After “Wolverine and the X-Men” #4 picked up on some character fallout from the most recent “Uncanny X-Force” storyline, “Uncanny X-Men” #5 responds to that story in its own way by exploring the fallout of Tabula Rasa, the enclosed environment created to test evolution. It remains in Montana, where Cyclops’s Extinction Team goes in to check it out after Psylocke provides some basic information. While “Schism” would suggest less interaction between the various X-books, there’s clearly been more. The way that Kieron Gillen, Jason Aaron and the other writers have approached it is smart. They follow up on events without making it necessary to read the stories that those events came from. In this case, any reader without knowledge of Tabula Rasa is on the same level as the characters, giving this issue a genuine sense of exploring the unknown.
Last issue’s focus on the Phalanx shunted the Extinction Team to the side. Gillen spends a lot of this issue focusing on the members of the team. The early explorations of Tabula Rasa allow for quiet moments of conversation, be it some flirting between Namor and Hope, Storm reminding Cyclops of the break in the mutant community, or Psylocke struggling with being on similar moral ground to Magneto. The team isn’t quite the blank slate that Tabula Rasa is, but it does require some fleshing out since it is so new and the dynamics of it haven’t been entirely established yet. The opening story arc of the relaunched “Uncanny X-Men” provided hints of that, and this breather/intro issue lets Gillen show off one of his best assets as a writer: the way he writes individual characters.
Tabula Rasa, itself, presents a lot of possibilities. It’s almost a mutant habitat in the way it has evolved and been manipulated, and also is where Greg Land’s art is at its best this issue. As always, there’s a disconnect between his figures and their environment throughout much of the issue, but that disconnect is lessened in Tabula Rasa’s unique, unearthly environment. A moment where Magik shows her brother the beauty of this strange place is both a tender character moment and Land’s best work in the issue. He captures the joy Magik has at seeing Colossus show emotion and the big man’s emotional response to such a wondrous, beautiful environment.
Such an open story lends itself to developing the characters and their relationships to one another, but it doesn’t provide a strong enough story hook. So much is left in the open about where this story is going and what it’s actually about besides the broad ‘the X-Men go to Tabula Rasa’ hook that there’s almost a listless feel to the issue. The end of the issue hints at an actual plot with conflict and even that’s vague and lacking in direct importance. Given how plot-driven the first story was, it’s not necessarily bad for Gillen to shift to characters. It’s not knowing where the story is going that puts such an emphasis on the characters. Using that to keep readers interested, Gillen may have swung a bit too far in the opposite direction of the first story.
That said, it’s hard to complain too much when Gillen writes these characters so well. In fact, if every issue was simply Gillen writing characters having conversations with one another, “Uncanny X-Men” would be one of my favorite comics.