Brian Michael Bendis’ first entrance into the ongoing exploits of the X-Men proper has been an emotionally satisfying and all-encompassing ride and issue #3, with a quibble or two to be had, isn’t really an exception.
Careful, there is a very mild spoiler or two in here.
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Illustrated by Stuart Immonen
– The flagship X-Book marches on!
– The original 5 X-Men are back, but that’s not all that’s happening.
– What happened to the Phoenix 5 from AVENGERS VS. X-MEN?
As Bendis wound down his Avengers tales over the past few weeks and months, it was clear that he had just run out of storytelling juice. His “favorite” characters and their relationships had been explored to their payoffs and his purposeful focus on the sometimes mundane aspects of being an Avenger had long worn out their novelty. It is a great relief to find Bendis’ storytelling prowess intact with fresh characters to be inspired by and the history behind them to cull emotional beats from. Bendis opens with Scott and Magneto on a mission to recover the captive Emma Frost. During this time, they discover that their noodling with the Phoenix Force has caused their mutant powers to behave erratically or even weaken. Bendis shows a fine handle on each of these characters in the way that they react to this revelation. Scott’s loss of control over his eye beams both thematically and visually coincide with the sadness state of affairs that his life has spiraled towards. Magneto is handled especially well, as Bendis toes a very subtle line between his recent “heroic” turn and the proud, superior villain that we know exists in there somewhere.
You can follow this plot just fine if you haven’t been reading recent Marvel events or have never read an X-book before, but the X-Men more so than with any other Marvel “brand name” carries so much soap opera with it that it really behooves the reader to catch up on the basics of how these characters relate to one another. Scott and Emma’s complicated relationship, Magneto’s madness and regret, and the different potential effects that Jean Grey’s appearance would have on each of these characters are things that Bendis is mining for great drama. On the one hand, Bendis is smart to not force the moments by being economic with his dialogue (truly a nice show of restraint for one of the “wordsmith-iest” guys in comics) and letting the art and history of the fiction speak for itself. You could say that this means the reader needs to be pretty familiar with these characters to get the full impact, but Bendis makes the smart choice of erring on the side of trusting the reader versus being verbose and overusing exposition in the dialogue.
That said, in issue #3 anyway, the plot moves very little. Lots of stuff happened in the first 2 issues, so a bit of a breather is not a bad thing. It’s just that it makes this particular issue of the series feel a little less “special.” Half of the comic is spent on the breaking out of Emma Frost, an event that doesn’t accomplish much more than that with either the thematic work or the plotting. These pages aren’t wasted, but we are not shuttled through events as quickly as we were in the first issues. All-New X-Men #1 & #2 actually felt like “event books” – not just for the X-books, but for the Marvel Universe in the wake of ‘Avengers Vs. X-Men.’ It’s amazing how much you felt you were getting in those issues. Issue #3, as solid as it is, loses a little of that luster by slowing down its pace.
Another aspect that makes “All-New X-Men” feel like an event every 2 weeks (or 3 out of 4 weeks? Did Marvel really do that?) is the choice of artist. Stuart Immonen is, quite simply, one of capes comics’ best working talents and a perfect pairing for Bendis in “important events mode”. He makes this book feel like the most important book in the Marvel with how sharp and attractive his characters look as well as how dynamic the action can be at times. If you compare his work on issue #3 to his work on the first 2 issues, you will see that certain aspects of the art seem to have less detail than comparable moments in previous issues. This is especially apparent when comparing Immonen’s Emma Frost to his Jean Grey. Emma looks more stylized and animated than Jean who is drawn with more detail and beauty. However, Immonen always seems to nail the big moments in these issues and because there are honestly less important moments in this issue when compared to the others, the end product reflects that. Observe the cliffhanger sequence on the issue’s final pages. This is a moment that everyone was waiting for and Immonen definitely takes the opportunity to nail it by making it look gorgeous, emotional, and historic.Continued below
While Issue #3 may not feel as important or as revelatory as the 2 that preceded it, it is a fine comic in its own right. Issue #3 feels like a bridge between the stellar introductory issues that set the table and the spinning out of events that will inevitably come from the occurrence on the issue’s final pages. Sometimes a comic book just doesn’t feel the need to shatter the Earth or blow up all the heroes this month, but that doesn’t mean it can be called a misstep. This issue does its job and it’s part of a greater work. If you haven’t gotten on board yet, go back and grab these 3 issues. Bendis and Immonen have something very important going on here.
Final Verdict: 7.8 – an extremely solid buy, if not as exciting as the first 2 issues.