Astonishing X-Men #13; Until Our Hearts Stop (Part 1)
Writer: Matthew Rosenberg
Penciler: Greg Land
Inker: Jay Leisten
Color Artist: Frank D’armata
Letterer: Clayton Cowles
Cover Artists: Greg Land with Frank D’armata
I came to my comic addiction late in life. I began reading comics–mostly Japanese Manga–my first year of college when attending Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida. It complimented my budding anime addiction while I attempted to learn how to fly planes and chart cross-country flights. Superhero comics came later, when I found a little comic shop in my hunt for Table-Top and Live Action RPG groups. I waded into The House of M and Civil War long before Marvel and Disney had their historic merger and I never looked back.
When I opened up Astonishing X-Men: Until Our Hearts Stop (Part 1), I certainly wasn’t expecting to be dragged into the middle of a battle between Havok and a massive orange monster…But there I was and instantly I was hooked.
Havok beats the monster and is confronted by the Avengers. Iron Man’s response to the rather epic defeat of the huge beast is “Oh little X-Man, what the hell did you just do?” It’s here you get a taste of what Havok is up against. Havoc is a criminal, wanted for “Trying to kill everyone on the planet,”. That sets the theme for every interaction Havok has throughout the entire comic.
The second layer of plot brings us to Miss Sinister’s lab before she’s about to begin one of her genetic experiments (on children, so that they can become “Something for all humanity to enjoy”.) As she finishes her monologue to her child-test subject, her lab is attacked by Donald Pierce and The Reavers.
Meanwhile, Havok is dealing with his own inner demons, facing down one of them in a dream and as a result destroys a motel. We move on to Harvard University where Doctor Hank McCoy is teaching a class on genetics. He spots Havok in the back of the classroom, promptly ending the class to make time for his old friend. Their impromptu meeting ends explosively when the Reavers make an appearance and cause chaos in Hank’s lab. After an epic but ultimately one-sided fight, the scene, and the comic, ends on a shocking ‘Hail Mary’.
Opinion on Art and Story
That Matthew Rosenberg, Marvel exclusive writer for such titles as The Punisher and The New Mutants, is involved in this story is of no shock. His ability to write characters who are haunted by tragedy and trauma is second-to-none, and he does not fail to deliver in this issue. Until Our Hearts Stop draws you in with a compelling story and beautiful artwork.
Havok is undeniably the star of this issue, and my heart ached for him on every page. He’s been a villain in the past–albeit not of his own design–and watching him attempt make amends for the things he regrets is alternately disheartening and inspiring. He can not seem to catch a break, but when he gets knocked down, he gets right back up. He’s not ready to give up on ‘The Dream’, even if everyone around him is content to just survive rather than fight for what is right. I was rooting for him from his first interaction with The Avengers, and if his character arc remains this rich, I will continue to do so.
Greg Land (Uncanny X-Men, Weapon X) and his team have delivered a style that pulled me in and kept me reading. The artwork is colorful, sharp, dramatic, and gritty. It made each panel and page a story-feast and an artistic one. Normally I make my journey through a comic in minutes in my desire to get to a payoff but not in this issue. I poured over each page, looking for clues to where the story was going. I admired how the story and art melded to create an experience I look forward to continuing.
Compliments and Critiques
There are many good things about this first issue, unrelated to Havok’s personal character arc. The heroes who make appearances are illustrated as exactly what a good character should be: three-dimensional and intrinsically flawed. Their lack of sympathy for what was mind-control and unwilling participation in acts of terrorism is soul-crushing. It is also psychologically honest. They make the redemption arc much more compelling.
Havok is the centerpiece. We get a sense that he is not the only character fighting with personal demons. Hank McCoy is ‘the disillusioned veteran’, an interesting twist on a character often characterized as idealistic. How the other team-members are brought into the fold will be interesting.
I don’t have many complaints about this issue of Astonishing X-Men. The scene-changes are abrupt at times. Whether it is the artwork going from colorful brightness to contrasting darkness with little warning, or the shifts in the story happening extremely quickly, it had me blinking at the page a few times to adjust my vision. The segue between the The Reavers and ‘The Big Bad’ of this arc and Havok’s dream is a good example.
A Note from a Mama-Bear
This series has the potential to become excessively violent. It looks like it is going to deal with mature content and sensitive issues. With Rosenberg as the lead writer, this is a fair warning. In this first issue, there are four violent battles, mentions of non-consensual mind-control, victim-blaming, attempted genetic experimentation on a child, and a potential child-death. It isn’t a comic I would give my nine-year old daughter without vetting the next couple of issues.