This article was originally published at Comics Bulletin on February 24, 2016.
For more than a year whispers have swirled around Marvel’s X-Men line of comic books. While their far more profitable movie rights are still owned by Fox (see: Deadpool), comics rumor mongers have said this franchise was doomed in funny books. Is there any truth to this though? Are the X-Men bound to follow the other ill-fated, Fox licensed franchise of The Fantastic Four? There’s no way to know much of anything outside of the boardrooms at Marvel, but we can take a look at the line itself to see how it’s faring. So this week Chase Magnett is examining all five of the ongoing series in the X-franchise to see how healthy it is.
Now for today’s review…
Uncanny X-Men #3
Written by Cullen Bunn
Pencils by Greg Land
Inks by Jay Leisten
Colors by Nolan Woodard
Letters by Joe Caramagna
If you were to replace only a few specific details of this review of Uncanny X-Men #3, then you would have a review of Uncanny X-Men #2 because it’s almost the same damn comic. Magneto’s team of X-Men continue to try and find mutant healers to save while fighting off The Dark Riders, spending all of the panels in between recapping the plot of this story. It’s so dedicated to reminding readers what happened in previous installments that it functions like a chapter from a Melville novel (minus any depth or thematic poignancy), and this is only issue three.
Unlike its spiritual predecessor Uncanny X-Force, the characters on this team are not diversified by their personalities, but appear to share variations of a single one. Magneto, Psylocke, Sabertooth, and M are all grim, angry, and determined. They represent the sort of character that makes for an interesting element of a diverse team or possibly even a duo. This is an entire book of that same note played over and over again though. There is no variation of dialogue or dash of humor; it is relentless in its seriousness. By the time M is confronting Xorn in a cave her rough talk is just like the tide beating on the sands of the beach, slowly eroding my patience with superhero comics.
This monotony makes the appearance of Xorn the most most exciting thing to happen in any of the X-team books this past month. His eccentricities and general weirdness stand out as something worth paying attention to, a literal and metaphorical star amid all this shade. Xorn’s personality plays well off the general grim tone of everything else happening here. Otherwise, the conversations and action serve little purpose in driving plot or character forward. This scene is simply one bright spot.
Greg Land’s artwork isn’t as clearly posed or lifeless as in the past, Psylocke’s face appears to have been drawn even if it does not seem entirely natural when set at a three-quarters angle. The details of character’s faces are often problematic with very few defining lines and no set expressions. Mouths and cheeks are sometimes given a watery appearance that may come from the inking or coloring process on the book. That lack of definition only adds to the general sense of sameness between all of the characters, while the most compelling illustrations are of Magneto in a darkened mask or Xorn locked in his own steel helmet.
There is a discrepancy between the level and style of detail found in many scenes. The exterior of Xorn’s retreat appears to have been mapped on Getty Images after a search for keywords “Asia” and “mountain”, while a lair filled with frozen mutants actually appears as though someone drew it. These jumps in style provide the comic with a mildly schizophrenic tone as if it were assembled over a long period of time rather than drawn within the course of a month by one person.
The greatest sin of Uncanny X-Men #3 is not the changing level of attention to artwork, but that it provides an untenable level of sameness. Characters and individual scenes reflect one another and what has already been established. There is no sense of forward momentum or call to continue reading for fear that this track will continue to skip on the record player. It’s possible the song will move forward, but even if it does that doesn’t make it likely to change its all too familiar tune.