The old adage about books and covers is definitely in effect with the latest installment of Uncanny X-Men. Advertised as dealing with fallout from Marvel’s recent Avengers & X-Men: Axis, this chapter actually serves as the conclusion to the even longer-running “The Last Will and Testament of Charles Xavier” storyline, originating as a tie-in to last summer’s Original Sin event series. Clocking in at nine parts, there is satisfaction in crossing the finish line but enjoyment mileage for the journey will definitely vary.
For the casual reader, there is double-barrel disappointment before any enjoyment can be had. First, the cover and solicit text suggests that the story will center around the post-Inversion Summers brothers, lovingly at each other’s throats (their default dynamic) as they live like fugitives in the woods. Havok doesn’t appear at all, so speculation will continue as to how his new creepy kidnap-y persona is shaping up. Bigger sad moment is that while artist Chris Bachalo and regular inking partner Tim Townsend turn in a striking brick red and greyscale minimalist cover, it is a damn shame that some aspect of this artwork isn’t replicated on the interior.
The other thing not exactly working in this issue’s favor is the “Holy F—, they’re still telling this story” factor. Writer Brian Michael Bendis is renowned for writing comic stories that gear toward future collection but as noted, this is a nine-parter-– literally two trades worth! In itself, this isn’t a bad thing. However, given how this issue revisits, revises and resolves the accumulated action, it may leave many wondering where the hell we’ve gone in all this time. Seriously, aside from some great unwelcome and awkward interaction in the beginning part of the arc, this issue systematically negates everything along the way. Point here for the casual reader, though, as this issue actually does a fantastic job of bullet-pointing the pertinent details without punishing for missing chapters.
All of this being said, it does place a lot of emphasis for this issue to function as an independent, wholly-formed entity and in this regard, it underperforms. Splitting the narrative into three portions, the first segment continues to barrel along from the preceding action as the X-Men deal with Akira-level out of control power insanity. The unbelievable death toll escalates as more marquee characters meet unceremonious endings.
Literally and figuratively, the only course left is for someone to hit the “undo” button and reset everything. Which is what happens but the transition is inelegant, slamming directly from the doomsday scenario to a time travel relocation without warning. In the span of four panels, the crisis is averted before its even begun but is handled like an unapologetic two-dimensional cheat. Moreso, it draws great attention to the consistency of the time travel rules Bendis has laid out recently. This may actually prove to be the redeeming factor as consequences of a potential “butterfly effect” are already heavily alluded.
This issue may not be what was expected but it’s still integral to Bendis’s bigger story. The actual protagonist is also not who the reader may expect either but that is a delightful surprise. Although folk consensus is that the story of the X-Men is the story of Scott Summers, it’s a credit to Bendis’s writing that he would have a newer supporting character rise up and become the foil by which Cyclops grows and re-earns that legacy. There’s just enough cliffhanger to justify signing off on a “…and things will never be the same again” note but there’s also enough in-story clues that Bendis is now crossing the threshold into his story’s final act. Next issue seems like it will center on Scott taking stock in himself. Maybe we’ll get that Havok follow-up then…