Review: Uncanny X-Men 539

“Losing Hope”

Writer: Kieron Gillen
Artist: Ibrahim Roberson
Colorist: Jim Charalampidis
Letterer: VC’s Joe Caramagna
Cover: Simone Bianchi

Let’s get this out of the way first and then move on to the story itself:

Uncanny X-Men 539 cover by Simone Bianchi

I mean, really, it screams JUST BUY THIS ALREADY.

Yes, yes, Uncanny is getting a renumbered reboot. Yes, yes, people are increasingly voicing the opinion that lame-duck titles’ remaining issues “don’t count” and can be safely ignored. “Losing Hope,” being a single-issue story, isn’t going to sway anyone who holds that viewpoint…

…but the X-Office has, in a remarkable burst of foresight, put a fantastic Simone Bianchi Wolverine cover on this issue. That alone should distract the nerd rage and draw some of the hard cases to the book. Look, it’s got Wolverine on! I have to appreciate canny sales moves like that, since we’re mired in the mysterious Current Climate and whatnot.

Moving on. This is a fairly uncomplicated story that hinges on a dubious Claremont-era X-trope: female mutants love to shop and need to shake off their angst about their persecuted status, so they go shopping. Of course, since they’re persecuted mutants, shit goes down by the Hot Dog on a Stick, and they have to accept that their lives will never be normal enough to permit them the joys of a limeade. I estimate that I read some variant of that plotline eight or nine times as a teenage comics fan. (When I wasn’t reading that, there were mutants playing baseball.)

Gillen, to his credit, subverts the trope in this story by focusing it squarely on Hope Summers, the alleged mutant messiah around whom a great deal of recent events have focused. Hope’s teammates have to force her out of her armory and off the island; once they’re out, her fashion sense proves as nonexistent as her ability to accept critique. There are no armloads of Nagel-inspired ’80s dresses here, just one cranky, hyperfocused mutant savior and two reluctant disciples.

It’s a shame that those disciples– Laurie and Idie, two of the more interesting members of the Generation Hope cast– are cast aside as soon as Hope is kidnapped and the actual plot kicks in. Admittedly, this isn’t an issue of Gen Hope; expecting some elucidation on Laurie and Hope’s uneasy alliance, or Idie’s ongoing struggle to assimilate into mutant culture, is expecting something Uncanny’s not designed to deliver. But would it be too much to ask to let them participate in the action beyond summoning Wolverine? Watching the newer mutants participate in a mission alongside the definitive combat expert on the older team would have been enlightening.

What we get, instead, is a pretty straightforward Wolverine solo operation– he breaks into the Crimson Commando’s base and stages a rescue, and he and Hope fight their way out. Grudging respect is achieved in the heat of battle, and Logan monologues a bit about his reluctance to get emotionally involved with Hope. Exeunt all, including, presumably, Idie, whom we never see again after page 5.

It’s an efficiently told story, and Ibrahim Roberson’s art lends it a kinetic, muscular feeling. I believe this is Roberson’s first Marvel work, and it leaves me wondering what his take on Iron Fist or a similarly visceral character would look like. Certainly, he’s presented a compelling argument for his future employment.

And there’s nothing particularly wrong, per se, with a Logan/ Hope adventure that runs its course in 17 pages. The Crimson Commando has a compelling reason for his attempt to capture Hope. Logan’s reasons for keeping a wary distance from her are valid. Logan’s arrival in Hope’s cell is understated so heavily as to be both absolutely hilarious and perfectly fitting. (When a man is the best there is at what he does, there really does come a point where there’s nothing to be gained by showing him doing it over and over again.) But I was still left wanting a little more here… and the sort of thing I wanted is, ironically, laid out in an earlier throwaway scene with Logan, Hope, and the feral savant Teon.

Hope approaches Teon and Logan’s sparring practice on her way off the island, and Teon is instantly smitten. He runs to her feet. He’s immediately present in a raw, physical way. Hope puts her hand down and tells him to stay, like one would a particularly slow dog– and in Logan’s body language and stone silence, we see that he’s watching himself with Jean Grey, years before. It’s a brilliantly played moment, four panels of showing without telling. For the reader, Logan’s speech later is just exposition for Hope’s sake; it’s the subtle set of his shoulders as Teon rejoins him that tells us everything we need to know, and a number of things that Hope has yet to even guess.

“Losing Hope” is worth reading for that page alone. It’s a lesson in storytelling– you can be efficient, you can run from point A to point B along a well-traveled plot arc, you can subvert a trope or two along the way, but you have to deliver the unexpected punch to the gut while you’re at it.

Review: Uncanny X-Men #522

Cover to Uncanny X-Men 522, by Terry Dodson.

Terry Dodson puts the focus on Kitty Pryde.


Writer: Matt Fraction
Penciller: Whilce Portacio
Inker: Ed Tadeo
Colorist: Justin Ponsor

It’s not like I can spoil this book for you, after Fraction Twittered it yesterday afternoon: yes, Kitty Pryde is finally out of the Breakworld bullet and back among the X-Men. Of course, this being one of Matt Fraction’s books, nothing’s as simple as it seems, and the implications for the entire X-contingent are… less positive than you’d think.

I wasn’t too keen on the last issue of Uncanny I reviewed– too much of the U-Men, too much boggling Greg Land art, just too much. Happily, this issue tones down the emphasis on John Sublime and his U-Men, shifts the focus back to Utopia, and starts to hint at the future direction of the title. Sure, Whilce Portacio serves up the occasional weirdly foreshortened limb, but the art competently conveys the narrative while avoiding “WA” moments.

And it’s a good narrative. Kitty’s return is a straight callback to some of Claremont’s finer late-80s plotlines. Magneto continues to be the man on the scene, managing to advance his personal agenda while being effectively catatonic for the entire issue. The X-Club, and especially the snarky Warren Ellis stand-in Dr. Nemesis, get substantial screen time as they work out ways to avert the potential danger of the Breakworld bullet’s arrival on Earth. Danger shows up, and her behavior makes it clear that her recent humbling at Hisako’s hands in Nation X had a positive effect. Hell, Reed Richards makes a cameo to drop some science on the assembled Utopians, and to let us know that the X-Men’s days of running a renegade state may be coming to an end.

This is all solid, solid stuff, now that we’re out of the U-Men weeds for the moment. There’s a clear dramatic arc here, the editorial oversight is in place, and plans are being laid for Uncanny’s upcoming three-issue participation in Second Coming. All of the tiny tensions and interpersonal struggles are starting to come together around Kitty’s return, and it’s about time (although relative event timing isn’t the fault of individual Marvel creative teams).

Fraction and Phil Jimenez deliver a short backup story in this issue, a clever parable about apocalyptic thinking set on a world that suddenly finds itself without an apocalypse. It’s a nice antidote to the current rash of 2012 hysteria, and it’s as solidly executed as you’d expect from a team like this.

Also, I stand by my contention from last time: Magneto’s still going to have three-quarters of mutantkind offering to buff his helmet for him by the time the big event is over. Never count Erik out of a good political crisis, self-induced massive trauma or not.

Capsule Reviews: Week of January 18th

Uncanny X-Men #520 (Marvel; Fraction, Land, Leisten, Ponsor)

As an old-school X-fan and a big Matt Fraction fan in general, I’m usually inclined to cut Uncanny a lot of slack. Dr. Nemesis and Madison Jeffries amuse me greatly, there’s a lot of love for Pixie, and watching Scott try to micromanage Erik, Charles, and Namor is always a good time. I know, I know, it’s an X-Men nostalgia trip, it can’t move the plot forward in any substantial way until Generation Lost gets underway and Hope comes back from the future… I know. It’s a book with fundamental editorial-scheduling-vs.-creator-initiative issues, and I still pick it up every month and enjoy it.

Unfortunately, this issue has problems that go beyond mandated wheel-spinning. Fraction’s juggling pretty much every mutant in the Marvel Universe these days, and the cast is straining my ability to keep track of what’s going on. #520 is no exception; I had to look up the first appearances of Verre and Burst, only to find out that they debuted a mere five issues ago in the same book. In the intervening time, I’ve already managed to lose track of who they are, what they do, and what their plot motivation is. Fraction seems to work best with a tight, close-knit cast– like his core Iron Man setup with Tony, Maria, Natasha, and Pepper– and the Nation-X concept doesn’t seem to showcase his strengths. The overall numbing effect of a never-ending firehose of mutants means I’m starting to tune out the C-list plot arcs, a decision I’m sure will come back to haunt me.

On the other hand, Magneto and Namor keep the A-plot running along nicely– they’ve come to Utopia to promote their own agendas, and if those ends don’t mesh with Scott’s plans, so much the better. Fraction obviously loves him some Namor, and I do too– the King of Atlantis is unfailingly arrogant, snidely funny, convinced of his own superiority over Scott, Erik, and anyone else in his way. For his part, Magneto is slickly disingenuous, solving problems behind Scott’s back and then returning to apologize in a way that makes his “I’m not trying to undermine you, Scott” sound like “All mutantkind’s going to be eating out of my purple-gloved hand in six months, Scott, suck it up.” This plot, at least, is worth following.

Unfortunately, Greg Land’s art is… Greg Land’s art, which other critics have panned all over the Internet. This issue, though, was the first one where I couldn’t ignore the bad design choices, weird perspectives, and stiff linework. I actually passed the book off to Chad at one point and turned to page 15, which is a particularly baffling splash page of Wolverine:

Wolverine and Psylocke vault a taxicab in NYC.

WA! It's Wolverine, Psylocke, and an unfortunate design choice.

What is that “WA” over his head? It appears to be attached to a sign (I think there’s an Aiwa sign behind that Canon sign in real life), which is all well and good, but it’s so poorly integrated into the shot that it almost passes as a sound effect. “WA!” says Wolverine, vaulting the perilous taxicab! Chad perused the image and made his own “WA” face, which I managed to capture with my phone’s camera:

Chad making the WA face.

Chad ponders the almighty WA.

Mysterious “WA” aside, there’s also a side angle on Namor where his ear appears to be attached to his head by a stalk, and a few other pictures of Logan where his mask might have been added long after the page was drawn, lending it a creepy opacity and a weird pointiness. Magneto, being a guy who habitually wears a giant bucket, is on-model more often than not, which is a relief.

Namor, from Uncanny X-Men 520, art by Greg Land.

Namor's lip is stuck to his kingly front teeth. Imperious Rex!

Oh, and there’s one panel where we’re told instead of shown that “the X-Men are kind of the coolest thing going.” Compare and contrast with Grant Morrison’s entire run building up the idea that mutants are actually tastemakers and trendsetters. Not Fraction’s best work, and certainly not Land’s.

Spider-Man: 1602 #4 of 5 (Marvel; Parker, Rosanas, Charalampidis, Bowland)

1602 proper was a tough book to like. Great art and Neil Gaiman dialogue aside, the story lapsed into incoherence by the last chapter. However, now that Gaiman’s created the universe, creators like Jeff Parker can bake us some rowdy faux-Colonial adventuring apple pie, and I’m all about pie.

Parker’s delivered the drama all along in this series– 1602 Norman Osborn has been completely, unrepentantly big-E Evil, instead of falling prey to the sort of bipolar incompetence of his 616 counterpart. He’s murdered, he’s attempted to frame Peter Parquagh for it, and he’s even given plague blankets to the natives, just in case the first two action items on his agenda weren’t evil enough. Victor Octavius is flat-out insane and keeping a captive science team comprised of the two Hanks– McCoy and Pym– in his basement to work out a cure for his condition. Peter, meanwhile, has been sent to England from the Colonies to secure Osborn’s conviction on murder charges and see him to the grave, romance Marion Jane Watsonne, and stop Octavius.

Michael Golden's cover for Spider-Man 1602 #4.

Things are getting kind of 4chan in here. Cover by Michael Golden.

It’s largely tense stuff, taking some of the brighter edge off Peter’s usual happy-go-lucky demeanor, and that approach continues in this issue, with a few familiar Spider-Man villains getting the full 1602 treatment. Given that the tech base is much less developed than that of the 616 Marvel Universe, Parker makes Osborn and Octavius into freaks of nature rather than technological terrors. The ongoing plight of Henri Pym and his wife Janette continues, although I’m starting to lose hope that Janette will ever escape from her confinement and kick some ass.

Rosanas does solid work on the art, and, really, if you like Spider-Man but can’t keep up with the 616 continuity, you’ll get just as much out of Spider-Man 1602 with much less of a reading burden.