Patrick: The X-Men are the perpetual outsiders. They’re different — that’s their whole shtick. Sometimes the X-Men don’t even get along with the X-Men. With Uncanny X-Men, Brian Michael Bendis doubles down on this outsiderness, pitting Cyclops’ band of merry mutants against every one — the government, the Avengers, the rest of the X-Men. It’s the rumblings of a truly unnerving mutant revolution.
In the fallout of Avengers vs. X-Men, Scott Summers has teamed up with a bunch of the more nefarious mutants to gather new mutants and spark a fresh mutant rebellion. But the reshuffling of alliances isn’t the only thing effected by last summer’s brawl between superhero teams — mutant powers are in flux, meaning that even former masters like Magneto and Emma Frost don’t have a grasp on their abilities. Following the only model he knows, Scott gathers these experienced mutants to teach the younger mutants how to use their powers. Their base of operations is the old Weapon X facility, converted into the swanky New Charles Xavier’s School for Mutants. The US government isn’t taking any of this lying down — they’re using information (provided by Magneto… more on this in a second) to send everything they’ve got after the X-Men. So while that means 100-foot tall robotic sentinels, it also means the motherfucking Avengers. Kind of alarmingly, the mutants don’t have much of a problem dealing with either of these threats.
I want to tackle Magneto’s semi-betrayal first, because I think the relationship between Cyclops and Magneto is fascinating, even if it mostly plays out in the subtext of the first three issues. Magneto’s been feeding S.H.I.E.L.D. information about Summers’ mutants in an attempt to gain favor with the government. Y’see, Erik’s perceptive: the fact that the brass is ready to commit resources like Sentinels and Hulks to the mutant problem is a sign that the X-Men might need to be smarter about this conflict. Erik’s been the face of the violent mutant revolution before, but he’s taking a much less public role this time around. In fact, it’s sort of impressive how well-branded the X-Men are — Scott’s face is emblazoned across protest signs like he’s Che Guevara.
When Magneto reveals that he’s been passing information to S.H.I.E.L.D he simultaneously challenges Scott’s authority and undermines the utility of that authority by saying “You keep referring to yourself as our leader, but I don’t remember voting.” It’s fascinating that Magneto’s credibility in this situation is essentially bulletproof: who in their right mind would ever suggest that he’s actually working against mutants. But he also doesn’t have to be poster boy for the movement. Scott Summers is a charismatic and passionate leader, which is something the X-Men baddies have never had before.
Actually, that’s interesting too. By most accounts, this series is following the bad guys. Emma Frost, Magick, Magneto — bad guys. And then — as if to solidify this point — Bendis has the Avengers confront our heroes. Not the cops, not some misguided FBI agents or whatever, but the noble and infallible Avengers. I realize some of the conflict between these groups is left over from AvX, but it’s clear that the Avengers aren’t just running around harassing All The Mutants. Bendis and artist Chris Bachalo seem to understand and utilize the simple graphic conflict between these two groups to stupidly great effect. I read the confrontation between Avengers and X-Men like five times before I realized that the leaders of these two groups wear their respective monograms right on their foreheads.
Artist Chris Bachalo seems like sort of a odd fit for this series — particularly with Bendis’ signature pacing. Bachalo has the almost thankless chore of drawing some of the most crowded scenes I’ve ever seen — particularly in issue 3. But even if a scene isn’t particularly well populated, Bendis’ conversation-only scene writing style dictates that most pages are chock-full of talking heads. Maybe I haven’t been fully appreciative of the artist that have been able to take these multiple-page conversations and present them clearly, and in narratively compelling ways. Bachalo’s more jagged line work is too kinetic to be relegated to so much talky-talk. Some of the fidelity of his draws starts to slip away during these staler scenes — as though Bachalo is (understandably) bored.
Bachalo is great at the more cinematic moments. The Avengers show up and a mutant STOPS TIME so they can escape? Awesome, exciting, and exactly the energy the story needs at that moment. Or in issue 2, as Emma copes with her shifting power set. It’s an abstract moment of conflict, but Bachalo gives us a static image of Emma’s head, broken up by panels, some of them frustratingly blocked out. It’s a clean and beautiful way to show that she is a broken mutant, struggling with something she can’t control and doesn’t really understand. There’s still a lot of text crammed in here, but the art is arresting — and that carries the moment.
We’ve been talking about All-New X-Men for quite a while, but this is the first time we’re talking about the sister book. It seems quite a bit darker but every bit as focused on how the past defines these characters. It also seems like there might be more promise for newness here through – look at that handful of new mutants we’ve been introduced to so far. Bendis has yet to really delve into these characters, even going to far as to have Scott brush off the novelty of their experience. Cyclops almost berates the newbies for not immediately jumping at the opportunity to live and train in the arctic wilds of Canada.
I’ve never really read this coming-to-mutant-school-for-the-first-time story, so I feel a little like the new recruits. Ethan, you’re a long-time X-Men fan, correct? Do you feel a little bit like Scott here in saying “yeah, you’re a mutant in training — FUCKING DEAL WITH IT?” Or do you wish we could spend a little time getting to know these kids?
Ethan: I am guilty of being a big X-Men fan for a long while. I don’t know why the X-Men were and are so fascinating to me; I think you hit on one major spot right off the bat — they’ve been a bunch of outsiders from day one, but they wear it with style. Superman is an alien a bajillion miles from his home planet, and Peter Parker always got shut into his own locker as a more familiar kind of high-school pariah, but the X-Men found a different kind of sweet spot. Maybe it’s because the concept of flipping from human in one moment into mutant in the next serves as an amplification of the mundane transition to puberty, or maybe because the X-Men are always fighting their freak-show label to look out for the people who are pointing and laughing at them. Whatever it is, the formula works.
As much as I enjoy the core idea, Bendis and Bachalo do a great job at carrying it forward. Specifically, they bring a really fun brand of playfulness to a franchise that has spent plenty of its time being broody. I laughed out loud at an exchange between two of the newbies — they’re dealing with the question of what it means to be a sudden exile from society, and in the midst of sharing their different feelings about it, we get a glimpse into how superhero code names are born:
I honestly don’t know if Bendis is actually going to run with the name “Goldball,” but 1) it would be FAR from the silliest code name in comics, and 2) oh man it is perfect. That moment of banter is a wonderfully written, authentic-feeling example of how real nicknames come to be, and I like seeing the otherwise relatively flat new characers starting to interact with each other like a family, or at least friends.
Bachalo’s style itself is something different, as Patrick mentioned, and it nicely supports Bendis’s verbal banter by presenting individuals of extreme, superhuman ability as rather cartoonish. The first true comic tableau — the scene where, for the first time, the main characters all get to strike a pose like someone’s taking a picture for a fashion magazine — actually struck me as a bit goofy:
Because, honestly, Scott is wearing a… hoodie-footie? Magick clearly reached right into Final Fantasy VII and jacked Cloud’s Buster Sword. And Emma Frost — well, I guess she continues a proud tradition of wearing an outfit that sort of acts like clothes but ends up being a haute couture swimsuit in truth, but in this shot it comes off as even more paint-on than usual due to her complete lack of pigment. When I first saw this shot, I was worried that the visual style was going to distract or take away from the series, but over the first three issues I think Bachalo has made it work, in ways like the creative panel structures that Patrick mentioned and in the fact that since Bendis has injected a bit of Spidey’s wit into everyone’s dialogue, an aesthetic that doesn’t take itself too seriously makes for a more natural pairing.
Once you’ve gotten used to the new look and feel, the arc of this volume demonstrates that the creators aren’t just here to be silly. The mission is clear — find the new mutants before the authorities do, whisk them off to the new HQ, and train them up to be the new voice of and shield for mutants everywhere. Taken on his own, I don’t find Scott to be that great of a leader or recruiter; his interactions with the rescuees frankly comes across more like a guy leaning out the side of an unmarked van offering candy to the kids and then throwing them into his basement. Even when he’s trying to be a rebel, he’s as linear and predictable as the planes of eye-beams of red laser light that he’s so famous for. But when working through his complicated relationship with Emma and when dropped into the ever-jarring presence of Magneto, he starts to be less of a plot point and more of a person. Just as we’ve seen in All-New X-Men, Bendis seems determined to flesh out Scott as a character while staying true to Scott’s identity.
I think part of why it works is thanks to how Bendis isn’t afraid to use the dialogue to put Scott’s habit of oversimplifying everything directly under the microscope lens. When the kids are all musing about home and Eva issues a plain desire to go see her mother, Scott trots out flat, broken-record, team-leader script to try to dissuade her:
I love this new batch of characters especially for the reason shown here: the new X-Men haven’t known Scott more than a few days, but already they’re calling him on his bullshit. And just as much as the aftermath of the Phoenix Fiasco or the death/murder of Professor X, it’s this fresh perspective and willfulness of his new teammates that is forcing him to change. Surrounded by people who aren’t conditioned by years of his leadership, he has to adapt, or else risk losing his soldiers before they’ve even started to fight his new war.
Finally, because Uncanny X-Men is taking on the challenge of putting it’s own spin on the old X-Trope of creating a team by randomly snapping people up from across the globe as their powers start to manifest, I can’t help but think of all of the ways in which Xavier’s absence is felt. There is no calm, authoritative visionary to define them as a group; Magneto certainly has the age and experience to fit those shoes, but his soul is exactly wrong for the task. Xavier was a staid, defining morality unto himself: the man had truly awesome telepathic powers, but almost never pointed them directly at another person — he was too busy using them to find and foster the next generation. By contrast, Erik embraces duplicity from issue #1 and continues to treat his powers — albeit weakened ones — as a weapon with which to strike his enemies instead of as a tool with which to build a future. I think this series is going to be a blast, but I have a feeling that the echoes of the late Professor will continue to be heard well down the road.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?