Up until now, I've been slightly on the fence about the Utopia crossover between "Uncanny X-Men" and "Dark Avengers." It's not quite had the punch that it seemed to promise, and the X-Men seemed to hold back and wait just a bit too much for my taste. Here, Matt Fraction lets the X-Men finally unleash their plan, and the end result? It's making me feel much better about Utopia.
Parts of the plan's reveal seem a little too easy, a variation on the whole, "This is what we were really doing all along" twist that actually goes about as predictably as you'd expect. The other half, though, is where things get interesting. It's the next step in what Fraction and company have planned for the X-Men's new status quo, and it's piqued my interest a bit. Long-time readers of the X-Men might see a similarity between this and the master plan of one of the X-Men's greatest villains from almost two decades ago, and somehow I don't think it's coincidence. Where Fraction goes from here has me more excited than almost anything else that's happened so far in Utopia. (I say almost because the opening page involving Danielle Moonstar and a surprise face still has my head buzzing a day later, wanting to know where that's going.)
Fraction also seems to issue a strong reminder that "Uncanny X-Men" is the core X-Book these days. X-Force and the New Mutants both make appearances here, and he's got a strong handle on characters from both of those teams. Even better, though, is that Fraction finally gives the Dark Avengers the dropkick that the characters have been begging for since their inception. Fans of the Dark Avengers going away will certainly get some amount of glee out of this comic.
The art, unfortunately, is a bit muddled in this issue. With three different people inking Luke Ross's pencils, it's never a good sign that things are going to look anything but rushed. Things are at their weakest in crowd scenes, with characters looking a little too small and hard to make out on several pages. Ross just doesn't seem to have quite the knack for those sorts of scenes in a way that an artist like Terry Dodson would tackle the panels. Some of his facial expressions here are good (especially the opening scene with Danielle and the surprise guest star), but others look a little too over-exaggerated and slightly plastic for my taste. Ross has done a better job on books like "Samurai: Heaven and Earth" than what shows up here, unfortunately.
If you've been feeling that the Utopia crossover has felt a bit pointless, well, this is the turning point. I'm feeling a lot more confident about why this story happened (although it probably could have been an issue or two shorter), and about the direction of the X-Books from here on out.