Now that's more like it. When reviewing "Uncanny X-Men" #499 last week, I couldn't help but feel like the book had just gone through five months of a holding pattern, stalling and stretching out a story so that the book could start afresh with "Uncanny X-Men" #500. I hate to admit it, though, that I can almost (but not quite) forgive those five months of molasses because this was a lot of fun.
Ed Brubaker and new co-writer Matt Fraction are clearly having a blast with setting the X-Men up in San Francisco; their new base is introduced, their modes of transportation discussed, and even brief mentions of the X-Men trying to go "green". In other hands this might have felt preachy or a little too expository, but here Brubaker and Fraction infuse such a strong layer of fun about it that you're along for the ride. It's everything that the "Divided We Stand" story wasn't, in short.
Brubaker and Fraction are also clearly enjoying their new setting for the book, trying to take this city's real-world attitude and style and bring it into the Marvel Universe. The wry comment, "Only in San Francisco, right?" when looking at the number of costumed attendees at the art exhibit is spot-on; in most other settings it would have felt forced and unrealistic, but Brubaker and Fraction are doing such a good job of capturing the city's vibe that I found myself nodding and going along with the idea. They're also looking to the future, setting up storylines as well as creating a very good reason for why a San Francisco-based X-Men team would still find so many things happening, even in a largely-mutant-depleted world.
The conflict in the first issue is by-the-book, but for the most part works. Their fight with Magneto doesn't overstay its welcome, and I liked that it's part of a larger story. And while I must admit my eyebrows went up at the identity of the mastermind behind the story, I'm willing to see where they go with this character that up until now has always been rather dull. Really, my only complaint with the writing was the initial reaction of the X-Men to the Sentinel art exhibit, which seemed a little too over-the-top and jarring. I wouldn't have mentioned if it didn't stand out so much, but it's a single misstep in an otherwise excellent script.
While two writers for "Uncanny X-Men" #500 worked great, I wish I could say the same for two pencillers. Terry Dodson's pencils (along with Rachel Dodson's inks) work well here. His rounded, lush figures work well with the different characters and situations he illustrates. Had just the Dodsons been drawing this issue, I'd be quite pleased with the end result (and probably would have given the issue a slightly higher rating). Unfortunately, putting Greg Land's pencils alongside Dodson's is a bit of a disaster. While Dodson's simple-but-attractive art goes for a specific style well suited to a superhero comic, Land's heavily photo-referenced art seems at odds with Dodson. Land seems to be going for a photo-realistic attempt here, one that is out of place with Brubaker and Fraction's script. The fight scenes seem stiff and staged here, a series of random poses. Worse, each non-action panel comes across like a magazine shoot, with characters randomly throwing their head back to let their hair flow smoothly, or smirking for the non-existent camera.
Most frustrating of all is that in a comic divided up in chapters, Dodson and Land aren't even given specific chapters to draw. So once the book heats up, you end up with Dodson drawing one page, then Land the next; there's even one page that I'm fairly convinced has panels by both artists, one atop the other. Hopefully future issues will be drawn entirely by one artist, because this is hard to concentrate on the more you look at it.
Artistic glitches aside, "Uncanny X-Men" #500 feels like the X-Men comics I read many years ago; not because Brubaker and Fraction are aping Chris Claremont or Louise Simonson, but rather due to the high level of excitement and fun that they've infused into their comic. I really want to read the next issue, and right away at that. It's been a while since "Uncanny X-Men" has been this good. Here's to a lot more.