Consistency in comics is like a perfectly cooked steak. It’s easy to describe, but difficult to make. Brian Michael Bendis is one of the few active comicbook writers who, like a master chef, has shown that he can be consistently good in multiple instances. He did it for years in Ultimate Spider-Man and, more recently, in All New X-Men. He has proven that organizing plots and developing characters in a way that is coherent over the course of many issues is one of his strengths. However, this strength isn’t as apparent in the pages of Uncanny X-Men #8.
Since its launch, Uncanny X-Men has been the sister series to All New X-Men in that it deals less with teaching mutants and more with training them to fight giant, mutant-hunting robots. It also involved less character drama and more classic elements such as protecting young mutants from bigotry and direct physical harm. There was still character drama and some of that drama was pretty compelling. However, at times it felt like it was just shoehorned into the story so that it wouldn’t come off as disaster porn. And recent issues of Uncanny X-Men have completely derailed whatever consistency Bendis established in the early parts of the series.
The previous Limbo arc in Uncanny X-Men was akin to having a wizard show up in an episode of Law and Order. It felt like a complete diversion from the other plots that Bendis had been developing. At times it felt more like a story more befitting of Dr. Strange or a Lord of the Rings rip-off than something that would contribute to a new team of X-Men trying to protect a new generation of mutants. And in reading Uncanny X-Men #8, I got the sense that the previous Limbo arc was completely unnecessary.
The only thing the Limbo arc really accomplished was showing Cyclops’s team that they were overwhelmed and ill-prepared for their mission. The whole team seems to acknowledge this at various parts of the issues and it leads to some good character interactions. But couldn’t that have been accomplished in a more efficient way than fighting demons in Limbo? That’s like trying to prove gravity by kicking someone off a roof. There are less painful ways to do it.
The only other real aftermath of the previous arc is that one of the new mutants that Cyclops recruited decided to leave. But he could have just left after his first encounter with the Danger Room and it would have had the same effect. He doesn’t want to be in this dangerous world and that’s an important detail that isn’t often shown in X-Men comics. There have been plenty of young mutants to meet the X-Men over the years, but it’s rare that a story involves one leaving after one bad experience. It actually adds to an important theme that Uncanny X-Men captured nicely early on, but abandoned for the Limbo arc.
What sets Cyclops’s team in Uncanny X-Men apart from the team in other X-Men titles is that he is actually going out into the world and protecting mutants that are being directly harmed and not just by sentinels either. These mutants have been harassed by police and shot at in ways that we don’t see outside old video clips of civil rights protests from the ’50s and ’60s. But instead of turning fire hoses on mutants, people actually point guns at them and in Uncanny X-Men #8, it gets even more serious.
While one mutant in Cyclops’s team leaves in this issue, another one joins. This mutant was introduced several issues ago, but was also sidelined because of the Limbo arc. This new mutant is David Bond and his powers are pretty innocuous. He can control cars and he demonstrates this to his now ex-girlfriend at a parking lot. He hurts nobody in the process and causes no property damage, yet two police officers show up and one of them shoots him. Now some could make the argument that this is a poor representation of honest police officers, but these same people probably weren’t gay men who were harassed in gay bars prior to the Stonewall riots or black in the Jim Crow-dominated South. And when the X-Men show up to save David, it is a much better representation of what the X-Men are about than any plot involving Dormammu or Limbo.
This same theme is also reflected when Fabio, the mutant who decided to leave the X-Men, reveals to his parents that he’s a mutant. And in a way that is very much reflective of how some parents react to children who come out as homosexual, they think he’s sick and needs help. This creates a tense family moment that is painfully reflective of reality. And it is also much more relevant to the series than anything involving Dormammu or Limbo.
In many ways, Uncanny X-Men #8 gets back to the basics that it never should have abandoned in the first place. It has the painfully real moments that reflect the struggles of minorities and nice character moments with the X-Men in that they understand they are very raw. They need to train to be better if they’re going to help this new generation of mutants. This issue has all the right elements, but they just don’t flow effectively. As a whole, Uncanny X-Men under Bendis has had plenty of quality issues. However, these issues and the plots within each issue aren’t coherently organized.
Going back to what I said about steak, I would say that each issue tastes good and can be easily digested. It’s still not the perfect steak, but it certainly has the potential to be one if stories like the Limbo arc are avoided in the future.