Amazing X-Men #3

When Beast and Storm find themselves trapped on the icy waters of Purgatory, they find a savior where they least expect it -- in Nightcrawler, their long-since-deceased friend. Jason Aaron finds Nightcrawler and his friends dead center in his favorite kind of brawl, as Ed McGuinness and Dexter Vines joyously illustrate swashbuckling fight scenes and all manner of dastardly villains. With a few bumps in characterization, "Amazing X-Men" #3 returns life to one of the X-Men's most spirited members with high-flying fun, action and brilliant artwork.

Although Azazel has had a short -- and not very beloved -- tenure in the Marvel Universe, he's been established as patient, calculating, and suave; in other words, all of the things he's not in Aaron's "Amazing X-Men" run so far. As his character takes a complete 180 into the realm of brazenness and stereotypical pirate jive, this new development can't help but seem a little contrived. After all, under Aaron's pen, Azazel simply plays into Nightcrawler's fantasy rather than hold his own as an individual character with an established personality. Azazel's dialogue feels strained and unnatural; his plan, overblown and too perfectly timed. Because of this disregard, Aaron's use of Azazel in this arc is forced and overdone, especially where this villain could have resonated as an extremely personal antagonist for Nightcrawler if done right.

Considering this, the issue makes up for its faults with its amount of sheer swashbuckling fun. The fight scenes are wonderfully choreographed, easy to follow, and exciting. Beast's dialogue makes up for Azazel's mischaracterization twice over with his witty repartee and clever planning. The plot takes a few nice turns that are genuinely shocking, up to and including the dramatic conclusion to Azazel and Beast's face-off. This issue, to its great benefit, also includes many more Nightcrawler scenes than the previous two; Nightcrawler's reveal to Storm is appropriately built up and sensational, in true Nightcrawler form. Although Aaron unfortunately appears to be setting up a love triangle between Wolverine, Storm and Nightcrawler, the chemistry between Nightcrawler and Storm is palpable, largely thanks to Ed McGuinness and Dexter Vines' spot-on body language.

McGuinness and Vines continue their impressive work on "Amazing X-Men" with a diverse cast of characters and perfect posturing. The duo doesn't restrict themselves to a purely human afterlife; they include all manner of strange-looking creature, keeping each page filled with a strong amount of interesting figures. McGuinness and Vines nail their figure work, from Storm's robust stances to Nightcrawler's bombastic fighting style and joyful expressions. Additionally, the Bamfs newfound adorableness just can't go unnoted. The issue absolutely bursts with vibrant color thanks to Marte Gracia, whose work on the issue is lively and just phenomenal. If there is joy to be found in this book, McGuinness, Vines and Gracia are the perpetrators with their outstanding collaborative effort and all-around gorgeous style.

What "Amazing X-Men" #3 lacks in substance, it makes up for in fun. The issue is true to Nightcrawler fashion in its inclusion of pirates and bombastic adventure, even if it forgoes past character developments. While the book maintains its gorgeous art and middling storytelling, "Amazing X-Men" has yet to truly wow.

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