"Uncanny X-Men" #21 is the sort of comic that can best be described using the phrase, "All over the place." Brian Michael Bendis Chris Bachalo, and a team of five inkers present more of the confrontation between the X-Men teams and S.H.I.E.L.D., but for every part that works, there's another that doesn't.
Bendis' plotting can at times be a bit leisurely, so it's nice to see stories advancing here. The situation with the two Dazzlers looks to be coming to a head, for example, and we also finally have something for Magneto to do. Likewise, the story appears to be moving towards the reveal of who's trying to pit S.H.I.E.L.D. against mutants in general, something that will hopefully wrap up this particular storyline before long. (Perhaps in issue #25?) And while most of the junior team is sidelined for "Uncanny X-Men" #21, that's actually a good thing. It's letting Bendis advance this other plot line; we get a one page interlude touching base with them, just enough so that we know they aren't forgotten as well as setting up a future story, but not so much that it takes away from the main action.
Some of the language used in "Uncanny X-Men" #21 comes across a bit awkwardly, though. When Illyana shouts out, "Ororo, stop! Scott Summers is not in control of himself!" is a perfect example. Why does one character get a surname and the other one just their first name? (Illyana refers to him as just Scott two panels earlier, in fact.) It's an odd phrasing, and it's the sort of thing that continues throughout the comic. Scott in particular is alternating between "Scott" and "Scott Summers" throughout the comic, to the point that you start to yearn for him to just be called Cyclops by everyone and have some consistency. The villain of the comic is also a bit prone to some rather grandiose statements here; all we're missing is a mustache-twirl. For a writer who made his mark in no small part thanks to his realistic dialogue, this isn't up to the standards that Bendis has set for himself in the past. Still, overall, the writing isn't the main source of the bumps for this issue.
That falls onto the art, which is gorgeous one moment and jumbled the next. Look at the top of page 5, for example, with the school X-Men team staring at the collapsed Cyclops and Magik. Most of the panel that takes up the top half of the page is a big gray and black mass, with school, people, and hovering chunks of debris all smearing together into a single blob. Only a handful of the characters -- Storm, Marvel Girl, Quentin Quire, Iceman -- are distinguishable, and even then they're not that well composed. Iceman looks more like a doodle than a finished drawing, and likewise for Quentin. And with Bachalo controlling the colors as well as the pencils, he knew what he was doing when he drew this particular panel.
But flip back to pages 3-4, and you witness a Bachalo whose effort is being directed fully onto the finished product. The massive demonic creature rising up over the team looks staggering, with lots of detail showing us scales, fangs, you name it. It's impressive and it honestly feels like an entirely different artist tackled this page. And that's what makes "Uncanny X-Men" #21 so frustrating; some pages look fantastic, and others come across as an afterthought. It would be easy to blame this on the sea of inkers involved, but this is a problem cropping up in Bachalo's comics more and more these days. When he's on, it's something to behold, but otherwise -- not so much.
"Uncanny X-Men" #21 is a book that needs some consistency. I feel like Bendis is steering the book in the right direction, but Bachalo's art -- as much as I'm a long-time fan -- is taking a lot of missteps. It's not a bad book, but it could also be a lot better.