Falling From Grace
Credits: Fabian Nicieza (writer), Paul Smith (penciler), Matt Ryan & Cam Smith (inkers), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (lettering), Kevin Somers & Digital Chameleon (colors)
Cyclops and Phoenix arrive on Avalon and are attacked by the Acolytes, as Exodus and Holocaust continue to battle. The medical unit has collapsed, sending Skids into outer space. Phoenix makes contact with her, and then uses her psychic powers to learn that Rusty has been killed by Holocaust. Meanwhile, Colossus finds an escape pod for Magneto, but debates over whether or not to leave Cyclops and Phoenix behind. Back on Earth, Voght reappears at the X-Men’s mansion and warns Xavier that everyone on Avalon is as good as dead. On Avalon, Cyclops convinces the Acolytes to stop fighting and to team up to find a way off of the space station before it falls apart. Cyclops escorts the Acolytes to the escape pods as Phoenix goes into space to rescue Skids. Xavier telepathically tells Colossus to leave Avalon with Magneto, now that Cyclops and Phoenix have their own escape plan. Cyclops and the Acolytes soon discover the escape pods are missing, so Unuscione uses her powers to create a psionic exo-skeleton around a piece of Avalon. Phoenix and Skids combine their force fields to protect themselves in space, as Holocaust and Exodus continue to fight on their way to Earth. As she begins to enter the atmosphere with Skids, Phoenix senses that Cyclops and the Acolytes are starting to burn up in re-entry.
If it means anything to you, the Acolyte Javitz is also killed by Holocaust in this issue. There are also some more hints about the extent of Exodus’ power, as he’s able to block Xavier from communicating with Avalon for most of the issue, and forcibly kick Phoenix out of his mind when she tries to psi-scan him.
The “TAC” sound effect used on the last page when Phoenix begins to enter Earth’s atmosphere is a reference to the first appearances of Phoenix in Uncanny X-Men #100-#101. The “TAC” sound itself is a reference to the sound effect used for the cosmic rays in Fantastic Four #1. The original explanation of Phoenix wasn’t that it was a cosmic entity, but instead Jean Grey’s powers enhanced by the same cosmic rays that created the Fantastic Four.
Another enjoyable issue, with exceptional art by Paul Smith. Since most of the storylines in the X-books at this time involve long set-ups and inconclusive endings, it’s refreshing to read a story that moves quickly and doesn’t involve mysterious villains just teleporting away or covering their escape with a bomb. There’s a ton of action, but Nicieza still makes room to give Cyclops, Phoenix, Colossus, and Xavier some character moments. Cyclops’ aggrieved reaction to Rusty’s death is nicely handled, and it works as a natural reference to the shared history between the characters. Compare this exercise in deck clearing with the unbearable UXM #281, and you can see the difference competent plotting can make even in the action-heavy stories.