The original X-Men as well as some newer members have their showdown with the son of anti-mutant religious zealot William Stryker and his forces in “All-New X-Men” #21. Writer Brian Michael Bendis reveals a connection between the Stryker family and the scientific villainous organization Advanced Idea Mechanics, and artist Brandon Peterson gives up a few pages to veteran Brent Anderson, long known to X-Men fans as the artist of the “God Loves, Man Kills” graphic novel from decades ago, the story that introduced the elder Stryker.
Anderson’s four-page flashback sequence is a nice surprise that leads off the issue, and his classic style helps Bendis evoke the same haunting and chilling atmosphere that was present throughout Chris Claremont’s original story. Bendis uses the sequence to set up the nature of A.I.M.’s involvement and inserts them into the story pretty smoothly, although given the presence of A.I.M. over in some of the Avengers titles, the largest question about this retcon is why Bendis chose A.I.M. and not some other entity; it’s as though A.I.M. is a pretty fashionable trend right now.
Anderson is a tough act to follow, though, and Peterson’s less-textured, simpler style is like a splash of water to the face come page five. It’s not helped by the remainder of the issue taking place in Stryker’s lair, which is mostly dark and always in shadow, an effect captured much better in Anderson’s sequence. Colorist Israel Silva could have lightened things up a bit, but doesn’t, and it only adds to the dichotomy that reflects unfavorably on the rest of the issue.
Bendis himself doesn’t do much to add to the story, either; the tension he puts forth in the flashback scene doesn’t carry as strongly into the remainder of the comic. The verbosity he uses in the opening sequence creates a sinister mood, but the same technique doesn’t do the same later on, at least to the same degree. Bendis goes on to commit a larger offense, though, and a somewhat surprising one by falling back on a cliche: the villain literally has the knife to the throat of the good guys, only to hesitate and allow them to get back the upper hand. Bendis does bring up the obvious chronological difficulties that could ensue if the X-Men from the past were to be killed, but the whole thing would have gone down better without putting them team completely at the mercy of their nemesis and then backing off from the consequences.
Still, it works well enough; the X-Men’s teamwork near the end of the issue makes for a satisfying conclusion to the story arc, and the appearance of X-23 makes for some interesting interaction with the rest of the team. “All-New X-Men” #21 doesn’t quite stand up to the fun of the past issues, but it’s fun enough.