Since the first issue of the new volume of “Uncanny X-Men” Brian Michael Bendis has been building to a war between Cyclops’ rogue X-Men (not to be confused with Rogue’s X-Men) and S.H.I.E.L.D. That plot finally comes to a head with #19.NOW, drawn by Chris Bachalo, as Maria Hill confronts the recently exiled X-Men member Hijack to find the location of Scott Summers’ new compound while Scott’s team deals with yet another Sentinel assault in Chicago. Like the first chapter of many Bendis comic books, it is a full story prologue to the final page, which actually kicks off the plot promised on the cover. It’s not bad by any means, but having read this many comics written by Bendis, I knew to expect some solid character moments but to not to actually read what was promised next to the book’s logo.
It’s a pattern of writing that I’ve noticed with Bendis’ that offers an interesting challenge as a reviewer. On one hand, the story is solid. The X-Men have to prove that they are more than just mutant powers as the Sentinels, sporting what looks to be mystical technology, have found a way to neutralize their mutant abilities. We get a disturbing plot advancement with Dazzler who is the prisoner of Sabretooth and Mystique and Mystique’s Louis Vuitton doctor bag. If mutants are where mutant growth hormone comes from, then I don’t want to know the origin of crack.
On the other hand, and I don’t know if this is a marketing side issue or not, but this is the prologue to a story, not the story. “The Uncanny X-Men Vs. S.H.I.E.L.D.” is a story that happens only on the last page when Cyke screams to no one in particular that the X-Men are now declaring war on S.H.I.E.L.D. Only having the first issue of a Bendis story is like only having the first 10 minutes of a movie downloaded; we’re waiting around, watching the progress bar slowly load so we can get another 10 minutes of the tale. Frequency of shipping schedule is certainly a friend to the types of stories Bendis likes to tell as they always feel more satisfying to read as a whole. However we’re still left expecting a fight, and getting one, but not the one promised to us.
None of this means anything in a visual tale if the visuals are not visually appealing and these visuals are very visual. Chris Bachalo and his basketball team of inkers deliver several gorgeous double page spreads of the X-Men fighting Sentinels with slanted, angular page layouts that no one else but Bachalo could pull off. His draftsmanship is unmistakable and the way he blends realism with cartoonish features make me want to do that thing where you kiss your fingers and then lift them skyward like a caricature of an Italian cook.
My final verdict is that the story was good and a good story is a good story, gang. I like the long game that Bendis is playing in this book. However, I think that if you’re looking to read this story, do it when the entire thing can be consumed in one sitting.