Uncanny X-Men #1

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I’ve often spoken about how influential the character of Superman was on my early development, but I don’t think I’ve ever given credit to how equally influential the X-Men were on me, both as a comic fan and as an individual.  The first VHS tapes I recall owning were the pilots to Pryde of the X-Men and The Animated Series.  For years my favorite floppy was X-Men #25 (“Dreams Fade” from the Fatal Attractions story arc).  And after falling away from comics in the wake of Zero Hour, it was the underrated and unremembered miniseries Children of the Atom that drew me back in, with rarely a week of four-colored adventures missed since.

Most importantly, though, after the Man of Steel, my favorite superhero growing up wasn’t Batman or Spider-man or Wolverine, but Professor Xavier.  It hardly mattered that he was bald or wheelchair-bound; here was a hero in whom I could see myself.  Because he wasn’t a hero first and foremost, but a philosopher and a pacifist, a visionary and a dreamer.  His was a pacifism that wasn’t passive, a dream which was no idle day-dream.  Such characterization resulted in a very different approach to heroism, wherein he inspired outsiders to rescue futurity from the status quo.

Inverted as it may seem, I’m sure much of the sentiments which inspired my Seminary studies found their roots in the superhero cartoons and comics of my earliest experiences.  It’s been elsewhere explained how Superman is a Christ-figure inhering the Messianic Archetype, but not much ink has been spilled comparing Xavier to the historical Jesus of Nazareth.  Both were preachers, denouncing the wicked world around them while promising a coming kingdom.  Both had their disciples, set apart from the world but always active in it.  And both shared an ethos, extorting their followers to act with compassion toward the enemies that persecuted them, holding out hope for even their fiercest foes’ redemption.

The name Xavier is never mentioned once in Cullen Bunn and Greg Land’s Uncanny X-Men #1, but his legacy permeates every page.  Whereas he was once Xavier’s arch-nemesis, Magneto is a man converted, sharing the martyred Xavier’s dream as his own, though his methodologies and messaging have a bit more of an edge than his former friend’s.  Likewise, the membership of the reformed Sabretooth and the promised addition of Mystique next issue testify to the validity of Xavier’s vison, his hope for his adversaries justified.

Moreover, Cullen Bunn has created an interesting dilemma for this truly uncanny crew to confront.  Those who have taken up Xavier’s dream face down fellow mutants that have taken to dreaming only, who through stasis chambers have truly removed themselves from the world, wanting to awaken to a new world without working toward it.  It’s a perversion of Xavier’s philosophy not explored in the franchise’s fifty-plus years.  Isolationism and ghettoization have been condemned, to be sure, but this has the added nuance of passiveness; man and mutant (and Morlock) alike, anyone not actively working toward reconciliation is part of the problem.

Bunn has carved a niche for himself writing former villains as antiheroes; I’ve heard nothing but praise for his runs on Sinestro and Magneto.  Now in addition to the Master of Magnetism he’s being given the chance to explore such morally ambiguous characters as Sabretooth, Mystique, Apocalypse’s horseman Archangel, and X-Force assassin Psylocke, and gentleman thief Fantomex. It’s a perfect fit of the cast to the writer, and in addition to the novel ideas outlined in this inaugural issue gives me great hope for the series going forward.

As does the other half of the creative team.  Greg Land stands among my favorite artists to have worked on Marvel’s merry mutants in the past, and it’s a joy to see him return.  Such seems to be an unpopular opinion, met with polite disagreement at comic shops and worse from internet commenters, akin to appreciating the art of Rob Liefeld (also guilty).  From my conversations with naysayers, the primary criticism seems to be that Land (occasionally or often, depending on who you ask) traces the faces and bodies of models and actresses, and moreover that he reuses his old art assets with only minor modifications in new issues.  Frankly, I don’t care.

The issue at hand is whether good art is defined by the process or the product; it is affect versus effect.  Tracing and recycling are regarded by Land’s prosecutors as outside the artistic tradition of comics.  But so are much of today’s digital coloring techniques and computer-generated post-effects.  Nor was the bullpen of yesteryears a bastion of integrity.  Nevertheless, even if they were made by an army of artists or entirely by computer algorithm, the actual images which see when I pick up one of Land’s issues are breathtakingly beautiful to behold.  His feminine faces are unapologetically sexy.  His poses are unabashedly heroic.  The only criticism I’d level against him in this issue is the atrocious costume design, the two-tone motif visually uninspired.

There was a time in the early ‘90s when the X-Men were the biggest characters in comics.  Then in the early aughts, even as sales diminished, the franchise hit its creative zenith under the tenure of Grant Morrison. But Wanda Maximoff’s incantation “No more mutants” had a metatextual magic to it, apparently. The franchise has suffered severely since M-Day over a decade ago, with only occasional bright spots such as Uncanny X-Force to hold over True Believers.  Though oft asserted in the comics, it’s true in the real world that circumstances have never looked direr for mutantkind.  While I don’t believe the conspiracy theories that Marvel is downplaying the X-franchise to spite Fox, it’s certainly the case that they’re diverting talent and resources to Marvel Studios-owned, more multimedia lucrative properties such as Avengers and Inhumans.

Standing against this current are creative juggernauts Cullen Bunn and Greg Land.  I don’t expect them to singlehandedly restore the X-Men to their proper place atop the pantheon of Marvel heroes, but from this fantastic first issue I fully expect Uncanny X-Men, like Uncanny X-Force before it, to be another gratifying holdover while we await that utopian day when X-Men comics dominate the sales charts and culture once again.  It may not be exactly what Xavier had in mind, but that’s to me The Dream.

7.75/10

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