In this issue, the newly-minted X-Men “extinction team” find themselves in conflict with classic X-foe Mister Sinister, whose plans have led him to re-create his own version of the Great Exhibition of 1851 using the Dreaming Celestial as a power source. After all, how else would a Victorian protogeneticist-turned-supervillain want the world to be?
In case it wasn’t obvious from the previous paragraph, one of Gillen’s stated intentions for this storyline is to reposition Sinister as a villain more deserving of his stature in the X-Men canon. The bulk of his past appearances saw him attempting to realize some unstated shady plans, and while we knew what he wanted (to create the perfect mutant!) we had no clear answer as to why (because... Science?). Gillen’s vision of the character incorporates the broader strokes of his background, but more importantly, it comes up with a much-needed endgame.
While Gillen maybe reaches a little far in asking us to seamlessly reconcile this version of Sinister with his previous appearances, there’s enough wiggle room to explain any inconsistencies. It’s forgivable largely because it works so well. The revised concept distinguishes him from other perennial schemers, such as Apocalypse and Stryfe, and playing up the “affable evil” trope gives him a unique voice in the X-Men’s rogue’s gallery.
At this point, perhaps the only missing element of the story is an explanation of why, precisely, Sinister’s idea of a utopia is worth kicking against. The implied subversion of will is there, but it’s possible to be sympathetic to his pseudo-imperialist “everyone has their place” blueprint for living. At this point, it seems as though the X-Men are mostly fighting him because he’s Sinister. Yes, he’s the villain, but it’s always worth asking whether that’s true from his perspective.
Regardless of how interesting you find Sinister’s new direction, Uncanny X-Men is a strongly-written book on just about every level. It’s a dialogue-heavy issue, with perhaps a bit more tell than show (there’s a lot of exposition about Sinister’s revised nature to cram in, after all) but Gillen makes sure to sneak in a moment of coolness or levity to prevent the dreaded wall-of-dull effect. Considering the size of the cast, it’s also impressive that almost everyone gets a moment to shine, whether delivering a quip or displaying their skills. It’s a team book in the truest sense.
Art-wise, there’s clearly something a little strange going on, with three credited pencillers, four inkers and four colorists. If Pacheco is falling behind on his schedule already, it’s a concern, if only for the potential that he’ll weaken an otherwise ambitious story. For the most part the art is great, although it’d be nice to see the Sinister clones looking a little less goofy and a little bit more... well, sinister.
In any case, “Uncanny X-Men” #2 is another high-quality addition to a largely successful line relaunch, and finds its corner admirably against its sister/companion-title, “Wolverine and the X-Men.” The competition probably isn’t doing its writers’ stomach ulcers any favors, but the readers? We’re spoiled for choice.