In the 2010s, Marvel was notorious for hamstringing pretty much every single one of their ongoing books with event tie-ins and crossovers. This is especially true for Kieron Gillen’s run on Uncanny X-Men, which relaunched halfway through its run thanks to Schism, before ending with 10 straight issues of tie-ins to Avengers vs X-Men. Literally half of the relaunched portion of the run is tie-ins. Mix in five issues of Avengers vs X-Men: Consequences, and this volume is almost an AvX companion book. Yet despite this, Gillen is able to turn out some of the best X-Men comics ever — for my money, this is the best run of Uncanny X-Men since Chris Claremont left the book in the early ’90s.
After a tragic and haunting one-shot about a lone Phalanx member that Sinister castrated and and tortured for years (One that takes on a new light given the recent House of X/Powers of X), the first arc of this collection follows up on a major storyline of its contemporary, Uncanny X-Force by Rick Remender. Namely, this follows up on the Dark Angel Saga, as the rest of the world finds out about the horrific tragedy that occurred at Tabula Rasa. But the core of this arc is Gillen flexing his creative muscles, as he creates an entire society and ecosystem that’s wholly unlike anything we’ve seen — complete with an Apex species (literally called the Apex) that leans into his love of clever dialogue and characters so so well. This arc is charming and engaging, and the only complaint I have is Greg Land’s art — which is really the only complaint I have for the whole run.
After this arc is another arc about Unit, another original villain that Gillen created for this run. Unit’s a bit of a weird case because Gillen clearly had more plans for the character than came to fruition, something that can be clearly seen at the end of the run. That being said, what we got is not Gillen’s best work. Unit is that level of cleverness of the Apex taken up to a level that could be considered overindulgent, as he is essentially Deus Ex Machina as a villain. He knows everything and had a plan for everything the entire time, and he leaves successful. I can’t fully blame Gillen for how this turned out, though — he clearly planned on doing more before getting caught up in Avengers vs. X-Men. Speaking of…
The rest of the run is AvX tie-ins. Now, I’m not a fan of the event, but Gillen’s tie-ins are consistently the best part of the event by a wide margin. His handle on character voices, the side plots he comes up with, and the way he’s able to make the mutant side (that the rest of the event attempted to paint as the bad guys) as unequivocally in the right compared to their foes is really great. If this event was an actual ethical debate between the various writers and the sides they were writing, Gillen would win this handily. We get some great art here, too — Daniel Acuña does an arc about Sinister (with some additional help by a younger Mike Del Mundo) and we get a lot less Greg Land than previously, which is also great.
These tie-ins end with what is in my opinion perhaps the best X-Men issue of the 2000s: Uncanny X-Men #19 by Gillen and Dale Eaglesham. The Passion of Scott Summers. It’s a bit of a riff on the Doctor Manhattan issue of Watchmen, but that’s a surface-level comparison. What this actually is is the best character piece on Scott Summers we have ever gotten. In just one issue, Gillen boasts a handle on the X-Men’s leader that I would argue no writer before him has ever been able to claim. It’s an issue that hits me incredibly hard every time I read it. Eaglesham’s art is a big part of that effect, too — every time I reread it I feel like I notice something new about the way he lays out the story or the little details in the panels. I could gush about this issue forever, but there are still six more in the volume.
The rest of this is about the consequences of Avengers vs. X-Men, which is predictable when the last five issues are from a miniseries titled Avengers vs. X-Men: Consequences. This mini could have been bad and frustrating, but it’s instead more of Gillen’s voice for all these characters, and I love it. The art’s inconsistent as every issue has a different artist, but each one focuses on something fairly different. Scott’s the main throughline with all of this, but we get looks at the Avengers, at Hope, at Wolverine, and at the rest of the mutant rebels who are still underground. What this miniseries does is make it clear that this story is not over, and likely never will be. Hated, feared, and saving the world. What’s changed?
If you haven’t already bought this book, or at least the first book of this run, you owe it to yourself to. I feel absolutely no hesitation in saying that Gillen’s run on Uncanny X-Men is the best run on the book since Chris Claremont defined the franchise, and I cannot stress it enough. There are also a lot of ideas here that Hickman’s current work is building upon, including the characterization for Sinister. So if you’re into that, you should definitely read this run. Seriously. Do it.