Brian Bendis writes. Frazer Irving draws...you need more? Alright, fine. Cyclops and Emma Frost’s team of newly realized mutants have been drawn into the nether world of Limbo due to the misfiring powers of Magik. Illyana herself is battling Dormammu for control of the realm, and herself, a battle that could go either way as her fellow mutants are menaced by Mindless Ones and the other denizens of the Dark Dimension and Limbo. Finally, Cyclops unleashes his unstable power, but even that might not be enough, nor are the powers of any of the leading X-Men. All this is framed in narration by Magik seeking help from the Sorcerer Supreme, Dr. Strange in his Sanctum Sanctorum.
Bendis has given us a glut of new characters in this book, all with completely divergent powers and backstories, and this issue illustrates why he’s a master of his craft: even the ones that are barely on-panel (which is most of them) have their own voice firmly established. When a character says a piece of dialog, it absolutely seems natural that they’d say it and it’d be hard to hear anyone else saying it. The book is almost entirely focused on Magik, though, and it’s for the best: her narration helps make sense of what could potentially be a hard to follow issue because of how abstract and bizarre everything is, which brings us to the art.
Frazer Irving continues to supply us with some of the strangest, most surreal art in comics, and his talents are put to absolutely pitch-perfect use in this issue. The demonic realm is appropriately chaotic, images bleeding together and becoming intentionally indistinct, but never entirely baffling. His gothic characters, even when not in Limbo, are perfect at establishing the tone of the book, everyone looking at all times equal parts horrified and horrifying. Emma Frost, Magneto and Scott Summers in particular look stretched to their limits, both physically and mentally, by their ordeals and the strain of using their warped powers.
I absolutely adore Frazer Irving’s art but a few pages seem a little corner-cut. One has a full third of the page cut off by exposition, another has a two-page spread of total blackness followed by a few panels of mostly-darkness. Likewise the backgrounds on some of the pages looking more minimalist than they should, all of which seems to be in service of accommodating the book’s frantic two week release cycle. I’m fine with the cycle itself, but the art in this issue especially seems rushed. There’s also a time travel plot that I won’t spoil but needless to say that, very suddenly, these are popping up all over (and not just in Bendis books either), and Marvel’s staunch, canonical explanation for time travel not working seems to be getting thrown to the wayside with increasing, and alarming, casualness.
Minor quibbles aside, this book still stands as a great example of balancing style with characters. Irving’s terrifying visuals somehow find a home in a story about mutant children learning how to use their powers, and Bendis’ writing remains solidly focused on giving each character their moment, however fleeting. Despite rehashing a contrivance that has gone from almost-never used to being dangerously close to over-used, I am fascinated to see where the story goes and can’t wait to pick up the next issue.