7 Nov 2011

Cover To Cover: UNCANNY X-MEN #1

UNCANNY X-MEN #1 (Vol II 2011)
Writer: Kieron Gillen
Art: Carlos Pacheco, Cam Smith & Frank D’Armata
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: In some ways I picture Kieron Gillen to be a little like Scott Summers; a whole population lay in front of him to steer and guide as he saw fit and then, through matters beyond his control, his forces/allies/assets were torn in two and he - some might say - has now ended up with the browner, moister, smellier end of the stick to deal with. The post-Schism world now lays before us and the Aaron/Bachalo combo certainly put down a high benchmark for the other X-creative teams to aim for with Wolverine and the X-Men #1. Considering that Schism was Aaron’s baby, the chances were high that he was going to hit the ground running with his half of the ‘Uncanny’ deal - I’m regarding the titles as two halves of a whole for the moment.

Gillen on the other hand appears to have been handed a very different canvas on which to continue his story of Cyclops and his X-Men’s struggles and so there was a part of me that had a doubt as to whether this new beginning would be able to measure up to the accomplishments of the past year. This doubt of mine has of course proved to be completely unfounded as Gillen had completely excelled himself when the somewhat laborious monster that was Fear Itself arrived in the mutants’ backyard this Summer and making a success of a Marvel failure (ok, a bit harsh, how about ‘underwhelming event’?) will backup your writing credentials!

What Gillen - and Cyclops by proxy - sets out here is a new direction for the mutants of Utopia as they are charged the task of reminding the world that they have been heroes for many years and saved the planet and mankind in the process several times over. There are a couple of great moments where a weary Scott states that the X-Men are in fact and have always been Earth’s Mightiest Heroes and if the X-Men can’t handle threats of a planetary scale then what hope do the Avengers and the like have and it’s a valid point. With this new proactive stance comes a more aggressive slant to Cyclops’ strategy as he appears to be fed up with constantly being backed into a corner by human society at large and starts making loose, comparative references to terrorist states that gain attention through power pushes and the fact that the X-Men pack more punch than those isolated countries. It’s another fresh angle for Scott to be taken in, having gone the morally questionable but off-the-radar route with his X-Force ‘first strike’ initiative previously - which it could be argued was when the seeds of the Schism were first sown - and then realising the error of his ways. Now he’s playing a more openly political game and I would guess he will be positioned in a more Presidential/Dictatorial role as a leader of the mutant nation from now on.

I’ll admit that I don’t particularly find the Extinction team to be a brilliant prospect on paper, but the key to the entertainment here is going to be watching how Scott handles things as the wheels inevitably start to fall off his potentially lethal toy wagon packed with temperamental heroes. Gillen pretty much shows that the probability that things will turn nasty in a very short space of time is high when the newly formed team meet for their debut summit and the dubious reputation of those in attendance is brought briefly under the microscope. The table is surrounded by huge egos and individuals weighed heavily with the choices of their pasts and under a lesser writer things would no doubt descend into petulant bickering and posturing. Thankfully Gillen manages to avoid this and convince us that despite the personality clashes that will arise, all of these mutants are fighting for the same goal and doing so in a united manner.

When it comes to the first true villain of this new era, Gillen continues along the ‘sinister’ route he set up in the last issue of the old Uncanny X-Men volume (#544) and while it makes perfect sense to bring back one of the greatest of thorns in Cyclops’ side at this time, Mr Sinister has often been a villain where almost too much mystery surrounds him and his changing motives. Once again we’re not let in on the secrets that he holds regarding the Sleeping Celestial and what the true nature of his mission to San Francisco is but it is admittedly very early days and I’m sure that we’ll get a suitable amount of exposition next time out.

Having kicked off Schism in an artistic sense, Carlos Pacheco returns to the mutant fold and offers us a solid first instalment with some good characterisation and a reasonable amount of action. The one moment which highlights Emma Frost’s vulnerability is superbly timed and that owes a lot to the artist’s talent. There are one or two points where characters’ facial features and expressions seem a little strange - Hope appears to go all 'Chloe Moretz' on us the first time we see her - but overall there are no complaints. In fact, despite a few reservations about the team membership and wondering just what sort of threat Sinister will pose long term, this is a damn fine #1. Those who have been, and are only going to get Uncanny X-Men may be a little put out by the roster of characters that they have been left with but the writer at the helm certainly knows how to get the best out of what he has available. Seen as a partnership there’s certainly an element that suggests that this book is straight man Abbot to Wolverine and the X-Men’s comedic Costello but I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing for the prime X-title in Marvel’s ranks. 9/10

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