Current Reviews


Uncanny X-Men #500

Posted: Tuesday, July 22, 2008
By: Keith Dallas

Ed Brubaker, Matt Fraction
Greg Land, Terry Dodson (p), Jay Leisten and Rachel Dodson (i)
Marvel Comics
Editor's Note: Uncanny X-Men #500 arrives in stores tomorrow, July 23.

Steven Bari: 3.5 Bullets
Mark J. Hayman: 2.5 Bullets
Erik Norris: 3.5 Bullets
Christopher Power: 3 Bullets

Steven Bari 3.5 Bullets

Plot: The members of X-Men have left the demolished sanctuary of their Westchester estate in New York and crossed the country to settle down in San Francisco. They have built a new facility for themselves and with it new hopes and dreams of mutant-kind's existence. Meanwhile, local artist Guy DeMondue decides to build a shocking installation for the mayor's X-Men Gala, and a certain movie star Eternal is meeting with the High Evolutionary.

On Story: The strangest thing about this seminal issue of Uncanny X-Men is how the story is clearly demarcated into parts: Prologue I & II, Chapters I - IV and Epilogue I - III. Initially, I assumed it was to delineate the change in artist, as Land and Dodson trade off art duties throughout the issue, but both artists work within the same part or back-to-back.

I found these separations to be distracting to the overall good story and non-relevant to the pacing and structure. The battle with Magneto, as the old coot makes his return in this issue, is thrilling and remarkably told but becomes bizarrely cut in half between chapters III and IV for no good reason. Just as the team works together to land the final punch on the Master of Magnetism, you turn the page and suddenly you're in a different "part" though the exact same scene.

Furthermore, the inclusion of titles to these parts added to the distraction. The aforementioned battle with Magneto starts in "Chapter Two: Superstars of the Spandex Scene," then continues in "Chapter Three: The Exploding Plastic Inevitable," and then concludes in "Chapter Four: The Fix is in…!" The significance of the last two titles are completely lost on me and could have been easily named "Bacon spells M-A-G-N-E-T-O" and "Whose Pinafore is it Anyway?" to the same effect. There is neither semblance between the chapter titles nor the content within it.

Conversely, however, Prologue II and Epilogue II do create a cogent narrative, introducing the character of DeMondue and summarily following him after the events of the gala. Without being too obvious, DeMondue calls on the assistance of one Simon Trask to help him construct his "Celebration of Mutant Kitsch." The project causes the X-Men to protest in outrage and instigates Magneto's return to form.

The concept of an offensive mutant art installation at the very event in honor of the X-Men is clever, as it shows how comfortable this new city is with their superhero populace and how different it will be from Westchester, Australia, or wherever the X-Men have been before. The concept also shows a great deal of realism, as a shock artist would take such a high profile event to use pertinent yet disturbing imagery for social commentary. The story maintains this realism when the X-Men confront the mayor about DeMondue's installation, and she voices her own outrage but nonetheless defends her citizens' right of free expression.

Brubaker and Fraction are setting up a lot for the X-Men in their new home, be it new public reaction, old villains, and the inexplicable connection between High Evolutionary, the Eternal Kingo Sunen, and the sleeping Celestial. Although most of these threads leave the reader with impressions of things to come, the High Evolutionary-Celestial business is still too baffling to figure out. Yet, the addition of this thread gives Uncanny X-Men # 500 a wider scope and probably bigger problems than tasteless artists down the road.

On Art : At first I thought Land's style, which heavily relies on photo-referencing, would pull me out of the story and dilute a very good issue with inappropriate emotion and inconsistent character design. To my surprise, I found myself impressed with a number of panels in particular.

The first was the entire second chapter where Land used obvious photo-referencing to capture the myriad of partygoers at the snapping pictures of each other, all dressed as X-Men. Remarkably, they all appear incredibly individualized and distinctly like normal people. My favorite is the old man wearing the classic black and yellow X-outfit with the large eye and mouth holes, his wrinkly skin sagging out of the cowl. The entire scene has a very credible and disarming atmosphere that makes Magneto's arrival all the more unexpected.

That segues into a great panel of Beast ambushing Magneto from behind, only to be deflected by a gesture. Without even turning around, Magneto simply strikes his arm backward and Beast flies face first into a force field. Land gives the villain a sense of unabashed power and Teflon resistance, but also imbues the panel with humor as Beast's body slaps against the magnetic field with unexpected force.

Lastly, as Cyclops gives a grand, welcoming speech to mutant-kind via Emma's telepathic projection, the former White Queen smiles jubilantly as her beau takes the X-Men in a new direction: his own. The panel creates a nice moment between the two lovers showing her appreciation of his dreams and seeing them come to fruition, but also the joy of a new hope for mutants everywhere in Cyclops' dream. He's offering them "safety and protection" their kind has never known, and that's something to smile about.

Yet there were cringe-inducing moments like Angel's anatomically incorrect shoulders and Pixie's bizarre body shape. These--in addition to the ever changing face and hair of Emma Frost--were noticeable but did not conspire to take me out of the issue.

What did, however, was the change over between Land and Dodson, who are two very different artists. Aesthetically, they share nothing in common save subject matter. Land is photo-realistic and Terry Dodson is stylized hyper-realistic. One uses a great deal of shadowing and line work, while the other is comparatively cleaner and utilizes broad line work. For example, Land's waif-like Emma Frost is completely different from Dodson's buxom design. This is so off-putting that when one of the artists hands over the story to the other, it feels like a different comic book entirely.

In the future I hope one artist does one issue at a time, because I enjoy both their styles individually but not together.

Final Word: Before the X-Men were uncanny, astonishing, or even had a legacy, a much younger and naďve Angel remarked: "…I hope the day comes when we can turn in our cowls… because there's no more menace from evil mutants!" ( Classic X-Men # 31). That day will never come because the X-Men will always have someone to fight against: humanity, other mutants, and beings beyond reckoning. Brubaker and Fraction have successfully put these children of the atom face forward with the task of saving themselves from extinction and building a community out of a population smaller than most Midwestern towns. Can they succeed? Who else will stand in their way? It's a great time to be an X-fan!

Mark J. Hayman 2.5 Bullets

To keep things honest, this is, technically, Uncanny X-Men #359. From the first issue until #141, the indicia read simply "X-Men." "Uncanny" was added in issue #142, the second half of the famous "Days of Future Past" arc. As the Uncanny prefix had been used unofficially beginning with issue #114, a claim could be made that this is really issue #387. You might think that they became "Uncanny" when the series was rebooted with issue #94, but t'wasn't so; for a while they were the "All-New, All-Different X-Men." However, once we venture down this path we're more or less obliged to mention all of the prefixes, so here they are from 1963 to date:
The Strangest Super-Heroes of All X-men #1-2
X-Men #3-41, 49-59, 73-93, 104, 114-141
The X-Men Featuring #42-48 (Professor X - Cyclops and Marvel Girl)
The Strangest Teens of All X-Men #60-72
The All-New, All-Different X-Men #94-103, 105-111
Now On Sale Monthly! X-Men #112-113
Uncanny X-Men #(114-141), 142-500
There was also Star Trek / X-Men, but that was a one-shot published around the time that Marvel's ownership was being passed around like a bad penny. Whoever won the company in that month's poker game green-lit this dizzying plot: "Enterprise crew and X-Men fight Gary Mitchell and Proteus." I refuse to look it up, but I'm betting that it's worth somewhat less than a copy of Giant-Size X-Men #1 in Near Mint condition. There was a second one-shot a couple of years later, combining the mutants with the Next Generation crew to fight Kang, but no one appears to want to claim ownership. Now, on with the show:

This book isn't likely to permanently tarnish the otherwise sterling reputations of writers Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction, but neither is it going to win them (many) awards. They use the curious structure of breaking the issue into two prologues, four chapters, and three epilogues:
Prologue: The Extraordinary Dream of Kingo Sunen
Prologue Two: The Extraordinary Cargo of Guy DeMondue
Chapter One: The Mayor and the Queen in Exurbia
Chapter Two: Superstars of the Spandex Scene
Chapter Three: The Exploding Plastic Inevitable
Chapter Four: The Fix is In...!
Epilogue One: Vox Populi
Epilogue Two: Exit the Artist
Epilogue Three: Enter the Pixie
There was no pressing need to have done this other than to insert some clever sub-titles. Given the team's relocation to San Francisco, it must have been hard not to include something like "The Exploding Plastic Inevitable," and since it doesn't work as an overall title, some structural tweaking was required. I got a good giggle from "Enter the Pixie" (the title, not the content; the latter is rather harrowing), contrived as it may be as SF was the birthplace of Bruce Lee and Enter the Dragon his breakthrough film. I'm delighted to see the bubblegum-haired bug-girl step up to the big time. One wonders if her promotion is a gift to Greg Land as, based on his "President Thor" arc in Ultimate Fantastic Four, Land has a bit of a thing for pretty girls with delicate wings.

The prologues set up the central conflict, though Kingo Sunen's role is at best oblique. He appears to have some connection with the Dreaming Celestial, a central figure looming over present day San Francisco, though to what end we're left to speculate. Guy DeMondue ("That's "GEE", you foolish Americans!" as he might say; which is to say "gee" like "flee", not "jee") provides the basis for conflict thanks to his art installation featuring a pair of first-generation Sentinels. Where you've got Sentinels, even obsolete and deactivated ones, and mutants, you're going to have things blowing up. One might even say it's inevitable. Plastically inevitable. Before things get explosive, we're introduced to the new X-diggs, and the sympathetic mayor who invited the mutants to make the city their home. Part embassy, part research facility, part factory, and part hardened military installation, the new headquarters (as yet unnamed) is everything a superhero group could hope for. Situated on several acres of landscaped park land, and technologically invisible to the public (and would-be troublemakers), it's an impressive monument, and one that was hardly spoiled in the first issue of Warren Ellis' Astonishing X-book, in which we saw next to nothing (and most of that in the dark). This was all paid for by Warren Worthington, so whatever money problems that Angel's had in the past have been fully resolved. The mayor, meanwhile, makes it clear that the decision to offer sanctuary to all mutants was a policy decision taken by council, not merely some personal overture. Of course, an agenda will be revealed later on as nothing is ever that simple for the X-Men. Madame Mayor also informs the crew of the upcoming art opening, creating some considerable X-consternation.

Preview pages from the art opening were released a couple of weeks ago, so we've already seen that it's a costume affair. The green Marvel Girl outfit seems to be among the more popular with the guests, or at least with Greg Land. The usual human-mutant tensions arise, but (most) everyone's there to have a good time, at least until Magneto treats Colossus like a waiter. Within minutes chaos ensues. Magneto appears to have fully regained his abilities, then treating Colossus like a really lousy waiter before, somehow, activating the Sentinels. Pages and pages of utter havoc later, the secret of Magneto's "resurrection" is revealed in time for him to vanish, while the Sentinels are violently dispatched (Angel single-handedly takes care of one of them, which is probably a nod to his experience as a hero and the relative age and ability of his opponent). But how was it that a mutant was controlling Sentinels? You'll just have to plunk down your cash to find out. Heh.

I'm on the fence as to whether or not to "spoil" the real villain, revealed late in the book, but as he will no doubt be a central figure in the near future I suppose there's no harm in doing so. Without going into detail, the High Evolutionary is back. It was he who appeared to activate the Celestial, and he who was behind Magneto's assault. The High Evolutionary has a long and winding history in Marvel mythology, one that's often coincided with the X-Men. He's never been an actual "villain." In fact, he generally works for the greater good of all mankind, and has gone well out of his way to save or defend those even peripherally close to him. Magneto, on the other hand, seems as crazy and bitter as ever, so the purple-armoured ascended one had best watch his back.

The epilogues consist of Scott sending a psychic invitation to all the world's mutants, friend and foe alike, and any family they wish to bring to the new promised land of San Francisco. The assembled characters all seem fairly moved, but I found the segment downbeat. Next, Logan goes to have a friendly word with M. DeMondue (along the lines of "Where'd you get the Sentinels, bub?") only to find an unpleasant surprise. The finally final segment brings Pixie into the limelight, gushing with her peeps following an Alison Blaire concert (they were Dazzled!). Unfortunately, a group of thugs in unhappily familiar masks are observing them, setting up what will probably be a lengthy sub-plot dealing with hateful sapiens who will never be content until the last mutant has been publicly strung up.

Dialogue was strictly okay, perhaps a little overwrought here and glib there, but nothing that's going to find its way into books of quotations. The general storylines, with the exception of Kingo Sunen's odd involvement, played out reasonably well. The problem I had, which earned the book a sub-prime rating, was the pacing. Scenes would suddenly bounce from one to another, or be set up without resolution (the mayor's impression of the view from the X-Embassy being a prime example), leaving one with a sense of narrative disorientation. Some of this stems from the arbitrary chapter segmentation, but not all. That's not to say it was a complete mess, just particularly uninspiring, at least for what's been billed as a "special" issue. It's not enough to recommend avoiding the book altogether, especially if you're a fan of Greg Land, but limit your expectations.

Opinion of Greg Land's style doesn't encompass much middle-ground. You love it or you hate it. As I fall into the former camp, anything Land draws is a treat for me, though I'm not blind to his flaws and foibles. Page composition and narrative structure are adequate as usual, and his eye for detail remains among the most meticulous to be found. Principal characters, particularly women, continue to suffer from a "sameness," whereby he has a small handful of models who always represent them. If you examine his crowd scenes, however, considerably more variation is displayed than is usual, of both sexes, demonstrating that Land is capable of the sort of nuance he's often cited as lacking, when he feels like it. Action remains a problem, but overall there's a less static feel to the pages than we've come to expect, and less chaos and confusion when things go boom! Land's detractors will just have to suffer his presence so long as he's capable of both lending such detail to his work and continuing to meet deadlines, which is, let's face it, a dead impressive accomplishment. Leisten's sharp brush and Ponsor's nuanced colours really make the pages sing, so well done all around, lads.

Terry Dodson is also credited with pencils and inks. As he and Land share a similar overall style, the transitions are fairly seamless, though still noticable and quite baffling. Dodson steps in for some of the action sequences, which are fine, but I'm having difficulty understanding why it was necessary to include him. Was Land late with those segments? Or unable to adequately capture the scenes in question? I find it unlikely that his work was "lost," but the possibility always exists. Land, Leisten, and Ponsor are credited alone in upcoming issues, so perhaps it was merely a question of scheduling, requiring some fill-in pages from another (gifted) illustrator for the oversize issue.

Most X-Fans will derive some enjoyment here, and several large and ongoing storylines are established, however minimally, which make reading this issue helpful. If you're expecting something truly special, however, you've been duly cautioned.

Erik Norris: 3.5 Bullets

Here it is. The big 5-0-0. A gigantic achievement in the comics industry the likes of which most franchises never see during this day and age of constant relaunches in order to make the series seem more accessible for new readers. Well, sadly, Uncanny X-Men #500 achieves the goal of being new reader friendly but fails to deliver that epic punch that a 500th issue should carry.

For anyone who hasn't seen the preview pages of this comic, Uncanny #500 marks the return of Magneto and the start of the X-Men's new status quo in San Francisco (already shown in Astonishing X-Men #25). However, Brubaker and Fraction thankfully shy away from the standard Magneto/X-Men confrontation over the course of the issue. Yes, they fight, but how it all plays out is rather inspired and doesn't really tread over the heels of what the X-Men property has done in the last few years with the excess of crappy mutants.

Besides taking a different route from the norm in regards to the master of magnetism, Uncanny X-Men #500 doesn't deliver much in the way of hooks to keep new readers interested. We have a returning Magneto with a slight twist, and a bunch of jackasses in San Francisco doing the same thing New Yorkers have been doing for years: kill mutants to save humanity. It just seemed rather bland for a 500th issue by this creative team who I know can produce awesome outside-the-box concepts, perfectly suited for the X-Men.

And that really sucks because this creative writing duo was my main draw for returning to Uncanny X-Men. Fraction and Brubaker did such amazing things with Immortal Iron Fist, and Fraction continued that streak with Invincible Iron, so why does Uncanny X-Men seem so par? Everything felt like it was set on coast throughout the entire issue, even making it seem like Magneto's return was simply a cop out because he is the X-Men's oldest nemesis.

As for the art, I actually didn't mind the switching back and forth between Greg Land and Terry Dodson like I thought I would. I thought it was going to be rather jarring because of the wildly different styles the two artists use, but because the issue was divided into chapters, it didn't bother me in the slightest. And I know a lot of people despise Greg Land, but I thought he did a rather good job on this issue, even though his Beast looked like a blue lion and his Emma Frost was less attractive than Terry Dodson's who is wildly stylized. But besides those minor gripes, the art for a 500th issue was up to snuff in my eyes.

I just wish more happened in this 500th issue. Instead of feeding readers cliffhangers they have seen in some fashion or another over the course of X-Men history, why not deliver something unexpected, something jaw dropping? I still enjoyed this issue a lot more than last month's Astonishing X-Men #25 but that isn't saying a whole lot. Though I must say, if I do decide to continue with the X-Men, it will be here in Uncanny. Hopefully some big concepts start to reveal themselves and prove to me why I love the X-Men and this creative team so much.

Christopher Power: 3 Bullets

Wow ... who would have thought the little book I started reading when I was an undergrad at issue #338 would make it all the way to issue #500! I started reading after the "Onslaught" series, just when "Operation Zero Tolerance" was just kicking off with a new team and new costumes but no Professor X. Well, look at where we are now: new team, new costumes but no Professor X. Everything that is old is new again.

Much of this book is committed to a discussion about where the X-Men are now with their new base of operations in San Francisco. With the new mountain-top base, purchased by Warren Worthington III who is apparently not Archangel (as seen in X-Force last week) and also apparently richer than god, the X-Men are looking to provide a haven for all remaining mutants. They have the blessing of the mayor of SF and spiffy new lodgings with apparently the best view around. Unfortunately there is a problem: Sentinels have appeared in the SF landscape as part of an art exhibition.

Brubaker and Carey actually spend most of the issue dealing with this matter, which appears to be a discussion of censorship in art, and in particular the responsibility of the artist to not only try to speak to the audience but also respect the views and traditions of the audience. Is it appropriate for Sentinels to be on display anywhere when they were essentially killing machines? It echoes recent art controversies such as those entered in the Blake Prize in 2007, or more appropriately the controversy this past year of the representation of Korean-Americans in an exhibit at the SF Asian Art Museum. Brubaker and Carey challenge the reader as to where the line should be drawn between history and art, which is an interesting intellectual challenge. Unfortunately, what could have been an interesting exploration never really took off in the story. There are a couple of really obvious remarks from a couple of X-Men, and then they head down to see the display. Once there, there is no opportunity to explore the idea further because the rest of the issue is committed to a giant fight with a familiar foe.

The fight itself was well rendered with Sentinel smashing goodness and some good teamwork. A large number of character/power introductions are highlighted for new readers. Kudos to the team for not spending page after page reviewing the new team.

The art is somewhat uneven in the book. The first two chapters are drawn by Greg Land. While many of his characters are well done, faces and expressions tend to come off as a little bit plastic. In the single panel close up of Cyclops' face, he looks more like a 1980s stereotype surfer rather than the leader of the X-Men we have seen recently. Same with Worthington; he looks like he didn't leave the 60s dreamscape from last issue.

The second half of the book is drawn by Terry Dodson. I love Dodson's art, and I think it looks outstanding; however, it does not complement Land's pencils at all. Indeed, many of the characters look very different between the first and second halves of the book with many of my above complaints disappearing in the second half.

Touching on the new costumes and visuals, I liked the clean lines on many of the costumes, with the consistent red X drawing my attention. I do have to question why Emma is wearing a corset again, and why Storm is wearing very little. However, I will say that having Beast in a proper uniform is good to see again. I keep hoping someone is going to revert Hank back to his previous visual of the Beast instead of the current cat form.

It is a solid start for a major line of books for Marvel. Hopefully the story will kick off in a major way next issue.

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