• Columns 

    Saturday Showdown: Matt Fraction’s Uncanny X-Men

    By and | October 24th, 2009
    Posted in Columns | % Comments

    Look at Wolverine’s bicep!

    We have a new weekly feature for you starting today, it’s called Saturday Showdown, in which two of our writers will take a current event, title, concept, or whatever as long as it involves comics and provide two opinions that live in direct opposition of each other. Recently while doing reviews for the week, we realized that we have a lot of opposing opinions, the most prominent of which are on Matt Fraction’s Uncanny X-Men.

    So, for this week, Matt and I will be providing our opinions on the value of Fraction’s current run on that title. Hope you enjoy it, and please share your opinion on it in the comments.

    Matt’s take – loves it: I think it should be known that for a long time, I really did not like the X-Men. I loved the cartoon as a kid, but I felt that for a while, the book essentially became “let’s see what mutant we can just add randomly into the story this week.” The story became too full of characters I cared nothing about and became a rather cluttered mess. I’m also happy to admit that my favorite writer, Grant Morrison, is just as guilty of this problem in his X-Men run as anyone else, introducing the Cuckoo’s, Kid Omega, Beak, Cassandra Nova, and, of course, Xorn. It was just too much. Then, with House Of M by Bendis, the mutant population suddenly became very tolerable, and with Messiah CompleX, I was brought back into the world of X-Men by Ed Brubaker (and Peter David, Chris Yost, and Joss Whedon respectively). Of course, Brubaker eventually teamed up with Fraction and then left the title, with Fraction’s capable hands at the wheel. And that’s where the book still lies — In Matt Fraction’s very capable hands, and I fully believe that Fraction’s run in X-Men is some of the best I’ve ever read.

    X-Men as it is now is nothing like it was when I was a kid. The team is all out of whack, the stories are in entirely new directions than I remember them being when I was younger, and the big villains I used to love are almost nowhere to be found. It is with that that I believe Fraction’s work speaks volumes, because I stopped following the X world because of how it was slowly growing away from all the things I liked about it, and now with an entirely new premise I’m brought in. Fraction has done in his run one of the things that I absolutely adore about storytelling, which is to place lots of little pieces in place and have them all gradually pay off as the story continues. Specifically, I’m referring to how we’re at issue 516, and back at issue 500 (and even before then), we had little bits and pieces of a story that is now finally paying off. It’s great to see, and the fact that this is the way he’s handling his writing makes me incredibly happy.

    Not only that, but Fraction has put in a lot of changes into the book that, for someone like me who has fallen in and out of reading the titles, makes it incredibly accessible and worthwhile for me to read. We have the X-Men moving across the country to San Diego, starting new lives and fighting against new villains. I loved the return of Cyclops ex-wife and her new role as a villain, as well as the return of Psylocke in a sequence of events that everyone begrudgingly assumed was just the return of Jean Grey. I also love the way that Fraction has tied into his book events in other books, such as Whedon’s run of Astonishing and the loss of Shadow Cat, as well as the entire Utopia arc (which, of course, wasn’t perfect, but ended up in a great place). And there is not one person out there who can deny that the new X-Club is absolutely one of the best parts of the book.

    Fraction definitely has a good grip on all these characters and has assuredly helped people evolve outside of their normal places within the group. Beast used to be “just the science guy,” but under Fraction’s recent tutelage we’ve seen a real evolution in character as Beast forms his own aforementioned team and kicks ass with it in a wonderfully phenomenal steampunk issue. Fraction has also helped the elevation of Cyclops’ character, to the point where Cyclops is definitively the leader of the X-men, after all that confusing crap with Xavier and his leadership got thrown into the mix of the story (which I, for one, did not like). We also have Emma Frost as a discernibly more likable character than she used to be and Colossus… oh man, Colossus! After reading Whedon’s run in Astonishing, handling Colossus was a big task, but Fraction handled that very well in the “Lovelorn” arc as Colossus tried to get a tattoo. It was an absolutely wonderful scene for fans of the big ol’ Ruske.

    Continued below

    As far as the artwork goes, Fraction sticks to his guns with his choice of artists, switching between Land and Dodson quite frequently. There is of course the except, with the best issue of the book (#512) being done by Yanick Paquette, and the Utopia crossover featuring Luke Ross in the Dark Avengers portion of the book.The book’s high points with the artwork obviously comes from Greg Land, who I developed a strong appreciation for in his work with Ultimate Fantastic Four and Phoenix: Endsong. A lot of people have complaints about Land’s artwork, saying that he has characters posing too often, but I really love his take on photorealism in comic books, and his interpretations of Fraction’s scripts really come out great, especially in the beginning with the return of Madelyn Prior. Land had a great handle on the more twisted versions of Fraction’s writing, and it came out really well. And his most recent version of Magneto stands out triumphant and epic, as the X-Men’s greatest villain-turned-supporter returns into the book to join up with the X-Men in Nation X.

    We also have Terry Dodson. Dodson I’m not as 100% sold on, and his work can swagger from really great to really poor. The low points all were present in Utopia, but I believe firmly that before then, in the in between time for the Madelyn Prior stories, Dodson did a fairly good job at the art, such as during the aforementioned Colossus story. He’s not amazing, but he’s not so awful that you can’t stand the book. And besides, with Fraction’s writing, pretty much any artwork is visible in my book. Dodson still does do a good job of presenting the stories Fraction writes, it’s just hard on the eyes to switch between artists like Land and Paquette to his work.

    Suffice it to say, Fraction is one of the main reasons I love X-Men and continue to highly anticipate each issue of Uncanny. Uncanny remains at the top of my “need to read” list every time a new issue comes out, and it’s all because of his handling of the story. You would be absolutely in the wrong to say the man isn’t a good writer in general (seeing as how he just won an Eisner and absolutely positively killed it in Invincible Iron Man), and Uncanny X-Men is yet a further example of the man’s talent. He has taken a bold stance on the story and does not hold back one bit, and I eagerly anticipate the future of the X-books and where things go with Nation X. Kudos to you, Matt Fraction. You 100% re-ignited one of my first super hero interests, and you haven’t let me down yet!

    David’s take – hates it!: Matt and I have come to a significant disagreement when it comes to Matt Fraction’s run on Uncanny X-Men. Fraction started his run with issue #500 as the co-writer with industry giant Ed Brubaker and joining the title was something that was met with great excitement by yours truly. I’d loved everything I had read from Fraction until that point, and he and Brubaker had just completed a run on the fantastic Immortal Iron Fist title. Everything was looking up for Uncanny, as Fraction was taking it over by himself very soon and he was bringing two very talented (yet frustrating) artists in Greg Land and Terry Dodson with him and the X-Men had just completed a move to a new city for the first time in their history, as they had left Westchester, New York for San Francisco.

    Of course, appearances can be deceiving, and they often are when it comes to comic books.

    In the 16 issues since Fraction has taken over, he’s turned the flagship X-title into an all style, no substance crapshoot filled with poor characterization, horrendous plots, an overly expansive cast, and dreadful art. I don’t blame Fraction entirely, but I do think he deserves the brunt of the blame as ultimately he is the creative force behind the title. I could go on and on into paragraphs about this, but for purposes of organizing this argument, I’m going to give you a top five reasons why this book has went down the drain since Fraction has taken over.

    Continued below

    1. X-Editorial becoming overly controlling

    Before I get into Fraction’s faults, I do want to specifically target why I think this is not entirely his fault. In his 16 issues, Fraction has taken the X-Men to San Francisco, created the Dark X-Men, had the X-Men battle Norman Osborn and his forces, had Cyclops effectively create and then annex an island off the coast of California, and had Magneto return as a friend (again). While the last two I actually do think have blame that should fall on Fraction, the former three are all about the X-editorial team.

    From the beginning, X-Editor in Chief Axel Alonso has stated that the move to San Francisco idea was his. He loved the city and felt like it was the perfect city for mutants, given San Francisco’s long earned reputation as a place that accepts people of all creeds, colors and conditions. Conceptually, it’s a fine idea, but one of the defining characteristics of the X-Men is living in Westchester as a school for the gifted. Now that they live off the coast of San Francisco as a haven for mutants, they’ve effectively went from being a normal(ish) school for young mutants to a place that has effectively kidnapped children. Nice. Not only that, but X-Editorial basically spat in the face of the history of the X-Men by having them live somewhere besides Xavier’s Insitute. It was an odd move, especially given that Alonso basically announced it was because “he really liked the city.” Great call.

    Then forcing Fraction into an absolutely abysmal crossover with the Dark Avengers where the pages are filled with completely non-sensical and atrocious storytelling (probably because he hated having to do it) was a mistake, as it was just an attempt to try and fit the X-Men better into the Marvel universe. That venture killed any momentum he was able to build from his incredible Science Team story (which has been the one thing that Fraction has done very well), which was greatly disappointing. Of course, Fraction could have done a better job telling this story, as it was full of holes and completely absurd leaps and conclusions, but I don’t believe it should have been forced upon him to begin with. X-Editorial has been Fraction’s greatest enemy to date.

    2. Characters acting completely out of the ordinary

    I suppose Fraction having to juggle a huge cast has exacerbated this problem, but the point of this is simple: Fraction does not have a grip on the core characters on the title. At the very most basic, current Uncanny X-Men storylines can be reduced to a few central characters: Cyclops, Emma Frost, Xavier and Magneto. This excludes 190+ characters, but those are the most primary of characters. The most recent issue has highlighted these problems very well, as you have Cyclops acting like someone with a very bad case of ‘roid rage (and drawn like it too, thanks Greg Land!), Magneto acting like a subservient pup, and Xavier getting bitched out by Cyclops and then taking it like a scolded child, and you have the complete obliteration of forty plus years of character history. That he throws in Emma Frost’s frosty (yes!) relationship with Cyclops and her weaving in and out of evil thoughts is bad as well, given that she’s been established for a while now as an ice queen but no longer a White Queen. That ambiguity Fraction has given her does nothing for the character.

    Of course, my greatest problem with his character work goes back to the first character I mentioned — Cyclops. I was a bit out of line on what I had to say about him before (he isn’t a pussy), but Scott Summers has always been taciturn, composed and generally a pretty good guy. The way Fraction writes him is as an asshole with Daddy issues and a short memory, as he completely distrusts the man who effectively raised him and welcomes with open arms the man who has tried to murder him on many occasions. That he’s raging against Emma and keeping secrets from Hank McCoy (arguably his oldest friend) has him looking like he’s two steps from becoming not just a beguiling character but the next big X-villain (which perhaps is what Fraction is looking to do). That he has both Wolverine and Magneto in lockstep is great, but he’s achieving this by acting completely out of character, which I find to be quite obnoxious.

    Continued below

    3. A huge and impossible to manage cast

    At points during his run, Fraction has highlighted Northstar, Dazzler, Pixie, Hellion and any number of other lower tier X-Men. By highlighted, I mean he’s shown them for one issue and then never had them show up again. Why is that? Well, he is dealing with a book that is effectively about managing the remaining 199 mutants in the world, and while previous incarnations about X-books had been about teams actually doing things, this title is basically about mutants…existing. Which means you have regular appearances from exactly two characters (Cyclops and Emma Frost) and everyone else shows up from time to time.

    Reading this title makes me miss the days of the Blue and Gold Teams, split amongst X-Men and Uncanny X-Men respectively. It allowed the bloated lineup to focus on a core set of characters and allowed their relationships to grow naturally. With the way it’s set up, Fraction is basically juggling Cyclops and Emma posturing each issue, a villain approaching, and figuring out which other characters he wants to appear in any given issue. That’s a LOT to happen in 22 pages for any writer, but given Fraction’s need to emphasize the style he brings to page (fyi Fraction, cute little biographical notes about each X-Men when they appear is obnoxious, not amusing) it becomes even more difficult for anything to happen.

    4. Terrible plotting

    While I have mentioned already a lot of the plotting is in fact Editorial’s fault, the fact of the matter is this: in a year and a third of writing this title, Fraction has done two things really. He’s moved the X-Men to San Francisco…and he’s moved them to an island off San Francisco. Besides the cool as hell stuff he’s done with the Science Team (give me a Science Team book with Fraction writing it!) in which they actually proactively look for something to fix the whole eradication of mutants thing, basically everything has been completely stagnant. Sure, we’ve had fights, but nothing really came from those fights besides the X-Men becoming a sovereign nation. Which brings up a good point…how can a people take over and island and declare themselves their own nation, especially when those people are a loathed group who government regards with as much animosity as they do terrorists? It seems to me that the government would be all up in their business, but nope, don’t worry about it guys. You stay on your side, we’ll stay on ours. Because that’s how it works.

    Sure, Fraction has brought back Magneto and Psylocke, but to those two ideas I respond with one question…why? Was there really a need to bring back Psylocke? She was a one note lame character in the 90’s, and she’s a one note lame character now. That just adds one more character to a title with too many characters already. And Magneto…don’t even get me started on the mishandling of him by Marvel (not Fraction’s fault). He’s killed in Morrison’s run, but Marvel quickly retcons that. He loses his powers, but they quickly find a way around that (somewhat predictably involving the High Evolutionary). Now, he’s back and wants to be friends, which he’s done a number of times before, except he always ends up trying to kill the X-Men. Again. Yet, Cyclops is like “sure buddy! Bring it on! I have no reason to trust you, but dammit, I do!” Awesome work there Fraction. Way to encourage an oft repeated concept from X-Men history that always turns out the same way. Can’t wait to see him turn on the X-Men some time in the next two years.

    So in two years he’s moved the X-Men twice and brought back two characters who had no need to return. Give this man another Eisner!

    5. My eyes! MY EYES!!!!!

    Greg Land is loved by some, and hated by many. I once upon a time thought he was great, until I read another book he worked on. At that point I realized that every single female character he draws looks exactly the same. Always. Look it up…how many times does he pose a woman with her hands on her waste smiling. In fact, that is the one image I think of whenever I think of Uncanny, and it makes me angry. He also manages to make Cyclops look like a character from Tool Academy and most other men look like some sort of costumed version of Triple H (just what everyone wants).

    Continued below

    Then, you have Terry Dodson, a man whose cartoonish style works great for some titles but horribly for this one. It’s impossible to take any issue he draws seriously, as his work is just so cartoonish and redundant. Never was it more jarring as it was in Uncanny X-Men/Dark Avengers: Exodus when he was paired with the gloomy power of Mike Deodato, as the two altered scenes in the book. It looked half of the book was drawn by a comic artist, and the other half was drawn by a Looney Tunes artist impersonating a comic book artist. This similar art style was handled way better by Yanick Paquette in the Science Team issues, as Paquette can alter his style to add a little bit of real world feel. Dodson on the other hand cannot.

    In summation, I really don’t like Fraction’s Uncanny X-Men. There are a number of factors that affect it that our outside of Fraction’s control, but the fact of the matter is he is the architect of this title. If anyone should be able to identify its deficiencies and repair them, it’d be him. His all style, no substance style has worn thin and removed any true identity from this title. It’s jarring switching between this and the far superior X-Men Legacy monthly, as you have Mike Carey’s hyper focused and emotive storytelling on a small cast working in direct opposition of Fraction’s sprawling and messy work. It’s disappointing, as I had high expectations for the title, but all it is now is that book I pick up monthly and dread reading, and soon may be that book I stop reading because I just can’t take it any more. I still think Fraction is a great writer, but something obviously is not fitting with this book.

    //TAGS | Saturday Showdown

    David Harper

    David Harper mainly focuses on original content, interviews, co-hosting our 4 Color News and Brews video podcast, and being half of the Mignolaversity and Valiant (Re)visions team. He runs Multiversity's Twitter and Facebook pages, and personally tweets (rarely) @slicedfriedgold. By day, he works in an ad agency in Anchorage, Alaska, and he loves his wife, traveling and biscuits & gravy (ordered most to least, which is still a lot).


    Matthew Meylikhov

    Once upon a time, Matthew Meylikhov became the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Multiversity Comics, where he was known for his beard and fondness for cats. Then he became only one of those things. Now, if you listen really carefully at night, you may still hear from whispers on the wind a faint voice saying, "X-Men Origins: Wolverine is not as bad as everyone says it issss."


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