Brian Michael Bendis and Frazer Irving send the team to Limbo and deliver an absolutely stunning X-Men tale in "Uncanny X-Men" #6. Advancing plot, character developments, intriguing side stories? This issue has got it all. And did I mention the sublime Frazer Irving art?
It's clear in reading this book that Bendis really enjoys playing with the new mutants on the team. Perhaps simply because they haven't been fully developed and overused yet, there's a freshness and energy to what Bendis is doing with them, both in their emerging personalities and in the way he plays with their powers.
There's a brilliant bit in this issue (easily my favorite in a sea of fantastic moments) where Emma stops the Cuckoos from transforming into to their diamond state to protect themselves, instead ordering them to enter the minds of the frightened students. They object, since they have been told to never do this, but Emma demands that the girls make their teammates unafraid, that they make them barbarians. It's a brilliant twist for a comic about superheroes (and about epic battles that just might kill you), but it's also a great commentary on the darkness of superheroes these days -- if mind control is the only way to survive, maybe it's not worth surviving. Will there be ramifications from what the Cuckoos have done? It will be fascinating to see this play out, even after the big battle, which looks like it will mostly take place in the next issue.
The entire book is filled with wonderful little moments like that. In fact, the only weakness in this issue is the trite, over-explaining villain cliché, which is played straight and without irony. In the scope of things however, it's a minor quibble.
As if all the character development and battle preparation were not enough for one issue, we also have a wonderful introduction to a new mutant (as has been a theme in this series thus far) and a developing side story with S.H.I.E.L.D. and Dazzler, of all people. It's all great stuff and I can't wait to see play out.
Shockingly, for a book this well written and plotted, the even bigger star is Irving's art. His Limbo is an off the hook wonderland so fully realized and stunningly executed, I felt my jaw dropping open with each page. Chris Bachalo is one of my favorite artists working in comics these days, and I'm sure he could have delivered a magnificent Limbo, but it's hard to imagine anyone doing it better, more creatively, and more horribly beautiful than Irving's interpretation. It's magnificent and nightmarish from tip to tail. Irving's visual execution of both Dormammu and Illyana as she shifts into her Darkchylde persona is genius. It's also glorious and terrifying. Irving's colors throughout are masterful. Soaked in pigment and frequently glowing with light, they shift appropriately, almost magically, from scene to scene, presenting a Limbo that feels utterly different than S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters or a civilian scene based in Atlanta.
There are simply not enough words for how perfectly executed the visuals are on this book. Characters are recognizable on sight -- even new ones, despite the book being filled to the brim with characters. Acting is pitch perfect and effortlessly understandable, and the storytelling is unbelievably smart.
All in all, the use of artists of Bachalo and Irving's caliber and creative vision to alternate arcs on this book is a hell of an idea. If things keep up, this is going to be one of the best looking comics on stands, regardless of which artist is at the helm. "Uncanny X-Men" had a shaky first issue for me, but ever since a game changing fourth issue, the title has been nothing short of spectacular.