Mutant plague! That’s the hook for this volume as the inhabitants of Utopia find themselves waylaid by a strange and extremely savage flu virus. While the idea of normal diseases evolving to take on mutants would make for an interesting, if esoteric, story, it’s actually part of Lobe’s master plan for the Sublime Corporation. You see, the man has managed to distill the powers of certain X-men in inhalant doses for a temporary effect, or permanently via genetic tailoring. For anyone who can afford them, of course. The virus itself is just the submission hold to get the mutant community to sign off on the rights to their genome.
It’s a clever premise and writers Matt Fraction and Kieron Gillen show us what happens when fanboys and girls get their chance to be X-Men and how Cyclops and the team’s human affiliates manage the chaos in the meantime. They also have some fun with Lobe’s marketing of the drug with the high point being his “To me my shareholders!” bit a the launch party. I also like how it picks up on the Sublime Corp.’s previous appearance in the “Nation X” arc and works as a logical extension of how they were originally introduced in Grant Morrison’s run.
Interestingly, it’s also a relatively action-light story until the end. That’s made up for in the various sub-plots which involve Emma Frost’s dilemma about what to do with Sebastian Shaw, and the Collective Man’s efforts to muscle in on Wolverine’s Chinatown holdings. The Collective Man thread actually has some direct relevance to the main plot as he allows an ersatz team of Storm, Angel, Northstar, Dazzler, and Pixie to be the public team while everyone else is on the island. Even if the hardcore communist isn’t that big of a threat, seeing this B-level team in action does have its own charm to it. Particularly the interplay between Pixie and Dazzler which veers from “cheerfully antagonistic” to “BFFs forever.”
The Shaw subplot is something that’s been simmering in Fraction’s run for a while now and he wraps it up well enough here. I like the idea that he represents a direct link to Emma’s villainous past, one that she hasn’t been able to shake after all these years. Fantomex and Kitty Pryde are along to provide ideologic and witty/sarcastic commentary, which also livens things up. The end result is apparently a hard reboot of Shaw’s character which certainly has a lot of possibilities. I’d like to see what fellow writer Mike Carey would do with this new blank slate since I hear that’s his new angle with “X-Men: Legacy.” However, it does have the effect of rendering everything that’s been done to the character since his capture pointless. It feels like the attempts to “rehabilitate” him were only given lip service and that this route was chosen because it was the most convenient for the characters.
Art for the majority of this volume is handled by the always-problematic Greg Land. There’s really nothing more to say about his style -- just as you’re getting sucked into the story, you’ll see one of his characters (usually female) with an unnatural smile and pose and wonder, “What magazine did he trace that from?” Paul Renaud contributes to the last issue and he manages a reasonable stylistic consistency with Land’s style without the off-putting posing. If this is the style that Marvel wants “Uncanny” to have, then they could do worse than to start having Renaud alternate arcs with Terry and Rachel Dodson.
This volume also marks the last of Fraction’s run and while I didn’t buy everything he did, most of what I did was, with “Utopia” and “Nation X” being the most memorable. (“Second Coming” doesn’t quite count since he was just a cog in that machine.) That said, Fraction’s run felt more like the work of a caretaker than someone with a story to tell about these characters. In that regard, he did a good enough job and kept up a reasonable standard of quality throughout his run but I doubt he’ll be remembered for more than being the guy who put mutanity on Utopia. I’m very optimistic about the future of the series as this volume’s co-writer, Kieron Gillen, is now the new regular writer. The man has been on a hot streak in my book after “Phonogram,” “S.W.O.R.D.” and “Generation Hope,” so the odds are pretty good that we’ll get something worthwhile from his tenure.