When long-time X-Men member Nightcrawler died in the "Second Coming" crossover back in 2010, it was probably fair to say that most fans assumed that a resurrection of the character would happen sooner rather than later. Three years later, that time has rolled around courtesy "Amazing X-Men" #1 by Jason Aaron, Ed McGuinness and Dexter Vines. (With Nightcrawler front-and-center on the cover, it's not supposed to be a surprise but rather a selling point for this comic.) While "Amazing X-Men" #1 looks just like its title adjective claims, the story itself feels a little uneven and slow in places.
For those who haven't been reading "Wolverine and the X-Men," the main title set at the Jean Grey School for Higher Learning, Aaron wisely uses Firestar as the audience-identification figure. She's the outsider looking in, feeling overwhelmed by the madness that constantly swirls throughout the school's hallways. It's a smart move, one that I can't help but think would have suited the comic better as its opening pages. Readers meet the rest of the cast, get a feel for everyone and see them interact with each other on a limited basis.
But in keeping with the "Nightcrawler on the cover" method of attack, "Amazing X-Men" #1 opens up with a 10-page story involving Nightcrawler in another realm (insinuated at first to be Heaven, but since this is a superhero comic your guess is as good as mine on what its true nature is), marveling in the view and getting into fights. The problem is, once you get past the initial, "Nightcrawler's back! Hurrah! (Why is he wearing his old costume under his flowing white robes?)" reaction, there's almost nothing to this sequence. Aside from digging up the villain from perhaps the worst-received "Uncanny X-Men" storyline of all time, there's nothing to sink your teeth into as a reader. There's no hook or drive, and all in all it's an anchor that pulls the comic down. If Aaron wanted to start of "Amazing X-Men" #1 with Nightcrawler's return, that's great, but maybe cutting the number of pages here would have worked a little better. It feels strangely off-pace, and the book doesn't ever 100% recover from that initial stumble.
But the art -- oh, the art. McGuinness and Vines continue to turn out beautiful pages of comics, there's no denying it. I haven't seen a Nightcrawler-brandishing-swords drawing as great as this since the days of Alan Davis drawing "Excalibur." This just looks iconic and beautiful, with those clean and soft lines that McGuinness and Vines create so well together. Nightcrawler poised on the branch on page 8 is just about perfect; the way his legs are bent you can practically see him spring into action on the next panel. As Nightcrawler flips and swings around, there's such a strong sense of energy that it's a good reminder that Nightcrawler's only skill shouldn't be teleporting, but it's something that takes the right artist in order to for it to truly shine on the page.
The rest of the book looks great, too. The kids clustered in the hall are a great combination of recognizable and strange, the look on Firestar's face as she tries to get Storm's attention is adorable, and even something as simple as the hole in the school's floor is drawn with care. There are so many little touches that work well here, like Firestar's glasses being shaped similarly to (but not exactly like) her costume's mask, or the way that the paws of the Bamfs push into Wolverine's face. Aside from a slightly baffling sudden change into costume by Firestar in-between pages (even though she's still trying to get to her physics class) and Iceman's strange new shorts that appear over his ice form (the more you think about it, the less sense it makes), there's little to complain about with the visuals.
Having enjoyed "Wolverine and the X-Men" the past few years under Aaron's stewardship, I'm not worried about the slightly slow start to "Amazing X-Men" #1. It's still a very pleasant read, but I do wish that it had come out of the gate a little faster and a little stronger. Aaron seems to be banking on the return of Nightcrawler and the art from McGuinness and Vines to be enough of a draw to stick around for "Amazing X-Men" #2, and on some level I can't help but think that he's right. That is all it will take for most readers to come back. I'll be one of them, but hopefully Aaron's script for next month's installment will have just a bit more spring in its step, too. After all, this isn't supposed to be "Pretty Good X-Men." I look forward to the shift up to amazing status.