Saturday, February 6, 2010

Uncanny X-Men: Rise and Fall of the Shi'Ar Empire (comics)

Writer: Ed Brubaker
Artist: Billy Tan
Contains: Uncanny X-Men #475-486

Picking up where X-Men: Deadly Genesis left off, the third Summers Brother known as Vulcan has flown off into space to get revenge on the Shi'Ar for what they did to his mother and the circumstances of his birth. Professor X, now all but banished from the team he created, is no longer welcome at the X Mansion because of his mistake and choices. But with Vulcan headed for the Shi'Ar, where his ex-wife rules, he cannot let it stand. He rounds up the few X-Men still loyal to him and heads off into space, looking to stop Vulcan and fix his mistakes.

This is one of those volumes that depends largely on what kind of X-Men reader you are. Or more to the point, what kind of X-Men story you prefer. This is of the X-Men space epic variety of story without a shadow of a doubt and about ninety percent of the twelve issues comprising the storyline take place in space. If the space adventures of Marvels mutants were never your thing, this story probably isn't going to change your mind. If you like them in any fashion, however, this will probably go over quite well with you.

The story is quite long, clocking in at the aforementioned twelve issues, but collected as it is it doesn't feel overly so. Ed Brubaker is great at plotting stories and space adventures with the X-Men are a perfect fit for his usual tropes, considering much of the Shi'Ar are embroiled in politics and attempted coup's. He uses the large amount of space allotted to him well, juggling different plotlines and bringing in many of the disparate elements that populated past space stories. Hell, even the Skrull are involved to a very minor extent. The story is a slow build, but an engaging one that never lost me as a reader. On top of that, the story does bring about changes to the typical status quo of the Shi'Ar, which was welcome (these changes play out in other books once this story wraps, I understand).

The group of X-Men chosen for the story are interesting, to say the least. The highest profile character of the entire group is Nightcrawler, the rest of the crew otherwise made of C to D list X-Men. On the one hand, it might be somewhat off-putting, but personally I grew attached to several of the characters over the course of the story, so Bru seems to do well with them. It also serves a good story purpose as well; the Professor is not the most popular guy around the mansion of late, so for him to only be able to get so many makes sense. Plus, for some reason I really liked that despite everything, Nightcrawler was the one who never lost faith or affinity for the Professor.

The art by Billy Tan is very solid and colorful. Nothing I saw really sticks out as offensive or out of place and the colors are well suited. It's hard to describe the feeling I got from the artwork, but the best way I can put it is that the art in the book feels comfortable. It's not going to absolutely wow you, but it tells the story well and looks solid the entire way through. In other words, it's the kind of art that feels natural to modern comics and the kind I have something of a preference for.

If there's any real problem with the art, it's that there are a couple of pages extremely late in the book - say, the climax - that look somewhat iffy. It's nothing in an action scene, but it might still be noticeable as off. Also, a character death late in the book doesn't really come off as such. I'm glad it was a low-gore death - which is contrary to ninety percent of comic deaths these days - but the body looked almost untouched aside from some spots of blood. For that matter, the attack didn't even look lethal; I wasn't even sure the character was dead until the last few pages, simply from the lack of real indication from the art. Considering what you might see in the midst of a battle like that, he looked relatively unscathed. But these are all minor points on an otherwise solid job throughout the story.

The Score: Dramatic Thumbs Up

If you don't like space stories with the X-Men, you can certainly skip this volume as I very highly doubt it's going to change your mind. But if you don't mind a good space story or outright love them, this is a good read. I wasn't quite sure about Ed Brubaker on X-Men - it just never seemed like a franchise that would suit his style and preferences - but this wasn't your typical mutant adventure and I found myself pleasantly surprised. Recommended if you're into this sort of thing.


  1. Brubaker later expressed some regret about starting out his Uncanny run with a 12-issue story, but I'm glad to hear it turned out all right regardless. This book is still on my "to-read" list.

    Also, excellent description of Billy Tan's artwork... I've always thought of him as being sort of average in his slightly-above-averageness, if that makes any sense at all.

  2. I can understand why Bru might regret that. I think it probably was indeed a mis-step to start off his run with an epic twelve part story. Usually that's the sort of thing you build into or do after you've had a couple small arcs to get the feel of the characters. But on the same token, I kind of understand why he did it; the way Deadly Genesis ended almost necessitated that the Vulcan business had to be tackled first and there's always a lot going on with the cosmic/space stuff. So it was either "put it off until later and let the characters look like their priorities suck" or "engage in an epic, long story consisting of twelve parts immediately".

    I think it might have been the timing that didn't go over well with a lot of folks. There were about three main books on the stands at the time, but Astonishing was chronically late at that point and Adjectiveless handled Rogue leading a bunch of C listers. Then the flagship book goes on a year long space story, leaving fans without a real option for their standard X fix.

    I like space adventures with the X-Men, so it went over rather well with me. Not to mention Bru is, as always, great with plotting and characterization. But at the same time, I do understand that some folks just aren't into the space stories and if you're not then I doubt any space story is going to change your mind. Always something to note with something like the X-Men, I figure.

    Glad you liked how I described the artwork. Yeah, I suppose that's a good way to put his art. The word that kept popping into my mind when writing the review was "comfortable", which you'll notice I went with in the end. I like that some artists are good but not show-stealers; when paired with a good storyteller like Bru it makes for a nice overall package where one facet doesn't steal the show from another. I like getting some of that along with my JH Williams III art. That's the beauty of American comic books, really; there's more than enough artistic variety to go around.