The battle with the Shadow King kicks it into high gear…by having a romantic interlude between four members of it’s principal cast as the others fight for their lives.
From the first promotional images, the Astonishing X-Men is a book sold almost entirely on its cast. Featuring nearly all of the most popular X-characters from the ’90s (and Fantomex, I guess), there was a lot of fan interest in how the cast would play off one another. Now, the series has thus far been more of an action movie than a character drama, but this month gives us a chance to better explore the ensemble’s interpersonal relationships. Personally, I was happiest to see the reunion of Gambit and Rogue. I know it’s fashionable to hate on the Cajun card thrower, and Rogue leading an Avengers team does put her a touch out of his league, but I grew up reading them as a couple and their constant make ups/break ups over the past several years has felt very much a byproduct of incoming writers’ distaste for Remy more than any interesting developments for Anna Marie. Anyway, my status as a Gambit/Rogue shipper aside, let’s take a look at issue #4.
This month’s outing basically follows three narratives. The least interesting of the three is the burgeoning romance (maybe?) between Mystique and Fantomex. The latter of whom is such a ridiculously redundant character that I find it hard to feel anything for him, but if there’s any emotional weight he’s ever had it was in his relationships with Betsy and Evan in Remender’s Uncanny X-Force. Here? None of that pathos or likability. He’s just the dimestore pastiche of Diabolik and Lupin III that grew so tiresome in pretty much everything else he’s ever been a part of. Anyway the relationship between the two also feels a bit unearned. These are two of the most duplicitous mutants ever, and though there’s always a chance that one is playing the other (or both are playing each other), I find it hard to believe that the idyllic and romantic sequences we see between the two is genuine. Their inclusion in the revelatory final sequence also troubles me as their illusory powers seem like they’d be a bit redundant on the astral plane, given its seemingly Nightmare on Elm Street-style rules about environment control. Still, for what it was, it was fine.
Spinning out of the end of last month’s issue, we have a Shadow King-possessed Old Man Logan lashing out at everything and anything around him. As Farouk makes short work of Bishop, the disembodied presence of “Xavier” convinces Psylocke to allow him to take over the mission control function of the X-Men on the astral plane so that she can face off with the rampaging Wolverine in the real world. Bishop, having been booted out of the window of the previous scene’s skyscraper setting, somehow uses his energy absorption/redistribution powers to slow his descent from 100 stories up to a delicate landing just in time to see Logan make a decidedly less graceful touchdown. I take some issue with how quickly he shakes this all off, given that a good portion of OML’s solo series dealt with his hampered healing factor making things tough for him, but Angel channeling Marvel corporate by asserting that “He does not die.” sort of makes the point moot. Anyway Angel swoops in to save the British MRD analogues, leading to Old Man Farouk somehow corrupting some randos in the building he lands in. Neat.
The third, simplest and yet most interesting, portion of the issue is the romantic/hypothetical debate between Gambit and Rogue. In it, we learn that Gambit still carries a torch for his lady love, even if Rogue has largely moved past their relationship. Unsurprisingly, Remy is a little too tied to his emotional and physical desires, so the idea that he is in some mystical hot tub reality where he’s suddenly allowed to touch a bikini-clad rogue without dying is an opportunity too good to pass up. Unfortunately, his ingress is blocked by Xavier drawing Rogue, Mystique and Fantomex into his weird psychic pocket dimension, leaving Gambit to be taken over by the Shadow King. Not cool, Charles. Not cool.
Much like last month, issue #4 has a superstar artist lined up this month in Carlos Pacheco. I’ve always been a fan of his and this month’s issue, though not exactly a standout, was another good outing for the Spanish artist. Logan’s skirmishes with Psylocke, Bishop and the MRD are strong action sequences, and the more tender scenes between the four characters on the astral plane do a decent job of accentuating their more traditionally desirable traits. That’s the nicest way I can say that all four of them are suitably hot without getting creepy. Whether I succeeded in that effort or not…