While the Marvel Now! relaunch saw new teams form under an amalgam of banners and other major titles get a revamp, one flagship title was kept off the shelf long enough for its members to find themselves and form under a pertinent cause that could see its figurehead redeemed or further ostracized — the Uncanny X-Men.
Brian Michael Bendis, doing excellent work with the original X-Men in All-New X-Men, takes on the challenge of bringing the new team front and center with two opposing sides watching to see what happens to mutant-rights-poster-boy Cyclops.
Taking on Scott Summers’ story in the aftermath of last year’s huge Avengers vs. X-Men event that saw Professor Xavier’s dream student turning into Marvel’s biggest anti-hero, Bendis’ challenge will be to direct Summers and his team into territory that could alienate a large portion of fans whichever way he goes.
For those who felt indifferent or hated the classic Cyclops character — his turning point as the wielder of the Phoenix Force that climaxed when he publicly murdered his mentor was a step in the right direction to make him relevant. Boring, self-righteous, aloof, distant — detractors who used those terms call Cyclops’ current turn into his new role character development.
Others called foul, and they took up the battle cry: Cyclops was right, even as they winced over the character changes that saw Cyclops go from mutantkind’s Spartacus to its Che Guevara.
In issue #1, S.H.I.E.L.D.’s presence is felt as Maria Hill is called in to speak with a prisoner in the brig who is more than willing to give up the goods on Summers’ new team — a squad made up of former villains Magneto, Emma Frost, and Magik, as well as two new recruits — an unnamed mutant who has the power to heal and Tempus, a mutant who can stop time within pockets of space. Cyclops is on a mission to redeem himself by saving mutants who have been popping up all over the globe in the wake of the Phoenix Force’s last appearance on Earth, and for the first time in a long time, the world loves him.
Or at least, the notion of him. As an underground freedom fighter, Cyclops is the new face of Marvel’s 99%, and in an age of Facebook and social media, his public exploits against police brutality and a heavy-handed big brother using newer Sentinel models endears him to the population weary of being controlled. It’s a stark change that’s, at least to Cyclops, unexpected. As a representative of mutantkind, Cyclops has tried in various ways to get people and mutants to live peacefully alongside each other. With anti-mutant hysteria growing, Cyclops’ militant actions coupled with his vigilante persona have made him a hero for the everyman now inspired and pressed into action.
The new team also has a new look, and Chris Bachalo’s new character designs are great except for a few missteps — chief of which is Emma Frost’s shorter hairdo which makes her look less like mature. It’s not a major gripe, but her character’s condescending manner and snarky wit feel more natural coming from someone who looks the part, and it was difficult to figure out which blonde she was at first glance. In terms of coloring, Bachalo’s colors on his own art feel a little bit heavy and without bright contrasts — pages and panels are splashed with shades of muddying purple and darker hues. There is a method to the mayhem in his action sequences, and it was easier to distinguish shapes and who they belonged to in comparison to his previous work in Wolverine and the X-Men.
With that, Uncanny X-Men isn’t the most forward title in Marvel’s relaunch, though it has the urgency, depth, and potential to have the biggest impact on the universe. It isn’t the flashiest either, though there are panels from Bachalo that manage to overwhelm the senses. There’s a hint of restraint — this is, after all, a sort of origin story for this team. The use of the prisoner as a narrator to hit specific plot points brings a sort of familiarity for readers who’ve seen The Usual Suspects, and the twist at the end will beg the question: boondoggle (the verb) or betrayal?
It’s a solid start, and Bendis will have his hands full detailing the exploits of the original team living and working in parallel to the new team. How will the Cyclops — Cyclopi? — deal with each other, and what will Jean Grey think? How will new Scott rein in his members, and what new mutants will join the squad? And will the other X-Men — Wolverine, Iceman, Storm — fight or follow?
The future looks uncanny.
Next Issue: Uncanny X-Men #2 Review