By: James Asmus (writer), Max Fiumara (pencils), Fiumara & Norman Lee (inks), Jim Charalampidis (colors), Jared K. Fletcher (letters), Jordan White (assistant editor), Daniel Ketchum (associate editor) & Nick Lowe (editor)

The Story: Cyclops, Steve Rodgers, Dr. Nemesis & Hope fight a Namor who is made insane by lack of water as they try to escape the Negative Zone.

What’s Good: Ya know what?  Bravo guys!  This three-part annual story (continuing from Uncanny X-Men Annual #3 and Steve Rogers Super Soldier Annual #1) was a really fun story that just about anyone with a passing familiarity with Marvel continuity can enjoy.  The very nature of this story meant that it isn’t meant to have long-term consequences and “change the way we look at the Marvel Universe forever” and Asmus used that nature to just nail the landing and give us everything you could really want in this story.

This is 90% a Cyclops and Hope story.  The central theme is that Cyclops wants protect Hope because of her role as the “Mutant Messiah” and how Hope chaffs at this because, while only a teenager, she has lived her entire life as a solider learning at the feet of Cable.  So, she isn’t some teenage mutant who is wetting herself because her powers are beginning to manifest, but a fully trained solider.  Even though some of this same ground is being plowed over in the ongoing X-books, it was still nice to see Hope and Cyclops team-up and have Cyclops trust her to go into a dangerous situation and help save the day.
Other highlights in this issue are Steve Rogers really selling his friendship for the X-Men (and Cyclops in particular), a really good Steve/Namor fight, Namor acting like an insane maniac and getting defeated (kinda) by Hope, and a lot of comic relief from Nemesis.  Good stuff.

Not everyone is going to love Max Fiumara’s art because it is different and his characters are very stylized, but that’s really what I like about it.  He’s one of those names that pops up in a Marvel book about once a year and it is always kinda a treat because he’s one of those few artists where even the untrained eye will spot him right away.  Let me put it this way, Marvel has quite a few artists who aren’t all that hot.  They don’t suck, but there’s nothing very cool about their art except that I presume they can grunt out a monthly book.  Well, when we have a story like this 3-parter, that I presume will have plenty of lead-time, I applaud Marvel for having someone different like Fiumara draw it rather than one of their competent, but unremarkable, C-list superhero artists.  Let’s have MORE non-traditional artists on Marvel books than 5th generation John Bryne wannabes.

And keep an eye on colorist Jim Charalampidis.  Dude can color.  He has excellent taste with his colors and an great appreciation of light sources and shading.  With colorists like him and Bettie Breitweiser coming up, the Marvel U. is going to be a much nicer place with 100% less overdone brilliant highlights.

What’s Not So Good: Very minor things….  It’s a little ironic that Namor acts like an insane maniac and loses a conflict in his own annual.  I don’t really care because I personally think Namor is a douche, but presumably a lot of Namor fans will buy this issue and they might be a little chapped off that he is almost the villain in this issue.

Also, if you aren’t experimental in your art enjoyment, Fiumara’s art may not be for you.  I like it, but the narrow-minded fan may not be up for having their horizons stretched (and I do realize how patronizing that sounds– it’s intentional).

Conclusion: A really nice ending to a very strong story.  James Asmus is to be commended for telling a good tale while working with three very different artists.  It is really nice to see Fiumara get a little more time at Marvel too!

Grade: B+

-Dean Stell

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