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Jan 24

Uncanny X-Men #1-10: “X-Men Disassembled”

Posted on Thursday, January 24, 2019 by Paul in x-axis


On paper, this looked okay.  New direction, weekly storyline.  Written by Ed Brisson, Matthew Rosenberg and Kelly Thompson – they’re usually interesting writers.  Named after “Avengers Disassembled”, which was awful… but actually closer to the format of last year’s “Avengers: No Surrender”, which was pretty good.  Art by… well, the first issue is drawn by Mahmud Asrar, but mostly it’s the likes of Pere Perez, RB Silva and Yildiray Cinar, because it’s a weekly and it needs a team.  Still, it sounded quite promising on paper.

And here it is, and it’s kind of meh.

For one thing, this turns out to be a ten issue lead-in to “Age of X-Man”, and if you’re spending ten issues on a prologue, then you’ve got a problem with bloat.  Yes, it’s a weekly schedule, and yes, you can take a bit more time over things when the issues are coming out more frequently.  But still, ten issues?  With hindsight, most of what happens in “Disassembled” seems to be busy work to fill the pages.  Send a team here, send a team there, have a squabble over a civil war somewhere… but what really matters is remarkably little.

What actually matters seems to be roughly this: Nate Grey is back at full power, he’s decided the world is going to hell, and he’s going to be the messiah figure who saves it.  So he transforms a bunch of villains into his Horsemen, and kidnaps three reluctant “advisors”, namely Kitty Pryde, Apocalypse, and some random anti-mutant senator.  Legion wants to stop Nate, and is going about it in a very erratic way that doesn’t achieve a whole hell of a lot.  In the background, some of the X-Men’s trainees are a bit annoyed about not being given more to do, and there’s a very half-hearted subplot about an anti-mutant vaccine which gets almost no space but suddenly turns out to be a big deal in the epilogue.  Anyway, big showdown against Nate, “all the X-Men” are gathered to fight him (terms and conditions apply), Nate winds up merging with Legion to become more powerful and madder than ever, and Nate decides he can’t fix the world with the X-Men in his way, so he zaps them away somewhere.  Which is the set-up for Age of X-Man, obviously, and the reason why a bunch of characters have to be hauled to the finale.

That’s not really ten issues worth of plot, and the whole thing feels as if it’s not fully developed.  The art is alright, and there are points where you can see it reaching for something a little bit more interesting, but it never reaches the epic scale that it was presumably meant to be going for.  Visually, the best thing about it is the revised character designs for Nate and his Horsemen, which manage to get across the idea of invoking religion without being too clumsy about it; it’s the sort of thing that could easily have been excruciating, but I think they pull that off.

In character terms, the best thing about it is the subplot with Armor’s training team, who take the role of striking out on their own when they think the grown-ups aren’t paying any attention to them.  Some of these guys really should just be counting their blessings that they’re even allowed on training missions, but you can see the point for someone like Armor or Pixie, who was on the fringes of being a main team regular before somehow drifting off to backgroundsville.  They get issue #7 to themselves, as a well-placed break from the regular action, in which they spend five minutes in an illusory Age of Apocalypse and think they’ve been there a year.  This doesn’t really play into anything much, but it’s a good issue on its own terms, and it could yet be leading into something in “Age of X-Man” proper.

But the whole religion thing seems strangely underdeveloped, as does Nate’s character generally.  The broad idea seems to be that Nate is appalled by the direction of the world, and thinks that he must have been given his A-list powers for a reason, namely to set things right with a fresh start.  Fair enough.  But then for some reason we’ve got him acting like a messiah and dressing up his followers in religious robes.  It’s less clear what that has to do with Nate Grey.  Sure, he and Cable have both sometimes had messianic hints.  And he’s got some track record of interest in wacky spirituality from the Warren Ellis run.  But does religious iconography really mean all that much to him?  It’s not like he had a traditional Christian upbringing in his dystopian test tube, surely?  Perhaps the idea is that he’s trying to act the part, having decided that he’s going to be god, but it’s not like we see him actually running any sort of meaningful religion or cult, beyond a handful of characters that are mind controlled anyway.

Yet issue #5 seems to have Nate wiping out all the world’s churches and religious shrines and the like, in response to a suggestion from Apocalypse that “false” religion is standing in the way of the world embracing him.  This sure seems like it’s setting up a very different story, and probably a more contentious one, but it doesn’t get followed up.  And making Nate the sort of character who does something as drastic as that, the second Apocalypse suggests it, just makes him come across as an ill-defined crackpot.  I’m not at all sure what they’re going for with Nate here, and I’m not entirely convinced that they know either.

The finale is… weird.  It’s set up as calling in every X-Man ever, but it’s really not – I get that the likes of Scott and Rachel are tied up in other stories, and Magik is still in cliffhanger limbo following the New Mutants mini, but I don’t see Havok, or Banshee, or Warpath, or Longshot, or Chamber, or the new Pyro… all of whom have been used quite recently.  But we do get Kylun, Magma and… is that Firestar?  When was she in the X-Men? So it’s really “those X-characters we need for Age of X-Man”, I guess.  Yet the epilogue suddenly jumps to telling us that with the X-Men gone, there’s a sudden race to introduce an anti-mutant vaccine – the one that was a pretty minor background feature of the plot.

And… um, what?  The decision on whether to introduce an anti-mutant vaccine turns on whether fifty or so X-Men are around to say they disagree?  Come to think of it, didn’t you publish an issue of Iceman just last month about Manhattan’s full-scale mutant pride parade?  Make up your bloody minds.  But regardless of that, it’s an epilogue that doesn’t emerge in any remotely satisfying way from anything we’ve seen before.  It lands on the ground with a wet thump.

Despite occasional bits that land, “Disassembled” as a whole isn’t very good.  It feels like there might be some sort of story about religion trying to get out, but it doesn’t come to anything.  Does it fill me with interest in “Age of X-Man”?  It does not.

Bring on the comments

  1. Krzysiek Ceran says:

    I believe Firestar joined in the ‘Amazing X-Men’, which somehow was an ongoing title for about three story arcs. It’s the one that starts with Jason Aaron resurrecting Nightcrawler and then drifts off to nowhere interesting. Though it did have a nice moment in it’s final story (The Once and Future Juggernaut), where the X-Men at some point just ignore the villain (The Living Monolith or somesuch) to have a sitdown, talk and chill out for a bit.

  2. Paul says:

    Ah, you’re right. She was a member for the first year of Amazing X-Men. I’d completely forgotten about that series.

  3. Andy Walsh says:

    In theory, this should not have been all that different from a crossover like Messiah Complex or Battle of the Atom which had weekly chapters. There are even hints of a crossover structure – one week there’s a Madrox-centric chapter, another week it’s Armor and the Academy X crew, and so on.

    With that in mind, I wonder if what it’s missing is the actual crossing over of ongoing titles. There are no existing stories or teams to provide any structure or narrative direction. There’s some sense of needing to get somewhere – Age of X-Man – but the starting point is ill-defined.

  4. Taibak says:

    Kylun was an X-Man?!

  5. Moo says:

    It’s written by committee. Never read a series written by committee that was either really good or really bad. “Meh” was pretty much what I expected.

  6. Jack Barton says:

    All I want is a Nate Grey who’s simultaneously alive, not crazy, and occasionally appearing in comic books. I suspect Marvel is never going to give it to me.

    I mean, I mainly just want this in order to revive his weird friendship with Peter Parker that’s only come up three or four times, but still.

  7. Joseph S. says:

    Disassembled struck me as a bad idea from the beginning. As an Avengers story, it made some sense given that the Avengers, in fact, routinely Assemble, and given the stagnation of the line at the time were in need of a shake up. The X-Men have been given a good stir every calendar year for the last decade or so. What they need is a status quo that can support a variety of titles and stories. It seemed like the line was finally figuring that out, setting up competing camps and ideologies, with Frost and the Hellfire Club, Magneto on his Asteroid, the X-Men in NY, a black ops group of whatever persuasion, and so on.

    My biggest gripe is the way this story casually undid years of work to re-establish Magneto and Angel as characters, just to temporarily shoe horn them into a mind-controlled Horseman role. This title should have been bringing the past titles and stories together in satisfying ways, not just jettisoning them to no end. Let’s not even mention Madrox, as what they do with him on both a character and power level makes no sense.

    And then this comes chugging along. It had some momentum, I suppose, but it lead straight to a predictable ending: dozens of characters whisked away to another alternate universe story.

    What worked with the X-Men was the balance between epic stories and quiet moments, both of which were rooted around character development. I think maybe the line is too big to ever have a solid editorial vision again, but they seem to think what we want is constant high-stakes stories (which in turn are meaningless). I understand with serial storytelling there is a certain need to retread formulas and narratives that work and are the core of the characters and concept, but repackaged nostalgia is going to have diminishing returns unless done right.

    Seems like Age of X-Man is meant to be some kind of bizarro mirror of Age of Apocalypse, and Age of X, will have to see how it plays out. Major-X looks like it will draw on a similar idea. Perhaps next year’s reboot will actually set up some books for longer runs working with a solid status quo, which can still work on a “season” model without totally jettisoning the direction every year or two. But I won’t hold my breath.

  8. JD says:

    but I don’t see Havok, or Banshee, or Warpath, or Longshot, or Chamber, or the new Pyro… all of whom have been used quite recently.

    Warpath has already rejoined the new X-Force, busy in their own title chasing nuCable. And wasn’t Havok arrested at the end of Astonishing ? But future solicitations have at least some of these people (AND the corrupted New Mutants) as “the leftover X-Men”, so they haven’t been completely forgotten.

    (Well, aside from the new Pyro, who’s already disappeared into oblivion.)

  9. Mo Walker says:

    Meh, is the write word to describe this 10-parter. We did not need a 10-part storyline leading up Age of X-Man. It did not work for Infinity Wars Countdown & Infinity Wars.

    Perhaps X-Men Disassembled would have worked better if two-thirds of the story arc dealt with other non-Nate Grey related threats. Nate Grey should have been the ‘big bad’ of the last portion of the series, after witnessing events from the side lines. We should have gotten an issue or portion of one devoted to showing Nate Grey’s evolution and not just exposition.

  10. Michael says:

    If Kylun showed up, by virtue of his association with Excalibur back in the day, so should Micromax, but I guess he was busy as well. They pulled in Meggan, though…

    I still object to this depiction of Madrox as a cowardly loser, because he was never a coward or a loser until Rosenberg got his hands on him for that awful Multiple Man miniseries that brought him back from an awful, undeserved death. And to have the X-Men openly disrespect him that way was just mean and out of character given that he was a friend and ally in all previous depictions.

    And of course the “all hands on deck” situation apparently wasn’t as dire or ends-of-the-world as it seemed, given that the “mass summon” ignored everyone currently appearing in their own series (Domino, Deadpool, Rogue, Gambit, X-Force) as well as everyone Rosenberg has laid claim to (Cyclops, Wolverine, the New Mutants, Madrox).

    Meanwhile, you expect me to believe that the next great training squad is Pixie, Armor, Anole, Rockslide, and… Glob Herman? What, were literally all the other students we’ve seen over the years busy? From the remaining members of Generation X to the teams of the New X-Men and Young X-Men era, to the remaining members of Hope’s Five Lights, to the Wolverine and the X-Men generation of students… and more than a few of them were missing as well. Are you telling me that they couldn’t summon Quentin Quire? Nope, he’s also appearing in a title, so he’s off-limits.

    In the end, what we had was a Major X-Men Event which shuffles everyone involved off to a parallel dimension/world/timeline/alternate reality for six months, which somehow failed to incorporate many of the iconic X-Men. Kitty, Jean, Piotr, Storm, Kurt, sure. Rogue, Gambit, Cyclops, Wolverine, Professor X, no.

    And we’re supposed to accept that in the wake of the X-Men (okay, a bunch of them) vanishing, the world collectively throws up its hands, goes “fuck those guys” and hands out the vaccine the next day? All I can assume is that Nate’s reality-warping powers altered the 616 at the same time as wiping out everyone in his immediate vicinity.

    And of course, I’m sure, the only titles which will actively -care- about this are immediately related, like Uncanny… everyone else will just go about their business for six months until everyone returns, a little worse for wear.

    And of course we’ll likely get some kind of ongoing (12 issues max) series about the Age of X-Man spinning out of this, and at least 2 of the most popular alternate versions (or original characters) will survive to make the jump back to the prime 616.

    My true hope is that sooner, rather than later, Rosenberg will be shuffled off to something not involving the X-Men, and writers like Saladin Ahmed, Al Ewing, or Seanan McGuire will be given Uncanny.

  11. Andrew says:

    The most disappointing thing was that it was marketed as the beginning of a new direction for the line but turns out to be a prologue to another series entirely.

    One of the most frustrating things as a long-time fan is that it feels like the line as a whole has never recovered from the House of M.

    It seemed to get a bit of its mojo back during the Brubaker run and heading into the San Francisco stuff (which I’m stunned to realise was more than a decade ago now) but as a whole has felt lost ever since that 2005 story.

  12. Moo says:

    I remember Brubaker speaking very positively about the ‘upcoming new status quo for mutants’ (which turned out to be Decimation). “Exciting” was the word he used. And the first thing he did when he began his run was launch his cast into outer space where it didn’t matter, lol.

    I quit reading the books after Decimation after having been a faithful reader since 1980 (minus a couple of relatively brief off periods). Been following them loosely through Paul’s reviews ever since. Hard to believe that after fifteen years, nothing I’ve read in X-Axis really made me feel as though I was missing out. Mike Carey’s stuff seemed to be the most well-received material of the past fifteen years.

  13. Voord 99 says:

    I’m going to push back a bit on this. Yes, the post-Decimation era might have seemed to have lost its way compared to the Morrison era.

    (Although I would remind everyone that Morrison’s New X-Men appeared alongside the lacklustre Casey UXM and the much-worse-than-lacklustre Chuck Austen UXM — and I would happily hold up pretty much all of the Decimation-to-AvX era against those two runs.)

    But I think the San Francisco and Utopia eras stand comparison quite well to the pre-Morrison X-books of the ‘90s, which contain an awful lot that’s not very good. In fact, I think the Brubaker and Gillen stories stand comparison quite well to the end of Claremont’s run.

    Decimation was, admittedly, a dumb idea*, but it was also a dumb idea that was largely ignored, in part because “No More Mutants!” in fact meant “Several Remaining Mutants, Basically All The Important Ones, With A Couple Of Exceptions!”

    *Actually, I think Decimation – or more accurately Annihilation (but, like, a different Annihilation) – would have been quite a good idea for a short 6-months arc, that would actually go through with it. Depower all mutants for a few months. Confront the X-Men with a story about the challenge of defending mutants against a world that hates and fears them without their powers. Because people would still know in many cases who were mutants and who weren’t – it’s not like prejudice would just switch off.

  14. Thom H. says:

    I think this 10-weekly-issue set-up suffers from a couple of problems that plague comics today:

    1. Having to move the pieces around the board in-story to set up a new status quo. How much more fun would this have been if Nate Gray had shown up and blinked the X-Men into an alternate dimension in the first issue? It certainly would have given the story a lot more suspense than we got. My message to comic book writers on relaunched titles: Just set up your new status quo and run with it. You don’t have to explain how we got there. That’s what the story is for!

    2. Every story has to have The! Highest! Stakes! There’s no way to care for these characters anymore because they’re not the focus of their own book. We’re so busy worrying about the destruction of religion world-wide or national laws about a mutant vaccine or how many X-Men we can fit on a single page to fight the drastically overpowered villain. What about these individual characters matters anymore? The scope of X-Men stories is so large that character development is secondary at best.

    Seriously, is there no way to tell a character-focused, suspenseful story about the X-Men anymore? Have the storytelling possibilities been so played out that it’s just a matter of coming up with new ways to pit them against themselves? No wonder the line has felt so bland for so long.

  15. Krzysiek Ceran says:

    Decimation, if they actually went through with it, might have resulted in something decent. But they basically left almost all the X-Men and X-related characters untouched, save for a few big names and a couple B-list characters (with apologies to Jubilee and Mirage). And then they repowered the big names within a year or two.

    Still, the line as a whole was very decent around the time of Decimation – Carey’s X-Men started shortly after, Peter David’s X-Factor as well, and the New Mutans/Academy X/New X-Men title – despite the changes in, well, the title, the creative team, the cast and the basic idea – was the last pretty great book about young mutants. And yeah, all that was about 10 years ago, but there were very good books in later years as well – Liu’s X-23, Kyle&Yost’s X-Force, Remender’s Uncanny X-Force, Gillen’s Uncanny and Spurrier’s X-Men Legacy runs. All-New Wolverine. And I’d happily put last year’s Generation X among them if the book got another year to fully develop.

    There was a metric ton of crap alongside it, of course, but wasn’t that always the case?

    Now, regarding X-Men Disassembled – I think I see it in a slightly more positive light then most here. Though it was disappointing that the brand new era of X-Men starts with a 10 issue prologue to the thing on the sidelines that’s going to play out while the actual brand new era of X-Men starts with issue 11.

    Still. There were some good ideas here. And it’s the first time in a very, very long time since a main title gave so much space to younger mutants, which was a big plus for me.

    And the brand new era starting with #11 actually does have a pretty new set-up. At least new to comics, since it’s basically the Wolverine and the X-Men animated show set-up. Which, again, is a plus for me. I actually wouldn’t mind if after Age of X-Man most of the characters relegated to that universe stayed there for a year or three. I am interested in what Rosenberg will do with about as much of a clean state as a writer will ever get in a main X-title – even if it’s only for this year.

    Disassembled would be unbearable in a monthly title, but crammed in three months – it was bearable to decent. In places.

    Though it should have been clearly built around one of the existing teams (Gold, preferably, as the supposed flagship of the previous iteration of the x-line). Then maybe it would elicit some emotional response when that team fails miserably to stop a global threat. I don’t really care when it’s a new team from the start. New in terms of these particular set of characters not having history with each other, because obviously, most of them have been around since forever.

    …this is getting long. I’d better stop now.

  16. Moo says:

    “Although I would remind everyone that Morrison’s New X-Men appeared alongside the lacklustre Casey UXM and the much-worse-than-lacklustre Chuck Austen UXM”

    Don’t forget the okay-to-crap Claremont XXM.

    But I didn’t have to read either UXM or XXM. Paul read ’em for me. There was one decent book (NXM) which was all I cared about. As long as there’s one good core title, I’m happy. Hell, there was only one title back when I started reading.

  17. Taibak says:

    I agree about Decimation needing at least one big name who lost his powers and didn’t get them back. Archangel would have been my top choice.

  18. Krzysiek Ceran says:

    See, I don’t. 🙂 That wasn’t my point. One – or even several – permanently depowered big names would still just be token efforts on the writers/editors’ part, saying ‘look, we’re serious about this’.

    For Decimation to work as intended, it should have applied to the extended X-Men family just like it did to millions of nameless mutants across the globe. They should have depowered all but one of the Silver Age X-Men, leave two or three of the All-New, All-Different team powered, and so on, throughout all the various generations of the team/teams. And then tell a story of a cobbled together team that remained powered – have them be the main team for a few years – while also telling stories about the depowered people.

    But the Decimation they actually went with resulted in almost the whole global population of mutants losing their powers – but leaving the X-Men basically untouched. It came to a point where almost every remaining mutant was an X-Man or was x-affiliated, especially at the peak of the Utopia era, where even Toad, Dragoness and other such characters were living with the X-Men and reluctantly supporting them in battles.

  19. CJ says:

    “All I want is a Nate Grey who’s simultaneously alive, not crazy, and occasionally appearing in comic books. I suspect Marvel is never going to give it to me.”

    Poor Nate. I always feel defensive of X-Man, thinking “No! It was a cool magazine!” But then when I actually try to go back and reread them, I get bored fast.

    The exception is with the “shaman” phase he went through. I know it was just Ellis reusing the Authority ideas in Marvel (he was basically The Doctor), but I thought it was a fitting use of someone with Phoenix-level powers.

    Now that I think of it, he’d be a good fit for something universe-hopping like Exiles. This version of him is just unrecognizable.

  20. CJ says:

    Poor Nate.

    I think I was the only person I knew who was into the latter-era “shaman” phase he had (even if it was just The Doctor from Ellis’s The Authority).

    It was a very different version of Nate but at least it extends his basic premise: he’s from an alternate Earth, he’s powerful enough to protect Earth-616 from cosmic, universe-hopping threats.

    The Nate here is just unrecognizable.

  21. Voord 99 says:

    Nitpicky question, but I’m curious. Did they ever actually bother to come up with an explanation as to why the Scarlet Witch didn’t depower all mutants? I can’t remember one.

  22. wwk5d says:

    I liked the de-powered version of Nate that appeared in New Mutants (volume 3?).

  23. Voord 99 says:

    I liked that version well enough, too, although admittedly I have no strong attachment to the character as such.

    That version of New Mutants was a good little book in general. Quiet, doing its own thing, not going to set the world on fire, but competently written and enjoyable. Having the New Mutants as twentysomething housemates in a big city where they have to live alongside normal people, unlike the other X-people, is a decent way to use the characters.

  24. wwk5d says:

    At this point I think Dani Moonstar is probably the biggest name character who lost her powers and didn’t get them back, no?

  25. Dazzler says:

    I don’t think this has been mentioned yet, but I think the impetus for this whole thing is Cable’s youthful makeover, which makes Nate more redundant than ever. So they turn him into a plot device and take him off the board with what they somehow thought would be a bang.

  26. Michael says:

    Voord –

    I’m pretty sure that the answer was “Doctor Strange somehow shielded the surviving mutants from Wanda’s spell” or maybe he diluted the effect just enough that it somehow missed a few.

  27. Evilgus says:

    Agree the series has never really recovered from Decimation.

    What a shame X-Men Red was pulled for this. 10 issues and absolutely no character development or beats.

  28. Richard Larson says:

    Interesting parallel isn’t it that in Decimation they couldn’t bring themselves to actually make No More Mutants and in Disassembled they couldn’t bring themselves to actually send away all the X-Men. If you really have a story to tell with a Big Idea then I would say go full force and tell that story. The half measures don’t really work.

  29. Karl_H says:

    I don’t look at previews, so maybe the answer to this is obvious to those who do, but… What happened to Nate at the end?

    To me it looks like, “I have a plan, but the X-Men keep getting in my way! Begone, X-Men! ACK!” Which is totally unsatisfying from a narrative standpoint. And the epilogue which appears to show the world going on sans Nate just makes it worse.

  30. Suzene says:

    “X-Men: Disassembled” had a few interesting themes – the most impactful being that of the X-Men’s neglect of their own legacy coming back to bite them on the ass in a big way – but, bluntly, the story delivered read like a first draft. Pointless, thoughtless filler fights (one of which took up an entire issue!), muddled characterization that shifted according to which writer had which character in which issue, off-screen character development to justify behavior only mean to shuffle the plot along, and very little attempt at cohesive tone or writing style. I’ve moderated round robin fanfiction circles that turned out stronger product that this. And while I respect that Kelly Thompson has shed some light on the writing process – on how this was a new thing for all three writers and there were issues with quality control – that’s an explanation, not an excuse. This was not a great launch, but at least Age of X-Man looks like a lot more thought was put into it.

  31. Luis Dantas says:

    I thought Legion’s history had reached a conclusion in the last few issues of X-Men: Legacy some five or ten years ago?

    Yeah, I know. Of course he came back somehow. Particularly since he now has his own TV series.

    It is hard to care about changes and resolutions if they are not meant to stick.

  32. Krzysiek Ceran says:

    I love Spurrier’s Legacy, but even that was built upon a retcon that revived Legion from a previous death – I believe in a New Mutants run by Zeb Wells Legion came back after… um… Legion Quest/Age of Apocalypse? And he was dead for about 15 years in between?

    But yeah, there is no such thing as a conclusion in mainstream superhero stories.

  33. JCG says:

    I stopped caring — and mostly following — around AvX, when I realized there was no real consistency to be expected in either planning or execution.

  34. Joseph S. says:

    Spurrier’s Legacy was excellent and stands on its own. Some books are best playing off continuity without getting too caught up in what comes before or after. And what an ending.

    But yes, once the show came out it was obvious they’d dust off the character again, which they did for that Legion mini last year by Peter Milligan. They didn’t even bother to address how he’d returned and was better for it.

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