Brian Michael Bendis’ “Uncanny X-Men” #17 has a strong attention grabber in the form of a striking cover by Chris Bachalo and Tim Townsend, featuring an overhead shot of the X-Men standing on a bare stone plane atop the etched-in logo of the title, looking lost and confused, with a towering sign above them that reads “You’re in the middle of nowhere.” After consuming this issue, though, readers will realize that this sign wasn’t merely an attention getter, but also an ironic — albeit unintentional — warning.
The X-Men are indeed in the middle of nowhere for all but the final two pages, which is fine, but what isn’t so fine is that readers are stuck there with them. Stuck, because for over half of the issue, next to nothing happens, save for the usual extended, disjointed and meaningless banter that happens between the team ad nauseum. Such exchanges are well-known Bendis trademarks, and when they serve a purpose, all of this jabbering has often enhanced and positively impacted his stories.
Here, though, there is no purposed served; it’s all filler, even when all of the talk is interrupted by a little bit of action. In the entirety of the issue, there is exactly one moment of significance, when a member is kicked off the team, and even this doesn’t happen until the very last panels of the story. Everything leading up to it reads like a meandering improvisation, with no script save for that which is made up as it goes along.
While this issue might read like a bad night at the improv, the scenery is sure attractive, as the insides look every bit as great as the cover. The strange, lush, part-Lost in Space and part-Alice in Wonderland landscape the X-Men find themselves in is both beautifully depicted and colored by Bachalo. The backgrounds are inked with tight, crisp lines that nicely contrast the foreground figures rendered with heavier textures.
His color contrast nicely as well; characters shown up close are shaded in purple tones, for instance, while the flora in the background carry orange and yellow hues. The panels throughout the main sequence are laid out slightly angled, adding an additional underlying feel of outlandishness to the scenic backdrop. Bachalo’s art carries this issue, and it’s pleasing enough to make the drawn out nature of this story a little bit more forgivable.
Any story that allows Bachalo to showcase his talents can’t be all bad, and it’s worthwhile to go back and reread, even if just to enjoy the art all over again. Sometimes Bendis’ garrulous writing technique works, and sometimes it doesn’t; “Uncanny X-Men” #17 is the latter, and while this comic is definitely optional for many, it’s a must-have for Bachalo fans.