Thursday, October 20, 2011

Uncanny X-Men #478-#480: "The Rise and Fall of the Shi'Ar Empire:" Parts 4-6

Uncanny X-Men #478:  OK, it's probably time something happens here.  After last issue, which more or less served as a recap of "X-Men:  Deadly Genesis" for those folks who didn't read it, I was kind of expecting we'd see the X-Men makes some progress in their attempt to find a way to track down Vulcan.  Instead, they're still lost in space, and they don't really seem to have a plan to resolve that problem.  They stop at a Shi'Ar space station to re-fuel, but, if I'm not mistaken, it would take them a fairly long time to make it to the Imperium without the stargates.  (After all, as we learn in this issue, Vulcan had gone through -- and destroyed -- 55 percent of them and still hadn't reached the throneworld, Chandilar.)  But, the X-Men seem content to make their way lazily through the Imperium, despite the fact their mission has a fair level of urgency.  I mean, don't get me wrong, it's a decent issue.  The fight with the Skrulls was fun, and I enjoyed Brubaker giving us a fan wank with the conversation between Havok and Polaris about Jean.  I'm also intrigued by Brubaker's decision to add to the mix the Shi'Ar's hatred for "the line of the Phoenix."  But, both the Skrulls fight and the Phoenix business felt like distractions.  Moreover, the addition of the two Shi'Ar crew members' recognition of Professor X is probably just going to continue to derail us.  (Can't Rachel just read their minds?)  At this point, it's probably time for something to happen.

Uncanny X-Men #479:  OK, something happens!  I was first impressed by Brubaker's ability to juggle several different plots and storylines over the course of multiple-issue arcs in "Captain America," and I'm no less impressed here.  Although it's still a distraction from the main plot (the X-Men chasing Vulcan), Brubaker delivers a winner with the Blade of the Phoenix story, giving us a tragic figure in the form of Korvus, whose life story closely matches Rachel's.  (Moreover, the fight scene between the two of them was awesome.  Full props to Tan for that one.)  I liked how Brubaker took the time to do some character work with Nightcrawler and Warpath, with Warpath expressing his frustration with traveling in space (preferring to have grass under his feet) and Kurt marveling at the wonders of it.  For me, the only down note continues to be the Professor X sub-plot.  The addition of the two Shi'Ar "guests" last issue felt forced, and it does so again here, somewhat bluntly serving merely as a means of advancing the plot.  (Brubaker addresses my question about Rachel reading the guests' minds from last issue, but can she really not break through Shi'Ar counter-telepathy training and read their minds?  Moreover, given that everyone BUT the Professor thought it was a bad idea to keep them on the ship, why would they allow him to do so?  I thought we proved in "X-Men:  Deadly Genesis" that blindly following his orders isn't a good idea.)  But, I asked for something to happen and I got it.  Brubaker may be stalling with these additional sub-plots, but at least he's making it mostly an enjoyable experience.

Uncanny X-Men #480:  This issue is pretty awesome.  Brubaker is doing a great job fleshing out Vulcan.  He's dealt his first real defeat at the hands of Gladiator, but not before seemingly killing half the Imperial Guard.  Although Vulcan has killed before, I feel like this issue is where we see his real brutality, where he finally gets the opportunity to prove himself against beings on his level (and not just the innocent victims he's previously killed).  But, he fails and, as we see in his conversation with his younger self, he lacks the maturity to fully handle that failure.  Although it bordered on excessive exposition, I felt like that conversation with his younger self was really useful, underling that, under it all, Vulcan is a scared teenager.  Brubaker has given us several factors driving Vulcan's instability -- the effects of the Shi'Ar rapidly aging him, the shock of waking from his coma having been left for dead by Xavier, the horror of seeing his own mother's death through Corsair's memories.  But, it's the scared teenager part that on one hand explains how that instability manifests itself (in the need for getting revenge and proving himself) and on the other hand makes Vulcan (almost) a sympathetic character.  Just like he did with Bucky Barnes, Brubaker is doing an excellent job creating a truly tragic figure, this time on the darker side of the spectrum.  I can't wait to see how the addition of Deathbird to the mix is going to go.

Final Thoughts:  This second quarter of the arc started slow, but I trust Brubaker to be moving us slowly but surely to a spectacular finish.  You can feel Vulcan's rage building and building as he faces obstacles for the first time and everything doesn't go according to his plan.  He radiates a need for acceptance, but he's ultimately a villain because he can't bring himself to take it when it's offered.  He's like the intergalactic, mutant version of Jason Todd, which raises the question:  why are bad guys always so sexy?


  1. Somehow I missed this when you posted it... Oh well, at least I found it now. Issue #480 was actually the one I was most curious to read your thoughts about, JW, because it's the issue that STILL stands out to me when it comes to this storyline, and it's the issue that solidified Vulcan(who I'd grown to like during Deadly Genesis) as a favorite character of mine.

    I loved the character work Brubaker did with Vulcan after his defeat, and him basically telling us that Vulcan had the maturity level of a 14 year old(I think...) in the body of an uber-powerful adult helped me gain a better understanding for all that Vulcan did, and all that he does going forward. I mean honestly, Vulcan is/was a kid who was constantly manipulated/betrayed/used. Is it any shock he turned out the way he did? Man, I love that you're going through this storyline again. Instead of digging these issues out for a reread, I can just relive them here!

    "He's like the intergalactic, mutant version of Jason Todd, which raises the question: why are bad guys always so sexy?" HA! That's just the way it is... Why question a good thing? :D

  2. I'm glad you liked it, too1 I've read some reviews where people really hated the Vulcan-focused issues, but those were often the best ones, in my book. Without the tragedy of Vulcan being an abused 14 year old boy, this arc is just a typical (though well-written) space adventure. But, to me, it goes beyond that and becomes truly epic because Brubaker does such a great job making Vulcan a tragic figure. I'm glad you agree!

  3. I think a lot of the dislike/hatred that this arc, especially the Vulcan portions, received was because so many real hardcore X-fans HATED Vulcan. Be it the fact that X-fans from the 90's still insist that Adam-X was the third Summer brother, or the fact that Vulcan killed Banshee, who had a cult-ish following from Gen X and the X-Corp stories, Vulcan is a REALLY polarizing figure. That's why I'm enjoying your posts about this arc. Besides how well written and easy to read your style is, you're one of those rare comic fans who sees Vulcan AS the great, tragic character that he is/was, same as myself.

  4. Good points. I mean, I, too, was annoyed at first, because I was all, "Um, do we not remember Adam-X?" The good news, though, was that I thought Adam-X was incredibly dumb, so I didn't terribly mind that we essentially ret-conned him from existence (until, at least, his recent appearance in "Uncanny X-Men"). Plus, like you said, Vulcan is SUCH a great tragic figure, who wouldn't prefer him over Adam-X? But, I guess we're in the minority on this one!

  5. Well, on the Adam-X front, he still COULD be a Summers Brother... It's been a while since I read it, but I could swear Sinister's exact wording to Cyclops was "your brotherS"... People automatically figured that meant there was a third Summers brother, but who's to say there wasn't a forth? Maybe Vulcan was really the forth Summers brother. Sure it's a bit of a stretch, but hey, it could still happen. But Fabian Nicezia never pulled the trigger on the Adam-X thing, so what can you do. I was okay with him, but given the choice I'd take Vulcan every time.