David Bond’s kicked off the team, Magneto’s flown the coop, and the All-New X-Men are lost in space.
While the Guardians of the Galaxy and elder Cyclops’ junior All-New X-Men team are embroiled in a crossover quest to rescue Jean Grey, the Uncanny X-Men squad has been tightening its belt with its recent changes in membership.
For the past few issues, the title has put its Bendis-scope on particular characters while the rest of the X-Men titles have dealt with major threats and story arcs.
In Uncanny X-Men #18, we finally see a line on the horizon. An episodic issue centered on Cyclops, issue #18 weaves together the many complicated plot threads to form a unique tapestry of the mutant revolution’s tortured hero.
Flashbacks fill in the blanks of past storylines — the first of which is Kitty Pryde’s first contact with Cyclops at Weapon X during the Battle of the Atom events. Cyclops, still unable to control his optic blasts, is interrupted when Illyana Rasputin teleports Pryde to the secret base without prior warning.
“Because helping her is helping you,” Magik tells him before reporting in to Emma Frost.
Rasputin knows some things get worse before they get better, and as soon as she leaves, Pryde has a finger, literally, in Summer’s brain. A flick of the wrist and a tangible finger could put a swift end to Cyclops’ revolution, bringing a sigh of relief to S.H.I.E.L.D. and everyone else on the hunt for Charles Xavier’s killer.
That doesn’t happen, of course. Pryde and Summers have a heart to heart, and Kitty reflects back on the day she left the X-Men behind.
See, everyone in the X-Men has made a mistake or 20, and Pryde won’t be the first to cast a stone. Their relationship repaired, Pryde tells Cyclops what she really needs — a place for the classic X-Men.
That makes things all the more awkward for Summers. Living in the presence of his younger and more innocent self reminds him of a time when the future was open and filled with positive potential. And seeing a younger version of Jean Grey shines a heavy spotlight on all of his mistakes.
By the time we come back to the present, and Cyclops takes center stage to point his team in a direction — it seems as though he’s finally broached the issues at hand. As powerful as he is as a tactician, figurehead, leader — he’s ultimately Marvel’s most tainted and embattled hero. Once the embodiment of Xavier’s dream, he’s become a fugitive guerilla fighter that John Conner wouldn’t want to switch roles with. And all of those plot lines and developments of the past few years has placed him in a position to become mutantkind’s standard-bearer.
It takes a historian to get the main points right, and Brian Michael Bendis hits the right spots by reminding us how complicated the X-Men are. Time travel, space travel, social and political issues — the X-Men don’t just fight supervillains, then call it a day.
Sometimes, they have to stop themselves from altering the future. Sometimes, they discover that they are the supervillains — whether to the universe at large or to themselves. And, many times, they don’t really know what they’re doing — a thing to relate to for many readers. The X-Men are soldiers in a species war, and things haven’t been easy. They imperfect people with spectacular powers, and for all the amazing things that can be done for their cause — they sure do a lot of damage.
With that, it’s good to see the title put its main focus back on Cyclops because he’s the most compelling character in the X-Universe right now. He needs to be the driving force for the title or else the comic basically becomes Cyclops’ New Mutants.
On a dialogue basis, the scripting felt a bit shallow in parts. Summers and Pryde’s one to one didn’t have that natural sort of chemistry — it was very stage-y in the way actors in a play explicate their feelings by declaring them out loud.
And with all of the backstory being filled in, we’re still left with plenty of questions. Cyclops’ conversation with Jean Grey leaves a huge gaping vacuum of subtext. After Grey says she knows everything about the relationship because she looked into Hank McCoy’s mind, she hands Scott the wedding invitation.
I’m still not sure it means or how it supports Scott’s argument that Hank McCoy doesn’t know everything about them — McCoy was at the wedding as many others were — and we’re left with a bit of a cliffhanger as Grey leaves and says she can’t imagine what kind of relationship they really had.
It’s a head-scratcher, but it leaves the door open for more to explore. And that won’t happen if Jean Grey isn’t brought back to Earth.
Probably the most immediate thing readers will notice this issue is the artwork delivered by Marco Rudy and Val Staples. Cyclops’ erratic optic blasts provide the breaks between the panels, providing creative ways to show off the art which is a combination of Rudy and Staple’s individual styles .
Rudy’s work is more typical of what comic readers would expect, and the cross-hatching Rudy employs brings me back to older comics like Prince Valiant. For the most part, Rudy’s artwork is good, but his character’s faces don’t always benefit from the overused cross-hatching that makes them look like they’ve been hanging out in a chimney.
It’s also vastly different than Staples’ more abstract look which is pretty hit or miss. Kitty Pryde looks pretty terrifying, and Cyclops lacks a sort of presence in his plasticky suit. That said, the emotions and thoughts the artwork evokes gets the point across. These are characters who look like they feel — Pryde, wise beyond her years, looking haggard and worn from the chaos she hopes to end with a poke to Summers’ brain. Cyclops looks frail and blind, like a modern-day Tiresias who can see the future but can’t see everything around him. Cyclops bears the guilt of Xavier’s death, and he thinks he’ll pay for the murder some day.
Where the title will head from here is up in the air. Even the last page is up for interpretation.
If I had to make a guess, the clues are in the panel work. The optic blasts weaving and uncontrollable through the storylines reveals the cause of Cyclops’ inability to shoot straight — he’s got way too much on his mind.
Standing on a snowy mountaintop with a million decisions and a set of shoulders bearing the responsibility for every mutant along with all the guilt, he lets loose finding focus in what he must do.
Uncanny X-Men #18 (2013)
Words: Brian Michael Bendis
Art: Marco Rudy
Color Art: Val Staples
Letters: Joe Caramagna