by Matt Fraction (writer), Greg Land (pencils), Jay Leisten (inks), Justin Ponsor (colors), and Joe Caramagna (letters)

The Story: Psylocke, Wolverine, and Colossus go Predator-hunting in NYC while Magneto tries to get Utopia’s population to trust him.

What’s Good: Overall, I’ve been enjoying Matt Fraction’s Uncanny X-Men quite a bit more after Utopia, and this month continues the positive trend.

I think a lot of this has to do with the fact that Fraction has taken a much more character-driven approach.  This month once again shows just how much the addition of Magneto has helped in this regard.  Fraction is doing his damndest to make the former villain into a sympathetic character, and he’s definitely making headway.  Magneto’s presence alone also brings a lot out of other characters.  His battle to gain trust and his constant sense of guilt and self-loathing all worked to give him a kind of vulnerable humanity.

This was nicely juxtaposed to his having grown accustomed to being the guy in charge.  Even as he tries to redeem himself for what he was, the vestiges of his past still govern his manners.  His consequent conversation with Cyclops was far and away the high point this month, with Fraction capturing the tension perfectly.  It’s so odd to see Cyclops as the dominant personality between the two, with Magneto being the one in the subservient position seeking approval, and Fraction highlights and plays up this interesting dynamic rather well.

The exploits of the X-Men in NYC provide lighter fare, bringing a bit of humor to the book.  Of course, it helps to have Fantomex around when you want to lighten the mood and create an adventure/mystery plot.  All told, Fantomex is well-written and Fraction’s balancing of his two plots means good pacing, as we never become bogged down in Utopia’s tensions, nor does the book ever feel like insubstantial roving in New York.

Beyond that, this secondary plot also allows Fraction to play with some rather underused characters, and that’s never a bad thing.

What’s Not So Good: Unfortunately, this issue is drawn by Greg Land and while it’s not a bad issue by Land’s standard, I generally find it hardest to accept his work when just coming off an issue by the Dodsons, as it really, really suffers from the comparison.

Certainly, this issue showcases all of Land’s failings.  Once again, thanks to Land’s photo-referencing and lightboxing, many facial expressions are completely botched and simply don’t capture the proper emotion.  One image of Fantomex, meant to show the character as being peeved at an unflattering comment, instead has him looking earnest and sincere.  This happens throughout the issue.  Worse still, character’s faces are more or less never consistent, with each character looking like a different person from panel to panel, as Land changes reference.

Then there are the poses.  Static and often ludicrous, characters look unnatural, inanimate, and lifeless.  One image of Verre looks so badly posed, that Land may as well have just copy/pasted a Victoria’s Secret ad onto the page.  Then again, perhaps he did.

This static feel also leads to problems when it comes to action.  Fraction seems to try to avoid having Land depict action where possible, clearly conscious of the artist’s lack of fluidity, but even so, every major physical action seems stiff, as though we’re not seeing a flowing story but rather a series of one-off drawings.

It’s a shame, since Land does still draw a couple of great splashes.

Conclusion: An enjoyable story meets atrocious art.

Grade: B –

-Alex Evans