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Uncanny X-Men #25 – Review

By: Brian Michael Bendis (writer), Chris Bachalo (pencils & colors), Tim Townsend; Mark Irwin; Jaime Mendoza; Victor Olazaba; & Al Vey (inks)

The Story: Nothing’s easy in the world of superhero wills…

The Review: After two issues we’re finally experiencing a portion of the titular last will of Charles Xavier. I say a portion because, while Chuck had to disclose his mysterious marriage to Mystique before beginning, this section deals entirely with a mutant by the alliterative name of Matthew Malloy.

The book essentially breaks down into two main threads; Xavier’s recounting of Matthew’s story and the X-Men’s responses to it. The first is clearly the primary purpose of the issue, providing readers with the context to understand Xavier’s final request. Though Professor X may no longer be with us again, Bendis clearly enjoys writing his voice, especially as a recording, where he’s free to monologue as much as he wants. Though a debt is undoubtedly owed to Patrick Stewart’s performance as, or perhaps merely his resemblance to, Professor Xavier, Bendis delivers a familiar and somewhat lyrical take on Charles’ voice, incorporating his pseudo-British airs and the gentle spirit that defines the character.

Unfortunately there are a number of, if not flaws, then seeming inconsistencies in the script. Scott’s bombastic reaction is one of the most obvious. While he phrases it in such a manner as to support his argument, Scott’s outrage seems oddly ignorant of his own history. After all, without revealing too much, I’m not sure that a man who married Jean Grey and still uses ruby visors to contain his powers has much ground to criticize the Professor’s strategy*. Likewise Bendis reading modern thoughts on the X-Men brand back into the First Class era seems oddly clunky, especially for a writer who’s managed the same numerous times before. But perhaps most notable is the simple fact that this is hardly the most shocking secret Xavier has kept from his pupils!

The “Deadly Genesis” illusion, the Xavier Protocols, and the Danger Room’s sentience all seem like far more serious breaches of trust but, despite this, the characters, and Bendis through them, insist that this is a grave betrayal of the Professor’s ideology rather than a fairly reasonable instance of an action he was known to make time and again without outrage. Some fans will be happy to hear that this issue doesn’t jump on the Professor X was secretly a dick bandwagon, but it would have been nice if Bendis had lived up to his own hype a little better.
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Cyclops #4 – Review

By: Greg Rucka (story), Carmen Carnero (pencils), Terry Pallot (inks), Chris Sotomayor (colors)

The Story: The worst part of being stranded on an alien planet? The food.

The Review: Time-traveling stories are either fun or grim excursions, but they almost never have a permanent effect on anything. You think continuity is bad now, just imagine the nightmarish shipwreck it will be if writers could change things up with one lively jump into the past/future. And it wouldn’t just be the characters involved either; thanks to the Butterfly Effect, even a slight alteration of the timeline would logically call for changes across the universe.

So your first instinct with this whole original-X-Men-in-the-present situation is inevitably, they’ll be sent back with memories wiped and no one will be the wiser in any era. They have to, right? With Jean, Warren, Bobby, Hank, and Scott being the foundation for the most important X-storylines, any deviations to their history will upend the whole mutant mythos, too. At the same time, there’s been a pretty committed effort to integrate them into the present era; it’d be a waste, to say the least, if they were to go back with absolutely nothing from their experiences.
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Uncanny X-Men #24 – Review

By: Brian Michael Bendis (writer), Kris Anka (art)

The Story: As the X-Men worry about Xavier’s final bequests, the will reveals a dark secret…and a gift to Emma Frost.

The Review: Let’s get this out of the way. Last issue Brian Bendis ended part I of “The Last Will and Testament of Charles Xavier” by revealing that Scott Summers had to be present to read said will. I hope you’ll forgive me saying so so early in the review, but if you suspected that we wouldn’t actually see that reading in this issue, you were right. We actually end the second issue of this arc just about to hear Xavier’s final orders to his X-Men. That means that there are twenty pages between last issue’s cliffhanger and actually hearing the will. So now the question is, what does Bendis use those pages for?

The answer, for the most part, is character. It’s slightly cynical, but, as comics have grown shorter and more decompressed, the traditional recipe of a superhero story – discovery, character development, b-plot, and conflict – has become largely untenable. A quality action scene requires at least a few pages and those pages are in short supply.

If a battle sequence is a requirement for you, you’re really better off avoiding this issue. There is a fairly tame action sequence in the middle of the book, but it’s neither here nor there and probably the story’s least interesting moment. No, this issue is all about exploring the X-Men.

Bendis gives us another particularly good example of his trademark wordiness this week, but rather than drag on the issue, it energizes it. Bendis knows exactly what voice he wants to use for the characters he’s using, perhaps even better than he does for the usual cast of this series. Though they tend to run a bit on the casual-side, as Bendis’ dialogue often does, the immediacy that this brings the issue just grabs the reader. There’s an illusion of naturalism that goes a long way.
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Uncanny X-Men #23 – Review

By: Brian Michael Bendis (writer), Kris Anka (artist)

The Story:Alison and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.

The Review: Last month Uncanny X-Men’s first arc came to a rather definitive end. We saw the resolution of the vast majority of the title’s plot threads including Mystique’s rule of Genosha, Dazzler’s imprisonment, Hijack’s dismissal, S.H.I.E.L.D.’s war with the New Xavier School, and the overarching Sentinel plot. Given this significantly cleared agenda, it’s not surprising to see an Original Sin banner proudly flown across the cover.

Event tie-ins are frequently frustrating issues, but for any readers considering waiting for the next “real” story arc to begin, Uncanny X-Men #23 is worth picking up. “The Last Will and Testament of Charles Xavier” is a thematic tie-in at best with not a single mention of the events of “Original Sin”. Even if it were connected to “Original Sin”, this is barely a part of the “Last Will” story. Despite the unambiguous cover, this issue has a clear purpose and that’s hooking readers and setting up the first slew of new conflicts for the book’s second ‘season’.

In this role, as something of a ‘soft pilot’, the book is pretty great. Bendis provides the much needed fallout from last issue’s events, rededicates himself to interpersonal drama, and introduces multiple new plot threads.

One of the best things that Bendis does in this issue is step back and give the title a dose of perspective. We’re all able to accept some pretty wacky things while still holding a comic to some standard of logic and realism, but Bendis has his cake and eats it too by reminding us just how crazy it all is. The results are humorous but make enough sense in the characters’ world no to distract from the story. While one example from She-Hulk has been getting a lot of attention, the best one comes in the opening pages as Bendis reminds us of what it means to be an ant among gods.
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Uncanny X-Men #22 – Review

By: Brian Michael Bendis (writer); Chris Bachalo (pencils); Tim Townsend, Marc Deering, Mark Irwin, Jaime Mendoza, Victor Olazaba, & Al Vey (inks); Chris Bachalo & Jose Villarrubia (colors)

The battle with S.H.I.E.L.D. comes to an end this week as Cyclops, Beast, Maria Hill, and even Magneto put aside their differences to combat the rouge heli-carriers. Everything comes together this issue as the huge cast of Uncanny X-Men finds its way into the climactic battle.

Bendis does do an impressive job of laying out the stakes. Particularly if you respect Logan’s dream for the Jean Grey School, the threat of annihilation is exceedingly real and present throughout the issue. Likewise, each victory for the X-Men, no matter how small, feels like reason to celebrate, thanks in no small part to the sheer amount of set up that’s led to these crucial moments. The whole affair is appropriately cataclysmic, but Bendis actually gets a couple of nice jokes and fist pumping moments in amongst the gloom. Despite the building feeling that this is the end, a sensation that is all the sweeter for its rarity on this series, Bendis’ plotting has some serious problems.

There’s no denying that this is something of an abrupt ending, and one that deals more in expectations than in actual content. The best example is probably our villain. After last month ended with Beast dramatically announcing that he knew who was behind this, you’d expect that the answer would be fairly forthcoming, but I assure you, you’ve got a bit longer to wait. Despite repeating his certainty on page 5 and again on page 13, Hank isn’t ready to reveal his findings to his fellow X-Men until halfway through page 14…off panel. The scene actually ends with Scott demanding “Who?! Who is it?, leading me to actually throw up my arms on a crowded subway and cry “oh come on.” In actuality it doesn’t take too much longer to learn the identity of the mastermind, but, like much of this series, it’s absurdly and painfully drawn out.

Worst of all, when we finally do meet our villain, it comes out of nowhere, lacks any attempt at motivation, and is largely without value for the title going forward. I respect Bendis as a writer too much to believe it, but it almost feels like he planned this arc without knowing who the villain was himself! More likely, the rushed and confusing resolution is the result of the upcoming “Original Sin” tie-ins. There may be any number of reasons why things turned out this way, but it doesn’t change how flimsy the ending comes across.

Luckily that apocalyptic tone I mentioned is beautifully realized by Chris Bachalo, who provides one of his strongest issues in recent memory. Bachalo starts with an unusually stark style that works wonderfully with the bright simplicity of the Canadian sky. The next scene introduces a little bit of grit into this style before it all breaks loose on the grounds of the Jean Grey School.
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Cyclops #2 – Review

By: Greg Rucka (story), Russel Dauterman (art), Chris Sotomayor (colors)

The Story: A chocolate milkshake. For this Scott had to travel halfway across the galaxy?

The Review: With comics these days determined to stay as dark as possible, it’s rare that a given issue makes you feel just purely happy, no strings attached. Even the most lighthearted, comedy-driven titles feel this need to have some kind of edge, like they’re not fully confident that readers are capable of enduring cheerfulness without a little cynicism or irony. Sugar, it seems, can’t be consumed without a spoonful of medicine anymore.

If for nothing else, Rucka merits praise for allowing one of the most star-crossed characters of the Marvel U to just have a grand old time, forgetting past and future tragedies. For personal reasons, the vignettes of Scott and Chris enthusiastically exploring the galaxy and enjoying father-son time touched me deeply, but I doubt anyone else can read them unmoved. If you know anything about what Scott’s grim history, your heart may very well melt watching him laugh with pure joy as he learns how to land a spaceship, his dad tousling his hair.
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Uncanny X-Men #21 – Review

By: Brian Michael Bendis (writer), Chris Bachalo (pencils & colors); Tim Townsend, Mark Irwin, Jaime Mendoza, Victor Olazaba, & Al Vey (inks)

The Story: One of these days S.H.I.E.L.D. is just going to give up on helicarriers…but it is not this day.

The Review: After an intriguing but uneven showing last month, things are really heating up in Uncanny X-Men. While the premise of the New Xavier School actively going to war with S.H.I.E.L.D. is an exciting idea, Bendis’ story is playing out in a somewhat different fashion than expected. With Scott’s powers gone haywire and S.H.I.E.L.D. closing in, I think it’s fair to say that things are very much going wrong for Cyclops, however the trick of this issue is that he’s not alone in that.

There’s a rule of storytelling that says that if you can make things worse for your character you should. Certainly it’s hard to deny the potential for building narrative tension, but when you have to make things worse, it can actually get somewhat rote. Still, where many stories feel like the gods of their world hate the protagonist, Uncanny X-Men #21 is the sum of its people’s machinations, their fortunes rising and falling, building a web of fascinating intrigues. Bendis is playing with our expectations, throwing several wrenches into the works, and to great effect. The whole thing feels unexpected and organic.

The issue is also thankfully free of the padding that plagued previous installments. While one could certainly argue that we didn’t need an interlude on Madripoor, watching Mystique struggle on two fronts really sells this issue as an essential read and highlights the interplay of the characters’ differing principles and ideas about the place of mutants in society.
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