The creative debut of Brian Wood and David Lopez last issue was a revelation for a series which, up until now, had spent several years running with a mediocre premise and a succession of creative teams that failed to spark. The second Wood/Lopez issue, "X-Men" #31, is just as good (if not better).
With the "easy" setup issue out of the way, Wood's talent as a writer becomes even easier to admire, as he begins to set the gears of the story in motion. Wood's handling of the cast feels instinctive in a way that some writers don't seem to manage even after years on a team book. Every character has a reason to be in the story and a role to play, and there's a deliberate air to every word spoken and every action taken. This is how it feels when the writer is driving the story, rather than hanging onto the side for dear life.
It's particularly noticeable in the way Wood weaves together several smaller plots around the main one, bringing in extra characters as necessary and yet keeping the focus on the principal cast. In particular, Storm's actions in this issue are entirely in character and completely responsible, and yet so are the disagreements others have with them, creating an interesting tension.
Of course, when this much care is being taken elsewhere, it's odd to see Colossus being given a story that doesn't just ignore his status as the Juggernaut, but seems to be actively at odds with it. Maybe this'll all resolve out once "AvX" is over, but it seems more likely that it's an editorial attempt to keep the book self-contained, which puts it in an uneasy position. Continuity shouldn't stop writers telling a good story, but when it becomes actively distracting (as here) it's a sign that something has failed.
Still, that's a small blip in an otherwise note-perfect book. Between Wood's objective approach to the story and characters and David Lopez's beautifully accessible artwork (clean, inventive and delicate without ever losing the weight of the action), this is an X-book that demands to be read not just by fans of mutants and superheroes, but fans of any sci-fi.