Trials, Tribulations, and Chaotic Sub-Plots in 'Uncanny X-Men #600'

by Jack Fisher

5 November 2015

An end to an era is rushed and riddled with errors.
 
cover art

Uncanny X-Men #600

Brian Michael Bendis

(Marvel)
US: 4 Nov 2015

After 50 years of convoluted continuity, pretty much every member of the X-Men could be put on trail for something. Wolverine alone would get multiple life sentences for the number of people he’s stabbed, Gambit would probably get more than a few years for all the crap he’s stolen over the years, and Emma Frost would definitely be fined for indecent exposure. Like many superheroes, we tend to give the X-Men more legal leeway than most. They don’t get the OJ Simpson treatment, but they are held to a higher standard.

When one of them fails to meet that standard, it’s often other X-Men who will come down on one another harsher than anyone outside a Texas courthouse. Like other superhero teams and certain message boards, they tend to be selective with their outrage. They’ll gladly overlook Jean Grey killing 5 billion aliens while drunk on Phoenix power, but they’ll brutally condemn Cyclops for killing one man while drunk on that same power. It’s petty on a level not seen outside the LAPD, but it’s also the driving force behind much of Brian Michael Bendis’ run on X-Men. And with Uncanny X-Men #600, this run is set to conclude.

But what makes this conclusion intriguing is that it has less to do with judging Cyclops and more to do with judging Hank McCoy. While the judgment on Cyclops has been played out more than the Hangover sequels, the judgment against Hank McCoy has been building. He was the one who brought the Original Five X-Men to the present. And he flat out admitted during the Black Vortex event that he knew this was wrong. As anyone lawyer defending a Spring Break party gone bad can attest, intent does matter.

So what does this mean for him and the X-Men as a whole? In Uncanny X-Men #600, we get partial answers. There’s no car chase in a Ford White Bronco, but there’s a sense that justice was at least entertained, even if it wasn’t served. Justice is a central theme to the story, but that story is somewhat muddled because Bendis rushes to address as many loose ends as he can. This leads to an uneven narrative. In some cases, it’s a detriment to overall story.

The story itself is well-organized. It’s based entirely around the X-Men coming together to confront Beast about the crimes that he himself admits are so egregious. It’s built around the same structure as an episode of Intervention, minus the overly scripted melodrama that A&E demands. Even Beast’s younger self participates. And when a time-displaced version of yourself is against you, that’s when you know you screwed up.

While this confrontation is powerful and relevant, it’s frequently interrupted by various flashbacks that address Bendis’ many loose ends. There’s a plot with Magik and Kitty Pryde confronting Colossus. There’s one with the Original Five X-Men agreeing to go their separate ways. There’s also one where Iceman’s sexuality is finally confronted. These are all relevant sub-plots in that they’re stories that Bendis has explored. However, that relevance is sometimes obscured. In some cases, it falls flat on its face.

That’s not an indictment of Bendis’ writing. It’s more a byproduct of having to resolve so many loose threads. It’s like trying to perform brain surgery while doing your taxes. It’s juggling too many complicated issues at once. It shows in the sub-plot with Magik, Kitty Pryde,and Colossus. If there was any drama or tension between them, it was shrugged off in the same way Wolverine shrugs off a bar tab.

This was even more egregious in the sub-plot with the Original Five X-Men. While Bendis does make an effort to connect this moment with recent events in All-New X-Men, he essentially swings at a wild pitch. He takes the feelings and emotions of these characters and effectively twists them in ways that feel contrived and forced. In some cases, they come off as downright petty. While teenagers can be forgiven for being affected by the rigors of time travel, the effects here just come off as insincere. Even Marty McFly would roll his eyes.

That’s not to say that all the sub-plots are mishandled. The highlight of the issue that didn’t involve Hank McCoy getting legally annoyed was Iceman confronting his sexuality. This was a story that made national news and the way it’s dealt with here feels genuine and sincere. There’s a very real, very relevant undertone to this moment, one that those who have struggled with their sexuality can relate to. Since the X-Men have often been metaphors for minorities, this feels especially appropriate in a landmark issue like Uncanny X-Men #600. It couldn’t be more appropriate without a Lady Gaga song playing in the background.

Having one solid sub-plot still doesn’t make up for the overall sentiment that the trial of Hank McCoy feels incomplete. While there’s plenty of outrage and tension, not much comes of it. Hank McCoy gets upset. His fellow X-Men show concern. That’s about it. Nobody gets taken away in handcuffs. Nobody calls their lawyer. It’s still relevant as a story, but only in the sense that the first 20 minutes of CSI is a relevant story.

This issue still conveys a sense that this is a major milestone for Uncanny X-Men as a series. Much of that sense comes courtesy of Cyclops, who has been the catalyst for so much tension and so much of Beast’s outrage. What he does helps put mutants as a whole into the perfect context. They are a minority in a world that doesn’t have a good track record with treating minorities well. This is what the X-Men have always represented and convoluted plots about time travel, cosmic forces, and evil clones shouldn’t change that.

While certain moments feel fitting and appropriate, they are like bits of bacon on to of a pile of under-cooked beans. They are not enough to make Uncanny X-Men #600 feel like a complete, concise story. It still feels too rushed and too contrived. If this were a real trial, it would be a mistrial or a bad episode of Judge Judy. For a milestone issue like this, some thing just cannot and should not be rushed.

Uncanny X-Men #600

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