There’s something of a sense that the disbandment of the X-Men happened too fast and was over too soon. Already, we’ve seen a team of Young X-Men formed, X-Force are still around, and the X-Men are, in effect, still operating — so really, it’s only the school that got closed, isn’t it? “X-Men: Divided We Stand” attempts to deal with this by giving us a series of vignettes showing some of the characters who didn’t get to stick around in an effort to make the disbandment feel slightly more real.
At least, that’s the idea. As executed, it reads a lot like an issue of the old “X-Men Unlimited” series which often told in-continuity, if inconsequential, solo X-Men stories. On the one hand, it allows writers to try something less conventional, and to bring in artists who wouldn’t get near the characters in other circumstances. On the other, you get the sense that some of these stories didn’t need telling at all.
For a start, there’s a disproportionate focus on the characters from “New X-Men”. It’s an understandable move, given how unceremoniously that title was cancelled, but as an X-Men fan who was never that into the junior class I feel like I’ve picked up a “New X-Men” epilogue by mistake. The cynic in me feels like someone, somewhere was a little too quiet about that on purpose.
Still – what of the stories themselves? A Carey-penned Cannonball/Husk short opens, and is probably the weakest of the bunch if only because it’s presumably trying to explain why Cannonball changes from the fairly level-headed X-Man he was into the Hellfire Club member he’s apparently become in the pages of “Young X-Men”. I’m usually a big Carey fan, but all we have here is an unreasonably angry young man getting into a bar fight, totally out of step with any previous appearance or personality that I can recall.
Meanwhile, incoming “Uncanny X-Men” writer, Matt Fraction, delivers what is, encouragingly, the best of the bunch as Nightcrawler tracks down Scalphunter and torments him for being one of Sinister’s soulless marauder clones, not even worthy of being killed. It’s perfect ground for both characters, and a nice follow-up to the events of “Messiah Complex”. I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention Jamie McKelvie’s fantastic artwork. His familiar indie look all-but disappears beneath the more mainstream colouring job (done by GURUeFX, and which shows fantastic detail in its own right) but this only serves to emphasize the other strengths of his work — clean storytelling and strong character design. It seems he’s far more versatile than you might have otherwise thought, and I’d love to see him really cut loose on another superhero piece.
Another honorable mention goes to Skottie Young, who has produced some artwork in the past that I’m not afraid to say I completely hated. Reining in his style significantly, Young goes with a more obviously anime-inspired look then I’ve seen from him before, both writing and drawing a short mood piece about former X-Kid Anole feeling unable to return to his old life outside the X-Men. It successfully inverts the obvious tale of an outcast returning home, when he finds that he’s the one who has a problem being back, not those around him.
The other pieces, spotlighting Nehzno and Hellion, are both entertaining in their own right, though with Kyle and Yost at the helm, these two most of all feel like they fell out of a missing issue of “New X-Men”. Both stories feel like they should’ve been told in the parent title rather than some spinoff, though having Hellion turn to Magneto after running out of options is a nice idea, especially when we see Magneto reject him.
Overall, the issue is only saved by the high quality of its contributors. The premise is just too weak, asking us to buy into a disbanded X-Men team while simultaneously being pretty much the only evidence we’ve seen of it. The mix of characters is heavily weighted towards the lowest-selling X-Men title that participated in “Messiah Complex”, which it claims to be following up. I have to admit, in light of all that, I’m left feeling fairly skeptical about the next issue.