by Kieron Gillen (writing), Brandon Peterson (art), Justin Ponsor (colors), and Joe Caramagna (letters)

The Story: The Phalanx returns and the X-Men race to stop its rapid consumption.

The Review: What a strange issue… I really don’t mean that in a bad way at all.  In fact, I wish more ongoing series did this.  Uncanny X-Men #4 is something a one-shot, and Gillen really makes the most of the opportunity, using the done-in-one format to tell a rather different kind of story with a very different focus.  It’s told from the perspective of a member of the Phalanx, marooned on Earth, and the result is a surprisingly intimate comic.

Gillen’s goal with this comic is to make the unrelatable relatable and to make something utterly alien, and generally construed as evil, into something sympathetic.  That’s no easy feat, yet Gillen does accomplish it.  The Phalanx becomes comprehensible.  It’s logic is still completely at odds with humanity, but that there is a logic operating is clear.  More than that though, while Gillen never shies away from just how different, and thus how opposed, the Phalanx is to humanity, he does a great job of giving it legitimate emotions, feelings of loneliness and affection that are surprising.

Really, Gillen boils the Phalanx down into something that is simply incompatible with humanity.  It feels and it loves, but simply put, what it sees as good and affectionate, humanity sees as murderously destructive. The result is something of a bizarre story that ends up being somewhat chilling.  At the heart of Gillen’s script is an entity that simply doesn’t want to be alone, while also wanting to express its affection, but its means are repugnant.  What you end up with then, is an isolated freak, killing out of love and loneliness, wracked by his conscious, but flailing about lost.  It’s thoroughly unsettling, but Gillen crafts a comic where you actually understand the incomprehensible and feel legitimate sympathy for a creature that commits mass murder while garnering that sympathy.  It’s a morally challenging comic, to be sure.

Of course, the downside to all of this is that in delving into these complexities, Gillen does end up being guilty of overwriting the book a bit.  There is a LOT of narration, so much so that it does slow the book down at some points.  At times, that’s acceptable – it gives the book an ominous tone – but that pace is constant, irrespective of when that ominous tone should be at the forefront or not.  I think Gillen’s biggest crime with all this narration is that he does fall prey on a few occasions of telling rather than showing.  I realize a great deal of characterization was necessary in an issue like this to establish the required intimacy, but Gillen should’ve allowed the art to do a little more of the talking.  I don’t think the reader needed quite so much hand-holding.

That said, I did enjoy the artwork.  Peterson gives the book a creepy horror tone in its early portions that works really well.  The Phalanx looks pretty disturbing and watching it spread and consume others is unsettling, just as it should be.  Better still, Peterson does a great job of switching seamlessly from subdued horror to all-out action, going from small scale to massive, epic scale with ease.

Conclusion: Readers may wonder where the X-Men went and find this issue a little strange, but I enjoyed Gillen’s taking an issue out to do something a little outside of the box.

Grade: B

-Alex Evans