You can tell straight away that some issues are going to polarize opinion. An issue focused on a single member of the Phalanx, in which the X-Men don’t show up for half of the story? It’s not hard to imagine that meeting with some resistance from the readers.
However, under Gillen’s auspices, it’s not just a strong done-in-one story that acts as an epilogue to the Mr. Sinister storyline and answers some of the questions that arc glossed over; it also tells us something about the team’s current outlook and operating ethos. If you don’t hate its atypical structure, you’ll love its strong thematic resonance and unusual perspective.
As mentioned, the issue turns the spotlight over to a single rogue Phalanx entity who has spent some time on Mr. Sinister’s operating table. In part, this serves to show us what Sinister has been up to, and how he’s changed since his past appearances. But more than that, we get an X-Men story from the villain’s perspective, as the Phalanx entity escapes and attempts to contact the rest of its collective by absorbing the unfortunate inhabitants of a small town.
The X-Men don’t appear until the issue’s halfway point, and even then we’re getting the narrative from the Phalanx’s point of view. In a story where the villain is, if not a hero then at least a sympathetic figure, the X-Men are essentially playing the role of the bad guys -- not exactly inappropriate, for a team with Magneto, Namor, Colossus and the Juggernaut on it. That alone says much about the precarious situation Cyclops’ X-men are currently in.
As, for that matter, does the ending; it’s not until after the threat has been neutralized that Storm asks whether they might have established a dialogue with the creature. Perhaps it’s unfair to speculate, but one can easily imagine the Avengers giving serious consideration to that avenue a little sooner than the X-Men did. When Cyclops suggests this be considered a win, it’s easy to look at the scene and wonder who he’s really trying to convince.
As well as these larger ideas about the X-Men’s status quo, there are some brilliantly-executed moments that make the issue a strong read. The oddly chilling scenes of a recovering phalanx befriending a child are made only more unsettling by the phalanx’s horror at what it does next. It’s the rather brilliant interpretation of the phalanx’s mindset that makes this issue work so well. There’s no malice, just a survival instinct that’s hard to neatly categorize as evil.
Brandon Peterson’s artwork is strong, and although his interpretation of the phalanx is a little dark and sketchy, it befits the more horror-based approach that this story pursues. It’s a good-looking comic with clear storytelling, and given such a tight story Peterson manages to pack in the visual information we need. Done-in-ones are an increasingly rare treat, and as such, demand a little extra when they do come along. "Uncanny X-Men" #4 is a great taste of what the series is offering, and an instantly memorable issue to boot. Definitely worth owning.