Uncanny X-Men #17: Sinister’s Swan Song

The Phoenix Five, captured and corralled by Mr. Sinister. It's up to Psylocke to remind everybody she's a bloody ninja.

Andy Hunsakerby Andy Hunsaker

Uncanny X-Men #17

"Hmm. Time for Nimrod, I think."

"You have Sentinels?"

"No, not THAT Nimrod. Elgar's Nimrod. Elgar. Lovely Elgar."


Edward Elgar's "Nimrod" turns out to be the swan song of Mr. Sinister's efforts not only to perfect himself as his own subspecies, but to capture and control the Phoenix Force, something he's been after since we first met him as the tormenter of Scott Summers and the cloner of Jean Grey. He has since transformed from a high-collar ribbon-caped haunter of dreams to the prancing fop obsessed with gloating about his own achievements. It seems to be a stark change in the character, but by Uncanny X-Men #15, Kieron Gillen's take on him had won me over, and by UXM #16, I was actively rooting for him to defeat the Phoenix Five. Of course, in Avengers vs. X-Men, we've seen the Five are now down to Two thanks to shenanigans, so it is now time to wrap up this storyline quickly, since we know Sinny doesn't actually manage to slow down the P5.

As we open UXM #17, the crew of notably non-Phoenixed X-Men – Psylocke, Magneto, Storm and Danger – have arrived in Sinister London to try to find out what became of the overconfident P5 in their efforts to combat the architect of the place. Sinister has wrested the Phoenix Force from the P5 with the cunning use of clones – namely, a subjugated trio of Madelyne Pryors – once a very compelling and twisted sort of character during the Inferno era, now reduced to a pack of goons. Sinister tells the captive P5 that their friends have been killed, to which Scott mutters "I told them to stay away." Sinister's retort: "Well, chalk up another success for your famous leadership skills." Then we start to get Gillen's point – Sinister's purpose now is to take the piss out of the X-Men.

Especially since Emma Frost's follow-up to that is "You're going to kill us. Get a move on, you tiresome Englishman. You make me regret ever affecting this accent."

While it is firmly a piss-take, it also takes the time to build them up – particularly Psylocke, who wears Danger as a battle-suit and takes on the task of infiltrating Sinister's stronghold, and who dismisses any question as to her likely success at the endeavor with "I'm a bloody ninja."

The story arc itself took a long time in building, since the early issues of the UXM relaunch, and thus the end feels a little rushed and pat – but that's the way of things when you're dealing with a deus ex machina like the Phoenix Force. All it needs is a slight nudge from Emma to go 'oh, yeah, I guess being Sinister's pet isn't cool. Let's just destroy everything instead.' Still, that's done with a bit of interesting panache, as it actually takes the time to explain to Ol' Nathaniel Essex what it is he did wrong before exterminating his species project. Is this actually the end of him? Conisdering the absolute thoroughness of the 'everything is Sinister' society – including cows – chances are some version of him will have escaped – although seeing Sinister's complete bloated-ego confidence turn instantly into panicked terror is kind of a strong moment.

The art is a tag team effort from Daniel Acuña and Mike Del Mundo. It's not specified who did which pages, but my research would seem to indicate that Del Mundo is the guy who does the more severe work, experimenting with the misshapen with a penchant for flaring Maddie nostrils, while Acuña brings more of the straightforward comic book look. While Acuña satisfies the coll factor, Del Mundo gives us faces and figures that have a bit more character by daring not to look perfect. As anything with such chutzpah tends to be, the result is sometimes great and sometimes unpleasant to behold – one weird, stretched out and elderly-looking panel of Storm is a case in point.

Overall, though, Uncanny X-Men #17 is an entertaining conclusion to the reinvention of Sinister, and it feels like it could actually prove to be an acceptable endpoint for the entire character, should he never return. He had the Phoenix in his control, which was his dream forever, but he couldn't hold it thanks to a fundamental character flaw.

"You didn't try to understand me," the Phoenix tells him. "You only tried to master me." Sinister was never going to approach it any other way. The question now is whether or not he'll survive to try to learn from that mistake, or if he's been purged entirely. This is comics, so we have a pretty good inkling of which way that will lean.