Uncanny X-Men #502

Written by Matt Fraction and Ed Brubaker
Penciled by Greg Land
Inked by Jay Leisten
32 pages, color
Published by Marvel Comics

One of the very first superhero comics I ever read was Uncanny X-Men, so I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for the comic. That’s not to say that I’m willing to give it a free pass, of course; I’ve had quite a few years in which I’ve given the book a shot, decided it wasn’t for me, and left it aside. Happily, right now makes me feel for the first time since Grant Morrison stopped writing the X-Men that there is a book that is aimed squarely at me, and for that I have Matt Fraction and Ed Brubaker to thank. Now if only Terry Dodson would come on board sooner rather than later, I think I’d be set.

The X-Men are now located in San Francisco, thanks to the team’s mansion being blown up yet again. What seemed like a safe haven for the team has proven to be anything but, though, with junior member Pixie getting assaulted by a gang specifically targeting mutants. But which faces from the X-Men’s past are behind this new series of attacks? And is now really the right time for mutants to being out in the open?

Fraction and Brubaker seem to be having a ball with Uncanny X-Men, that same fast-paced synergy that served them so well together on Immortal Iron Fist firing on all cylinders here as well. The larger strokes of the comic work great here, with the set-up of the X-Men calling all remaining mutants to San Francisco giving them a huge cast to work with; if Cyclops’s plan requires Karma or Dazzler, for instance, why not have them drop by? Having the book be able to pick and choose from most of mutant kind opens up all sorts of possibilities that in the past may have otherwise been unavailable. Fraction and Brubaker clearly know their mutant comic history, too; not just from digging up characters like Karma or Empath, but even remembering specific events in their past that both serve as plot points but also are presented to the reader in a way that makes them feel brand-new, so that you aren’t missing a thing if you didn’t happen to read all 100 issues of New Mutants almost 20 years ago.

At the same time, though, there’s a lot of wit and whimsy in the smaller details of Uncanny X-Men here. When the duo introduce the main characters, they take the old tactic of mentioning his or her name, followed by two quick phrases that sum them up. It’s a familiar rote to see lines show up like, "Kurt Wagner – Nightcrawler. Teleporting demon acrobat. German." But I challenge readers not to laugh with comments like, "Ali Blaire – Dazzler. Sonic transducer. Totally fabulous." It’s this slightly flippant nature that keeps a story about targeted hate crimes from ever feeling too grim or depressing; that little oomph that reminds you that comics can hit the big issues but still be a lot of fun.

The one thing that keeps Uncanny X-Men from being really, really great is Greg Land’s art. My big problem with it is how his characters come across abnormally posed and stiff; I don’t have a problem with him lightboxing photos or magazines to use as reference, but the final execution ends up being a little off. The characters end up looking so much like their original models that it’s hard to not stop and stare at pictures of the White Queen or Dazzler and wonder which one of them was originally a photograph of Rebecca Romijn, or if all of the blonde-haired women are going to have the same big full head of hair from the same model. (There’s one panel with Empath back in his Hellions days that looks so familiar it’ll probably be on my mind for weeks until I can figure out exactly where it’s from.) It’s a frustrating end result; when Land isn’t lightboxing his art isn’t that bad, but with the number of pages starring obviously posed and heavily referenced source images, that seems to be few and far-between in this comic. (By way of contrast, Tony Harris’s art in Ex Machina is also heavily photo-referenced, but there it always feels alive and vibrant; it can be done.)

On the whole, I am really enjoying the revamped Uncanny X-Men, and I can’t help but feel that with Terry Dodson drawing every other storyline, I’ll be even happier when Dodson takes over the pencils. Still, artistic glitches aside, this is a thoroughly enjoyable comic. Here’s hoping that Fraction and Brubaker co-write this book for a long time to come, because I’m having an utter blast. It’s nice to be back.

1 comment to Uncanny X-Men #502