8 Jan 2012

Cover To Cover: UNCANNY X-MEN #4

Writer: Kieron Gillen
Art: Brandon Peterson & Justin Ponsor
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: I didn’t think that the three issue opening arc to the new iteration of Uncanny X-Men was anywhere near Kieron Gillen’s strongest work from the past two years, but it did once again highlight just how much thought and effort he has been putting into the scenarios that spring forth to confound and challenge Cyclops’ team. This fourth issue adds a massive chunk of solid evidence to that assumption with a contained tale of just how Mr Sinister came about his new ‘hivemind’ telepathic abilities using a captured member of the Phalanx.

When clipping a famous, ongoing title and fancifully flashing its new volume status as a relaunch, there are generally two ways to go; you either bring out fresh, all-new ideas and characters and run with the risk, or you play it relatively safe and dig out those faithful personalities and races that have served the publisher well over the past 35-odd years, hoping that any new audience members are able to catch on quickly and that the stalwart fanbase doesn’t tire too quickly of those same faces and situations. Gillen and Marvel have gone the latter route and as such we’ve ended up seeing Sinister, Phalanx and the Celestials all square up to Scott Summer’s team of heavy hitters over the course of just 80+ pages. I personally think that it’s been the right idea in this instance, especially as Gillen has tried to include linked plot threads where possible.

Here we see the entire piece from the viewpoint of the Phalanx member from Strain 264 Theta as it recalls its capture and gradual torture and dissection at the hands of Sinister, through to its eventual freedom and desire to bring its kin to Earth to continue the objective of assimilation. I really enjoyed seeing how this tale unfurled over the course of several years, punctuated by seeing two different iterations of Sinister involved briefly and the Phalanx’s growing struggle with being disconnected from his species. The key to the whole issue hangs on our first instinct to feel sympathy for the protagonist because of the horrific experience it is forced to endure which then gets flipped on its head as we realise the threat that the Phalanx poses to everyone and everything. Gillen treads the perfect line between making us empathise and making us hope that this creature can be stopped with ruthless efficiency.

When the X-Men do turn up, Gillen takes the opportunity to enforce his keen grip on Cyclops’ leadership patter and once again show that Colossus may be turning to his Juggernaut powers far too quickly in the game. When such a powerful force is unleashed you need the artistic skills to make it work and Brandon Peterson certainly possesses those. Strangely, his style here seems to be a fine combination of the best of Greg Land and Carlos Pacheco’s X-Men work with a terrific variety of panels, angles and sense of scale from beginning to end. The Phalanx skin must be up there with the most fiddly surfaces in the entirety of the comic medium to replicate panel after panel yet Peterson doesn’t appear to cut a single corner or lean too heavy on the inking which other artists have been guilty off when dealing with the infectious species in the past. On the strength of his efforts here I’d definitely like to see more issues of Uncanny feature Peterson’s work!

These one-shot stories pop up from time to time in ongoing series and sometimes they can just feel rather pointless, throwaway and leave you wondering why you parted with your currency for them in hindsight. I’ve rarely, if ever, felt that way about Gillen’s efforts and this issue once again displays his talent for reinforcing over-riding plot ideas - here it’s Cyclops taking the bigger victory over smaller yet troubling losses - while demonstrating an ability to craft singular, effective stories that leave a lasting impression. When backed up with striking visual storytelling from an art team like Peterson and Ponsor you end up with a high-caliber comic book read that hopefully makes people sit up and pay attention to just how consistently good yet varied a title can be. 8/10

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