Today, Patrick and Ethan are discussing Uncanny X-Men 8, originally released June 10th, 2013.
Are there demons? Please no Dormammu please no Dormammu please no Dormammu… Oh, thank God.
-Fabio “Gold Balls” Medina
Patrick: Scott Summers and the
New Uncanny X-Men have spent the last three issues stuck in purgatory. I’m being literal, but what the hell – it’s a metaphor too. The fall-out from the Avengers’ battle with the X-Men has left the mutant leadership in ruins, their superpowers in shambles, and even fractured our heroes’ goals. Illyana Rasputina Conquers Purgatory featured some fantastic art; Frazier Irving rendered Dante-level hellscapes marvelously, but the story had started to spiral around obscure minutae of the Marvel world, all personified by Dormammu. Fabio starts the issue basically praying to be done with Dormammu – when he opens his eyes to see a familiar sight, home, his relief is our relief. The X-Men are back where they belong.
Other than a return to the kind of themes and stories that are quintessentially X-men, not much happens in this issue. Scott and Emma drop Fabio off at home, where he’s initially embraced, then pushed away because he’s different. Unfortunately, this causes him to lash out with his goofy mutant power of willing golden balls into existence. Fortunately / maybe-still-unfortunately, Alison Blaire, aka Dazzler, (a mutant now working with S.H.I.E.L.D.) shows up just in time to calm everyone down and coax Scott Summers’ location out of Fabio. Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, we catch back up with the car-controlling mutant, David, and his girlfriend Karen, both of whom we met in what seemed to be a non sequitur in issue 6. He’s just trying to peacefully demonstrate/test his abilities when the police arrive on the scene and draw their weapons. And then they shoot him.
Let’s throw the breaks on the recap for a second, because this one is big. David’s not doing anything wrong necessarily, but cops shoot him because he seems capable of doing something wrong. Apparently, they’ve had problems with mutants before and just didn’t want to risk putting themselves in danger this time, so they went straight to lethal force. This is an all too common reality for young black guys, and with George Zimmerman having just been acquitted for the murder of Trayvon Martin, it’s hard not to let those real life current events paint this scene as particularly ugly. Mutation has always been a stand-in for every kind of “otherness” you can imagine: race, sexual orientation, religion, etc., but this incident seems to point to the very specific racial/economic rift that causes this kind of rampant suspicion, and unnecessary violence, that we see all the time. It might be presumptuous of me to draw connections to Trayvon Martin, but can you blame me? Even with the details askew (it’s a cop instead of a neighborhood watch guy, David appears to be Latino and not black), the framework and sentiment behind this scene is frighteningly evocative of that night. It’s a small detail, but David is wearing a hoody during this sequence, a symbol which has been inextricably linked Zimmerman profiling Martin.
Comics are much more forgiving than real-life, so Magik and the Stepford Sisters appear on the scene and spirit David away to the New Xavier School, where Triage gets to work un-killing him. Outside, Magneto and Cyclops talk through their differences and decide to refocus their energies on re-training each other.
I’m happy to see the series has — however temporarily — unburdened itself with Magik’s baggage. It’s back to running classic plays from the X-Men canon: a young mutant returned home to be ostracized by his family, mutants as allegories minorities and some old-fashioned struggling to (re)learn how to use their powers. And yet, there is the elephant in the room – didn’t we see Magik travel back in time to seek the sage advice of Doctor Strange? She appears to be back in the present and has most of her shit together – anyone have any insight into what the hell happened there?
In other return to series-normalcy, Chris Bachalo is back on art duties, and there’s something that he does that I don’t think I’ve noticed other artists doing. Bachalo will draw panels that appear to be cut off on the ends, making the panels on the edge of the page appear to be missing important pieces of information. You can see it in the shooting scene posted above: where’s the rest of the cop’s face? Why don’t we see David’s head? But it’s not like he’s suffering from a lack of page real estate: there are often very heavy white lines between panels so large that they basically constitute empty space in the book. Sometimes this just extends the gutters, but occasionally, there’s a big white bar in the middle of the page.
With one strange exception, Bachalo also only employs perfectly rectangular panels. It almost makes the whole thing read like a scrapbook, compiled from uniform snapshots of these events. There is also no voiceover in this issue, which only increases the vaguely voyeuristic nature of reading this issue: we’re watching these events unfold, and not being told a story. This is especially interesting when you consider that the previous issue was a story explicitly told from one character to another.
Ethan, do you see this issue as something more than a statement of intention to return to form? And how about that shooting? Pretty loaded plot point, huh?
Ethan: You definitely beat me to the punch on the tie-in to current events. It’s funny, but when I first read this issue, I didn’t make the connection; now after weeks of reporting on the trial, it’s hard not to draw that parallel. I think you covered the comparison, so I won’t take much more time on it, but I do want to play devil’s advocate for a moment (because we are, of course, a fair-and-balanced comics blog) and look at the situation from the law enforcement perspective.
Think of a more conventional confrontation: if you’re enough of any idiot to somehow find yourself holding something as rudimentary as a knife while in the presence of the police, you are one twitch away from being fatally shot. And to be fair, there are perfectly good reasons for that – it’s the job of the police to jump into the situations that everyone else is running away from in order to keep everyone else safe. So when you’re facing a potentially lethal threat, you aim for center of mass if things go south. Now, this isn’t a commentary at all on the recent court case, rather it’s a look at why the cops in this issue aren’t necessarily evil for shooting David. In their world, people are manifesting scary-powerful abilities that allow them to harm others with a ferociously superhuman capacity. So when someone is identified as a mutant, say, by taking remote control of a ton-and-a-half of cop-car and throwing it around like a little RC kit, one can perhaps empathize a bit with the impulse to use extreme force.
Enough of that though. I thought the parking lot scene was a timely talking point, but most of my attention was focused on the wonderful dialogue and the heart-to-heart between Scott and Erik. Patrick, you mentioned that this is basically a return to form, and I won’t disagree. Even more than just getting back to the main story, I think Bendis really started to let loose this time around. As Magick’s arc showed, he’s been putting a lot of energy into making sure we have some inkling of all of the main characters’ backstories and in establishing a core cast. Early in this volume, I didn’t really have an opinion on the Stepford triplets, but since then we’ve gotten to see a few different sides to their personalities. Their tiff in this issue was a fun glimpse into their less-than-perfect attunement to each other.
Exhibit B of Bendis’s comedic streak coming to the fore is this little exchange:
Great question, Guy With The Feathery Wings, why on earth would someone seeing you upon waking think that they’re in heaven. What did you say your name was, again? Thanks, Angel. Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like Bendis is doing the literary equivalent of stretching after a nap – he’s got the pieces in place, we’re back from our field trip to hell – we’re in a good place to start playing with the variables to find a great story.
I’ve always liked Bendis’s pacing on humor and dialogue, but I also appreciated the more serious conversation between Cyclops and Magneto in this issue. Magneto’s spot on the roster is always awkward. When he’s not playing with Wolverine’s skeleton like a rag doll or twisting big chunks of metal into pointy, dangerous pieces of modern art, he has been known to collaborate with the good guys here and there over the years.The most poignant phase of this was actually at the beginning – his time with Xavier, back in the days before the men found their opposing philosophies on how to usher in the mutant era. Standing in the snow with Scott, Magneto points out that everything he’s done has been done with mutants in mind. Supervillain or no, mutants come first for him.
Regardless of their differences, Charles meant quite a bit to Erik; the telepath was a kind of lighthouse for him. While Erik — master of a physical force — gathered blunt tools around himself, Charles was always trying to find the higher path out of the inevitable confrontation between man and mutant. Professor X was an enemy on the field, but a friend in the ways that mattered. And Scott Summers is the man who killed him.
Their goals are aligned — now more than ever — but there’s still this delicious undercurrent of tension between them. This could be played out ad nauseam, but I’m glad Bendis addressed the issue now in a straightforward way. With Magneto “on the team,” no one else can really claim to be completely calling the shots. Scott was always unconvincing as the leader of a TEAM while Magneto was the unquestioned dictator of a MOVEMENT; if Scott is going to steer this thing, he’s going to need to earn some measure of respect from his elders (if not his betters).
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