Uncanny X-Men #1: Xs and Uhhhhhs

uncanny x-men

Uncanny X-Men #1

“Disassembled Part 1”
Mahmud Asrar (artist), Ed Brisson, Matthew Rosenberg, Kelly Thompson (writers), VC’s Joe Caramagna (letterer), Rachelle Rosenberg (colorist)

“What Tomorrow Brings Part 1, 2, 3 & Epilogue”
Mark Bagley, Mirko Colak, Ibraim Roberson (artists), Ed Brisson, Matthew Rosenberg, Kelly Thompson (writers), VC’s Joe Caramagna (letterer), GURU-eFX (colorist), Andrew Hennessey (inker)

For the X-Men, everything old is new again—or should that be “everything gold is blue again”? Emma Frost is back in the Hellfire Club, Psylocke is white, and Jubilee’s dressing like it’s 1992; throw in the conclusions of the color-coded X-Men titles and the loose end-annihilating events of Extermination, and you have the build-up to Uncanny X-Men #1.

Cover for Uncanny X-men: Team members pose aggressively

The newest incarnation of the X-Men’s flagship title wants you to know that it’s a big deal, the kind of epic mega-story that could only be told with three writers, ten weekly installments, thirteen variant covers, and sixty-four pages. They even brought back the classic Jim Steranko-designed logo, so you know they’re serious. Despite all that potential, Uncanny X-Men #1 is an uninspired, self-cannibalizing disappointment.

The comic opens with one big question: “Where is Kitty Pryde?!” Jean Grey has a premonition of the X-Men fighting a legion of Multiple Man dupes who can only ask that question over and over again, and soon enough, Kitty mysteriously disappears while leading the junior X-Men on a mission. Meanwhile, the Mutant Liberation Front (only ’90s kids will remember the MLF) tries to destroy a lab creating a “vaccine” for mutants, and the rest of the X-Men stake out a speech by a new anti-mutant senator. The scene erupts into violence, and hey, where is Kitty Pryde, anyway?

The biggest problem with Uncanny X-Men #1 is that while the writing team of Ed Brisson, Matthew Rosenberg, and Kelly Thompson is clearly trying to hit some classic X-Men story beats, the end result feels like an X-Men bingo card. Someone’s created a so-called cure for being a mutant, again. A smarmy politician spreading anti-mutant rhetoric has to be saved by the X-Men, again. Someone says “no more mutants,” again. The script tries to lampshade this. “Isn’t he supposed to be dead, anyway?” Pixie asks about former KB Toys clearance bin action figure Forearm. Jubilee, listening to the Senator, quips “I feel like I’ve heard this speech a million times.” It’s a bad sign when the characters seem bored by their own comic.

It’s possible that something deeper develops from the X-Men franchise strip-mining its own mythology. Hey, Multiple Man seems unstuck in time; maybe his constant “Where is Kitty Pryde?!” refrain is a metaphor for the way the X-Men are doomed to repeat the same events over and over again? Defending a world that hates and fears them is part of the X-Men’s mutated DNA, but compared to X-Men: Red, which put tiki torches and social media in the hands of its anti-mutant bigots for a sense of real-world urgency and weight, another generic talking head in a suit feels hollow. (Mahmud Asrar sure nails that dead-behind-the-eyes politician stare, though.) It also feels tone deaf to still portray, in 2018, characters like the MLF as one-dimensional punching bags when their goal is… stopping the scientists and politicians who want to commit actual genocide. Okay. Some dialogue suggests that a character or two may switch sides, however, so I hope that we see a more daring and subversive take on this plotline in future issues.

Panel from Uncanny X-Men: a red-tinted battle scene with various team members inflicting damage

The story isn’t helped by the fact that this comic is confusingly told. Though the main plotline flows simply enough, Uncanny X-Men #1 includes three loosely-connected back-ups written separately by Brisson, Rosenberg, and Thompson that form a kind of prequel to “X-Men: Disassembled” while also setting up the later “Age of X-Man” storyline. There’s also an epilogue, so the book has a prologue with an epilogue. Got it? If it makes you feel better, the X-Men are perplexed too, as there are three separate fight scenes where the heroes don’t really know who they’re punching or why. Of course, all first issues need mystery and a hook. But this feels blundering and sloppy.

What truly deserves all the hype in Uncanny X-Men #1 is the spectacular artwork by Mahmud Asrar, formerly of X-Men: Red. His pages seem almost effortlessly dynamic and cool, whether in action scenes like the X-Men version of crowd control or quiet moments in the Institute’s kitchen. He juggles the twenty(!) individual X-Men in this book with aplomb, and no one is interchangeable—er, except Multiple Man, of course. There are a number of showstopping individual panels in this comic; Psylocke unleashing her new psychic broadsword and shield (appropriate, not appropriative!) is destined to be a defining image for the character.

The back-up artists are all well-suited to the stories they tell, and present distinct tones: Mirko Colak brings grit to Bishop’s “cop on a case” drama; Ibraim Roberson draws a heartwarming coffee date between Jean and Ororo (one of the comic’s best moments); Mark Bagley delivers classic superhero action to the young X-Men fighting a sewer-bound supervillain (nothing good ever happens to the X-Men in sewers). If the revolving slate of Uncanny artists maintains this level, each issue will be at least worth a look.

The return of the X-Men’s flagship title arrives with much fanfare (I even saw a commercial for it on TV the other night, “Where is Kitty Pryde?!” and all), but unfortunately the unoriginality of the story is a huge strike against a comic that has a $7.99 price tag. While the artwork, particularly Mahmud Asrar’s stunning pages, offers flash and sizzle, this is not the bold, new direction the franchise needs. For some, the new Uncanny X-Men #1 will feel like comfort food; to me, it’s leftovers.

Kayleigh Hearn

Kayleigh Hearn

Still waiting for her Xavier School for Gifted Youngsters acceptance letter. Bylines also at Deadshirt, Ms-En-Scene, The MNT, PanelxPanel, and Talk Film Society.

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