"All-New X-Men" #15 has Brian Michael Bendis and guest artist David Lafuente vamping for time this month, with the "Battle for the Atom" crossover invading the title in September. In doing so, the title presents a pleasantly lighter touch for this one-off story, but it also emphasizes more than ever that "All-New X-Men" moves at a snail's pace.
After fourteen issues of general confusion, misunderstandings, drama and even gloom, "All-New X-Men" #15 has the main cast having fun for a change -- which many will appreciate. Bendis lets two of the characters head off campus for a little R&R, and it's honestly the first time since the series began that the original X-Men come off not only teammates but friends, too. Having also read some of the original "X-Men" comics recently, seeing the younger Cyclops and Iceman goofing off and taking advantage of their time-shifted nature feels in-character and a logical extension of what they'd do in a large crowd scene.
At the same time, this is a book where stories are stretched out far longer than they should be, and "All-New X-Men" #15 doesn't show any sign of changing the status quo. The fact that it's taken this long for Rachel Grey to make an appearance -- only to have Bendis punt a meeting/confrontation with any substance down the road -- draws attention to that fact in this issue, plot developments inch forward. While it's more than possible to be too-rushed, this is a comic that spins its wheels more than anything else. One would like to think that the "Battle for the Atom" story might change matters, but after 15 issues it's hard to get hopeful for a "maybe..." idea.
No one seems to have told Lafuente that Rachel no longer has her Phoenix powers, based on the first panel of the comic, but that's actually not a bad thing here. It's a great opening image, with Rachel coming down for a landing with a fiery energy field behind her. It's one of those panels where you actually don't want a background drawn in; it would distract from the foreground image, and that's where you want all the attention. Rachel's grimace, the flaps of fabric on her coat whipping up into the air, the tight posture in her bent leg and her arms held up... it all instantly signals not only that she's coming in for a landing, but the overall no-nonsense attitude that the script's given her. Here's the great, thing: it's all just a quarter-page, not a full splash. That's partially what makes Lafuente's art so much fun here, being able to pack in that much into his art on every page. There's no dialogue needed on the second page thanks to Lafuente; when Rachel stares down one of the new students, their looks of confusion, interest, probing and even more confusion are just wonderful. You can tell just what they're thinking without Bendis needing a single thought balloon or narration box here. By the time Jean Grey pulls apart a motorcycle but holding all the pieces together in order, it makes readers wonder how long Lafuente will be around, and if he could join the regular rotation of artists.
"All-New X-Men" #15 is a pleasant comic, and it's great that Lafuente got to take a crack at this series. But at this point, there's a sneaking suspicion that some readers are going to use the conclusion of "Battle for the Atom" as a jumping-off point for "All-New X-Men" unless things pick up quickly. There's still a distinct lack of substance in "All-New X-Men," and there's only so long that readers are going to be willing to wait for it.