UNCANNY X-MEN Vol. 1 Review: A Return to Form

The UNCANNY X-MEN Vol. 1 hardcover collects issues 1-11, & 14-18 of the 2013 run, written by Brian Michael Bendis and drawn by Chris Bachalo, Frazer Irving, Kris Anka, and Marco Rudy.

This eye-pleasing and content-full hardcover includes the first portion of one of Brian Michael Bendis’ two flagship X-Men series. Coming hot off the All-New line up, UNCANNY X-MEN focuses on Cyclops and his team of new mutants.

Brian Michael Bendis has received mixed praise for his work with everyone’s favorite mutants. Three years ago when he took over, he brought back the original five through time travel, mixing them in with today’s characters. While this was the main plot of his ALL-NEW X-MEN book, UNCANNY X-MEN is a darker and much more personal book.

Over 16 issues, this story unfolds through well-written character interactions and exciting new mutants. The art is on point, for the most part, save for a few issues toward the end of the run where guest artists took over. The only thing holding this book back from being one of the great X-Men runs is Bendis himself (and maybe the publisher). He writes well, yes, but the fatigue of tying in other books and the greater Marvel Universe (see: the god-awful Inhumanity tie-in) holds it back by distracting from its main plot, one that is quite possibly the best an X-book has had in recent years.

X-Men, Cylcops, Frazier Irving, Team

Following a team of half-broken, half-new mutants, the story chronicles not only their adventures, but the tale of their broken leader, Cyclops. Scott’s had rough times. After the Phoenix debacle (in which he killed Charles Xavier against his will), the world mostly hates him. However, as Cyclops and his team (Magik, Emma Frost, Magneto, etc.) travel the world saving new mutants, then slowly gain the trust and support of the public.

The new mutants are where the book thrives, living in the “New Xavier School” headed by Scott and Emma. There’s Eva, who can stop time; Fabio, who can shoot gold balls out of his chest (and produces a truly laugh-out-loud moment, pictured below); and several others. Not only are they entertaining—and reminiscent of the book’s great past—they’re all-around great characters, ones readers actually want to follow more than the old characters here thanks to time travel. All of this, set to Cyclops’ struggle to be a good leader and a good man, is truly great.

Goldballs, X-Men, Uncanny, Irving, Bendis, Sentinel

In these ways, the book is an absolute blast for a solid ten issues or so. Then, as the X-Men from the past are brought in, then brought back out, then brought back in, the book loses its footing. While the story of Cylcops and the new mutants is still there, there’s too much jumping around and exposition on other storylines. Three issues are missing, thanks to the BATTLE OF THE ATOM crossover, and when we jump back in, the presence of the old X-Men is jarring, something the book scrambles to cover. Then there’s a truly bad and anti-feminist INHUMANITY tie-in issue in which the girls from the team want nothing but to go shopping and, for whatever reason, stop being X-Men and start being stereotypes. There are glimpses of greatness in the final two issues, but it’s tough to recover from some of the mishaps in the middle of the volume.

This fatigue is something that is not new to Marvel books. All too often, whether it seems like a good idea or it’s just a ploy to make more money, their books get too involved with other stories and pay too little attention to the ones they’re trying to tell.

That said, this is still a great book for the majority of readers. Not only is Bendis great with these great characters, the artists completely knock it out of the park. Chris Bachalo returns to draw these characters and sets a high bar in the early issues. However, when Frazer Irving comes in for some demonic-themed stories, it’s nothing short of a marvel. The guest artists towards the end do their best, but it’s hard to draw well what isn’t written well. While the later art is never bad, it doesn’t quite live up to some of the book’s best art earlier in the volume.

Bachalo, Cylcops, Uncanny X-Men, Captain America

Fans of Cyclops will love this book, along with fans of Emma Frost, Magik, and even Dazzler. Fans of the classic X-Men tales will love this book thanks to the presence of new mutants and the school they attend. Casual comic readers may falter toward the last third of the run, but the bigger picture is enough to sustain a strong book. It’s one of the best X-runs in recent years—easily—even if Marvel hangs it out to dry here and there.

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