In the Marvel Universe to date, Dazzler has taken on many roles, but perhaps none so unexpectedly challenging as the S.H.I.E.L.D. agent she becomes in Brian Michael Bendis and Chris Bachalo's "Uncanny X-Men" #9. Faced with her friends' betrayal in addition to the burgeoning mutant population, she stands center stage in this issue, gaining new depth under Bendis' supervision. The issue comes together smoothly with Bendis' excellent characterization, quick pace and sharp storytelling.
Although there are a few glimpses into life at the new Xavier Institute, the story revolves more around Dazzler and Fabio's interactions and is stronger for it. Fabio really matures over the issue, especially as he contextualizes the concept of what it means to be a mutant to his own life. Bendis, without a huge amount of time or space, slips this profound development into the story naturally through tense family moments and conversational dialogue. Fabio quickly shifts from an awkward teenager out of his depth to a man who realizes he has something worth fighting through an organic chain of events, a change that manifests in the way he looks and speaks. Bendis' work with Fabio shows how adept he is accomplished he is with writing characters both new and old.
Dazzler, though she develops significantly as well, is a different animal next to Fabio, in that she has been an established character for a long time. With a sly wink, Bendis includes a quick little reminder of her background as Fabio's sister digs out her old Dazzler record to remind the reader of Alison Blaire's history and fame. Easter Eggs like this one serve to bring the character more depth for new readers, while acknowledging and continuing the continuity for older fans. For this same reason, her encounter with Cyclops' X-Men feels appropriately eerie and tense due to her familiarity with them, even as she manages to her hold her own against such a dangerous group of mutants. Bendis deftly navigates Dazzler's history as a great dichotic tool in writing her character.
Chris Bachalo's layouts for the series so far have been delightful and fresh. In a universe so nuanced, the panels that roll off the page and the pages that utilize blank white space serve as a reminder that nothing is quite as black and white as it seems. Additionally, his dark colors -- like bold reds and blacks for the Cyclopse's team and Dazzler's stark white uniform -- provide a fantastic visual contrast that reflects moods and characterizations. However, his character work could use a little strengthening, in that some of the characters look a little too similar. While this works in some cases, like with the Cuckoo sisters regardless of hairstyle, it does take away in others. For instance, Emma and Dazzler (though they are polar opposites storywise) look as though they are the same person with different haircuts. This aside, Bachalo's work on the issue is strong.
Between Fabio's arrest, training at the institute, and the concluding clash between SHIELD and the X-Men, Bendis crams a lot of substance into this issue. However, his story never feels rushed or alienating, opening the universe to new and old readers alike. Bendis is a master of his craft whose story finds a solid base in Bachalo's stylish layouts and dark colors.