Posted on Monday, March 28, 2016
by Paul in Uncategorized
Of the current crop of X-Men titles, I greeted Uncanny X-Men with perhaps the least enthusiasm. Cullen Bunn’s run on Magneto was very good, and even though it was generally strongest when it steered clear of the mainstream of the Marvel Universe, the prospect of putting him on a higher profile X-Men title with Magneto in tow should have been attractive.
But Uncanny X-Men is drawn by Greg Land, who is a dealbreaker as far as I’m concerned. I’ve suffered through his work on the X-books before, purely through completism, but he’s one of a very small number of artists that can drive me away from books by writers I generally enjoy. That’s how enthusiastic I am about the prospect of Uncanny X-Men drawn by Greg Land.
In all fairness, then, I’ve seen far worse work from him than these five issues, which are largely pretty competent, and even have some decent moments of action. His characters express emotions better than usual, and the action is easy to follow. But there are still major problems here – Land’s tendency to draw women with vacant grins seems to have been largely confined to Monet, but dear god, Monet. And despite some heroic efforts on the colouring side, it struggles to maintain any atmosphere. A panel which is supposed to show a bunch of shellshocked mutants being left to wander urban Detroit looks more like a bunch of catalogue models posing in front of a postcard. An establishing shot in the Hellfire Club feels like a roomful of mannequins. There’s too much of this stuff to keep the art the right side of “annoying”.
Part of the issue, to be honest, is that Land is an odd choice for this series, even on his own terms. Uncanny X-Men, despite the title, is really the latest incarnation of X-Force, in as much as it’s the one with the renegade team who are fairly relaxed about lethal force. While I’m hardly going to argue for a return to overly serious murk, Land’s air-brushed, sunlit scenes feel too far in the other direction, and it’s not like anyone is leveraging that tension for effect.
But what about the story? Extraordinary and All-New chose to kick off their current runs with two shorter stories, which gave them plenty of time to set their tone before entering April’s Apocalypse crossover. Uncanny takes the other approach, devoting its first five issues to setting a whole bunch of storylines in play. So we’ve got the general internal tensions of Magneto leading a team who are broadly on side with his agenda but don’t trust him not to screw them over. We’ve got a mystery about what happened to Warren during the eight month gap – he’s turned back into Archangel, but he’s also become an empty shell who Psylocke calls in for aerial attacks in between trying to get some sort of response from him. There’s a subplot about a dodgy outfit called the Someday Corporation who are offering to put mutants into suspended animation until the world gets better. They get introduced with great fanfare in issue #1, but turn out not to be the real focus of this first volume at all. Oh, and Fantomex and Mystique are running around investigating them, presumably to join the core cast somewhere on the other side of the crossover. There’s direction here, to be sure.
The Someday Corporation is quite a good idea, partly because it makes a certain sense within the logic of the Marvel Universe (after all, wouldn’t cryogenics make a lot more sense if you went into it before you actually died?), but also because it allows Magneto to take the (questionable) moral high ground against both sides. Even though Someday is transparently a scam, Magneto’s sympathy for the victims pretty much stops at breaking them out; there are no bystanders for him, only traitors to the cause who won’t do their duty for their people. Psylocke is well written too, and the tension in her wanting to be Warren’s carer while actually just using him as a drone has some promise.
On the other hand, a scene where Magneto tries to draw parallels between the Terrigen Mists and the gas chambers is misguided, and there are serious problems with both Monet and Sabretooth. Monet, of course, suffers from being stuck with the vacant grin so much of the time, but her general air of superiority is pretty much absent here, and not much comes along to replace it beyond a sort of mild flirtatiousness that feels wildly wrong for the character. As for Sabretooth, suffice to say that Bunn becomes the latest in a series of writers to fail to demonstrate that the post-Axis “inverted” version of the character is in workable or interesting. There probably are things you could do with this version of Sabretooth – maybe you lean in to his completely unnatural character development and do stories about whether any of his current feelings are “real”, and whether it would be morally right to change him back – but just writing him as a spare Wolverine isn’t working.
The actual story of these issues centres on the Dark Riders, a bunch of obscure 90s villains who would normally be a very odd choice. But in the context of 2016, they have two big things going for them. One, they’re associated with Apocalypse, so they can help lay the groundwork for the crossover – even if the story is simply that they’re running around killing people in an attempt to impress some unseen force. And two, some of them are Inhumans, and the list of X-Men villains with a connection to the Inhumans is very, very short. In fact, it’s pretty much just them.
The Dark Riders were never exactly models of psychological depth, but the story doesn’t really require them to be – they’re here to be the foils for Magneto’s X-Men. The less human character designs, many of which originated with Whilce Portacio, actually bring out the better side of Land’s art – he tends to improve when he’s doing things that can’t be photo referenced – and Bunn has a neat idea that the group’s one-dimensional personalities are actually the result of the team telepath routinely keeping everyone (presumably including himself) on message. They’re not great villains, but they serve their role by having some degree of recognition factor, and by plugging conveniently into the big picture.
So there are some decent ideas here. There are long term plans being established, and aspects of Bunn’s Magneto run seem to have survived – and Land has certainly been worse. But he’s still a significant hurdle to be overcome, and the irritation factor is pretty huge. It’s not in the same league as Magneto and it’s far too flawed to actually recommend, but the book seems to be planning for the long term. As with a lot of the line, it does at least give the impression of knowing where it’s going, which at least offers some reason for cautious optimism.