Jonathan Hickman is a brilliant conceptual writer with a massive ambition. He tosses off big ideas that other writers would kill for, and does it just in passing, to add a little colour to the bigger story he’s telling. So far, though, with the X-Men there’s the feeling that all those ideas provide a solid foundation, but the stories built from them aren’t as good as Hickman has been on other titles. The X of Swords crossover that he masterminded, though, was fantastic and this volume begins by building on the possible reunification of two sentient alien islands after millennia.

The artist switches almost every chapter, sometimes within chapters, with only Mahmud Asrar drawing more than one of them. Fans of 1990s detail with excess lines all over the page will be very happy with Brett Booth on space-opera, while Phil Noto’s precision is applied to the opening conversational character study. Because Hickman switches focus and theme and rotates the cast with every change of chapter, the selection of different artists doesn’t make for a challenge.

Only one sequence occupies more than a single chapter and that’s the investigation of the Vault, a society where time passes at a far greater rate than on Earth. Hickman references the complexities of this throughout, with such a concentration on the nuts and bolts that four pages of time flow diagrams are needed to contract events. Telling a story over a lifetime is novel, but the result is a lack of tension, excitement and the intended tragedy.

For all the innovation, Hickman does borrow a standard device to run in the background. Every superhero fan loves a reshuffling of the team, and to date, while there’s been an X-Men title under Hickman, there’s not been an X-Men team as such. It’s decided that a band of fighters is needed to protect the interests of all mutants on Krakoa, and so all mutants should have a vote concerning who’s on the team. It’s resolved in the final chapter. Before that there’s the revisiting of past sins as Mystique is again sent to infiltrate Orchis, and this time the tragedy does resonate. It raises the interesting question as to whether by poking it with a stick, Professor X and Magneto have caused the very problem they sought to prevent. By failing to keep their word, they’ve also initiated another.

Although he returns for Inferno, this volume ends Hickman’s ongoing involvement with the X-Men franchise he comprehensively rebooted from the ground up. Conceptually successful, his own series has stuttered, and the results of that election play out in X-Men by Gerry Duggan Vol. 1. Hickman departs with an early chapter of the Hellfire Gala, taking his leave just before the big reveal.

More than with the earlier volumes, the ideas too often trump the plot, which supplies wonder, but without any anchor.