“Uncanny X-Men” #2 by Brian Michael Bendis and Chris Bachalo is weighted more towards characterization than plot. There is some screentime for new kids that are to be trained in the new Charles Xavier School for Mutants, but a good half of the issue is devoted to the White Queen and who she is now post Phoenix-Five and post-breakup with Cyclops.
The old Emma Frost, who dripped with irony, sarcasm and arrogant, aristocratic detachment, is gone. Her obnoxious wit, malice and spark are much diminished. The outsize, deliberately flaunted sexuality and fake British accent are gone too, and will grieve or relieve long-time readers, depending on how they felt about her scene-stealing but polarizing old personality.
Bachalo’s design of Emma’s new costume also deemphasizes her old femme fatale role. Bachalo’s women never look old, but here, with her shoulder-length hair, Audrey Hepburn-esque figure and pert features that sport not even a wrinkle, Emma looks even younger than in her Bachalo-drawn “Generation X” days. It partly works, in that this is a “new” Emma, getting used to her powers being on the fritz, but it is also ill-fitting, since this is a mature woman who has been through a physical and emotional wringer through all her adult life.
Bendis’ opening monologue for Emma lays out the new topography of her thoughts pretty well, in the casual, freeflowing speech that Bendis is so adept at writing. In Bendis’ hands, Emma is unsure of herself, far more introspective and wordier than ever. The part that seems most like the old Emma is her obsessions with her own guilt and with Cyclops. In “Uncanny X-Men” #2, these twin foci are revealed in the form of her simplifying much of entire AvX conflict into her own betrayal of Cyclops, instead of any larger examination of morality and agency.
Bachalo’s facial expressions and have excellent range. Illyana’s suspicious narrowed eyes convey her sharp suspicions, and the bug-eyed expressions and apprehensive high spirits of the four young recruits change the tone of “Uncanny X-Men” from “soap opera” to “high school lunch room” as soon as they are on-panel. The new kids are engaging and have fun powers, but they are still too new to feel three-dimensional, especially because Bendis and Bachalo have focused on the old guard more. Cyclops and Magik look the most unchanged, the White Queen is quite altered and Magneto looks entirely different without his hair and his old magenta and purple getup. Also, Erik is so quiet that it’s surprising that his teammates haven’t noticed something is up with him.
In “Uncanny X-Men” #2, seeing is believing. Bachalo visually reinforces the personality changes Bendis has scripted and thus reminds the reader of Magneto’s deceptions. Bachalo’s colors also reinforce the forward-looking tone of Cyclops’ mission. “Uncanny X-Men” #2 starts with Emma alone in a scene of blue ice and ends with the greenish gray Australian light. It’s a bleak new revolutionary world, but it also looks clean and fresh.
Bendis and Bachalo’s heavy focus on character in “Uncanny X-Men” #2 sacrifices some forward momentum. While it’s a smooth read, it’s somewhat unsatisfying. The reader can see Bendis working hard to make the choices and changes in the White Queen and Magneto believable, but the fact that this effort is very noticeable belies the situation — that some of what’s been happening doesn’t feel natural. However, like their young students, the new Emma and Erik have much narrative potential, and the events themselves are interesting enough, and “Uncanny X-Men” #2 ends on an excellent cliffhanger. It’s an inevitable plot point, but it arrives earlier than expected, and Bachalo’s composition for the last page is old-school but effective, stirring up excitement for what is to come.