Brian Michael Bendis and Mahmud Asrar's "All-New X-Men" #31 pops with chemistry and humor as the original X-Men take it upon themselves to go on a mission -- and it's about time!
This plotline actually feels a long time in coming as the original X-Men (minus Scott Summers off on his own adventures with his dad in space) head off with X-23 bizarrely in tow. The chemistry between them as they try to help a mutant just manifesting her out-of-control powers absolutely sings. While it's a shame to lose that chemistry so quickly due to a plot-driven separation, the potential is great for stories to further explore these characters. If Bendis can keep the series from feeling too repetitive, the fish-out-of-water aspect should play well -- seeing how each character handles themselves on their own in the big bad world they don't quite know. Of course, there's the added bonus of who they might come into contact with -- this issue ends with Jean Grey running into the Ultimate Spider-Man.
Plainly, Brian Michael Bendis excels when writing funny characters, assuming you enjoy his sense of humor, which I do. There are several laugh out loud moments in this issue that make reading a complete joy. I was hesitant going into this issue, as I'm not a fan of the plotlines that keep insisting X-23 randomly hook up with whatever displaced X-Man is available to her, regardless of any actual chemistry or in-story reasoning. But with a shift to team dynamics, good old fashioned superheroics, humor and the original X-Men finally trying to find their place in the future, the book turned around and became truly fun and interesting again.
Usually any comic with an artist sub for Stuart Immonen is a huge disappointment, but Asrar turns in a gorgeous issue overall. He handles the massive cast for the first half of the issue with ease (no small task), keeping everything exceptionally consistent and moving his camera well. When given a bit more flexibility with a smaller cast, he takes the opportunity to maximize the chemistry and expression work, easily highlight the best of Bendis' script. Asrar handles the jokes especially well, which is a real treat as they're the standout bits of fun in an issue that, while intriguing, is mostly character beats and set-up for a new story. Carmen, the new mutant of the issue, has a nice character design and a good-looking power set that Asrar uses to his advantage to maximize an otherwise relatively quiet issue. Although Jean Grey and X-23's faces could use some distinction, the characters look fantastic throughout on the whole.
Marte Gracia and Jason Keith's colors have the lovely saturation and pop expected from superhero comics, but also find places to do some more nuanced and complicated work. A scene with Cerebro is bathed in brilliant reds and an opening with Ultimate Tony Stark and Ultimate Amadeus Cho is deliberately dreary, then awash in a blue glow that will show up again later to good affect.
When "All-New X-Men" hits its mark, even a slightly quieter issue not filled with a world in peril, it really sings. Bendis and Asrar turn in lovely work that renews my love for these characters and belief in the potential of this book.