Reviews

There Are Two Paths You Can Go By: Uncanny X-Men #3

Bendis crafts a beautifully vivid story about how Cyclops's two very different pasts (one as superhero, the other as murderer of his mentor, Professor X) threaten to jeopardize his current role as mutant rights activist…


Comics: Uncanny X-Men #3
Publisher: Marvel
Length: 22 pages
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis, Chris Bachalo
Price: $3.99
Publication Date: 2013-05

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.

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Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

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TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

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The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

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Long eclipsed by the works of many country contemporaries, Kris Kristofferson and Rita Coolidge's first album, Full Moon, gets a new look.

Why is it that 1973 albums by Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson have become classic country staples (see: Jennings' rough-hewed landmark Honky Tonk Heroes and Nelson's before-its-time Shotgun Willie), while Kris Kristofferson and Rita Coolidge's duo debut from that same year has been relatively overlooked?

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Music

Mike Stern: Trip

Photo: Sandrine Lee (Concord Music Group)

Mike Stern has fallen. Trip shows that he can get back up just fine.


Mike Stern

Trip

Label: Heads Up
US Release Date: 2017-09-08
UK Release Date: 2017-09-08
Label website
Artist website
Amazon
iTunes

Guitarist Mike Stern suffered from a big owie last year. It seems that, while trying to cross a street in Manhattan, he tripped and fell, breaking both of his shoulders in the process. He underwent surgery and reports that "I still have to use glue so I can hold a guitar pick." While you're busy trying to figure out just how a jazz-fusion guitarist needs glue to hold a pick, keep in mind Stern is an embodiment of a working musician, and his chosen genre of expertise is famous for its pay-to-play, sink-or-swim business model. Such a setback can really eat into one's career. Gigs need to be canceled, which sometimes leads to venues blacklisting you in the future. And in a world where most people listen to their music via streaming services, gigging may be your only reliable source of income. Thankfully, Mike Stern, who was 63 at the time of his injury, has made a full recovery and is back to work with an impressive array of professional help. His new album is ironically named Trip. Apart from the title,

Trip makes it sound like nothing ever happened to Stern. At all. In the same way that John McLaughlin and his current Fourth Dimension band sound like a bunch of barnstormers who haven't hit 40 yet, the powerful performance of Stern and his colleagues coupled with the high quality of the material belie both age and medical condition. Now I'm aware that our very own Steven Spoerl did not care for the writing on Mike Stern's 2012 All Over the Place, but there's no way I can sling the same criticism at Trip. The opening title track alone is enough to nullify that. Stern plays the melody in unison with saxophonist Bob Franceschini, and it's all over the place. The song slinks into a B section where the chords shift from a minor vi to a major IV, and again, Stern and Franceschini drive an even meaner melody down the scale with plenty of sharply punctuated intervals. This guy fell, broke his shoulders, and now needs glue to hold a pick? Are we all sure he wasn't just replaced with Steve Austin?

Another number that, to me, offsets any concerns about the able-bodiness or strength of the material is a spunky one named "Watchacallit". This time, the B section brims with even more tension with Franceschini flying high and bassist Tom Kennedy doing little divebombs at the start of each bar. When it's all put together, it's truly a moment for you to crank your listening device of choice (in the past, we would say "stereo" right about here). But that's just two songs. There's a total of 11, spanning an hour and six minutes. Stern doesn't use every bar of every number to punch us in the gut. He still goes for the smooth bop ("Emelia"), the funky intersection of Miles Davis and Funkadelic ("Screws"), and the soothing ballad ("I Believe in You" and "Gone").

No review of Trip would be complete without mentioning the musical pedigree of Mike Stern's friends. When it comes to drummers, he managed to net Dennis Chambers, Lenny White, and Will Calhoun (yes, that Will Calhoun). Those names alone give you a money-back guarantee that the rhythm section will never, ever falter. But just to be sure, Stern summons Victor Wooten to play bass. Top shelf names like Randy Brecker and Bill Evans, in addition to Franceschini, provide Trip with soulful wind. Pianist Jim Beard pulls double duty as the session pianist. Normally, I'd wrap this up by saying that Mike Stern is under the process of pulling himself up by his bootstraps and dusting himself off after a major boo-boo. But after listening to

Trip over and over again, I'm convinced that he's beyond that. The straps are up, and the dust has cleared. He's back, playing and composing just as well as he ever did. Better than he did before the accident, perhaps? You can be the judge of that meaningless hairsplitting exercise because Trip is worth the journey no matter where your expectations may lie.

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