With Brian Bendis’ time on the X-books finally complete, here on MahMuseComics we’re casting our eyes to the ‘how’ and ‘wow’ of his run. So today it’s time for:
Launching a couple of months after All-New X-Men, Bendis’ Uncanny X-Men book focused in on Cyclops’ ‘mutant revolution’. Initially it formed a philosophical counterpoint to Jason Aaron’s Wolverine and the X-Men, with each covering a different side of the continuing schism; from “Battle of the Atom” onwards the focus of the X-books gradually began to shift, with Wolverine’s Jean Grey School losing prominence. From #20, Bendis’ focus gradually widened out to embrace cast from the Jean Grey School as well, although they were frequently relegated to background or supporting roles. Several characters got particularly strong arcs, Magik’s being a personal favourite.
Writing on Uncanny X-Men was consistently strong, and Bendis focused in upon Cyclops’ core team, while adding a range of new mutants. Some of these new creations were rather whimsical (Goldballs in particular springs to mind), while others were tremendously creative and used to great effect (Tempus being the most prominent example).
Unfortunately the problems really came from #29 onwards; Bendis had been working on the dramatic Last Will and Testament of Charles Xavier arc, but sales had slumped, and he seemed to be really struggling to pull the plot together. #29 was intended to be the end of that arc, but it lasted another two issues. From #29, covers and solicits became increasingly irrelevant; #31, for example, featured Havok and Cyclops in pitched battle on the cover, but Havok never even appeared in the book. From #32 onwards, everything Bendis wrote felt like it was an attempt to tie up loose ends, leading directly into his exit with Uncanny X-Men #600.
#29 serves as a turning-point for Bendis’ run in another sense, though. In this issue, Magneto made the claim that Cyclops’ revolution was actually a nervous breakdown. The claim went unchallenged, and was clearly meant to be accepted by readers; it essentially rewrites the entire Bendis run, with Uncanny X-Men essentially the story of his nervous breakdown, and Uncanny X-Men #600 becoming the ultimate moment when he resolves the nervous breakdown and relaunches the revolution in a rather poignant way. As beautiful as the resolution may be, though, the ‘nervous breakdown’ idea feels like a simple way to hand-waive Cyclops to a different status quo. It simply felt too easy.
All in all, Uncanny X-Men was a tremendously strong book, but lost its way from #29 onwards. Bendis pulled the threads together pretty effectively in the tremendous Uncanny X-Men #600, ending on a high note, but it’s hard not to read the series and wonder at what could have been. Back in Uncanny X-Men #30 we were teased a fascinatingly wrong-headed new status quo, with Cyclops and Emma dead, and All-New X-Men-era Xavier brought into the present day. The next issue used time-travel to reboot reality and erase that whole new status quo, and I for one felt that it was a real shame.