Uncanny X-Men #484: After nine issues, Brubaker does a great job here of maintaining a certain level of tension, building anticipation for the denouement. Through his conversation with Darwin, Vulcan is portrayed as more or less firmly accepting the dark side, if you will. Meanwhile, the X-Men are a mess. Rachel is conflicted over her emotions toward Korvus, while at the same time embracing killing when it comes to seeking revenge on the Shi'Ar. Brubaker blows past that, but you have to wonder how different from Vulcan she is, given that they're both killing people in revenge. Alex and Lorna, both under stress, embrace old habits. Only Nightcrawler and Warpath have gotten to this point relatively unscathed, so you know something's going to happen to them at some point. (As someone said in one of the letters columns in this run, Brubaker clearly enjoys writing Warpath.) The meandering Professor X sub-plot finally found a point, with Xavier serving as bait for Lilandra. The next two issues should be epic.
Uncanny X-Men #485: This issue descends into chaos pretty quickly, as everyone's plans don't exactly go the way they thought they would. The Starjammers arrive earlier than D'Ken and his cronies thought they would, disrupting the wedding celebrations of Deathbird and Vulcan (though, importantly, not the wedding itself). Vulcan gets his revenge on D'Ken, as we all knew he would, claiming the throne for himself. Corsair sees just how insane his son has become, and Alex realizes that Vulcan has to be stopped. The only off-note in this whole story, for me, continues to be the Xavier sub-plot. Although I get the symmetry of, as Vulcan says, Vulcan trapping Xavier in a rock, I still don't know if I buy that they would go through the trouble of staging a public execution, rather than just kill him. The only reason would be that they're using him as bait for Lilandra (which they are), but, if they're using him for bait, then I don't know why Vulcan would be surprised when the Starjammers arrived when they did. After all, they would clearly need Xavier still alive to be successful bait, meaning they anticipated the Starjammers would arrive before they would throw Xavier into the M'Kraan Crystal. But, Vulcan expresses frustration over not having gotten his revenge against Xavier when the Starjammers arrive. Confusing. Moreover, I still don't understand why Corsair and Ka'Ardum allow themselves to agree with Lilandra's plan to go after Charles. Corsair implies that it's to prevent D'Ken from doing something more with the Crystal than imprisoning Xavier, but I'm not sure exactly what.
Uncanny X-Men #486: Wow. OK, I think Brubaker really accomplishes here what he intended to do, bring all existing plots and sub-plots to their logical conclusions. First, the death of Corsair isn't meaningless here. It shows just how far gone Vulcan is. Vulcan didn't agree to become part of the Shi'Ar royal family just because he needed to belong and wanted D'Ken's acceptance. He always intended to kill D'Ken; it's only by becoming Emperor that he would get the acceptance he needed and, wow, talk about an ego, that you need to rule an Empire just to feel accepted. As such, Corsair was never going to be able to save Vulcan, something Alex always knew. Vulcan slaying Corsair just underlined this fact and represented the death of the idea that Vulcan could be reformed. Lilandra is a total mess here and, to be honest, you almost see the Chancellor's point in deciding to overthrow her. She just makes one series of bad decisions after another, all in the name of saving Charles. She's largely just as petulant a child as Vulcan is, if less lethal. The ending really works, with Alex deciding to take up the helm of the Starjammers and defeat Vulcan. I'm excited about reading "X-Men: Emperor Vulcan," because I think it'll avoid some of the pitfalls of this 12-issue arc. That said, I think Brubaker managed to deliver a great conclusion to this long arc.
Final Thoughts: This arc definitely had some weak moments, but, overall, I think Brubaker told an amazingly epic story that will be remembered by fans for a long time. Although some of the sub-plots were confusing at times, Brubaker did actually more or less resolve them all in a way that made sense and (for the most part) didn't feel forced. The Blade of the Phoenix sub-plot, to me, was the most well done, particularly because it gave us the awesome new character of Korvus. I found the Professor X sub-plot to be the weakest link, mostly because it was the only one to feel forced, given that it's whole purpose was just to give D'Ken bait for Lilandra. The Secret Order sub-plot didn't feel forced, since, as I said, I more or less agree with the Chancellor that Lilandra is unfit for the throne, but it was a little muddled. I wasn't sure, from time to time, who was doing what on whose orders. But, the good news is that, even when I was confused or doubtful, it was rarely because I questioned the characters' motivations. Brubaker did a great job of keeping everyone true to their character, a real marvel when, by the end, he's juggling 15 characters or so.
Moving past the specifics and focusing on the overall story, Brubaker really tells a class tale here of revenge and how it twists those seeking it. Besides the obvious example of Vulcan, we see Rachel mirror his descent into blood-lust as the arc progresses. Moreover, beyond those seeking revenge, almost everyone involved in the arc finds him- or herself morally compromised. Alex and Lorna commit themselves to killing Vulcan, breaking the cardinal rule of the X-Men (as Alex himself notes). Lilandra makes a series of bad decisions in the attempt to save Charles, costing the life of Corsair (not to mention the Shi'Ar troops fighting on her side). Xavier has once again led a personally-driven mission that results in him having blood on his hands and leaves his charges emotionally scarred. It's not often that you see these sorts of dark turns of events in a Marvel comic, and I applaud Brubaker for avoiding wrapping up the story in a nice, neat bow and for making sure that the events have real, tangible effects on the characters. At the end of the day, the X-Men's mission -- to stop and, hopefully, to redeem Vulcan -- failed. You don't see that every day.
All in all, it's a great arc that presents a different take on the X-Men than we normally see. It merits a read for anyone who enjoys intergalactic X-Men stories.
(P.S.: If you enjoyed "Rise and Fall," check out "What If? X-Men - Rise and Fall of the Shi'Ar Empire." I actually bought it years ago and read it without having read "Rise and Fall." I, obviously, likely understood few of the references, particularly because they involve nods to "Annihilation" in addition to "Rise and Fall." But, in some ways, the ending is a more satisfying emotional conclusion to the arc than the real ending. I won't spoil it if you haven't already read it, but I'd recommend it to anyone that really enjoyed this arc.)