Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Uncanny X-Men #522

Frustrated once again in their efforts to coexist with humanity, the X-Men have stepped out of San Francisco and into isolation. Raising Magneto's former asteroid headquarters from the Pacific Ocean, the team has granted it a new name and a revised purpose: Utopia, a sanctuary for mutants to escape the constant persecution of their bigoted evolutionary forefathers. Of course, an unnamed few of the group's bitter enemies have taken these developments as an invitation to attack. In this instance that means an unleashed pack of Predator X's loose on the island and a mysterious subsequent hunt for those responsible.

Writing this series must be one of the most taxing jobs in all of comics. Think of the long and speckled history of the X-Men, both on the page and behind the scenes. The editorial responsibilities alone are enough to give the most hardcore fan a migraine, with so many of the team's members appearing in other books at roughly the same time. Add to that a lifetime's worth of crazy, crisscrossing continuity and an unusually large roster and you've got a recipe for serious intimidation. Matt Fraction's tackled some challenging titles already during his time at Marvel, but there's really nothing out there even close to what he's facing with Uncanny X-Men.

To his credit, Fraction keeps a healthy percent of the team's membership, both primary and insignificant, accounted for at some point this month. Many of those check-ins don't really add anything to the big picture – really it's Scott, Emma, Kitty and Magneto's story – but they pad out what's otherwise be a fairly slow month in terms of actual storytelling. I'm not really sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing: everyone wants their favorite mutant to enjoy a little page time, but not at the expense of moving the story forward. By the time its final pages roll around the issue does finally begin to budge, but the question is how many readers will have stuck around to enjoy the payoff. It's a chapter that spends so much effort threatening to go somewhere that by the time it actually does, most of the suspense it depends on has long-since faded away.

A return to familiar territory for Whilce Portacio this month also doesn't quite result in the kind of spark you might expect. Bumping into these characters for the first time in nearly two decades, the Image Comics co-founder hands in a spotty, inconsistent effort that varies between incomplete and overwrought. I'd worried that his style would seem dated after so much time away from the Marvel spotlight, but that's not the problem. Portacio has evolved to include newer inspirations alongside the older sensibilities he was known for in the '90s, but curiously his biggest problems involve two of the basics: proportion and natural posture. The X-Men and their associates, particularly Colossus, appear constantly uneasy in their body language and change shape and size more than once per page. Piotr's constantly scaling hands are a perfect example: in one panel they'll be teeny tiny lady paws, the next they're the size of his head. I was a fan of Portacio's work years ago, but lately he really appears to have regressed.

There's one big event going on this month, and you can pretty much figure it out by taking a quick glance at the cover. The entire issue drags its feet getting to that payoff, and while Fraction delivers an interesting twist in the final pages, it wasn't enough to salvage my expectations. Uncanny X-Men is moving slowly, deliberately and quietly. You'll probably want to flip through it, although that cover really tells you everything you'll need to know.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 4

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