“All-New X-Men” #18 is in many ways a perfect example of both the strengths and weaknesses of this series. Brian Michael Bendis and Stuart Immonen’s first issue post-“Battle of the Atom” presents the time-displaced X-Men’s first day with Cyclops’s rogue team, but while the issue is high on character interactions, it’s low on more traditional advancements of plot.
Credit to Bendis: a book that’s so high on strictly character development without doing so via fights is a gutsy move. It’s doubly so when it’s one of the core X-Men titles at Marvel. I have a certain level of admiration for what he tries to do here; this isn’t about the original X-Men beating up Sentinels, it’s about their attempts to adjust to not only the way that the world has changed in the future, but how their own selves have/will change down the line. As a result, there’s a lot of focus on the characters talking with each other, with the other members of the “Uncanny X-Men” comic, and so on. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Jean Grey versus the Stepford Cuckoos is highly entertaining, for example, and Bobby’s continual daze on where his future incarnations will end up feels like it’s absolutely heading somewhere.
At the same time, though, reading this issue hammers home the biggest problem with the series in general. There’s little balance between the character growth and the speed in which the world around them is moving. This is an issue which could be summed up (ignoring character interactions) with the following sentence: “The original X-Men are assigned new bedrooms and get new costumes.” That’s it. If this was an exception to the normal pace, post-“Battle of the Atom,” that might be easier to swallow. But this is the norm for “All-New X-Men,” and it’s a comic that feels like it’s paced similarly to a lot of Japanese comics. The difference, of course, is that with many of those manga series, the readers are getting 30 pages a week or so. You can take your time if the material is coming fast and furious. “All-New X-Men” at least has the advantage of regularly double-shipping, but even at 40 pages a month, it’s not a comic that moves terribly fast. In a collected edition this issue fades somewhat into the background, but unless we’re going to shift to a weekly version of “All-New X-Men,” it’s the book’s greatest problem as a serialized form of entertainment.
Regardless of the pace, Immonen and Wade von Grawbadger continue to provide some lovely art. The new outfits for the X-Men look sharp; they’re simple but very classy looking, and that’s highly appreciated. His attention to the new supporting cast via “Uncanny X-Men” is also good. Cyclops’s new costume looks far better under Immonen’s pencil than Chris Bachalo’s, quite frankly. Here it feels not only shiny but somehow constricting as the huge X goes across Cyclops’s face, a mix of modern comic art and retro Jack Kirby designs. Needless to say, Immonen’s great when it comes to body language. I love the posture that Celeste has when she’s going up against Jean. It’s not just the pursed lips, but the cock of her hips, the way one hand rests on her side while the other jabs a finger forward. Even Irma and Phoebe, despite being in the backgrounds, look great as they react to the fight that’s brewing; Phoebe almost bored, Irma worried about the conflict. This is a sharp looking book, from start to finish.
“All-New X-Men” is a book that, even more than most comics written by Bendis, is clearly paced for greater enjoyment in a collected format. There’s no doubt that I’ll enjoy this a great deal more when paired with all of the other issues around it. But as a single issue, it’s just all right, primarily because of the stunning art from Immonen and Von Grawbadger. I appreciate what Bendis is trying to accomplish here, but 18 issues into the series, at some point the pace needs to pick up a bit.