By: Brian Michael Bendis (writer), Kris Anka (artist)
The Story: Scott and Christopher grapple with their delusions as the Iceman cometh, and angrily.
The Review: Generally speaking, I like the Schism. I like the idea of separating the X-Men into new and classic flavors, delving into the differences of opinion that besiege any movement for equality without labeling one side a Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. It’s not perfect, but I’m a fan. As “The Last Will and Testament of Charles Xavier” rolls on, the main event continues to be the X-Men’s reactions and the ability of this new information to present ever more variations of the X-Men philosophy.
Broadly, the characters fall into a couple of general positions, but the details are what make it engaging. Details like Scott and Logan’s odd respect for one another, still standing after being established in Wolverine and the X-Men #40, or the sharp edge that’s appeared on Bobby’s trademark humor. It helps that this issue corrects one of the most glaring problems of the Schism era: balance. Supporters of each side have frequently, and rightly, criticized many X-Men issues for presenting highly biased views of the opposing side. Luckily, Bendis breaks that trend, actively criticizing both sides. There’s still a little more time dedicated to absolving Cyclops, but the issue does so in a way that still acknowledges his flaws.
It’s not just the classic X-Men who are getting into it, either. While it’s hard to deny that well written interactions between the feuding X-Men are a treat, this is really the only book that provides a look at the New Xavier students. Back in Canada, Triage is starting to grasp precisely what Scott’s militant view of mutant rights will entail. While he puts it in rather simple terms, it’s not hard to agree with him, especially when the Stepford Cuckoos fall back into their obnoxious smugness to disprove him. It’s not quite up to the level that the scenes at the Jean Grey School manage, but it sets the stage for some fascinating drama as that same sort of individualism begins to stir in the next generation of mutants.
Though Bendis’ own mutant power makes a discussion of whether Cyclops is getting on a plane absolutely riveting, his traditional flaws are also on display. Simply put, there’s nothing in this issue that is absolutely essential. I expect that you could pick up issues #25 and 27 and not miss a beat. Likewise, while much of the issue deepens the story, even if it doesn’t expand it, there are a number of scenes that don’t need to be here and would have allowed more plot progression or character study if excised. The New Xavier School scenes feel awkwardly attached and a two page spread of Matthew Malloy is moderately enlightening but fails to stick with the reader. It feels like Bendis is actively padding his story.
Worst of all, unfortunately as ever, are the scenes with Maria Hill. Bendis devotes three pages to moving Hill into position when most readers would probably have just accepted her next move sans explanation. Likewise, her opening monologue reads like an excerpt from Game of Thrones but lacks the benefits of a live actor or the razor focus that makes those moments of introspection feel weighty and relevant.
Following his one-issue reprieve, Kris Anka is back on art duties and eager to show off what he can do after one of Chris Bachalo’s better installments. Though that transition will likely be a blemish on the collected story, this issue reaps the benefits happily. Anka uses a great deal of range in this issue, creating a unified look that actually runs an impressive gamut of harsh and gentle lines. Cyclops remains Anka’s MVP, possessing a distinct look out of costume that often eludes him and a powerful emotional presence, but Iceman is close behind. Anka also demonstrates his skill with drawing women and teenagers, recalling his splendid work on issue #15, and turning a simple panel of Celeste into a powerful moment for the young mutant.
As with the Dazzler sequence a few issues back, the aforementioned two page sequence with Matthew is almost entirely dependent on Anka’s skill. While it still feels a little floaty, and confuses Matthew’s powers even further, each panel really does communicate and it firmly establishes Anka’s talent in drawing quiet, emotional sequences.
Oddly, characters a looking a little boxy for Anka’s usual style, but it’s a minor quibble, and one that occasionally works in the book’s favor, as in the case of a slumped Cyclops.
There’s also a gorgeous panel of the Avengers that demands to be commented on, though I don’t know what to say, save that Marvel is doing themselves a disservice by not having Anka draw Cap and Black Widow more often.
While there’s no doubt of Anka’s skill as a draftsman, this issue really highlights his contributions as an inker and colorist. The deep inks and bright colors outside the Jean Grey School really give the scene a level of gravitas. Perhaps more impressive is the fact that Anka handles things in such a way that the intensity of the red used doesn’t feel out-of-place or unrealistic.
Though the level of shadow changes, Anka uses the red of a brilliant sunset or an aircraft’s cabin lights as a visual through line. It’s a lovely effect, though it makes the already jarring transition to the New Xavier Academy feel especially abrupt. Once you adjust, however, it’s back to the same lovely coloring and a cool lavender glow that really brings out the uncertainty, or absolute certainty in the Cuckoos’ case, of the students.
The Conclusion: Uncanny X-Men #26 delivers more of the same highs and lows in the continuing “Last Will of Charles Xavier” epic. Though Bachalo did a great job last issue, it’s still nice to have Kris Anka’s art again. The look of the issue is striking, if slightly weaker than some of Anka’s other work technically, and you can really tell how each character is feeling in each beat of the story. It’ s a good thing too, as Bendis focuses on the reactions of his cast this week.
The issue provides a lovely look at the state of the X-Men, young and old, and reminds why Bendis is famous for his character work. At the same time, however, it’s hard to overlook a near complete lack of plot development, another Bendis staple. Anywhere between seven and fourteen pages of this twenty page comic are filler, depending on your definition, and, despite the highs of the early pages, that’s a serious problem.
If you’ve been enjoying “The Last Will of Charles Xavier” or love Anka’s artwork, you’ll probably be happy with your purchase. I liked this issue, but I can’t really recommend this issue those who don’t fit those categories.