The past couple of issues of Uncanny X-Men haven’t been all that great. Certainly not the level of quality that I expect from Ed Brubaker. Of course, to be fair, it isn’t that Brubaker is delivering poorly written stories so much as I am just growing tired of the same recycled themes on the X-Men. The Phoenix and the Shi’ar have been done and re-done ad nauseum. At any rate, I’m hoping that in Uncanny X-Men #481, Brubaker will find a new angle to this tired old horse. Let’s do this review.
Writer: Ed Brubaker
Penciler: Billy Tan
Inker: Danny Miki
Art Rating: 7 Night Girls out of 10
Story Rating: 6 Night Girls out of 10
Overall Rating: 6.5 Night Girls out of 10
Synopsis: We begin with Lilandra on the planet Trelliari, enjoying a much needed retreat in order to get herself back together and ready to assume the role of Empress of the Shi’ar. Lilandra informs her assistant that she is ready to return to her duties. We then see Chancellor Araki communicating over a video screen with K’Tor. The Chancellor tells K’Tor that it couldn’t have been one of their people who freed Deathbird. Then end their conversation and the Chancellor goes and meets with Lilandra. The Chancellor whips out a gun and kills Lilandra’s tow guards and her assistant. The Chancellor then knocks out Lilandra and says that he is going to return the Shi’ar Empire back to their true greatness.
We cut to the C-Men on their stranded spaceship. Thunderbird and Korvus are getting up into each other’s grill and are ready to scrap. Havok separates the two men. Havok tells Thunderbird that they have to trust Korvus. That Rachel says she has seen Korvus’ mind and she trusts him. Plus, Korvus is the only one who can help them. Korvus informs the X-Men that the jump ship that the Shi’ar stole and took Xavier with them and that Darwin snuck onto is able to create its own stargates.
However, Korvus reasons that with the powers of Havok and Polaris, they can create their own stargates in order to follow the jump ship. That Havok, Rachel and Korvus will feed the engines with power and Polaris will control them. That the engines weren’t designed for their powers so Polaris will stop it from ripping the engines apart and leaving them standard outside space and time. The X-Men then decide to set the jump coordinates to the Starjammers’ most recent location.
We shift to the two Shi’ar who have Xavier prisoner approaching a Shi’ar High Council Starways vessel. They inform the vessel that they have Xavier prisoner. They then dock their jump ship on the High Council vessel.
We cut back to the X-Men. Havok tells Polaris that they have blown it at every turn. And now they are running to his father, Corsair, for help rather than bringing the help to Corsair. Plus, Corsair doesn’t even know about his other son, Vulcan. Havok says that all he is bringing his father is bad news. Havok walks out of the room. Polaris then says to herself that Alex is twice the man Corsair is if only he would realize it.
We shift to Korvus, Thunderbird and Nightcrawler working on the engines. Nightcrawler and Thunderbird then leave Korvus to continue the work alone. Thunderbird tells Nightcrawler that he still doesn’t trust Korvus. That there is something about his scent that Thunderbird can’t place. Nightcrawler then mentions that Rachel took some of the Phoenix Force from Korvus’ blade. That even the smallest spark of the Phoenix in Rachel could be a danger to all of them.
We cut to Rachel in bed. She has all of Korvus’ horrible memories of when he was a slave and was being tortured. Rachel gets out of bed. Rachel then makes herself a new black costume to replace her old green one. We then see Rachel visit Korvus in the engine room. Rachel tells Korvus that his memories are mixed with hers. Korvus then tells Rachel more about the origin of the Phoenix and his sword. That hundreds of years ago, Rook’Shir was possessed by Phal’Kon, the name that they originally called the Phoenix. That Rook’Shir and one other person bonded with the Phoenix prior to Jean Grey bonding with the Phoenix.
Korvus and Rachel stare at each other and I do believe that we have a love connection! Yup, the two begin to play tonsil hockey. Love, or lust shall I say, is in the air.
We cut to Professor X hooked up to some type of torture machine. K’Tor tells Xavier that the machine employs the “Kiss of Agony” and it causes unbearable pain. Xavier tells K’Tor that he is now powerless. K’Tor does not believe that Xavier has lost his powers. K’Tor then turns on the torture machine.
We then shift to the two Shi’ar who captured Xavier. Out of nowhere Darwin appears and he brutally beats down both Shi’ar men. Darwin then tells the two Shi’ar that he wants his teacher, Xavier, and that these two are going to help him get Xavier.
The Good: Uncanny X-Men #481 was a slightly better than average read. Nothing horrible, but certainly nothing particularly good. Brubaker does deliver a technically well written story. We get plenty of excellent character development. I really like how Brubaker is handling each character, especially Havok, Polaris and Thunderbird. Thunderbird is one of my favorites and is clearly one of Brubaker’s favorites as well. Brubaker is crafting one of the most interesting and well developed versions of Thunderbird. I dig Thunderbird’s mean streak and propensity to settle disputes with his fists rather than by talking it out. Plus, we know that Korvus is more than he seems and I can’t believe that Thunderbird is completely being misled by his senses.
Brubaker is really working wonders with Havok and Polaris. I have always had a soft spot in my heart for this poor man’s version of Cyclops and Jean Grey. These two characters belong together and Brubaker is doing a great job of subtly massaging these two characters back together once again. There is a very nice delicate chemistry between Havok and Polaris.
Brubaker is certainly writing the most interesting version of Havok that I have ever read. Finally, Havok is stepping out of Cyclops’ shadow and beginning to take on his own personality rather than being Scott Summers’ kid brother. This is much needed maturation for Havok’s character that is rather long overdue.
I liked seeing Darwin in action. I think Darwin is a pretty cool character with tons of potential. I hope that Brubaker has something interesting in store for this character other than being cannon fodder for this story arc.
And I think we are seeing the groundwork for Brubaker returning Xavier’s powers back to him. Somehow, with all this torturing and testing by the Shi’ar, Xavier is going to get his powers back.
Tan’s artwork is fine. I think this comic book would have a more dynamic look if we had another inker instead of Miki. I do dig Tan’s version of Havok. His design is great looking.
The Bad: Uncanny X-Men #481 was a very slow and slight boring issue. The pacing has come to a crawl with this issue. Now, I am familiar with Brubaker’s style and method. I know that he likes to slowly build his story arc with a very steady and measured pace. The story arc moves rhythmically building up to several mini-climaxes before finally building to a crescendo with the final climax. Brubaker successfully employs a measured pace that builds plenty of tension in the reader. This is evident on his other titles like Captain America, Daredevil and Criminal.
However, on Uncanny X-Men it just comes across as slow and boring. I’m beginning to think that Brubaker is the wrong man for the job. Just because a writer is wonderfully talented doesn’t mean he can write any kind of comic book. Bendis is a perfect example of this. When Bendis writes a solo title you get great character development and some wonderful humor. However, Bendis clearly struggles under the weight of a group title like the Avengers and you end up with a very pedestrian read.
The same may be with Brubaker. Brubaker is a master at solo titles and his real strength lies in “realistic” street based heroes with plenty of crime noir mystery. A galaxy spanning science fiction team title like the X-Men may just not suite Brubaker’s talent.
This current story arc is moving at a snail’s pace and is quickly losing all of my interest. Part of it is because I find the Phoenix and the Shi’ar to be such stale and old storylines that have been recycled one time too many on the X-Men. Therefore, I have practically no interest at all in Lilandra, the Shi’ar Empire or the Phoenix.
Add to that the pacing moving along at such a slow speed and that seemingly nothing happens over the course of each issue that it feels like this story arc has been going on for a year. It feels like we have been trapped in neutral over the past three issues. Brubaker really needs to kick this story arc in the ass and get it moving already.
The Korvus/Rachel relationship is mildly interesting. However, my general boredom with the Phoenix in general is dampening my enthusiasm. Plus, just like her mother, we see Rachel ditch her green costume for a black one signaling that the Dark Phoenix may not be far off. I hope that this is just a red herring and that Brubaker has something else in store for us rather than a re-hash of the Dark Phoenix.
Overall: Uncanny X-Men #481 was just average. Nice character development and that is about it. This story arc is creeping along at a painfully slow pace. I am forcing myself to retain some type of interest in this title. If you can’t get enough of the Phoenix and the Shi’ar then you will definitely enjoy this title.