It seems in the Age of X-Man all is peachy, but if you pick up Uncanny X-Men, it’s far from perfect. In fact, it’s positively dystopian. Matthew Rosenberg and Salvador Larroca have been telling a story about the X-Men outside of X-Man’s bubble and it’s dark and filled with death. The first trade paperback is out today, but is it good?
So what’s it about?
The official summary reads:
First…the X-Men lose one of their own. Then…the new Black King of the Hellfire Club makes a move.
Why does this matter?
This series brings Cyclops and Wolverine back together which is hugely important when you consider they were both dead for so many years. It’s also important because this series is the story taking place right before Jonathan Hickman brings us the “next seminal moment” in X-Men history. If it’s going to be wiped clean I suspect that means lots of characters can die, right? And boy, do they.
Fine, you have my attention. What’s good about it?
This is a very different kind of X-Men comic set mostly in the dark, whether it’s in gross underground sewers or in a seedy bar where Cyclops and the X-Men take up their headquarters. Cyclops is battered, having just come back to life, and is trying to find any mutants he can after the world assumes they’re all dead. This story arc focuses on finding good mutants, but also doing what Cyclops professes is the X-Men’s job: to stop bad ones. Along the way, there is a human group called the Mutant Liberation Front trying to stop and even kill mutants, and Captain America even pops in to get in Cyclops’ face. This darker tone makes the book feel different, edgy, and at times shocking in its approach, giving readers something that’s a little different.
It’s also filled with shocking moments. I won’t spoil a single one, but there are a lot of mutants who die in this. It makes one wonder, when X-Man reverses what he’s been up to in the Age of X-Man story, will these deaths be reversed? Some rather big mutants die in seemingly arbitrary ways without much fanfare, which leads one to think they’re interim deaths. The sheer number of deaths make you wonder if a larger twist is coming. Considering how Rosenberg is laying out each issue as if it’s a new mission for Cyclops to overcome, one could wager a war of the mind is taking place. Given his relationship with two women who can mess with your mind, I wouldn’t put it past him. That said, this story does a good job establishing Cyclops’ role as a leader, but also his new path in saving mutantkind.
With those deaths come some rather surprising killers, and Rosenberg does a good job establishing how this is a different time for mutants. If an X-Man kills it’s certainly bad, but this ragtag group is barely hanging on to life considering what they face. Those threats include some surprising twists as well as interesting ones. We’re talking heroes being stuffed in Sentinels, heroes breaking bad for the right reasons, and more. Rosenberg keeps you on your toes.
It can’t be perfect, can it?
The art can be difficult to understand, possibly because it’s cast in so much darkness. It does its job when it needs to, but can also be bad at capturing where characters are spatially. I remember once listening to the Fight Club commentary and Brad Pitt blurted out, “Why is this so dark?!” I felt the same way reading this and I wonder if it helps cover up blemishes by Larroca or at least makes it easier to draw since backgrounds are simple shadows.
More than once I’m reminded of the dread Terminator instilled in me and how dark and hopeless that narrative can get. It makes you wonder if this is all a dream or something, because Cyclops doesn’t quite act how you’d imagine. Each issue has them doing stuff, but there are no two points between issues. Scott seems to ask too much of his team throughout the story, as if to stress that these are hard times, but then he lets Dark Beast into his headquarters when the guy tried to kill them. The rationale isn’t there as he stumbles from one conflict to the next. It also requires you to forget what came before, like how Cyclops killed Xavier, or how he was a revolutionary on a global scale but now just wants to do what’s right in the moment. The tone seems off and the series doesn’t quite have the synergy required to make each issue sing.
Is it good?
The darker tone of this book is exciting since it feels so different, but also disheartening. However, the visuals are so dark and jive so poorly with the heavier, exposition-style storytelling that it’s hard to ever get a grip with what is going on. Meanwhile, Cyclops is the lead character but acts almost spontaneously, especially compared to his earlier self. I want to like this series, but it’s a difficult read to enjoy.