By: Jason Aaron (writer), Ed McGuinness (penciler), Dexter Vines (inker), Marte Gracia (colors)

The Story: Iceman finds himself without a snowball’s chance in Hell.

The Review: As Jason Aaron’s Elysian pirate epic rolls on, we find the Amazing team split between Heaven and Hell. If that sounds awesome to you, you’re probably not alone, as, at the least, Aaron seems to be plenty pleased with the sheer scope of his tale.

Fans of Aaron’s work will remember that he previously took Wolverine to Hell in the previous iteration of Logan’s solo series. Despite that rather grim take on Logan, Aaron’s also become known for the madcap, comedic style of Wolverine and the X-Men. Fittingly, this issue demonstrates elements of each of those runs.

The tone is definitely more in line with Aaron’s more recent work, focusing on the madness of the situation rather than the horror; however the narration of the issue makes sure to reinforce the stakes. I expect that this will register differently depending on the reader. Just as some may find the balance refreshing, others may wish that the book would pick a tone and stick with it.

Though the dialogue is solid, the writing really comes through in the characters’ actions rather than their words. Each of our X-Men gets at least one moment to themselves, narrated by a seemingly omniscient Nightcrawler. This practically ensures that new readers have a grounding with each of them, a helpful addition after last month’s issue spent most of its characterization on Nightcrawler. One side effect is that even when the X-Men do interact they often feel somewhat distant, focused on expressing their individual traits rather than proving themselves master conversationalists.

Another problem is just how much of the dialogue concerns the X-Men’s location. Once Storm realizes what’s going on, her team spends the rest of the issue responding to it, whether with fear or badassery. Logan, on the other hand, is a little slow to the draw, despite being teamed with “likely…the first to realize the true nature of the foe they faced,” to use good Mr. Wagner’s phrase.

Wolverine’s obliviousness is a notable blemish on the characterization in this book. Though Aaron pulls a cute moment out of it here and there, it feels distinctly artificial, especially considering Logan’s aforementioned journey to the afterlife.

While many of the demons – and whatever Azazel’s minions are, Nephilim? – are less than threatening, the mini-bosses that Aaron introduces are a cool addition to the series. Apparently Azazel is offering upgrades to history’s greatest rogues, though I wonder what the selection process is like. Captain Jack makes a fine adversary for Wolverine and Captain Kid seems to promise that there will be more. Their dialogue is weighed down by references to their past lives, but it’s a weight worth bearing.

Ed McGuinness’ art isn’t quite a match for the work he turned in last month, but that’s largely down to the lack of an amazing swordfight, or at least one equal to Nightcrawler’s duel in issue 1. McGuinness’ layouts are especially notable, dramatic without getting too complicated. His tactic is a simple one, but it would likely fail if he didn’t have the raw talent to back it up. McGuinness’ sense of motion and expression allows him to use one panel where other artists might need two. I’m sure there are plenty of other talented artists who could pull it off, but the issue really does benefit from having one. It manages to be decompressed without boring the audience.

McGuinness certainly has strengths and weaknesses. As last month, Wolverine and Nightcrawler look particularly alive and iconic, but his demons and monsters have an air of the comedic about them at best and look simply generic at worst. Storm receives some exceptional appearances, but some get kind of repetitive, while others just look vaguely like a Roswell Grey.

It really does feel as though McGuinness is bringing Aaron’s script to life. The two clearly work well together, but, more than that, McGuinness’ strengths and weaknesses mirror Aaron’s. Just as Captain Jack proves a particularly fun addition to this story, McGuinness’ design does an excellent job of delivering a creepy, yet jovial standout of an antagonist. Likewise, Northstar looks his best during his brief spotlight and the overall quality jumps when the tension in the script peaks.

The Conclusion: This issue might serve as a welcome oasis for a newer reader, who seem to be a noticeable part of this book’s target audience, but it feels kind of like Aaron has taken his foot off the pedal. While there are only a couple of true problems, much of the story just doesn’t feel quite enough, especially after the premier issue’s general success.

Ed McGuinness remains a serious draw for the book, delivering clean, iconic X-Men action. His attention to detail and ability to hide authentic emotion within a cartoony style serve him well, as does his talent for expressive, old-school layouts. Still, for all the good he does the book, he can do no better than Aaron provides, spinning his wheels when the script demands it.

Traditional wisdom holds that fans can love or hate your work, that a series can be controversial or different, but the one thing it cannot be is forgettable. If you missed this issue, I don’t know how much it would matter. It’s not a bad comic, but it’s too early into a new series and an interesting story arc for things to be slowing down.

Grade: C