"Amazing X-Men" #4 continues Jason Aaron and Ed McGuinness' story bringing back the deceased character of Nightcrawler. In all of the excitement over the beloved character coming back from the dead, though, it's hard to keep from feeling like Aaron and McGuinness have depended too much on that emotion to buoy readers' interests. While "Amazing X-Men" #4 is a beautiful comic, it's also very slow-moving.
McGuinness's pencils (inked by longtime collaborator Dexter Vines) are as fantastic as ever. He understands exactly how to lay out a page; look, for instance, at page six where Nightcrawler is taking Beast through a series of teleportation jumps. Starting in the upper left-hand corner, the seven teleportation bursts are arranged in a gentle curve that sweeps across the top of the page, then arcs back and around moving from right-to-left to finally deposit the duo at the bottom left-hand corner. Reading right-to-left across a comics page (unless you're talking about manga, of course) isn't an easy thing to make readers do; it's moving against the proverbial flow, and you would risk losing people on the page. That's not the case here, though. McGuinness achieves this in two ways; first, he carefully overlaps the circular panels so you have almost no choice in following them, and second, the tracking of the panels is in a gentle curve so that it's a gradual shift from one direction to the other. This is more than just a strange visual gimmick, mind you. By shifting across the page and then back, McGuinness gives the reader the feeling of the duo actually teleporting all over the place. It's a neat storytelling technique that gets Aaron's idea across in a visual manner.
McGuinness's figures themselves are drawn handsomely, with smooth lines from him and Vines to form the characters. When Nightcrawler whirls around grabs the wheel of the ship, the jaunty angle of the hat on his head and the grin on his face actually bring a bit of joy to the page; McGuinness is drawing everything so cleanly that it radiates fun. The sense of motion here is good, too; with a single and understated motion trail, you instantly understand not only that Nightcrawler has just turned and grabbed, but you can almost actually see it happen as your brain fills in the action. McGuinness has been a top-tier superhero artist for a while now, and "Amazing X-Men" #4 reminds readers why.
On the other hand, Aaron's story feels surprisingly leaden. His stories in "Wolverine and the X-Men" have certainly had a bit more of a punch to their pace, with lots of plot developments in every issue. There's a little bit of exposition provided here, but even then this story still feels like it's been padded out a great deal. Only the sequence in Heaven with Nightcrawler, Storm and Beast feels like it has any real drama to it. Wolverine and Northstar in Purgatory is aptly dull, and Firestar and Iceman's scene in Hell has a great visual burst but no actual emotion or interest to latch onto. With the team finally reassembled at the end of the issue (and only one more part to go), hopefully everything's going to pick up a lot next month, but nonetheless, this book has been dragging its proverbial feet.
"Amazing X-Men" #4 is going to please a lot of McGuinness fans, and with good reason. It's a beautiful comic, and the sequences with Nightcrawler himself are written well and give a fun little bonus in character backstory for him and Beast. But overall, this is a book that depends on the art, because the story just hasn't been cutting it.