Chapter five of “The Black Vortex” welcomes readers into the Brian Michael Bendis-written and Andrea Sorrentino-drawn “All-New X-Men” #39 with the enhanced Angel bursting through the panels in an inferno while he chastises Laura. Readers are quickly afforded an update on Laura’s predicament.
That single image of Warren and Laura with fragmented panels falling away from it magnificently blends Sorrentino’s drawings with Marcelo Maiolo’s colors. Letterer Cory Petit follows Bendis’ lead and keeps the dialogue to twenty-six words in four balloons across the spread. That image depicts the most dynamic action in “All-New X-Men” #39, which is definitely a transition issue that resets the game pieces and adjusts the perspective on the board. Only one other image in the issue combines the talents of the assembled creative team so completely, but that page comes together as an anti-tourism poster for Hala as the Black Vortex-enhanced characters unleash hell upon the Kree homeworld.
Sorrentino’s art is not unlike black and white photocopies that have been run through more than a generation or two: the shadows are black, the highlights are stark white and there really is nothing in between. Whatever the case, the end result is that there are some truly great panels in “All-New X-Men” #39, but there are also some real headscratchers with surprising inconsistencies, as it seems more important that young Jean Grey have freckles on her face than to maintain the shape of her nose or the distance between her nose and lips.
Maiolo’s colors are both a solid match for Sorrentino’s understated drawings and a handicap. He’s tasked to use gradients or tone variations to compensate for the stark shadows Sorrentino draws, but the success rate varies from panel to panel. The page depicting the three different cockpits as the marshaled forces of the X-Men and the Guardians split off is one of the most impressive passive panels of the story and is much more visually compelling than the flat-toned shocker panels that are Maiolo’s signature move.
Bendis’ story is one of transition. He slips bits to Sorrentino to keep the story grinding forward but, in reality, “All-New X-Men” #39 is a story about who is going to go where and who is already there. Aside from the panels aflame, a two-panel skirmish punctuates the issue, setting up the story for future chapters as “The Black Vortex” continues to spew forth strife. By using this issue to set up all of the characters that had fallen over in previous chapters, Bendis gives readers a chance to learn more about Laura on the good guys’ side and Thane on the darker side of this collision, but neither character does enough to lock the roving lights down into a spotlight.
“All-New X-Men” #39 marks time between “The Black Vortex: Alpha” and “The Black Vortex: Omega.” As the fifth chapter and near-midway point of the multi-title event, it serves as halftime, giving readers and creators a chance to catch their breath. Rather than providing a pep talk or bolstering wounds sustained thus far, this issue does little to inspire further action. It is almost as though this issue simply could have occurred between panels and the story and readers would be none the worse for missing it. As it stands, however, it may be a struggle to recall just what exactly did occur in “All-New X-Men” #39, save for some dynamic imagery.