Pick of the Week

Pick of the Week – 10.19.2011 – Uncanny X-Men #544

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Avg Rating: 3.9
iFanboy Community Pick of the Week Percentage: 3.3%
 
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Story by Kieron Gillen
Art by Greg Land
Cover by Greg Land

Size: 0 pages
Price: 3.99

This is the moment that I’ve dreaded for years.

The last issue of Uncanny X-Men, in it’s current volume.  Now, say what you will about Marvel relaunching the X-Men franchise complete with a new volume and a new number 1 issue, you can’t deny the moment that Uncanny X-Men #544 represents. The longest running title at Marvel Comics, and for a few weeks at least thanks to the DC Relaunch, the longest running ongoing series in all of comics.  This is a big moment, that should be remembered.

Those who know me well know that I’m a bit of a sentimental fool. I’ve also, historically, had a terrible time with accepting change and dealing with saying “goodbye.” After 20+ years of reading Uncanny X-Men, I knew that this would be the issue that would challenge my own personal issues on so many levels.

I’ve done my best to prepare for this moment.  I’ve made my peace with the renumbering and after reading X-Men: Schism, I’m pretty excited for the future of the X-Men after the X-Men: Regenesis kicks off.  But, I still need to get through this issue: Uncanny X-Men #544, written by Kieron Gillen with art by, (of all people,) Greg Land.

Today as I read my comics, I sat and stared at the cover of Uncanny X-Men #544, in silence and uninterrupted for several minutes. Almost avoiding the inevitable, putting off the act of opening the cover and beginning to read the story that would mark the end of an era.  Going into it, I wanted to hate this issue.  I wanted to hate the renumbering, I wanted to hate the divide that’s driving a wedge between two halves of my favorite characters, I wanted to damn the direction the line of books have taken over the past 10 years.  Every little bit of irrational, teenage boy, fanboy rage inside of me wanted not even give them the satisfaction of reading it. But I knew that was silly.  That in these darkest of times we have to press on, to find the the courage that I learned by reading Uncanny X-Men in the first place. And so I opened the cover…

Thankfully, from the first page I knew that writer Kieron Gillen would not let me down.  The first page of Uncanny X-Men #544 masterfully reprints the first page from Uncanny X-Men #1, as originally drawn by Jack Kirby and published in 1963. At first I thought it was just a straight reprinting of this page that’s burned into my memory, but then I looked closer and realized that the word balloons were not what I remembered.  Gillen had cleverly edited the the words of the page to reflect the moment in time that we exist in.  The original X-Men torn asunder, Jean is dead, Cyclops in charge, Angel transformed into his worst nightmare in X-Force, Iceman and Beast leaving…It was all there so simply and plainly at how much has changed and evolved, much like mutants are a piece of evolution, over the past 544 issues.

After that first page, this issue really only bounces between two scenes: One of the final moments before the Blackbird containing Wolverine, Iceman and the other X-Men who are splitting to return to Westchester, NY; and the other of one of the X-Men’s greatest villains, Mr. Sinister, revealing his continued chronicling of the X-Men’s story and the genetic ramifications of the Summers family bloodline and the Grey family bloodline.  Both stories serve a similar purpose as Gillen takes the moment of this last issue to not only look back on what’s come before, but also to set the stage for what’s to come.

I particularly enjoyed Gillen’s use of Sinister in this capacity as his role of outside observer, trying to piece together what was happening to the X-Men and make sense of it all was quite relatable as an X-Men fan.  Making sense of the madness as it were, and then processing what was happening in the plotting of his next move is very much similar to the acts that we’re all doing as readers, as we sit back and watch the events unfold and do our best to understand where the characters are and what their motivations may be.  It’s a clever way to set up and foreshadow the return of Sinister, a villain that I’ve always enjoyed reading and look forward to what Gillen has planned with him in the next volume of Uncanny X-Men.

In terms of the events on Utopia during the issue, as Iceman and the other X-Men prepare to leave, the focus is mainly on Cyclops and how he’s handling the turn of events.  What got me while reading this issue and throughout this entire turnover has been how quiet and calm this has been.  Once the violent events of X-Men: Schism came to a close and Cyclops and Wolverine made their peace and moved forward with their plans, there’s been a quiet resolve hanging over Utopia and more specifically with Cyclops.  In his conversation with Iceman, we’re treated to an epic 2 page spread of the expected memories of the X-Men. I have to give Greg Land credit here in that he was able to take all the various moments in time and people who have been important to the X-Men’s legacy and distill them into one piece that, even as I look at after reading the issue, I can’t help but to get choked up.  Gillen then is able to balance the quiet resolve and sentiment that Cyclops shares with Iceman, with a tense and uncomfortable moment between Cyclops and Beast.  A single page of conversation that does it’s job to remind us that while a quiet acceptance has fallen over the X-Men, there are still underlying issues and tension in the relationships of people who have been together in one way or another since their teens.

As the issue closes, Gillen focuses on Cyclops as he ritualistically and metaphorically prepares to move on with his life.  I think when people wonder what the motivations are of these characters, for Cyclops, it’s going to come down to this moment, as he boxes up the photos of his past and prepares to embrace the future.  Cyclops says to Emma Frost, “I feel like I’ve finally graduated” and that pretty much sums it up.  What is past is over.  It doesn’t mean that it’s not important or didn’t help shape the X-Men as we know them today. But tomorrow? That’s what’s Cyclops eye is on, as is Wolverine’s, but from slightly different points of view.

As I sit here writing this review, one that I never hoped I’d be writing, I can sit back with a sigh of relief. When it’s all said and done, right or wrong, Uncanny X-Men has been one of the most important things in my life. Cyclops and the other mutants have always been there for me, month in and month out, to provide an escape.  Reading Uncanny X-Men has brought me some of my happiest times in the past 20 years and if I had to guess what the “last” issue of Uncanny X-Men would be, I would never have anticipated the direction Gillen and Land took with this issue and it’s quiet resolve. But as we stand on the precipice of tomorrow, I know that the X-Men will continue to be there for me, in several different shapes and forms, and I will look back on this issue not as the end, but as a marker – a point in time that represents an “All new, all different” beginning while at the same time respecting what’s come before.  I couldn’t have been more pleased at the respect, honor and overall classy approach that Gillen, Land and Marvel Comics took as they close the book on this epic, 544 issue volume.  Because it truly is the unpredictable world of the X-Men!

Ron Richards
What? No, I’m fine, I just have some dust in my eye…
ron@ifanboy.com

Comments

  1. Well put sir. I cannot wait to read this, and also look forward to the exciting new future for our favorite mutants

  2. In a week of difficult choices, Mr. Richards, you make it look easy to pick the best. But I think most of us would have been shocked – like, heart-attack inducing shock – if this hadn’t been your pick. Read 9 books today and still don’t know which I think is the best.

  3. i have always been a greg land fan i know im in the minority on this but ya ron i 100 percennt agree

  4. FINALLY the DC STREAK has been BROKEN and Uncanny X-Men 544 was amazing has loved this series since I started reading comics at the age of 8 and my favorite X-Men Characters are Wolverine, Cyclops, Colossus and Kitty. I hope that the new X-Men books will continue to be as good as the last 5 years of X-Men Stories.

  5. I just started reading comic again for about a year and a half, so i can’t go as far back as others, but i feel a little sad that this is at a end, but very excited for the future. 2012 will be a x-men year to remember.

  6. nice piece, Ron. I think I have something in my contact lense…hold on…

  7. I’m sorry but….you know this book really isn’t ending?

    They’re just renumbering it and the story from this issue will pick RIGHT BACK UP with the next issue. The sentimentality just doesn’t seem to fit. Sorry ron.

    • lol. What a curmudgeon! Give the guy his moment for god’s sake:)

    • C’mon man… You KNOW Ron. You know how the POTW works. You’ve been on IFanboy for a long ass time now. Comments like these make it seem like you’ve only been here for a couple weeks.

      Even the fake ending of Uncanny would predictably get Ron all misty eyed and I know you know this.

    • Ya.. i kind of agree. By the time 5 years go by.. issues 600 is going to drop.. and then it wont matter…. I dont even mind starting at issue 1… but i find going back to 600 even more annoying… and we all know its going to happen.

  8. Very nice review, Ron! I enjoyed the issue lots too, though I don’t get Mr Sinister at all, he’s always struck me as akin to a Special Guest Villain on Batman – camp as tits. But I’ll love him for ever for the item on the Summers/Grey family tree: ‘Cosmic-scale-evolution-with-metaphysical-transferred-quasi-genetic-information?’ Quite.

    I didn’t find Cyclops’ ‘I feel like I’ve finally graduated’ convincing – he came across as a sad little man (as opposed to a shallow dimwit) and never more so than this issue.

    I may be wrong – it’s hard to keep up with numbering – but isn’t Amazing Spider-Man in the #600s? Oh hang on, you said ‘ongoing’, Spidey’s done the renumbering thing. Carry on!

    I look forward to hearing what you reckon to Uncanny X-Men #1, the first #1 with the Uncanny an official part of the title, yes?

    • ASM was relaunched at least once and then went back to the original numbering later, much like Captain America & Bucky(currently in the 600s but that book didn’t exist a year ago).

  9. Blah. There were alot better books this week. Choosing it as pick of the week for “sentimental” reasons is a little BS to me, but just my opinion.

    • Pick of the Week is the comic which the reviewer found most enjoyable – for whatever reasons. Ron enjoyed this most … no one’s saying his opinion invalidates yours.

      (Er, sorry Ron, I realise you can fight your own scuffles …)

  10. Great review Ron..sniff.. sniff..brought a tear to my eye.

  11. As unhappy as I am to see DC’s streak come to an end (and I really liked Justice League #2), at least it was not a Marvel pick for the sake of it being Marvel. Also Ron, I feel ya on the hate of change.

  12. Even though it is only numbers, this was a great summation of X-men from the 60’s and how it kicked off again with Giant size in the 70’s. I really loved what they did with the picture in this and in Schism and the differences it meant for Cyclops and Wolverine. Cyclops and Wolverine have both come full circle or as Cyclops puts it graduated from where they were from these two phases of X-men history.

  13. $3.99 for 0 pages= worst deal ever.

  14. Justice League #2 is my pick of the week.

    Matthew

  15. AAARRRRRGGGHHHHHHHH!!!! The DC train should not have derailed for this! NOT NOW! JUSTICE LEAUGE WAS FANTASTIC! CRIMERY, I SAY! CRIMERY!

  16. Ron if this same issue came out and the next issue was numbered 545 instead of #1 would it have still been POTW? I don’t think so. This just was not very good a 3 star book at best. And Greg Land’s art is still God-awful. Picking it simply because they are renumbering it should not be the reason.

  17. Nice review.

  18. I would’ve really enjoyed this issue if it didn’t focus on something that both the last issue of Schism and Regenesis did and it didn’t help that we got Greg Land (ugh) this time. And I’m sure it’ll just go back to 600 when the new Uncanny X-Men hits 67 (that’s the right number?). It felt above average at best. Thought other issues like Batman (it was even better last weeks), Invincible Iron man (The only thing good that came out of Fear Itself) and Wonder Woman. Hell i thought Justice League was better. But this isn’t my pick and I’m sure i would’ve felt the same if i hadn’t fallen out of X-Men a couple of time which ended with me only keeping up with Wolverine (thanks to Aaron) and probably Wolverine and the X-Men.

    • 1) “Journey Into Mystery” also came from Fear Itself and it’s been awesome. Hell, this last issue of “Fear Itself” had some great moments, it’s just a shame that the rest of the series leading up to it was pants, killing any real impact of this issue.

      2) Folks, there’s never been any rhyme or reason to PotW. It’s not like there’s a rubric or anything that has to be followed. Sometimes it’s based on the merits, other times it’s based on gut reaction, other times it’s just fun (see: O.M.A.C. #2). Disagree, but come on, don’t get negative or make the guys feel like they don’t know what they’re talking about. It’s all about love, and this was a week for a lot of love all around in comicdom.

  19. Great review Ron. It’s nice to read how a certain title can mean alot to you. Over the years we follow and invest alot of our time in characters we’ve grown to know and love. Like you I have followed Uncanny for a long time(I did jump off a few times tho). It was my gateway comic (#175 started me off on on about a 6 year run where I picked up about 70 consecutive issues!) I can’t wait to pick this one up and look forward to this new direction. Sure, it will go on, be renumbered and what have you but endings( of arcs, characters or full titles) have a way of tugging at our heart strings

  20. A nice review. Uncanny was the book that got me into comics, but I don’t get the sentimentality over a number. The book, characters, and creative teams aren’t going anywhere. Also, in a mere 56 issues, you’ll get your proper numbering back. That being said, great review.

  21. Glad you enjoyed it Ron. For those as curious as I was the new record holder for longest running ongoing comic series is either Archie, MAD or Hellblazer depending on various technicalities.

  22. Unpredictable Ron must have been out of town this week.

    And a Greg Land book as POTW? The end times are indeed near.

  23. I don’t understand all of the hate for greg lands art. Do any of you have an art background? His art, though dull is very good.

    As for people complaining about this not being a great issue or if it was 545 it wouldnt be here. The point is its not a regular issue, it being the final issue of uncanny alone can award it the spot. The issue was done well and is a milestone issue ending one of the greatesst runs in comic history.

    • “His art, though dull is very good.” That seems like a contradiction there.

    • How so? His characters and pretty much everything is drawn very well but theres not much flair or action on his pages. Theres a difference. When people complain about his art, I’d assume they mean more about how hes drawing the characters or something else, rather then how he shows movement or expression. Me having an art background can pick out a lot more things hes doing wrong then 90% of the people complainging about his art.

    • His art is bad mostly because he traces most of it from magazines, porn films, and most egregiously, other comic book artists. Also, his character models are ridiculous and often change within the issue depending on who or what he is tracing to get a specific pose or expression.

    • You’d be surprised about how often all artist trace and stealfrom other artist. It’s also not directly traced and more copied and used as references. Especially with these re-launches and any re numbering issues. all artist look over people who’ve previously drew the line and re-used some specific/classic poses. I’ve seen Land draw in person and he has the talent to draw from nothing but why not use a photo,magazine or whatever? Look at alex ross, everything he does is beautiful but everything is from a photo. I draw and recently started working on a book, theres no way anyone could get by soley tracing and stealing otheres work. I have 20+ long boxes of books, hundreds of trades and still couldnt find eveyrhting i needed if i wanted to.

    • You’d think with that art background, you’d have noticed Greg Land traces most of his work. He even traces his prior work. There was an Uncanny issue a few months back where in a four panel spread, one character went from having Cameron Diaz’s face, to Britney Spears, to Jessica Simpson. We’ve made a game of trying to figure out who he traced at my LCS. He’s traced a Playboy cover with Pamela Anderson at least three times for three different characters.

    • @Sayhitobooyah: I know how often other artists steal from other artists. Just because others do it, it doesn’t make it okay.

      Greg Land is incredibly talented which makes it all the more galling when he traces (and yes, he traces, not references).

    • His tracing becomes even more glaring when the characters in the book are not in costume. It is seriously almost impossible to tell who is who from panel to panel, as their facial characteristics change based on what is is tracing from.

      Full disclosure; I am a piss poor illustrator. I have never claimed to be able to draw worth a damn. Then again, I don’t try to make a living drawing.

    • So I have to have had “art training” to know whether I like something or not? Sorry, you don’t have to have gone to culinary arts school to know that shit tastes like…well, shit.

    • @ Alan no you don’t need art training to dislike someones art but people aren’t saying they dislike it, they’re saying its bad. Notice the difference? People are following suit but can’t point out why the art is “bad”. Disliking is fine, I dislike lots of art styles but i can still admit if they’re done well. Don’t say its bad, especially if the reason is he traces. Does that make sense? If he traced everyting would be done perfect.

      Like i said before It can’t all be traced, he over uses certain poses but thats lack of creativity, which is why his pages are dull. It’d be impossible to try and draw a full book on tracing.

    • There is the two page spread in this exact issue that has all the same traces he always uses. It’s pretty sad. This issue was supposed to be special.

    • @Sayhitobooyah I can see where your coming from there. I guess my STRONG dislike can often feel impossible to refute. But thats emotions I suppose.

  24. I don’t think Land’s technique of tracing works for sequential art for many reasons, as others have pointed out he can’t keep consistent “casting” with his models. Makes it difficult to follow characters. Its poor Art Direction to hire the wrong artist for the wrong subject/format.

    Phototracing has a long history in fine art. Vermeer was using a camera obscura in the 1600s to project and trace landscapes and interiors onto his canvases. Tons of other artists and illustrators have used similar techniques. That isn’t the issue. What is at issue is whether or not it works for the subject matter and the comic format.

    Alex Ross casts his own models and photographs/lights/poses them as needed. I know there are other comics artists who do that as well. They can control things and get the angles they need. Land cannot unless he has access to entire photoshoots, so he collages things, and it just doesn’t work with the detail his style needs.

    Also for me, the phototrace style tends to come off flat. Its like when you photograph the ocean with a superfast shutterspeed. You freeze a milisecond in time, and its too perfect..hyper real, and its something your eye never saw. Thats how i feel when i see phototraced facial expressions. They almost have no soul because they are trying too hard to fool me into thinking that they are real instead of embracing the fact that they are an illustration.

  25. Greg Land is the reason I stopped buying this book. The cover shows he is still lame. This will be the first POTW that I do not go back to my book store to buy. (Glad I did with OMAC) sorry Ron hard to feel sorry for you as you get two new books and one of them is still called uncanny xmen. I know batman was not going to happen but Justice league was beautiful and had good fallsh action

  26. @Ron: When you talk about the X-Men, it’s hard not to feel the passion you have for these characters. It’s palpable. Every true comic fan feels that way about a certain character/team. It’s why we’re here. And anyone who shits on it lost the magic a long time ago. You still have the magic, Ron. Never lose it. Wield it. Wield it like an optic blast.

  27. Well with Greg Land officially solicited for an issue of the NEW Uncanny X-Men, I think it shows that this title is anything but starting off fresh or new.

    So sorry Ron, but this ending is just a money ploy first.

  28. But this isn’t the last issue! Why get sentimental? I don’t get it. Next issue is pretty much #545. The X-Men aren’t over, they’re doing what they do every few years! Sigh.

  29. I think you’ve made your “peace” not “piece”

  30. This issue was “fine” but nothing special to me.

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