It's a reasonably difficult mental challenge to buy an annual knowing that the story it contains will cross into a further two annuals before its resolution. It's doubly difficult when the final chapter is in Namor's annual, a character who I couldn't be more disinterested in if I tried to be. Still, spurred on by a reviewer's duty, I bought the comic. And as it turned out, it wasn't terrible.
But nor was it especially good. Undoubtedly, Nicholas Bradshaw's artwork makes the book a better reading than it would otherwise be with a different artist's work on it. His Arthur Adams-inspired style blends manga-lite designs with solid storytelling. Although he hasn't quite nailed Adams' physical consistency, it's easy to enjoy, and a welcome change from the current photo-referencing trends. This couldn't look more cartoony if it tried, and it revels in that, rather than apologizing for it. Bradshaw's environments are rendered in painstaking detail and with obvious imagination behind them. If we were judging the book solely on its art, it'd be right up there.
Unfortunately, we're not. The story sees a rather motley bunch of X-Men – Cyclops, Namor, Dr. Nemesis, and Hope – accidentally sucked into the Negative Zone. The idea was clearly to cast Cyclops as the default leader of an X-Men team which doesn't much care for being led, in stark contrast to his recent role as mutantkind's "general," but at the same time, it's not a very interesting team. As it is, only Cyclops and Hope have any established relationship dynamic worth speaking of, and even that's a reasonably mercurial one awaiting some cement. "Generation Hope #5” had a far better stab at pinning it down, and this seems to actively contradict it at times.
With the team clearly filled with large personalities, James Asmus takes the opportunity to play up the humor in the issue. It's always nice to get some jokes in a comic, especially for teams like the X-Men which are typically less formal, but at the same time I'm not sure Asmus' sense of humor meshes with my own. The jokes seem a little too flip for the situation, and both Cyclops' and Hope's voices, in particular, seem a bit skewed. Cyclops was never this glib, and Hope hasn't been that bratty since she arrived in the present.
Even so, there's nothing about the book that fails on any fundamental level. It's more a disagreement of interpretation. If there's any problem inherent in the book, then it's the fact that the format has necessarily left an open ending so that it can continue into the "Steve Rogers: Super Soldier Annual."
As much as I hate to leave a story unfinished, this wasn't enough that I want to read more, and that means I'm left with a third of a story I'll never read the end of. I can see the value in Marvel trying to encourage people to pick up more annuals, but as a reader I have to admit that it's make me more wary of buying into this kind of cross-annual story in the future.