Brian Michael Bendis has never met a challenge in comics he couldn’t throw his whole list of talents into. When he was handed the reigns to Ultimate Spider-Man, he introduced a level of storytelling that comics hadn’t had in a good long while. The old traditional formula of stretching out a narrative beyond one, two, or even four issues, had simply to be discarded. Bendis laid to rest the narration boxes in favor of more reliance on banter and expository dialogue and splash pages became less about one large image and a two-page spread of panels and action. By no means were all of these techniques Bendis’s originally, nor was he the first to popularize them, but Bendis at that time and that place seemed to make the right moves to get the market to notice. And in making these techniques his own, he hasn’t gone unnoticed over the years as he took on franchise after franchise from Daredevil to the Avengers and most recently the main X-titles.
What I find most interesting about Bendis’s X-titles is how he’s decided to make them subtly different from his previous work. All-New X-Men still has Bendis’s trademark dialogue beats and his ear for characters and their natural reactions but its choice of a time-travel storyline as an introduction to new takes on old versions of classic icons is truly an idea he had yet to use in previous titles.
Uncanny X-Men, however, is different from All-New X-Men. While still showing Bendis’s dedication to using his best skillsets for storytelling, this title moves the focus onto Cyclops and his mutant revolutionaries who have tasked themselves with offering an alternative to living under the crushing fear of government oversight and a public that wants mutants watched and regulated. The series boasts tremendous art chops from the always-wonderful Chris Bachalo and Bendis puts his best foot forward using a flashback narrative with the traitor in Cyclops’s midst as a narrator for the action. Bachalo deftly handles both the action sequences and the interrogation scenes, alternating between a brown and red color palette of vibrant explosions to dark seedy blacks and grays where secrets are exchanged. The dialogue, alternating scenes and story structure work well within the format and I find Bendis is building up to a climax based on what characters are doing their best to hide whether it be allegiances or control of their powers. But that doesn’t solve the problem that this series presented me with while reading it: I don’t really see the need for it.
After AvX, we’re led to believe that the mutant world is now (yet again!) hit upon by fear and rage from the human race. The real difference now is that the mutants have found allies in the eyes of the Avengers in a more official capacity (as we’ve seen in Uncanny Avengers) and the pendulum has swung the other direction with the rebel X-Men of Uncanny X-Men taking a more radical position to protecting their kind. The problem that I’m finding as a reader is that the concept doesn’t seem to translate logically in the confines of the Marvel Universe. The way that Bendis has set up justification for how Cyclops recruits new members for his school is that they are always being attacked or hunted or persecuted when he finds them. It’s an easy sell for him at that point: “See? They hate you! Come with us if you want to live.” It’s the scene from every Terminator movie played on repeat as the cold open for recruiting new mutants.
That right there is the issue that seems to crop up around how Jason Aaron’s Wolverine X-Men team is this school that isn’t facing these issues head on, Havok and the mutants of the Avengers squads are fighting the good fight as heroes of the public, and yet there is Cyclops and his squad of rebels fighting against…. Who? S.H.I.E.L.D.? Wolverine and his squad? Other forces we haven’t seen yet? So far, this series has had a soft open in the All-New X-Men title, its core idea being to trace the “rebel” mutants through the fallout of AvX. Now the actual debut of the book sees a duplicitous member, an enemy that is completely unseen, and what amounts to a version of revolutionaries not unlike the Weather Underground during the Vietnam War.
Again, while Bachalo and Bendis’s storytelling skills and techniques are at the top of their game and satisfy for an interesting 20 pages of content, but what is gravely lacking here is a WHY for what this title. The mutant crisis has been brought into the Avengers mainstream yet the Avengers mainstream doesn’t seem to be casting the sheer scope of consequences. Consequences that only seem to exist in the two titles that Bendis is writing for the X-books. Wolverine & the X-Men doesn’t seem to have this hanging so heavily over its head while getting involved in circuses run by Frankenstein or fighting Wolverines time-lost brother. Nor are these consequences affecting Sunspot and Cannonball on Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers title. It seems to be an incredibly dire situation that is pushed to the forefront to justify the existence of these two books whilst only being a mentioned condition in Uncanny Avengers. I’m not sure if it’s delayed continuity where this situation just isn’t being felt in other titles yet due to scheduling or just simply not being something that needs to be brought up enough to mention.
Uncanny X-Men has just gotten started and while I am interested in where it is headed, just as I am with its companion Bendis X-title, I can’t help the feeling that the core concept of the book needs to be laid out much clearer from the onset rather than just setting it up in the opening description. Launching into the dire circumstances that only seem to exist in the pages of Uncanny X-Men seems thin. I get the tradition of wanting to build the series up with a slow burn of revelations and small moments to allow for an emotional beginning, but when it’s something as convoluted and deep as the X-Men and when it’s not in synch with the rather expansive X-verse, clarity and continuity might be a priority along with solid writing and art.