This book is narrated by a member of the Phallanx, the shape-shifting techno-organic collective that has plagued the X-Men numerous times in the past, causing among other things, the death of the original Blink. This Phallanx in great detail, describes the feeling of being part of the hive-mind collective, a feeling of safety, security and togetherness. He describes assimilating new beings into the Phallanx: “Yes, they always struggled against our embrace… Afterwards, there were no complaints. When they were one of us, they were one of us.”
This particular member of the Phallanx was captured by Mr. Sinister to be dissected and studied in order to clone himself into the single-minded collective he became in Issues #1, #2 and #3 of ‘Uncanny X-Men.’ He lost the mental link to his brethren as Sinister experimented on him, eventually finding success. He destroyed the lab and everything inside, including most of this being. However, a tiny scrap of him remained and combined with earthworms, which didn’t have minds, so they simply added to his physical makeup, growing and growing slowly. Upon surfacing, he attempted to link up with The Phallanx, but was to weak.
In a particularly frightening but sad sequence, he discovers that when he attempts to assimilate new humans they essentially die. He absorbs their flesh, but unlike with the Phallanx where they would become part of the collective conscious, their minds are wiped out, adding just their physical mass. He is desperate now to locate the rest of The Phallanx, to once more feel the sense of unity and togetherness they shared, so he must absorb more and more people in order, he hopes, to gain the strength needed to signal them.
Agent Abigail Brand of S.W.O.R.D. detects his energy signature and deploys the X-Men, who are horrified to find this Phallanx has absorbed an entire town! The X-Men attack and he fights back. But at one point he laments, “If you knew what I knew, you wouldn’t fight so hard.” Storm beseeches him to talk, but he has accomplished what he wanted, turning himself into an enormous signalling device. Things do not pan out as he hoped, however and this issue ends bitter-sweetly, as Cyclops states, “This counts as a win.” Storm however is unsure. She wonders, “It said we didn’t understand. Could we have understood one another? Is there anything we shared?” Cyclops’ response, “I doubt we’ll ever know.”
Keiron Gillen is really leaving his stamp on the X-Men legacy! First, he brilliantly reinvented Mister Sinister, now The Phallanx, taking one-note ’90s concepts and adding layer upon layer of depth and nuance! Originally, The Phallanx came across as simple rip-offs of Star Trek’s Borgs. By having one of its members narrate this tale, the sense of need for the collective unity expressed here adds more insight than ever before. This Phallanx member seems as desperate as a drug addict to return to his hive-mind, to the point where despite being aware of the horribleness of his actions, he must commit these atrocities to get it back!
The X-Men take a back seat in their own book this issue, but I don’t even care. The narrative is just so solid and the Phallanx member’s voice is so sympathetic and insightful! This is just a great single-issue tale, so if you aren’t normally an X-Fan but just want one good story to read, this is for you. But as a regular reader, the tie-in to the previous story arc adds more background and explanation, enhancing those issues as well!
Brandon Peterson’s art is excellent! The amount of detail required to illustrate The Phallanx would drive many pencillers insane, but he handles the art chores deftly! Just beautiful, crisp, solid art!
Even if you aren’t a regular reader of ‘Uncanny X-Men,’ if you’re looking for a single, entertaining issue to read, pick this one up and you’ll be glad you did!
UNCANNY X-MEN #4
Written by Keiron Gillen
Art and Cover by Brandon Peterson