With "X-Men" #7, one of the more recent titles starring Marvel's band of mutants, we should be far enough into the series that there's a distinct feel or branding involved in this particular title. Brian Wood, Terry Dodson and Rachel Dodson's story involving the return of Lady Deathstrike has some interesting elements and absolutely gorgeous art, but overall theme seems to be little more than, "characters no one else wanted or merely forgot about."
The Dodsons' art is, unsurprisingly, the high point of "X-Men" #7. Terry and Rachel Dodson have worked well together for quite some time, and their lush, smooth art is something always welcome in the X-Men family. They handle the new synthesized Lady Deathstrike in a fantastical manner, merging Japanese warrior with Latina Día de Los Muertos. There's something entrancing about the way she's drawn; skull makeup on her face, jet black gloves and outfit, and hair pulled up in a bun secured with a chopstick hairpin. The way that Lady Deathstrike moves around in Ana Cortes's body is elegant and regal; when she steps out of the vehicle, it's not with rage, but rather a controlled anger that is akin to royalty presenting one's self. And when she lounges in her mansion and smiles... it's chilling.
The story itself, especially as it fits into the greater whole of "X-Men," still feels a little aimless. I don't mind the simplest thrust -- Lady Deathstrike is looking for a body and decides that Karima Shapandar's body will suffice -- because it's good enough as a simple plot. But what's still unclear is what differentiates "X-Men" from a lot of its sister titles. It's a problem that plagued "Astonishing X-Men" the last couple of years (and which almost certainly contributed to its demise), as well as the adjectiveless "X-Men" title that preceded this one. As of "X-Men" #7, that's a slight problem, because it means that there's a hook missing to make you eager to read more.
That's not saying that Wood doesn't turn out some good stories. He seems the most interested when he's focusing on new character Ana Cortes, and her machinations involved with Lady Deathstrike. Her character voice as a strange mixture of eagerness, lust for technology, and annoyance makes her stand out (although the Dodsons's art certainly doesn't hurt). With what looks to be a possible new Sisterhood of Evil Mutants with Lady Deathstrike at the core, it bodes well for how that new group could be handled, here.
Wood definitely concentrates on the character interactions between the different cast members, even though some who have been hanging around since the first issue still doesn't seem to be getting much time in the foreground. Rachel Grey is the worst offender in that regard; aside from scowling at Storm a lot, her reason for being a cast member here is a huge question mark, save that she's a character that no one else is really using. But then again, that seems to be true for almost all of the characters. It's primarily a clutch of characters that were all discarded, part of cancelled comics, or merely forgotten in favor of someone newer. I'm sure fans of Roxy, Karima, or Monet will be delighted to see them back in the spotlight, but for everyone else it just feels like a hodgepodge of random faces. Wood's using Monet to ask a question along this line feels like an attempt to kick that issue down the street a bit, but sooner or later we'll need a strong raison d'être for this team of X-Men.
"X-Men" #7 is a solid issue in a strange little book. I'd like to see it find a stronger purpose than, "random female X-Men characters thrown together," but that's an issue that is becoming increasingly prevalent with each new X-Title starting to flood the market. If nothing else, doing so will hopefully let this book have long-term stable sales in order to survive. There's potential here, and I like a lot of the little fine points that we've seen, but that's not enough for an ongoing strategy just yet.