With Marvel’s popular and successful foray into films with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I’ve finally decided to get back into comics. I grew up a big fan of X-Men and other superheroes but haven’t really kept up since the 90s. Thus begins my grand catching-up of the last ten years of Marvel comics, events and stories.
Thanks in large part to trade paperbacks and the digital convenience of Marvel Unlimited I can make relatively quick progress, and I’ll write down my Final Thoughts for each collection here on my blog. Like my gaming Final Thoughts, this will be full of spoilers. You’ve been warned!
Artist: Greg Land
Issues: Uncanny X-Men (1963) #520-522, 526-534
The third and final collected book of Matt Fraction’s three year run on Uncanny X-Men is awkwardly sandwiched before and after X-Men: Second Coming. Issues #520-522 even carry the “Nation X” subheading, referring to a series of events that happens to the X-Men while living in Utopia. The rest take place after Second Coming, with the first story arc dealing with the direct aftermath of Hope Summers and the rise of several new mutants.
Why Marvel broke it up like that I have no idea. The Volume itself isn’t bad but it lacks strong cohesion. At this point in the X-Men’s career they appear to be spinning their wheels in between the giant events. Messiah Complex and Second Coming were both incredibly awesome. But the in-between stories barely get a chance to gestate and mostly come off half-baked.
The first three issues conclude the “Nation X” arc from the last volume. It wasn’t really a story arc so much as the state of affairs for the X-Men at the time. The mansion was destroyed during Messiah Complex, so they moved out west to San Francisco. Then they ran into typical X-Men problems of distrust and hate, tangled with Osborn’s Dark Avengers, and helped fish Magneto’s old Asteroid M out of the sea and created an island for mutants, dubbed Utopia.
Magneto had arrived in Utopia and bent the knee to Cyclops. Cyclops had created a sovereign state for mutants, and even Magento had to respect that. Magneto can be a great character with the right writer. Matt Fraction spends much of Magneto’s time acting needy and seeking approval from the X-Men. Sure he’s pompous and cold, but it still annoyed me.
Magneto stars in this final little arc to fully prove himself to the X-Men. He goes off to a mountain range and pulls all his power together to bring back the long-lost Kitty Pryde. Pryde had been MIA since the climactic events of Joss Whedon’s excellent story-telling on Astonishing X-Men way back in 2004-2008.
Unfortunately Pryde has been phased for so long her condition has become permanent, so she’s rescued but forced into a special containment area. We get her back but she’s completely absent throughout Second Coming thanks to her condition, which is super disappointing.
Issues #526-529 focuses on the aftermath of Second Coming. Hope Summers has finally returned to the present time, and she’s all grown up. The mutant messiah has been a fun character to watch evolve over the last few years, and her struggles and battles in Second Coming were fantastic.
Her relationship with Cyclops has always been strained (Cyke with all the X-Men now, really). Cyclops is finally validated when he sees several new mutant signature pop up on Cerebra – a new generation of mutants. The first since Scarlet Witch spoke those three little words and doomed their race.
The five new mutants are called “The Five Lights,” and it’s also the name of this story. Cyclops splits up the X-Men and sends them around the world to monitor the new mutants, all of whom change in violent ways. Hope can seemingly calm them down and help them unlock their powers, giving further credence to her role as the mutant messiah. Presumably this story continues in its own series titled Generation Hope, which I plan on reading through soon. The new teenage mutants all seem like neat additions, and appropriately international and diverse.
There’s also a long side story involving Emma Frost. Frost is increasingly worried about an event that happened earlier in the series. She had tricked Namor into thinking she killed Sebastian Shaw, her old mentor turned enemy from the Hellfire Club. Namor was so impressed he then joined the X-Men and helped create Utopia. Frost didn’t kill him though. Shaw has been in Utopia’s brig the whole time.
For some reason Frost decides she needs to essentially take him out back and get rid of him. She enlists Fantomex to help her, but Kitty Pryde finds out and comes along too. Hey at least they found something for her to do! And also gets a special suit that lets her interact with things, how convenient.
We get a lot more of Emma Frost’s background, which has already been done to death. At the end Shaw briefly escapes and they battle it out before she can lock him down. Super strength has its uses but it’s nothing compared to a world-class telepath that can completely blank your mind.
The final arc, “Quarantine” (#530-534) revisits the villainous Sublime company that Fraction had been working on earlier in the series. Lobe is a slimy businessman who wants to commercialize a drug that turns people into mutants. Synthesizing the X-gene seems like a rather shocking thing, but it’s mostly played off as just another bad guy with another evil plan. At least Lobe is more slimy businessman than megalomaniac.
The first part of the plan is to create a virus that only affects mutants. Cyclops issues a quarantine for the whole island, leaving only a few outside able to respond to threats. There’s a weird side story with a few D-list X-Men like Northstar and Dazzler fighting a Chinese dude called The Collective Man that mostly goes nowhere. I did enjoy X-Club scientist’s Kavita Rao’s efforts to examine the virus and the X-Men’s struggles with their PR image during the outbreak.
Eventually the virus is traced back to the sublime corporation and Cyke is forced to break quarantine to confront them. Lobe gives all his shareholders the mutant drug and there’s a big ridiculous battle that’s over rather quickly, since shareholders, even superpowered ones, don’t know what the hell they’re doing in a fight.
Greg Land’s art style continues to annoy me. Every character is a pin-up or supermodel. It’s incongruous to any action scene. Cyclops’ wavy hair drives me crazy. Everyone is super clean and pretty, and it completely weirds me out.
Fraction does a decent job with the writing side. There’s always a lot going on, and I liked that the Shaw-Frost storyline ended with a satisfying conclusion. Ultimately this era of Uncanny X-Men will be remembered for the awesome big events and crossovers; less so for individual story-telling.