By now, the structure of “Five Lights” has nicely bedded in, so it’s no surprise that this issue feels like the strongest yet. As Storm and Hope collect one of the new emergent mutants and help her powers manifest, Dazzler and Northstar fight some Acolytes, Frost finds herself attempting to deal with Shaw, Iceman visits a PR agency, and Namor deals with some insolence in the way only he can.
If that sounds like a packed synopsis, it’s because it’s a packed book, with each plot having the right amount of space. (Whether it is packed enough to justify $3.99 when there’s no increased page count or backup strip, I don’t know…) Iceman’s brief appearance is more of a teaser for a future storyline, while Frost’s continues one that has been bubbling under for some time now. Namor’s appearance in the book still seems incongruous, though. It’s hard to accept him as a member of the team, even now, and the appearance of deathly-dull Atlantean politics plots in X-Men does little to endear me to his presence.
On the plus side, it’s always nice to see some of the lesser X-Men get a bit of focus. It’s been a long time since the X-office would dare put out an entire issue without Wolverine or Cyclops in, and it’s encouraging to see them allowing Fraction to use the full range of characters without mandating the appearance of the most recognizable, as the editorial team has long been rumored to do. Although it might feel like a collection of sub-plots to some, for me the number of storylines on the go was historically one of X-Men’s strengths, and I’m glad to see that ethos return.
Despite this praise, the book as a whole is weaker than you might expect. Portacio’s art is where things falter, however. It’s easy to see hints of what makes him so popular — the same raw energy and unconventional layouts that make some people love Liefeld — but personally, I find the technical failings go so far as to eclipse the writing. Page 3, in particular, contains a huge amount of blank space which, while striking, is used to no decipherable effect. As a result, the page just looks incomplete.
Similarly, while I admit that I haven’t seen what Fraction’s script said about Kitty’s expression on the book’s final panel, I’d be surprised if it said “her eyes are rolling back and her jaw hangs open loosely, suggesting a mixture of faintness and nausea.” All personal preference aside, the art is flatly failing to service the story — occasionally even working against it — and on that level it can only be considered bad.
Artwork aside, “Uncanny X-Men” does, at least, feel like a progressive book again, and it’s hard not to be excited about the direction it’s moving in. With the effects of M-Day finally reversed and Kieron Gillen announced as the incoming co-writer, the future of the X-Men feels brighter than in a long time.