Dark Avengers/Uncanny X-Men: Utopia - 'Utopia Part One' - Fraction and Silvestri
Story - The X-Men used to be the biggest deal in comics, from the 70s until the 90s, the X-men were the thing you read, the highest-selling, the vanguard of corporate super-hero comics. But all that changed when Bendis took over the Avengers and made them important, whether New, Mighty or Dark, it is the Avengers which rule the roost at Marvel today, and you can't help but feel that the Mutants are kind of miffed at this, they've kind of been away from the spotlight for a while, only tangentially and Wolverinely related to Civil War and Secret Invasion. But now the Uncanny X-men are trying to take back their crown, and are mixing it up with Norman Osborn and his Dark Reign team of villainous Avengers. It's a culmination of a year of X-build-up, and also promises to have lasting ramifications for the Marvel Universe as a whole. It's also writer Matt Fraction's shot at the big time, he's helming a huge crossover. Is he successful? I'm not sure. Just like the rest of his X-Men run, Utopia is decidedly hit and miss, but the good ideas that are within shine well.
There's a lot going on to set up this crossover, Simon Trask, who's Humanity Now! Coalition has been a running subplot in Uncanny X-Men since Fraction took over, is marching on San Francisco, wanting to legislate Mutant Birthing rights in 'Proposition X'. Many readers seem to have a problem with this premise, saying it's too on the nose, too much like the recent Propositon 8 legislation in California, which outlawed Gay Marriage. But I don't have any problems with it at all, the X-Men have always been allegorical, whether for Civil Rights or Homosexuality, and this is a logical step, we've had AIDS as the Legacy Virus, this makes sense. Frankly, I think maybe a lot of the problems some fans have with this particular bit of allegory has more to do with their personal feelings on Gay Marriage than the comic itself. But regardless, Trask is marching, and he is confronted by a loose coalition of Mutants and pro-Mutant humans, also protesting. Needless to say, a riot breaks out, it's chaos on the streets on San Francisco, and the X-Men aren't trying to stop it! They're part of it!
I'm not going to comment on the drama we've had here about 'who started the riot', because it was kind of silly, and ultimately doesn't matter. My problem with the Riots was that I didn't really feel it's impact. Fraction was describing how the whole City was burning, but it just doesn't feel like that, maybe it was Silvestri's lack of backgrounds, but really, these didn't seem to be that bad, certainly not so bad that they should have to bring HAMMER in, but we're told that is. A classic example of why you should show rather than tell. There were some good scenes here though, Cyclops taking down the Toad for the umpteenth time, and then getting hit by a brick was a great scene. I also liked the page showing reactions from around the world, Storm in Wakanda, Wolverine with the Avengers (an X-Men crossover where Wolverine only appears in silhoutte? What is the world coming too?), it was effective in placing these events in the wider Dark Reign context.
And it's here that Norman Osborn and his Dark Avengers arrive on scene, I'm a big fan of this team, it's great idea, and Bendis has been working wonders with in their own book, and Fraction seems to have a good handle (and snappy captions) for all of them, I particularly liked his Bullseye and Daken, who should play a big role here, what with him being Wolverine's kid and all. Norman made a deal with Emma Frost to keep the Mutants quiet, but she failed, and now he has to intervene. These 'peacekeeping missions' were some of the best scenes of the book, and promise interesting scenes for the rest of the crossover, Venom Vs. Colossus, and Ares Vs. well, everyone. Man, that Ares scene was great, such a good character. But Norman's plan is more than just having his Avengers kick the X-Men's ass, there's something else there, presumably the Dark X-Men we've seen in previews. Emma in a black costume, Namor and Professor X. But is it really Professor X? On a rather busy last page, maybe not.
So San Francisco is burning, Beast is in prison, Cyclops is on the run, and Emma may have turned evil again. It's all interesting stuff, and has me intrigued for the rest of the crossover, but this one-shot still felt kind of empty, I think it all stems from my feelings about the riots not being properly conveyed as dangerous. I don't feel the stakes are as high as Fraction wants me too, I felt the Skrulls were dangerous, I thought the Civil War was important, but this doesn't have that same weight. I think a lot of that has to do with the artwork, but there may also be too much going on.
But there is still good stuff here, the core allegory is strong, the characterisation of both the X-Men and the Dark Avengers is spot-on, I'm particularly glad to see Beast, a favourite of mine get the spotlight, and there are some tantalising mysteries, but there was just something missing. Perhaps the book was a little compressed, I think a larger pagecount would have made this much more effective. But if you're an X-Men fan, this is a great continuation of what Fraction has been doing in Uncanny, and promises to change a lot of stuff, and be exciting. I can't wait for better artists in Dodson and Deodato to handle this story.
Art - As I've mentioned, the art was a huge problem here. Marc Silvestri, who's job these days seems to be kicking off X-Men crossovers (he did the Messiah CompleX one-shot) just didn't convey Fraction's story well enough. As can be seen in the confusion over who started the Riot, there were nuances there than his 90s style just can't convey. Add to that, the book is rushed, there are like 10 inkers finishing his pencils here, and the look of the book changes from page to page. He only has to do 33 pages and that's it, it's not good. As I said, I'm sure once Terry Dodson and Mike Deodato are penciling, I'll feel the story better. He has, and should do better.
Best Line - 'Once you cross it you have declared War against your city, against your Government... and against me. And make no mistake: I love to fight wars.' Man, Ares is the best.
6/10 It would be 7, but the art drags it down.