First off, let me just say that had five years ago we gotten word that the X-Men would consist of Storm, Dazzler, Angel, Northstar, Pixie, Shadowcat, the White Queen, and Fantomex, I think most readers would have started screaming bloody murder. So with that in mind, it's a testament to Matt Fraction and Kieron Gillen that with those being their characters not locked down in quarantine on Utopia, that this comic works as well as it does.
Watching the first five characters operate as the X-Men team in San Francisco to take down the Collective Man and meet up with the "New X-Men" is fun; Fraction and Gillen give each of the characters something to do, and the fight scene moves at a brisk pace. I also like (and I'm guessing it's Gillen's doing based on his recent arrival to the book) that characters like Pixie are getting their own slang and voice; it makes them stand out as more than just a set of powers there to attack the bad guys. And of course, the quarantine storyline is getting interesting in its own right, with the Sublime group being as slimy as ever.
More importantly, we're getting a much stronger feel for the X-Men being just outside of San Francisco now. The X-Men's PR person gets some scenes, we're seeing the reactions of the city to the mutant plague infecting Utopia, and the backgrounds are making sure to emphasize that this is San Francisco, not just another generic New York block. I feel a little bad saying that Fraction's final issues are the ones that seem to finally get a grasp on the new setting, but hopefully it's something that will carry over when Gillen takes over the writing solo in a few months.
Not quite as exciting is the subplot with Kitty, Emma, and Fantomex going up against Sebastian Shaw. It's a much more generic fight, and one that feels like it's happening because Fantomex had to act particularly stupid rather than a scene that evolved naturally. With only a few pages bookending the rest of the issue, it makes me wonder if this story might have worked better as its own issue at either side of "Quarantine" instead of interspersed throughout.
At this point, there's not much new to say about Greg Land's heavily photo-referenced pencils. Either the blatant posing is going to get on your nerves, or it won't. Jay Leisten and Justin Ponsor do a nice job of making the finished product look as smooth and glossy as possible, but the basic structures from Land are hard to ignore no matter which side of the camp you're on. Personally, I find it distracting at best and inconsistent at worse, but it looks like Land isn't going anywhere as part of the regular rotation of "Uncanny X-Men" artists.
"Uncanny X-Men" is entertaining right now, although the smaller details are in many ways the ones that shine through rather than the overall big picture. Still, it's a fun enough book, and Fraction's contributions from the past three years will certainly be missed when he departs this spring. Still, Gillen's co-writing now is strong enough that I suspect we won't see much more than a hiccup when the switchover occurs. If only all creative team swaps looked to be so potentially smooth.