To recap — Back in issue #17, Bell and her teammates were stranded in Tabula Rasa by Magik for a bit of a training session. The crap hit the fan when a giant beast attacked, sending the team in panic. Caught under the heel of a giant bird-lizard-dinosaur, Eva time-bubbled her way out of trouble, leaving Fabio behind.
When she returned, much older and a little worse for the wear, the Stepford Cuckoos discovered what happened. And for the past year, the truth has been a guarded secret to be finally let out in Uncanny X-Men Annual #1 which follows Bell’s journey as her powers take her to the past and future for a startling reveal.
Starting with an encounter with Jonathan Raven, Earth-616’s version of Killraven, Bell almost takes a laser beam to the face before her powers save her by teleporting her to the Wild West where she meets the Rawhide Kid. The Kid, one year removed from meeting the Avengers, scares Bell into porting again, and she’s taken by the X-Men of year 2099 to the Sorcerer Supreme.
For the next seven years, Bell makes this future her home. She marries, has a child, and learns under Illyana Rasputin’s mentorship until an attack by a large but unknown assailant with four arms destroys Rasputin’s home. Magik succumbs to her wounds but not before telling Bell she must return home to make sure that Hank McCoy stands trial.
Annuals aren’t always necessary reading, but in this case, Bendis uses the two annuals at his disposal — this one and All-New X-Men Annual #1 — to build up a potentially critical plot point. Beast and Cyclops have been at odds for the past several years now, and it looks like their fallout has ramifications even 100 years into the future. It isn’t clear why McCoy must stand on trial, though I’m guessing it will have to do with what happens in the pages of the upcoming Uncanny X-Men issues as things come to a head with Matthew Malloy.
Besides the reveals and the warning on McCoy which warrant a read by anyone interested in what happened to Bell or what’s to come, Uncanny X-Men Annual #1 doesn’t read as smoothly as Bendis’ other issues. There are some dialogue quirks — a few exchanges feel a bit cold — and certain plot points don’t connect perfectly with issue #17 which leads up to and follows what happens here.
First, you would think after time-sliding out of Tabula Rasa because of danger, Bell wouldn’t be so easy-going in the presence of laser-shooting octopi. You might chalk it up to Bell believing she’s in the Danger Room, but her reaction in Uncanny X-Men #17 proves she knows how dangerous a simulator can be.
The last exchange between Bell and Rasputin also reads a bit forced. When they first met, Magik suggested Bell should stop jumping through time. In a curious about-face, Magik brings up the subject, telling Bell that everyone eventually goes home. And here’s where it gets a bit wonky — it seems a bit odd that Bell would train to return home only to raise a family, quit her dreams of going back while continuing her training, and then be asked if she’s going to use that training for its intended purpose by the one person who said she shouldn’t be using that power.
It’s possible Magik had a purpose for Bell all along, explaining this part of the story as manipulation on Rasputin’s part, but it reads a bit labyrinthine. Adding to that, we don’t know if it’s McCoy’s trial or the lack of one that leads to this future, and we may never know.
What we do know is that Bell wears the same outfit for the duration of her time, though it’s torn and ragged when she comes back to the present time. It’s clear why her uniform’s condition is the way it is, but I’m not sold as to why Bell would wear the same thing day in and out for that long. Granted Rasputin designed and created Bell’s costume, it just seems like a stretch that nothing much would change in seven years besides Bell’s age. Considering her reappearance in issue #17 didn’t scream wife or mother — it just seemed like Bell was gone for a much shorter time — the annual seems like a story created after the fact.
Andrea Sorrentino’s art, with an art style contrasting recent stints by Chris Bachalo and Kris Anka, is very effective at telling the story, and the issue’s second act is the better half with larger than life sequences and some clever and creative panels. Marcelo Maiolo’s colors give the future a Blade Runner type feel, and the scene with Rasputin offering Bell a drink takes readers for a spin.
And while the second half’s more abstract and imaginative artwork is a highlight of the issue, the first half seems a bit inconsistent. Some panels look like they’ve been made out of disparate pieces and shapes. In other panels, the line art looks flat, like an overexposed photo stripped of detail. Marcelo Maiolo colors, while adding some shading, don’t add much in dimension, so the art looks a bit flat.
I wouldn’t call Uncanny X-Men Annual #1 a waste of time — it’s part of canon, and it’s an important issue for those wanting to stay current with continuity. I had hoped the long-awaited truth about Eva Bell would have been something a bit more meaty, and though readers will gain something from these pages, I’m not sure everyone’s expectations will be met, especially in the light of Bell’s current appearances which don’t suggest at all that she left behind a family. The lack of emotional resonance puts a giant damper on things, and if this were the entire story in this one issue, I’d be even more disappointed.
With that, I’m looking forward to All-New X-Men Annual #1 to add some extra layers. Were it not for the buildup and the likelihood that what happened to Eva will factor into what’s to come, this would have been an interesting read all in itself. But with months and months of storytelling, plot twists, and forward-pointing, it just doesn’t satisfy.
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