After months of publisher-enforced delays, the concluding chapter of writer Brian Michael Bendis’s X-saga finally hits. Also doubling as a six hundredth issue celebration with a bevy of guest artists, it’s indeed a noteworthy milestone but is it worth the wait?
As individual installments of Bendis stories rarely feature proper titles, the thirty-six page lead is unofficially dubbed “The Trial of Hank McCoy”, much forecasted for the past year. It does a great job of traveling full-circle back to and addressing the inciting incident of Bendis’s run- namely Beast plucking the original X-Men from their Silver Age heyday and bringing them into the now. However, for all the points gained on closing that particular loop, some of the other “charges” leveled are vague and specious.
There’s missed opportunities to not only delve into the nitty grit of McCoy’s cosmically juiced-up megalomaniacal behavior during the caveat-laden Black Vortex event but the writer also opts to not connect dots with the Beast’s Illuminati dealings- perhaps the true motivating fuel behind the character’s ethical slippery slope. Not that Bendis should feel obligated to pay lip service to someone else’s work (in this case, Jonathan Hickman’s New Avengers), it just would be a nice touch to acknowledge that actions don’t occur in a vacuum.
While there’s a consistent strain of character voicing issues (Storm sounds particularly “off” throughout), Dazzler’s Dark Beast comment rings not only as a “kick’em while he’s down” cheap-shot but really pushes things into the “um, actually…” jurisdiction of the old school continuity guard. It’s categorically unfair to pin the wrong-doings of someone’s evil alternate universe self on the regular-universe person. Even more so when said evil universe self actually has a history of kidnapping and impersonating the regular guy. It doesn’t move the conversation forward and only muddies the grievances. Just saying…
Despite sincere attempts at cramming as much face-time with such an overwhelming cast, plot points still get left on the table. Never mind the random “what the heck are they doing here?” appearances of, say, Maggott, Puck or Fantomex, the real head-scratcher regards the Brothers Summers, last left wandering into the snow with Havok having something to show Cyclops. Whatever the intention, it now sadly dangles forever as a matter of speculation and kind of retro-stamps a big ol’ “WTF” on that particular issue. Still, a collective sigh of relief that Alex didn’t actually have the Wasp stuffed into the trunk of his car Reservoir Dogs-style…
Without a doubt, the book’s greatest asset is its army of artistic talent. Calling back an all-star line-up from both of Bendis’s X-books (Uncanny and All-New X-Men) could easily yield a static, disjointed affair but instead there’s tremendous visual consistency- almost to the point that you sometimes can’t tell whose pages are whose. Sure, there’s distinct stylistic stand-outs (Kris Anka, Chris Bachalo and Frazier Irving) but shifts between Sara Pichelli and David Marquez and from Mahmud Asrar to Stuart Immonen and Wade von Grawbadger are all but indistinguishable. Although clearer crediting as to who did what pages would be appreciated, this is by no means a detriment and should be applauded as the efforts of a highly impressive super-unit rising to the occasion.
Rounding out the book is a bonus seventeen-page Iceman story. Originally presented in a 1981 edition of the black and white magazine-sized Bizarre Adventures, “Winter Carnival” is by writer Mary Jo Duffy and artist extraordinaire George Perez with inks by Alfredo Alcala. The exact relevance of its repackaging here is not readily apparent. True, both Bobby Drakes receive a lot of spotlight in the first story but as Iceman’s not much of a solo player, this yester-tale plays as something of a haphazard dive into the remainder bin. Ironically, the story itself is about Bobby trying to make a name for himself as part-time college student, part-time solo hero. He does so while still rocking his Champions belt-buckle and being sandwiched between an Avengers try-out and joining Beast’s New Defenders. Probably why he goes into accounting- the whole “safety in numbers” thing. (Somewhere, Ben Wyatt rolls on the floor, laughing…)
After three years (and a little help from his friends), Brian Michael Bendis goes out on top but one can’t help but wonder if this finale’s high notes couldn’t have been oh-so higher. Tying things up in a neat bow is not easy in a never-ending mutant soap opera but this offering’s decidedly limp punctuation leaves an uneven finish. Still, Bendis will go down as one of the very few to have a definitively stand-alone run on the franchise. That in itself is no mean feat and certainly a legacy worth possessing.