Let me get this out of the way. Age of Ultron is one of the most audaciously awful comic books I've read in a very long time. It's everything that's wrong with the comics industry today. Terrible decompression. Characters written willy nilly to suit a story that was written from the ending backwards. Ridiculous hype for what is sure to be a nonsensical ending involving a character no one cares about that purports to "change the comics universe forever" or "rock the Marvel universe to its foundations" or some bullshit like that but which will fail to deliver on that front. Black Panther tripping down a flight of steps and dying. Wolverine Mary Sue-ism worse than a Jason Aaron book. A comic that was written like two years ago delayed due to all the Dilbertesque corporate comic industry shenanigans that cause a comic book to come out when the rest of the line has gone through two or three status-quo shattering events since it was written. It's just a bad comic.
And you might think, what a way to kick off a review of Uncanny X-Men #6, by talking a lot of shit about Age of Ultron. But I feel it's important to get that out there because, in reading Uncanny X-Men tonight, I feel like I finally understand "The Great One" Brian Bendis. Because Bendis didn't earn the nickname "The Great One" by writing awful comics like Age of Ultron, even though he does have a reputation among certain crowds for writing comics like it.
He's done a lot of good work. I love Powers. When it comes out. It seems like he'll start off strong with a relaunch of the book, then kind of fade out and all of a sudden it's three months late or its not being published anymore. Then another relaunch, repeat. Avengers Disassembled, House of M, these were books where stuff happened, where Bendis' writing was inspired and innovative, and which really changed things in the Marvel Universe and opened the possibilities for a lot of great storytelling, Look at Dark Avengers and the whole Dark Reign era. Those were some great comics, and Bendis was largely responsible.
At the same time, you had the things that drive people nuts about Bendis creeping in. The Avengers fighting The Hood and ninjas over and over again. Increasingly more ridiculous decompression. Whole issues where people just said "the hell?!" to each other for twenty-two pages.
Just as "The Great One" can be "Great," like anyone else, he has a dark side as well. And when one has as powerful and creative a "good" side as "The Great One" Brian Bendis, universal balance dictates that there must be an equally horrendous "bad" side.
Uncanny X-Men, and its companion book, All-New X-Men (or is it the other way around) is like purified, concentrated Bendis greatness. The core X-Men franchise is as compelling, as exciting, as when Chris Claremont was writing it, and I don't say that lightly, because Claremont is the greatest of all time. X-Men is as good or better than it was when Morrison was writing it. And that's almost entirely because of Bendis and what he's doing in these two books.
Bendis took an X-Men franchise that was seriously damaged by the character assasination of Avengers vs. X-Men and he healed it spectacularly. Scott Summers is a better character than he's ever been, and, like the Phoenix reborn, he rose from the shitty ashes of that craptacular event, under Bendis' care and guidance, and is unpredictable again. Dynamic. Must-see.
Not getting into all of the plot threads going on in All New X-Men, in Uncanny X-Men we've got a book about Cyclops, Magneto, Magick, and Emma Frost, with both powers and psyches damaged by the events of AvX, the Phoenix Force, and the death of Charles Xavier. Their powers are broken, not functioning properly, but their relationships with each other are as well. And their (and the mutant race's) relationships with the world.
We've seen that on display for the first five issues of this book. We've seen intrigue and betrayal, we've seen the team barely holding things together while putting on a brave and threatening face to the world. They're defying the Avengers, S.H.I.E.L.D., and Wolverine's team of X-Men, but it still feels like things could fall apart at any second, like disaster is waiting around the corner.
In Uncanny X-Men #6, this idea is firing on all cylinders. The team is trapped in Limbo as the Dread Dormammu makes a play to take control of the dimension from Magick. They've got some brand new mutants with them, inexperienced and feeling like they might be in over their heads. They're pretty screwed. But the team pulls together here, once again finding the strength to fight against ridiculously overwhelming odds, and do it with style and confidence (in the case of the new mutants, artificial, but in the case of Scott, Magneto, and Emma, who each showed leadership and coolness under pressure in the battle).
Why? Because they're the X-Men, and that's what the X-Men do. In the face of staggering, depressing opposition, they fight anyway. It's what superheroes do. I think the comics industry forgets that sometimes, while they're too busy having supeheroes fight each other in laughably clumsy attempts to be metaphors for simplistic political and philosophical debates. But not here. Bendis knows how to write the goddamn X-Men.
And Frazer Irving knows how to draw the goddamn X-Men. The art in this issue is amazing. I don't know if I've ever seen anyone convey anguish on the face of comic book characters as well as Irving does in this issue on, well, all of the X-Men, who are going through an admittedly anguishing period. The art and particularly the colors set the tone in every scene.
I know that's something everyone says about every book, but, here, it means something. It's not just Dormammu's head who's on fire here, it's the whole fucking page. When Scott lets his optic blast loose, the panels literally light up. It's wild. When Irving does a splash page of the Mindless Ones closing in on the X-Men, there's an incredible sense of depth as the cavernous, fiery Limbo opens up, and you can actually spend a few moments exploring it. When Dazzler is revealed at the end as the newest agent of Shield, she's glowing. It's just totally cool.
And the way the book ends is cool too. The X-Men have just launched into battle, Dazzler has joined the team, and Maria Hill, director of S.H.I.E.L.D., is wondering: Who are the good guys? What are they planning? What is going on? How can she help? Who should she help? What's going to happen?
The beauty is, I don't know. For the first time in a very long time, the future is wide open for the X-Men. I believe anything can happen, and I'm actually excited for it. Not skeptical. Not cynical. I'm all in.
And how is this possible? How is the man who's writing Age of Ultron writing this book?
The answer is in the question. This book is so great *because* Age of Ultron is so awful. Bendis isn't trying to balance himself out. Like Scott Summers' optic blast, "The Great One" is unleashing every bad tendency he's got in Age of Ultron, just getting it all out there in an orgasm of bullshit comics. And as a result, Bendis' X-Men is shaping up to be one of the greatest runs of all times.
So you know what, Bendis? Fair enough. Everyone needs a process, and if this is what it takes... I'll buy five copies of Age of Ultron if it's gonna result in Uncanny X-Men.
Because I get it. I understand. And I love it.