Between X-Men Blue, Gold, X-Force, Generation X, and the various single-character series, we have a fair amount of ongoing X-Men comics (at least enough to make people stop complaining that Marvel is trying to kill them all in favor of Inhumans). But while some of the current ongoings have managed to entertain, none of them have managed to really astonish yet. Let’s see if this series proves itself worthy of the title.
Written by Charles Soule
Illustrated by Jim Cheung
Colors by Richard Isanove and Rain Beredo
Letters by VC’s Clayton Cowles
ONLY THE X-MEN CAN SAVE US! An ancient evil is attacking the world’s most powerful minds. It will have them by the time you finish this sentence, and a moment later, it will have us all. A band of X-MEN discovers the truth behind the threat, but there is no time left. PSYLOCKE, OLD MAN LOGAN, BISHOP, ARCHANGEL, FANTOMEX, ROGUE and GAMBIT will attempt to save a world that hates and fears them. Why? BECAUSE THEY ARE THE X-MEN. From blockbuster writer CHARLES SOULE and joined by a roster of superstar artists beginning with JIM CHEUNG. ASTONISHING X-MEN. It’s the X-book you need.
“Astonishing X-Men” sets off with a new team, made up mostly of classic characters. Charles Soule has selected some of the bests, or at least the fan-favorites, reuniting old X-Force members while adding in the always-beloved Rogue and Gambit (who are currently in an extended “won’t they” period of their constant “will they/won’t they” chemistry). While it seems Beast is also joining the team, a quick look at the cover spoils the inevitable twist that it’s actually Mystique, which will add some interesting inter-team conflict.
That said, the “X-Men” series tends to be one of those where not following a single ongoing can put you far behind on a character’s arc, which is actually pretty impressive when you consider how many characters the comics can use. Occasionally throughout the issue I’d have to pause and think “Wait, didn’t Fantomex go crazy and try to kill Cable’s X-Force team? I know he was in ‘IvX,’ but still… and when did Angel get his memories back?” Of course, I wouldn’t dare fault the comic for my own lack of reading, and this only stands to illustrate the amount of changes and continuity that readers of X-comics face. Fortunately, at the same time, this means the comic isn’t bogged down by overly-complex continuity snarls, and lets readers jump in from the first issue and get to know the characters from their introductions.
Charles Soule does a fine job at establishing each character. A nice combination of narration and dialogue let us know who they are and how they behave; we get Gambit and Fantomex pulling a heist, Angel flying free while struggling against the Archangel’s influence, and Wolverine… taking a nap. Hey, he’s old, he’s earned it!
As for Psylocke, she’s the catalyst that gets the “Astonishing X-Men” story going. There’s no shortage of psychics in X-Men, but Psylocke is both a popular and powerful one. Thus, it’s an attack on her that draws all the X-Men in, and lets us see what they’ve got.
When the action kicks off, it looks big and intense, thanks to the artwork by Jim Cheung. There’s a wonderful amount of detail, with just enough use of action lines to add to the dynamics of each scene. The color work by Richard Isanove and Rain Beredo utilize lots of bright pinks to show Psylocke’s psychic attacks, but the way it feels the scenes add intensity and danger. That contrasts nicely with the earthy tones of Wolverine and Bishop’s scenes, where they’re shadowed by smoke and rubble.
Throughout the moments of action in “Astonishing X-Men,” we get some clever moments of synergy between the mutant powers. One moment gives us Gambit giving Fantomex’s bullets and explosive charge, another features an explosive transfer of powers and energy as Rogue and Bishop work together, culminating in an exquisite action panel. Rather than just show off each mutant’s powers individually, Charles Soule has created moments where they really do work as a team, combining their strengths and abilities in unique ways.Continued below
Fastball Special, eat your heart out.
The synergy out of combat works very well too, with plenty of witty repartee for everyone. There’s history behind each of the characters, and rather than bog things down with excessive backstory, it guides their attitudes towards one another and creates strong dynamics and chemistry, whether it’s for friendship or conflict (or a mix of both, as is typically the case for Fantomex).
Of course, it all looks fantastic. Jim Cheung has managed to strike just the right balance of realism and comic form in his character designs, providing an excellent level of shading and detail to each character, without reaching the point of “creepy photorealism.” Even Beast, who appears to be back to more feline than primate-like features, hits just the right balance of detail and style. Combine that with the excellent color work, and “Astonishing X-Men” becomes a visual treat.
As previously mentioned, the action scenes look great. There’s a grand sense of scale with every moment. Even outside of the action, we get some great individual panels, framed and shot just right for maximum style. As the moments grow more dire and intense, the panels themselves grow more clustered, building the sense of tension until it hits a perfect release.
Then, we get to the last few pages, which make great use of the darkness and spider imagery to set the tone for what’s to come. The X-Men are stepping into a spider’s web, metaphorically and literally, and the buildup created by both dialogue and art leads into a surprise that I certainly won’t spoil here, but ends the issue on a great note.
The story has just begun, but the conflict and characters are set up very nicely. So far, “Astonishing X-Men” is on track to be my favorite X-comic of Marvel’s current lineup. This could very well be the return to form that X-Men has needed ever since “IvX.”
Final Verdict: 8.1 – A solid start for a good X-Men team, featuring great character dynamics, enjoyable action, and wonderful artwork. Definitely one of the stronger ongoing X-comics.