In which Emma and Scott fend off the attacks of their mind-controlled, peace-loving friends, while the trio of Nightcrawler, Colossus and Wolverine discover that Omega Red has been waiting for them at the base of the Russian facility they’ve ended up in. Fights all round, people!
By chance more than anything else, the last few issues of Uncanny that the X-Roulette has hit have all been focused on endings. Shockingly, issue #499 of a long-running series doesn’t change that trend, with the issue once more looking to close a chapter and start to open a new one. With Messiah Complex finished and the books all thrown into limbo by the cryptic ending, all the titles floundered around for a few months while they waited for Astonishing X-Men to finally die so they could revamp the line once more. That led to this arc of Uncanny X-Men, where nothing particularly happens.
And nothing particularly happens here in a non-spectacle of an anticlimax, the two threads fizzling out without touching or informing on one another at all. Colossus’ trip to Russia with his pals doesn’t help resolve his feelings about Kitty, who can’t be referred to because her storyline is months behind schedule and her fate is meant to be a mystery. Instead he fights Omega Red for a bit with Wolverine, as both of them good some good licks in – I think Omega Red literally licks someone at some point, because he’s gross – before Nightcrawler teleports back into the story and BAMFS the villain outta nowhere. Fight over.
Likewise, Scott and Emma’s long walk down a road ends with them fending off some half-hearted attacks from their friends, all of whom are mind-controlled into being hippies. By this point the joke has withered away somewhat, with artist Ben Oliver steadfastly drawing both characters in their X-Men outfits rather than Mike Choi’s 60’s-inspired costumes. The fight doesn’t really go anywhere, Emma Frost half-heartedly breaks down a literal wall in Martinique’s mind, and everything is resolved with a complete lack of drama.
By the time they get to Martinique’s base, she’s already sauntered off somewhere, her story to be resolved at a later date. The man who pushed her into recreating the 60’s, meanwhile, sits around sadly so Emma can subject him to some withering disdain, and that’s basically his entire comeuppance here. There’s a lot to be said about having some downtime in long-running serial comics, but you do at least expect a small degree of catharsis when you reach the end of a story arc – not least the four hundred and ninety-ninth’s issue!
There’s a defiance in the anticlimax here, the momentum created by Messiah Complex immediately wafted away in favour of a standard-length comic where nobody gets any satisfying development and half the characters are essentially background to a meandering, go-nowhere narrative. Cyclops’ walk leads him to the next great stage of the X-Men’s existence, but the set-up for #500 doesn’t particularly appear in this issue. We don’t see why he makes the leap from this forgettable afternoon of punching Iceman to setting up a base in San Fran and going full-PR.
Likewise, the characters of Colossus, Nightcrawler and Wolverine weren’t especially the focus of Messiah Complex, but they were at least there and they should have some kind of reaction to what happened to them in that story. Here though, they have an unforgettable fight in a random factory building, where the lead character – Colossus – doesn’t even get to land the final punch on the villain. It ends with them watching as the military airlift Omega Red back into captivity, which is hardly a satisfying finale.
Looking back now, this feels like a real apathetic moment in the X-Men’s history. Nobody seemed to have much interest in their story – Mike Choi aside, perhaps, who was a spirited participant on X-Men forums at the time – and nothing of any real lasting import seems to have come about from any of it. There was a long jaunt into space, which at least benefited from the gravitas that a 12-issue storyline artificially receives in a serialised comic like Uncanny X-Men. Then there was a quick Marauders story which didn’t have much to tell us, before Messiah Complex, this arc, and the eventual long-form Utopia period where Matt Fraction joined as co-writer. It really feels like Ed Brubaker had nothing to say about the X-Men, doesn’t it?
Brubaker wrote politically-infused thriller stories for Captain America which revitalised the character and gave him some post-9/11 momentum in a more divided America than ever before, but when given the X-Men he seems to stall. It’s fairly interesting that he wasn’t able to apply his same political interest in American masculinity and corruption towards the X-Men, who would seem to be far more conventionally political than most other Marvel properties. I don’t want to suggest or push something unfair, but perhaps this provides some evidence that white men aren’t the most equipped to write stories which play into the idea of prejudice in society and the establishment?
Looking at a story like this, which is half set during a peaceful protest march and half set during a Russian internment camp, a modern day reader would expect something massively different from the damp story that’s presented here. It’s hard not to wonder if a writer with something more to say… could’ve said more about all this? As far as I’m aware, to this day Uncanny X-Men has only been written by white men. Given that it’s headed into a second apathetic era, perhaps it’s time to find somebody with a little more passion and a reason to find voice within the characters? At the very least, it’d save us from any more five-issue arcs where people walk down a road.
“Uncanny X-Men #499: X-Men Divided, Part Four”
Written by Ed Brubaker
Pencilled by Mike Choi and Ben Oliver
Coloured by Sonia Oback and Jason Keith
Lettered by Cory Petit