REVIEW DOUBLE FEATURE!
After losing the first draft in a computer glitch weeks ago, I considered skipping Uncanny X-Men #514 and resuming my coverage of Marvel’s crossover with Dark Avengers #8. However, since understanding Dark Avengers requires having read X-Men, and since I know some of you only follow this plot through the reviews, I went ahead and combined both reviews into one mega-post. Lean back, put the kids to sleep, and enjoy. Remember to leave a comment!
Uncanny X-Men #514
“Utopia” Part 4
WRITER: Matt Fraction
PENCILER: Terry Dodson
INKER: Rachel Dodson
COLORIST: Justin Ponsor
LETTERER: Joe Caramagna
Cyclops gathers a team of agents selected solely on the basis of their Dodson-drawn bust sizes, assigning them each critical missions. Mindee of the Stepford Cuckoos needs to get arrested. Mirage meets someone mysterious in Las Vegas. Domino gathers X-Force and Magik for a rendezvous with Wolverine. Psylocke has to do something in a halfway zipped-up wetsuit.
Emma Frost leads the Dark X-Men against Simon Trask’s army of biosentinels. Simon, an apparently racist robot, can turn people into cybernetic slaves. Cyclops and a squad observe the fight to study their “dark” counterparts’ patterns. He determines that they can win with the power of teamwork and belief in each other. Kumba-freaking-ya, my Lord.
Next, Psylocke and a group of people Wikipedia tells me is the “X-Club” assembles something big underwater. Someone claims calls it “the end of the X-Men in California.”
Kevin Cushing commented on my review of part 3, saying it sucked because I didn’t focus on “the characters and their actions.” I’d like to accommodate him, but the concept of “character” doesn’t factor into this one much. Granted, each of the Dark X-Men spout a few lines during the fight to illustrate their personalities, but by “personality” I mean Namor shouting “IMPERIOUS REX” and Emma calling people “darlings.” To learn anything more substantial about these antihero mutants and what motivated them to become Norman Osborn’s lackeys, you’ll have to read the Dark X-Men: The Beginning miniseries. Marvel forcing Dark Avengers readers to purchase several extra issues to follow the main storyline stinks enough; withholding needed characterization for a supplemental miniseries makes it worse.
Matt Fraction writes normally-boisterous fan-favorites like Emma and Namor as bland shadows of what they should be and does nil to make the lesser-knowns captivating. The visually dull horde of mindless gray robots furthers saps the personality quotient. In light of what happens next issue, Fraction might have done better to cut the biosentinel subplot altogether to allow the important plot elements room to breathe. It feels like nothing vital happened in this chapter, while the next part rushes through too much too quickly. Better balanced pacing could have improved this story as a whole.
The art looks nice and the ending leaves one with interesting questions. Though nothing particularly exciting happens, the story isn’t offensively bad. It reads more like a standalone X-Men issue than part four of a sprawling, multi-title crossover. That would be fine except the characters themselves are boring and nothing so far justifies dragging unwilling Dark Avengers readers along for the ride.
2 out of 5 webheads.
TO BE CONTINUED…
DARK AVENGERS #8
“Utopia” Part 5
WRITER: Matt Fraction
PENCILER: Luke Ross
INKERS: Ruck Magyar, Mark Pennington & Luke Ross
COLORIST: Dean White
LETTERER: Cory Petit
In Vega, Mirage meets, of all people, the goddess Hela. Mirage bargains to recover her Valkyrie powers.
A week passes via montage, during which the Dark X-Men perform various good deeds in the community. The more moral among them question their role when they witness Dark Beast’s power-sapping torture machine, which siphons powers out of captive mutants and into Weapon Omega. Magik teleports X-Force into the facility, where they brutally incapacitate Dark Beast and Weapon Omega. The other Dark X-Men engage, but Emma Frost and Namor turn on their own teammates. They were part of Cyclops’s plan all along! With Mimic and Daken knocked out, Frost and Namor invite Cloak and Dagger to the light side.
The X-Club’s secret ocean project rises from the waves. It is Utopia, a massive submarine fortress and the new home for all mutant kind. Once California’s mutant population evacuates to the base, Cyclops addresses the media. Upstaged and humiliated, Norman Osborn sends the Dark Avengers to bring him Namor’s head and Emma Frost’s heart.
This comic gets good during the last few pages after Utopia surfaces. Here the story feels epic again, and it will either end in a major status quo change for the X-Men or in Norman Osborn’s greatest victory to date. With the stakes decidedly raised, my money for part 6 may as well already be spent.
The Utopia concept draws clear parallels with Genosha. I like how, as Cyclops becomes more hardened and pragmatic, he resembles Magneto more than Xavier. His call for his followers’ blind faith gives him an almost “Big Brother” presence among the mutants. This character arc has proved the one truly fascinating aspect of the crossover.
Otherwise, the issue limps on painfully. In a recent Skype chat, Berserkfury from the message board described “Utopia” as having “fizzled out” after a strong start. Aside from the one big twist at the end, I think he put it aptly. After much emphasis, the biosentinel subplot contributed nothing to the story arc’s ultimate conflict. Furthermore, the scenes of Cyclops and the X-Men observing the Dark X-Men seem completely pointless now that we know the latter team’s power players were moles all along. Had Fraction weeded these superfluous elements, he might have better managed the overwhelming cast and chaotic tangle of plot threads. If this were the case, the mutant jail break might not have occurred totally off panel. He might have focused on providing better context with which to distinguish the four or five blonde, female characters that play key roles but are a struggle to keep straight. Luke Ross, with fewer characters and locales to deal with, might have completed a more consistent product. The whole crossover might not have disappointed quite so much.
2.5 out of 5. Why did this story need to take over the Dark Avengers title? With just one chapter to go, that team has barely appeared in this thoroughly mutant-centered arc. Hopefully, the climax can salvage this fraying sack of mediocrity.