Remember when the X-Men split into two groups, one at the Jean Gray school and the other on Utopia? And how for the most part, the two teams stayed separate? You might find yourself thinking about those times as you read “Uncanny X-Men” #23, in which Brian Michael Bendis and Kris Anka not only pick up some of the pieces from last issue’s meeting of the two teams, but also prepares for yet another collision.
Most of “Uncanny X-Men” #23 is tidying up some loose plot threads, even as new ones are added in to take their place. Hijack’s status with the X-Men is finally resolved (having joined, been kicked off the team, and then showed back up to save everyone’s bacon in the space of a few issues), for example, and there’s also some half-hearted follow-up with both Dazzler and Eva and what’s running through their heads. There’s still a lot hanging on, though, and some danglers are more natural than others. Mystique’s status, for example, works well. Bendis is writing Mystique as a genuine threat, something that was lost over the years as she shifted from terrorist to sadistic government employee to eventual ally. On the other hand, the trauma that Eva went through is still inching along, thanks to dialogue that dances around actually stating what happened rather than being spoken in a realistic manner. You can almost see the lure being cast out and then yanked away from you; this is blatant teasing rather than a slow reveal.
We’re also getting some new storylines. There’s a potential new member introduced here (although given what we’ve seen of him so far, he could just as easily be a new villain), one that plays into “Secret Invasion” as well as the X-Men universe in general. It’s a slightly cliche opening scene, but given time, who knows? Then there’s the introduction of Professor X’s will, one that yet again promises to bring the two opposing X-Men teams together. For a team that is supposed to be on the outs, Cyclops’s squad seems to mingle with the rest of the X-Men on a fairly regular basis. The problem is, every time it happens, it weakens any supposed conflict between them. It’s getting harder and harder to buy Cyclops’s squad as outlaws, and it’s disappointing to see this next meeting already in the cards.
Anka’s art is wildly variable. Some scenes are rendered incredibly well, like Dazzler’s two-page sequence in the bathroom. Anka’s choices of not only how he draws her — with stringy ink lines and a blistering hatred in her eyes — but also the colors chosen are what makes this work. The mostly black-and-white palette stands out against the flashbacks of fuller, richer hues, and that black smear down her face in particular… wow. On the other hand, the opening sequence that introduces Matthew looks garish and half finished. Backgrounds are regularly absent, and the figures look rough and odd. It’s frustrating because Anka can turn out some great pages one moment, but then you turn around and would assume that the next batch were by someone entirely different.
“Uncanny X-Men” #23 comes on the heels of several stronger issues, making this one stand out all the more as being all over the place. There are pieces to like here, but there are just as many to wince at.