The new kids are finally getting to settle in for some training after Bendis did what he does best and put them all through the ringer (and through literal Hell). First up is Eva Bell sparring with Magik and getting her butt handed to her as powers aren’t allowed in this particular exercise. But when Bell’s powers kick in in an uncontrolled, and completely unexpected, way it shows the kids an important first lesson: your powers may not always work the way you think they do. While all this is going on, Magneto’s clandestine relationship with S.H.I.E.L.D. is fast deteriorating as Maria Hill doubts his loyalty to anyone but his own. The issue ends with a pro-mutant rally that Cyclops decides to make an impromptu appearance at to remind everyone that, though they’ve been in conflict recently, people like the Avengers and the Fantastic Four aren’t enemies nor are they evil. The rally ends with an unexpected bang.
Bendis continues to write each and every character with their own voice that have been changing subtly as the book goes on. The characters are developing from scared kids huddling in the corner to more confident, nuanced individuals as they come to understand the nature of their abilities and learn how to use them to protect themselves. And of course, Bendis’ trademark cleverness and biting wit pervades every page and every panel. The coded exchange between Magneto and Hill, as well as the reveal of Dazzler: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. to Leshner are particularly clever and noteworthy.
Frazer Irving unexpectedly returns to artistic duties, which actually had me a little worried as his gothic surrealism was perfectly suited for a trip to Limbo, but in the real world, I wasn’t sure his unique visuals would work. Fortunately it was not worth worrying about as his style has adapted and adjusted to life in the “real” world, but it certainly makes the world look like a strange one. This serves the tone by showing, metaphorically, the students’ world as still being one of surreal, frightening darkness. It’s not all grim and gritty to be sure, but there’s a pervasive horror that would, naturally, accompany being pulled, willingly or otherwise, into a completely new existence and Irving’s style fits that tone to a tee.
The book is well-paced, but there are a lot of large panels and splash pages, so it reads very, very quickly, particularly for a book at the $3.99 price point. Irving’s Maria Hill is the spitting image of Marilyn Manson. It’s really neither here nor there, but I found it oddly distracting.
It’s a matter of quality over quantity at a certain point, and while this book may not be the lengthiest read in single-issue form, it’s absolutely gorgeous to behold and experience. This is an issue that I practically lost myself in, which is why it was so jarring when it was suddenly over, but it’s one of the most immaculately paced of the week, so it’s little surprising when it abruptly ends. The experience is well worth it, though, and I am on the edge of my seat for the next issue.