Brian Michael Bendis and Stuart Immonen bring readers the penultimate piece of “The Trial of Jean Grey” as Jean faces little more than a kangaroo court at the hands of the Shi’ar in “All-New X-Men” #24. The story leaves a lot to be desired and is so packed with characters that even Bendis’ traditional humorous elements get a bit lost, but the art is second to none and does a decent job of propping up the story’s weaknesses.
There’s so little meat to this story, it’s kind of unbelievable. At the same time, there are so many characters in the book that there’s not much room for any meat. Fortunately, Immonen continues to draw his butt off, making what could have been a total miss merely unsatisfying from a writing and plotting point of view. It’s tough to do a modern twist on such a beloved storyline, but “All-New X-Men” #24 doesn’t work on an emotional — or any other — level. For those familiar with the original Phoenix story, this will ring emotionless and too slick for its own good. Those unfamiliar with the original work are still left with almost nothing to grab onto. What are the real stakes? Where’s the emotional resonance?
On a more practical level, there are a lot of convenient devices, such as a young, untested Jean Grey escaping from her prison bubble single handedly and taking out an entire guard of Shi’ar. Bendis doesn’t even write it into the script, he just cuts away. Cutting away from the action works the first time he does it when it’s Angela on a Shi’ar ship and it’s played for laughs, but cutting away from Jean Grey’s escape just feels sloppy (and redundant).
Immonen’s art, with inks by Wade Von Grawbadger and colors by Marte Gracia, is flat-out fantastic. It’s incredible that Immonen can handle the New X-Men, the Guardians of the Galaxy, The Starjammers, and any number of Shi’ar characters and not lose even half a step. The book is filled with stunning double page spreads that majestically embrace both the breadth of the Shi’ar Empire through Jean Grey’s eyes, and a spaceship piled high with at least twenty characters. Thanks to Immonen, characters are wonderfully expressive and every scene is ridiculously beautiful. Quite frankly, Immonen makes the most of a script that is both demanding and boring — all the actual fight scenes actually happen off panel and though there’s a lot of cool space-related alien technology to explore, there’s also not a lot of emotional work to be mined.
With stunning art, it’s impossible to be too disappointed in “All-New X-Men” #24, but from a writing and plotting point of view, it’s pretty unremarkable. It’s especially disappointing as the lead up to the finale of a major story arc that should have real emotional weight given the history and context.