It’s king of amazing to think that the name Uncanny X-Men first appeared above the classic image of a Sentinel obliterating Wolverine way back in 1981 and even more so to think that the same series managed to become the longest running Marvel series not to be renumbered or relaunched with a whopping five-hundred forty-four issues (twenty-seven reprint issues notwithstanding). But the times they are a-changin’ and Marvel’s merry mutants couldn’t resist the draw of the #1 sales bump. Four years later we’re seeing the third reboot of the title, and this one’s the most unique yet.
With the traditional X-Men off being Extraordinary, Magneto has stepped up to fill Charles Xavier and Scott Summers’ shoes and is now leading the Uncanny X-Men. Magneto remains in the hands of Cullen Bunn who just did a fantastic job giving the Master of Magnetism his first ongoing series. Magnus is joined by Sabretooth, cementing the team’s ‘Anti-X-Men’ vibe, as well as Psylocke, Monet, and Archangel, at least debatably.
The starkness of this team is undeniable. Though the team’s ethos, their color scheme, and presence of Betsy and Warren make it feel much more like an X-Force book, there is something inherently interesting about seeing what makes this book worthy of the title of Claremont’s Uncanny X-Men.
The story follows a classic formula, throwing our team into a battle and introducing readers to each of the X-Men. It’s well worn territory and it borders on the simplistic, but it’s a staple for a reason. Bunn conjures the kind of timeless clarity that recalls a pithy pre-teleport introduction from Nightcrawler or Wolverine reminding us that “he’s the best there is at what he does”, making this issue very friendly to new readers. All of the characters feel like themselves, if little is added to them at this point. The lone exception to this is Archangel, who, at the risk of retreding ground, has settled comfortably in as a supporting character in Psylocke’s story and a secret weapon among a team of secret weapons.
Of course, despite the intrigue of Archangel’s return, it does point to the basic flaws in this series. Cullen Bunn was clearly dealt a difficult hand by Marvel. I expect he has many plans and aspirations for this book, but his own ideas, and the weight of inheriting Uncanny, are buried underneath the current, repetitive, movement for the X-Men brand. Not only is the fear of the Terrigen Mists a major part of this story, but the entire affair is unendingly bleak. The X-Men fight drab, militarized private corporations amidst a muddy cityscape and retreat knowing that extinction waits for them and their friends are dead, lost, or hiding. Certainly this is the perfect time for Magneto to lead his own X-Men, but, in a first issue that spends most of its time establishing the status quo that solicitations and other books already told us, the lack of levity will likely drag down the reading experience for fans uninterested in, or tired of, mutant extinction.
But while there’s not a lot of new ideas brought to the table, Bunn does a solid job of pacing the issue. There’s a fantastic splash page in the middle of the issue that really does a lot to sell this team and once the business of rescue is completed the quality of the dialogue and characters jumps up in a pretty big way. Admittedly before this they’re a little by the numbers, but the concept of facing the world or hiding from it is pretty interesting and that keeps the first half of the book from feeling like an infodump.
Greg Land has and likely will always be a controversial artist. It’s hard to deny that his characters have incredible specificity, likely because they’re ripped from real people, but that doesn’t necessarily have the same importance here as it has in Mighty Avengers or Iron Man. Psylocke and Sabretooth both look almost universally great, but Magneto and Archangel’s more unusual costumes steal much of the magic from Land’s realism. Strangely, Monet doesn’t look half as good as you would expect. Unsurprisingly, many of her facial features seem to have been ripped straight out of a particularly ridiculous porn, but, beyond that, she frequently falls victim to some strange and unbecoming anatomical errors that really hurt an artist whose claim to fame is being photorealistic.
But while this isn’t a great issue for Land’s style, it would be wrong to ignore how he uses his models. The storytelling Land employs is strong and legible and he does a fine job of conveying the force. There’s and speed and a pointedness about the actions on the page that gives the issue a real action movie feel. Add to that that Bunn and Land avoid the common trap of setting each part of the fight in a completely and mysteriously separate area and you have some real excitement in this issue.
The tone is bleak, the action plentiful, and the story well balanced for a new readers. It seems like the eventual trade will be an excellent next step for fans of X-Men: Apocalypse, but, while there are some solid storytelling moments and a couple of hints towards some bigger things, this issue has enough weaknesses in both writing and art to hold it back. Fans of Uncanny X-Force may well have a winner on their hands, but it’s up to them whether they give this one a shot or join up for issue #2. The latest Uncanny X-Men #1 is a fine jumping on point with some interesting ideas, but too much time is spent giving basic introductions to the cast and editorially mandated status quo for it to feel essential.