If you were trying to find three series at Marvel to each have a special published, where the three formed a large crossover story, I doubt most people would pick the combination of "Uncanny X-Men," "Iron Man," and "Nova." But that's exactly what's kicking off this month with "Uncanny X-Men Special" #1, with the other two installments scheduled for July and August 2014. And while Sean Ryan and Ron Ackins are trying to make this strange assortment of characters work, this first issue comes out surprisingly average.
Ryan seems to be trying to connect the three titles together by plunging them into outer space; Iron Man has had his fair share of stories off-Earth over the last year or two, and Nova of course regularly goes off-planet too. Unfortunately, with "Uncanny X-Men" normally set on Earth, Ryan needs to come up with a convoluted way to get Cyclops and some of the trainees out of their normal stomping ground. That lands squarely on a tangle with Death's Head, as well as a visit to S.W.O.R.D.
It's the Death's Head part that comes across the weakest in terms of writing. Death's Head sounds generic, a problem that permeates the book, but is most evident in this character. You could swap Death's Head out for any nameless character and not a lick of dialogue would have to be altered; it's a case where an alien bounty hunter could just as easily be the guy from down the street. Then again, this is also a character who is talking about the third Summers sibling (because that's of course exactly what a random character would happen to know about), so it's not like Death's Head is anything more than a plot device here.
It's a shame, because the basic storyline is perfectly fine. The progression from being attacked to infiltrating S.W.O.R.D. is certainly amusing enough; the last page is a bit forced but clearly the lead-in to next month's "Iron Man Special" #1, but on the whole there's nothing wrong with the plotting. It's just that the execution feels so flat (with all of the characters sounding the same) that it's a little unmemorable.
Ackins' pencils feel like they're from the pool of artists who were inspired at least in part by the manga boom of the previous decade. Whether or not that's actually the case, the visual style certainly lends itself to that. Everyone has a slightly similar young, fresh face; look on page 4, where we have Magik in the third panel and Tempus in the fourth panel. The two are given different hair and skin color, but they look almost the same otherwise. Same nose, same eyebrows, same chin line... they don't look bad, but they're also very non-distinct. Emma Frost's outfit under Ackins also looks somewhat painful, with breasts mashed into the top; it's not an easy design to pull off, and once you add in that she looks like a teenager (it's that same manga-inspired face), you'll be glad she's only on two pages of the book.
"Uncanny X-Men Special" #1 is not off to a memorable start. Both writing and art are just all right, with a certain sameness rubbing off on all of the characters. Maybe the remaining two installments will pick up the pace, but at $4.99 a pop, it might be a hard sell to get readers to jump for the chance to buy the remaining issues. This is, unfortunately, nothing special.