Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Featured Review: Uncanny X-Men #1

(w) Brian Michael Bendis
(a) Chris Bachalo

Much like his work so far on All-New X-Men, Brian Michael Bendis strikes gold with the 'Marvel NOW!' relaunch of Uncanny X-Men #1. Since becoming possessed by a cosmic death god, taking control of the planet, murdering his father-figure and beloved face of all mutantkind, then escaping from prison, Scott Summers doesn't have a lot going for him. What he does have is a group of devoted followers who believe that mutantkind is in dire need of a revolution in the wake of a massive mutant population spike. Bendis' intimate writing style lends itself extremely well to the interpersonal relationships of the X-Men, combining the franchise's natural affinity for drama within his own framework of decompressed, character development-heavy storytelling. Uncanny X-Men has very much been 'The Cyclops Show' for the past few years, and though that doesn't seem to be changing, it's going to be a whole lot more interesting.

Even though the focus is squarely on Cyclops throughout Uncanny X-Men #1, it's done indirectly through external narrative and and interwoven sequence featuring some new and improved Sentinels (because whenever there's a need for a menacing X-Men villain, it's all Sentinel, baby! But more on that later). Like a psychologist submitting a thesis, a mysterious traitor to Cyclops' movement presents his case against Scott Summers to S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Maria Hill in the plainest and most succinct way he can. As Dean Pelton so eloquently put it, "Well I guess we don't see our patterns until they're laid out in front of us." Cyclops has a long history of struggle and hardship in his ongoing quest for mutant equality and proliferation, and in the most important moment of his life, he destroyed the symbol of hope and peace for all mutantkind.

Uncanny X-Men #1 hits a lot of important beats, but misses a few as well. The focus on Cyclops is done well because in his current situation, it's more important and sensible to analyze and study Scott externally. Bendis' style is all about the long haul, and it simply feels more organic see Scott from a more relatable viewpoint than from looking in on the (assumedly) chaotic thoughts of a man living in his own shadow. Similarly, Bendis' formal introductions of Tempus and Healer (he doesn't have a name yet, but he heals) are interesting and give enough information without feeling overbearing. Chris Bacahlo's artwork is usually a lot busier, but he manages to tone it down a bit in these pages, and his costume design (I'm thinking it's Bachalo's?) for Magneto is like Cyclops' only better. 

As far as the bad, there's very little to complain about. The use of Sentinels is a tried and true plot device, but it's one that became cliche in the mid-90s. It's not really even a big deal to use them every now and again, but didn't the Jean Grey School students get attack by Sentinels built by the Kid Hellfire Club not too long ago in Wolverine and The X-Men? The only other problem is that, as good as Bendis is, there's no escaping that this issue was mostly expository narration. It was interesting and plot-advancing, but at the end of the day, there was a lot of telling and now showing, and that kind of hits the brakes on the momentum from time to time.

Uncanny X-Men #1 is another solid entry in the 'Marvel NOW!' lineup. Brian Michael Bendis started his tenure as head X-writer strong with All-New X-Men, and he keeps it going here with Cyclops and the Uncanny X-Men. Sure, there's already a traitor in their midst in the first issue, but that's the kind of thing the X-Men franchise needs to shake things up. The status quo has changed and Bendis is taking the opportunity to do amazing things with these characters. Uncanny X-Men by Brian Michael Bendis is going to be different than any incarnation of the series before it, and that's more exciting than anything else.


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