Mind Games: The Return of the Shadow King and Charles Xavier (Astonishing X-Men #2 Review)

Astonishing X-Men #2 Review

Writer: Charles Soule
Penciler: Mike Deodato Jr.
Colorist: Frank Martin
Publisher: Marvel Comics

What You Need to Know:
The world is full of psychics, those who wield mental abilities of all varieties. For all their power, they are the most vulnerable. All of them just became targets of a resurgent wicked power, the infamous psychic entity known as the Shadow King.

Psylocke, a mutant telepath and particular bane to Farouk, suffered the wrath of his onslaught and unleashed a psychic butterfly manifestation that nearly leveled London. Resisting with all her might, she subconsciously reached out to allies and enemies a like in a desperate plea for aid. X-Men Rogue, Logan, Beast, Angel, Bishop, Fantomex and Gambit answered the call. Psylocke, under the guard of Bishop and Angel, sends the remaining five X-Men into the astral plane in an effort to stop the Shadow King from his bid to control the most powerful minds in the world.

What You’ll Find Out:
“They Fight. They Win. They Lose. They Die.” Dying isn’t the worst of it. If the X-Men who have entered the astral plane fail to stop the cunning Shadow King, they will become his soulless puppets forever.

No sooner than they arrive does the team’s ability to perceive reality slip away and is quickly replaced by Farouk’s machinations. The X-Men are maneuvered through a series of events in their history, captures their thoughts, and stops any progress whatsoever. Madrox opens the show while the Shadow King and Charles Xavier carefully examine their options.

Meanwhile in the physical plane, Psylocke maintains her link with the team while discussing  the situation and increased activity of London’s Ministry of Defense as Bishop is certain a conflict is certain.

Xavier lays contradictions and deviations designed to arouse their awareness. Gambit and Rogue’s romantic affair merges with Colossus and Shadowcat’s past. Cyclops cradles Emma Frost in place of Jean on the blue area of the moon. Jean herself appears to Logan who appeals to his unresolved love for her. Spurred into action as their former foes begin to rot away, the X-Men dispatch the pretenders. Xavier’s move pays off and they recover their perception and senses.

The aftermath exposes Mystique who masqueraded as Beast and the tension mounts. The woman who in her own way is as shrewd and dangerous as the Shadow King himself appeals to the group by reminding them of her own interactions with Farouk and strikes an uneasy truce with the remaining members of the group. Before the group continues they become aware that someone else is attempting to aid them in their efforts. They are unaware however that Xavier’s aid is part of a bargain in which he himself will act as their executioner.

What Just Happened?
It’s predicted that humans only use a paltry 10% of the brain. With the remaining 90% an enigma, it’s a fitting arena for a tale about deadly games where guile is an essential tool to secure victory. So far, Charles Soule uses his own formidable mind to deliver a shot of serious adrenaline to what may well become the heart of the current catalog of X-Men books. Astonishing X-Men could be the medium between the blue and gold books some readers long for. The 4th volume takes a far greater, darker tone as opposed to its sister titles with a distinct maturity that gold strives for and fails, while blue completely abandons. Without a doubt, the explosive first issue could be summed up in one word. Gangbuster. It was then that Soule entered into his own high stakes game in which victory or defeat would be defined by his ability to sustain its momentum or if the peak occurred too early and would falter as a result of over ambition by reaching too far too quickly. So far, Soule continues to provide a strong return on the reader’s investment.

It was all but certain that Marvel would inevitably return the Shadow King to prominence after the largely unanticipated success of the Legion TV series. Soule utilizes the Shadow King with deft skill as the dialog between Farouk and Xavier moves quickly and steadily, propelling the primary story line in the same manner as an action packed cinematic thriller with the initial theater scene a fitting parallel. It’s not necessarily that Soule presents a new version or angle to the Shadow King but moreover his success lies in capitalizing on his foremost traits such as his keen intellect to provide a vantage point to the overall story while strengthening the depth of Xavier, the protagonist and his counterpoint.

As the years have gone by, writers have peeled back the gallant and virtuous layers of Charles Xavier revealing a man with flaws and tainted periods which have cast a long shadow over a dream that today is more tenuous and fragile than ever. Soule maintains Xavier’s dual tendencies and finds true inspiration by expressing the founders resignation as a hopeless prisoner and forfeiting the predetermined mortal fate of his former students with the only remaining question being the manner of their demise either by Farouk’s torment or his own merciful hands. Soule provides insight and honesty in observing striking similarities between Farouk and Xavier, who admits his own hedonism by way of controlling those beneath him.

Additional acknowledgement to Soule’s creativity is awarded by the use of the astral plane as a vehicle which allows him the ability to feature those characters who would be unavailable to him otherwise, (likely by death combined with editorial edict.) In the same ilk as the jaw dropping ending with Xavier’s big reveal, the first pages feature the recently departed Multiple Man, Madrox who sets the stage for the X-Men’s foray into the twisted realm and a slew of other appearances by other members of the deceased such as Jean Grey and Cyclops. Soule gets a slow clap for his prod at the Romeo and Juliet dramatization of Colossus and Kitty Pryde and their recent romantic reunion which amusingly is judged Gambit and Rogue, probably one of the most skeptical, criticized, and divisive romances in X-Men history by the standard of many fans.

Astonishing proceeds or perhaps learns from the other X books and shifts focus quickly and allowing all of the characters to have their own individual moments as opposed to the seemingly popular leader-centric approach favored in other titles of which I prefer in a team book setting.

This comic also serves as my first exposure to Mike Deodato’s artist work. I admit I am impressed with the variety of stunning visuals which works in perfect harmony to the Soule’s aim and provides strong support to his objective. There is a vivid intensity to Deodato’s illustrations from his graphic depiction of the half spider born from the Farouk obese torso to perfectly capturing expression in the characters faces that match flawlessly with the dialog at that moment. His achievement is all the more significant as many of his peers simply omit faces and anatomy altogether the more distant they become or cannot maintain proportion in closeups. His style here is dark, gritty, and matured, which sets the tone for the menace the Shadow King represents in an authentic tangible sense.

Rating 9.2/10

Final thought: Bold, intelligent, and visually arresting, Astonishing X-Men is a masterfully surreal and brilliantly daring departure from its counterparts. While making a decisive call in only second issue would be premature, there are no signs of diminished potential. If Astonishing’s greater tenure continues apace by providing similar inventive stories, it may well be crowned the king in its own right.

About Shoot The Breeze Staff Writer

Past Shoot The Breeze Comics writers or current staff that wish to be unamed or even guest writers for opinion pieces and special reviews.

Liked it? Take a second to support Shoot The Breeze Staff Writer on Patreon!