Even though there have been some interesting plot threads developed over the course of the writer’s first two volumes -- less so with the “Battle of the Atom” crossover -- there really hasn’t been a sense of momentum to this title. While it’s ostensibly meant to show us Cyclops’ team and his “revolutionary” mindset towards protecting other mutants, there hasn’t been much progress in developing that as a goal. There are some minor steps taken towards rectifying that with the issues collected in this volume. However, they don’t really imbue the writer’s run with a real sense of momentum at this point.
It’s evident from the very first issue in this collection, a spotlight on Ben Deeds. He’s one of the new mutants created by Bendis at the start of his run (and made his debut in the pages of “All-New X-Men” interestingly enough) who also features the most esoteric set of powers from that group. Deeds appears to have some kind of shape-shifting power that allowed him to turn into the person closest to him. Not the most useful power out there, but Emma Frost seems to think that there’s more to his set than that and the issue revolves around fleshing out that idea.
The exact nature of Deeds’ power is actually kind of clever and helps to set him apart from his teammates who have more combat-ready abilities. His is more centered around social engineering, and very well suited to espionage as we see him walk right into a S.H.I.E.L.D. stronghold without even breaking a sweat. Of all the new mutants Bendis has created, Deeds was in the most need of receiving additional development. He gets that here and now I’m actually interested in seeing more of him in future volumes. The fact that the S.H.I.E.L.D. business successfully dovetails from “Battle of the Atom” and into the next volume is also a plus.
Next up is an issue that’s only halfway successful, and is conveniently split up into two halves for analysis. The first involves all of the female X-Men in this group going out to London for some shopping and general R&R. It’s filled with the kind of rambling and witty conversations that Bendis does quite well, and makes for a nice change of pace from all the superhero action. Then the superhero action reasserts itself as this issue is also a tie-in to “Inhumanity” and the women stumble across a terrigenesis egg. What’s here does nothing to endear me to Marvel’s hard-sell of the Inhumans as even the characters are wondering about what their deal is. The most notable (read: bizarre) part of this section is the fact that this section shows Bendis integrating Geldhoff from the “Irresponsible” arc of “Ultimate Spider-Man” over a decade ago into the Marvel Universe proper. I can only assume that the reason the writer did this was “becuase he can,” but it at least makes for a weirdly memorable moment for those who still remember the character.
Though Magneto was a part of this series from the start, he’s since gone off to do his own thing for his solo title. We get a sort of explanation as to why he split off from Scott’s group after he gets some intel from Dazzler regarding mutant activity in Madripoor. Of course, we know that Mystique has assumed Dazzler’s identity and is currently running the show on that island. (Anyone who wants to explain how this is possible when the island is currently resting on the head of a flying dragon in the pages of “Avengers World” gets an honorary No-Prize!) Bendis does a good job setting up the “urban vigilante” take on Magneto that Cullen Bunn has run with quite well in his title so far. Most interesting is that it’s ultimately a clash in ideology which leads Magneto to a violent showdown with Mystique. Even though they’ve successfully worked together in the past, they both have very different ideas about mutants’ place in the world. It actually makes the fighting more satisfying to see unfold when it’s underpinned by real ideas.
Then you have the following issue which has plenty of action that is driven by its characters’ need to survive. The new members of the team wind up transported to Tabula Rasa, the part of Montana where evolution was accelerated by 100 million years thanks to Archangel, and they wind up having to fight for their life against the strange creatures there. It’s all part of Cyclops’ latest exercise in team-building and most of the entertainment comes from seeing how these not-ready-for-prime-time-players react to a situation in which they’re in way over their heads. The issue is fun for what it is and offers some potentially interesting future stories involving what happened to Tempus during her time jump, and what will become of Hijack now that he is suffering the consequences of failing to leave his phone behind on this excursion.
The final issue collected here is weird for several reasons. It starts off with the disappearance of the time-displaced X-Men before flashing back to showcase their integration into Cyclops’ team in the wake of “Battle of the Atom.” You could make the argument that this issue should’ve been the first one in this collection, but it’s welcome to see that it’s here at all. Bendis gets some good drama from Kitty’s confrontation with Cyclops over the death of Professor X, and Cyclops’ encounters with his younger self and Jean Grey. Then the narrative jumps back to the present as the team decides to hit S.H.I.E.L.D. up for a spaceship in order to go after their missing friends.
Though this provides a solid jumping-off point for the next volume, the issue is mostly a chore to get through thanks to the art from Marco Rudy. Last seen illustrating part of the Scott Snyder run on “Swamp Thing,” Rudy makes every page here into an elaborate visual montage built around an “X” motif or Cyclops out-of-control optic blasts. I can appreciate the artist’s effort to keep things visually interesting, but he’s trying way too hard here and the results wind up being stylish for the sake of being stylish than serving the story in any useful manner. Regular artist Chris Bachalo has had his problems with clarity, yet his issues here are enjoyably straightforward by comparison and the issue featuring Tabula Rasa is a great showcase for his unique design sensibilities. Kris Anka handles the “Inhumanity” issue and is the most straightforward out of all the artist’s here. That said, his work has a clean, energetic feel to it which is great for the dialogue-heavy story he illustrates.
“X-Men vs. S.H.I.E.L.D.” is the title of the next volume, so there’s no question about where things are going from here. It’s a good short-term solution to the book’s momentum issue as the team and the organization have been at each other’s throats since the start. Then again, Bendis has already been to the “S.H.I.E.L.D. has been compromised!” well before in his original run on “New Avengers” so I still have concerns about the long-term direction of this title. Not for much longer, though, as the writer recently announced that he would be stepping down as writer for this title and “All-New X-Men” in a couple months. I don’t think he’s done wrong by the franchise in his run so far, but these uneven issues leave me thinking that maybe they’ll be able to do better with whoever they find to replace him.