A+X #2

After a lukewarm debut, "A+X" #2 is a slightly better advertisement for the high-concept series that pairs random X-Men with random Avengers for ten pages of short, self-contained narrative. Headlining this issue (in a change from the advertised line-up) is artist Chris Bachalo, who writes and draws a Rogue/Black Widow story, with Peter David and Mike Del Mundo following up with an Iron Man/Kitty Pryde story.

Some fans will be happy to learn neither story is anything like the title's precursor, "AvX: VS." Where that book had little going on besides fighting, both of these shorts are more narrative-driven. Neither is especially deep or intricate, but they are self-contained character pieces rather than plotless brawls.

For the most part, Bachalo's opener is cute and light-hearted. It's a good effort, and although you can spot the rough edges in the writing -- panels too wordy here, exposition delivered too late there -- the truth is that you've probably seen far worse from professional writers. The design-led artwork looks routinely great, although his storytelling has had clarity issues in the past, and it doesn't get any better without a separate writer involved. He clearly has the fundamentals, but his style gets in the way on occasion.

Bachalo's storytelling choices mean he can get away with ideas that would seem gratuitous if drawn by other artists, simply because he's not being gratuitous from moment to moment. There's a scene where Rogue and Natasha do something that has more than a hint of reader titillation about it, but it's significantly less porny than some artists are on a panel-by-panel basis. The panel gets played for its comedy rather than sexiness. It's not a story that'll change lives, but one people will remember and enjoy.

The same can be said of David and Del Mundo's short, which sees Tony Stark inviting Kitty Pryde to work for Resilient, giving her the (literal) guided tour. Obviously, things go awry. David's writing is concise and snappy at the best of times, and has no difficulty squeezing into ten pages. Given that it stars two snarky geniuses, there's no shortage of jokes and repartee, and even a resolution that winks at the readers. It's a welcome reminder that there's more to Peter David than "X-Factor" and "Hulk."

Del Mundo's artwork really transforms the story into something great. His Peter Chung/"Aeon Flux"-like expressionism gives every panel a hyper-kinetic and wild feel, but with clean lines and organic shapes that make keep it looking beautiful. It's hard to imagine this style working on a month-to-month basis, given what a departure it is from Marvel's house look, but shorts like this are the perfect vehicle for it.

A good second issue for "A+X" and -- like many of the Marvel NOW! launch titles -- convincingly better than the first. Your interest may vary depending on the creators and characters involved, but technically, objectively, this is a good comic, and one I'm looking forward to seeing more of.

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