Jonathan Hickman’s “House of X” and “Powers of X” are halfway done and the response has been pretty good so far. Critical acclaim, good word of mouth, strong sales -- it sounds both are going to be great reads when I pick up the edition collecting them both in December. However, out here in the land of trade-waiters, I’m still making my way through the last set of stories to come before the relaunch. That includes the spine of “Age of X-Man” in “The Marvelous X-Men” and this, the first volume of Matthew Rosenberg’s run on “Uncanny X-Men.” It’s a good start, assuming you’re in the mood for an “X-Men” story that succeeds at being intentionally downbeat.
Now, there have been plenty of “X-Men” stories over the years that have been like that. They’re the kind that start off by showing how rough mutantkind has it only double down and make things even worse for them by their end. This first volume of “Wolverine & Cyclops” is absolutely trading in this kind of storytelling as it picks up from the aftermath of “Uncanny X-Men: Disassembled” in a world where mutants are more hated, feared, and scarce than ever.
While we all know that the mutants involved in that event were whisked off to play around in “The Age of X-Man,” that’s not how it looked to the rest of the world. To just about everyone else it looked like the X-Men nearly blew up the world before disappearing. Now there’s open talk of bringing back the Mutant Registration Act, putting mutants in camps, using vaccines to make them normal, the kind of fun stuff that never goes away when it comes to talking about Marvel’s most marginalized heroes.
So with anti-mutant sentiment on a major upswing and most of the X-Men off in an alternate reality, who’s left to fight the good fight? Well, the title of this volume is “Wolverine and Cyclops” for starters. Scott Summers is still coming to grips with returning from the dead into a world he barely recognizes. He’s determined to do the right thing, even if it means he might get killed again in the process. Something which looks very likely when he gets the chance to send a message to his fellow mutants via TV, only to have groups like the Reavers, the Purifiers, and the Sapien League show up instead. Oh, and a certain also-back-from-the-dead Canucklehead who isn’t ready to give up on being an X-Man either.
After the two reunite in a beautifully terse moment following some pretty spectacular action, the question becomes where they’re going to find more mutants to keep the dream of the X-Men alive. The answer to that is, “Storylines from Rosenberg’s other ‘X-Men’ titles, ‘Astonishing X-Men’ and ‘New Mutants: Dead Souls.’” I liked the former well enough, but stayed away from the latter after hearing that it had cliffhanger ending set to be resolved in parts unknown. Now that I know it ends here I might go and pick it up. The question is now that they’ve got a team, what’re they going to fight for?
Here’s where I think this volume succeeds at being intentionally downbeat: Scott and Logan are under no illusions that, with nearly all of the team(s) gone, this is the twilight of the X-Men. So if they’re going out, then they’re going to leave the world a better place than it is right now. That means dealing with longtime threats like Dark Beast and the Mutant Liberation Front, helping out survivors like the even more disenfranchised Morlocks, and encountering relics from the dustbin of continuity. Like Joseph. Hands up: Who here remembers Magneto’s amnesiac clone from the 90’s?
Oddball bits like that aside, the vibe here is one of finality. That this is the X-Men’s last hurrah and everyone available is going to try and make the best of it. We may know that’s not the case, but to the characters here? It feels very much like the end to them and the story works because it commits to that feeling. Of course, I can understand if you’re rolling your eyes at the thought of another “X-Men” story where it looks like it’s all over for them. I just happen to think this is a higher grade version of it.
Part of that is due to Rosenberg’s writing. He’s got a good handle on the interplay between the two leads. It’s been a VERY long time since we’ve seen them on the same side like this and even if it is a reversion to the status quo it’s one that still works quite well. Sure Wolverine and Cyclops may respect each other, but you could hardly accuse one of them of actually liking the other.
Seeing the two of them together like this does make up for some of the writer’s shortcomings with the rest of the cast. Namely the fact that most of them -- lookin’ at you Magik, Wolfsbane, Dani, Shan -- kind of shuffle around in the background only popping out to contribute their powers to the fight at hand. Havok gets a more traditional characterization here as the other well-meaning Summers brother, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss how Rosenberg wrote him as an affable screw-up in the pages of “Astonishing.” Also, I’m more than a little annoyed that the writer seems to have finally gotten the memo that if you were going to do something with Madrox that mattered, you were going to have to undo the ending to Peter David’s “X-Factor” run. To which I can only say, “Booooooooo…”
The art, however, is thoroughly solid all around thanks to Salvador Larroca. Making his big return to the Marvel Universe after a few years away in the trenches of “Star Wars” he shows you how good he is at delivering slick superhero action. The action scenes move and are easy to follow, and have genuine dynamic moments to them. Like the double-page spread of Wolverine and Cyclops fighting off their attackers in the opening issue. It’s great work all around and without any of the misguided stabs at photorealism which marred the latter half of his “Star Wars” work.
The first issue of this volume was also an oversized one which featured work from John McCrea and Juanan Ramirez. This is one of McCrea’s stronger recent efforts, even if his general style feels at odds with the colorful chaos of the Marvel Universe. To say nothing of seeing an artist so strongly associated with Garth Ennis draw superheroes in a straightforward, unironic fashion. Still, his storytelling is solid enough so that the return of Wolverine to the pages of “Uncanny X-Men” goes off just fine.
Ramirez, on the other hand, offers up something a bit more experimental as we get a story from Blindfold’s perspective. The idea seems to be that she can see all of the future to the point where she knows when hers is going to run out. Ramirez makes this chaotic idea work with some interesting layouts, but the story itself is all idea and no character. It’s called “The Last Blindfold” story, which is fitting foreshadowing for a story about a character who knows the future. Unfortunately Rosenberg doesn’t really do a good job of getting me to care about that particular fact.
Even though this first volume of “Wolverine and Cyclops” is intentionally downbeat, it didn’t really cross the line into out-and-out depressing for me. It shows us a group of characters who have accepted their fate and are going to to do the best they can to live by their ideals until their time is up. That’s an idea I can get behind and you’ll enjoy this volume if you can do the same as well. We all know that this is by no means the last “X-Men” story, but there’s some entertainment to be had in watching characters go about things without realizing that themselves.