Brian Michael Bendis and Chris Bachalo’s “Uncanny X-Men” #16 returns the focus of the book to Magneto as he heads to Madripoor to find out if the island has indeed become a “Mutant Safe Harbor” on a tip from S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Dazzler. The set up is good enough, as Magneto on his own, undercover in Madripoor is something I’m keen to see. Unfortunately, some unimpressive writing and plot points drag the whole thing down.
The focus on Magneto in this issue is both good and bad, and feels a bit overdue given where this series started. It’s unfortunate that the character’s just getting some focus now after such a strong opening tease for this series and it now feels a bit too late as he’s headed to his own book. Regardless, Bendis does an excellent job of showing how dangerous (and badass) Erik is, even when his powers are depleted and unreliable. You don’t have to be able to drop a tank on someone in order to be deadly with a mastery of magnetism, and Erik shows this off, easily defeating his enemies, which includes randoms from Madripoor and legitimate villains Mystique, Sabretooth, Blob and Silver Samurai.
However, though Bendis gives Erik plenty to do physically, his Erik as presented here is galatically stupid. He’s so dumb I don’t even recognize him as Magneto. Magneto is certainly one of the most intelligent and savvy mutants out there, and he’s more than been around the block, which accounts for at least some of his savvy. So when Bendis writes dialogue for Erik that has him seriously asking Blob (and then Sabertooth) of all people if they are behind the take over of Madripoor (seriously?!) it is utterly unbelievable and tears you immediately out of the story. Additionally, the Mystique reveal as well as the Mystique/Dazzler reveal is not terribly exciting for readers, because we know well what Mystique has been up to on the sidelines, even if Erik hasn’t been privy to it. Still, even his surprise at Mystique’s involvement feels remarkably off. With all his experiences you’d think he could put 2 and 2 together. It’s a huge misstep that makes the entire issue difficult to take seriously.
For his part, Bachalo knocks the visuals out of the park. Working with his army of inkers (Tim Townsend, Al Vey, Mark Irwin, Victor Olazaba) and doing his own colors, Bachalo really excels at a story like this. Both the crowd scenes at the rally and Magneto’s espionage in Madripoor call for pages packed with people and Bachalo puts as much care and detail into each minor face as he does in his main characters’ faces, giving the book a frenetic life and realism that’s an interesting contrast to his highly stylized look. At the same time, Bachalo knows just when to pull back a bit and let a reader’s eye rest in a quiet less detailed moment, sometimes letting a background drop out, or choosing a composition that demands simplification. It’s a wonderful harmony that he creates in the end. Bachalo’s style is so high energy and demanding that his gift with color is sometimes overlooked, but it’s impossible to overlook in this issue as it surges seamlessly from a Magneto vision bathed in red to the browns of a barroom brawl in Madripoor to the bright and pristine blues of a rooftop conversation. It’s stunning stuff.
In the end, incredibly strong visuals from Bachalo do their best to save “Uncanny X-Men” #16 from some bad writing on Bendis’ part that seems decidedly out of place for Magneto’s character. In the end, perhaps it’s best that Magneto is not returning to the pages of “Uncanny X-Men.” Hopefully, he will find more accurate character work in his own series.