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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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Cyclops #3 – Review

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

The Story: Honestly, why wouldn’t you get high if you’re stranded on an empty alien planet?

The Review: Because I’m nothing if not a party animal, I just read an article on the value (or vice) of sentimentality in fiction. While I get the folks who say it’s a cheap way to emotionally manipulate an audience into thinking there’s more story than there really is, I personally think it’s no evil unless it takes over the story entirely. We read for an emotional experience as much as for an intellectual one, so if the relentlessly cerebral In Search of Lost Time is allowed to exist, why can’t Becoming the Stars?

Anyway, it’s kind of interesting to think of all this having just come from Sandman: Overture #3, which can only be described as abstract, and then plunge into Cyclops #3, which is almost pure emotional indulgence. There definitely is a plot at work: the Summers men experience an inexplicable malfunction mid-flight and crash-land on a barely habitable planet. This is the prelude to bigger developments ahead, I’m sure, but for now, it’s all about Chris and Scott bonding in a deeper way.
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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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Cyclops #1 – Review

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

I have a real soft spot in my heart for Cyclops. Growing up and watching the X-Men cartoons on Fox Kids—is that even a thing anymore?—for some reason, I resonated with the visored hero more than any other mutant. Maybe because we were both four-eyes, I don’t know. As I got older and learned more of his complicated, often tragic history, I couldn’t help feeling that somewhere along the way, he became the X-Men’s official punching bag and sad sack, all in one.

Not being an avid X-Men follower, I have no idea how or why a teenaged Scott Summers got himself into the present, but I’m happy to see him nonetheless—happy and worried. Happy to see he still has the capacity to be happy, considering the dark, unstable crusader of a man he is now. Worried that seeing his unbelievably grim future (“…I grow up to be a maybe not very nice guy…Jean and I get married and then get miserable…”) will depress him before his time. So good on Rucka to have Scott keep his eye on the positive: “My dad is alive.

And how great is it to have an ongoing father-son series? Parental relationships don’t get much exploration in comics, mainly because it’s all the rage to orphan protagonists these days, and also because family interactions take time away from the main business of superheroing. Christopher Summers is an ideal father figure in this regard; as the confident, adventurous Corsair and leader of the Starjammers, he’s pretty much a superhero himself, one with years of experience on his adolescent son. That gives him a rare opportunity here to mentor Scott in a way he never got to when his son was this age the first time around.

There’s something inherently, wishfully sweet about this idea, of an absent father getting a second chance to be there for his son during a critical age, and of a lonely son finding and spending time with his long-lost father. Clearly, this space road trip Chris and Scott are embarking on is going to be a wild, crazy ride: “I’m programming a random set of thrilling galactic destinations. Six wonders of the universe for us to behold. You pick.” But beneath the fun and games, there’s a certain poignancy in knowing this may all end up as nothing more than a cherished memory of a what-might-have-been.
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Uncanny X-Men #20 – Review

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

The Story: Cyclops has declared war on S.H.I.E.L.D. and his opening gambit is a ballsy one indeed.

The Review: There are two ways to look at the war between the New Xavier School and S.H.I.E.L.D. On one hand the book has been building to this moment for twenty issues, on the other it took twenty issues to get here and we still have no assurance that things will be resolved any time soon. Both are valid and illustrate one of the key issues that Bendis has on this series, balancing the future and the present.

Many of this issue’s moments don’t make sense in themselves requiring further developments or the clarity of hindsight. Mystique’s continued plotting, for instance, can intrigue but really offers very little to a reader. This same pattern plays out again and again, whether in Hijack’s home or at the New Xavier School. At the same time, however, much of Bendis’ best writing doesn’t expand the scope of the story, but deepen it. Even in the same scene I just mentioned we find biting dialogue, like when Sabertooth asks how much longer Mystique will continue impersonating Dazzler and she responds, “Until Scott Summers is a party joke and S.H.I.E.L.D. is sold for parts. So I’m thinking until next Friday.”

Even if it doesn’t rank among his best, Bendis’ dialogue lives up to his lofty reputation. When it comes to engaging a reader in the moment, this issue really is quite spectacular. Brief scenes like Scott’s confrontation with an old teammate can feel very substantial. Admittedly that example is rather text-heavy but, while there is a bit of harried visual storytelling, there’s such tension in the dialogue that you might not be able to help getting sucked in. That’s a quality that Bendis has been shooting for for a long while, but it’s very much present in this final scene and the central confrontation of the issue.

It’s clear that Bendis saw Scott’s appearance on the helicarrier as the core of this chapter. Unfortunately a side effect is that most of the rest of the issue is a bit dull, but you can’t deny the power of this sequence. There’s perhaps a little too much time spend on Director Hill’s romantic preferences, but rarely has Scott’s cult of personality been clearer or Bendis’ grasp of his characters’ psychology more apparent.
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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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