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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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All New X-men #27 – Review

by Brian Michael Bendis (Writer), Stuart Immonen (Artist), Wade Von Grawbadger (Inker), Marte Gracia (Colorist).

The Story: The Children of Mystique from the future cause havoc for the X-men in the present.

The Review: There is a lot of misdirection occurring in this current arc of All-New X-men as the Brotherhood of the future return to plague the X-men, including the members who apparently died during the Battle of the Atom storyline. With telepathic trickery and a shape-shifter loose in the New Xavier school its hard to tell exactly if what is presented is what is actually happening at any given time. This creates a lot of uncertainty, keeping the reader on their back foot and achieving a sense of claustrophobic chaos and suspense which I must commend the creative team for.

With the Brotherhood returning, Bendis begins to peel back the curtain on a few of the all new creations, specifically Xavier, who we discover in this issue is not in fact the grandson of Xavier as he had been claiming. Half of his parentage is revealed explicitly while the other half is suggested strongly, however with all of the uncertainty and trickery afoot its hard to tell if what is strongly implied is indeed fact. I’m sure readers will be desperate to see the events that led up to Xavier’s conception as it is a pairing that seems both obvious but also impossible at the same time, How and when this coupling happened is of great significance not just to Xavier but to readers and the X-men as a whole.

The marriage of the casts of All-New X-men and Uncanny X-men has been working really well in this book lately, it’s nice to see the events from both books reflected and referenced in both as its reminiscent of the Claremont era when New Mutants and Uncanny would interact closely. It’s a small thing but it really does help to make this universe feel a little more real and special. Something incredibly important occurs with Triage in this issue that will no doubt come back into play down the line in Uncanny as his power set is expanded and explored.
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Uncanny X-Men #19 – Review

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

The Story: We heard you like Sentinels so we put Sentinels in your Sentinels…

The Review: Back in August Uncanny X-Men received a slight boost when it featured a story about Cyclops facing off against a new breed of Sentinel. In the seven months that have passed, Uncanny has been growing and changing, largely for the better. Now that it’s time to pick up that thread, will it have the same oomph that it once did?

The answer is an ever charming sort-of. Bendis makes no attempt to hide that the past half a year of stories were a distraction. While the events of issue seventeen are mentioned, it’s clear that this series has been off track since the last Sentinel arc. The problem is that, for the most part, the filler was far better than anything that preceded it. So while it is intriguing to return to the mystery Sentinels again, there’s a sense of a backslide that I can’t deny is worrisome. It’s also strange since the event that took us off track, “Battle of the Atom”, ended with a dramatic reveal that S.H.I.E.L.D. has Sentinels, and different Sentinels at that.

Regardless, we’re diving back into Bendis’ main story. Summoned by a surge of mutant activity, the New Xavier X-Men find themselves lured into a trap. Bendis knows his collaborators and the creative team deliver a slick futuristic take on the X-Men. These aren’t the simple androids of the Mark I, and panels like a swarm of alien-looking mutant hunters spawning from the maw of a gigantic Sentinel are powerful and eerie. Likewise, a scene inside Cerebro is the stuff of science fiction, the kind that convinced us to buy sunglasses in middle school.

These new model Sentinels present a solid challenge for the team and Bendis’ answer serves to resolve the problem while significantly deepening the mysteries surrounding it. It’s a situation that is all the more fascinating for the removal of Hijack from the team, but the answer is pretty simple. Indeed, much of the issue seems designed to highlight Chris Bachalo’s contributions.
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Uncanny X-Men #18 – Review

By: Brian Michael Bendis (writer), Marco Rudy (artist), Val Staples (color artist)

The Story: Cyclops finally starts speaking clearly, just in time for the world around him to stop.

The Review: Brian Michael Bendis’ dialogue seems to come in two general forms, razor-sharp character work or droning back-and-forths, and generally you can tell if you’re reading a good Bendis issue or a bad Bendis issue based on which one you get. Of course, there’s always an exception that proves the rule. This issue is that exception.

You see, despite belonging to the prior category, this issue suffers from a myriad of serious problems. After the dramatic events of the past two issues and the accompanying pruning of the team, Cyclops’ X-Men return home to find the All-New X-Men missing, the result of the “Trial of Jean Grey” storyline in their own title. Seeing as this title has no part in that crossover, and thusly nothing to say about it, Bendis retreats back in time to when the original X-Men arrived at the New Xavier School and, effectively, engages in some house cleaning.

It’s a bizarre choice to flashback only to lead back to the present day. The flashbacks don’t particularly benefit from the context and the jumps through time quickly become dizzying. I could easily imagine a new comic reader getting lost. One of the strangest elements is how much of a retcon this feels like, despite Bendis writing the entire story. The events of this issue are interesting, if only in that way that addictive web surfing is, but they don’t feel like natural additions to the story. It also highlights how irrelevant the O5’s move to Cyclops’ school was.

Still, as I mentioned, the character work is up to par with the past few issues. Cyclops’ conversation with Kitty is especially raw. It’s a solid scene, if one that really should have played out the first time someone accused Scott of killing Charles Xavier – which reminds me how many times people refer to “Charles Xavier” in this issue. You never called him that when he was alive…
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Uncanny X-Men #17 – Review

By: Brian Michael Bendis (writer), Chris Bachalo (pencils & colors), Tim Townsend w/ Al Vey & Jaime Mendoza (inks)

The Story: The newest X-Men battle chickasaurs, carrot people, Shelob, and S.H.I.E.L.D. while simultaneously acting in the greatest Verizon commercial never made.

The Review: In the past few months Uncanny X-Men has become a home for some of the best one-in-done stories in modern comics. After a look at the women of the New Xavier School and a spotlight on Magneto, Brian Michael Bendis gives us a, debatably, more traditional team story.

Another interesting trait of this title is Scott Summers’ emerging habit of putting his students in life threatening danger for training. While the issue hints that Magik is keeping an eye on them, it’s certainly in keeping with his mutant revolutionary status and differentiates his teaching style from Wolverine’s. Indeed, rather than retread classic X-Men ground and send his squad to the Savage Land, Bendis explores a newer locale. In the end the actual difference is pretty limited, but it’s an apt metaphor for what’s going on here.

This is the first issue of Uncanny X-Men where the teaching staff is largely absent. For the first, and the long overdue, time the success or failure of this issue rests entirely on the New Xavier’s students and, fun as a book about Scott, Emma, and Ilyanna can be, these kids are entirely up to the task. Likewise, while we all love a good Savage Land story now and again, Tabula Rasa presents a feeling of mystery and possibility.
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Uncanny X-Men #15 – Review

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

The Story: Mutants are hated, feared, victimized. Those with the courage to stand up to bigotry are forced into hiding, reduced to outlaws and terrorists. It is a hard time to be an X-Man. But that is no excuse to have nothing pretty to wear.

The Review: While the post-Schism world is an interesting one for the X-Men, I doubt I’m the only one who’s getting tired of Cyclops hogging the limelight. Bendis has filled the New Xavier School with fascinating young mutants, but, after fourteen issues, many of them remain strangers to us. Last issue proved a game changer for Benjamin Deeds and Emma Frost and I’m happy to say that Bendis has followed up with another great character issue.

Bendis takes his time setting up the adventure in this issue. It’s one that we don’t often see, but admittedly, it could have gone wrong rather quickly. Thankfully, Bendis does not disappoint. This issue does an impressive job of providing eight distinct, fully realized women. Well…maybe seven and a half – the cuckoos, you know. The initial scenes in the New Xavier School are especially charming, as the girls dance around the issue and Emma takes charge.

Of course, Bendis acknowledges something that really should have been apparent long ago: living in Scott Summers’ school in the middle of the Canadian wilderness must be boring as all get out! What do they do there? How are they living? So, when the increasingly extroverted Irma mentions that she wants to go shopping like the girls on TV and in books, Jean gleefully responds “We have books?” It’s subtle, but the enthusiasm for books tells us something about Jean. How I’ve missed knowing the X-Men.
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