Today, Taylor and Drew are discussing Uncanny X-Men 15.INH, originally released December 11th, 2013.
Taylor: The wonderful thing about monthly comics is that you get to spend a lot of time with the characters you love. When you think about it, these characters become part of your life for months and sometimes even years. The massive amount of space and time allotted to authors to bring these characters to life is full of potential and can pay off in unexpected ways. By not being constricted with set schedules and the need to develop a plot quickly, authors have the chance to tell us stories with characters that are as real as the people we meet in everyday life. In Uncanny X-Men 15.INH Brian Michael Bendis shows us the limitless possibility of character development in comics as well as some of its pitfalls. It’s a fascinating read — and fun to boot.
Being a mutant and in one of the X-Men cohorts ain’t easy. You have to save the world, a lot of people hate you, and most of the time you lead a life that is nothing close to ordinary. This takes a toll and sometimes they just have to have a normal day to feel alive again. This feeling has infected most of the ladies at the New Xavier School and so they decide to have a girls’ night out. They go shopping in London and as they are fleshing out some longstanding intrapersonal problems, a new inhuman has cropped up right next to them. They try to confront him but he gets worked up and blasts them with a mysterious power, rendering our heroines unconscious. A.I.M. shows up to collect the new inhuman, leaving everyone else confused and effectively ending what was some nice time off.
It’s safe to say at this point in its run Uncanny X-Men has established its characters pretty well. We know how frosty Emma Frost can be and we also know how volatile Illyana is. However, that doesn’t mean these characters can’t be refined, fleshed out, or generally made more interesting in some way. After all, a lot of time in Uncanny X-Men has been spent on adventures, so only so much space has been given to let us get to know these characters. In issue 15 the adventuring takes a back seat and the result is an issue that is more entertaining for its exploration of inter-character tension than any action can provide.
The tension between the characters is created by some long-standing storylines that have gone unaddressed for some time now. Chief among these is the animosity that exists between the Stepford Sisters and Jean Grey. There’s a simmering feud that’s existed between these two parties for awhile now and in the Battle of the Atom event the two even exchanged some psychic battle blows. It’s no wonder then that they have some unresolved issues.
Everyone has been in this situation before. When hanging out with a large group of people, it’s only natural that some people will dislike others — not everyone can be friends. Of course this is the X-Men we’re talking about, so their reasons for disliking each other have to do with time travel and other such things that normal humans seldom deal with. Regardless of the source, the tension between characters is fascinating because one of the hallmarks of the X-Men is that they function as a team. If they can’t, they basically cease to be the X-Men and then become free agent mutants, no longer organized or hero-like. Thus it’s important for them to get along and work together. If they can’t do that, then a huge part of their identity is lost.
Considering this, one would expect this tension within the team to dominate the issue. However, halfway through the issue Bendis turns our attention away from character strife and turns it towards some action and plot thickening. This comes at the hands of a new inhuman appearing right next to the restaurant our heroes are eating at.
You get the feeling that this appearance, which is awfully coincidental, is somewhat of a forced issue. Previously, this issue had been all about a girls’ night out and the development and possibly resolving of some character issues. Instead it lounges us into a action sequence that seems a little forced and half hearted. It makes you wonder if Bendis is being forced to pull some punches with this issue. While monthlies do indeed have the ability to develop characters, they also have to be entertaining each month to keep their audience interested. Perhaps Bendis feared losing the crowd should he forgo all action and focus on character only in this issue. If that’s the case, I feel like we’re all a little more poorly for it. I hope the strife between the lady X-Men is addressed in future issues as I think it’s one of the best parts of this series. Here’s hoping they don’t learn to like each other battle I suppose.
Drew, do you feel the same way? Most monthly issues need to strike a balance between action and character development, but is there a golden way to do that? Or do you not mind the turn this issue takes as much as I do? Also, the art is a little wonky at some points. Does everyone have the same face?
Drew: Hahaha. I’m right with you there on the faces, Taylor. Artist Kris Anka relies pretty heavily on clothes and hairstyle to differentiate the characters, which would be fine if every single character didn’t change their clothes and hairstyles halfway through the issue. Sure, half of the cast are clones of each other, but I’m not sure that excuses giving everyone else the same body type.
I appreciate that Emma is a couple inches taller than the rest of the group, but it’s kind of eerie how close everyone else is in height (and that goes for the heights of their shoulders, hips, and knees, too). You’d expect a group of eight women to have more than four inches of height variation between them.
Then again, artists tend to study and learn to draw an idealized body type so a bit of averaging is to be expected, and I ultimately think it’s commendable how Anka dresses these characters according to their personalities. Of course the cuckoos are wearing heels (in contrast to Eva and Jean’s practical flats). Of course Kitty is sticking with her tried-and-true blue-yellow color scheme. Of course Emma is wearing a short skirt with a fur coat.
As to your question about the sudden turn this issue takes, Taylor, I think our reactions are about as opposite as can be. Don’t get me wrong — I love some good character work, and seeing the girls give in to their teenage girl desires was cathartic, but I picked up this issue acutely aware of the “Inhumanity” emblazoned on its cover. No amount cliquish in-fighting could keep me from wondering when the inhumans were going to show up. In that way, the fact that an inhuman cocooned up just outside of their restaurant garnered no further scrutiny from me than “FINALLY!” I mean, these things are popping up everywhere — it only makes sense that at least a few should show up in London, right?
With that kind of emphasis on the inhuman elements, the shopping trip patter actually feels a bit like padding — or at least, it feels like it might have been better spent on the “plot,” as it were. Like, as much fun as it is to see that Illyana falls asleep in her meditation sessions with Doctor Strange, I’m not sure we needed to devote two pages to it. I have similar feelings about the six pages Bendis spends getting the girls to London. Couldn’t those pages have been better spent making the arrival and departure of A.I.M. feel less rushed? Or examining Kitty’s reaction here?
As much as I enjoyed seeing Jean passive-agressively chew Celeste out, isn’t the thought that the mutants — long the most persecuted group in the Marvel Universe — would refuse to help an inhuman simply because he’s not one of them way more interesting? This notion fits the shifting allegiances you mentioned, earlier, Taylor: the mutants may have their differences, but they can band together against something more different. That’s always been a source of strength against an oppressive world, but what does it mean when dealing with an oppressed world? It reminds me for all the world like that scene from Do the Right Thing, where the Korean shop owner expresses that he, too, is black.
Ultimately, I’m not sure I believe Kitty’s reaction, but either way, it’s clear: the world that the X-Men live in has just changed dramatically.
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