By: Brian Michael Bendis (writer), Kris Anka (artist)
The Story:Alison and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.
The Review: Last month Uncanny X-Men’s first arc came to a rather definitive end. We saw the resolution of the vast majority of the title’s plot threads including Mystique’s rule of Genosha, Dazzler’s imprisonment, Hijack’s dismissal, S.H.I.E.L.D.’s war with the New Xavier School, and the overarching Sentinel plot. Given this significantly cleared agenda, it’s not surprising to see an Original Sin banner proudly flown across the cover.
Event tie-ins are frequently frustrating issues, but for any readers considering waiting for the next “real” story arc to begin, Uncanny X-Men #23 is worth picking up. “The Last Will and Testament of Charles Xavier” is a thematic tie-in at best with not a single mention of the events of “Original Sin”. Even if it were connected to “Original Sin”, this is barely a part of the “Last Will” story. Despite the unambiguous cover, this issue has a clear purpose and that’s hooking readers and setting up the first slew of new conflicts for the book’s second ‘season’.
In this role, as something of a ‘soft pilot’, the book is pretty great. Bendis provides the much needed fallout from last issue’s events, rededicates himself to interpersonal drama, and introduces multiple new plot threads.
One of the best things that Bendis does in this issue is step back and give the title a dose of perspective. We’re all able to accept some pretty wacky things while still holding a comic to some standard of logic and realism, but Bendis has his cake and eats it too by reminding us just how crazy it all is. The results are humorous but make enough sense in the characters’ world no to distract from the story. While one example from She-Hulk has been getting a lot of attention, the best one comes in the opening pages as Bendis reminds us of what it means to be an ant among gods.
Bendis also puts the focus of the book back on the New Xavier students, giving Cyclops two great scenes with Tempus and Hijack, respectively. In each scene, Bendis is quite skilled at presenting both characters’ insecurities. Hijack and Cyke’s interaction benefits greatly from the interplay of their mutual respect and the two men’s pride.
Meanwhile, Bendis finally returns to one of the book’s most interesting mysteries in the form of Tempus’ disappearance. While some readers will be frustrated to find that we’re no closer to discovering the answer by this issue’s end, Bendis does use the tension to move the present story forward, justifying its inclusion to me.
Another priority is Dazzler, recovering from the horrific ordeal Mystique put her through. This thread plays out without any real deviation from expectations, especially since Marvel chose to reveal her upcoming status quo. The whole thing might be rather forgettable if not for the legitimate sympathy her situation inspires in the rest of the cast and an impressive two page breakdown from Kris Anka.
The harsh black and white of Dazzler’s breakdown is almost completely devoid of dialogue. Working without a net, Anka does an impressive job of charting Dazzler’s journey from frustration to anger to self-loathing. The muted colors take a moment to adjust to but the effect is stunning.
Anka takes the opportunity to do some amazing things with color. Though some are decidedly stronger than others, Anka is performing some wonderful experiments throughout the issue. The bold red, black, and blue in the War Room is a particularly obvious example, but the furious pink in one South Carolina sequence or the deep teal of Genosha make this a particularly beautiful issue.
As ever, Anka’s ability to draw characters as individuals, rather than costumes and hairstyles, is a godsend. Though Anka appears to reuse panels a bit too much, there’s a subtlety in his facial work that’s very welcome. Especially in an issue where most of the cast is decompressing or their emotions are dwarfed by the extremity of Matthew or Dazzler’s feelings, it’s great fortune to have an artist who doesn’t settle for resting faces. Anka insists on commenting on Bendis’ script, defining what each character is feeling with the careful shapes of their mouths and eyes.
That said, when those extreme emotions do rear up they’re not quite as strong. Some of Matthew’s reactions read comically when I’m not sure that was the intention and one notable panel of Charles Xavier is simply overdrawn.
The Conclusion: Uncanny X-Men #23 is an issue that has been advertised entirely wrong. Instead of a disconnected event tie-in the issue is a direct sequel to its predecessor, completely unrelated to “Original Sin”, that sets the stage for the next phase of the title. It’s admittedly something of a quiet issue, dealing largely with the emotional fallout of the last arc and introducing new mysteries, but some of the character work that made issues #14-17 so memorable is finally reintroduced. Together with some great appearances from She-Hulk and the Jean Grey staff and a dramatic moment with Dazzler, the book reminds why Bendis is so respected.
Kris Anka continues the experimental vibe that Chris Bachalo brought to the series. Though in places Anka’s work isn’t as polished as it often is, the detailed expressions, dramatic storytelling, and bold colors make it a visually impressive issue.
Though there’s really no villains or mutant brawling in this issue Bendis and Anka craft a transitory issue that stands up with some of the best of this series. If the rest of “The Last Will and Testament of Charles Xavier” can channel this same dedication to character we’ll have a solid X-Men story on our hands.
- While I really liked the scene between Cyclops and Eva, I can’t help but feel that it didn’t quite do a good enough job justifying why Tempus gets so upset. Admittedly Scott is being a patronizing dork, but it feels like this scene was supposed to be a bigger deal than it was. Especially as someone who generally sides with the Jean Grey School, it feels like whenever Bendis finally acknowledges that Scott isn’t always right, those are the moments where it feels like people are judging him too harshly.
– Noah Sharma