The flagship series of the X-Men franchise, Uncanny X-Men, returns this week with a new first issue kicking off the 10-issue, weekly "X-Men Disassembled" story arc. The issue is certainly an attention grabber, with plenty to love on the surface, but comes up short on substance.
Uncanny X-Men #1 is 64 pages and features two different stories divided into five parts in total. The lead story is "Disassembled Part 1," in which the writing brain trust of Ed Brisson, Matthew Rosenberg, and Kelly Thompson team with artist Mahmud Asrar and colorist Rachelle Rosenberg to serve up the issue's main event. The latter portion of the book sees that writing team split up to tell one part each of "What Tomorrow Brings," a prologue to the main story with each of the three parts focusing on a different character and featuring a different artist. Kelly Thompson then steps in to finish with an epilogue to the backup story, which serves as a prologue to the main story.
It is a strange structure, and the end result feels a bit like eating dessert before dinner. "Disassembled" has a blockbuster feel to it. There are big fight scenes, explosions, plane crashes, and surprise appearances throughout, but it all feels like it happens out of the blue. "What Tomorrow Brings" provides some context to all those big moments, letting fans know that things have been getting weird for the X-Men for a while now, but it feels strange to have the issue laid out in such an unintuitive manner.
Structure aside, "Disassembled" has the feel of a major X-Men crossover. The issue opens with Jean Grey having an unexplained vision of Multiple Man desperately searching for Kitty Pryde, only to be murdered quite a lot by the other X-Men. Jean returns to reality, but her vision proves to be a premonition as soon after Kitty goes missing, Jamie Madrox reemerges, and all hell begins to break loose.
Apparently inspired by Avengers: No Surrender, Uncanny X-Men brings all of the X-Men across the various modern teams into a single book. Fans get to see characters that haven't interacted with each other in months if not years, and characters that have been sidelined entirely for just as long back in the spotlight. Despite the high stakes, there's a lightness to the dialogue that keeps things fresh and fun. The characters are just aware enough of how ridiculous their lives and everything happening around them is to create a sense of awareness without sapping the story of its weight.
What the issue lacks is an emotional hook. It serves as a kind of cold open for the larger series. There's a lot to catch your eye, but not much explanation about why you should care beyond the presumption that readers have a pre-existing love of these characters. It'd be unreasonable to expect the first chapter of this or any story to give up all of its answers, but it's hard not to feel detached from what's happening in the issue when all the issue provides is the bombast without any of the motivation or consequence.
The plot of the issue feels like a mashup of previous X-Men stories. There's talk of a mutant vaccine, reminiscent of past mutant cure storylines, and there's an anti-mutant senator who's the target of an apparent assassination attempt involving time travel, much like "Days of Future Past." It's hard to say what the intent here is, other than that there the writers seem very aware of what they're doing. Jubilee at one point comments on how she feels like she's heard the senator's speech a million times before. Also, you don't title a Marvel Comics story "Disassembled" or have someone utter the words "no more mutants" in an X-Men story without understanding all of the baggage those things bring with it.
There are similar seemingly meta moments in the "What Tomorrow Brings" stories as well, with Jean and Storm commenting on how there seems to be so little time for quiet moments these days with the X-Men bouncing from event to event, and Anole and Rockslide bemoaning how they constantly seem to be left waiting in the wings and never given the chance to graduate from X-Students to X-Men. But even with being able to see this lampshading, the issue leaves readers on a frustrating middle ground where you're forced to take everything at face value for now because that's all that this first issue offers.
Asrar is coming off a fantastic run on X-Men Red, and he's in stellar shape here. The fights he's tasked with drawing in this issue are massive mob scenes that don't leave much room for graceful storytelling, but he handles them well and even finds a few moments to shine. In particular, there's a great sequence for X-23 in the issue where the writing and artwork come into perfect alignment. Asrar finds a few other opportunities to give specific characters a chance to shine in relief to the background chaos, all informed by Rosenberg's coloring, which infuses the story with a vibrancy that enhances the dense action, high energy, and relatively-light tone of the story.
There were some very high expectations going into the relaunch of Uncanny X-Men. This particular issue didn't quite rise to meet all of those expectations but is still likely to please eager X-fans. It is solidly crafted and only the beginning of a much larger story, but the pieces aren't quite all there just yet. In particular, its missing that emotional core that's present in so many of the best X-Men tales. Even so, there's plenty to be excited about as the series seems to be in the hands of a talented creative team with very big plans. Given more time for those plans to reveal themselves, "Disassembled" may yet rise to meet those lofty expectations in place for it.
Published by Marvel Comics
On November 14, 2018
Written by Ed Brisson, Matthew Rosenberg, & Kelly Thompson
Art by Mahmud Asrar
Colors by Rachelle Rosenberg