As S.H.I.E.L.D hunts Cyclops, events come to a head on the X-Men's front lawn, but things don't go according to plan since a secret enemy is controlling S.H.I.E.L.D. tech in Brian Michael Bendis and Chris Bachalo's "Uncanny X-Men" #22.
There's a massive number of characters in this issue and thus, almost no one gets a very rewarding storyline. The issue is more like a jab at characterization or hints of things to come -- Dazzler is pissed and looking for revenge (or just some good music), Maria Hill continues to have the worst job on Earth (and not be very good at it), Magik remains little more than a human teleportation device, and Beast and Cyclops still can't agree on much of anything. The villain reveal in this issue is not particularly surprising or rewarding, but fortunately the integration of Hijack is, as he proves how devastating his power set can be in a technological age.
Fortunately for the series, Bachalo (with his team of inkers Tim Townsend, Marc Deering, Mark Irwin, Jaime Mendoza, Victor Olazaba, Al Vey) delivers absolutely stunning visuals, despite the absolutely insane number of characters on the page, and a whole lot of chaotic violence. Bachalo shifts his layouts expertly, giving them an off-kilter, tilted look as the action ratchets up. But then he reins it in and balances it beautifully with controlled panels that feel static and posed, just when readers need to give the eye a needed rest.
The colors by Bachalo and Jose Villarrubia are particularly great, shifting from calm, bright and clean, day scenes to violent rain-soaked battle fields tinged with the light of helicarrier guns and flashes of individual mutant powers. Bachalo has an excellent technique he's perfected which drops out color in certain scenes, or drops certain characters into monochromatic tones that suggest shadow. It shifts the focus in a scene beautifully, giving books a depth and breathing life that few comics can manage.
It's incredible how much an artist can prop up a weak comic book, for though the story in "Uncanny X-Men" has not wowed of late, it remains strong thanks to the sheer visual treat of Chris Bachalo and team.