole thing. Sadly, he no longer has the big, clawed gloves, just human hands.

While the concept behind the character, a guy who uses a bunch of old villain tech he cobbled together, is a lot of fun, the execution had one big flaw: they could name-drop all sorts of sources, but none of it had actually been seen before, which undercut the premise. Like, his body armor was supposed to be Shi'ar, but we'd never seen any Shi'ar wearing anything like it. Eventually an issue of Gambit introduced the Culthan race, and we saw their prison guards wore hoods like this one, but that was years after the fact.

When Hasbro first did toys based on the X-Men cartoon, they had that annoying "cel shaded" paint. Apparently they've realized nobody likes or wants that, because the X-Men '97 figures just have flat block colors. It's an improvement. X-Cutioner's coat has a slight green tint, though judging by the art on the card it should be even greener than it is. His utility belt is a rusty orange, so it stands out from the brown on his gloves and boots, and his demi-cape is bright red.

The articulation is slightly less than usual. He has a balljointed head, swivel/hinge shoulders, swivel biceps, double-hinged elbows, swivel/hinge wrists, a balljointed waist, balljoint hips, swivel thighs, double-hinged knees, and swivel/hinge ankles. You can tell this is a new sculpt, because there's no swivel below the knee to allow you to point the feet different directions. You can't do much with the legs, thanks to the coat and the loincloth, but that latter one at least can swivel side to side where it's plugged in behind the belt, opening up a little more room for one leg to move forward. Although his coat and his belt both look like they'd be complete pieces that go all the way from top to bottom, they both actually end at the waist so the upper body can move freely. His shoulder cape hangs just far enough away from the body to pretty much be in the way no matter how you want to pose the right arm.

His weapons in the comic had the same problem as the rest of his gear, in that they were meant to be things scavanged from previous fights, but they were all newly created. The cartoon doesn't go into where he got his equipment, but what he gets is similar to the books. Carl tended to use a lot of staff-based weaponry, so this toy gets two silver sticks: one with a blunt section on the tip, the other an oversized cone. He comes with a gun that's probably meant to be high-tech but, thanks to the gas canisters, the ribbed barrel, and the glas tube capping the end, instead is giving "steampunk." All three weapons have a peg on the side, so they can be plugged into the toy's back. Additionally, the gun has two more holes, so the staves can be plugged into that and all three weapons can be stored away at once. Nice! Finally, he gets a large blaster that slides onto his arm but doesn't attach in any way. in the cartoon, this is something the Friends of Humanity are building based on purloined Sentinel tech, which both explains its blue coloration, and makes it truer to the character concept than anything else he's ever used.

X-Cutioner (who, despite his name, has nothing to do with the "X-Cutioner's Song" crossover) hasn't had an action figure since 1995. But he's got a cool design and isn't the most minor villain in the X-Books, so this was a much-needed release. Still, it really feels like we're about a year and a half out from the molds being reused to make a comic-based version that we'll probably have to buy to complete some Build-A-Figure. Until then, though, this is a nice figure and will slot into even a comic-based collection quite well.

-- 05/27/24

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