ASTONISHING X-MEN #1
Writer: Charles Soule
Artist: Jim Cheung
Inkers: Mark Morales, Guillermo Ortego, Walden Wong
Color Artists: Richard Isanove, Rain Beredo
There is no previously! This is a Brand! New! Series!
The issue begins with a montage of low level, anonymous psychics being murdered telepathically around the world. But then, there’s Psylocke, looking tough as hell gazing out upon London (why is she there? Who knows, maybe she was visiting her brother Brian, don’t question it). Betsy Braddock is definitely no lightweight, but yet gets instantaneously taken down by some unknown force. As she falls, she displays a creative use of her power by sending out psychic butterflies as an SOS to any allies in her general area. Luckily, there are several in the region- Bishop, Warren Worthington the III (notably referred to as Angel, instead of Archangel), Gambit and Fantomex (apparently thieving partners now), Old Man Logan, and… Rogue! Back in the pages of X-Men fiiiiinnnnnaaaaaalllllyyyyy!!!!!
Rogue and Logan are the first to reach the scene, discovering Psylocke’s telekinesis manifesting as a GIANT butterfly tearing into a skyscraper. Her telepathy is flaring out of control as well, hurling psychic knives in every direction. Rogue reaches a barely conscious Betsy in the heart of all the chaos, but is about to be flayed by psychic knives before Warren arrives. Without a moment to spare, he folds Rogue within his wings and transforms them into metal, deflecting the knives.
Meanwhile, besties Gambit and Fantomex arrive. Fantomex takes a moment to talk smack on his ex Psylocke before they both hit the surrounding streets to try and take out the seemingly infinite number of psychic knives. Old Man Logan joins them, and is the first to see Bishop join the fray. The two exchange some macho dialogue before Warren swoops down to collect Bishop- Rogue has a plan.
Rogue’s idea is to siphon Psylocke’s powers into herself before transferring it to Bishop. Everyone’s fingers are crossed that his powers will let him convert and redirect the energy without any negative consequences. With a kiss (and maybe some flirting between them?), Rogue gives Bishop the power, who successfully blasts it harmlessly into the sky. Well, it kinda looks like it hits a police helicopter (oops), but that’s not really addressed.
As the smoke clears, everyone compares notes, and a final member joins the impromptu team: Beast. Rogue questions his presence- though not his retro feline form, nor his convenient timing- considering how things were left after the battle with the Inhumans, but Hank brushes it off. Before that convo can go further, Betsy interrupts, coming to her senses. Terrified, she explains to everyone that she was attacked by the Shadow King, who is stronger than ever and targeting all the world’s telepaths. Before he has a chance to assault and/or take over someone else on her power level, Betsy needs to send them to the astral plane to stop him.
As they decide who stays and goes (Rogue, Old Man Logan, Gambit, Beast, and Fantomex will head to the astral plane while Warren and Bishop will guard Psylocke as she acts as a telepathic anchor in the real world) other tidbits of info come out. Warren has “retired” his alternate persona Archangel because he’s too dangerous. Bishop is hilariously perplexed- he clearly thinks Archangel is the more valuable ally. Also, Fantomex reveals that he and Remy aren’t as friendly as they seem- this is a business relationship, in which Gambit apparently owes Jean Phillipe… something.
As the team prepares to confront the Shadow King, the scene shifts to the Astral Plane, where Amahl Farouk’s form has transformed to some human-spider hybrid. He is ready for them, especially considering he has a secret weapon…. The imprisoned CHARLES MOTHER EFFING XAVIER. Oh, it’s onnnnnnnnnnn bitches!
The Good, the Bad, and the Meh:
Quite simply, this issue was awesome. Like some of you, I felt some trepidation when this book was first announced. First off, Charles Soule hasn’t blown me away with most of his x-related work. Death of X fell flat for me, and Inhumans vs. X-Men made me actively annoyed. Also, his current arc on Daredevil (look for my upcoming review of the latest issue!) is boring me to tears. The cast didn’t exactly thrill me. On one hand, Psylocke has slowly turned into one of my favorite characters in recent years, and I am ECSTATIC to see Rogue as an X-Man again. But the rest of the team are not exactly my favorites. I was also concerned putting people together like Rogue-Gambit-Mystique (more on her in a bit) and Psylocke-Warren-Fantomex would just be rehashing old, tired storylines. After this first issue though, pretty much all of my fears have evaporated.
Charles Soule is definitely not phoning this one in. The issue is paced extremely well, from the initial assault, to the introduction of the cast, to the battle, to the setup of the major threat. And that last page reveal!! It feels like the kind of X-Men stories I fell in love with- big, epic, save the world stuff. It is so refreshing to have the team acting like superheroes again, instead of getting distracted by infighting and survival of the mutant race stuff.
That’s not to say there isn’t tension within this group. Fantomex, who I consider gross, is portrayed as gross. And Psylocke’s palpable disdain for him is DELICIOUS. His dynamic with Gambit is fascinating- they are essentially the same character, though Jean-Phillippe is missing Remy’s inexplicable charm, which is a key difference here. I’m intrigued to learn more about what Fantomex has on him. Bishop looks like he could stir the pot, too. He’s already warned Old Man Logan that he’s watching him, and called out Warren for being basically useless in combat unless he’s transformed into his death persona. I don’t think Bishop and I would see eye to eye on many things, but in this instance, yaaaaaasss.
Soule already has a firm grasp on everyone’s individual voice. Rogue (have I mentioned how excited I am to see her back as an X-Man?), is fearless as ever- except when it comes to her powers, and already feels like the heart of the team. Psylocke’s no-nonsense demeanor, even when she’s barely holding it together after her assault feels spot on- and to see such a ferocious, consummate warrior as herself so frightened by the Shadow King’s power is very effective at setting him up as a major threat. Speaking of Amahl Farouk, he’s one of the best villains in the team’s history but has yet to have a story that matches his potential (though Muir Island Saga came close, back in the day).
The only person that feels off, and it may be intentional, is Beast. Or, should I say, “Beast?” Based on the cover, Mystique is supposed to be part of this cast. And there are certainly enough clues that Hank isn’t who he says he is- arriving late, in his old cat-like form, unconcerned about the Inhumans drama, using the phrase, “well I know exactly who I am,” etc. What I am unsure of is if we, the reader are supposed to suspect anything or not. I wonder if initially, the Mystique-as-Beast reveal is supposed to be a surprise a few issues down the line, but when promoting the book and deciding on the cover, Marvel said, ah screw it, and threw Raven on there. Either way, I’ll continue looking for clues.
As far as art, this is some of the best work I’ve seen from Jim Cheung. Sometimes I feel like his figures are too… delicate? They’re superheroes, they should look a little larger than life. But everyone looks sufficiently powerful and imposing here. That first shot of Psylocke is gorgeous. The rotating artist concept felt a little stunt-y to me when it was announced, but if it allows each creator the time to turn in work at this level, then consider me on board.
And it needs to be said- I squealed when I saw Charles at the end. I have to admit that for years before his death, I argued that the X-Men would be better without him, that he would serve better as a memory than as an actual character. And it was interesting to see how the X-Men navigated the world without him. But I have to admit, it hasn’t felt the same without him. For all his faults, they, and we, need his guiding hand. I’m thrilled to see him back (although at this point, just a psychic entity) and looking forward to the team’s reactions at their inevitable reunion.
If it sounds like I’m gushing, I am. If it feels like I don’t have any criticism, I really don’t. I have no complaints (and from me, that is saying something), just praise.
I haven’t been this excited about the X-Men in years