PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.

Reviews

A Beautiful Institutional Breakdown: "Uncanny X-men #22"

Disorganization and ineptitude somehow come together in a wonderfully meaningful story.


Uncanny X-men #22

Publisher: Marvel
Price: $3.99
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis, Chris Bachalo
Publication Date: 2014-08
Amazon

We’ve come to expect a certain level of ineptitude from government. It has nothing to do with liberal or conservative ideology, no matter what Ron Paul or Fidel Castro might say. Human beings are just inherently flawed. In the same way a fully rational adult sometimes accidentally puts a spoon in the microwave, fully rational adults will sometimes be subject to spectacular failures. They might make taxpayers feel a debilitating pain in their wallets, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be entertaining.

The conflict between SHIELD and Cyclops in the pages of Uncanny X-men demonstrate perfectly how human flaws can often interfere with legitimate government functions. Since the re-launch of this series, most of the conflict has stemmed from SHIELD treating Cyclops as a terrorist on the same level as Dr. Doom. Maria Hill has decided to dedicate the vast resources of SHIELD towards capturing this man and putting him back behind bars. Along the way, plenty of complications have emerged that would probably warrant more concern. Somebody has been launching Sentinel attacks on innocent mutants and in X-men: Battle of the Atom, it was revealed that SHIELD has dabbled in the Sentinel business. People may have misguided priorities, but focusing on one fugitive instead of a bunch of killer robots that attack innocent civilians is several steps beyond misguided. And in Uncanny X-men #22, this ineptitude finally catches up with Maria Hill and the X-men.

To say that Maria Hill or SHIELD was the villain in this affair would be a mistake, but say they were the victims would be an even bigger mistake. SHIELD happens to be the government agency where the margin for error is the smallest and the consequences of failure are incredibly dire. As Captain America: The Winter Soldier has shown, the extent of that failure can be pretty destructive. If Hydra had infiltrated the Department of Education, the worst they could have done was make standardized testing more tedious. But this time, they’re infiltrated by someone with far more petty ambitious aside from discrediting an entire government organization. There are lobbyists for that sort of thing anyways. This infiltration didn’t just compromise SHIELD. It compromised the X-men’s entire mission in a way that can only be accomplished by a massive government failure.

The way it unfolds is powerful in that it takes various plotlines, some of which have been negated and side-tracked to the point of obscurity, and brings them together into a strong, concise narrative. The origin of the Sentinel attacks, the broken powers that have plagued the former Phoenix Five, the infiltration of SHIELD by Mystique, and even the abduction of Dazzler are all addressed. Every plotline contributed something. All the loose ends and confusing sub-plots that have made this series more disorganized than the last three seasons of Lost finally converged in a meaningful way. Some of it felt forced, but it was still very satisfying.

The conflict it created was not on the same scale as X-men: Battle of the Atom, nor was it intended to be. The main theme of the story didn’t involve the X-men battling yet another army of killer robots. It was exposing the ineptitude of both themselves and SHIELD in handling this conflict. They didn’t know the extent to which they were being used and they focused too much on fighting the wrong battles. And it wasn’t just because the mastermind behind it all was that cunning. Both SHIELD and the X-men deserve some share of the blame.

The biggest failure on their part was making the conflict personal. Maria Hill focused so hard on arresting Cyclops that she didn’t dedicate much energy into uncovering the source of the Sentinel attacks. These were the attacks that Cyclops was responding to. Attacking him would be like a cop attacking the person who lent a killer the knife and not the killer. The whole Sentinel conspiracy was launched from within SHIELD, using SHIELD resources and SHIELD firepower. Maria Hill was in the best possible position to address this issue and she didn’t. She just filed it away in a memo and went back to pursuing Cyclops.

As for Cyclops himself, he made it personal too. He decided to declare war on SHIELD. To be fair, some of his reasons were warranted. He already knew that they were involved in Sentinel technology. Even if Maria Hill wasn’t directly involved, she was responsible. He even points this out to her at some point. But by focusing on SHIELD, he missed any chances he might have had to uncover who was behind it. So in a sense, nobody won this battle because both sides had their ineptitude revealed. But it could be argued that SHIELD’s ineptitude was far more egregious. Unlike Cyclops, they get to use taxpayer money to build all their fancy flying bases and are trusted with protecting innocent civilians with all that hardware. They have far fewer excuses and far greater reasons to be careful.

It’s because of this failing that Dazzler, who agreed to become an agent of SHIELD, rebukes their attempt to bring her back aboard. While anyone could be forgiven for not being able to uncover Mystique’s deception, Dazzler rightly notes that it wasn’t SHIELD who saved her. It was the X-men. Between personal vendettas and the bureaucracy that goes along with maintaining those fleets of helicarriers, they just made it way too easy for Mystique. They apparently didn’t learn anything from the last Skrull invasion.

There are so many satisfying components to Uncanny X-men #22. From its theme to its concise narrative, it realizes so much of the potential that seemed lost for a time. The overall disorganization of the series still shows. There are a number of instances where it feels like certain elements felt cut and pasted, disrupting the rhythm of the story. But the end result was nothing short of uncanny, if that’s not too fitting a word. It exposed a level of organizational ineptitude without getting overly political and in this day and age, that’s an accomplishment in and of itself.

9

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Jefferson Starship Soar Again with 'Mother of the Sun'

Rock goddess Cathy Richardson speaks out about honoring the legacy of Paul Kantner, songwriting with Grace Slick for the Jefferson Starship's new album, and rocking the vote to dump Trump.

Books

Black Diamond Queens: African American Women and Rock and Roll (excerpt)

Ikette Claudia Lennear, rumored to be the inspiration for Mick Jagger's "Brown Sugar", often felt disconnect between her identity as an African American woman and her engagement with rock. Enjoy this excerpt of cultural anthropologist Maureen Mahon's Black Diamond Queens, courtesy of Duke University Press.

Maureen Mahon
Music

Ane Brun's 'After the Great Storm' Features Some of Her Best Songs

The irresolution and unease that pervade Ane Brun's After the Great Storm perfectly mirror the anxiety and social isolation that have engulfed this post-pandemic era.

Music

'Long Hot Summers' Is a Lavish, Long-Overdue Boxed Set from the Style Council

Paul Weller's misunderstood, underappreciated '80s soul-pop outfit the Style Council are the subject of a multi-disc collection that's perfect for the uninitiated and a great nostalgia trip for those who heard it all the first time.

Music

ABBA's 'Super Trouper' at 40

ABBA's winning – if slightly uneven – seventh album Super Trouper is reissued on 45rpm vinyl for its birthday.

Music

The Mountain Goats Find New Sonic Inspiration on 'Getting Into Knives'

John Darnielle explores new sounds on his 19th studio album as the Mountain Goats—and creates his best record in years with Getting Into Knives.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 60-41

PopMatters' coverage of the 2000s' best recordings continues with selections spanning Swedish progressive metal to minimalist electrosoul.

Books

Is Carl Neville's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.

Film

Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.

Music

Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".

Music

John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.

Music

The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.

Music

Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.

Music

In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.

Music

Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.

Books

Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.

Music

'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.