And you thought he looked familiar!
While the younger members of Cyclops’ team deal with the prospective changes that will come once the classic X-Men officially join their squad, Emma Frost turns her attention to Benjamin Deeds after a brutally humiliating face-in-the-dirt beat down courtesy of Scott Summers. Deeds’ membership on the roster is tentative — as the only recruit still figuring out what his powers actually are, Deeds has little other use in battle because he’s not exactly a physical specimen. With his future in doubt — keep in mind Cyclops recruited Deeds in All-New X-Men #3 with the condition that Deeds can walk away at any time — the breaking point seems near.
Cue Frost and her ability to see talent when no one else can. Frost believes Deeds’ potential goes beyond just mimicking the appearance of anyone in close proximity — she actually believes Benjamin’s true powers could make him the most valuable asset in Cyclops’ squad. Mentor and student take a trip to Atlantic City for a field test which goes sour when a couple verbally accuses of him of harassing a woman — it’s actually Magik posing as a civilian. Benjamin escapes by using his power to take on the physical characteristics of a woman who invites him to stay and chat about Stanley Kubrick.
It turns out that Benjamin’s mutant powers are based on the laws of attraction, or as Plato once said, likes tend towards likes. By taking on similar facial features, hair color and styles, as well as skin tones, Benjamin becomes more attractive and instantly likable. Pheromones also work to enthrall his marks with dizziness as a side effect. A short montage shows how effective Deeds’ powers are as he gains the confidence of several strangers whose emotions and reactions to him range from friendly acquaintance to infatuation.
Frost thinks Deeds could serve as X-Men’s ultimate field agent, and a trip to the Financial District for a final challenge succeeds after he passes through several security measures to deliver a letter. Though things go awry after the recipient gets the message, prompting undercover S.H.I.E.L.D. agents to corner Benajmin in an elevator, Magik is there to make there are no casualties.
And as with all the other recruits who become fully initiated, Deeds gets a codename: Morph.
Uncanny X-Men #14’s plot has all the makings of a heist story. There’s the setup, character development through training, and then the climb over the insurmountable mountain. Heist plots emphasize brains over brawn with a combination of stealth, sleight of hand, and charm.
And with a character like Benjamin Deeds, a down and out mutant who doesn’t know what the future holds, it’s easy to relate. If you’ve ever been asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” and couldn’t answer, Uncanny X-Men #14 is the stuff made of fantasies and daydreams.
Major props to Brian Michael Bendis who writes a self-contained story that feels so satisfying and balanced. There are plenty of surprises and misdirects, and Bendis keeps things interesting with twists and turns.
Chris Bachalo on pencils and colors knocks it out of the park with great visuals from panel to panel. From Deeds getting embarrassed by Cyclops in inclement weather to the varying locales of Atlantic City and the Financial District, there’s some visual kung-fu happening here. The only gripe in the pencils department — seeing Emma and Illyana standing next to each other, it’s hard to tell them apart.
On colors, Bachalo’s distinctive pencils are overlayed with his own distinctive colors — a lot of mustardish yellows with muted contrasts that get a little too thick when Emma and Benjamin first get to talking. The montage of Deeds striking up relationships with acquaintances, on the other hand, is one of the best pages of Uncanny X-Men so far as each panel has its own story rife with subtext.
On inks, there are five names associated with the issue — Tim Townsend, Jaime Mendoza, Al Vey, Mark Irwin, and Victor Olazaba. Maybe it’s a credit to Bachalo that it takes a village to ink his pencils, but what’s important is that the issue looks clean, sharp, and expertly shaded.
Cyclops’ groups of young mutants feels like a great foil to All-New X-Men which showcases familiar mutants coming into their own in a different place and time. This Uncanny X-Men squad is building their own reputation, fighting for a spot among the mutant elite as heroes, and so far, so good.
So very good.
Uncanny X-Men #14 (2013)
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Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Pencils: Chris Bachalo
Colors: Chris Bachalo
Inks: Tim Townsend, Jaime Mendoza, Al Vey, Mark Irwin, and Victor Olazaba
Letters: Joe Caramagna