Cullen Bunn, Greg Land and Jay Leisten’s “Uncanny X-Men” debuted with a new team of mutants led by Magneto, whose mission in the first issue lead directly to the death of a mutant healer. Apparently, this team of X-Men will need to fail in order to succeed, as “Uncanny X-Men” #2 continues that trend in a bleak manner.
A familiar trick in shared-universe storytelling is to have a new (or re-introduced) character easily defeat a familiar face. Doing this accomplishes two things: it gives the audience someone to compare the new characters to and it also gives their actions some weight, because it isn’t against a random no-name but rather a character that you presumably knew and loved. So, on that level, having the re-introduced Dark Riders go after some better-known mutant healers in “Uncanny X-Men” #2 makes sense.
The problem here is that Bunn not only establishes them as having killed one character from last issue, but that he repeats that methodology here. Even though the Dark Riders would have tried to kill this character regardless of the X-Men’s presence, it still puts a real pall over “Uncanny X-Men.” Two nasty (and deadly) defeats in a row doesn’t make the Dark Riders look competent; rather, it makes the X-Men look incompetent. The book is admittedly only two issues in, but it’s a trend that needs to be swiftly arrested if readers are going to stick around. This isn’t a darker take on the X-Men; it’s just gratuitously violent in the same way the old “New X-Men” title kept massacring its student population.
On the bright side, I like how Bunn writes Sabretooth and Monet working together, and it’s the high point of the comic. Sabretooth’s rough edge works well opposite Monet’s slightly disdainful attitude. There’s a fun banter between the two, even if it’s simply about which X-Men smell better than others. With Magneto and Psylocke doing little more than delivering exposition in this issue, this is the part that should give readers hope that “Uncanny X-Men” will deliver more than a pile of corpses.
Land and Leistein’s art is up to its usual standards. It’s a very slick and smooth style, and some panels click together perfectly while others look a little more stiff and posed. Often, they’re right next to one another; Elixir almost getting his face snapped off looks menacing, while the following panel with Monet zooming through feels like it’s at a strange angle and lacks any actual sense of movement. It’s also distracting to watch faces shift slightly (most notably Monet). Sabretooth is a little more consistent, and he does get some great expressions. Overall, it’s not bad, and I like when we briefly see some Vermont foliage, but I do wish that the art didn’t vary so much from one moment to the next.
“Uncanny X-Men” #2 is unfortunately right in line with the overall shift for the X-Men stable of books. For the moment, the direction of this title isn’t wowing, and — while it’s competently put together — there’s a real lack of a strong hook to make you want to see what happens next. If the book could focus on a little less failure and a bit more victory, then that would be a good step in the right direction.