[Comic Review] A Doctorate in Strange — Uncanny X-Men #7

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The X-Men are out of their element fighting in Limbo, and while the team manages to hold their own, it’s only a matter of time before they lose ground.

Or have they already?

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Uncanny X-Men #7 begins with a strange meeting between Illyana Rasputin and the man she beat in last year’s epic battle between the Avengers and X-Men — Dr. Strange. But something’s amiss because this is today’s Illyana who seems to be talking to yesterday’s Strange.

Illyana brings Dr. Strange up to speed by explaining what events drove her to seek help, and her recounting of the X-Men’s war against a revived and angry Dormammu reveals what’s happened — or will happen, in Dr. Strange’s case — to Limbo.

Until now, Illyana hasn’t experienced any problems with her powers, unlike the rest of the X-Men who have trouble controlling or even activating their mutant abilities. Illyana’s powers took a more destructive turn after she became part of the Phoenix Five — her abilities became heightened, and they began to tear apart Limbo, the place she draws her powers from.

So what does one do when they’re held captive and forced to watch their friends die?

For Illyana, it’s the decision to absorb all of Limbo within herself and end Dormammu with a violent strike. The realization she’s been controlled for most of her life leads her to humbly seek help in choosing a new path, and she places herself under the tutelage of the man she recently beat at his own game.

For Illyana, the journey to control her powers begins.

Brian Michael Bendis closes this story arc with a team brought down to its knees. Beaten, physically and mentally, the X-Men have escaped with their lives, but there’s a loss of innocence and the realization things could end very badly for them.

Cyclops, ever the poster boy for preparation and training, decides it’s time to start over. This is no longer the Extinction team made up of the world’s strongest mutants. It’s an X-Men team in training, developing their powers, forming chemistry, and learning how to fight.

The dynamic becomes increasingly heavy given that Bendis’ other series All-New X-Men showcases a classic X-Men team who have recently come into their own as formidable force.

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Bendis has rattled this team, and the title which changed up its art style with Frazer Irving’s computer created art, has seen the Uncanny X-Men deconstructed and struggling to start over.

On the subject of Irving’s artwork — Uncanny X-Men #7’s distinct visuals look great — most of the time. Dr. Strange’s first appearance in the issue looks poster worthy, and Irving’s panels for the battle sequences, filled with drama and action, show why he was chosen to take over art duties for this story arc. The abstract portrayals and the movement away from standard depictions of the characters carries with it a huge chunk of thought that feels expansive. Irving’s scenes are epic, and the concept strikes an imaginative chord.

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But a closer look at the exaggerated and cartoony character expressions bring out the flaws. Faces look flat — almost like they’ve been sanded down, and the precise lines create a neat look that feels a bit like clip art, except that it’s on a grander scale. Cyclops’ face is a bit too pale, and Emma looks like a portrait etched into a coin. When the characters return to Planet Earth, the detailless blacks works against the rest of the art contained in the panels. It looks very cut-out — think South Park — and the lack of dimension is jarring.

Bendis isn’t perfect either. Illyana’s clumsy narration of the events in the sequence where she screams “How dare you!” for the second time misses the mark. It isn’t clear whether this is deliberate characterization or a lack of editing. It’s understood that English is Illyana’s second language, but her speech has never been this disjointed.

The gripes aside, Uncanny X-Men #7 isn’t standard fare, and it should be applauded for taking a step in a foreign direction. Bendis could have old the story of a team overcoming very different odds, but he’s used this story arc to create tension. The X-Men didn’t finish the fight, they didn’t claim a major victory, and they look more than they have since the first issue.

But it’s a step in the right direction, and the lower the lows, the more lofty the highs become. For a team built up of villains and controversial figures, the path to redemption is built by the stones of defeat.


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Uncanny X-Men #7 (2013)
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Marvel
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: Frazer Irving
Letters: Joe Caramagna

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