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Uncanny X-Men #539

Posted: Friday, July 1, 2011
By: Danny Djeljosevic

Kieron Gillen
Ibraim Roberson, Jim Charalampdis (c), Joe Caramagna (l)
At this point we've all come to accept the serialized, multipart story as a given in our pop comics. Which sounds a bit proggy if you ask me, but it's not like I'm not buying Fear Itself and a few of its requisite tie-ins. Either way, a standalone issue sticks out these days in a weird way. Considering all the talk of what's "important" in superhero comics these days (CIRCLE THE CORRECT ANSWER: none of it/some of it/all of it/none of the above), it seems like a succession of 22 pages that comprise a self-contained story isn't high on that list -- whoever's compiling it, and for whatever reason. I don't trust this person.

I'm pretty sure the last self-contained story we had in Uncanny X-Men was #512 by Matt Fraction and Yanick Paquette, which featured the X-Club traveling to the year 1906. It had a steampunk kinda Sentinel. It was great fun. But was it important? Who gives a shit? It was a roaring good read.

Uncanny X-Men #539, by Kieron Gillen and Ibraim Roberson, is a pretty good read itself. However considering its place between the "Breaking Point" story arc and the Fear Itself tie-in, more than a few people are going to write this issue off as "filler." Which is a bit like how viewers balked at those episodes of Lost that spent time on developing the characters instead of dealing with the mysterious (and ultimately kind of meaningless) mythology. Who cares about making the audience care about Hurley? Let's see that Smoke Monster again.

I dunno. "Filler" is a silly pejorative. If a one-off story is well-done, then I don't really think of it in terms of whatever priorities I have as a reader aside from giving me interesting characters to follow and maybe a few explosions along the way if it isn't too much trouble, Messrs. Gillen and Roberson.

And Uncanny #539 certainly delivers both of those. It's the superhero comic in a nutshell, where its cybernetic soldier kidnappers and burned-up Wolverines not only satisfy the desires of the average superhero comic reader, but serve as a catalyst for a pretty important bit of character development: if Wolverine's two favorite types of girls are redheads and sidekick-friendly teenagers, why is he giving Hope the cold shoulder?

Because Gillen writes both Uncanny and Generation Hope, he comfortably blends the two in this issue, which might make some wonder why this story isn't in the spin-off book, but the way I see it, Uncanny X-Men is the flagship title of the franchise, the State of the Union (but not the xXx: State of the Union) of the X-Men books, so the question of why Wolverine doesn't like Hope (and its larger-issue answer) is perfect fare for this title. Said answer, by the way, is appropriately tough-guy tragic Wolverine answer you'd want to read, so kudos on getting that spot-on, Kieron.

The villain of the piece is a forgotten X-Character named the Crimson Commando, formerly a member of the reformed Brotherhood of Mutants/retired WWII hero mash-up team Freedom Force -- one who had the misfortune of becoming a cyborg in the '90s, like I imagine most superheroes did. I can't imagine he's appeared anywhere since then except maybe Frank Tieri's Weapon X or something. This issue finds him depowered in the wake of M-Day and, without his mutant power of being really, really physically able, his cyborg parts are slowly killing him. So, he kidnaps hope, thinking her capable of restoring his powers.

On a meta level, Crimson Commando's the most interesting part of the book -- a forgotten, irrelevant character trying to get a piece of what a more relevant character has. Even his design is uninspired, like a hybrid of Deadpool, Deathlok and a few other dudes. He's the '90s gone bald and flabby. He's the entirety of Cyberforce. And he's trying to horn in on the territory of modern comics, where a teenaged girl in a hoodie is (slightly) more likely to be a viable protagonist. That Wolverine -- easily the most popular X-Man, whose healing powers make him sustainable for years beyond his own creators -- comes by to dole out a final judgment on the dude is more than appropriate.

The art of Ibraim Roberson, also seen drawing Jeff Lemire's Flashpoint: Frankenstein and the Creatures of the Unknown, gives us a much-needed reprieve from the constant Dodsons/Greg Land cycle of the past couple of years. With a style that melds recent years' Scott Kolins and a less-exaggerated Ariel Olivetti, Roberson's a solid artist, capable of both shouty open-mouthed grimacing from Wolverine and gloriously defiant prisoner smirks from Hope. He's less capable in the book's earlier hangout scenes -- the Generation Hope girls in a clothing store feel like posed dolls rather than teenaged girls shopping for the sake of shopping -- but he nails the whiz-bang and helicopters, which is where it counts for these things.

So, yeah -- good X-Men issue. Had Wolverine in it, made me think about a few things.

Danny Djeljosevic is a comic book writer, award-winning filmmaker (assuming you have absolutely no follow-up questions), film/music critic for Spectrum Culture and Co-Managing Editor of Comics Bulletin. Follow him on Twitter as @djeljosevic or find him somewhere in San Diego, often wearing a hat.

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