The oversized first issue of “Black Vortex” comes with 30 pages of galactic-scale conflict and an extra-large cast but, despite the fireworks and wisecracks, it’s missing a sense of purpose. Though the team-up between the X-Men and the Guardians of the Galaxy is fun and full of banter, it’s tough to see how either group is going to change, learn or even be challenged by the other. Still, it’s certainly entertaining and invitingly drawn, and Storm, Kitty Pryde and Star-Lord’s storylines at least show glimpses of what deeper hook “Black Vortex” could offer.
The event begins with Peter Quill and Kitty Pryde’s discovery of a dangerous portal that brings darker, stronger versions of people into this world. Artist Ed McGuinness, working with Kris Anka, is a perfect penciller for this concept. His welcoming, easy figures jive with the joking tone of the script, while his Vortex versions of the characters feel just alien enough. Admittedly, these designs would feel generic in another context — they’re not particularly original or visually stunning – but, as tweaks of existing characters, they’re quite effective. For instance, Storm’s is stellar.
However, there are definitely incongruities in the art. In attempting to speed things along, the artistic team frequently produces unclear panels — not so unclear that a quick re-read doesn’t clear things up, but the book is so speedy that going back feels like a break in the action. It’s probably inevitable, given the involvement of two pencillers and multiple inkers, but I wish it weren’t so noticeable.
Sam Humphries’ script moves at top speed, firing off one-liners and jogging through the exposition. The X-Men and the Guardians are almost constantly ribbing each other, whether playing tabletop RPGs or debating physics, and almost every page contains multiple jokes. This is a smart, albeit cynical, approach that doesn’t expect all the jokes to land; one or two clunkers on a page of seven won’t stop the reader, and all the many cast members get something to say.
However, only Star-Lord, Kitty and Storm get to act like real people outside of their quips. These three characters are given decisions to make, unlike the others. Star-Lord’s opportunism and Kitty’s natural heroism play off each other, each highlighting and challenging the other. Storm, gazing into the portal, is achingly tempted by the vision of her unquenchably, cosmically powerful Vortex self. Letterer Travis Lanham does a glorious job with the placement of her one-word reaction — “Goddess” — framing it at Vortex Storm’s feet so that it’s both an exclamation and a description of how powerful she looks.
Colorists Marte Gracia and Marcelo Maiolo provide a bright, shiny palette that sets an adventurous mood. They also do fabulous work with Storm’s Vortex self; the exploding planets are painted in harsh, harsh whites and yellows that stand in contrast to the rest of the issue. Their other attempt at contrast is less successful, though. Near the end, some of the panels appear in flatter, more graphic colors on white backgrounds and, while I see what they were trying to do, it just reads as incongruous.
“Black Vortex” is a fun enough start, but I’m not sure what it adds to either the characters or the 616. So far, the Guardians and the X-Men don’t seem to challenge one another outside of good-natured teasing. While this issue made me smile, these types of interactions won’t hold my interest through an entire event.