What’s the point of Uncanny X-Men? Is it a series documenting Cyclops’ mutant revolution, taking inspiration from the Occupy movement and the Arab Spring? Is it a kitchen sink drama featuring mutants whose broken powers serve as a metaphor for more human failings? Or is it the story of a mutant school and the colorful characters who inhabit it?
Uncanny X-Men #8 leaves us no closer to an answer. Although the cover depicts Cyclops and Magneto locked in combat with one another, nothing of the sort actually takes place in the issue; the two simply have a slightly heated conversation. Meanwhile the team gains one new member and loses another, as new agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. Dazzler moves closer to locating their whereabouts.
In other words, not a lot happens. But credit where it’s due, the character work is impressive. As the centerpiece of the issue, the scene between Cyclops and Magneto is never less than compelling, revealing how in sync the two now are in terms of ideology. Even better are the more subtle moments; Magneto is positioned as a surrogate father figure to Cyclops, yet there’s also the slightest of hints that he might be tiring of his background role. As for the new mutants, although they remain underdeveloped as characters they work well in their given role. They’re basically the world’s worst Greek chorus, relentlessly complaining about the plot as opposed to just commenting on it, and punctuating all of their scenes with a sense of panic that is at turns funny, poignant, and genuine.
And the art has been top-notch throughout the series. After three dazzling issues drawn by Frazer Irving, Chris Bachalo returns, and continues to produce some of his best work in recent memory. Whereas in the past he has been criticized for a lack of clarity, here the storytelling is polished without detracting from his unique visual style. He deserves particular praise for the new mutants, with his designs helping to instill them with much-needed personality. Bachalo also colors the issue, and aside from a few muddy pages in the second half he does a good job, adding life to settings that would otherwise be rather mundane.
Alas, strong characterization and vibrant artwork cannot disguise the absence of a clear focus. There’s no sense that Bendis has a long-term plan in place, nor any suggestion that the various high concepts he’s juggling can successfully coexist. The end result is a title that is neither one thing nor the other, which is why, eight issues in, it’s still worth asking “what’s the point of Uncanny X-Men?”