I have no idea what Brian Michael Bendis is attempting with this book, besides an exercise in tortured plotting and indecipherable character motivations. Chris Bachalo’s art is excellent as ever, but Bendis gives him nothing particularly interesting to draw. This is dry, plodding, and nonsensical story-telling with characters about as interesting as door frames.
I find this Brian Michael Bendis book to be incredibly frustrating. Every character in the story remains at odds with Scott; with one voice they scream that he is a feckless, dangerous, monster who has become obsessed with…something about mutants. Yep, it is so unclear what exactly these characters are upset about. Sure, Scott is at least some part complicit in the death of Professor Xavier, but he was possessed by the Phoenix Force (a power with a proven history to corrupt) and he is clearly full of regret yet no one gives him the time of day (even Emma, who is on his side, acts distrustfully). Similarly everyone has some kind of issue with Scott’s school and new mutant agenda, except his school is just training new mutants to stand against oppression. It is in no way different to Charles Xavier’s school, and Scott has yet to employ mutant power to do anything other than save mutants, fight evil sentinels, save mutants, help his friends, and save mutants. Save mutants. Even this latest unending & dumb Xavier’s-dark-secret plot is about Scott being the ONLY character who wants to help Matt Malloy rather than end him. Literally every other character seems to be happy to kill Malloy, a man who has no control over his powers and doesn’t want to do anything bad. What? This is absurd and out-of-character writing, and Bendis yet again fails to demonstrate how Scott is wrong and why everyone else is right. So what to do, huh, Bendis? I guess ‘prove’ Scott was wrong to try to help Malloy by having him accidentally kill everyone. The morals here are as bad as the writing.
Having killed Cyclops, Emma Frost, and Magik last issue with the weakest immediately-going-to-be-reversed-cliffhanger I have ever read, this issue wastes about 20 pages reversing their deaths. Eva went back in time to get young Charles Xavier to sort everything out. And here again Bendis evidences disdain for the characters he is writing – for some reason Xavier is just a stand-offish jerk. I guess this is a nod to those early Stan Lee issues where Xavier was a little on the arrogant side, but he just comes across so badly in this issue, taking Eva to task for fixing a problem in a not unreasonable way (especially given Beast’s recent time crimes). I actually like the reaction of Scott’s students to meeting the professor, they are awestruck by his appearance (although the Cuckoo’s reaction inexplicably seems to be as if they had never met him before, but they were at his school whilst he was still alive and shared a number of scenes with him). I also quite like the idea of still-a-straight-arrow Scott Summers recording a hundred different emergency messages, and it is nice that he still considers the Jean Grey School to be a safe place for mutants.
Eva and Xavier’s little time travel ploy, to prevent Malloy’s parents meeting and conceiving him, is actually a neat sequence and one that harbours more than a little existential terror – this is a very dark act. It could have been at the core of an exciting and interesting story, but this entire arc has been so ham-fistedly bad that it is just another act of grim awfulness in a book recently full of them. And then it changes literally just one thing – Matt Malloy is not born, but the entire rest of the Marvel 616 universe is unaffected, we return to the X-Men in the exact same spot at the will reading and in the same configuration. Oh boy, this is just laziness. All of this arc was simply a distraction to get Eva to somehow feel aggrieved at Scott’s behaviour. Eva spontaneously decides, for some reason, that Scott attempting to save a mutant is a terrible crime and gives him a lukewarm dressing down/threat combo that honestly wouldn’t have convinced me to change my socks, let alone make Scott reassess his entire world view (not to mention that if he is having a genuine nervous breakdown I’m not sure stern words would just ‘snap’ him out of it). Eva’s respect for Xavier is actually quite nice, as are the panels where Xavier wipes his own mind of this poor story), but it still feels like this time-travel-merry-go-round was all for nothing.
It may be an acquired taste, but I love Chris Bachalo’s art. His frenetic and askew action compositions are unrivalled and he can fill a panel with debris like no one else. I also love it when he just draws talking heads (his Avengers: Fear Itself issues were largely these and they were amazing). I’m lucky then, because Bendis doesn’t really give Bachalo much to draw here. There are some great reaction moments (again the students meeting Xavier, and also the X-Men threatening Malloy), and I was particularly impressed by the tonal shift to the calm past where Malloy’s parents are directed away from each other – there is a poignancy to the moment.
My problem with this book, I think, is that I just don’t believe in any of the characters actions. I don’t understand why everyone hates Scott, or why they are all stepping up to Malloy for a fight when he is clearly mentally unstable and unable to control himself. Instead of talking and thinking out problems these characters just act entitled, get angry, and throw fits – it is like watching a bad X-Men sweet 16 birthday show. The art still gives me something, but at this point I am looking forward to Bendis moving on from the X-Men altogether.
Uncanny X-Men #31 // Writer – Brian Michael Bendis / Pencils – Chris Bachalo / Inks – Tim Townsend, Marc Deering, Wayne Faucher, Mark Irwin, Jaime Mendoza, Victor Olazaba & Al Vey / Colours – Chris Bachalo & Antonio Fabela // Marvel
Notes and Observations:
- Time travel adventures resulting in Scott quitting the school, that reminds me of that time in Grant Morrison’s outstanding New X-Men run when time travel adventures resulted in Scott not-quitting the school. An homage? Maybe, but that was amazing and this is not so much.
- Xavier is reading The Once and Future King (though they get T.H. White’s middle initial wrong); this is a recurring device across X-Men media and I love it! It dates back to the nineties X-Tinction Agenda arc and Magneto even reads it in prison in X2.
- I don’t know why there were a million inkers on this book, but there were!
- What is going on with the covers to this book; they rarely match up with the content, but this is an especially weird one – Havok isn’t even in this issue! Previously they have put Bachalo covers on Kris Anka interiors and vice-versa, there was even an issue that said Bachalo drew it on the cover, but had no Bachalo art in it at all!
All art belongs to the copyright holder