Friday, October 17, 2014

Review: Uncanny X-Men: Rise and Fall of the Shi'ar Empire

Uncanny X-Men: Rise and Fall of the Shi’ar Empire
Writer:  Ed Brubaker
Artist:  Billy Tan and Clayton Henry
Publisher:  Marvel Comics

Why did I decide on this title for my next review?  This arc (albeit in that last couple of issues) was the arc that marked my return to reading comics on a regular basis.  I used to read them a lot in the mid to late 90s, but by the time the 2000s rolled around, I bowed out.  There were many reasons why I left: event fatigue, general poor quality to books (this was, after all the era of the artist, nobody cared about how good the writing was in a book, as long as it had huge splash pages, etc.), and Marvel still had the spectre of bankruptcy hanging over them.  There didn’t seem to be a lot of compelling reasons to stick around.

Fast forward to early 2007 and I decided to dip my feet in the waters again and tried an issue of Uncanny X-men.  It was interesting, but I was ultimately lost because, as I said before, I came in at the tail end of the arc and the story was born out of a retcon (more on this later), I was totally lost.  But needless to say, it didn’t discourage me from getting back into reading comics and here I am now.  On with the review, shall we?

Rise and Fall of the Shi’ar collects UXM 475-486 which ran from September 2006 to July 2007.  And the story couldn’t be told without a little retcon shenanigans, which I absolutely loathe!  If a story can’t be told with the pieces already available, then organically create the pieces you need through storytelling.  If you have to resort to “you know the classic story, but do you know the WHOLE story?” BS, then you’re being lazy.  So let’s lay out how this turd got laid.  When Uncanny came back from its long hiatus, it was launched with a classic tale by Chris Claremont.  The X-men were lured to the living island, Krakoa, because of a perceived mutant signature.  When they arrived, they were quickly subdued and captured by the island.  Xavier needs a rescue team and creates a new team that has older members and a more international flair to it.  But what you did know was there was another team before this that attempted a rescue (and sent bullshit meters off everywhere)!  This team was trained by long-time Xavier colleague, Moira MacTaggart and basically splattered on the windshield that was Krakoa.  Only two members of the team survived, Darwin and Vulcan.  Darwin, using his mutant ability to evolve to survive any situation, absorbs himself into Vulcan’s body and Vulcan burrows deep into the Krakoa to save the two of them.  When the second team (no, sorry, now the third team) ultimately won by launching Krakoa into space, Darwin and Vulcan went with it.

The X-men were dealing with the grief of the loss of this team, none more so than the Summers boys because, wouldn’t you know it, Vulcan was their little brother.  That’s right, folks, TWO retcons for the price of one!  As if this steaming pile of a premise couldn’t get any worse with stupid retcons, they ruin Xavier’s reputation as a paragon of responsible use of mutant abilities by having him wipe out all the X-men’s memories of Vulcan and his team--ya know, to spare them the pain (and to give us dim-witted readers an explanation as to why we didn’t know about them either).

Excuse me, I had a little bile up come there, let’s continue….

So, the events of M-day had many effects over the Marvel Universe and its ripples were felt on this mess too.  The sudden surge of power released into the universe by the depowering of all those mutants woke Vulcan from his slumber within the space drifting Krakoa.  And as an added side-effect, memories returned to him--memories of his birth.  His mother was pregnant with him on that fateful day that Christopher and Katherine Summers pushed Alex and Scott from their burning airplane with a parachute because they weren’t going to make it.  As we all know, they didn’t perish with their plane, they were abducted at the last second by Emperor D’Ken of the Shi’ar to serve as slaves.  Christopher (who later becomes known as the Starjammers pirate, Corsair) won’t let them be taken as slaves without a fight.  He’s quickly defeated and Katherine killed.  But D’Ken learns that she was with child, so they have the fetus cut from the womb and placed into a rapid development incubator.  This child will be used as a slave.  So as he awakens, Vulcan has revenge to enact on two fronts:  with Xavier for making the world forget he existed and with D’Ken for murdering his mother and making him a slave.

This arc picks up right after his revenge is complete against Xavier.  The team, so disgusted with his complete disregard with their minds, no longer welcomes him at the Xavier Institute.  And in the ensuing fight, Banshee is killed.  Darwin separates from Vulcan, just before he flees earth and heads for Shi’ar Space to deal with D’Ken.

As you can already gather, I feel this arc was awful.  It misses on almost every level.  I’m a huge fan of Ed Brubaker and was stunned to find this was so poorly written and the execution was such a fumbling mess.  I almost wonder if this was a case of editorial handcuffing him with some particular mandates and he had to work with whatever set of rules they gave him.

The art was disgusting, for the most part.  Billy Tan doesn’t show a lot of range on this one.  Everyone’s face has that same, stupid Rob Liefeld I-have-to-take-a-shit face.  And his layouts show absolutely no storytelling acumen.  You ever want to tell if you’re seeing good storytelling from the artist?  Look through the entire issue without reading any of the dialog.  You should be able to roughly guess what’s being said and what is happening from panel to panel.  You can’t do that here.  There’s no flow to his panels. I mean, at all!  

About the only bright spot on this otherwise horrid tale, is the fill-in artist from three of the issues, Clayton Henry.  I have no idea why he wasn’t tasked with telling the whole story.  His lines are clean and his cartooning was fantastic.  You could always quickly tell what a character’s emotional state was with a quick glance.

The verdict:  Pass on this.  Stories born from retcons are the laziest kinds of stories.  In twelve issues and a couple of other minis that followed, Vulcan never becomes a compelling character.  He’s boring, generic, and really has no gravitas.

The score:  2 out of 5 stars.

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