Brian Michael Bendis, Stuart Immonen and Wade von Grawbadger step back for a brief moment to deal with the consequences of the Jean Grey trial and young Scott’s departure before setting up a new arc in “All New X-Men” #26. With some great (and a few not-so-great) character moments, the issue tackles unaddressed concerns at long last, while Immonen and von Grawbadger continue to stun with excellent figures and incredible layouts.
As a series, “All New X-Men” has beaten a long, winding path; the book always seems to be tied up in something larger than itself, whether it’s the interconnectedness with “Uncanny X-Men” or in its tie-ins to events like “Battle of the Atom” or “The Trial of Jean Grey.” Fortunately, this issue finally takes the time to deal with a few as-of-yet unaddressed issues, the most crucial of which being the establishment of boundaries in older Scott and younger Jean’s relationship. Bendis spends roughly half of this issue on an overdue conversation between the two, tackling the complexities of Jean’s existence in the present and what that means for the two of them. What’s more, for the first time since “AvX,” Scott seems to have truly let his guard down, if only for a moment; his frankness with Jean is a refreshing turn, harkening back to his characterization pre-Phoenix force. With careful and thought out dialogue, Bendis handles this situation gracefully. The addition of Kitty’s reaction — and her role reversal from protected to protector — sets an excellent precedence for her relationship with her students.
Although this opening sequence is strong, the latter half comes across as a quick change in pace. In fact, the change is so abrupt that the story feels as though it was two issues were crammed into one. Further, Laura’s sudden and fierce attachment to young Scott doesn’t sit quite right; her development towards that has been slow and steady in the few fleeting moments they’ve had together, but ultimately her departure — which heavily implies Scott’s quick exit as the sole cause — seems unexpected and out of character.
With dynamic and fluid focus, Immonen and von Grawbadger’s work is as cinematic as ever; the panels move with an astonishing life-like quality. Immonen and von Grawbadger absolutely nail perspective shots, from one panel’s steady gaze at Jean’s feet to another panel’s imitation of lens-flare behind Scott’s head. The characters come alive in the details, as in the reflection of light in Jean’s eyes to the minute detail in her fingernail beds. The body language is spot-on, exhibiting personality — like Kitty’s stern pout and Laura’s stubbornly furrowed eyebrows and set jaw — naturally and gracefully. Likewise, Marte Gracia’s colors add astounding depth to each page. His opening splash page, in particular, wows with its vivid pinks that fade across into dark, sinister purples and blacks. Gracia truly steals the show in this issue.
“All New X-Men” #26 gives its faction of the X-Men a brief respite in order to take care of some unfinished business, ramping up the adrenaline only in the last few pages for an ominous cliffhanger. Though the issue suffers from erratic pacing and a case of odd characterization, it holds steady with an understated but touching opening and phenomenal artwork.