All-New X-Men #23

"All-New X-Men" #23 attempts to make good on "The Trial of Jean Grey" storyline with action, plot development and plenty of guest stars and cameos from across the Marvel cosmos in this comic book written by Brian Bendis with art by Stuart Immonen. Immonen's art is rendered to completion with inks from Wade Von Grawbadger and colors from Marte Gracia. Letterist Cory Petit rounds out the creative team with a solid effort that remains clean and crisp despite the sheer number of characters present.

Jean Grey receives a lot of attention in this issue as she comes face-to-face with her captors: the Shi'ar Imperial Guard and their leader, Gladiator. Bendis reminds readers that this Jean Grey is still a young lady growing into her abilities and their limitations. Kidnapped and dragged to an alien prison, Jean learns the limits of her abilities and winds up woefully human. The humanity of the characters is where Bendis shines in "All-New X-Men" #23. Mashed together, the Guardians of the Galaxy and the original X-Men attempt to plan an attack on an enemy that massively outguns and outnumbers them, but the human spirit keeps them in the fight. Some of Bendis' work here seems slightly off character, like Kitty Pryde's sudden and overwhelming lack of confidence, but in other manners Bendis simply shines. Rocket Raccoon here is more tempered with humor than the one-note, "BLAM! Murdered you!" bit Bendis subscribed the character to in the pages of "Guardians of the Galaxy." Iceman is incredibly entertaining, especially when he explains why he enjoys talking to Rocket and even Drax has a few nice moments. Seed that with space-fights capably drawn by Stuart Immonen and "The Trial of Jean Grey" story is elevated. Finally.

Immonen's art, with Von Grawbadger's strong, distinct inking is sublime. Every character has their own physique and posture, no matter how small they have to be to fit into a panel with the dozen co-stars of this comic. If every character we simply a silhouette, they would be every bit as distinct in Immonen's art as they are with Immonen's pencils, Von Grawbadger's inks and Gracia's dimensional coloring. More often than not, Immonen stays out of the way of his colorist, inferring planes with a minimal number of lines and allowing Gracia to describe features through subtle shifts in tone. Beyond delivering individual appearances to every character, Immonen delivers details to each, like Drax's scars on the top of his noggin, the design of Angela's ribbons and the shape of Henry McCoy's eyeglasses. Details fill the backgrounds and the space scenes and the absence of any detail is stunningly impactful, such as Jean's plummet into solitary.

Gracia's color work is nothing short of phenomenal, from the red hue cast in the cockpit of the Guardians' ship to the starfields stretched out before the viewports of the Shi'Ar vessels and decorating the backgrounds of the dogfight. Gracia enables the storytelling by giving the Shi'Ar interior shots a purpler undertone while the Guardians' ship carries a friendlier blue hue. All of Gracia's work comes to an emotional explosion in the double-page spread where the very limited, but very dynamic palette tells readers everything they need to know about the accusations leveled against Jean Grey.

A last page reveal opens up the universe just a little bit more and made all the difference for me between buying this comic in paper or pawning a digital version from a pal. There's a lot of story to be told still and despite the slow, deliberate start to "The Trial of Jean Grey," Bendis and company are rounding the corner and raising the stakes. Now that the story is over half complete (although the checklist at the back identifies six issues contrary to the five parts promised on the cover) the conclusion of "All-New X-Men" #23 hits an unexpected note and offers a payoff to readers, locking them in for future installments, while raising questions, giving answers and promising a lot more adventure in the remaining three chapters.

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