Review: Uncanny X-Men #4 – Bendis & Bachalo

UNCANNYX-MEN-NO4-COVER1 As a lifelong X-Men fan going back to the mid 80s, I have followed this constantly shifting crew of heroes and villains into some very exciting and downright mind-blowing periods.  You can look at so many different eras of the various titles and a debate can be had over which of the many big moments are the most important, or the most defining for the X Universe.

Personally, I think this is the start of one of those great eras, beginning with the launching of the Marvel NOW X titles.  With multiple crossover events taking quite a toll on these mutants and their worlds over the past chunk of years, this has put them in a very interesting position.  So for me, it’s a great time to be an X-Men fan, and this 4th issue of Uncanny X-Men is more proof for my brain that while big and sweeping changes may mean difficulties in setting up good stories or even complete arcs afterwards, it can also open a tired area of Marvel’s Universe up to new and special things.

This issue is special in its own way, as it is mostly a scene we saw play out in the newest issue of All New X-Men, except from a whole different perspective.  In ‘All New’ we had the straight up scene, with all the drama and danger it held.  Scott and his new team (the ‘Uncanny’ one) arrive at the Jean Grey School campus, attempting to recruit new members for their team, or ’cause’ depending on how you see it.  The issue ended with an unknown X-Men member crossing sides over to Scott’s “mutant terrorist” group, which was a great cliffhanger.  Luckily, I also read this title, as that ending is continued within this issue #4.

Now, the way this scene plays out is one of those moments in recent X books that make me excited for the future.  Instead of the full scene we had already read in “All New X-Men”, we get the same scene, only lightly told in the background of a psychic conversation between Emma Frost and her ‘Stepford Sisters’ – Celeste, Mindee, and Phoebe.  In the issue of ‘All New’ we see the 3 girls join Scott’s side near the end of the comic, and here we get to see the ‘behind the scenes’ of why they made that choice.  It is a brilliant way to catch an important scene from two completely separate viewpoints, giving a more solid feel for the overall scene itself.

Another major part of this new issue is learning more about the ‘new mutants’ Scott is ‘keeping’ at the new (and very secret) Xavier School.  We open on the group – the whiny Benjamin, the very powerful Eva, the over confident Christopher and the seemingly useless Fabio – discussing their role at the school, and pondering the fact that they have been left to their own devices within the school.  There are some very light attempts at character development, and even some within the group dynamic, but these come off as a bit forced and the scene itself leaves you wanting.  Seeds are planted for what may or may not be future complications and closer relationships among the group, but most of it feels very stereotypical for such a scene.  The most glaring of these is when we have the egotistical Christopher rudely hitting on the smart-ass Eva, in a way so ‘by the book’ that it almost makes the very pages themselves feel stale.  There is no life, no spark of anything between any of the group, save for a short but slightly sweet exchange between Eva and Benjamin.

There is a hilarious section where the new group accidentally find themselves fighting in the Danger Room, not knowing where they are or how they got there.  It’s a great couple of panels, yet it’s nearly completely ruined by the weakly thought out reason behind their plight – goofy Fabio was ‘looking for a phone’ and just randomly hit buttons until the Danger Room was inadvertently activated.  This was a downer to such a great moment, and it really bugged me.

With this title and All New X-Men I have been enjoying Bendis’ writing, but a lot of that has more to do with what is currently happening in the X titles than the actual writing itself.  A lot of times it’s too stiff, too forced.  This is one of those times.  Even with a pretty brilliant story device in the Emma/Stepford conversation, this issue fell flat pretty quick.  Add in a seemingly random problem with Magik, and what you get at the end is a bit of disappointment and confusion.

My main complaint – and this is a spoiler – is that it turns out to be the Angel from the past that joins up with Scott.  That was the ‘cliffhanger’.  It really bothered me that the one character that expressed the most unhappiness with the whole situation would be the one to join.  It may make sense, but it feels too easy.  I expected to be surprised when this was revealed and, though I had figured it would most likely be Angel, I really thought Bendis would have thought that too easy as well.  I’m sure it’s leading into something bigger, but it left me cold, and killed my interest in the idea of a member ‘jumping ship’.  The worst thing a writer can do is kill excitement for a book’s development and although Bendis can write some pretty good stuff when he wants to, this is not a shining moment for him.

A lot of people I know have issues with Chris Bachalo’s artwork for this title, and wish he didn’t work on any of the X books.  While I had major issues with his previous work on Wolverine & the X-Men (where it felt too far ‘out of the box’ with no real grounding at all in the X Universe), I have been a diehard fan of his work since finding him in Shade: the Changing Man in the early 90s.  Not only was that title written wonderfully by Peter Milligan, but Bachalo’s artwork sealed the deal, making it one of my favorite runs in nearly any comic’s history.  So I’m a bit biased, as I’m a huge fan.  I have not had much of a problem here as I had with Wolverine, and a lot of his work is damn beautiful – especially the covers (with the exception of the poorly designed cover to #3), which have become mini-posters on my wall I love them so much.

It may sound like I’m not the fan that I make myself out to be when it comes to the X in Marvel, but it is actually that exact thing that makes me so critical of this issue.  This is one of my favorite recent eras for these titles, and having this issue fall so short of what it has been so far is a real downer.  I hope issue #5 will pick it back up.  I’ll be there, either way.  It’s an X book, after all.