by Jonathan Hickman (writer), John Romita Jr. (pencils), Scott Hanna (inks), Laura Martin (colors), and Chris Eliopoulos (letters)

The Story: As the Phoenix streaks towards Earth, Hope tries to make a deal with Wolverine.

The Review: In a twelve-issue maxi-series, issues like this are all but inevitable – the dreaded, treading water, transitional issue.

Much of this issue seems like it’s buying time for the huge development/cliffhanger on the final page.  As a result, much time is spent with Emma Frost checking in on each team of X-Men and each “battlezone,” often visiting what’s been going on in some of the AvX tie-in issues.  It’s honestly not very thrilling reading – if you’re reading those books already, it’s redundant, and if it you’re not, each arena is visited so briefly and so superficially that it’s basically devoid of any real significance anyway.  Even Emma’s purpose in doing this (attempting to seek out Cap in order to figure out where Hope is going to be next) is geared towards getting towards that final page.  It’s as though Hickman just needed to kill time to that big event, as the series is effectively in a holding pattern until that event occurred, having gone as far as it could go.

That said, while the middle of the issue is a bit tedious, the opening and finale are quite strong.  The finale goes without saying: it’s a huge development and a huge cliffhanger that’ll have you hankering for the next issue.  Mission accomplished.  More than that, however, it also involved a plot twist in which Logan does something that’s really heartless and quite a surprise.  It’s great how Hickman had us, along with Hope, believing one way in the opening of the issue, only for it to get all twisted up at the end.  Just an ice-cold move by Wolverine.

The opening is really good as well.  The first page is guaranteed to get a laugh and Wolverine and Hope do have a solid dynamic.  It was also nice to see Hope confront Logan with his hypocrisy – he opened a school for kids as a response to Scott’s pressing them into service  but now wants to kill a kid.  It’s good to see this addressed so that it no longer stands out as a point of mischaracterization to be picked at.

John Romita Jr.’s art remains some of his strongest work in years.  As in the past three issues, it’s far more polished than we’ve come to expect from him over the past few years.  Granted, his work is also really supported by Martin and Hanna, who are clearly working their buts off – Hanna is no doubt a big part of why Romita’s art looks so clean, sharp, and polished, while Martin’s colors have a lot of life to them.

Conclusion: An issue that’s book-ended by quality moments, but between those moments, there’s just a whole lot of wheel-spinning.

Grade: C+

-Alex Evans