Mystique is a character that's been all over the map. When originally created by Chris Claremont and John Byrne, she was an out-and-out villain as the leader of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants; since then, she's climbed the ladder all the way to reluctant hero and plunged back down into full-on villain again -- apt, certainly, for a shapechanger. In Brian Michael Bendis's run on "Uncanny X-Men" and "All-New X-Men," Mystique has been a recurring villain that's always one step ahead of the X-Men. It's fitting, then, that Bendis and Kris Anka wrap up her storyline right before the series itself wraps up.
Bendis's story here works well because it's accomplishing two things at once. First, it gives us a fun conversation with Mystique that tries to poke around inside that twisty little head of hers, even as we finally see the consequences of everything she's done to plague the X-Men over the past few years. Second, it continues to follow-up on the question of what will happen to all of the new characters that Bendis introduced in his "Uncanny X-Men" run. By hitting both points at the same time, we end up with a stronger overall experience.
It would have been easy to let Mystique fade into the background; she's one of the most recognizable villains in the series (both for her longevity as well as Rebecca Romijn and Jennifer Lawrence's portrayals of her in the various "X-Men" films), and there are certainly other writers champing at the bit to use her. Finishing up the storyline in the manner that Bendis chooses gives a satisfying sense of closure. It allows some characters connected to Mystique to finish out their own story arcs, and the group effort to find Mystique lets us get something that feels exceedingly rare in "Uncanny X-Men": namely, the idea that this group of characters was genuinely a team. Along those lines, it felt flat to see the new kids dumped at the Jean Grey School a few issues ago when Cyclops dissolved his group, so it's nice to see that there's at least the possibility for something greater for them. It would be easy for them to quickly get lost in the shuffle within the rest of the masses in the various X-Men books, so this gives us hope that -- for now -- these characters will function as a group and move forward from there.
Anka's art is extremely clean and smooth this month, probably some of his best art on the title. His Mystique, in all of her various forms, is great, from that smirking grin as a Bollywood star to all of the different X-Men forms that she mimics. Keeping the same pose but in varying forms could have felt lazy, but it doesn't because Anka makes each character look different enough from the previous one. From Dark Phoenix's flaming and wafting hair to the sneer on Wolverine's face, Anka takes the care to make each character look special. While Dazzler's new look is still atrocious, there's a great blase look on her face at just the right moment that at least matches the nihilistic look that this redesign is clearly aiming for.
It's nice to get a comic where the solicitation isn't quite what we actually received; not only is the surprise appreciated, but it ends up making much more sense than initially advertised. With "Uncanny X-Men" #35 shipping shortly and then the big wrap-up of "Uncanny X-Men" #600 this October, the end is clearly here for Bendis' take on the characters. If the final issues are as strong as this one is, both in terms of giving us a satisfying conclusion as well as setting up situations for other writers, we're in for a good ride.