At long last we are getting some answers in Brian Michael Bendis’ over-wrought Uncanny X-Men saga, yet for every smart or interesting moment there is a boring or inexplicable one. Scott Summers has made up his mind to bring an end to his mutant ‘revolution’ and some of what follows is strong character work, even despite the ultimately anti-climactic nature of the narrative. At least Chris Bachalo is on hand to make every single panel look characterful, complex, and unique.
Writer Brian Michael Bendis has started moving his pieces into place for the run up to his big finish on the X-books in the next few months. The upside of this is that we are finally beginning to see some resolution to the overarching plots and labyrinthine character dynamics that Bendis has been spinning-up over his tenure as writer. Unfortunately there is also an unavoidable sense that there was no satisfying end game planned – Cyclops’ entire arc feels like a road to nowhere; Scott Summers spends this issue regaining his humanity, but there are still no good reasons as to why he lost it.
At this point I feel bad about beating up on Uncanny X-Men every month; I’m a huge X-Men fan and Chris Bachalo is one of my favourite artists in all of comics so I should love this book and although it started strong I’ve become consistently frustrated by the narrative choices and unclear driving forces behind the various arcs in this book. I have enjoyed Cyclops’ secret school (and the choice to house it in the old Weapon-X facility is great) and the introduction of the new X-kids has been a success. Sadly, things like the broken powers, Scott’s culpability for Xavier’s murder, and the entire revolution angle for this book have never been all that clear to me. That said, this issue takes some steps towards clearing all of that up, even if it does so by walking back almost everything we have seen so far this run.
After the big showdown and time travel rewind on the Jean Grey School lawn last issue Cyclops has decided to shut down his secret school, send the kids to study under Storm, end his ‘revolution’ and turn himself in to the appropriate authorities for the murder of Charles Xavier. Whatever epiphany it was that Scott had last issue he fails to effectively articulate it here, even as he spends most of this issue talking to Alex Summers about it (speaking of whom, did Alex call ahead or did he just turn up out of the blue – there’s no door bell at Weapon-X that I can see). Scott tells Alex how badly his students took the fact that the school was closing, which is perhaps not surprising given how cold he is in delivering the message. This is the same problem Bendis has with writing Xavier’s dialogue; they both come across as incredibly obtuse, cold, and impersonal people and I don’t know why he’d want that. Scott is telling these kids, kids who have lost or sacrificed everything to join his cause, that he is washing his hands of them, and yet the way he does it is so unsympathetic. I can’t buy this version of Scott. Sure, maybe he is still in the middle of his so called breakdown or whatever, but he just doesn’t make for an interesting and likeable lead.
So to sum up, the only mutant training will be taking place at the Jean Grey School, Emma’s powers now just ‘work’ again (so the broken powers story came to nothing), Scott remains both accountable and unaccountable for Xavier’s death (seriously, he was possessed by the Phoenix Force!), and Cyclops’ mutant revolution is essentially over. It’s this final point that is most effectively executed – Scott’s speech about the near extinction of mutants and that an idle threat is the only option left is actually quite a heartfelt and believable sentiment. After all Scott has seen, not least the recent deaths of Xavier and Wolverine, I have no problem believing he could be at the end of his tether with the state of mutant/human relations so to throw out a final hail Mary play kind of makes sense – leave us alone or we’ll do exactly what you’ve always been afraid we’d do. This works, in a way, as it gives the impression that all of this time Scott has been scrabbling around looking for a way to protect mutants, deal with his fear, and get over his grief/guilt about Xavier; it was a stalling tactic and a wild gambit. Unfortunately, though, it also means that this whole time Scott has been selling smoke – there’s nothing backing any of this up and we’ve just been reading about a group of people with no idea what they were doing. I guess that’s ok, but it doesn’t feel like the X-Men, and it’s not really an X-Men book that I am eager to read.
As we run into the final issues of Bendis’ time with the X-Men it is nice to see that there is some closure being dished up, but much of it comes at the expense of satisfying story arcs. Most of what has happened in this book seems to have served only to take us to a place where Cyclops can be arrested for killing Xavier and all the other X-Men can hang out together at the Jean Grey School. It seems like that could have been the case over a year ago though so this book mostly seems to have been spinning its wheels. I will admit to being intrigued by whatever ‘big’ plan Alex and Scott have in mind for Scott’s next move, so I guess Bendis can still get me hooked. This is perfectly solid, if uninspired, X-Men writing but I long for something as smart and exciting as the Morrison or Whedon X-Men of yesteryear. Maybe after Secret Wars is over whoever takes on the X-Men will deliver the big, bold, and brilliant stories that the characters deserve.
Uncanny X-Men #32 // Writer – Brian Michael Bendis / Artist – Chris Bachalo / Colourist – Chris Bachalo & Rain Beredo // Marvel
Notes and Observations:
- Fabio ‘Goldballs’ Medina’s continued queries about Eva are welcome continuity after she vanished in time last issue; where exactly Eva has gone remains unexplained though.
- The Chris Bachalo cover featuring Cyclops standing over the bodies of his previous iterations is pretty great, both thematically and artistically (the Quitely outfit is still the definitive one for me).
- Bachalo and Beredo’s colouring on diamond-form Emma is wonderful, one of the best versions of her powers I’ve seen.
- The character overlap between the X-books is a bit of a mess in this issue, if you’re not reading everything then not much of it makes sense – where did Kitty come from and where has she been, where did Illyana take Kitty, what has Alex been up to? Kitty is here long enough to mention her relationship with Starlord, but it is so fleeting that I can’t really understand why it’s in here at all.
All art belongs to the copyright holder