Uncanny X-Men is heavy on continuity but actually manages to be so in a good way as it picks up on threads started by Uncanny X-Force. Looking to make up for her role in Archangel’s crimes, Psylocke uses false pretenses to bring the Extinction Team to the world he created, and only Magneto knows the truth of it. This is an issue that focuses more on character interactions than plots, and that proves to really play to Kieron Gillen’s strengths with these characters in particular.
Even though it is handled well, those who haven’t been following Uncanny X-Force could easily get a little lost with this issue. The story of Warren Worthington III going all Apocalypse and accelerating the evolution of this one isolated patch of Earth can be a lot to try to take in all at once like this. Thankfully, Gillen doesn’t dwell much on the details and really only focuses on two beats that are easy to understand. The first is that this is an area that has been mutated by someone manipulating time. The second is that Psylocke feels guilty because she feels she could have prevented it. As long as you grasp those two ideas, the story is pretty easy to follow.
I also give Gillen and Marvel a pass on this. Given how much Marvel promoted the Dark Angel Saga, I don’t think it’s that unreasonable for them to expect a lot of readers to have at least some familiarity with what happened.
Gillen lays down some really good science fiction in regard to what this hyper-evolved world is like. A concept like this could easily be buried in a pile of lazy, comic book science that pretends to be remotely scientific but is really just meaningless techno-babble. Gillen does it right by at least trying to base some extraordinary ideas on grounded science and reason. I particularly liked how he pointed out the way all the animals in the region would have been used to an unmoving sun because of the time distortion.
The real entertainment of this issue comes from the characters, though. Gillen really nails his cast and provides some pretty great exchanges. The smugness of his Namor is a lot of fun, but the most substantial exchange in the issue probably comes from Magneto and Psylocke. Gillen gives us a nice glimpse that Magneto hasn’t been completely diluted by being an X-Man with how he views mutant lives compared to human ones. Even Magik and Colossus come out of this issue with a nice little moment.
Despite how great Gillen handles the characters, the book is still a strange struggle for me because I kind of hate the cast of the Extinction Team. Namor being a mutant and a member of the X-Men is something that has never really worked. The ideas that he counts as what the Marvel Universe defines as a mutant and that he cares enough to even acknowledge it has always been something that comes off as painfully artificial. As much as I loved Astonishing X-Men, I have never been sold on Danger as a good idea and would rather one of the actual mutant members of the X-Club occupy her role. And then I hate Magik. I just hate her. I totally acknowledge that one as coming completely from my side of things and lacking any real objective reason behind it.
I guess it’s only fair that Wolverine and the X-Men got the better cast. Uncanny X-Men did get the better writer, after all.
That uncalled for shot at another writer wraps up the writing portion of this review and brings me to the art. Greg Land. It almost seems unnecessary to elaborate. Too much has already been said about his art, and it’s been made clear that no amount will make Marvel care what you think. Personally, his blatantly traced style has never bothered me too much. At least he traces pretty things. But how awkward and overused his poses are does get distracting from the story, as does how often facial expressions look more like they are posed for photos than appropriate for the story. It is what it is, though. Land’s art is stilted and awkward, but it’s pretty. That’s not ideal, but there are books out there doing worse in the art department.
Uncanny X-Men is honestly one of the better X-titles currently being produced. Gillen writes this book with intelligence and a strong grasp of the characters. He is also one of the very few writers who has been able to treat the X-Men as superheroes without making it feel like they’ve lost sight of their focus on mutants. The book could do with some improvements in the cast and in the art, but these flaws don’t take much away from how good Uncanny X-Men has become.