Since Fraction arrived on the title, Uncanny X-Men has taken a definite upturn, with the dialogue and cast fully re-energised. It never felt like Brubaker was in it for the long haul, and Fraction’s enthusiasm appears to eclipse Brubaker’s, giving this arc a distinctive, new-writer feel to it. Under Fraction, the pacing of the title has received a little rethink – it’s been some time since individual issues of X-Men felt this satisfying to read.
Pixie’s character material in this issue gives the book a nice break in tone as she definitively fills the role previously occupied by characters like Kitty, Jubilee and Armor, right down to a scene where she hangs out with Wolverine. We get to see more of how the X-Men work with the San Franciscan authorities, and some background on the leader of the Hellfire cult, the former Hellion Empath. A scene where he uses his powers to evade the X-Men is particularly well executed, as the cast find themselves wrong-footed by his increased abilities.
Greg Land’s artwork veers between passable and downright scary. Almost every page depicts at least one character grinning manically while they talk. Whether or not he’s tracing the images is a completely moot point – it’s simply poor storytelling. Fraction and Brubaker almost seem to be playing to Land’s strengths by including the fetishistic Red Queen as the power behind Empath. So far there are no clues to her identity, assuming she’s not a new character entirely, but given her powers and Hellfire Club theme, it’s possible that she’s Lady Mastermind (though having just wrapped up a story about her half-sister, one hopes the reality of the situation will be a little more original.)
While not everyone appears to be enjoying the revamped Uncanny X-Men title, I’m very pleased that the line is definitively out of the directionless rut it’s been in ever since Morrison left several years ago. All we need is to wait for the Dodsons to return on art and the book will finally be achieving its full potential.