Shipping out of sequence to accommodate the currently in-progress “Black Vortex” event story, the latest issue of All-New X-Men is the weightiest and most gripping chapter to date. Brian Michael Bendis delivers a solid script, sure enough, but the real accolades go to the art team. Until now, the adventure trades as a fairly light-hearted deep-space heist/romp team-up of the X-Men and the Guardians of the Galaxy but that all changes heading into Sorrentino-country!
Italian artist Andrea Sorrentino throws the “art lens” on the proceedings from the opening double page spread. For a story starting out with the over-inflated cartooniness of Ed McGuiness in the Alpha issue, it’s as if the art itself is interpretive of the Beast, Angel and Gamora’s newly-enhanced universal perception. The layouts, panel sequencing and framing are otherworldly. In terms of other artists, Sorrentino is a talent easily in the company of Jae Lee and David Aja with definite nods to one of Bendis’s long-time collaborators, Alex Maleev, as well.
Working hand-in-glove with Sorrentino is color artist Marcelo Maiolo, frequent associates since a run at DC Comics. Maiolo employs high contrast and bold punctuation to enhance mood and drives the eye. There is also tremendous balance between lush vibrancy and the sharpness of negative space. Seemingly more than in a regular comic, white works repeatedly as a full-on color. Enriched to washed-out in a panel-to-panel heartbeat, this is indeed the perfect partner in crime to Sorrentino’s photo-realistic pop art offerings.
Playing to his artist’s strengths, Bendis lets the visuals do a bulk of the work. By no means coasting, it is considerably less talk-y than his normal fare and is well-paced but the dialogue is really just there to dress up the pretty (and less than pretty) pictures. There are moments when characters fall into the writer’s familiar speech trappings but these are fleeting exchanges. Wit is still in abundance but outright banter is downplayed for action. There is some internal story logic disconnect involving the usage of Magik’s powers but this momentary headscratch makes for another cool sequence with a snickering, swaggering end-tag. So, all forgiven.
So far, “Black Vortex” is a fun story that’s maintained consistency despite existing as the ficklest of beasts: the inter-title crossover. With so many contributing on an episodic basis, more often than not, this format typically yields some qualitative variance. Given how distinctly endeared Bendis is to both the X-Men and the Guardians, it will be interesting to see how this exploit unfolds as other storytellers rotate through. More than how the creators handle themselves, the longer-range implications for the characters is an interesting prospect.
Courtesy of flashing ahead “Eight Months Later” in Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers/New Avengers saga, it seems like the Beast’s transformation isn’t permanent. Either that, or he’s planning another last-minute trump card before Secret Wars. After all, Hickman teases Cyclops is in possession of something called a “Phoenix Egg”. What’s one more mystically-charged artifact to throw into the mix?