Deafened still by the ongoing kettle-drum of DC Comics' "New 52" media phenomenon, I almost missed Marvel Comics' recent re-launch of "Uncanny X-Men" with a new first issue. And I might have given the whole thing a miss in any case, except the artwork is by one of my favorite working comics artists, Carlos Pacheco.
This issue is written by Kieron Gillen and takes off right where a recent mini-series left off: Cyclops and most of the few remaining mutants left on Earth (in the wake of the still-seminal events in "House of M") are gathered together in Utopia, their city/stronghold in the bay off the coast of San Francisco. Cyclops is determined that mutants will no longer be the meek targets of non-mutant aggression, but he's equally sure that the way to turn that aggression around is for his core team (for some mysterious reason perhaps known only to Gillen, he dubs this his "extinction team") to function more as a standard save-the-world superhero team, ala the Fantastic Four or the Avengers. It's an interesting idea - mutants using PR to sway public opinion (to my recollection, it hasn't been used since the launch of the original "X-Factor," many moons ago) - and Gillon bungles it right from the start.
If it's any consolation, he bungles it in the exact same way DC has bungled all but a couple of its own much more headline-grabbing first issues this summer (winter on the calendar, but I'm in shorts with the ceiling fan going in Boston, so as far as I'm concerned, it's summer until it's actually cold): he picks up a game in mid-play, tweaks it here and there in ways that may or may not be good ideas ("extinction team"?), but never pauses for even a moment to give new readers any reason to care about any of it. First issues are - at least theoretically - about providing a 'jumping on' point for those new readers, and yet in the many wide open spaces so helpfully provided by Pacheco's artwork, Gillon never bothers to explain anything, never bothers to catch us up on anything. In short, he makes the same mistake that's been plaguing the various X-books for decades now: he assumes every single reader is chapter-and-verse familiar with every jot and tittle of the X-catechism. The X-Man Colossus is intermittently possessed by the spirit of the old X-Men villain Juggernaut? Prince Namor the Sub-Mariner wears a modified X-Man costume and for some unaccountable reason takes orders from the team leader's girlfriend? Magneto too? It would have taken five minutes to write dialogue and monologue-boxes that grounded new readers on all of this, but Gillon doesn't do that. Instead, he assumes the worst thing you can assume about the opening of any drama: that his audience is already interested.
The result is as insular as most of what's been going on at DC lately, a first issue devoid of drama, meaningful only to the insider crowd, full of 'payoff' moments comprehensible only to a thousand people on the planet. I bought it for Carlos Pacheco's artwork (which didn't disappoint), but if his past is any indicator, he won't be around more than a few issues. Let's hope Kieron bothers to ground his story in that time.