Primer — Uncanny X-Men #19.NOW Review

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The plot thickens in Uncanny X-Men #19.NOW — S.H.I.E.L.D. infiltrates a former X-Man’s house for interrogation, Mystique and Sabertooth are up to something, an advanced Sentinel attacks, and Cyclops declares war!

If you feel a strong sense of deja vu, you’re not alone. Bringing back plot points that have been on the backburner for months, Uncanny X-Men #19.NOW — more like a revisiting than a retread — reminds us what we’ve been waiting for.

War.

Cyclops’ Uncanny X-Men squad is the alpha team — the team with the heaviest hitters which is one significant member down since Magneto decided to go off in search of himself. Still, there’s been plenty of growth from even the youngbloods, and Cyclops looks more formidable than ever as a man on fire.

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So while new readers jump on for Uncanny X-Men and get acclimated — after Cyclops’ team deals with the Sentinel threat, we’re reminded once again how people feel about mutants — steady readers won’t get much new this issue except for more teasing on what happened to Eva Bell in Uncanny X-Men #17 when she disappeared then returned a bit older.

Emma Frost knows enough about Bell to warrant a “You have to tell him” after Cyclops compliments Eva. There’s a suggestion of romance here, and it’s either a one-sided thing, or perhaps Bell saw something in her time displacement that’s so important, Scott Summers has to know.

As far as scripting goes, Brian Michael Bendis gets a good back and forth between S.H.I.E.L.D. director Maria Hill and Bond. Hill is written exceptionally well — she’s manipulative to a point, but she’s still well-meaning, if a bit threatening. As condescending as she gets with Bond this issue, it’s apparent she’s willing to do what it takes to save the world without crossing the line into supervillain territory.

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The curtain on what happened to Dazzler is raised, and we see something a bit startling here as Mystique reveals where she gets her Mutant Growth Hormone. The visuals are played up with Mystique storing the illegally obtained substance in a Louis Vuitton bag which shows how far she’ll go to get what she wants.

Chris Bachalo’s pencils are fantastic this issue, though not without flaw. In one panel showing Eva, Emma, and two of the Stepford Cuckoos — all the women have the same face with only their hair and uniforms to differentiate them. Not that it looks bad — Bachalo’s attention to detail and backgrounds helps create some very dynamic panels with devastating spells and destructive explosions opening it up for how epic these battles can be.

And if I can say one thing about the costumes — Goldballs’ retro look  is at the same time hilarious and a hot mess. I’m not sure if he’s a parody of something else — maybe on DC as a whole — but he’s basically the team’s de facto comic relief now.

Everything else about this issue is pretty pitch perfect — the inkers’ squad has another member this issue bringing the count to five. Tim Townsend, Al Vey, Jaime Mendoza, Mark Irwin, and Victor Olazaba all contribute on bringing those penciled sketches to bear with clean lines, dramatic shadows, and darkly dark backgrounds.

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In terms of color, Bachalo handled 100% of the work before, but this time we get a few pages by Jose Villarrubia that are reminiscent of Frazer Irving’s filtered green textures. Seeing Villarrubia’s colors — if just for a page or two — on Bachalo’s work makes me wonder what kind of tone an issue would take if someone else was brought in for color. I’m still not totally keen on Bachalo’s choice of hues, but to each their own.

And while I’m not the best at judging at a letterer’s work — Joe Caramagna should be commended for his work this issue. Explosions, laser blasts, and power beams get their own personalities, and it makes the battle sequences feel very epic.

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The previous issues with their character sketches were a good detour, but it’s time for the Uncanny X-Men to get back on track. While new readers joining the rest of us will benefit the most this issue, it’s a good reminder for the pull-list subscribers of the particular threads left untied and loose. For some, it’s an “about time” moment when the story they’ve waited patiently (or not) for is finally getting its round.

And while the training is never over — at least from Cyclops’ perspective — it’s time for these kids to use what they’ve practiced. The threat is there, whether it’s S.H.I.E.L.D., the mysterious Sentinel builder, or both, and these X-Men have proven themselves to be more than apt for the task.

Uncanny X-Men #19.NOW (2013)
Marvel
Words: Brian Michael Bendis
Pencils: Chris Bachalo
Inks: Tim Townsend, Al Vey, Jaime Mendoza, Mark Irwin, and Victor Olazaba
Colors: Chris Bachalo and Jose Villarrubia
Letters: Joe Caramagna

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Uncanny X-Men #16 Review

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www.hypergeeky.comAbout 20 years ago, Professor X decided to split the X-Men into two teams — gold and blue — as a tactical countermeasure against the various threats they would likely face.

Of course, it wasn’t Professor X’s plan as much as it was Marvel’s — Professor X is a fictional character, and Marvel knew it had a cash cow on its hands.

X-Men #1 went on to becomme the highest selling comic book of all time, and Cyclops’ blue team, stacked with popular heavy hitters like Wolverine, Gambit, and Psylocke, took on their most popular foe — Magneto, ruler of the space-bound mutant safe haven Asteroid M.

Fast forward.

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Time for Change — Battle of the Atom #2 Review

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Battle of the Atom #2 CoverS.H.I.E.L.D.’s missiles rain down on the X-Men below in Battle of the Atom #2, the conclusion to this year’s crossover, pitting various X-Men teams from different times in a battle against each other.

The issue promises there will be blood as the X-Men are attacked high and low, and readers will get some answers to the questions that have been raised.

When one of the missiles lands near some of the X-Men and fails to detonate, the assumed armament turns out to be a capsule that releases a new series of Sentinel. The battle escalates with casualties on both sides, and a final battle between young Jean and her older self culminates in an explosion that ultimately ends the fighting.

For now.

The Battle of the Atom series has been plagued with pacing issues, and the big finish(es) is worth the wait now that the dust has finally settled. Though it isn’t as ground-breaking as one would expect, it does have enough meat on it to make it a memorable read with some deep developments.

Chief among the plot points is the battle between future-Jean, Wolverine, and Cyclops. Hindsight is 20/20, and according to future-Jean, the two most responsible for the ill-fated future are the two leaders who separated the X-Men. Yes, it’s official — Battle of the Atom returns readers to where it all started in the Schism mini-series when Cyclops and Wolverine had their most recent major falling out. Their disagreement now comes to a head with future-Jean disowning Marvel’s version of King Arthur and Sir Lancelot, and the pointed finger turns the Cyclops is right debate on its head.

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That heated debate which has split readership along party lines has seen some of its arguments play out in the X-Titles. Writer Jason Aaron brings up the debate here and then changes the focus back to the original starting point — when Wolverine and Cyclops parted ways and forced the rest of the X-Men to choose sides. Forget whether Cyclops was right — readers now know that the schism was responsible for the new future, and it’s all Cyclops and Wolverine’s faults.

Battle of the Atom #2 ends with four separate epilogues written for each of the X-Titles. With the Brotherhood lost in the current timeline, some of the future X-Men decide to stay while others return to the future to bury their dead. Some X-Men find solace in knowing there’s hope in the future, while others decide they must do all they can to make sure it never happens.

The fourth epilogue, which is the issue’s biggest development moving forward, brings Kitty Pryde back to the forefront. Still feeling betrayed and having no reason to believe she will ever be secure with her present team, Pryde decides she’d be better off switching sides. To make things even more complicated/exciting/surprising — the original X-Men follow their teacher in joining Cyclops’ Uncanny X-Men.

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It’s a momentum changer that gives Cyclops the upper hand especially in light of Wolverine’s declaration that the school matters the most. Turned down by its most prominent students, the school may lose more of its students moving forward. At the least, there’s no love gained between the two leaders of the X-Men, and the schism still stands stronger than ever.

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Four sets of artists contribute to the issue, and the art is probably the best during the main storyline, at least in terms of staging and composition. Future-Beast’s death and the reveal of the Sentinels are imbued with drama by penciller Esad Ribic, who’s assisted by Giuseppe Camuncoli. Ive Svorcina, Andres Mossa, and Guru eFX’s colors give the panels showcasing the epic battle a dreamlike and lucid polish, and the Phoenix-reds do well in reminding readers of Jean Grey’s ultimate power.

Battle of the Atom #2 will likely get a trade paperback release, and judging the work as a whole — the crossover skimps on the developments and serves mainly as a vehicle for the continuation of the four major X-Titles. Readers won’t get much more information about the future, despite Jean having seen some of it in her mind. That secret gives the X-Men something to fight over, but without more foreknowledge, it’s difficult for readers to come on board.

While it’s a welcome sight to see all the writers pool their talents for a cohesive story, the crossover suffers from too much push and pull with each issue’s authors putting in their own versions and spins on the story. The crossover could have benefited from more editorial oversight to smooth out the rough edges and get everyone on the same page, and besides the Sentinel reveal, the crossover needed more than just a few mysterious glimpses into the future. Likewise, the mess made with the Brotherhood running rampant in the present time creates more of a headache because it adds more layers to the X-Universe than it really needs.

That said, what will happen to the individual X-Titles remains to be seen. All-New X-Men gets a dramatic change in scenery while X-Men loses Kitty Pryde. Uncanny X-Men now adds a whole team to its stable while following Cyclops as leader and mentor to himself. The book with perhaps the most to lose is Wolverine and the X-Men as Logan seems to be the biggest victim of the crossover as he’s lost the classic X-Men and a lot of clout as headmaster.

Battle of the Atom #2 (2013)
Marvel
Words: Jason Aaron
Pencils: Esad Ribic and Giuseppe Camuncoli
Inks: Andrew Currie and Tom Palmer
Colors: Ive Svorcina, Andres Mossa, and Guru eFX
Letters: Joe Caramagna

Epilogues
Words: Jason Aaron, Brian Wood, and Brian Michael Bendis
Pencils: Giuseppe Camuncoli, Kristopher Anka, Chris Bachalo, and Stuart Immonen
Inks: Andrew Currie, Mark Irwin, Victor Olazaba, and Wade von Grawbadger
Colors: Matt Milla

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Reckoning — Uncanny X-Men #9 Review

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It seems wherever Cyclops goes, someone’s asking him what happened with Charles Xavier.

It’s a valid question, and it’s an issue Scott Summers has been dealing with internally as he holds on tight to this second chance of his. Though the fans have chanted, Cyclops is right, past events have had a major effect on him, altering him from pure leader to tainted freedom fighter.

Alison Blair, former X-Men in charge of PR for Cyclops’ extinction team, now works for S.H.I.E.L.D., and her first assignment involves taking Fabio Medina into custody for questioning. Blair takes advantage of a fangirl, and uses her powers to subdue the family, freeing herself up so she can bring Medina onto the helicarrier.

Too bad for Maria Hill and her underlings — David Bond’s new affiliation with Cyclops’ X-Men squad has given him time with some of the most powerful mutants on the planet. Bond began to understand his ability to take control over machinery last issue, and he’s been spending time with some of the greatest teachers. It all pays off when Bond takes control of the helicarrier after the X-Men teleport to Fabio’s side.

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It’s an issue filled with tactical maneuvering, trick surprises, and changes. Irma, one of the Stepford Cuckoos, has changed her hair style, prompting her sister Celeste to “freak out.” It’s an interesting dynamic because the X-Men books have long tackled issues concerning prejudices, but even the X-Men aren’t immune to tiffs and fighting over expections of “normality.”

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By the looks of it, Brian Michael Bendis is having loads of fun drafting the Uncanny X-Men series — the dialogue is witty, the tempo is brisk, and the characters have momentum going forward. The heavy hitters of the team still command presence, but the cast feels fuller now even if the elder teammates have to deal with being broken. It leaves the younger recruits room to grow and show they can handle their own as they fight for the spotlight. Credit Bendis for giving readers a reason to care for the new teammates who don’t feel disposable.

Chris Bachalo’s pencils remain top notch, and each page is filled with fully loaded panels. There’s tension and great composition, and Bendis’ doesn’t make it easy for Bachalo with all of character interaction. There’s been a lot of story in the past few issues, and Bachalo’s artwork isn’t lazy — it’s actually pretty frenetic. Character expressions are Bachalo’s strength, and body language is easy to read.

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If there was a major gripe, it’s Bachalo’s penchance for backsides. There are at least four prominent “butt” shots, and each issue seems to have at least one. It can be distracting, and Bachalo could be a candidate for the Hawkeye Initiative Award if there was one.

As for inks — Tim Townsend gets help from three other inkers. Lines look fluid and smooth, and the dark black shades add thick contrast without feeling sloppy or overwhelming.

Bachalo’s colors get a nice boost with some more variance in colors. There’s more blue to this issue, and the palette switching is more attractive compared to the melange of orange Bachalo used last issue.

The Uncanny X-Men series has been strong — more or less — on a month to month basis, and Mystique’s appearance here after a stint in All-New X-Men shows she’s part of a bigger picture. Mystique proves you can’t stop her — you can only hope to contain her — and she’s a threat that’s been deserving of a bigger challenge.

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Kudos to the creative team for pushing the pace and creating an issue that puts some of the most powerful mutants on Earth in harm’s way. Bendis could have chosen higher-profile characters, but he’s bringing in solid and dangerous foes capable of making a huge impact on the X-Men universe.

Uncanny X-Men #9 (2013)
Marvel
Words: Brian Michael Bendis
Pencils: Chris Bachalo
Inks: Tim Townsend, Mark Irwin, Al Vey, and Jaime Mendoza
Colors: Chris Bachalo
Letters: Joe Caramagna

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