Comics are a marriage of story and pictures. To be ultimately successful, both have to work in sync with one another. It’s an obvious statement to make, but reading the latest “Uncanny X-Men” is a reminder that what may seem like something you’d take for granted is not always the case.
The second issue of “The Five Lights” has some of the same strengths as the first one. We’re moving into places outside the normal scope of superhero comics, this time dipping into Mexico City for the location of the second new mutant. It’s a nice idea, but aside from the occasional “dios mio!” it could have just as easily been New York, or San Francisco, or even Topeka. Still, it holds the promise of some diversity for the future, which has potential.
It’s also nice to see Fraction using some other X-Men in the mix again, sending Psylocke and Cecelia Reyes into the field, two faces that don’t get a terribly large amount of attention these days. And best of all, Matt Fraction has an interesting take on the activation process of these new mutants and what happens to their powers before Hope comes along to somehow finish the process and stabilize them. It might be a little early to take a guess as exactly what’s happening, but with two cases now in front of us, it’s starting to feel like we can connect the dots. I like what happens with the new character as his powers ramp up that first time, and there’s a lot more Fraction can do with this idea down the line.
The weakest point of last month’s issue of “Uncanny X-Men” was Whilce Portacio’s erratic pencils, and that’s something that’s gotten worse rather than better. For every good portrait of a character (who knew Portacio could draw an excellent Cecelia Reyes?), there’s another one who looks plastic (Psylocke’s new power is to turn herself into a storefront mannequin, apparently) or 40 years older than they should (I’m pretty sure Kitty Pryde isn’t really supposed to look like a cast member of “Hot in Cleveland”). Worst of all, Portacio doesn’t even pencil the entire issue. Leonard Kirk steps in to try and mimic Portacio’s style in a manner that doesn’t suit his abilities. This issue’s art ends up detracting from the story, to the point that it becomes unenjoyable the longer you look at it. Portacio has always been an extremely variable artist, and this is one of his less successful comics.
I want to like “The Five Lights” storyline, but having Portacio pencil these issues is increasingly looking like a mistake, especially with the art already falling apart on the second chapter. Having a gorgeous cover by Terry Dodson and Rachel Dodson is almost insult to injury, reminding us of how good the interiors could have looked. I hate to say it, but after riding high for three months during “Second Coming,” this is a fast way to undo all the good momentum “Uncanny X-Men” picked up. Visually, it’s a mess.