The "NOW" attached to the end of this issue number signifies it (I guess?) as being an issue that new readers can jump onto as well as the start of a new story arc, "The Trial of Jean Grey." It also serves as landing ground for "Guardians of the Galaxy," which feels like a movie tie-in. Despite all these demands and angles, "All-New X-Men" #22.NOW still succeeds in being highly enjoyable -- largely thanks to some humorous writing by Brian Michael Bendis and absolutely stunning visuals by Stuart Immonen, Wade Von Grawbadger and Marte Garcia -- but with one major problem.
First, the good: Immonen's art with inks by Von Grawbadger and colors by Garcia is absolutely perfect. The character acting, really important especially for the humorous scenes in this issue, is astoundingly wonderful. From body language down to facial expressions, Immonen delivers. His storytelling choices, as usual, are particularly inspired and effortless, whether dealing with talking heads, or pulse pounding action. Immonen does a particularly great job with the Iceman scenes, finding both the humor and the action that makes him so fun. Garcia's coloring is astounding throughout, but again, the Iceman scenes (out in the snow) really popped.
The writing for "All-New X-Men" #22 is almost entirely charming and fun, with one glaring problem that, for me, feels like a sudden record scratch in an otherwise delightful song that starts off strong with gorgeous Immonen pages. Particularly impressive is a hilarious and perfectly-executed scene with Scott and Jean arguing in the cafeteria, Warren awkwardly caught in the literal middle. It's simple, but plays to Bendis's strengths (and Immonen's utterly sublime character acting). Then, the book evolves into an attack on the compound by the Shi'ar, which is action-packed and thoroughly enjoyable. The Shi'ar kidnap Jean Grey and leave the rest of the team standing there, gape-mouthed, which leaves a humorous opening to introduce the Guardians.
The major problem with the issue is that Bendis gives Kitty three repetitive lines at the end of this issue that outright say she has no idea why the Shi'ar would take Jean. And with that, my suspension of disbelief as a reader is utterly broken. Like the aforementioned record scratch, I simply cannot get back on board with the book -- it was like being yanked against my will out of the world by something that felt completely out of character and overly convenient.
As superhero readers, we go into every book with a certain suspension of disbelief, but convenient plotting and going against established character can easily blow this delicate balance. For me, it's impossible to imagine a world in which Kitty Pryde -- established as one of the Marvel Universe's most intelligent characters -- doesn't almost immediately understand why the Shi'ar take Jean Grey. Sure, she wasn't technically there for the events the first time around, but it seems unlikely that a smart, engaged, responsible character so long connected to the X-Men -- that served as headmistress of the Jean Grey School and who is best friends with Rachel Summers, Wolverine and Storm (all intimately connected to Jean Grey) -- would not know exactly how Jean Grey died: in space following a Shi'ar trial. These are not details easily forgotten.
Even if suspension of disbelief extends to Kitty not knowing every last detail, it's highly unlikely she hasn't heard the rumors. She grew up in a school full of mutants who likely talked about the X-Men's legends and horror stories -- of which Jean Grey would be number one. In the end, it feels completely at odds with who Kitty Pryde is as a character (incredibly intelligent) and her knowledge background (the history of the most famous dead X-Man). In the end, it yanks me immediately out of the book and casts a pall over everything that came before, no matter how beautiful and enjoyable.
This misstep with Kitty is particularly alarming considering Bendis' similar issue while writing Magneto in "Uncanny X-Men" #16 -- also a really great issue, which depicted Magneto as a character at odds with his previous appearances in the series. In the end, a stunningly gorgeous and surprisingly charming "All-New X-Men" #22.NOW is undermined by two panels of sloppy character work and all-too-convenient plotting.