“Uncanny X-Men” #7 ended with an unexpected final panel. With the Invincible Man’s plan to kill every living creature in Tabula Rasa to resurrect his dead race thwarted, the X-Men seemed ready to celebrate until the other survivor of the Apex warns that their job is not yet done. That warning leads into a surprising conclusion to the story focusing on the fallout of “The Dark Angel Saga” in “Uncanny X-Force,” one that’s more interested in pushing the limits of what the X-Men can do to help and delivering some strong character beats, expanding upon the relationships of between members of Cyclops’ Extinction Team.
Kieron Gillen has used this adventure to break the team off into pairs in the time-honored tradition of bringing something unexpected out of characters when they’re forced to interact. The flirtatious dialogue of Namor and Hope has been amusing throughout the story and reaches a strange and completely appropriate finale after Namor wins over the underwater dwellers of Tabula Rasa in his own way before putting any notion of a romantic entanglement with Hope to bed in a very funny piece of dialogue.
On the other side is the well-established bond between Colossus and his sister, which Gillen uses to explore Piotr’s struggle with acting as the avatar of Cyttorak. Greg Land’s depiction of Colossus letting “the beast inside free” to rescue his sister is shocking; it’s a little disturbing to see a hero so transformed.
The main thrust of the issue is saving the populace of Tabula Rasa from the consequences of the dome being gone. They’ve lived in a world with little to no natural sunlight and suddenly, they’re going to be thrust into our world. It’s a rare instance of the heroes sticking around to clean up the collateral damage when the fighting is done and shows off another side of the Extinction Team. Thus far, they’ve been concerned with proving they’re a force to be reckoned with, something to scare people off attacking mutants and to see them do something constructive is a sign that Cyclops and his group aren’t as far gone as some might think.
It’s a testament to Gillen’s skill that so many of his clever ideas and nuanced character work comes through Land’s glossy, stilted, vapid artwork. At times, Land hits his marks, but even those bright spots have a hard time shining through the sea of awkward smirks, thousand yard stares and repetitive positioning of characters within the same panel. If anything, those rare moments where the writing and art click sting, hinting at Land’s true potential.
Some might accuse Gillen of decompressed storytelling and dragging this story out. Normally, the events of this issue would be crammed into a few pages; by giving them the room to breathe, Gillen shows a different side of the team and allows the characters to reveal more of themselves.