Describing this week's New X-Men #32, writer Chris Yost said, "It's the all happy issue! Except for the grim bits, but they're only about 20 pages of the book. That leaves two pages with jokes!" The grim bits do take up most of the issue, but Yost and co-writer Craig Kyle make the most of the grim bits, telling an effective story of people dealing with grief (some dealing with it much poorly than others).
And the two pages of jokes are quite good.
But when you have the X-Men all have a memorial service where you mention 18 names, and HALF of them were killed in this book within the past year...well, you might better understand the reservations some (including myself) have with how death has been handled in this title over that time period.
Before I discuss the particulars of the issue, though, let me give a quick examination of the two most prominent deaths, Laurie Collins and Jay Guthrie, and why these two deaths in particular stand out as fairly annoying.
1. Laurie - This was one of the bigger "Women in Refrigerator" moments in recent time, causing changes in not one, but TWO other characters, both of whom are moved to dramatic changes in their lives based upon Laurie's death. One of the more notable aspects of Women in Refrigerators is the idea that you kill off a woman specifically to get a reaction out of a man, and that's what happened with Laurie's death. It enraged Josh Foley enough to kill Stryker (and thereby changing his powers) and it enraged Kevin Ford (Wither) enough this issue to basically become a bad guy. The reason this is seen as an undesirable plot idea is that it is essentially treating the woman not as an individual character, but in terms of her relationship to a man - you're not hurting LAURIE, you're hurting Josh's girlfriend or Kevin's crush. It's a fairly demeaning use of a character who has been a part of the comic book for years.
In addition, in typical WiR fashion, Laurie's death was decidedly unheroic, as she was just shot in the head by a sniper while talking to Josh.
I understand that, from a writing perspective, the argument is "We wouldn't have killed Laurie if we didn't think that her death could be used to effect change on the other characters." And I get that, I'm just saying that that is an easy way out. It's a shortcut. And it's a shortcut that has been taken by so many other writers in the past that they even have a NAME for the cliche (WiR). It's not the type of thing that makes you say, "Oh man, they killed another woman to effect change in a man? THIS IS THE WORST BOOK EVER!," but it IS enough to say, "Oh man, they killed another woman to effect change in a man? That aspect of the comic is lame."
2. Jay Guthrie - I just don't get his death. It doesn't seem to make any story sense to me. Besides the continuity aspect of it, which isn't a big deal (yeah, the guy seemed pretty nigh invulnerable, but if he now isn't, then, well, whatever), it just seemed to be anti-story to kill off Jay. The situation really seemed to dictate either limbo or keeping him around to have him deal with the magnitude of his betrayal. Death seemed an easy way out, especially because, unlike Laurie, Jay's death DIDN'T effect change in pretty much anyone. Ostensibly Dust, but that seems to be fairly negligible. Heck, it's not like Sam has even addressed it over in X-Men, and Husk is in limbo. We already saw Stryker have Laurie killed when Jay was killed, so it wasn't like we needed to see how evil Stryker was. It just doesn't seem to make any story sense, while keeping him alive seemed to have a good deal of story sense (mainly with him having to actually DEAL with the results of his actions, rather than it being swept under the rug with his death).
ANYhow, this issue is split between where Wither has been since he left the school after he accidentally used his power (which is to basically disintegrate organic matter) on Laurie and the rest of the school dealing with Jay's funeral (while the New X-Men deal with the result of their battle with Nimrod, including Josh's healing powers returning).
I enjoyed the use of the X-Factor characters, as Emma Frost is using them to keep an eye on Wither (with a nod to Rahne's involvement in New X-Men in the past). Although I'm a bit disappointed in X-Factor not checking up on the old woman that Wither is constantly with - that seems like poor investigating on their part. Also, while not the fault of the book, why put Selene on the cover of the comic if it is meant to be surprising who she is in the INSIDE of the comic? Silly.
In Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan's Demo, there was an issue involving a woman who physically transforms into people's "perfect woman." She runs into a woman where she DOESN'T change, and she is so excited to see someone who actually sees her as herself, that she essentially becomes obsessed with this other woman, using the notion of "I can be with her, so it means I SHOULD be with her, right?" I was reminded of that story in this issue, with the use of Cessily (Mercury), who seems to dig Kevin in part because her skin ISN'T organic, so he COULD be with her. I like that plot idea.
The examination of how the other New X-Men are dealing with their Nimrod battle is pretty cool. X-23 is obsessed with Julian, Julian is obsessed with Sophia, Josh is dealing with his new powers,and Rockslide (in the two pages of jokes) auditions new members for the team. The Rockslide scenes had excellent dialogue.
The depiction of the Guthries dealing with Jay's death was very good, I thought. The writers did a fine job with his family. And the memorial service was quite nice.
Mike Norton and Dave Meikis do an excellent job filling in for Paco Medina and Juan Vlasco. I think Norton fits the style of this book better than Runaways (where he also did a recent fill-in job). Definitely strong, clean work. Norton should really have a regular gig. He's a good artist.
All in all, I thought this was a good issue with strong artwork. Any reservations I had about the handling of the deaths are reservations about previous issues, so I can't very well hold that against THIS issue. So as for this issue, I would recommend it.