Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Uncanny X-Men #508-511

Writer: Matt Fraction
Pencillers: Greg Land with Terry Dodson (epilogue)
Inker: Jay Leisten with Rachel Dodson (epilogue)
Colourist: Justin Ponsor
Letterer: Joe Caramagna
Editor: Nick Lowe

Actually, there's no title on the published stories. But the solicitations say it's called "Sisterhood", so we'll go with that.

This is one of Greg Land's arcs, and it's all too tempting to roll my eyes heavenward and lament the plastic pictures. We've been there before, though. The problems with Land's art, and there are many, have been exhaustively documented. It's lifeless, it's airbrushed, it's stiff, it doesn't convey emotion, his women all look alike, his rictus grins are absurd. All true, all very familiar.

But usually, I would then lament that Land was undermining the story. And there's the rub. "Sisterhood" is just a lousy story to start with.

On the plus side, Fraction is getting better at juggling his subplots. Before, major storylines were going missing for months at a time, even when they should have been a huge concern for the characters. This time, the first two issues spend more time keeping the plates spinning, before focussing in on the Sisterhood in the climactic second half. That's a big improvement.

Sadly, though, the arc is just all over the place. The plot boils down to this. The Red Queen (apparently Madelyne Pryor, although it's never explained with much clarity) is a disembodied psychic thingie. She wants a body back. Her plan is to revive Jean Grey's corpse and occupy that, because apparently only Jean is powerful enough to hold her. She recruits a bunch of villainesses, she does a test run with Psylocke, she attacks the X-Men in order to recover a lock of Jean's hair, she uses the hair to magically locate Jean's body, but the X-Men trick her in the end, she tries to occupy the wrong corpse, it won't hold her, and she vanishes.

That's the basic plot. I think. It's presented in a terribly confusing way, and it's riddled with garbled developments and outright plot holes.

Why does the Red Queen want a physical body anyway? She seems to be fine as she is. And if that's her only concern, why was she involved in the Hellfire Cult in the arc before last? What was the point of her connection with Empath? If it was only a device to get him into the X-Men's mansion, why didn't she just send him to knock on the door and sign up? Why did the Sisterhood need to go to the trouble of recovering a lock of Jean's hair just to discover that Jean's body is in the X-Men's long-established graveyard under a gravestone clearly marked JEAN GREY-SUMMERS? How does burning through an unsuitable host body leave the Red Queen any worse off than she was before? What's all this gibberish about Psylocke and "murder spirits"?

And that would be bad enough. But there are more fundamental problems. There is a cast of thousands, almost none of whom have any emotional anchor to the plot. The Sisterhood members seem to have been selected using the Official Handbook, a blindfold and a pin. Obscure X-Men associates show up for two panels and then vanish again for the rest of the story. Yes, yes, I know, it's not a formal team book any more. Fine. But it still needs some sort of focus on a defined cast. It's just a hazy mess right now.

Even if you can look past the plot problems, and forgive the lack of focus - what was any of it about? What was it even meant to be about? I really haven't a clue.

For all his faults, Greg Land is not the major problem with this story. The story is the major problem with this story. Fraction has written some very good stuff in recent years, but his work on Uncanny has been inconsistent at best. This one is a shambles.

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