UNCANNY X-MEN #20 (LGY 642)
As Wolverine and Kwannon confront the one person Cyclops doesn’t even know exists, the X-Men themselves track down other more dangerous renegade mutants. But Shinobi Shaw has gathered the Upstarts, taking drastic steps to deny Emma yet more playthings and tries to warn Cyclops about her, before taking himself off the board completely. Also revealing his hand in the game Dark Beast has created a brutally efficient make or break solution to the Mutant Cure and the X-Men have been unwittingly aiding him in distributing it. And it takes the real Captain America to share some more home truths about what they have been conned into. Purloining Doctor Nemesis they deal with the ‘not Real McCoy’ just in time for Emma to chime in.
Writing/Story: Another death. And by now we expect it every issue don’t we? People may say this is a cheap ploy. No! You want to know what’s cheap? “No More Mutants” Bendis, who wiped out so many mutants in one fell swoop because it was “getting too crowded”. Which to me always just translated as “too hard to bother with”. This though? This is ballsy. To pick off individual characters one by one in a different way each time and not just make a sweeping change in some grandiose dramatic gesture for effect. Because Rosenberg is taking risks with beloved, and in some cases not so beloved but equally well established characters with pinpoint accuracy.
But though every death so far may seem cheap to some, each and every one has been a defining point in the story line and is not just a byproduct of it. Each one shows how desperate and dark things are getting, which is when the X-Men shine the brightest. Dark Beast’s death this issue meant a little more distance put between Illyana and those who felt she crossed a line. And it also raises the whole dilemma of when it’s acceptable to kill. Because as Dark Beast goes full on mad scientist the days of “X-Men don’t kill” are clearly way behind us. They have been since Colossus snapped Riptide’s neck, which makes it all the more significant that this time it’s Illyana.
Much like The Walking Dead or Lost you can’t afford to get attached to some characters, because just like that they can be snatched away. Which is exactly the same as in life. That is a brave thing for a writer to do, because it runs the risk of alienating some, but also keeps the reader guessing and reminds us that all is fair game. It challenges the reader to actually think about what is going on and not to get too complacent and comfortable. I hate it but I also love it. Because it makes things fresh and keeps you on your toes. Even when a villain dies who has died before. Shaw has been taken out before but not at his own hand. How much more dramatic an act than a player refusing to play the game?
And what else keeps us guessing is Emma Frost and her Hellfire Club. Working both sides of the fence for as yet undetermined reasons. One that Shinobi Shaw is determined not to be a pawn in. So much so he takes his own life. And by the same token Emma proves she is above all that and made of far sterner stuff. While it seems Callahan has her under his thumb she is somehow playing her own game and is subverting his plans, while trying to use the X-Men to do her bidding, for whatever reason she is going to finally reveal.
I must admit a certain amount of satisfaction at seeing Emma get the upper hand against Kwannon here, possibly vocalising how many actually feel about her. And the fight between Kwannon and Mystique was similarly intriguing, with Raven going full on with the mind games. Probing all of the weak chinks in her mental armor, before revealing that the biggest sore point is of course Betsy. Throwing Deathstrike and Elektra in there was a little bit of random fun, though Spiral of course was an obvious one, given she was the perpetrator of the body swap and the reason she is in the state she is. But for Psylocke to still be the sticking point for her will forever be her undoing.
Although in the middle of the other battle, as Dani chides Alex about over exerting himself it came off a little anti climactic. It just had me a little confused, as the balance of power was not so much shifting as switching from talk to fight too much. A fight scene needs fine balance between talk and action, and for the drama that was unfolding it seemed a little patchy. But it made up for it with the introduction of the Upstarts as the villains du jour. I had me a little (original) Exiles moment as Siena and Juggernaut face off here. If only Reaper hadn’t already been dealt with, it could have been a full on Malib-union. Though I wish there had been at least a nod of recognition between them and a reference to their history together.
Characters: And as if that wasn’t enough we get the return of Doctor Nemesis. With everything else going on it would have been easy to miss him in the shuffle, but of course he managed to fix the mess Dark Beast caused. Meanwhile the X-Men themselves are caught between a rock and a hard place. They try to tackle the growing (or should I say decreasing) number of potential threats and yet they have to contend with making deals with devils. And so here we have Dark Beast finally showing his hand. As if there isn’t enough going on the snake in their midst, who they had arguably been trusting to a small extent, does the one thing he’s good at and cause trouble. While we have been thinking Emma was the one to watch, she ends up offering an olive branch right when they need it most. The only bit I wasn’t so keen on was the “I reversed the polarity” type jiggery pokery Dark Beast performed to fix the whole Cure conundrum. “All it needs is a delivery system”….where’s Colossus when you need him?
Art: It was with some trepidation I observed the return of Salvador Larroca. I had felt his style was just full on grandstand posing of late, and a little short on moments of quiet considered interplay between characters. The scene above was enough to satisfy me, but then also as we are back into full on action and melee fight scenes it was a welcome return. The quiet stillness of the last two ‘talkie’ issues were all well and good but the close quarter action needed a little more energy injected into it. The splash page alone was worth seeing and I felt there was far more dynamism than the subway confrontation scene with the Marauders.
And after the quiet introspection of the funeral, Sinister confrontations and the admittedly divergent brilliance of melodrama last issue Salvador drags us into the Adrenalin rush, and it is a much needed relief. As the bodies hit the floor….sometimes just half bodies….it is with no small amount of relish I actually discovered I was very pleased to see him back. The detail alone in the scene where the X-Men are hemmed in by the Upstarts was exquisite, right down to the crest that decorated the center, drawing the eye to the drama. As well as the collage scene with Callahan taking up the central focus of the panels as he and Emma discuss their ‘deal’.
And again as the action switches to Wolverine and Kwannon facing off against Emma and then the payoff of the X-Men finally realising they haven’t been talking to Captain America this whole issue was equally satisfying. And another payoff was Wolverine confirming that Kwannon reset his perceptions, which I had mentioned in my last review. And to top it off Whilce Portacio & Erick Arciniega give us a splendidly wicked cover, which is perfectly reminiscent of the iconic Inferno cover of Sinister with the X-Men in his clutches, and shows just how the Dark Beast has them dancing to his tune. Overall the issue itself was full of the right amount of twists and turns and setting up perfectly for whatever is going to happen in the end. One thing’s for sure, it will be a shocker.
As the final act kicks in we are heading for a memorable conclusion, regardless of what else is to come after the dust settles.
Uncanny X-Men #20: Here Comes The Science Bit…Concentrate!
Writing - 8/108/10
Storyline - 8.5/108.5/10
Art - 8.5/108.5/10
Color - 8/108/10
Cover Art - 8/108/10
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