The Beowulf/sci-fi film spectacular of 2008, “Outlander,” features a scene where a giant metallic lizard badger monster thing attacks the village, and Jesus and John Huston’s grandkid set up this pit of flaming oil to trap the thing and kill it. The two of them dance atop shields affixed to poles so they won’t be consumed by the fiery death, but even their pit o’ hotness can’t stop the monster. It just leaps out, and now they have to fight a flaming giant metallic lizard badger monster thing.
“Uncanny X-Men” #517 has a lot of scenes like that, only substitute in Jesus and John Huston’s grandkid with Cyclops, Magneto, Rogue, Namor, and Wolverine.
This issue is one fight sequence, on several fronts, as five Predator Xs (bio-engineered mutant killing machines that look shockingly like the creatures from the probably-and-rightfully-so-completely-unconnected “Outlander” movie) attack Utopia, land of the free mutants, home of the brave, um, mutants.
So what can you really expect from an issue that’s just a fight sequence? (Only the final two pages, which show the consequences of crash-landing an infested aircraft on a mutant sanctuary, are without fisticuffs or plasma blasts or bloody carnage.) Well, you might expect some teamwork, and some leadership from Scott Summers, and Matt Fraction certainly gives us that. If anything, the 18 issues of his run so far have built Cyclops up into a powerful commander of the mutant forces, and a somewhat reluctant but not indecisive political leader as well.
This is his Utopia, after all. His firm commitment to the dream that led them to this place, and it’s his responsibility to see it through. Of course, the attack of vicious monsters helps break the monotony of the burdens of government, and it’s a lot more interesting than seeing Cyclops oversee the installation of sewage treatment plants and challenging zoning regulations.
And the fun in this issue is in how the team comes together or falls apart during the battle. How does Namor fit in? What does this seemingly weakened Magneto have going on? How awesome can Rogue be when she takes the combined powers of the New Mutants/Young X-Men and delivers super-combo moves that your local gamer would classify as “bah-roken”?
These are the questions Fraction throws at the reader and partially answers (okay, he totally answers the last one, letting Rogue unleash some crazy multi-power skills on the Predator X), and it’s seeing these characters in the heat of battle that makes this issue worth reading.
Because what doesn’t make it worth reading is the art of Greg Land. I’ve never been one to criticize Land’s art too vociferously. He does what he does — it’s his style, and some readers respond to it — but this issue shows some of his worst characteristics. His characters in the issue seem not to inhabit their surroundings so much as be pasted in front of them. His monsters are great, but his X-Men seem to possess the ability to shapeshift into celebrities from one angle to the next. Rogue is a young Geena Davis for a moment. Emma Frost is Jessica Alba as she presses her finger to her lips.
Land’s artistic choices are distracting and harmful to the story, and they turn what could be a 3 Â½ to 4 star X-Men issue into something significantly less.