[Comic Review] Past Wrongs — Uncanny X-Men #29

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Things have not been easy for Scott Summers.

As Professor Xavier’s brightest student, young Summers bore the weight of the mutant world during a time of awakening for all mutantkind. Leading a team of peers in a war against public opinion was one thing — Scott also had to fight his mentor’s battles as well by taking on the likes of Magneto and anyone opposed to the ideology of humans living in peace with mutants.

Even as the X-Men splintered into two distinct teams, Cyclops stayed true to the dream even though he sometimes faced opposition from his own colleagues and subordinates. If Summers was the King Arthur to Xavier’s Round Table, Logan was its Lancelot — the people’s knight who challenged Summers’ affection for Jean Grey and clashed with Summers’ during missions and other personal affairs.

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Summers also had to see his son get whisked into the future, became a widower twice, and spent a mini-series being possessed by Apocalypse — something akin to being stuck in a tiny closet with your family’s murderer.

It only got that much harder when Cyclops took it upon himself to oppose not only the Avengers but the entire known galaxy when he viewed the Phoenix’s return as a sign of good things to come. His wish was sort of granted when he was taken over by the force, and he only managed to wipe out disease and hunger.

We all know the rest of the story — the Avengers fought back, the Phoenix Five were shut down, and in one angry blast, Cyclops killed Professor X.

It seems fitting that Cyclops’ most critical mission thus far — securing the most powerful mutant on Earth — is a task that was handed to him by his late mentor who secretly hid a more-Omega-than-Omega level mutant in plain sight for years. With Xavier’s passing, Matthew Malloy has been leashed upon the world, and the eruption of his powers have put him directly in S.H.I.E.L.D.’s crosshairs.

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For the past few issues, Cyclops has tried desperately to persuade Malloy into joining the X-Men — a quest the others have deemed too dangerous and way outside the box. Cyclops sees a bit of himself in Malloy, and the possibility of redemption for Malloy looks like an opportunity for Summers to do one thing right.

Uncanny X-Men #29 kicks off with one of Cyclops’ most loyal teammates working behind the scenes to get the rapidly escalating situation in order. Illyana Rasputin time travels to visit Dr. Strange in the past, looking for a spell that will do the impossible — one that will let Malloy keep his totally destructive powers without letting him use those powers for destruction.

In the present, Magneto arrives to talk some sense into Cyclops and Malloy. Cyclops cuts Erik Lensherr off with a deft verbal thrashing that paints a pretty negative but honest picture of him, and Malloy sends Magneto to Weapon X.

That’s when Eva Bell decides it’s time to act. Bell wants to travel back in time and warn Professor X about Malloy, but the Stepford Cuckoos can’t think of a worse plan — even Adam-X doesn’t compare, they say. Bell has a back and forth with Celeste about the possible repercussions, and the conversation ends like a scene out of Game of Thrones — You know nothing, Eva Bell.

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There’s an interesting shift in the artwork at this point when Antonio Fabela’s colors replace Jose Villarrubia’s for the second time in their back and forth. The book takes on a more digital look, and it’s a bit jarring — and not at all Fabela’s fault because he’s just doing his job. I really wish Marvel had a more consistent lineup that at the most changed by issue, not by page. What happened to those good old days when a creative team stayed intact for at least the first year?

In the meantime, Emma Frost, Alison Blaire, and Kitty Pryde stick around in the Jean Grey School lobby, wondering if it’s a trap. Hank McCoy appears recounting his failed attempts to bring in outside help before he warns everyone about a pertinent threat against Summers’ life.

It’s strange McCoy would invite the rest of the X-Men in only to tell them Cyclops is going to basically die along with Matthew Malloy. I’m not sure what to think about him at this point — callous, lost for a better idea, or hopeless — and it’s the only part of the story I can’t reconcile because it feels too much like a plot gimmick than a natural sort of discussion.

Magik brings the Eye of Agamotto to look into Malloy’s soul when a helicarrier appears out of the clouds and rains down a maelstrom of fire.

If the covers for the X-Men books have been any indicator — it’s possible the cliffhanger is a trap. The three burning skeletons are a ruse — they’re likely agents on the helicarrier getting some grade-A suntans as Magik teleports Cyclops and Malloy to safety. We’ll see if I’m correct next issue, but remember who told you so in case I’m correct.

And if I’m wrong, I doubt Cyclops will be dead for long. There’s no way Brian Michael Bendis has put together a story these past few years that results in Cyclops being finished off, once and for all until the next reboot, by a helicarrier during the most important recruiting drive he’s ever held. Speaking of the coming reboot, we’re really close to Secret Wars, and I’m hoping the next few issues of Uncanny X-Men find some sort of closure before it’s rumored to be wiped out. Like I said in my All-New X-Men #35 review, if Uncanny X-Men ended this moment, I’d be seriously disappointed that the Cyclops is Right storyline spent the last few years going basically nowhere. Like I also said in that review, I’ll wait until the last issue to look back on this particular volume of Uncanny X-Men and talk about what it achieved.

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As for the current issue, the various plot threads are starting to come together piece by piece. Magik’s visit with Dr. Strange, Magneto’s appearance, and Eva Bell’s plan to talk to Professor X are wheels in motion, according to Bendis design. As much as this issue lays out the basic path towards a solution for the Malloy conundrum, Uncanny X-Men #29 still suffers from not being, in the least, an issue that stands on its own. The developments this issue mean nothing without seeing what’s to come — it’s a bridge moving us to the conclusion.

That’s not to say the scripting is terrible — Bendis still knows how to pen voices though Cyclops tends to come off a little informal. The rest of the characters banter, argue, and counter each other with precision, and the cross chatter feels natural and crisp with the best pages containing Cyclops’ verbal takedown of Magneto. In terms of plotting, I do enjoy seeing the various characters putting the puzzle together, and Bendis creates plenty of threat and tension using both S.H.I.E.L.D. and Malloy to keep the X-Men on their toes.

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Moving to art, the carousel of artists continues with Chris Bachalo returning to pencil duties. Uncanny X-Men #29 is an interesting issue for Bachalo fans because it looks vastly different than his other efforts due to the work of the aforementioned colorists. Villarrubia’s textured and watercolor-like tones give the book a more classic look while Fabela’s style gives the panels a more cel-shaded gloss. The book only suffers because the two styles are discernibly different, and not because either of the colorists fail in their endeavors. I don’t know whose colors I prefer more if I had to choose — both bring their own set of aesthetics to the issue. Villarrubia has done and continues to do excellent work with a great eye for lighting and casting atmosphere. His style is distinct, making the issues he works on distinguishable. My only gripe this issue has to do with the concentrated purple hues during Magik’s visit with Strange.

As for Fabela, the coloring is solid until you get to the panel where Magik appears with the Eye of Agamotto. The panel pops with spectacular color and shading, and it’s far and away Fabela’s best panel. It almost seems like a third colorist has joined the team because it makes a huge splash.

The same panel also happens to be Bachalo’s best panel. As for the rest of the issue, I don’t know why it is, but Chris’ work seems a bit rough, particularly in the pouty faces and some of the facial symmetry. Illyana’s eyes during her visit with Strange seem to float around her face, and it’s that left eyebrow — her left — that doesn’t work for me. The scene with the Weapon X kids is equal parts good and not so good. Bachalo knows how to do expressions well, and for the most part, the characters look well-composed as they’re cast to tell the story visually. Unfortunately, a few panels fall flat as if Bachalo’s defaulting to one look between various characters.

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On inks, Tim Townsend, Mark Irwin, Jaime Mendoza, Victor Olazaba, and Al Vey do a fine job finishing Bachalo’s incredibly detailed panels. From Malloy’s facial hair to landscape details, the ink team get a lot done. Not being able to see the panels raw, I can’t say for sure whether the inkers are to blame for the art gripes, so I’ll leave it at that.

Overall, Uncanny X-Men #29 has its share of missteps in specific areas, but it’s a solid issue that benefits strongly from a second wind just in time for Secret Wars. Like many of Bendis’ stories thus far, the setups have been better than the endings, and if the coming issues provide a strong conclusion, his could be one of the memorable arcs. For what it’s worth, the events happening in the pages of Uncanny X-Men #29 might not be important in and of themselves, but there’s potential for some groundbreaking stuff as long as the way forward finally leads to that unreachable horizon.


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Marvel

Uncanny X-Men #29 (2013)
[usr 3]
Marvel
Words: Brian Michael Bendis
Pencils: Chris Bachalo
Inks: Tim Townsend, Mark Irwin, Jaime Mendoza, Victor Olazaba, and Al Vey
Colors: Antonio Fabela and Jose Villarrubia
Letters: Joe Caramagna

Previous Issue: Uncanny X-Men #28 Review
Next Issue: Uncanny X-Men #30 Review

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