23 Jul 2011

Cover To Cover: UNCANNY X-MEN #541

Writer: Kieron Gillen
Art: Greg Land, Jay Leisten & Justin Ponsor
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: When Matt Fraction left this title in the hands of Kieron Gillen I had my doubts. When Gillen went on to revisit Joss Whedon’s Breakworld saga in one of his first story arcs I had my doubts. And when it was mentioned that the X-Men were going to find themselves tangled in the groaning strands of the Summer event that is Fear Itself I once again began to feel dubious that one of my favourite titles in recent years was going to make it to the next with that title intact.

It’s a lucky break then that when I began reading this week’s copy of Uncanny all of my doubts faded away. The Juggernaut’s transformation into Kuurth: Breaker of Stone upon the Thunderbolts’ Raft did have me wondering if we would see that team deal with their comrade’s rampage but once he started on his path across the continental United States it became an inevitable, and highly exciting prospect that the X-Men were likely to butt heads with one of their most famed foes once more.

Gillen wisely bases a good proportion of this issue in the company of Mayor Sadie as she prepares to inform the population of San Francisco of the Juggernaut’s imminent arrival and then receives her own psychic briefing from Cyclops on how the confrontation will pan out. The psychic mindscape that Emma Frost sets up for the mental confab is nicely realised by Greg Land - even if he does indulge in the occasional odd poster pin-up moment as he’s inclined to do - and allows us access to a war room with a difference. While I’m not convinced that Gillen gets the chemistry between Scott and Emma quite right he clearly aims for Scott to be the focus for this confrontation and as a result we get a terrific look at how this tactical maestro prepares for and conducts a dangerous mission against a nigh on unstoppable foe.

The initial contact is fleeting and would probably only cover around 15-20 seconds in real time but it’s exciting and given a nice feeling of brevity by Land who seems to have stepped up his game a little of late, especially when it comes to action pieces. It also highlights just how much Juggies’ powers have been enhanced since picking up that hammer by showing him shrugging off attacks from the X-Men’s heavy hitters. From this point we’re in pure Scott Summers: Tactical Genius mode as he acts to reassure the Mayor that the X-Men will prevail and I like the confidence that Gillen instils in the mutant leader. Things escalate quickly with a tense clash between Hope and the hammer wielding powerhouse and then a reiteration that this threat is potentially beyond the understanding of the citizens of Earth be they human or carriers of the X-gene.

What Gillen has accomplished with this issue has seen him produce an exciting add-on to the Fear Itself event (albeit of little consequence to the overall story presently), confirming that he clearly understands how to depict Cyclops, one of the most important characters at his disposal, and also that he realises that because he has access to write and use hundreds of mutant powers it doesn’t necessarily mean that he has to use all or any of them in order to get the story - and particularly battle scenes - across to the reading audience. This is what I expect of an issue of Uncanny X-Men and would certainly like to see the quality maintained over the following two issues which tie-in to Fear Itself. Yes, it’s unfortunate that at the point where he seems to have got the formula just right it seems that Uncanny is set to be turned upon its head once Schism is done and dusted, but Gillen is clearly a writer who can steer whatever rises from the ashes in an interesting and entertaining fashion. 9/10

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