Astonishing X-Men begins anew with the brilliant Greg Pak and the talented Mike McKone taking on the reins in the aftermath of Schism with issue #44. Yes, despite not being officially a part of the eight book X-Men family ‘relaunch’, the title’s continuity is up to date with the first few pages dealing with Cyclops’ recovery following the brutality that ended Schism.
Firstly, let me just say that as someone who has always been more of an Avengers fan than an X-Men fan, the Astonishing X-Men series that began in 2004 under the capable hands of Joss Whedon and John Cassaday was the only series I could enjoy without really needing to follow the ongoing shenanigans of the other X-titles. Though the title has changed hands since then, this seems to be one of two defining concepts of the book. The other seems to have been the core characters of Cyclops, Emma Frost, Wolverine and Beast which, sadly, clearly cannot continue post-Schism.
Or… can it?
Join us as we dive into one of the most unique X-titles in recent memory and see where it fits into the Regenesis arc. If it even fits at all!
As a mutant, Scott Summers is back to his physical peak, despite still bearing some scars from the epic battle with the Sentinel and Wolverine. Dr. Kavita Rao chalks up his recovery not only to “Shi’ar Medtech and nanostitching”, but also to his own “total dedication” and “supreme discipline”. On a mental and emotional level, however, Cyclops is far from healed, and he destroys the lockers of Beast, Kitty Pryde and Wolverine with a single optic blast, before storming out of the X-Men Headquarters to welcome an old friend and ally, Storm. Cyclops points out that Storm is a week earlier than expected, and Ororo responds with an equally unexpected lightning bolt which strikes the ground, barely missing Scott. The two meet in combat, only for Cyclops to realise that Storm is challenging him and pulling him out of his emo funk, because she needs his support in taking down Sentinels. Naturally, they make short work of the robots, and in the post-battle afterglow, Ororo pulls Scott in and kisses him.
Thus begins “Exalted”, the first arc by incoming writer Greg Pak and artist Mike McKone. It is a bold move to tell such a story so soon after the heavy-handed events of Schism, and it definitely espouses Pak’s writing style: drawing a fine-line between exposition and action, keeping the pace of the story moving. Though the first part of the story may have been spoiled due to the very controversial cover being released way back in August, the series’ title is Astonishing after all, and just when you think you know where this is headed, Pak slams the brakes and makes a sharp turn. No spoilers, of course, except to say it is clear from the cover of #45 that the defining concepts of Astonishing are safely intact. Both of them.
Mike McKone’s art took a little getting used to, ironically, considering how much I enjoyed it almost a decade ago in Exiles and more recently in Avengers Academy. It wasn’t apparent at first, but I soon realised the main problem I had with his art was his depiction of Storm. It was just so disconcerting that it distracted me from the rest of the art, which on a return viewing retains his very distinctive dynamism in both the characters’ expressions and his clean action sequences. Of course, thanks to the twist in the book, I dare say that there was a reason why his Ororo Munroe looks so… different, and if that was truly the intention of the artist, then more power to him.
Astonishing X-Men #44 is the perfect jumping on point for new readers, especially those who, like myself, are not too hot about picking up an X-Men title overly mired in the aftermath of Schism. Greg Pak and Mike McKone complement one another in delivering a story that is told both in words and in expression, which definitely makes this title worth pre-ordering. Between the two of them, Pak and McKone have been responsible for some of Marvel’s more memorable characters, and here’s hoping that their run on Astonishing is just as fruitful, if not more.
4 out of 5.
At this point, I also want to point out how McKone’s art was complemented by comiXology’s Guided View Technology, which allows you to view the comic in a predetermined sequence, zooming in and out where appropriate. It gave me a whole new appreciation for his art style, and just how much story he tells within a single frame. I would definitely not have appreciated it as much had I been reading a print copy. There’s definitely something to be said about Marvel’s move towards giving away download codes for digital copies with their print issues, and though right now it’s only being done for the Ultimate line, I hope to see it being done for all titles.