Uncanny X-Men #502 Review

The Revolution continues to be stunned at the precipitous drop in quality that the Uncanny X-Men since Marvel’s version of Judd Winick came aboard this title. Fraction has managed to give us two issues crammed full of hollow dialogue, paper thin character work and unintelligent stories. Like Winick, Fraction is an aging hipster who in his mid-thirties painfully wants to still be seen as that cool trendy kid in college. And his characters suffer because of this.

I have no hope that Fraction will give us quality character work, well crafted dialogue or an intelligent story. The best I can hope for is that Uncanny X-Men #502 is a fast paced read with enough action that I at least get some mindless entertainment out of it. Let’s go ahead and hit this review.

Creative Team
Writers: Matt Fraction & Ed Brubaker
Pencils: Greg Land
Inks: Jay Leisten

Art Rating: 5 Night Girls out of 10
Story Rating: 4 Night Girls out of 10
Overall Rating: 4.5 Night Girls out of 10

Synopsis: We begin with Wolverine, Nightwing and Karma beating the crap out of the Hellfire thugs. To be sure we get plenty of cheesy dialogue during this fight that would fit in perfectly in a 1980’s Arnold Schwarzenegger movie. Cyclops reminds Nightcrawler and Wolverine to bring back one of the thugs so they can question him. The last remaining Hellfire gang member left standing predictably pees his pants at the sight of Wolverine and Nightcrawler. (Oh, I have so never seen this in a comic book before. Top notch, Fraction.) Wolverine and Nightcrawler then capture the Hellfire thug.

We cut to Greymalkin Industries where Pixie is recuperating in the medical ward. Beast enters the room and gives Pixie some coffee complete with soy milk. (You just know that Fraction is one of those annoying idiots at Starbucks who lays down an order that goes something like “Give me a non-fat, grande, soy chai latte with a half shot of espresso and no foam.” Perish the thought of just asking for a large cup of coffee.)

Beast then tells Pixie that she has a special guest. In walks Dazzler. Pixie is stunned that her music idol is here to visit her. Dazzler tells Pixie that she wants her to dance at Dazzler’s show.  Dazzler adds “Let’s let that dust of yours make everything just that much more crazy. Won’t that just be, like, completely awesome?” (No, what would be completely awesome is if Ed Brubaker would take over writing the dialogue for this title.)

We cut to the Hellfire thug that Nightcrawler and Wolverine captured tied to a table and in a dark room at Greymalkin Industries. The thug asks “Who’s that? Who’s there? Where am I?” Cyclops answers “You’re in Hell. Hi.” (No, actually I am the one in hell having to read such ridiculous dialogue.)

Cyclops gives an unnecessarily long introduction to Mr. Xiong who was a mutant acupuncturist before he lost his powers. We see Mr. Xiong puncturing a bunch of needles into the thug’s face. Karma comments that the thug is afraid of needles. Scott then thanks Karma for her help and she exits the torture room.

Cyclops gives another long winded speech about how his powers do not generate heat. That they are just concussive force. That his visor allows him all kinds of focus and control. Scott then asks who runs the Hellfire Club. Scott then fires a little blast that the needles stuck in the thug’s face. The thug screams out. Emma watches the torture session with a look like she is getting horny. (Fraction’s X-Men make me want to take a shower.)

We see Scott leaving the torture room and thanking Mr. Xiong for his help. Scott tells Emma that the thug gave them everything he knows. (See, torture works. Go torture! The CIA was right after all.) Scott says that they know where the Hellfire Club is headquartered and when they are staffed up. The bad news is the Hellfire helmets. That their goons will be shielded from psionics. Scott says that on this raid that Emma will just have to be muscle.

Emma turns into her diamond form and suddenly strikes a bodybuilder pose and says that she is the mood to beast down some “savages.” Scott then says that there is just one problem. Where did the “savages” get psionic-blocking helmets? (Wal-Mart.)

We slide over to Wolverine working on his muscle car while listening to the radio. The radio plays the song Life’s Been Good by Joe Walsh. (Ecch, of all the old guy classic rock songs Fraction could choose from this is the one that he goes with?) Fraction then uses a narration box that says “Wolverine. His Masarati does 185.” (Ooookay. Random. And it is actually a late 1960’s Ford Mustang Fastback that Logan is working on. Nice car.)

Pixie comes sneaking by and Wolverine asks her “Goin’ somewhere, girlie-girl?” Pixie says that she is leaving to go back to Oakland. Pixie mentions that she turned down Dazzler’s offer. Logan answers “Whatever.” Pixie then asks if Logan’s car actually works. Logan barks back “Ask me that again. Go ahead. I dare you.” (Just a little over the top.)

We shift to Logan and Pixie in Logan’s Mustang rocketing through San Francisco at an incredibly high rate of speed. Pixie screams that she believes Logan and for him to slow down. We see Logan arriving at the warehouse where Pixie has decided to stay and hang out with her “art school trustafarian” friends. (Okay, I have to admit, that was funny.) Pixie says that she came to San Francisco with the thought of starting over with the X-Men. Then she got the hell beat out of her. Now she just wants to be a normal girl. (With pink hair and pointy ears.)

Wolverine says “Normal girls ain’t got wings, girly-girl.” Pixie gets out of the car and responds “They broke my wings.” (Drama!! Quick, cue up some Mr. Mister so Pixie can mend her broken wings and learn to fly again.)

We cut to Nightcrawler standing in front of his sculpture of an angel with her wings spread open. Emma walks into the room and Kurt welcomes her to the chapel. Kurt says that he thought that the chapel might provide some comfort. Kurt says that faith isn’t the kind of think that can be inflicted. Kurt says it is better that they have a holy place and not need it. (Huh, what? A chapel that you only need in bad times? That makes no sense. And Kurt is a hardcore Catholic. The dude would be all about praying in good times and bad.)

Emma tells Kurt that Scott needs him for a raid. Kurt asks Emma if she prays. (That is a dumb question.) Emma responds that she is wearing “Two hundred dollar Italian cashmere Kiki De Montparnasse stockings. That she will only kneel in them if absolutely necessary.” (I have no idea what in the hell Emma just said. But, if she won’t get on her knees in them then I guess Scott is out of luck.)

We cut to the Hellfire Club headquarters where Fraction is still playing out his S&M fantasy. The Red Queen has Empath on all fours like a dog. Red Queen says “Now worm. Tell me about Emma Frost.” With Red Queen’s boot on his head, Empath answers that when he was a part of the Hellions that Emma was their teacher. And that they all loved Emma. That Emma was cruel and cold. Red Queen says “Cold. Tell me about cold, worm.” (This scene is just gross.)

Empath says that Emma was gorgeous and impenetrable. (Well that sucks for Scott, huh?) Empath says that one night he decided to see what her mind felt like. So Empath snuck to her room one night to peek inside of her. Emma caught him right away. Emma said if Empath wanted to see into her mind then she would show him. Empath said that Emma’s mind was cold, cruel nothingness. And that it was the most beautiful and perfect thing that Empath had ever seen. (Dios mio. I get it. Move on.)

Red Queen takes off her mask and she look exactly like Emma Frost. Red Queen asks “Tell me, worm.. She looked like this, didn’t she worm? She felt like this. Let the X-Men come for us, worm. We are ready.” (Yeah, it is official. The Red Queen is the dumbest and most idiotic X-Men villain of all-time.)

We shift back to San Francisco where the X-Men are ready to attack the Hellfire Club’s headquarters. We see that the San Francisco Police are also on the scene providing back-up. We see the X-Men attack and kick tons of ass on the Hellfire thugs.

We slide over to the Red Queen, still in her Emma form, with Empath. Empath says that the X-Men are here and that they must leave. Red Queen says “They’ll never find me, worm.” Red Queen then disappears into the shadows leaving Empath to cry out “No..Mistress, no. Mistress! Mistress!”

Wolverine attacks Empath. Empath quickly dispatches of Wolverine. Wolverine radios the other X-Men to tell them that Empath is with the Hellfire Club and that he has gotten much more powerful.

Nightcrawler attacks Empath and Empath easily puts down Nightcrawler. Nightcrawler comments that Empath’s powers are profoundly enhanced. We then see Empath on a motorcycle and busting out of the factory. The police outside of the factory then scramble all the police cars to follow Empath’s motorcycle.

We cut to Pixie hanging out at the warehouse with her friends. One of her friends asks her if she wants to come with him to a show in a loft in Berkeley. Pixie answers that she is not in the mood. Pixie says that she came out here to be her and instead she got her head kicked in and ran.

Pixie says that she thinks she made a huge mistake. Pixie hops on her friend’s scooter and says that she is going to go crash with some friends. Pixie asks “What could possibly go wrong.” End of issue.

The Good: Uncanny X-Men #502 was another sub par read. However, there were a few positive aspects to this issue that allows me to satisfy The Revolution’s Rule of Positivity. Fraction does bookend a bunch of random time wasting scenes with two quality action scenes. This issue starts off like a ball of fire with Wolverine and Nightcrawler teaming up to kick plenty of ass. Out of all the X-Men combinations, the Wolvie and Elf team is by far and away my favorite. I just love the way the two characters work together.

Fraction also ended this issue with more quality action as we get to see the X-Men rip their way through the Hellfire thugs before Empath punks them out. We learn that Empath is obviously wielding much more power than ever before. I am curious to learn how Empath received such a massive power upgrade.

The Bad: Uncanny X-Men #502 was another poorly crafted issue that highlights the technical deficiencies that plague Fraction’s writing. Taking away any personal like or dislike for the current direction of the X-Men, the fact remains that the technical aspects of Fraction’s writing concerning character development, dialogue, pacing and plotting are below what I would expect from a professional writer at a company as large as Marvel.

Uncanny X-Men #502 was another poorly paced issue. The story just ambles along with no apparent purpose or sense of direction. The past three issues have crept along at a slow pace. There is no doubt that this title is an ode to decompression.

Uncanny X-Men #502 also suffers from weak plotting. Three issues have passed and what have we accomplished? All Fraction and Brubaker have done is repeatedly introduce the X-Men’s new headquarters and their mission statement and then introduce the Red Queen and Empath heading up a new incarnation of the Hellfire Club. That is it. There is an absolute paucity of plotlines being cooked up on this title. Basically, there is only one plotline involving the new Hellfire Club. That is about it.

Compare the scarcity of plotlines on Uncanny X-Men with other strongly plotted team titles like Legion of Super Heroes, Justice Society of America or Guardians of the Galaxy. Those team titles are chock full of plotlines. Long range plotlines and short range plotlines. Major plotlines and minor plotlines.

In comparison, Uncanny X-Men is offering up few plotlines and the ones that we have gotten are unoriginal and shallow. Writing a team title is massively different from writing a title centered on a solo character. It appears that Fraction and Brubaker still have their training wheels on when it comes to properly plotting a story for a team title.

The plotting also lacks any apparent direction or purpose. This story lacks any sense of urgency as it wanders around aimlessly. I do not get the feeling that Fraction has a properly constructed outline for the plot of the current story arc. The poor plotting also leads to a clunky flow to this issue.

Fraction’s character work is non-existent. All the characters are one-dimensional and generic. All the X-Men seem to share the same basic personality: Fraction’s. Fraction’s dialogue is poorly crafted. The dialogue vacillates between begin simply average to begin downright cheesy and dumb at certain moments.

Another problem is that Fraction employs the same voice for all of his characters. Fraction falls victim to a weakness that plagues many lesser writers and that it writing too much of themselves into the dialogue for all the characters. The reason that all the characters talk the same is because it is Fraction’s own voice that he is giving to each character.

But, putting aside the annoying habit of Fraction trying to be trendy with his dialogue or his lack of diversity with external voices, the most alarming aspect of his dialogue is the actual technical crafting of the sentences. A good example is this line of dialogue from Scott during the torture scene when he references Karma by stating that “She’s a mind reader that’s very heavily into revenge.” I am pretty sure that the construction of that line made Strunk & White cringe. In short, Fraction’s dialogue reads like a rough draft and not a polished final draft.

Fraction also commits a cardinal writing sin that many students in MFA programs fall victim to in their writing assignments. Writers just learning their craft often want to tell the reader everything rather than show the reader. That is a huge mistake and there is a big difference between the two approaches.

Fraction turns into Exposition Lad in this issue as he simply gives way to much information in practically every scene. A good example of this is how Fraction has Scott unnecessarily drone on and on in the torture scene about Mr. Xiong and Scott’s powers. This reoccurs in just about every scene in this issue.

It is a much more powerful and effective method of storytelling to show the reader rather than tell the reader. The reader is intelligent and will pick up on what the writer is trying to tell them. Plus, by showing the reader instead of telling them, it makes the story much more engaging and intriguing for the reader and less like sitting through a boring lecture where we are treated like pre-schoolers.

Fraction also has yet to learn another basic tenant of creative writing that less is more. Fraction layers on way too much drama. This issue is so over-wrought and overly dramatic that it comes off campy and silly. A fine example of this was the torture scene became practically laughable with Scott’s ridiculously hammy dialogue. Another example was much of Pixie’s line about how the thugs broke her wings. It is just too much.

I have practically zero interest in Pixie at this point. Fraction has taken a page from Winick’s playbook in giving us a mopey slacker hero who just bores me to tears. The drama with her character is so artificial and unoriginal that at no point am I emotionally invested in her character.

The torture scene did not work for me at all. It made me wonder if the CIA is going to be hiring the X-Men to run Guantanamo Bay. I know that Scott is supposed to have more of an edge to his character and that the X-Men were going to be willing save mutants “by any means necessary.” But, this scene makes the X-Men more of a group of radical extremists who hardly resemble heroes that the reader would root for.

Another reason that the torture scene seemed out of character and unnecessary is that I am pretty sure that Emma is still on the X-Men’s roster, right?  Instead of kidnapping and then torturing the thug, couldn’t have Emma just reached into his mind and plucked out whatever information that the X-Men needed? Again, Fraction’s writing lacks internal logic.

We got several time waster scenes. The scenes with Wolverine and Pixie were boring and useless. I know that the apparent purpose was some type of character growth for Pixie. But, the so-called character work was so predictable and banal that it really was a pointless endeavor from the start.

The scene with Nightcrawler and Emma was another useless time waster. Basically the entire point of this scene was for Emma to tell Nightcrawler to get reader for the mission. This was just an unnecessary scene. Another problem with this scene was that it lacked any internal logic. Nightcrawler is devoutly Catholic and pursued being a priest even though it turned out that Nightcrawler never actually attained priesthood.

It lacked logic that a person as devoutly religious as Kurt would build a chapel and then say that it is to only be used in bad times and that he hopes that they never need to use it. Sorry, people as religious as Kurt like to pray and like going to chapel in good times and bad. They certainly do not view religion as something that you only turn to in bad times.

Another aspect of Fraction simply writing dialogue so he can insert his “clever” retorts is evident in this scene as Fraction has Nightcrawler ask Emma if she prays. That was an unbelievably stupid question that lacked internal logic. How long has Nightcrawler known Emma? He knows her extremely well and knows that she is a cold and mean bitch who has never had a religious bone in her body. Kurt would never have been so stupid to ask a question when he already knows the answer.

A more realistic question, in keeping with Kurt’s character, would have been for him to ask Emma if she had ever given any thought about changing her mind and starting to pray. Instead, Fraction had a “witty” remark that he wanted to somehow shoehorn into the scene rather than writing the characters in a logical fashion.

The scene with Empath and Red Queen simply re-enforced the fact that Red Queen is quite possibly one of the lamest X-Men villains that I have ever had to suffer through. Still, Red Queen did impress me with her ability to say the word “worm” five times in just five panels. That has to be some kind of record. At this point I have zero interest in this idiotic character and whatever she is scheming concerning Emma.

Fraction ended Uncanny X-Men #502 with a rather boring hook ending. Empath and Red Queen escaped which is pretty much what we knew was going to happen. And then we end the issue with a dull one page scene with Pixie decided to return to the X-Men and asking the proverbial question “What could go wrong?”

The artwork in this issue is a strange beast to judge. If Land was simply giving us cover art or posters then I would give him high marks. Some of the panels that Land draws look fantastic. However, comic books require the artist to breathe life into the writer’s story through sequential artwork that is delivered in a coherent fashion. And this is where Land completely fails.

Some of the poses that the various characters strike seem completely odd and awkward. Some of the poses are totally out of place given the context of the scene. Another odd aspect of Land’s artwork is that the characters’ facial expressions often do not match the dialogue and the story. Character smile at times when they just should not be smiling. I mean, it gets so bad that Land has Emma asleep in bed but she still has a big toothy smile on her face.

Land fails to do Fraction’s weak and thin story any favors. There is a total disconnect between the artist and the writer in Uncanny X-Men. Land seems to be blatantly ignoring what is going on in some of the scenes and is just drawing, or tracing, the characters however he desires.

Overall: Uncanny X-Men #502 was another technically deficient read. Fraction offers up a poorly crafted issue that presents nothing more than a rather unoriginal and a bit dull read. I would not recommend that you waste your money on this title. The only readers who will get a kick out of this issue are big Matt Fraction fans or die-hard X-Men.

11 thoughts on “Uncanny X-Men #502 Review

  1. Let me see if I’ve got this straight…

    –The #1 supervillain is Iron Man.
    –Spider-Man sold his marriage to The Devil.
    –The X-Men are given carte blanche to do whatever they want, including torture and unlawful restraint.
    –…and I’m not even going into detail about Civil War and Secret Invasion.

    Quesada needs to GO. I don’t want to sound like some curmudgeon here, but this is NOT the Marvel Universe anymore. People have been saying for years that Marvel needs its own “Crisis,” but I disagree. What Marvel needs is some kind of “ignore everything that’s happened since circa-1991” event and just go from there.

    I look at all of these fundamental changes and I think back to the cover of Marvel Age #57. THESE were stories where big changes happened but the core characters remained the same.

    Let’s compare:

    BACK THEN: Steve Rogers gets screwed out of being Captain America, so he puts on a new costume and keeps fighting for the dream.

    NOW: Steve Rogers is fighting for the dream and gets assassinated in a bum way to have another “event.”

    When I’ve got money to spend on comics, it goes to DC and indies because those are the ones that still tell stories worthy of their legacy. After 40 or 70 years, the way to tell good stories with a character is NOT to give us “everything you knew is wrong,” it’s to show us how heroism is timeless.

    Yes, Clark Kent uses a computer now instead of a typewriter…but he’s still all about Truth, Justice, and The American Way, isn’t he? He still loves Lois. The fact that he married Lois actually fits the character; he’s the elder statesman of superheroes so he probably should be married!

    If you couldn’t tell, this really torques me off. The X-Men are, in effect, supervillains now. Now I want the government to send Sentinels after them. How did we get here?

  2. Uh, I think that first comment is more then a little excessive. To each his own, I suppose.

    Hrmm. I’m thoroughly divided as to what I think about the writing in this book, but I hate the art. From the start, I was afraid that Greg Land would ruin the story, and I can’t decide how much of my ambivalence towards this issue is art and how much is writing.

    There’s a certain relentless attempt to be “cool”, and it really come across as the writers trying too hard. There at least aren’t any plugs for green science in this issue, but we get more discussion of high fashion, fast car-driving, and generally everyone acting “cool”, all rendered with Land’s usual plastic, posed, out-of-proportion art. The art just doesn’t work. I was originally planning to just buy the Dodson issues, before deciding to try and stomach Land, but I think I’m going to have to revert to my original idea, and then I’ll be able to get a fairer gauge of how Brubaker and Fraction are doing.

    For all the talk of Uncanny as the X-hub, this so far has just meant a couple of cameos (in this issue, Karma and Dazzler). For the most part, UXM and Astonishing have the same focus characters, which seems like a wasteful use of two separate team books. The contraction of casts after “Messiah Complex” has left a lot of reasonably big characters with stories only told in small snatches in miniseries.

    Some parts work really well, such as most of the captions given to characters (my favourite being Dazzler’s “Totally fabulous” comment and Storm’s “Kenyan Weather Goddess. Bare-Knuckle Streetfighter.”).

    Still a work in progress.

  3. Just a little curious…. What happened to the whole plot Magneto and the High Evolutionary and the Sleeping Celestial and what not? After two issues of not getting one reference to them, I was beginning to think that I was reading an entirely different comic book altogether. Did Fraction and Brubaker seriously decide to completely place that storyline on a temporary snooze so as to facilitate this piece of crap I’ve been reading for the past two issues, or did I miss something? Great post by the way!!!

  4. “Dazzler adds “Let’s let that dust of yours make everything just that much more crazy. Won’t that just be, like, completely awesome?”

    Ignoreing the whole blatent attempt at a drug refrence, there is the fact that Pixie’s dust amkes someone see what they are most scared of. It just shows a poor understanding of the chracter. And I like Pixie. She was fun in New X-men as the naive but good heart ingenue. It’s sad to see her get all emo and such, but I chose to remember the happy times.

    “Emma turns into her diamond form and suddenly strikes a bodybuilder pose and says that she is the mood to beast down some “savages.”

    And really, what the heck? When did Emma get so buff? The art in the picture made her look kind of gross.

    This is almost starting to read less like a comic book and more like someone’s fanfiction. You can almosy see Fraction muttering to himself as he writes “Dude, that was so cool. I’m totally hardcore!”

  5. ..

    So HOW MANY torture scenes does this make for JQ?


    Take a gander at the Hydra torture scene in Avengers.

    Or Tigra beaten senseless (I think it counts as torture.)

    WHERE are the HEROES? WHERE are the archetypes that I can look to as AVATARS of unequivocal Right?

    From the comics I’ve read in the past three years JQ seems to think that the Ends justify the Means, when every 1st year pol-sci student learns that THAT is the reasoning of a DICTATOR.

    Has the Marvel Universe suddenly turned into Kingdom Come when I wasn’t paying attention?

    NONE of these “characters” resemble anything that I identify with a “good guy” or a “hero”. (And I won’t even lower myself to include the current Tony Stark. Try to put THAT characterization in a MOVIE.)

    Maybe JQ should take his character Ash and put him in these situations. Maybe we should see Ash torture for the “common good”.

    As far as I’m concerned JQ is morally bankrupt. And here I thought “dark” characters were out after 1995. My mistake. Then again, (paraphrasing FMillers Bat-thing) I’m not the GD EIC of Marvel.


    I agree….Send in the sentinels and round up the Brotherhood of Evil X-Men.


  6. I’m not totally against interrogations, probably because I’m a huge Batman fan and his interrogations always border torture. However, this interrogation scene was stupid and pointless. Emma’s a freakin’ TELEPATH!! Shouldn’t she be able to read the cronies mind in order to get the information they needed. But no, Fraction had to make the scene all cool by making Cyclops edgy. News to Fraction, Cyclops isn’t edgy, he’s a straight guy who likes rules. That scene was just a lame attempt to make the X-men seem “bad” and it failed miserably. I miss Whedon.

  7. Um, I haven’t read this issue so I’m not sure of the song lyrics, but I’m pretty sure “Life’s Been Good” was a Joe Walsh solo song. I could be wrong, though.

    I think what rotsman said touches on an issue somebody posted about on another title. The bad guys seem to be winning in more ways than one these days. Over in DC right now, they’re literally winning, and in Marvel, the state of “heroes” has regressed so much that it’s hard to tell who (or what) they’re supposed to be fighting anymore. I remember reading comics when I was kid to see the good guys win; now it’s kind of tough to tell who the “good guys” are.

    I’d be curious to know if anybody’s writing about this really extensively right now. Anybody know of any good links?

  8. The stupid thing is violent interrogations often don’t work.
    waterboarding et al won’t get you info if the person doesn’t have it. but they will get you a lie quickly enough to ease the pain, so you can’t be sure the info you get is valid.
    If someone were shooting needles painfully into my face, I would say anything to stop it, even if I had to make something up, quickly, say whatever they wanted to hear. the psychological tenets of interrogation make much more sense as they are detailed here:
    But I gave up on X-Men right after Whedon left anyway. It just seems like not too many good writers stay on a book these days, whereas Bendis will keel over at his typewriter writing his 800th issue of Avengers. The good news is though he’ll finally wrap up his first storyline…

  9. i am one of the minority that actually likes lands art. the only problem i have with it is that it looks like the characters are cardboard cut-outs. I agree though that the writing could use some work. The action scenes were pretty cool and i agree that the nightcrawler/wolverine team up was cool. I think its just a shame that messiah complex was so freaking good and then the aftermath we are left with is just brutal. X-men legacy isnt bad, but careys x-men was better. X-force is pretty good actually, that last issue was great. Young x-men sucks and new x-men was really good. it just seems that so much potential was wasted.

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