Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Uncanny X-Men #1

Marvel, 29 pages, $ 3.99

Writer: Kieron Gillen
Penciler: Carlos Pacheco
Inker: Cam Smith
Colorist: Frank D’Armata

I rather like what Jason Aaron and Chris Bachalo are doing over in the other half of the “Regenesis” relaunch. Can Kieron Gillen and Carlos Pacheco keep up?

Well, first up, Uncanny X-Men is quite a different book from Wolverine & the X-Men—as it should be, certainly, particularly since Marvel’s promotion pretty much hinged on the fact that these were going to be two very different approaches to the X-Men concept. The lead-in to the relaunch was called X-Men: Schism, after all, and two completely different approaches is what the story is about.

So the X-Men relaunch delivers on that end, if nothing else. Whereas Wolverine’s group returns to the roots of the concept by re-establishing the mutant school in Westchester, Cyclops’ plan is to stay on Utopia, the X-Men’s island in the San Francisco Bay, and, um… well, it’s a little complicated.

Cyclops claims he wants to fight prejudice against mutants by proving that his X-Men can and will save the world where other heroes—and clearly, he’s thinking of the Avengers—would fail. Now, since this tack obviously hasn’t worked out very well for the X-Men so far, he’s suggesting that, as long as prejudices can’t be overcome, the X-Men might as well make sure that humans fear mutants more than they hate them.

So, essentially, Cyclops’ plan is to help humans, while at the same time pursuing a strategy of determent to quell any potential attack plans on Utopia at the root—after all, it’s working for North Korea, right? With a team including the White Queen, Namor and Magneto, among other heavy hitters, the determent part shouldn’t be hard to pull of, certainly.

At first, this sounds good, but the more I think about it, the less I’m convinced it works. What’s supposed to be different from the way the general Marvel Universe public has always regarded the X-Men? They’ve been scared of mutants since day one, and it hasn’t prevented the X-Men from being attacked in the past. So why would that change now?

Then again, it’s always possible that this is just an excuse on Cyclops’ part, of course. Whether or not he’s crossing the line is part of the conflict here, anyway, so it would fit with the overall tone of the story for him to have an agenda that nobody knows about yet. Be that as it may, I don’t really buy the premise here, and I’m not convinced that’s part of the plan.

The character work is sound, at least. It’s Cyclops and Storm with a bunch of former villains, basically, and Mr. Gillen is exploring this dynamic effectively. Much of the issue consists of a big fight that doesn’t knock my socks off, but it’s competent stuff, at least.

My biggest problem with Uncanny X-Men is the art, actually.

Whatever happened to Carlos Pacheco? He used to have a perfectly recognizable and distinctive style, but this is some of the blandest-looking stuff I’ve seen from him. The storytelling and the poses and such are still undeniably his, but the linework looks completely nondescript here.

I don’t think it’s the inker’s fault, since Mr. Pacheco and Mr. Smith have worked together before, and it looked fine. So my best guess would be that it’s Frank D’Armata’s colors—especially since the faces or figures at times look more like Steve Epting’s stuff from Captain America, also colored by Mr. D’Armata, than anything Carlos Pacheco drew in the past. Either way, something’s horribly wrong here.

So, on balance, this is a mixed bag. There’s a lot going on, and it’s a soundly executed comic with some promising ideas. But it looks like the colorist is choking the life life out of Carlos Pacheco’s art, unfortunately, and the writing could use more zest and excitement.

Grade: C+

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