Social issues have always been a big part of the X-Men. The parables to the Civil Rights movement when the first title debuted in the 1960s were uncanny (pun intended), and the X-Men’s struggle over the years to achieve cultural and political equality has often mirrored real life situations. Post-Avengers vs. X-Men, the Children of the Atom are regarded as menaces, living destruction that collectively has the potential to bring about the end of the human race—a scary notion that could make the most liberal at least a little paranoid. Humanity has always struggled to accept mutantkind and Professor Xavier’s death at the hands of Cyclops only made things worse. Coupled with the resurgence of the mutant population, Brian Michael Bendis has a stage with which to explore human-mutant relations from two different vantage points; the lighter side with All-New X-Men, which sees fan favorite characters championing mutant rights, and the dark side with Uncanny X-Men, which follows Cyclops as he strives to find and protect new mutants, even though the world still considers him a terrorist.
Uncanny X-Men #3 features the first confrontation between Cyclops and the Avengers since Scott Summers escaped from prison and restarted the Xavier School for Gifted Students. The highlight of this entire sequence is the reactions of Cyclops’ new students as they stand face to face with Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. For kids who not long ago led mundane, normal lives, it’s jarring to stand feet away from the likes of Captain America, Hawkeye, Iron Man, and the Hulk. Brian Michael Bendis does it exactly right—the Avengers feel awe-inspiring, even in their accusatory state, and their aggression makes the kids question the reverence they held for “heroes” who would so quickly attack a group of kids that only want to help others who have been subjugated just like them. They’re not wrong to do so.
The Uncanny X-Men’s stance is pretty simple, actually: everyone should shoulder the blame. The Avengers—and, let’s be honest, everyone else—holds Cyclops responsible for the murder of Charles Xavier and the horror inflicted upon the planet while he was under the influence of the Phoenix Force. Emma Frost posits, “…which one of us would you say is responsible for intercepting and accidentally breaking a deadly cosmic force and injecting it, involuntarily may I remind all of you, into us?” It’s a perfectly reasonable question that gets rebuffed by Iron Man in the vein of a “Nuh-uh! You’re stupid!” line of discourse. It seems Bendis handled the Avengers for so long he’s now able to make them all feel as malicious as possible at the drop of a hat, and it’s delightful. But the discussion about responsibility spawns something even more important to consider about the way mutants are seen in the wake of the Phoenix Force’s affect on the Earth: “If you are a mutant in this world, you are guilty until proven innocent. If you are different, if you are like us, they will send the police, they will send the Avengers, and they will do everything they can to knock you down and then decide what to do with you.”
This is the first time that mutant revolution has felt legitimately righteous. In the past, Magneto’s various uprisings and the numerous other mutant rights fanatics have been so blinded by anger and violence that their message never resonated. There never seemed a way beyond the hateful and horrific actions they took to achieve their goals. Cyclops is in a unique position, in this sense. He understands that many of the problems currently facing mutantkind are a direct result of his own actions, but he’s also reconciled that his actions were a result of the world’s continued intolerance and hatred of that which they don’t understand. Cyclops also knows that the world considers him, the former leader of the X-Men and poster boy for the mutant agenda, to be a far bigger threat than any no-named mutant crying foul at bigotry. And this, simply because he’s Cyclops and he has a lot of influence.
Cyclops, Emma Frost, Magik, and Magneto are now all fugitives from the law, which makes this ongoing narrative one deeply rooted in rebellion. At first, it can feel daunting, Scott’s militant new approach to his goal of achieving mutant equality. It’s a side of Cyclops we only began to see throughout Avengers vs. X-Men that Brian Michael Bendis is now taking the time to explore. Similar to the dual nature of All-New X-Men and Uncanny X-Men in terms of narrative tone, Scott must deal with his past as a mutant icon, and his present status as a symbol of revolution. Uncanny X-Men #3 is the best issue of this young series. The confrontation between the X-Men and the Avengers helps the students of the new Xavier School better understand that the world will not simply roll over and accept them, that they must fight for their freedom, and that humanity will point their biggest guns at kids.
Much like Civil War, Bendis’ Uncanny X-Men posits difficult moral questions that don’t have a right or wrong answer, per se. There’s merit to understanding both sides of the argument and elements of each set of ideals that can come together to provide a solution beneficial to both parties involved. Bendis understands that sci-fi villains or mad scientists are only a small part of the X-Men’s world. Mostly, they have to deal with bigotry and hate that manifests as a threat to innocent lives, usually mutant. It’s a wonder Bendis’ unique narrative style wasn’t tapped for the X-Men corner of the Marvel universe sooner; it’s a perfect fit of interpersonal character drama with a writing style that exemplifies relationships and emotional subtly.
We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong online. Please consider a donation to support our work as an independent publisher devoted to the arts and humanities. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing and challenging times where advertising no longer covers our costs. We need your help to keep PopMatters publishing. Thank you.