Brian Wood's "X-Men" #34 delivers another solid installment of the ongoing story exploring the idea of "proto-mutants," but the issue badly misses David Lopez's art.
While Wood continues to impress as he tells a story that's easily as much as about the relationships between these characters as it is about the current plot of mutant ancestors, the art is not able to deliver the same nuance and character work readers have come to expect in only a few issues of "X-Men" with Wood and Lopez at the helm.
From a writing perspective, it's become clear in these first issues that Wood is highly invested in exploring the relationships of his characters, and he has a great cast for that exploration. A mix of old (Storm, Colossus, Psylocke) and new (Pixie), and one that has not even regularly been an X-Man (Domino) gives him a lot of room to maneuver -- examining what many of us already know of these relationships and also adding new layers and levels. What we've seen in a handful of issues is more intriguing from a character standpoint than most superhero comics ever manage.
None of which is to suggest that the actual driving plot isn't compelling in its own right. The idea of "proto-mutants" or "the ancestors of mutants" is a good idea, and one that also leaves plenty of room for even more character development -- how each of our heroes react to this idea, and the kind of passion it inspires in them is the stuff good comics are made of.
Unfortunately for Wood, while guest artist Roland Boschi tries his best, the work in general is not strong enough to carry the story, especially the quieter character moments. Boschi's work is an unusual look for an X-book as it's less traditionally pretty than most. I don't actually mind that idea at all, but erratic artwork throughout the book is problematic. Boschi's storytelling is capable and easy to follow, but inconsistency in the way characters are rendered keeps the book from firing on all cylinders. Additionally, while there are some gorgeous panels and Boschi has good looks for Pixie and Psylocke, too many panels look rushed or sloppy and ultimately detract from the story.
Brian Wood has done wonders with this book in a few short months, turning it from a forgettable X-Men series into one of the must read X-titles, but when the art is not as strong as the writing, the whole book suffers, and this issue greatly misses David Lopez's presence. Wood keeps the book rolling well enough and readers shouldn't let this slightly off note throw them, but it will be good for everyone involved when Lopez is back.