It’s amazing to see an indie creator break-in, dabble with DC or Marvel characters, and then dive right back into the indie scene. Kieron Gillen is a good example of how superhero comics aren’t the finality of your career but just the beginning. Look at his excellent work on Die and Peter Cannon. What better time then to explore his work at Marvel Comics via the 504 page Uncanny X-Men by Kieron Gillen: The Complete Collection Vol. 1.?
So what’s it about?
The official summary reads:
Kieron Gillen steers the X-Men through “Fear Itself”, “Schism” and “Regenesis”! Beast and Abigail Brand must save the alien-monitoring S.W.O.R.D. agency when Henry Peter Gyrich stages a coup! And down on Earth, how will the X-Men explain themselves when the public learns that Magneto has joined the team? Making matters worse, a Breakworld warship arrives on a vengeance-filled mission – and when the Juggernaut is empowered by Asgardian black magic, he becomes more unstoppable than ever! Then, after the X-Men are torn in two, Cyclops leads a new “Extinction Team” of powerhouse heavyhitters -including Storm, Emma Frost, Namor, Colossus, Magik and Magneto! And it’s not moment too soon, as world-ending threats are mounting quickly – including Mister Sinister harnessing the power of a Dreaming Celestial!
Why does this matter?
The stories collected here, from S.W.O.R.D. in 2009 to 2011 all contain stories weaving in and out of multiple line-wide events. Gillen was navigating the troubled waters of “Fear Itself” and “Schism” to keep the merry mutants on a level playing field.
Fine, you have my attention. What’s good about it?
This is a wide sweeping collection which is obvious given the years of work it collects, but also from the characters within. From Agent Brand and Marvel Boy in the S.W.O.R.D. portion of the collection to Gillen’s rebooted fresh start on Uncanny X-Men #1 this is a good look at how Gillen reset things and got into a groove with the X-Men. The five-issue arc involving Agent Brand (and her boyfriend Beast) are fast-paced action leaving you gasping for air as jokes and plot twists come fast and hard. The art, by Steven Sanders, is a bit cartoony and lighter which sets the tone for a fly by your pants action story. Gillen nails Agent Brand who is no-nonsense and constantly working. Frankly, it’s amazing Beast is even her boyfriend given how much of a workaholic she is and the series does well to capture how she keeps everything running. I’d liken this section of the collection to Men in Black given the aliens walking about and her intergalactic responsibilities. Gillen makes the case for an Agent Brand appearance or even movie in the Marvel cinematic universe.
The rest of the series gets into Uncanny X-Men starting with issue #534.1 through #544 and capping everything off with X-Men: Regenesis And Uncanny X-Men #1 to #3. When Gillen takes this series over there are only 175 mutants left mostly living on Utopia which is a definitive time for mutants in the Marvel Comics. They’re a dying race and the pressure is on to keep as many of them alive as possible. The core of the X-Men is a strong one with Colossus, Wolverine, Emma Frost, Magneto, Namor and Cyclops as the leader. Kitty Pryde is also a member although in the opening chapters she is incapable of controlling her phasing. S.W.O.R.D. plays a part in the narrative early on too hence why it’s collected here as the X-Men attempt to aid aliens from Breakworld. It does not go as they might hope with Magneto being kidnapped and a secret plan taking hold. It involves refugees, Kitty Pryde getting control of her powers, and a twist that makes Genosha even stronger.
Newer mutants pop in like Transonic, Teon, and Hope in a one-shot involving the uncomfortable relationship between Wolverine and Hope. It’s a quick check about what Hope may become and serves as a hiccup before the “Fear Itself” tie-in issues take over. Essentially Greg Land and Gillen put the X-Men in front of an Asgardian powered up Juggernaut. Characters like Avalanche pop in to see if they can stop this newer more powerful Juggernaut to no avail. With this and the previous issues, it’s clear Gillen is going for a Scott Summers who has the weight of the world on him. He’s the true leader oft he X-Men, but he’s working with a much darker world to defeat thus making himself turn inwards and dark himself. It’s an interesting development that makes sense naturally given how far he goes years later.
The collection ends on a high note with “Regenesis” focusing on Cyclops making a new team. He dubs them the “Extinction Team,” which might sound scary, but it’s all about showing the world that the X-Men are the most powerful superheroes on Earth. More powerful than the Avengers even. Gillen and Carlos Pacheco deliver a story that certainly puts an exclamation point on Cyclops’ plan by having them face Mr. Sinister and by association the Celestials. Gillen weaves in a crazy Borg-like plan with Sinister and it all ends with an emphatic statement about not messing with mutants. Once again you can see how Gillen put his mark on the X-Men and shifted how they’d be written for years to come.
There is a wide range of artists on this Uncanny X-Men run like Terry Dodson, Cam Smith, Ibraim Roberson, Greg Land, Carlos Pacheco, and others and it’s rather good art at that. This is a superhero book and it shows be it the physique of the heroes or the dramatic visuals and double page layouts. Pacheco, Roberson, and Land all deliver a hyper-detailed style we’ve come to expect from superhero books while Dodson gives a more rounded and cartoony look. Overall I had a blast with the art in this collection.
It can’t be perfect, can it?
Seeing as this is a complete edition it houses all of Gillen’s work so as to see his evolution and every issue he wrote. That makes the first few S.W.O.R.D. issues stand out since they are campy and humor while much of the rest of the collection here is deadly serious. It’s a balancing act too as Gillen closes the door on an alien threat, is forced into “Fear Itself” and then finally begins his run on a rebooted Uncanny X-Men. That makes this read a bit rocky as it attempts to find its identity and navigate Marvel events too.
That goes double with the Powerlord Kruun arc which puts a lid on a villain who Joss Whedon and John Cassaday introduced but is reintroduced here as a somewhat pathetic character. He lost his arm, wants revenge, etc. etc. It’s hard to come away from this story thinking the character had been ruined although the story arc does reset a few things in preparation for Gillen’s run later on.
Is it good?
This is an interesting look at the X-Men especially since it clearly influenced future stories. The X-Men were always a smaller team, but this collection shows they are possibly the most powerful superhero team ever created. At their core, Cyclops comes away as an entirely new and more adult leader and this collection shows this take on Cyclops will affect many Marvel stories to come.