ALL-NEW X-MEN #22.NOW
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Stuart Immonen
Published by Marvel Comics
Brian Michael Bendis and All-New X-Men enter the All-New Marvel NOW! fold with the opening issue of The Trial of Jean Grey, the six part crossover with his Guardians of the Galaxy that brings together two of Marvel’s premiere superhero teams for the next three months. To kick the event off, Bendis is joined by returning regular series artist, Stuart Immonen, and the story wastes no time getting going in what is another strong issue of what has been one of the better superhero team titles on the racks today.
Since being brought into the present day twenty-one issues ago, the time displaced original X-Men are a group of teenagers that have been through quite a bit. Whether it be the culture shock of arriving in a time they don’t know, learning what becomes of their future selves, dealing with anti mutant bigots, or in Jean’s case watching her future self die, these kids seemingly haven’t been able to sit down and take a breath. While some readers will look at this issue as a typical setup to a crossover story, it is the character work in the first half of the issue that makes the issue shine. Once again, Bendis proves what many have readers have known since Ultmate Spider-Man debuted in 2001; he is one of the best writers in the business at handling teenage characters.
For what feels like the first time, the characters have some down time. Henry uses the time to work in his lab, which results in one of those nifty time charts that Marvel has used in the past To chart what has happened and give hints to stories they have planned down the line. Readers can spend a good ten minutes on this panel, as it brings up current events like those found in Battle of the Atom, to some throwbacks like when Scott merged with Apocalypse all the way back in X-Men #97 in January of 2000, all while pointing out possible formations of alternative timelines. It looks complicated and is a blast for any X-Men aficionados out there, but can be glanced at by casual readers with no loss to the issue at hand. Bobby meanwhile is outside enjoying the snow by himself as he gets lost in rapping along to Run D.M.C.’s “It’s Tricky.” The most time is spent in the cafeteria as Warren is sitting in between Scott and Jean as they eat lunch. This is where Bendis shines as his grasp on teenagers that have been pushed through to the limit is great. The frustration and misunderstandings on both sides of the Jean/Scott argument ring true for all teenagers, despite their argument involving time travel, near death experiences and not being able to control a super power.
A big worry for me when these characters were first “introduced” that there wouldn’t be enough to differentiate them from their older counterparts, but it is scenes like these where they are written like the kids that they are that remind me that I was crazy for worrying. This was by far the most interesting part of the issue and just as things were reaching the maximum peak of teenage angst and awkwardness, the team is attacked by alien forces. Kitty and X-23 join in on the fight, and it is never mentioned where any of the other students or teachers were. It is a short eight page battle against an alien force that weren’t very unique or interesting until Kitty realized who they were, and what they were coming for. It wasn’t a surprising reveal, but it drives the story forward.
The part of the battle that stuck out most to me was Beast’s unbridled joy at confronting an alien species. It stuck out because it made me wonder just what these kids were doing during the full scale alien invasion that occurred in the pages of Infinity. While an enjoyable and effective read, it wasn’t a very original way to get the ball rolling. The problem with the second half of the issue wasn’t that it was poorly written, but rather that there were zero surprises. The saving grace was that the script stayed sharp, and the art was great, but everything happened exactly the way you would expect it to happen. To add to this point, after the fight another group of characters show up to serve as the “big” ending to the issue. Considering we already know what other book in the crossover is, the last double splash didn’t feel as if it had as much of an impact as it should have, because it was entirely by the book, but it sure was pretty.
While the script for the second half of the issue felt like it was just going through the motions to setup what will be the meat of the story, it did so while looking stunning as always. After sitting out the three issue arc featuring The Purifiers, artist Stuart Immonen is back to tackle the All-New X-Men issues of the crossover and he has brought his A-game. Immonen, inker Wade von Grawbadger and colorist Marte Gracia are a well oiled artistic machine, and after three issues without them it was wonderful to have them back. I firmly believe that Immonen is one of the most underrated artists in the business. In the same way I mentioned Bendis as being one of the best writers of teenagers, the same can be said about Immonen on the artistic side of things. Often times teenage characters are drawn no different from adult characters and the readers only know they are teenagers from the context of the story In a book where teenagers often interact with their older selves it was vital for the book’s success to have an artist like Immonen that can capture many of the nuances of being a teenager. While Bendis puts the words in their mouths, it’s Immonen that puts the looks on the faces, and the dirty looks and glances during the Jean/Scott fight really sold the dialogue.
Then the awkward look on poor Warren’s face was priceless. Once the action begins Immonen doesn’t lose a beat. The art team has a great grasp on Kitty’s powers as seeing laser fire phase right through her is a thing of beauty. Immonen looks to have so much fun drawing Iceman using his powers, and it is a visual treat for us readers. Then the double splash page of the Guardians of the Galaxy was another standout highlight. It would be a shame to get through this review without praising the work of colorist Marte Gracia. He does a wonderful job throughout the issue, but the night time battle scene was especially impressive with a good combination of reds and blues, as lasers were being shot and powers used. Gracia’s colors illuminated the night sky, and added a lot to an already beautiful issue.
Overall, Bendis opened up the issue strong as he worked in some amazing character work that signifies Bendis at his very best. I just wish the second half of the issue would have found a more interesting way to get the conflict of the crossover started. It never reached the point where the issue was bad, in fact the issue was a great read throughout, but the second half just felt very by the book. Luckily, where the plot may have slightly faltered late in the issue, the script stayed solid and the art team was great throughout. When this creative team is paired together it feels like an A-list event book, and that is no different with this issue. Now that the pieces are in place for the rest of the crossover I am eager to see if Bendis can continue his great character work and make the next five issues as compelling as the last time Jean Grey was on trial.
The Verdict: 8.5/10