I wasn’t certain about this series when it first came out, but I still really liked the first issue. Charles Soule and Jim Cheung wowed me with a story that put together a bunch of X-Men and set them on a mission that seemed dire indeed. What else do you need from a story? I never picked it back up, but when I heard spoilers about who comes back I instantly became skeptical; bringing back dead characters is always risky. Thankfully I read the first volume, which is out this week, and was blown away by how good it was.
So what’s it about?
The official summary reads:
Charles Soule and a stellar roster of superstar artists unite to put the Astonishing back in the X-Men! 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 is there any time left for Psylocke, Old Man Logan, Bishop, Archangel, Fantomex, Rogue and Gambit? In an action-packed X-epic, they must head to the astral plane in pursuit of…the Shadow King! But in this brain-bending mindscape, not everything is as it seems, and reality is a relative concept. Will this impromptu squad of X-Men be able to contain the chaos from spilling out into the world?
Can I jump in easily?
Even though this is the first volume it’s not the easiest to dive in without at least a minor primer on who each hero is due to their complex pasts. Their pasts don’t play too much into the story — save for an interesting theater sequence using past incarnations of the X-Men — but you’ll enjoy this much more if you know the dynamics between the various characters. Plus, we here at AiPT! reviewed all these issues already and dug most of them!
Reason 1: It plays the long and short con well.
This story is plotted rather well, setting up expectations and then pulling the rug out from underneath you. It even starts by forcing the heroes to join the fray without knowing what they (and therefore we) are in store for. It all opens with Psylocke calling the heroes to her so that she can break free of a powerful mind-controlling villain. They quickly resolve the immediate issue only to have to jump into the astral plane to stop the villain from taking over the minds of everyone. This effectively allows Soule to break the rules at every corner and also push these characters (Beast, Fantomex, Rogue, Logan, and Gambit) out of their comfort zones.
Avoiding spoilers here, but once in the astral plane we meet a character we thought long dead and Soule introduces him in a way that suggests he’s a villain. As the story progresses this character manipulates, sneaks about, and confuses all in effective ways to allow new twists and surprises. This all leads to a doozy of a last page that’ll have your jaw dropping.
Dang, he can charge the roof?!
Reason 2: Six different artists with varying styles.
This trade paperback collects the first six issues of the series and each issue has a different artist. This is a risky move seeing as that can hurt the cohesion of a story, but I think it works quite well. Each artist seems to bring something a little different — Jim Cheung opens the issue with big blockbuster panels and pages in high detail, drawing you into the action and each character. Mike Deodato Jr. takes on issue #2 and gives our first good look at the astral plane a layered, unnerving vibe. His portion involves the theater scenes which use old projections of X-Men to confuse the heroes. It’s excellent to see Logan slowly shift into his yellow costume. Ed McGuinness takes on issue #3 and primarily focuses on Logan’s struggle. His style suits the big muscles and in-your-face action. Carlos Pacheco draws issue #4 and does a great job capturing the romantic coupling of Rogue and Gambit (and another couple I’ll not name to avoid spoilers). One has to wonder if the work here is what lead to the Rogue & Gambit series. Ramon Rosanas draws the second to last chapter and his thin detailed lines heighten the sense of action and tension of scenes. Finally, Mike del Mundo finishes the series off, and boy does he bring the weirdness of the villains the astral plane to the forefront.
Reason 3: It’s very aware of X-Men canon.
Characters’ histories are very important, from Rogue and Gambit’s previous flings to Logan not being the true Wolverine of this universe. The theater scene is a great sequence that plays up the sometimes ridiculous and over-the-top nature of the X-Men history. Soule seems to be referencing these moments (like Kitty and Colossus’ dating) with love and admiration while reminding us how melodramatic these characters’ lives have been. A major character who rears his head at the end of chapter one is also incredibly compelling due to his history. The way he speaks and calls upon the team to work with him will remind you of the classic X-Men comics. At the same time, this character has a lot of shit to work through and this is only the tip of the iceberg of where he may go from here.
What a creepy dude.
Reasons to be wary?
This may be an ensemble but not every character gets the play they might deserve. It’s inevitable given how short comics are, but Bishop could have used more character work or at the very least more to do. It’s hard to say who is the main character in all this unless you count the new addition from X-Men past. Instead, most of these characters sort of rotate in and out reacting to moments, which makes it hard to feel invested in any of them.
Is there a rationale to the reasons?
I was pleasantly surprised with how Soule reinvigorated a big-time X-Men character in an earned and well-crafted story with this collection. The story always seems to have a surprise or a twist to catch you off guard, which keeps things entertaining. Add to that the shifting artist on each issue and it’s hard to deny this series is filled with surprises like any good action adventure should be.