Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Uncanny X-Men by Kieron Gillen vol. 1 (comics)

Writer: Kieron Gillen
Artist: Carlos Pacheco, Brandon Peterson
Collects: Uncanny X-Men #1-4 (2011)

You might want to grab something to eat and drink, because this might be a long one.

The X-Men are pretty good stand-ins for just about any minority group - Bryan Singer did a lot of parallels to gays in the films - but I think we can all agree that they were always meant to represent the Civil Rights movement and the general fight for minorities to receive the same rights as white people. The parallels were as on-the-nose as you get; Xaviers Dream was basically Martin Luther King Jr.s idealogy brought to color comics, while Magneto represented the stance of "by any means necessary".

For the longest time, it was pretty clear who the heroes were supposed to be; the X-Men were the group fighting for a better tomorrow for everyone, while Magneto was the man who wanted results right now and would do anything he had to - down to committing straight up genocide - in order to get it. In the past decade, the waters have muddied considerably. Since Cyclops took over for Xavier as the figurehead of the group, the X-Men have slowly but surely veered into ideology resembling Magneto more than Xavier, imbuing the property with the sort of cynicism that befits 90's Anti-Heroes rather than a true group of heroes. Crap like that is what led to Cable.

"By any means necessary" is an attractive mantra. That may even be a fair take for certain characters or groups. But the X-Men are meant to be heroes - to represent something better - and typically heroes are not supposed to go down that road. They are supposed to be the group that believes in a better way and a better tomorrow so we can believe along with them. They may be forced to make tough decisions and take a harder route, but the path closest to the abyss should not even be an option for them. It's why Batman never kills Joker even though we're long since past the point where anyone would blame him. It's not the heroic action; and while Batman may lurk in the darkness, it - as Grant Morrison has laid bare in his run - should never be in his heart.

The X-Men have strayed. It finally came to a head in-universe in Schism, where Wolverine and half the mutants left over it. You'd figure it would have happened sooner - Beast realized where things were going a while ago and reacted accordingly - but better late than never.

Going to those extremes will result in fear. The sad part is that fear happens to be the thing the X-Men have been fighting from the start. Now they've decided to fight it with... more fear. Not a good way to get people to accept you. It breeds resentment. Makes them want to see your downfall. The X-Men have begun to resemble the oppressive instead of the oppressed, which is everything that the humans of the Marvel universe feared. Eventually, that poisoned fruit is gonna come to bear.

Going by this volume, I assume Kieron Gillen realizes that and is deliberately showing that things are going a bit too far. It's made pretty clear those still on Utopia resemble the Brotherhood of Mutants moreso than the X-Men. Everyone there save Storm has at one point been a villain. Everything is harsh, right down to the language. Cyclops labels them the Extinction Team and outright states that they are to fight back with fear. Obviously, this is not going to end well.

Storm is the voice of the reader here, asking "what the hell" of Scott and his ideas. I kind of wondered why she had been kept on the Utopia team - and I'm not sure I completely bought the in-story reasoning from the Tribal War Dance Recruitment Special - but for the purpose of the book her role is clear. She's the voice of reason, the one member that hasn't forgotten what the team represented.

Anyways, I'm rambling on a lot about themes, where the franchise has gone wrong and so forth without really discussing the conflict of the story. Well, it involves Mister Sinister, who has basically hijacked a Celestial and thought taking over folks bodies, essentially making them his clones, would be a good time. Mister Sinister has a bad rep, since he's been a critical part of some of the worst X-Men stories, many from the 90's. Gillen sort of redeems the character through making him an entertaining adversary while sidestepping the crap that made him unbearable at times.

After that we have a one shot supplementing the previous arc - basically explaining how Sinister discovered the means to do the things he did in the main arc - while also telling it's own tidy little tale. It focuses on the last of the Phalanx, which Sinister had captured at some point in the past, sparing it from the death of its kind. The story is almost sad, showing us a monster that does not understand a way of life separate from the hive mind and only wants to hear the collective voice of his bretheran. It's a being caught in the grip of loneliness and - when he discovers there's nothing left of his kind - despair.

The conclusion was foregone - because geez it devoured an entire town without a second thought, what other option did the X-Men have? - but it's a testament to the writing that you feel for it in some small way.

On the art side of things, we have the typically great work you'd expect from Carlos Pacheco. More surprising is the work by Brandon Peterson, whom I'm unfamiliar with. A quick search shows he's been in the business for a while, but if I've seen his work before I can't recall. He's pretty good at drawing the X-Men, but it's his depiction of the Phalanx that stands out. They look like this creepy mix of metal and code come to life, similar to how I've seen the alter ego of Cipher drawn in the past. I'm not sure if they've always looked that way or not, but the art is effective nonetheless.

So, great writing and good art combined with a continuance of a direction I've hated for years now. Ain't that always the way?

The Score: 7.5 out of 10

This volume of Uncanny X-Men is well written and well drawn, but I have a hard time getting into it. While Wolverine and the X-Men took a wonderful, fun approach that built on the basics the X-Men have thrived on for so long, this book is the evolution of everything the X franchise has done in the past eight years or so. It's an approach that seems to betray the X-Men and is, ultimately, not for me. Even so, it's an enjoyable read. Enough that I'll continue if the library keeps it stocked. I'm curious as to whether the kingdom eventually crumbles.

Cyclops Douchebaggery Alert: I think this might be the most blatant example of all. Dude flat out drafts a letter to the nations of the world saying "we'll still protect you if you need it, but if you so much as look at us funny we're going to kick your ass". Setting aside that this is basically a threat that justifies many of the fears people had of mutants - without a direct visible counterpoint as the X-Men used to be to Magneto - it's basically just asking to be wiped out. Keep in mind that, thus far, they've managed to get away with seceding from the US on their own little island nation - actions that I'd say are typically frowned upon - have deaths directly tied to them and have Magneto of all people on the team. There's such a thing as pushing your luck; I may have said it before, but if someone were to feel threatened and drop a nuke or something on Utopia, maybe all of three people would have a mutant power that would save their ass.

This, of course, being part of his brilliant plan to make everyone fear the X-Men so they don't try anything. Because there's no way that could possibly go wrong. It's not like they ever, say, feared Magneto - who threatened total global catastrophe on more than one occasion - and attacked anyways before, right? Oh Cyclops, you tactical genius.

Also, the Extinction Team? Scott, you asshole. How do you THINK people are going to take that one?

1 comment:

  1. I just read the first issue of this run, since it was included at the end of the X-Men: Season One OGN. It definitely doesn't seem like as compelling a direction as Wolverine and the X-Men (which, admittedly, I haven't read, but by all accounts seems fun), but at the same time I'm sort of intrigued. Like you said, one of the main appeals of this series will likely be to see how it all falls apart. (And based on what I've heard about AvX, fall apart it most certainly does.)