By: Brian Michael Bendis (writer), Frazer Irving (art)
The Story: Apparently the revolution will be televised.
The Review: Oh Uncanny X-Men, what will we do with you?
It’s been clear from the beginning that this would be a somewhat different incarnation of the X-Men’s flagship title. Brian Michael Bendis has shown a clear enthusiasm for the idea of Cyclops as a revolutionary and the idea of focusing a relaunch of the original X-Men title around, debatably, an incarnation of the Brotherhood sounds absolutely fascinating. So where are things going wrong?
Well, firstly this issue is too dialogue-driven. Some of you may be rolling your eyes at another review calling Bendis wordy, but I assure you that this is an anomaly, even for him. It’s not that Bendis engages in his trademark banter, but rather that very little actually occurs in this issue.
The lack of action doesn’t stop the characters from talking about it, though. Cyclops’ training session is actually quite interesting but it would probably be even more so if Bendis would trust the events of the story to speak for themselves. He’s not telling rather than showing, but he chooses to both show and tell a single action rather than making time for more to happen.
Another problem is Magneto. While Bendis has found a voice for most of his other characters, Erik seems to be a little all over the place. In one issue he’s selling out Cyclops to S.H.I.E.L.D., in another he’s trying to convince Cyclops that he’s selling S.H.I.E.L.D. out to the New Xavier School, and in no issue does he seem like he has his own agenda. Perhaps to Bendis’ credit, it seems that the characters agree, giving the catch-all answer “he’s Magneto,” but that’s just not enough.
The initial concept of Magnus seeking revenge for Charles’ death felt powerful and interesting but the aimlessness with which he either pursues or pretends to pursue that goal sucks the excitement out of every one of his scenes.
It doesn’t help that he gets one of the book’s most ridiculous exchanges, as he and Maria Hill exchange ludicrously convoluted messages to one another. What bizarre key are you reading from that translates “there was no mayonnaise on my sandwich” to “we need to meet. Right now?”
On the bright side, the concept of the training sequence is great. Here we have young mutants really getting their first grip on their powers and, even if Scott’s teaching style is a little hands-off, watching the relationship between the students and faculty grow is a good hook. Wolverine and the X-Men and All-New X-Men may be able to say that they focus on the students more, but there we get to see them more as teenagers. Uncanny provides us the opportunity to explore what’s different about them, rather than what’s universal. It makes perfect sense that Scott’s more reactionary title would focus on the bond they share as mutants and, given that the other X-books don’t focus much on the actual instruction of the mutant students, it’s nice to see how they develop.
I just wish the Bendis would give this element full weight if he’s going to include it. After all, ask any teacher and they’ll likely tell you that every student’s journey is a story.
Still, the biggest draw for this issue is its climax. As a protest gathers momentum at the University of Michigan, Cyclops finds that the revolution he’s dreamed of is starting. Bendis’ best writing is reserved for this scene. Even Cyke’s mention of Professor X feels natural. It may feel like BS but it’s Scott’s BS, not Bendis’. Cyclops finally feels as heroic and reasonable as Bendis’ writing implies him to be, however, I have issues with this scene.
I usually reserve rants for my personal blog, but I hope that you’ll forgive me a momentary lapse.
Does anybody honestly believe that there’s never been a pro-mutant protest? Interesting as the scenario is, the insistence that it’s a historic first really feels forced and the author’s hand becomes readily visible, trying desperately to make the stakes seem higher. In fairness I don’t think that Bendis is the sole culprit in this, it reflects a greater problem with the way Marvel treats the X-Men. Still, there were abolitionists openly protesting slavery in America as early as the 1680s, it just seems off that in the present-like Marvel Universe Cyclops can grow to adulthood without seeing any human support.
Frazer Irving returns to the title to provide his unique look to the art. As ever some characters and some moments look better than others but the effect is spellbinding. I personally like the look of this issue much better than his last stint on the title, and the bleak landscape of the New Xavier School seems to agree with Irving’s misty colors.
Longtime readers of X-Men will probably get a chuckle at the many references hidden in the protest scenes but, once the speech begins, Cyclops’ charisma and the sense of living through a historical moment flow into the page. His renditions of Chris Bachalo’s simplified costumes make for an almost propagandistic tone. Expect some new ‘Cyclops was Right’ designs.
The Conclusion: Uncanny X-Men is a book that deserves its followers, but I can’t recommend it to everyone. Bendis needs to stop short-changing plot threads for his mutant revolution story, or be bold enough to commit to it completely. As of now, the greatness of this title is too watered down.
On the bright side, things look better for next issue. The finale hints that things will finally advance a little and Frazer Irving is doing some of the best work I’ve seen from him.