UNCANNY X-MEN #9
Written By Brian Michael Bendis
Art By Chris Bachalo
Release Date: July 31, 2013
In an issue that could create some controversy, Allison Blaire steps into her new role as Dazzler Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. and her first day on the job doesn’t seem to go quite the way she expected. Meanwhile, Cyclops and his team begin their training, as readers learn more about several characters — both new and old.
With this 9th issue, Bendis has now written a combined 23 issues of Uncanny X-Men and its sister title All New X-Men. While the latter’s primary focus has been on the time-traveling members of the original five X-Men and how their arrival in the present has effected them and the people around them, Uncanny X-Men has put a complicated spin on mutants living in a world that fears and persecutes them. Of course, among these mutants are those that attempted to control an ultimate cosmic being, and losing control of said being leading to Cyclops killing (some say murdering) their leader Charles Xavier. And they are being pursued by S.H.I.E.L.D. Like I said, it’s complicated, and the complications have been compounded by the fact that Cyclops, Emma, Magik and Magneto have started rescuing new mutants — including the original time displaced Angel — with the express intention of training their version of the next generation of X-Men.
This brings us to this issue, picking up right where the last left off with Dazzler showing up at Fabio’s house in San Diego, shortly after he decided that he wanted to go home and didn’t want to be a X-Man. Dazzler arrives looking for Scott Summers and is met with resistance from Fabio’s family who didn’t take kindly to her intrusion. Bendis uses these first four pages to establish his take on Allison Blaire while both introducing new readers to or reminding seasoned readers about this character that hasn’t been in the spotlight much in the past few decades (yes, I am not forgetting about the latest volume of X-Treme X-Men, but that book had a fraction of the readers that this book does).
The absolute highlight of Bendis’ work on the X-Men has been his character work. The core of the X-Men when they are at their best has always been about character. After all, these are heroes who were created to reflect the struggles during the Civil Rights era. With the opening pages, Bendis continues his strong character development with Dazzler. In just a few short pages we get to see her thrown into a volatile situation, it established that she was “on the MTV,” her reaction to getting recognized, and an example of how cool her powers can potentially be. Development continues over at the New Xavier School For The Gifted where training has begun for the students and team. We get to learn more about the extent of David’s power to control vehicles with his mind, and by the end of the issue he gets assigned a code name. Bendis does a great job of capturing what it would be like to be a young person experiencing everything these mutants have gone through in such a short amount of time. The students have been overwhelmed, but in the past two issues there there has been less of the shock we’ve seen from all of them throughout the early part of the series and more confidence in their abilities. This especially holds true for Eva and David, who get to show off a little bit this issue with their unique mutant gifts. These are still kids though, and Bendis has been writing teenagers better than just about anyone since the early days of Ultimate Spider-Man. My favorite scene in this issue involves Irma of the Stepford Sisters making a lifestyle choice that involves the teenage struggle to find one’s own identity, especially with two identical twins. The best part about the scene is that the writer plays it straight and the reaction from her sisters would have you convinced that their world was ending. It was a sweet, authentic moment that made me smile.
SPOILER ALERT for the next few paragraphs! It involves what I feel was an important and controversial scene. I won’t get into the wheres, whys and how the situation comes up, but I will discuss the scene.
Dazzler and Cyclops eventually come face to face and have a short, but powerful, exchange of words about why they are each doing what they are doing — illustrating the deep divide among mutants after the death of Charles Xavier. Cyclops truly believes that the world is hunting them and his “Mutant Revolution” is less a revolution and more of a fighting chance. Dazzler asks Cyclops what happened with Xavier and Cyclops answers that it was complicated. He then assumes that Dazzler will be joining them, only for Allison to be shocked that he would think she would leave with them. It isn’t often when the phrase “Uncle Tom” and the name “Sirhan Sirhan” are used in a comic book, but they were right here as Cyclops then states Dazzler “looks like the Uncle Tom of the Mutants” and Dazzler fires back that Scott is “The Sirhan Sirhan of mutants.”
For some people that exchange might have gone right over their heads, but hopefully for most, it hit them hard like it did me. I am not going to go into deep detail regarding the cultural significance of the phrase ‘Uncle Tom’, but if you don’t know, it refers to the title character in the 1852 novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Over the past 150+ years, its meaning has evolved into a loaded phrase that is used when a black person is accused of “selling out” to the “white man.” It has also evolved in use to put down a black person for being “too white” or “not black enough.” At least a few times a year, a story will make headlines that involves the phrase being used and it always stirs up conversation of race, racial identity and racial relations in the United States. With its long history and hurtful use, it is not a phrase to be thrown around lightly. On Twitter, I have already seen threats of dropping all the X-Men books and just general shock that they went there. I don’t feel that Bendis throws the phrase around. Its use here was extremely powerful and fit in perfectly with the story that the writer has been crafting with Cyclops. It was used to show just how strongly Scott believes in his cause, how quickly he is to dismiss anybody — including his friends — that disagrees with his views, and it shows just where his head is at with this entire “us against them” idea that sees him falling further and further away from Xavier’s dream.
Then you have Dazzler referring to Scott as the mutant version of the man that assassinated Robert Kennedy on June 5, 1968. To me this was also a shocking name to throw into this conversation, but one that seemed to be deliberate and well used. The Kennedy family have been referred to for years as “America’s Royal Family,” or at least the closest thing to royalty that we know over here. In much the same way, the X-Men are as close to royalty for the entire mutant race as it gets. All mutants know about the X-Men, and has seen throughout this series they look up to the X-Men as leaders and even potential saviors. When RFK was assassinated, he had just won the California primary, was well on his way to being the Democratic nominee for President, and might have just been the next President of the United States. Not all Americans loved him, but those who did were excited and felt that his ideas and his dreams for the country would help end the turmoil of the 60s and make America a better place. Instead, he was murdered, the Democrats split, and Richard Nixon became President. The parallels aren’t exact, but they are apparent enough for me to find Bendis’ reference to Sirhan Sirhan to be a stroke of genius. Xavier was the leader of the X-Men, who are the de facto leaders of the mutants. Times were tough for mutants following M-Day, but the future was looking brighter as over the past several years of comic books as the X-Men were becoming more accepted as heroes and as people through their relationships with the city of San Fransisco and the Avengers. Then Xavier is killed, the X-Men are split, anti-mutant hysteria as begun again, and the dream that Xavier held is dying more and more every issue, despite the best efforts of Wolverine and The Unity Squad seen over in Uncanny Avengers. Dazzler is essentially saying that Scott killed the man mutants looked up to and whose dream is making the world a better place for them, and now with that man dead, factions have formed. Dark times are ahead now that there is no united mutant front to ward off threats. It isn’t often that a few lines in an issue are that powerful and convey the attitudes and themes of the series, or in this case entire X-Men line, so succinctly and perfectly.
END SPOILER ALERT.
I couldn’t end a review of Uncanny X-Men without mentioning the art. Bendis has been blessed with some amazing artists on his X-Men books. Over on All New X-Men, the great Stuart Immomen has been hitting the ball out of the park with David Marquez as a top notch pinch hitter. Here on Uncanny X-Men, Chris Bachalo has been carrying the load, outside of Frazier Irving’s beautiful Limbo issues. Bachalo seems to be a very divisive artist with people either hating his work or thinking it is some of the best in the business. I am in the latter group, as I’ve been in awe of his work since Generation X. One problem I’ve always had with it, however, is that while beautiful, at times it was extremely difficult to follow and his characters were extremely stylized. This was a problem as recently as the last volume of X-Men and his work on Wolverine and the X-Men. I can honestly say that with this series he no longer has these problems to the extent that he once did. His pages are still crazy but they are more subdued and the exact same can be said about his character work, where there are far less straight lines and sharp corners that didn’t make a whole lot of sense anatomically. In other words, this is the best work of his career. This issue is no different, as he switches from traditional panel design to something completely different in the span of a page. The most interesting aspect that you don’t notice until you think about it is that his panel work is all depending on the action on the page. You have a traditional structure during talking head scenes, and as the intensity picks up, the page design gets more unique with slanted panels and action spilling over from panel to panel. He really gets to shine with his page design when Fabio uses his powers, as the gold balls are all over the page. It is just another trick from a great artist that goes to further immerse the reader into the story.
Uncanny X-Men #9 is a beautiful looking issue that features Dazzler, a lot of character development, teenagers being written like teenagers, and a conversation that may be less than two pages but just might be the most thought provoking conversation in comics for at least this week. Throw in an interesting ending that ties in a bit to recent issues of All New X-Men and we are left with another strong entry in the Bendis X-Men run.
The Verdict: 9.0/10