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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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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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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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All New X-men #26 – Review

by Brian Michael Bendis (Writer), Stuart Immonen (Penciller), Wade Von Grawbadger (Inker), Marte Gracia (Colourist) 

The Story: Things get downright creepy in Jean Grey’s room.

The Review: I feel like readers have been denied a key scene in Bendis’ X-men books since Battle of the Atom, we’ve gone from Young Scott and Jean’s utter disgust at old Scott to warming up to him relatively quickly. Now, I understand that the general consensus is that Hank McCoy is a dirtbag of the highest order for screwing with the time-stream and feeding the kids a line of bull about old Scott causing mutant genocide, I understand how the kids have got from point A to point C but it is a little disappointing that we never got to actually see point B along the way. At this point Bendis could have written 26 issues of various characters reacting to the blood on old Scott’s hands so I can understand why he wouldn’t want to belabour the point, but still it is very odd to see Jean saying the things she says to old Scott in this issue. I take my hat off to Bendis for addressing the downright weirdness of having a teenage version of your dead wife around and for doing it in a way that doesn’t tip toe around the creepy or uncomfortable nature of it, however it would be nice to have context for Jean’s change of heart towards him though.

Kitty is really maturing into her role as Professor K, continuing her protective streak of the kids from Battle of the Atom, Her new dynamic with old Scott is fascinating to watch unfold, Kitty is one of the few X-men who remains uncorrupted and it is evident in the writing how desperately Scott wants to win back her approval and respect. Warren also gets a good showing this issue as he attempts to bond with the departing X-23, It seems clear that Warren may be stepping out of young Scott’s shadow now that he is gone, with Hank in his Science cave and Bobby make snow angels, somebody needs to.

The Brotherhood from the aforementioned Battle of the Atom make their triumphant return this issue, there is a bit of a mystery involved in what they want as they can’t send the kids back which creates excitement for the next issue. The infiltration of the New Xavier school by Raze should also serve to build tension over the coming issues as the Brotherhood attack.

Stuart Immonen is an absolute craftsman, the storytelling is clear and concise, the body language and faces are all so expressive that he does a lot of the heavy lifting in making the characters emote. The more of his collaboration I see with Bendis on this book the more I feel that he may be the perfect artistic partner for Bendis’ writing, perhaps even more-so than Bagley or Maleev.

Grade: B

-Liam Kelleher

Stray Thoughts: I do wonder who it is that old Scott is worried about finding out what Beast has done bringing the kids to the present. Very Ominous.

 

 

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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