Sunday, March 9, 2014

Uncanny X-Men by Kieron Gillen vol. 4 (comics)

Writer: Kieron Gillen
Artists: Daniel Acuna, Ron Garney, Dale Eaglesham, Carlos Pacheco
Collects: Uncanny X-Men (vol. 2) #15-20

Warning: This review is going to contain spoilers for AVX. It's almost unavoidable. This entire volume hinges on the big plot twist of that event. I'm going to attempt to skirt around the identity of the X-Men affected, but be forewarned.

Kieron Gillen's time with the Uncanny X-Men comes to a close with this volume. The book would be immediately relaunched for the second time in as many years, this time with Brian Michael Bendis at the helm. I guess he got tired of writing the Avengers. Damn near ten years will do that to you.

The sad part about it is that it's felt to me like Gillens run never managed to get off the ground. He was on the book for something like thirty five issues, five of them co-written with Matt Fraction. A fair chunk of real estate, but of that number he got to do maybe one or two stories divorced of events or the goings on of the Marvel Universe at large. Looking back, his best issues were frequently single issues he snuck in; the Phalanx and the Mister Sinister issues were easily my favorite of his time with the book.

Unfortunately, most of his run was marred with the sort of problems you see all over this one. This comic makes zero sense unless you've read AVX or at least have a working understanding of what happened in that book. Between this volume and the last, five of the cast have become the Phoenix Five and are all but omnipotent. They immediately decide to make the world an actual utopia, at which point we come in, with not a goddamn lick of that being explained within the comic itself.

This presents some problems beyond the immediately apparent. Near the beginning, they remember Mister Sinister is out there and they should probably go curbstomp him. With little effort, they find him - again, they're basically gods at this point - and commence with said curbstomping.

Obviously, this doesn't go according to plan - I don't think anyone can stretch an ass whopping that one sided for three issues - but it doesn't happen in any believable way. It's pure plot contrivance. They're defeated solely because the plot calls for it, at least up until the Phoenix decides it's better off with the five. Sinister is dispatched immediately after that. Nothing is at stake. There's no explanation to be found, either; I admit that it's been a year since I read the last volume, but I don't recall anything from the rest of the run that could make sense of how the Five were beat.

The worst part is that I'm not sure there was any way around it. Gillens run was ending with this volume and Bendis was coming on board; the Mister Sinister plot had to be wrapped up in some fashion before that happened. But the main X-Men had become demi-gods in the event this book ties into; Uncanny couldn't well ignore what happened, even if it meant there was almost no way to make Sinister a believable - or remotely threatening - adversary to a handful of people backed by the power of a giant fire bird. So I guess the only option was to fudge the lines and wipe the playing field.

After any vestige of plot exclusive to this comic is wiped away, the rest of the volume is your typical "between the panels of the event" tie-in, which is exactly the sort I hate. Gillen, for his part, does a good job of attempting to add to the events of the other book, delving into the warped psyche of the protagonists and attempting to show how deeply this power has compromised them. In fact, he probably adds more depth in his tie-in than the main event had. It comes with the obvious downside though; the last three issues are either a disjointed clip show or an epilogue to someone elses story.

Not exactly how a run by a talented writer should go out.

Most of the art is serviceable, but little stands out to me. Daniel Acuna handles three of the six issues; he's typically a great artist, but his style clashes with everything else we've seen thus far. Ron Garney's work is good, but you won't write home about it. Dale Eaglesham is on for an issue, but that's it; luckily, it depicts a lot of the action from the climax of AVX, so at least he has something interesting to draw.

Carlos Pacheco illustrates the last issue of this run of Uncanny X-Men; it's good to have him back to close out the volume - and tie up any lingering plot threads - but it just serves to remind you how little we actually got of his art We had, what, seven issues total? I'd nearly forgotten that he was supposed to be the regular penciler. They didn't even have him on board to wrap the Mister Sinister story that's been running since the start. Perhaps he just couldn't do it in the time they'd need it. I don't know.

My Opinion: Try It

It's difficult to give a solid opinion on something like this. If you've read up through volume three of Gillens run, you may as well finish. If you're haven't and wonder if the run is worth getting into, I can't bring myself to say yes. It's not really Gillens fault - his dialogue and character interactions are the only reason to even bother - it's just the way this seemed to pan out. We'll see if Bendis will fare better with the franchise; he's a big enough name that he can probably avoid being stuck with whatever event is rolling through the universe.

Cyclops Douchebaggery Alert: Quite a few moments are AVX repeats. But man, that second to last issue. Cyclops, now in control of his mental faculties - such as they are - realizes he's killed his mentor on top of making people fear mutants more than ever before. He's over it the second he hears there are new mutants. Even says he'd do it all again. Ice cold.

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