I love the X-Men. Or at least I used to. In the early 90s I was all about them. They were my gateway into comics via the 90s cartoon show, the UK reprint book Essential X-Men, and just being plain awesome. When I dropped off from reading comics in the late 90s, It was in the wake of “Operatiion: Zero Tolerance” and the new X-Men team of Maggot, Joseph, Marrow, Cecilia Reyes, Rogue, Beast and Angel (just after he’d got his feathery wings back). By the time I picked up comics again seriously in 2005, a lot had changed, and it was hard to catch up.
This is the third Uncanny X-Men #1. Well, the second technically, as the first volume of Uncanny X-Men began life in 1963 as simply The X-Men. In 2011 the series was relaunched with Kieron Gillen at the helm, and now Brian Michael Bendis takes the wheel for volume 3, spinning out of the first arc of All-New X-Men. I started following the X-Men seriously again with “Second Coming”, so I’ve become heavily invested in the character journey that has led to the situation we have now: former “Golden Boy” Cyclops as the figurehead of a revolution, leading a team of outlaws.
Back when Marvel first started licensing out their superhero properties, there was an editorial mandate that the stories should only ever contain the “illusion of change”, but never stray too far from the status quo. Now it seems like things are being shaken up every week. In truth, it’s all part of a larger cycle, in which the narrative keeps coming back to the same starting point despite taking huge detours along the way. We’re seeing just that over in Superior Spider-Man. The destination is not the interesting part about comic book storytelling (or arguably storytelling of any kind), as it’s always going to hit the same familiar beats, but the journey itself. Look at the journey that Cyclops has been on over the last 15 or so years, since further back even then Grant Morrison’s groundbreaking New X-Men run. He’s turned from leader of the X-Men, to leader of the dying mutant race, to helping to bring about its rebirth, to leader of a revolution. It’s impressive development for what I once felt was such a bland character, and it has me hooked.
Bendis weaves a compelling plot here, and he’s setting the stage for an exciting tale. We get a nice chunk of action to distract from his trademark
verbosity, and some compelling drama with the revelation that one of the outlaw X-Men is a S.H.I.E.L.D. mole. However, as has been the issue with Bendis taking over the X-Men, it feels like he doesn’t have the feel of the characters down just yet. Emma Frost and Magik particularly still don’t feel quite consistent with how they’ve been written by other writers more recently. However, it’s not as glaring as it was in All-New X-Men, so it bothers me much less. I suppose one could also explain it away as an additional effect of the Phoenix force possessing them, in addition to altering their powers. The altered powers have finally locked into a sort of consistency here. Cyclops is trying desperately to regain control of his optic blasts, every time he uses them becoming a sort of Russian roulette. Magneto’s powers have been explained as being much diminished, with him no longer able to exert the tremendous force he once did.
90s X-book mainstay Chris Bachalo jumps headfirst into art duties. His style remains as exaggerated and impressionistic as ever, and no doubt those who like it will continue to do so, and the inverse will remain true of his detractors. However, as a fan of Bachalo, although I love his line work I think he needs a colourist to rein in his frenzied motion and elastic figures. Brighter and more varied tones, such as Edgar Delgado brought to Humberto Ramos’ pencils the last arc of Amazing Spider-Man, would help the art pop more than the muted, almost pastel shades that Bachalo layers over his own renderings. A team of three (yes, three) inkers keeps everything from getting too muddy. However, flaws aside, there are some breathtaking images here. The action is intense, and has a pleasing rubbery quality that gives the characters a weight that feels right for people, a flesh and blood roundness.
As he did with All-New X-Men, Bendis has approached the X-men corner of the Marvel Universe with a fresh approach, continuing years of development and plugging into the soap opera feel that made the years of Chris Claremont so compelling. X-Men books are at their best when they’re less about superheroics then they are about people. And if there’s one thing Bendis writes, it’s people. Maybe not the same as everyone else does, but compelling nonetheless.