The first issue of Charles Soule’s Astonishing X-Men kicks off with an assault being perpetrated upon telepaths the world over. This very select group of victims is experiencing some extreme reactions to the attack including intensely painful responses and in some cases even death. When Betsy Braddock, better known as the X-Man Psylocke finds herself caught in this web of debilitating pain she puts out a psychic distress call to her former teammates, The X-Men. On the receiving end of her call she finds, Rogue, Angel, Bishop, Logan, The team of Gambit and Fantomex and finally Beast. When they reach her, Psylocke is in London contending with a gigantic, electrified moth-monster construct the likes of which have not been seen outside of a Godzilla film. The newly reunited teammates must work quickly to save her and get to the core of this brutal assault.
Charles Soule has done something here that we haven’t seen in quite sometime and that is create an X-Men book that is completely engaging from cover to cover. Outside of Jeff Lemire’s all too short run on Extraordinary X-Men, the mutant centric corner of the Marvel Universe has suffered a hodgepodge of creative teams, often times recruited from the ‘where-are-they-now’ file of writers and artists struggling to find places on the D list. Needless to say this does not lead to the most stellar story arcs and the saddest part of this tragic tale is that at the root of the issue is petty bickering over movie rights and missed money-making opportunities for huge entertainment conglomerates. Sad indeed. Anyway excuse me while I step down from my soap box and get back to this review.
This book unites some diverse X-Men, that is not to say they are seldom used characters, just that as a team there is a freshness to this particular group. It almost feels like the team used by Rick Remender in his brilliant run of Uncanny X-Force from 2010. My concern here is that the book will go on to become a rotating roster of X-Men periodically changing to accommodate a given story or event. This can give a series the unwanted feel of an anthology, breaking up consistency and cohesion in favor of an ever revolving line up.
Soule has become one of Marvel’s few solid go-to writers. His style fits the super hero genre perfectly, focusing on character driven plots and dramatic action sequences. The chemistry he creates in this particular group works exceedingly well, particularly in the case of Fantomex and Gambit. These two dynamic thieves could carry a series themselves, however they don’t have to because the other characters are equally well-developed in this début issue. Bishop does a complete 180 from actually engaging the X-Men in combat when last they met to now fighting to help save one of them. It’s that kind of intense back story that allows Soule to use these characters so effectively.
Soule weaves a wonderfully suspenseful narrative here with innovative use of the narration. The fact That Shadow King is behind the attacks on the telepaths is a bit of a red herring, the real mind-blowing moment comes exactly where it should, the big final panel reveal, which I will not spoil here, suffice to say it could have some major ramifications for one of the newly formed team members.
Jim Cheung’s artwork is easily among the best in the business and this book represents some of his best work. Every panel is gorgeous, his line work is impeccable, his layouts are dynamic, this book is just a joy to look at. Cheung is in that elite group of artists including John Cassaday and Frank Quitely.These guys share a similar style of realistic anatomy and intricately detailed rendering. The only draw back to the incredible visuals is the use of multiple inkers, it kind of takes away a bit of consistency and in certain instances is a bit jarring. The fact that Cheung is destined to be replaced after he leaves his indelible mark upon this book to make way for the next artist in a rotation that could include just about anybody judging from the looks of some of the recent issues of the X-Men, Gold and Blue titles is downright disheartening. If Cheung was committed for the foreseeable future of this book I would have no problem proclaiming Marvel again and at last has a solid, impressive and worthwhile X-Men series on their hands, but I guess we will have to be happy to have Astonishing X-Men in its current from for as long as we have it. 4/5
Writer: Charles Soule
Pencils: Jim Cheung
Inks: Mark Morales, Guillermo Ortega, Walden Wong
Colors: Richard Isanove, Rain Beredo