Written by G. Willow Wilson
Art by Roland Baschi, Javi Fernandez, Lee Loughridge
Published by Marvel Comics
Release Date: February 11, 2015
After Gambit inadvertently came across a disaster in the making, the X-Men – a core team currently composed of Storm, Rachel Grey, Psylocke, and Monet – headed to the Blackrock Desert to save the day. It’s kind of their thing. But as soon as they decided, preemptively, that it would be easy to save the day (also kind of their thing), everything went south… quite literally in this case, because the team is now underground.
This is Wilson’s second issue on the book, and it’s just as sharp as the first. Her intimate understanding of the characters shows vividly through their interactions with one another as well as how uniquely she utilizes their powers and their fears. It’s a genuine pleasure to step into a comic and feel that the writer has full control of the characters wielded, their voices ringing crystal clear through dialogue and behavior alike. And even as each issue offers a different narrator, none of the cast is trampled for the sake of one another’s spotlight – each of these women hold on to their agency, making decisions and carrying on as a team rather than hanging around as figures in the background waiting for the plot to move around the focal character.
Another genuine pleasure was Wilson’s mastery at explanatory dialogue. In any comic – particularly one focusing on the X-Men – there are always a number of things that can’t quite be explained through visuals, and it’s the job of the characters to elaborate, usually through clunky dialogue. But Wilson manages to thread these notations in naturally, like in an exchange between Psylocke and Grey in which Psylocke describes a unique application of her own powers and Grey questions its wisdom. Danger that the reader would not even have been aware of had it not been discussed plays into the issue’s tension building, and the conversation comes off as genuine rather than awkward and momentum-killing. Likewise, Wilson uses conversations to educate the reader as characters educate one another, and it rarely comes off as excessive or shoehorned.
It took an entire team to ink this issue, and the results are fantastic. While the style obviously changes, it does so without jarring the reader, and each switch brings with it a new kind of strength. From the gritty, painted sweep of shadow over the cast’s faces and hair on early pages, to the more pen-like precision in later fight scenes, the ink work is flatters the penciling throughout the book.
The issue is also gorgeously-colored. The setting allows for beautiful, moody palettes, and Loughridge takes full advantage. The purples and blues that fill the dark underground are contrasted by brief peeks of the almost brown/gold-tinged surface world when the comic checks in with Jubilee, and fight scenes are often bright with the glow of various blasts and energy weapons that chase back shadows. The shading both above and below ground is marvelous, thickly defined but not clumsy, particularly across faces.
The layouts for each page were well-chosen, designed to keep eyes busy without drawing too much attention to the layout, letting the content of each panel speak for itself. Panel shapes helping tell the story through tightening in on a trapped and terrified Storm and opening wide over massive, deadly-jawed monsters.
Unfortunately, the top-notch work by the rest of the art team somewhat outshines the actual pencil work. There were often times where a stubborn lack of definition in the background – scribbles taking the place of what should have been the occasional fully-defined rock or textured cave wall – was overcompensated for by dense inking or lovely color washes. While the argument can be made that there is a lot of movement and not much light in this issue, thus making background details unnecessary and maybe even distracting, there are a number of panels where the lack of defined background is outrightly alienating, doubly so because of how stunning the inking and coloring is in its place. It would have been nice to see the team given more pencil precision to work their magic on. And while the larger monsters’ appearances were difficult to parse in this loose penciling style, the cast’s particularly well-drawn expressions and body language delivery really added to the book’s momentum, drawing the reader in with every pained grimace. The anatomy does occasionally feels a little distorted even for the art style, though that might be a byproduct of varied inking choices.
Overall this was a great issue, well worth its cover price and a testament that team books do not have to rest on the shoulders of just one character, even when narrated by one. The buildup of tension was genuine, and with Wilson’s wise use of every character she employs, this book is no doubt going to continue strong – writing with the X-Men instead of just about them.
The Verdict: 8.5/10