All-New X-Men 13 / Uncanny X-Men 7

uncanny x-men 7 all new x-men 13

Today,  Patrick and Drew are discussing All-New X-Men 13 and Uncanny X-Men 7, originally released June 26th, 2013.

Patrick: There’s a character in Final Fantasy VI named Terra. You’d be hard pressed to call her the main character, but it’s Terra’s struggle to understand and control herself that  propels the story and motivates just about every other character in the game. Terra has untold power because she is the result of a marriage between a human and a magical creature known as an Esper. As the humans wage outright war on the Espers, her magic side gets harder and harder to control. This is a weirdly recurring character in science fiction and fantasy: the woman of immense power, who proves to be a danger to herself and others, and who must be made less powerful. Enter: Jean Grey and Illyana Rasputin.

The All-New X-Men, convinced that Mystique is responsible for making it look like the recent spate of bank robberies was perpetrated by the original X-Men, set to tracking the tiny band of evil mutants. They arrive just in time to interrupt Mystique’s bid to purchase Hydra’s island Madripoor for “a giant pile of money.” In the ensuing fight, Mastermind plays a little too hardball with Jean Grey, who terrifyingly unleashes the Phoenix. Over in Uncanny X-Men, Magik relays her team’s encounter with Dormammu to Doctor Strange. It seems that Illyana was able to expel everyone from Limbo by taking Limbo into herself. But now, with all that Limbo inside of her, she can’t understand or control her powers. Ready for the twist? She’s traveled back-in-time to visit a younger version of Doctor Strange (because we didn’t declare No More Time Travel like two weeks ago?).

Both of these issues take Brian Michael Bendis’ characteristically relaxed pace — taking the time to spread scenes out over multiple, meandering pages. In All-New X-Men, this takes the form of a handful of side-conversations: everyone discusses mutant identity on the plane, Wolverine elaborates on his relationship with Sabertooth while picking up his scent, and so on. Bendis is always working to project the personalities of these characters — in fact it seems like a larger priority to him than resolving any of the issues they’re encountering. It means that Wolverine picking up Sabertooth’s scent is a 3-page excursion — even though Logan seems to pick up the information he needs immediately. But it’s hard to fault Bendis when he’s expressing these well-rounded characters so efficiently. My favorite example occurs when Wolverine gets the idea to use Jean’s powers to disguise them while they search for clues.

Wolverine, Kitty Pryde, Jean Grey and Iceman have voices

In four words, Bendis shows Wolverine’s patience with Jean’s limitations and somehow throws in a dismissive little attitude toward Kitty Pryde. And all that while asking Pryde for help. Kitty, meanwhile, is straight to business, taking a moment out to stick up for herself without being confrontational about it. And the eager-to-please Bobby makes a joke about the utility of his powers in this situation (even funnier when you consider that he actually does end up using his powers to keep them obscured).

Uncanny X-Men 7 doesn’t have nearly this same devotion to character exploration. By virtue of the fact that 90% of this issue is told from Illyana’s perspective, not many other characters get a chance to assert themselves, either in terms of powers or personality. Sure, there’s some eye-blasting and some healing and even a few panels filled with gold balls, but the point of this story isn’t the characters. It’s the world-changing plot points: Magik absorbs Limbo and travels back in time. Bendis is so disinterested in character work here, that we don’t get any inkling as to why she’d travel through time to find Strange — especially considering he is alive and well in the present.

I suppose it also makes it trickier to craft an interesting, relateable character when her problems all center around demons and magical dimensions. Rather than setting OE Cyclops’ team’s battle in Limbo as a conversation between friends, Illyana and Strange are strangers. Their connection isn’t personal, it’s in their shared relationship to magical bullshit.

Which isn’t to say that All-New is a better issue than Uncanny. Fraizer Irving’s art makes Uncanny a much more design-oriented book. Actually, it’s interesting to note that Irving is the only credited artist on the issue, meaning that he’s creating these complete visual experiences which are bold and graphic. Check out his use of color in this panel, and how that crazy-simple Cyclops design makes the scene dynamic as hell.

Cyclops, Angel and the Uncanny X-Men

It is interesting how much both of these issues are driven by women who don’t understand their powers. You could excuse the gendered nature of that observation by pointing to Phoenix’s history and to the fact that no one in Uncanny seems to have control over their powers. But both series find the strength of strong female characters to be a problem. I’m a little encouraged that Illyana seeks to understand her power and not just to shut it down, or get it out of her. It may just be the difference between their support structures, but Jean seems like a much bigger victim to her powers than Illyana is. I also think it’s worth pointing out that both of these characters get two-page spreads demonstrating how terrifying their power is — Jean is all light and fire and Illyana is all darkness and nothing.

Illyana Rasputin, master of Limbo and Jean Grey, Phoenix

It’s also telling that the spread in Uncanny includes no other characters — even Illyana is hard to make out on the right side of the page. All-New, on the other hand, makes sure to show us all the bad guys Jean’s taken down and Logan and Scott reacting to her display of power. Those are the series’ priorities, right there.

So Drew, I think we’ve always sort of preferred All-New X-Men, but writing about them together makes me realize that it may be designed to be the more readily enjoyed series. Uncanny X-Men leans less on our emotional attachment to the characters and wades out into the deep end of design and Marvel nonsense. In that way, it’s a much more daring book. How much critical capital do we grant for that daringness? Also, Goldball’s totally making the smart choice in heading home, right?
Drew: Leaving aside any moral danger, Goldball’s decision to leave is justifiable on the grounds that everyone has been calling him Goldball. Nobody needs that.

It seems to me that the X-Men have long been the slave to two masters: fans love meeting new mutants in the ever-sprawling cast list BUT they also love focusing on their favorite characters. Those objectives are basically at cross-purposes, which can make them difficult to manage, but Bendis basically separates them here. I was struck at how fan-service-y All-New felt in this issue (the classic X-Men minus angel plus Wolverine and Kitty Pryde). Maybe it’s just because I happen to like all of these characters (and have yet to really warm up to Warren), but this feels like the fan dream team this title was designed to make reality.

Uncanny, on the other hand, seems entirely disinterested in old favorites — sure, it features Scott Summers, but he’s barely recognizable (working with Magneto and all), but recent issues have found him as a supporting player. This issue focuses entirely on Illyana, and Bendis can’t help but acknowledge that she isn’t exactly an A-list character.

You must be new...

After the first few issues, I was ready to write Uncanny off as a weird catchall — kind of the footnotes to what is going on in All-New — but that was a gross simplification. This issue demonstrates as strong of a character focus as any issue of All-New — it just happens to feature characters I don’t know as well. I was surprised at how sad I got at the thought of Goldball leaving. I may not know his name, but I’ll sure as hell miss the nearly-ubiquitous panicked “Poink!”ing from this issue’s fight scene. He’s certainly a far cry from being a beloved character, but Bendis knows how to goose his exit for maximum effect.

Initially, I thought these two series were building towards some kind of immediate conflict, but between all of the character exits, side-missions, and slow loss of urgency regarding that central conflict, it seems like these might just be the way these titles will go. Next issue of Uncanny will focus on convincing Goldball to stay while All-New will find the team dealing with Jean’s apparent Phoenix outburst here (though I’m not entirely convinced that this isn’t just some Mastermind trickery). More importantly, Uncanny will focus on getting to know a new character, while All-New will revel in it’s signature greatest-hits fan service.

Actually, Bendis might have gotten too cute with the winking at fans in this issue of All-New — he gives all of the characters a chance to react to Alex Summers’ controversial “M-word” speech from Uncanny Avengers 5, but basically just transcribes the internet’s reaction:

Phrasing!

It’s obvious that Bendis simply wanted to acknowledge what’s going on in Uncanny Avengers beyond their recent cameo — the entire speech is actually included at the end of the issue — but this passage seems comfortable supporting those negative reactions. I’m sure this was intended as gentle ribbing, but it’s hard to not see this as kind of a low blow, given how much flak Remender caught for that speech.

I must say, I’m surprised to see time-travel featured in Uncanny — that series has always been about moving forward, while All-New has (counter-intuitively) always been about the past — but I’m curious to see where it goes. I’m particularly interested to think that there might be an older version of Illyana in the modern day who already has the entirety of Limbo inside of her, and that she is somehow absorbed when Illyana does her thing, in a kind of Limbo-feedback loop. I guess we’ll have to see about that, though I’m excited to finally be done with Dormammu. Also, the Phoenix force may be back? Bendis knows just how to bring us back for the next issue.

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?

4 comments on “All-New X-Men 13 / Uncanny X-Men 7

  1. I love how various writers show the debate over Alex’s “m-word” speech, and how it mirrors both the same debate that comics fans are having about it, and also similar debates about language in real-life minority communities.

    Also, Magik traveled back in time to seek help from Dr. Strange because in the present, she and the rest of Cyclops’ X-Men (except the new ones) are war criminals post-AvX. Best-case scenario, Dr. Strange visits her in prison to help her and she’s otherwise interrogated nonstop about Cyclops’ location and plans.

    • I like the M-word speech. It’s just loaded enough to make any reader draw their own conclusions about what it says about Havok, about Remender, about the X-men, about comics in general.

  2. I guess I missed the M Word speech.

    I don’t read All New X-Men. Didn’t like the first couple issues and I’m reading plenty of comics anyway. I have been indifferent to Uncanny, but I really like Fraser Irving when he’s doing mystical crap and I personally thought this was the best issue so far. I’m really excited about where this is going.

    I’m a bit of a weird X-reader. I didn’t like All-New, I didn’t particularly care for the first issue of Adjectiveless X-Men, but I really, really like Legacy and Wolverine & the X-Men, and now am getting into this. I think I like the side characters better these days. I want to see how this turns out. I want to see what happens with a new X-School considering Wolverine has one and the Hellfire Club has one (kind of).

    This was fun. Although it’s been a while since I read issue 6 and I had no idea who the kid that almost died was.

  3. I meant to mention this in the writeup, but that faint outline of Illyana is even harder to make out in the print version. A lovely effect.

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