Uncanny X-Men 5

uncanny x-men 5

Today, Ethan and Patrick are discussing Uncanny X-Men 5, originally released April 24th 2013.

Ethan: Each of us has at least two definitions of self – the one we show to the world, and the one we identify as our true self. The external definition — the mask — is usually a tool we use to fit in. Perhaps your mask is funnier than you believe the “real” you truly is, or more confident, or more flippant, or more compassionate. Some of us may present a version of ourselves that is not too different than the one we believe to be true; others of us may show a face that’s more dramatically different than our internal, hidden one. Whatever the distance between the public and private self, whatever qualities you infuse into this living theater of personality, you — and only you — can fully plumb the difference. That is of course, assuming that you know who the “true” you is. In Uncanny X-Men #5, Brian Michael Bendis begins to peel back the figurative and literal masks worn by Magik, reminding us of her past and exploring the present condition of the rebel mutants.

As this issue begins, everyone’s got a problem. S.H.I.E.L.D. has a problem: Cyclops and his band of revolutionary X-Men have stopped the Avengers cold in a direct confrontation in Australia. Cyclops has a problem: one of his core teammates, Magik, is clearly in pain and acting erratically. Magik has a problem: she’s been pulled into the mystical realm of Limbo against her will – the realm where she was once held captive many years ago, before her time with the X-Men. Her assailant turns out to be the arch-demon Dormammu. They clash, and Dormammu sends her sprawling. The demon accuses her of neglecting the Limbo dimension, saying that when the Phoenix Force broke her powers, Limbo began to unravel. Dormammu begins to torture Magik, inadvertantly awakening her aler ego, the Darkchilde. Magik sprouts the signature horns and cloven feet of her Darkchilde persona and routs Dormammu and his minions before returning to her normal self. She finds her way back to the “real world” dimension shaken and uncertain. Before Cyclops can take her to see Dr. Strange to diagnose her condition, she begins to involuntarily revert back to her Darkchilde persona and the entire group — veteran and new mutants alike — are pulled into Limbo.

Illyana Rasputina (Magik) is not the only character in the bunch that leans heavily on the mask she chooses to show to others, but hers is the one more central to this issue. First, though, a bit of recap for anyone less familiar with Magik. In the preceding issues, her trademarks are pretty clear: teleportation, a giant glowing sword, and more generally the ability to use magic (though her mutant name makes that last one a bit of a freebie). Like everyone else, she had a typically rough childhood – born into the ordered dysfunction of the Soviet Union, passed over by the X-Men before her mutant powers had manifested, kidnapped by a bad sorceror named Belasco into the Limbo dimension – you know, the stuff we all had to go through growing up. So anyway, Belasco tried to corrupt her soul in order to create a five magical items called bloodstones. Bloodstones are not something you use to found an orphanage or solve world hunger; they’re a bit better suited to summoning ancient, evil deities. Magik took umbrage with this plan, manifested her soul as a pool of power outside of her body, and created the Soulsword (the big glowing sword) which she used to fight back.

Along the way, a lot of other rotten stuff happened, including the creation of her devilish Darkchilde personality. And here I have to really hand it to artist Frazer Irving; in the past, Darkchilde tends to be drawn as Magik + horns + hooves + Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition, which was kind of disappointing. Now, though… now Darkchilde gets a hell of a makeover.

Uncanny5_darkchilde

I am a big fan of Irving’s embrace of texture and motion – everything from the way Darkchilde’s sword combusts the air as it moves through it, to the gritty/grainy lens effect, to the distinct x-ray effect of always being able to see those bared teeth. This new vision of the split in Illyana’s identity is especially marked as we see her fading back to her normal self:

Uncanny5_transition

Where Magik has a mile of elfin, blonde hair that hangs straight, Darkchilde has a torrent of red whipping around her head. Where Magik’s high collar is open in the front, Darkchilde’s is closed by a ring of outward pointing spikes. I love seeing this transition for the ways it parallels Magik’s character. When she’s in control, she looks in control – you don’t mess with a dominatrix Valkyrie who swings around a greatsword like it weighed nothing. As she confesses, though, while the Darkchilde occupies the same physical real estate as she does, that persona is well beyond the tidy sphere of control she cultivates. When she is Darkchilde, her dominant personality is on the sideline: “I was outside myself. It was like watching a movie.” For Magik, keeping the mask on is more than just looking tough, it’s about retaining agency over her actions.

This concept is a popular one, and gets me every time. In his personal future (our past), Young Angel — who’s now even on the SAME TEAM as Magik — keeps his apocalyptic Archangel self on hold in order to be a superhero. All of these people have awesome power lurking right below their skin, and they choose to suppress it in order to do good. There’s some irony in Magik’s presence in the context of a team led by the post-Phoenix-Force Cyclops – Scott has tried the nice-guy route and is now embracing a little loss of control in the service of a greater good. Young Angel hasn’t been through his own hell yet, but Magik might be able to teach Scott a thing or two about what it means to really ride the whirlwind.

Patrick! How did you like the continued alternate point of view storytelling we got in this issue? What did you think about Dormammu? Given that he’s the entity that Dr. Strange deems to be his arch-nemesis and a threat to the entire universe, Sunny-D looks a lot like a big ‘ol egg on fire, amiright?

Patrick: I’m still pretty new to the world of Marvel comics (so, thanks for the recaps Ethan) and as a result, there are a bunch of characters that I only know from their appearances in other media. Dormammu is a pretty rock and roll example of this, as I’ve only known him to be the hilariously flame-headed evil magician from Marvel vs. Capcom 3. In that context, he’s a fighting game character, occupying the same rarefied air as Akuma or the cast of Darkstalkers, so I never put much thought into what he actually is – and I never considered him remotely frightening. However, seeing his towering visage lighting the dark corners of Limbo has basically reversed my read on the character. By tapping into Illyana’s connection to the realm, Dormammu stops representing an evil as generic as his fighting-game appearances would let on. Also, Ethan, I love all of your points about the Darkchilde design, but I was immediately struck by how her hair and spikey outfit actually makes her look an awful lot like Dormy himself. (Do fans call him that? Did I just start something?) Seriously, between the Dormammu-features and that Cloud-esque sword, I’m sort of powerless against this design.

Cloud plus Dormammu equals Darkchilde

I’m always happy to write about the X-Men with Ethan, but I’m particularly happy to do so when we’re on the subject of Uncanny X-Men. For as much as this thing has in common with its sister series, All-New X-Men, this book deals more prominently with the deeper cuts of the X-Men Universe. The cost of entry for reading All-New is pretty nominal – you can get by with having seen a few X-Men cartoons and movies. But the building blocks of this world are immediately more challenging, both in terms of name recognition and in terms of moral ambiguity. Here’s a perfect example of how the moral scope slides to meet the scope of the mythology:

the Stepford Sisters wipe a memory

Last time we saw psychic behavior like this, Jean Grey was forcibly changing Angel’s mind, and everybody FLIPPED THE FUCK OUT. Here, we get the much much weirder sight of the Stepford Sisters (who themselves are sorta-clones of Emma Frost) using their frighteningly powerful psychic powers to make a brand new mutant forget his name as punishment for hitting on them. The totally fucked up think is that everyone else knows it’s going to happen and no one does anything about it. Because the aggressors aren’t Jean Grey and the victim isn’t Angel, we don’t have any context for how to feel about this abuse of power. Certainly, what they’re doing is wrong… right?

As a weird little side note, I had also forgotten that new mutant’s name, so there was a split second where I felt like the Sisters had used their powers on me. And that’s just rude. It’s “Triage,” by the way – he’s a healer.

Those panels I just posted above demonstrate another quirk of this issue – when not in Limbo, there are an awful lot of talking heads. Irving makes a point of framing most of these panels with the heads of other characters, with the central focus of the panel as another character’s face. What’s more is that like 90% of these faces are either straight on from the front or the back  – basically no one is shown in profile or at any more dynamic angle. The effect — especially at cranked up to the max near the end of the issue — is unsettling, perfectly channeling what is so unnerving about those creepy sisters.

I’m happy to have a closer look at Magik, and learn a little more about Limbo and Dormammu, if for no other reason than it helps to de-mystify the members of this team that aren’t Erik or Scott. There’s a lot of character ground to cover here before the all-out war between the mutants, and I’d hope the new mutants end up getting the same attention in the meantime. I mean, making Triage forget his name is kind of clever way to acknowledge that we’re not totally invested in these guys yet, but pointing out a problem is not the same as solving it.

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?

7 comments on “Uncanny X-Men 5

  1. I do wish we’d spend more time getting to know these new mutants. Part of the reason we aren’t outraged when the sisters invade Triage’s mind is that we don’t know the guy, so he just seems like a dick (and therefore deserves it).

    • I agree. If you were to ask me the names of the new mutants in the new Xavier School, I’d be hard-pressed to come up with more than one. I know there’s Aussie Chick (not her name), ‘Fro dude (totally not his name), and Gold Balls (which I’m fifty percent certain IS his “mutant name”).

      I feel that Bendis is busy building up the old standbys of Cyclops, Magneto, and Magik to help parallel the cast over in All-New X-Men, which, even as “new” students, basically consists of Cyclops, Jean Grey, and the other well-known mutants from the days of yore. Perhaps it is to give us familiar faces with which to identify by; perhaps these are the faces that just sell more copies when plastered on the covers?

      Either way, I know far more about Emma and the Cuckoos than I do about Aussie and ‘Fro; and I don’t exactly mind that, surprisingly. After all, thinking dirty thoughts about psychics in the very room that those same psychics are present is akin to kicking yourself in the balls — it’s a bad decision any way you slice it.

  2. 1) Patrick, thank you for including an image of the Buster Sword. I actually own a claymore, and Cloud’s Weapon of Choice STILL makes me jealous.
    2) Triage’s descent into bro-dom makes me sad. He started out as a halfway sympathetic character – the underappreciated cleric in the X-Men raid-team that is the new cadre (Tempus is… maybe a Paladin? Her time-freeze thing is definitely AoE). But come on – how did he transition from a self-deprecating guy (“I guess I can heal stuff”) to his current cookie-cutter misogynist? I was really hoping for more from Bendis on that count.

  3. I don’t think what the sisters do to Ethan is bad at all, nor do I think it’s comparable to what Jean does to Angel. Jean’s reaction to Angle (who doesn’t do anything wrong) is much more extreme than the sister’s reaction to Ethan (who is doing something wrong).

    Jean removes Angel’s free will over an ideological disagreement. The sisters are simply threatening someone who is sexually harassing them (with a harmless and temporary show of power).

  4. Pingback: All-New X-Men 11 | Retcon Punch

  5. Magik’s Darkchilde form, I’m getting the idea that maybe this isn’t her demonic form we’re used to seeing, but what if it’s a different demonic form and that her body and mind has become warped because of the power boost she’s received which she came to the conclusion it may not be Limbo’s power? I say this because her new demon form really does look like Dormammu’s.

    By the end of Zeb Wells’ run of New Mutants, it was strongly implied that Magik has become human again after reclaiming the pieces of her missing soul, but her mind is still broken.

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