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Jack Fisher’s Weekly Quick Pick Comic: Uncanny X-Men #16

Every Wednesday, this crazy world of ours gets a little less intolerable thanks to a fresh batch of comics. At a time when most of our heroes are in movies and too many villains run free in the real world, we need a little something to remind us of all things good, upstanding, and awesome. As such, I make it a point to select one comic from this batch that’s a better reminder than most.

While the world of superhero comics goes through cycles of hope and despair as often as the Hulk goes through cheap pants, the state of affairs for the X-Men have been more dire than usual. Since the reality-warping events of “Uncanny X-Men #10,” the state of mutant affairs in the Marvel universe hasn’t just been tenuous. Mutants are essentially fighting for the right to be more than an afterthought.

As much of the mutant population is exploring the dystopian utopia that is “Age of X-Man,” the remaining X-Men have been trying to find their place in a world that seems all too happy to be rid of mutants. It has not been an easy endeavor, but “Uncanny X-Men #16” reminds us why it’s worth doing.

The X-Men have been beaten, demoralized, wounded, and marginalized. They’ve had to battle old enemies, attack old allies, and even clash with close family. To say they’re at a low point would be like saying John Wick likes his dog. This is one of the most dire situations the X-Men have ever had to endure, including everything ever written by Chuck Austin.

Despite all that, “Uncanny X-Men #16” finds a way to bring out the best in the X-Men’s most ardent champions.

If you’re a Cyclops fan, you’ll find something to love about this issue. If you’re a Wolverine fan, you’ll find something to love about it too. Hell, if you’re a fan of mutant ninjas fighting alongside magic-wielding Russian teenagers, you’ll find something love about it. That last one is not a metaphor, by the way.

Uncanny X-Men #16” continues a story that has wounded the X-Men in so many ways. A lot of it is mental. Some of it is physical, as Cyclops’ lingering head injury shows. Even as the X-Men fight on, this issue finally shows all the struggle getting to the team. It’s not the first time these characters have expressed doubts, but in the context of the story, it does something important with respect to the past, present, and future of the X-Men.

Everyone on Cyclops’ team knows that mutants are in an existential crisis. They know their numbers are dwindling and that humanity is doing everything possible to make them an afterthought. How does anyone even go about being X-Men in a world like that? Thus far, that has been an unanswered question.

Cyclops and Wolverine tried to answer it by creating a new team out of what remained of the mutant population. They’re actually setting aside their differences and attempting to keep the spirit of the X-Men going. Keep in mind, these are two people who don’t like each other. One of them kept trying to sleep with the other’s wife and the other has shot him through a wall on more than one occasion.

Just putting the team together and fighting what’s left of the X-Men battles has been a struggle over the past several issues. However, “Uncanny X-Men #16” dares to step back and question what they’re fighting for and why they’re even fighting.

Writer, Matthew Rosenberg, explores some overdue discussion among the team. He also puts Cyclops in a unique position that somehow makes him more awesome. For much of his history, as well as his ill-fated roles in the movies, Cyclops has always been the uptight leader who barks orders and expects others to follow them. While we’ve seen hints of that Cyclops here and there, he finds himself in a more uncertain position.

Cyclops no longer trusts himself to be the leader he once was. Even his own brother, Havok, isn’t sold on his leadership at times. While it’s hard to be much of a leader when your entire species is on the brink of extinction, the criticisms aren’t without merit.

Essentially, Cyclops gives the X-Men a chance to show that they can be X-Men without him barking orders. He goes so far as to temper his own leadership in order to give the X-Men a chance to prove their causes is bigger than one person. I won’t say it’s Cyclops’ greatest tactical decision, but the results speak for themselves.

The criticisms and difficult discussions are relevant, giving “Uncanny X-Men #16” much more depth than a typical X-Men comic. It still has plenty of standard superhero action that artist, Salvador Larroca, renders beautifully with his skills. It’s not the flashiest battle, but it has a few twists and complications that require more than just better leadership.

Some of the choices made over the course of the story are questionable. Many of the wounds they’ve suffered haven’t entirely healed. These X-Men are still a far cry from the X-Men that hang out in mansions, fly around in high-speed jets, and fight killer robots. They’re not just struggling to find their place in a world where mutants are almost extinct. They’re trying to find a better way to do what they’ve always done.

The events of “Uncanny X-Men #16” prove that the X-Men still have plenty to offer. They’re still in a tenuous state, but they’re still intact. They’re still finding their way. They’re still learning overdue lessons that bring out the best in each character while not overlooking the worst.

These are exciting times for the X-Men and not just because the movie rights have returned to Marvel. Rosenberg and Larroca have broken the X-Men down in their darkest hour. Now, it feels like they’re becoming the superheroes they have to be. There’s bound to be setbacks, mistakes, and tragedies. However, that’s often when heroes like the X-Men are at their best.

 

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Jack Fisher’s Quick Pick Comic: Uncanny X-men #10

Every Wednesday, fans of comic books and superheroes are blessed with fresh batch of comics. It’s like Christmas every week and you don’t have to suck up to some jolly fat guy who lives at the North Pole. You just have to have a few extra bucks and a Comixology account.

This week, however, those extra bucks go a lot further than usual for X-men fans. That’s because “Uncanny X-men #10,” the final issue in a story arc that assembled almost every notable character associated with X-men has come out. Some weeks are harder than others when it comes to picking the most worthy comic from the bunch. This was not one of those weeks.

Make no mistake. “Uncanny X-men #10” is both a game-changer and a major upheaval for the X-men. It acts as a culmination of a battle that began with the return of Nate “X-man” Grey, but in a powerful new form. He’s not just another displaced character from a dystopian timeline, of which there are many in comics. His agenda is different and his personal connections to the X-men make him a daunting foe.

He’s not Apocalypse. He’s not Magneto. He’s not even some uneasy ally who was once an enemy and the X-men have had plenty of those. Nate Grey is out the save the world, but not by protesting injustice or signing an online petition. He literally wants to destroy it and remake it. Given the insane breadth of his power, that’s entirely possible.

For the past nine issues, he’s gone about his plan with the subtly of a hurricane. He’s abducted senators, mind-controlled powerful mutants, and waged war on anyone who might stand between him and a better world. The X-men, who have a strict policy against over-powered mutants destroying the world to remake it, oppose him at every turn.

Uncanny X-men #10” is just the final showdown and it’s a battle for the ages. The writing talents of Matthew Rosenberg, Ed Brisson, and Kelly Thompson team up with the artistic talents of Pere Perez to craft a mutant-powered spectacle that never slows down. It’s the most powerful mutants in the Marvel universe against a threat who wasn’t just a close friend. To characters like Jean Grey, he’s family.

This is where “Uncanny X-men #10” shines in a special way. While a good chunk of the comic is dedicated to epic mutant battles, there’s never a point where the action is mindless and impersonal. In between all the fighting, there are major personal stakes for Nate and his alternate universe mother, Jean Grey.

Their interactions is what really gives dramatic weight to the spectacle. I won’t spoil the details of their exchange. I’ll just say that it’s beautifully done. It’s genuinely heart-wrenching to see Jean having to battle her own son. Even if he’s from an alternate universe, she sees him as family and that makes fighting him all the more difficult.

That kind of heavy drama is what brings out the best in the X-men. It’s what makes for the best moments in superhero comics, as a whole. However, what really makes “Uncanny X-men #10” worth getting is how it sets up the future of the series.

Again, I won’t spoil it. I’ll just say that the aftermath of the battle creates a very different world for mutants, humans, the X-men, and everyone in between. It’s a world where all the hopes and dreams of the X-men are effectively moot. What does that mean for them and those they protect? There are some telling hints, but there’s definitely an impact when all is said and done.

I’m sure there will be plenty of X-men fans who feel both excitement and dread after reading “Uncanny X-men #10.” If you’ve been following X-men comics in any capacity for the past several decades, then you know that’s not unusual. However, this feels like one of those issues that people will be referring to for years to come. Whether they love it or hate it, this comic marks a major turning point for the X-men.

Most X-men fans knew that 2019 was going to be a major year for the Children of the Atom. Between two movies, the pending Disney/Fox merger, and the return of multiple major characters, there’s a lot get hyped about. “Uncanny X-men #10” is just the latest catalyst that can only help the X-men’s prospects in 2019.

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The Distressing (But Relevant) Questions Raised In Uncanny X-men #1

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The most relevant stories are often the ones that ask the most difficult questions. The nature of those questions vary among places, people, cultures, and whatever happens to be pissing off a significant chunk of the population. Regardless of the circumstances, those questions are important and sometimes they come from unexpected places.

I wasn’t expecting such questions when I picked up “Uncanny X-men #1,” the latest relaunch in the most iconic X-men brand of all time. I was just glad to see Uncanny X-men return to prominence after an extended absence dating back to 2016. This first issue was over-sized and priced at $7.99, which is a lot for a single comic. I still feel like I got my money’s worth.

In addition to telling a great story that brought many prominent X-men characters to the forefront, “Uncanny X-men #1” did something unique in terms of how it established a conflict. For once, it didn’t involve killer robots, preventing a genocide, mutant terrorist, or alien space gods. Instead, it asked one profound question.

What if there was a way to preventing people from becoming mutants in the first place?

That may sound like a question that has come up in other X-men stories, but that’s only partially correct. This isn’t about curing mutants, a story that Joss Whedon brilliantly told during his run on Astonishing X-men and that “ X-men: The Last Stand” botched horribly. This is about inoculating children the same way we do for polio.

Specifically, a lab develops a vaccine that prevents the X-gene from expressing. Technically, they would still be mutants in that they would still have this gene. It just wouldn’t express itself. It would be akin to turning off the gene responsible for cystic fibrosis or sickle-cell anemia. It essentially treats mutation the same way we would treat any other genetic-based disease.

Naturally, the X-men and many other mutants don’t like this idea and not just because it’s akin to treating homosexuality as a mental illness. It reeks too much of genocide, something they’ve faced on more than one occasion. It would’ve been easy for “Uncanny X-men #1” to present it in that way, but that’s not how it plays out.

The all-star creative team of Ed Brisson, Kelly Thompson, Matthew Rosenberg, and Mahmud Asrar frame the issue in a very different way. Instead of some anti-mutant racist like Graydon Creed or William Stryker calling for mutant extermination, we get Senator Ashton Allen. He’s as generic a politician as can be in a superhero comic, but what he says and how he says is revealing.

Amidst a crowd of humans, mutants, and X-men, he talks about this mutant vaccine as a tool to alleviate suffering. He doesn’t rant about the dangers of evil mutants like Magneto or Apocalypse. He talks only about mutant children developing powers that could be dangerous to themselves or others. In that context, a vaccine might actually help them.

When you consider the mutant powers of characters like Rogue and Cyclops, who have mutant abilities that do real damage when uncontrolled, it seems entirely reasonable to make this vaccine available. Senator Allen never says anything about forcing it on kids or on mutants that already exist. He only ever emphasizes making it an option for concerned parents.

That’s distressing for the X-men because they don’t need to be omega-level psychics to imagine the implications. They can easily envision a concerned parent who doesn’t want their child to deal with the possibility that they may shoot lasers out of their eye one day. Any parent who cares for their child will want to mitigate the chances of them enduring such hardships.

In a world populated by mutant-hunting robots, parents already have plenty of incentive to use this vaccine. Given the damage that mutant-led conflicts often incur, the government has just as much incentive to make that vaccine available to everyone, free of charge and tax deductible. Governments less concerned with things like human rights could force it on children and that has some real-world parallels.

For mutants and the X-men, though, that means a permanent loss of their identity. Considering how mutants act as a metaphor for other oppressed minorities, this has implications for the real world, as well. I would even argue that the question will become increasingly relevant in the coming decades.

To appreciate just how relevant it could be, you need only look up the heartbreaking stories of parents who have disowned their children because they’re gay or transgender. In tragic some cases, people are driven to suicide. Even for those who aren’t parents, anything that might avert this kind of hardship is worth considering.

Given the complex causes of homosexuality, as well as the many factors behind transsexuality, it’s unlikely that there could ever be a vaccine to prevent it. The same can be said for conditions like Dwarfism. It’s not just genes, hormones, or radioactive spider bites that shape an individual’s persona. It’s a complex confluence of many things.

However, we are getting very close to a point where it’s possible to design children at the genetic level. Thanks to tools like CRISPR, it might even be possible one day to cut out entire traits from the human genome. That could, in theory, eradicate both cystic fibrosis and Dwarfism. More than a few people have expressed concern about that possibility.

Homosexuality and transsexuality are a bit different since there is no one gene or hormone that causes it, but most contemporary research suggests that genetics do play at least some role. Using similar technology, it might be possible for parents in the future to minimize or eliminate the chances of their children being homosexual or transsexual.

I imagine many in the LGBT community feel the same way about those efforts that the X-men felt about Senator Allen’s efforts in “Uncanny X-men #1.” Even if it only extends to giving parents this option for children and provides strict protections for those already born with these traits, it still treats who and what they are as a disease.

It’s dehumanizing and demeaning. More than one X-men in “Uncanny X-men #1” makes that abundantly clear. They don’t see being a mutant as a disease any more than homosexuality, transsexuality, or dwarfism. The fact that there’s now a way to prevent this makes for an existential crisis with some pretty heavy implications for the real and fictional world.

In the world of Marvel comics, a world without mutants has its own set of issues, the least of which would be the loss of a top-selling comic series. In the real world, though, the stakes are even higher. What would we, as a society, do if we suddenly had the tools to prevent homosexuality, transsexuality, and dwarfism in children before they’re even born?

I’ll even ask a more controversial question that’s sure to draw plenty of ire. What if those same tools could be used to modify the skin color, facial features, and overall appearance of our children? We already understand how genetics affects our appearance to some extent. What happens when we’re able to determine that for someone before they’re ever born?

These are objectively distressing questions. I’m glad “Uncanny X-men #1” dared to ask them. I doubt they’ll get debated or resolved completely in the proceeding issues, mostly because such resolutions are impossible in superhero comics. It still presents the X-men with a unique issue to confront and one that we will likely have to confront in the real world.

As is often the case with difficult questions, the answers are likely to anger some and distress many. Most people genuinely and sincerely want what’s best for their children. In the world of Marvel Comics, that could mean preventing them from gaining the kind of superpowers that makes them targets for Sentinels. In the real world, that could mean removing an entire class of people from the gene pool.

In issues like this, there are no heroes or villains. There are just difficult choices that we must make before someone else makes them for us.

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Filed under comic book reviews, futurism, gender issues, human nature, sexuality, superhero comics, Thought Experiment, X-men

The following is a review I wrote for PopMatters for “Hunt For Wolverine: Mystery In Madripoor #1.” Enjoy!

Friends Matter in ‘Hunt for Wolverine: Mystery In Madripoor #1’

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May 29, 2018 · 10:07 pm