SUNDAY SLUGFEST: Uncanny X-Men #1A comic review article by: Nick Boisson, Sara McDonald, Chris Kiser
The X-Men have been around for nearly 50 years. That is a whole lot of backstory for those who are new to the X-verse. I, for one, was never a reader of the X-Books. I have, however, read "The Dark Phoenix Saga" -- because, as a comics reader, it's "required reading" -- and I have read (and thoroughly enjoyed) the Joss Whedon/John Cassaday run of Astonishing X-Men. So, I have read a bit of X-Men, but am in no way a full-fledged X-pert. But I did jump onto X-Men: Schism. I liked the idea of Cyclops and Wolverine having such a strong difference in opinion over what to do with the children. It seemed so odd a concept, but was fairly compelling since you wouldn't figure Wolverine to take the side of children needing to be children, but it genuinely made perfect sense.
And out of this series, we would get two new X-Men ongoings: Wolverine and the X-Men -- which debuted the prior week -- and the relaunch of Uncanny X-Men! For anyone who has needed a way into the world of the X-Men, this seemed perfect. A proper jumping on point for those who want to be X-ficionados, like myself. Last week's Wolverine and the X-Men was great and I was looking forward to this series starting back at #1. That said, this comic made me feel a bit... funny.
The book opens with a "Welcome to San Francisco" advertisement, which does a great job of letting both new readers and readers who have been absent for a couple of years just where the X-Men and all of mutanthood are. There is no longer a Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters. There are no longer millions of mutants, but what seems to be just a couple hundred, at most. There is no more Brotherhood of Mutants. Still, mutants are hated by many and hunted by a select few. Now, the majority of them live on the island of Utopia off the Frisco Bay.
Writer Kieron Gillen genuinely lets these characters shine. His fantastic characterizations give each one of these characters a distinct personality in their few lines. You get a sense of each one's motivations and what they are doing there in but a few lines, without it seeming in any way like forced exposition. Given that this is a first issue and may very well be many a reader's introduction to the X-Men, Gillen makes his readers feel as if they have been there through it all. Gillen -- who has been writing X-characters for quite a while now -- seems to really know and understand all of his characters. Cyclops is still serious as a heart attack. Magneto is still cold as ice. Emma Frost is... well... I'll discuss Emma Frost a little later. One of my favorite bits throughout the issue was Cyclops' jabs at The Avengers. First, he refers to his X-Men as "Earth's Mightiest Heroes" (a term used to describe The Avengers on many an occasion). Then, when Agent Abigail Brand said that she was going to call The Avengers to help with the Dreaming Celestial, Summers tells her, "I wouldn't bother. If we can't handle it, what chance do they have?" Not only is it perfectly the kind of smug that is Scott Summers, but it is also hilariously true. The X-Men have a team that is far more capable and dangerous than a team consisting of a jingoistic shield chucker, a guy with a hammer, a guy that shoots arrows and an alcoholic in body armor.
The tone of the book is quite different from the previous week's Wolverine and the X-Men #1. While I loved the humor that was splashed throughout Aaron's X-Book, the more serious tone in this title is a welcome change. In this series, the stakes are higher and the characters have a much grander plan of action than Wolverine's team. That is not to say that there aren't a few comic moments. One of my favorite bits is Danger's translations of Doctor Nemesis' hyperbolic ramblings. But the book is, beyond a doubt, not light-hearted. Cyclops' creation and explanation of "The Extinction Team" may actually worry some of those who just finished reading that other X-Men book. Summers pretty much refers to them as enemies to the free world. When expressing concern that they are seen as a rogue state, he begins explaining the main difference between Iraq and North Korea. What he implies is that, since Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction, they were invaded and put down. But since North Korea has nuclear weapons, they are still unoccupied and answer to no one. When Summers begins equating the X-Men to North Korea, I'm sure many readers got the heebie-jeebies.
My one problem with the story was the chosen villain. That is not to say that Mister Sinister is not a worthy adversary or a foe to be reckoned with. I just have no clue who he is. And I'm sure that most new readers don't either. I do not mind that I don't know. I mind that the story gave me no inkling as to who he was or what his motives are. This is what I gathered on Mister Sinister from the issue: he is bad, he was (at least thought to be) dead and he doesn't care much for humanity. I'm all okay with those things. I just wish I knew why. Why is this guy here? Hopefully, the second issue gives him a leg to stand on, but for now, I feel lost. Especially with that final page. Maybe it was meant to confuse everyone or maybe a bigger X-Fan felt like Sinister was doing what Sinister does. I don't know.
Carlos Pacheco's art was not my favorite thing in this book by far. It wasn't bad, by any means, but it seems like it was a bit phoned in. Every character in the book seems to have stringy hair. At first, it was Emma Frost's hair that seemed a little off. Then, after looking through the book again, all of the characters have the same hair, but in different styles. It just seemed lazy. And in the beginning, with the Sinister neck snap, there was no indication that he snapped that woman's neck other than the KRAK that appears next to her head as he stands behind her. Her neck isn't twisted, her head isn't turned. It almost looks as if he is angling her head up to look at something. His faces are beautiful, his forms well-crafted, but, in an action book, one needs their actions to appear like actions. His art is could be gorgeous, but following Chris Bachalo's art in the other X-Title makes this all but desirable.
Which brings me to Emma Frost, the only character I would dedicate an entire paragraph to. In this book, Emma is definitely her old self. She is calm, cold and perfectly degrading. But what the fuck is she wearing? Or, more importantly, what is she not wearing? At the beginning of the book, she is walking the halls in a sleeveless, tight turtleneck and panties. That was her conservative appearance. As soon as they get the call to go down to go over the San Francisco, she trades in the turtleneck for a corset. Because what you really want to do before going into battle is remove clothing. I know that Emma Frost has never been much for the formal wear (and I have always loved her for it), but she has at least been wearing pants lately! With DC taking a lot of flak for their depiction of women the last couple of months, Marvel letting this happen just seems off-putting. Emma Frost still sounds like a strong female character, I just hope she can start looking the part again. Right now, she looks like she belongs as a backup dancer in an R. Kelly video from the '90s.
Despite my few issues with this book, I still enjoyed the hell out of it. The story is great, the characters are wonderful and I just need to know what is going on in that final panel. I may be surprised that I preferred Wolverine and the X-Men to the new Uncanny, but I cannot wait to read both of these titles and Uncanny X-Men has so much going for it, despite my few gripes.
Nick Boisson grew up on television, Woody Allen, video games, Hardy Boys mysteries and DC comic books, with the occasional Spider-Man issue thrown in for good measure. He currently roams the rainy streets of Miami, Florida, looking for a nice tie, a woman that gets him, and the windbreaker he lost when he was eight. He sometimes writes things down on Twitter at @nitroslick.
Starting over with issue number one, this is a new beginning for Uncanny X-Men. Following the events of Schism, Scott Summers is solidifying his leadership over the mutants who remained on Utopia and reaffirming his commitment to protecting what's left of mutantkind. That doesn't mean, however, that Scott is planning for life on Utopia to be business as usual. He's set up the "Extinction Team," an elite team of mutants dedicated to protecting humanity -- while making sure they know to fear them.
Moments before Scott announces the Extinction Team, he says to Emma, "Every time I walk down the street, I know a man with a gun and a grudge could be waiting, wanting to kill me just for existing." This isn't the same Scott Summers who was willing to stand quietly by Professor Xavier's side, but one who's both desperate to protect the last of his dying race and who's reached a point where he's had enough of being treated like less than human. When describing what the Extinction Team will be, he says the difference between Iraq and North Korea is that "Iraq didn't have weapons of mass destruction." With Scott in charge, Utopia isn't going to make that mistake, and it's clear that he doesn't care that government of North Korea aren't exactly the good guys either. On the other hand, Scott also believes the X-Men are the best the superhero world has to offer, the real "Earth's Mightiest Heroes," and he's still willing to protect humanity when he feels they need it. The mission statement of the Extinction Team comes down to protecting a world that fears and hate them -- whether they like it or not.
After the events (and hype) of Schism, this sharp divide between Scott's philosophy for the remaining mutants and Wolverine's decision to go back to the model of running a school is what the X-Books need if they're going to maintain this Utopia/Westchester split. It makes perfect sense as to why Scott would reach this point, and while in this issue you can start to see the cracks in his philosophy and steps that he's taking that seem more to be in the footsteps of Magneto than Charles Xavier, you can also understand. After years of dedicating his life to protecting humanity and getting nothing but hatred and fear in response, Scott Summers has had enough.
There's more trouble on the horizon for the mutants left on Utopia than just humanity, however. Mr. Sinister has been resurrected (again), and has come to San Francisco. Given his history with the Summers family, he's a good choice to be the first real threat against this reorganized Utopia. If Scott is looking for a test to prove to himself or anyone else that he's the best leader for the rest of mutantkind, this could be it.
Sara McDonald started reading comics in the third grade, and now puts her English degree to good use talking about them on the Internet. She currently resides in Western Massachusetts with a roommate, three cats, and an action figure collection and spends the time she isn’t reading comics working for a non-profit. You can visit her blog at Ms. Snarky’s Awesometastic Comics Blog.
Doing its best DC impression, Marvel has raised quite the hubbub over the fact that it has elected to restart Uncanny X-Men, one of its longest running continuous series, with a new number one. Unlike many in my generation, I actually first encountered the X-Men by reading an original printing of the team's first debut issue, a tattered old copy of something called The X-Men #1 that had been tucked away in my grandparents' closet. It was an entertaining introduction to a colorful cast of mutant characters that, as far as my nine-year-old self knew, prefigured humanity's possible future -- an orientation to an exciting fictional world that set up for me a lifelong fanship of the X-Characters and bolstered a growing love for the superhero genre as a whole.
In many ways, Kieron Gillen does everything he should to re-create that experience for today's Uncanny readers. There's a clear mission statement written all over nearly every page -- Cyclops and his dubiously named “Extinction Team” are out to calm public fears of mutantkind by doing good as frequently and publicly as possible. Gillen also makes the effort to highlight every member of the team individually, demonstrating what each brings to the table both in terms of power set and personality. As it has been since he took over the book pre-renumbering, Gillen's characters form a rich tapestry of genuine and snappy interactions that makes up the backbone of the series.
However, some factors that have nothing to do with Gillen's talent as a writer hamper this issue from being an ideal first entry to the X-world. So much of what happens here is a continuation of plot threads first woven in previous X-Men comics that it could be off-putting depending on your expectations. For the proverbial guy or gal off the street, delving into Uncanny X-Men #1 could be akin to my childhood experiences jumping from those old '60s issues into the mid-'90s fray and wondering why Beast was suddenly blue and furry. Anything involving Mister Sinister and Celestials is automatically fairly head-scratching, and both of those things are present here in spades.
I've been clamoring for Carlos Pacheco to become the regular penciller on Uncanny since seeing his work on the Point One issue earlier this year, so it's great to see him finally take the full-time reins. His approach is solidly mainstream, serving as a nice balance to the exaggerated stylings of Chris Bachalo over on sister book Wolverine and the X-Men. For a book with such an iconic and colorful cast, Pacheco seems like the perfect match. His clean crisp lines provide the perfect foundations on top of which colorist Frank D'Armata can splash a spectrum of brightness.
Chances are, if you were already enjoying Gillen's run on Uncanny X-Men, you'll feel right at home with this issue, numerical hijinks aside. If you haven't hopped on board yet, the appropriateness of this as an entry point is largely dependent upon your prior level of X-familiarity. An evening with Wikipedia is probably enough to solve your deficiencies in this area, but a DVD of the Fox animated series or a Grant Morrison or Joss Whedon trade paperback would be the more enjoyable route to take.
Raised on a steady diet of Super Powers action figures and Adam West Batman reruns, Chris Kiser now writes for Comics Bulletin. He once reviewed every tie-in to a major DC Comics summer event and survived to tell the tale. Ask him about it on Twitter, where he can be found at @Chris_Kiser!