Best Shots Review: UNCANNY X-MEN #11 ‘Searching For the Heart of the X-MEN Again’ (8/10)

Uncanny X-Men #11
Credit: Salvador Larroca/Rachelle Rosenberg (Marvel Comics)

Credit: Salvador Larroca/Rachelle Rosenberg (Marvel Comics)

Uncanny X-Men #11
Written by Matthew Rosenberg
Art by Salvador Larocca, Rachelle Rosenberg, John McCrea, Mike Spicer and Juanan Ramirez
Lettered by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

“Every X-Men story is the same.”

Credit: Salvador Larroca/Rachelle Rosenberg (Marvel Comics)

On a black page in a red box, those are the first words we read. For writer Matthew Rosenberg, this isn’t some pithy statement of self-indulgence. No, this is a line in the sand and an opening salvo for a bold new era for the X-Men. Rosenberg’s aware of the the reputation that superhero stories have for retracing similar plots with characters that never age and antagonists that never really go away. The narration tells us that this time will be different – that this is the last X-Men story. But Rosenberg seems to have a response with the title to the arc: “This Is Forever.”

If the alternate reality of “Age of X-Man” isn’t your preferred flavor of X-Men story, Marvel’s got you covered with something completely different. In a lot of ways, it’s the opposite of “Age of X-Man.” That event depicts something of a utopia where everyone is a mutant. But back in the reality of the 616, a mutant cure looms large and with the X-Men gone, there’s no one around to stand up for mutant rights. But Cyclops is back, and he’s back on a crash course with his destiny to lead the X-Men and continue to try to realize Charles Xavier’s dream. And Rosenberg is acutely aware of what Scott Summers has been through over the better part of the last decade, and he tries to resolve what might seem like somewhat warring characterizations.

Credit: Salvador Larroca/Rachelle Rosenberg (Marvel Comics)

I’m going to talk about all three stories in this issue kind of simultaneously, because they really build off each other to provide a full picture. This Scott Summers is determined, but he’s also been through the wringer, and he’s come out a much different man. It may seem strange to see the X-Men’s resident Boy Scout drinking alone on a rooftop and destroying the empty bottle by skeet-shooting them with his mutant optic blasts, but Scott’s lost everything. He’s a pariah among his own people. His friends and loved ones are all gone. He’s responsible for the death of his mentor and father figure. He tried to start a revolution and it failed. And now more than ever, it seems that mutant hatred is at an all-time high. But the X-Men, at least the idea of them, remains a driving force for him.

Similarly, Wolverine has been through a ton since he’s returned from the dead, and like Scott, he’s looking for the X-Men. Wolverine isn’t as reckless as Cyclops at this point, opting to work behind the scenes and gather information. But they won’t find the X-Men – they’ll only find each other. And honestly, that just feels right – because at this point, they’re probably the two characters who understand each other best. Meanwhile, Rosenberg pivots smartly with a cameo from Captain America, the establishment superhero juxtaposed against Scott Summers’ checkered counterculture. They’re both the leaders of their respective teams, but Rosenberg keys into their clear difference in stakes, and how Scott’s grief and righteous anger has really overtaken him. The X-Men are excellent at playing the underdogs, and as a result of “Disassembled,” they’ve never been more fractured and desperate. Rosenberg humanizes Scott Summer by letting him have the emotional response, while Wolverine is the voice of reason. It’s a good little flip on their usual dynamic, and one that provides interesting avenues for providing new depth to both characters.

Credit: Salvador Larroca/Rachelle Rosenberg (Marvel Comics)

But despite all the good work that Rosenberg does, it’s not all perfect. Blindfold is an unfortunate casualty. Her death is almost a textbook definition of “fridging,” as it seems that it is the catalyst for Scott Summers going to the rally. This is a book about grief and depression, but Blindfold’s suicide hits so suddenly that it feels a little awkward – affecting the pacing of the book as well with a full page dedicated to the moment.

Following Cyclops’ story, Salvador Larocca’s art looks better than it has since before his run on Star Wars, but it’s still not great. The artist has clearly fallen off from his peak, unable to deliver consistent facial expression work or obscuring his work overwhelmingly in shadow to avoid having to draw them at all. Some of that expression work feels stiff and unnatural across the book. Larocca’s foreshortening isn’t great either, but you can tell when he really puts his all into some pages like the fight that comes near the end.

Comparatively, John McCrea and Juanan Ramirez acquit themselves much better with the return of Wolverine. The stylization of McCrea’s art really lends itself to the dark shadows, as the generally flatter color palette isn’t over-rendered and competing with the inks. Juanan Ramirez’ work with Blindfold is notable for some inventive layouts and really strong characters. While Larocca’s character renderings sometimes feel overly realistic and busy and McCrea’s feel almost too simple, Ramirez splits the difference. And thankfully, colorists Mike Spicer and Rachelle Rosenberg do a good job enabling these stories to flow together well and provide some consistency across art styles.

While “Disassembled” was an over-the-top way to clear the table, Rosenberg has taken the opportunity to search for the heart of the X-Men again. It’s been a long time since Wolverine’s death, so bringing Scott and Logan together again is extremely powerful and the perfect place to make the X-Men really feel like the X-Men again. This is a huge issue with a higher price tag, but Rosenberg’s narrative weaves through all the stories really well, allowing each story to stand on its own but also illuminate the events of the others. That’s no small task. If Larocca sticks to this trajectory, we’ll be seeing some of his best work in recent memory over in the coming months. And McCrea and Ramirez prove themselves equally worthy collaborators. For the first time since the Brian Michael Bendis era (and maybe before that), the X-Men feel more fully realized and there’s an urgency to this issue that’s been sorely missing. To quote a little more from the At the Drive-In song referenced in the title: “If you can’t get the best of us now, it’s ‘cause this is forever.” Thanks to Matthew Rosenberg, Salvador Larocca and company, the X-Men aren’t going anywhere. The X-Men are forever.

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