Brian Michael Bendis and Chris Bachalo take on the flagship X-Men title as they re-launch “Uncanny X-Men” #1 with Cyclops’ ongoing mutant rebellion taking real steps in recruitment. Meanwhile, a mysterious figure is determined to undo Cyclops mission with the help of a wary Maria Hill and S.H.I.E.L.D.
Pairing up Chris Bachalo, one of my favorite artists in comics, with Bendis, a writer who has pleasantly surprised me with his take on the X-Men in “All-New X-Men,” seemed like a slam-dunk for “Uncanny.” Unfortunately, this is a huge information dump of an issue. While Bendis does set up a clever way in which he can lay out his exposition, at the end of the day it’s still exposition — a whole lot of it. Additionally, the entire issue relies on the surprise ending, which for most readers won’t be a surprise at all. With the cat likely out of the bag early on, it creates a seriously diminished experience. While Bendis’ voices in “All-New X-Men” have been impressively compelling, these character voices lacked that same refinement. Emma Frost particularly feels off, which is odd considering how many writers have an easy time with her. In time, Bendis will hopefully get a better feel for her, but as of now it’s not quite there.
Fortunately, Bachalo’s highly stylized and wildly enthusiastic art is so enjoyable that even the info dumps are at least pretty to look at. When given the chance to cut loose in the (heavily narrated) action scenes, Bachalo does exactly that — cut beautifully loose. He fills the pages to the brim with gorgeous details and makes storytelling choices that keep things as active as possible. With tilted panels full of kinetic energy his action literally slides off the pages in the most effective of ways. Bachalo does what he can to keep the ten pages of talking heads interesting, but he’s only human, and only so much can be done.
Bachalo’s costume design is sleek and interesting, but some of it doesn’t mesh well together — Magneto in all white is a very cool design — but he looks out of place with the team (though he would have fit in beautifully with Rick Remender’s “Uncanny X-Force”). Perhaps setting him apart is deliberate (especially given the reveals in this issue), but visually it’s tough to make it work with everyone else in black. As a result, Magneto ends up just looking like someone forgot to color him. That said, artists have found ways for Emma Frost’s typically-all-white uniform to work when she was the only one wearing it, so perhaps it will feel more organic and seamless as time passes.
In truth, this was not the powerful first issue so many readers expected — rather, a slightly awkward stumble. However, there’s a ton of potential thanks to the characters on the field, the plotting Bendis already set up in “All-New X-Men” and Bachalo’s passionate and stunning artwork. There’s time for this book to find its sea legs and compete with the best of Marvel NOW!, which so far, has set a very high bar.