23 Aug 2011

Cover To Cover: UNCANNY X-MEN #542

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

Stewart R: I’ll level with you: I’m quite gutted about the timing of Schism and what it’s likely to deprive us of in terms of a unified X-Men all working towards one goal together. Gillen is obviously working within the boundaries that the story as well as the current, big Marvel event will allow him to (and he will take control of half of the X-Men from October) but the quality of his writing in recent months really makes me wish that the powers that be at Marvel could have held on for just 12 more months to let him bed in and craft his Uncanny the way he envisioned it.

Where last month’s excellent issue dealt with the rampage of Kuurth: Breaker of Stone in a more direct fashion as Cyclops assessed San Francisco’s enemy, this month’s still takes brief glimpses of the continuous and varied assault that the mutants pour down upon their unstoppable opponent but focuses more on the the wider effect that the Juggernaut’s attack and ultimatum is having on the team and their relationship with the authorities of the city. The tension is well and truly high as Cyclops and Mayor Sadie try to keep the alliance between their people strong in the face of adversity but the tendrils of suspicion start pulling away at the foundations of their relationship. Gillen sets about showing the fear and paranoia gripping the human populace and how that is then being used to target hatred at the mutants in one particularly great little sequence involving Scott Summers and an armed assailant.

But Gillen doesn’t stop there and casts his net wider to show that the interactions with the Asgardian enemy has sewn the roots of fear closer into his team than he could imagine and a hidden grudge that has been months in the making may be on the verge of boiling over in disastrous fashion. He also then turns his attention to the events that brought about Cain Marko’s initial transformation into a living Juggernaut and so we get a brilliantly grim and atmospheric audience between the powerful Cyttorak and three mutant ambassadors - Colossus, Kitty Pryde and Illyana Rasputin - who are there to inform the god of annihilation that his avatar has gone astray. It’s a keenly written piece that shows us just how much Magik has been affected by her trials and years of dark influences, leaving behind a cold and sullen being behind in place of Peter’s once youthful and vibrant young sister.

And of course all of this fantastic story from Gillen needs to be transferred to the illustrated page and it seems with each passing month I’m forced to praise Greg Land on an ever increasing scale. Gone is much of the posing and misplaced provocative posturing done by the female cast - though the odd pout does remain to remind us it’s Land - to be replaced by dramatic action, effective use of shadow and the ability to vary scope of scene and yet keeping the comic feeling like a whole. Cyclops - a character where the artist doesn’t get to use the eyes to convey emotion or feeling - has been giving ‘looks’ for months under Land’s hand and I’m very impressed.

Thanks to the Marvel publicity wagon we knew where a meeting with Cyttorak was likely to lead us months ago and with Schism edging ever nearer to its conclusion we know that post-Fear Itself things won’t be quite the same again but one thing is for sure, Marvel definitely have the right combination of writer and artist tackling the title in the here and now and I urge you to take a look at this and the past few issues if you'd left this title some time ago! You may not come back to it full time but I reckon you'll get an X-kick out of what these guys are doing! 9/10

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