Matt Fraction has certainly injected “Uncanny X-Men” with more life than it’s had in years, maybe decades. While the likes of Morrison and Whedon have done great work on “New X-Men” and “Astonishing X-Men,” the flagship title of the X-franchise has been limping along since the end of the Claremont era. So it’s nice to see “Uncanny X-Men” once again take center stage as the X-book that matters, and I can’t think of a more perfect fit than Fraction.
Greg Land, on the other hand, is a bit of a disaster. More on the art in a minute.
“Uncanny X-Men” #510 is the climax of the Madelyne Pryor-led invasion of the X-compound sequence. We see the San Francisco HQ under attack from Pryor’s gaggle of gorgeous supervillains, and we find out — on the final page of the issue — what the ladies wanted in the first place. It doesn’t come as much of a shock, but it is a nice, “aha” moment, as in “aha, that makes sense” and “aha, Wolverine is such a big old softie after all.”
I’ll be honest, my “Uncanny X-Men” reading had been so sporadic between the end of the Claremont run and the beginning of the Brubaker run that I have no idea about what Madelyne Pryor has been up to. Wasn’t she some kind of demon queen and didn’t she die? Am I wrong about that? I don’t really care, to be honest, because Fraction hasn’t based this storyline around anything that requires a whole lot of specific prior knowledge (or Pryor knowledge! Yippee for puns). All we need to know is that Maddie looks a lot like Jean Grey and Scott Summers was once married to her. Oh, and she’s called the Red Queen now. Maybe Fraction is ignoring bits of her past, or maybe this is a fake-out, or maybe he’s going to tie every errant Madelyne Pryor story into one cohesive narrative, I don’t know. But what I do know is that she’s a great foil for the kind of psycho-sexual superhero drama that the X-Men seems to thrive on.
Since I mentioned “psycho-sexual,” we might as well talk about this Greg Land art. First, when I said the art is “a bit of a disaster,” I don’t mean that Land is some blight on the comic book landscape. He draws some amazing panels in this issue, and he’s capable of taking a variety of photographic influences and tying them together into a somewhat streamlined visual narrative. That’s a nice way of saying that he has an extensive swipe file, but Land is so good at amping up the psycho-sexual drama in this story that his Vivid Video girls don’t seem all that out of place here. The look of this issue matches the plot, and though some of the panel-to-panel storytelling is a bit difficult to follow because of an over-reliance on close-ups of women who all look similar and a lack of establishing shots, it’s not the most egregious example of Greg Land art you’ll come across. It’s fine for what it is, even if what it is might be termed a “bit of a disaster.”
Justin Ponsor adds a lot to the visuals this issue with the use of alternating red panels, later explained in-story as an effect of the emergency lights. But the flashes of red are a nice stylistic device to increase the tension during the showdown between the X-Men and Maddie’s Sassy Attacking Ladies of Mysterious Intent.
Fraction seems to have a large-scale story at work here, one that began back in issue #500 and looks to be anything but nearing the finish, yet he’s been able to make each issue a satisfying narrative chunk, and that’s something that many X-writers have failed to do in the past. He’s pacing it like a serialized monthly comic, but the tendrils of the plot seem to reach much farther than that.
Bottom line: I’m having fun reading this comic every month, and though I don’t know much about some of the characters and I don’t know what’s going to happen next, I’m eager to find out, even if Greg Land’s art isn’t my thing.