Welcome to the X-Roulette! Shelfdust’s Patreon backers are asked to pick a number at random – and now I’m going to write about whichever corresponding issue of “X-Men/Uncanny X-Men” they chose! This issue was picked by Patreon backer Cathal Donovan O’Neill, who chose number 492 for the roulette – time to go track down the messiah?
There are three goals for an event crossover like Messiah Complex to achieve:
- Win back lapsed X-Men readers
- Entertain current X-Men readers
- Bring in and keep new X-Men readers
Three separate audiences, all of whom are looking for the same thing: something entertaining. But that definition of “entertaining” changes for each audience, which turns three clear goals into three conflicting sets of problems. Issue #492 of Uncanny X-Men is the second part of Messiah Complex‘s thirteen-part storyline, following a one-shot issue the week before: but this is the issue where the X-Men creative team of the time really need to try and bring in the readers and keep them onboard for the rest of the run.
It’s got a great central concept for it, at heart: after years of the X-Men being “decimated” by the Scarlet Witch, with no more mutants able to be born – and thus a dwindling population – a new mutant has finally reappeared in the world. The X-Men race off immediately to try and track down the new mutant birth, but they’re one of several groups of people who all have an interest in the child. Some of them want to protect the kid, but there’s a lot of people who’d want to make sure that the mutant is terminated immediately. On arrival, they find that the town has been destroyed and someone has taken the child.
Which leads us to this issue, where the X-Men start to gather forces and plan what they need to do to find the child and protect them. It’s a smart concept in itself, because that means we can reacquaint all readers with the important players in the franchise: Cyclops’ X-Men, Jamie Madrox’s X-Factor, and Charles Xavier, who stands alone. This is where it becomes tricky to please all three audiences for the issue: new readers need to understand who the characters are; lapsed readers need to be able to recognise the old characters they used to read; and ongoing readers need to see something from the characters they love.
This comes up most prominently with the schism between Cyclops and Xavier, which plays out prominently in the issue. Let’s break that down into three:
New readers find out that Xavier and Cyclops have had a falling out, so Cyclops is actually the one leading the X-Men now. Xavier seems to have nothing to really do anymore, and he’s been displaced. The reason for that falling out is hinted at, as Cyclops says that Xavier has “left my brother in outer space” and “lied about the danger room”. Xavier says that isn’t true – and, as far as the new readers are concerned, that could be the case! Cyclops comes across as overreacting here, but he also gives Xavier something else to do. We understand there’s friction, but it’s still a working relationship, here.
Okay, so Cyclops and Xavier have clearly not had a falling-out – this is something far more serious. Cyclops has assumed a sort of war-leadership role, where he has to be more clinical and less emotionally attached to the situation (no problem for ol’ Slim!) and he’s partnered with Emma Frost. Xavier walks in and there’s immediate friction, with Cyclops going on the offensive and Xavier turning passive-aggressive. The fact that these two characters can’t get along shows that the X-Men’s leadership is fractured, and that’s going to be a problem for the team as this story continues.
We know that Xavier has been very clearly in the wrong for several years – wiping the memory of students so they forget some of his worst mistakes, essentially forcing a sentient alien intelligence into slavery so he can use it as a training room for his students, and generally turning a generation of mutants into a private army. Cyclops is perhaps hard-headed, but he’s also not wrong when he says that Xavier can’t expect to be involved in leadership decisions anymore. Xavier is sent off to do busywork, so Cyclops can do the important job and actually get the child rescued.
So what we have are three separate audiences who are arguably all reading a different narrative from the same scene. New readers see drama but no problems; returning readers see some massive problems within the X-Men’s leadership; and ongoing readers see Cyclops enforced as the one leader of the team.
The comic has to balance that – and hundreds of other – assumptions for the different audiences reading the issue. No audience is going to think about the other people who may be reading alongside them… but the creative and editorial team surely have to keep it in mind constantly. As the crossover continues beyond this issue, you can see them reinforce some ideas and jettison others: spoilers, but Xavier dies at the end of Messiah Complex. Is it a heroic sacrifice? A redemption arc? Or is it proof that Cyclops has become the villain? It’s all a matter of perspective.
Uncanny X-Men #492: Messiah Complex
Writer: Ed Brubaker
Artist: Billy Tan
Inker: Danny Miki
Colourist: Frank D’Armata
Letterer: Joe Caramagna
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