Astonishing X-Men 25
by Warren Ellis and Simone Bianchi.
As I wrote some time ago, I loved the Joss Whedon & John Cassaday run on Astonishing X-Men. The full review of Volumes 1-3 is here. But to give you an idea of what I thought:
Astonishing X-Men is the only X-Men book you really need to read on the shelves at the moment. It’s self contained, there’s no annoying crossovers, no guest stars and no filler. But the main reason it’s all you need to read is that it’s a fantastically written and drawn superhero comic that belongs with the very best in superhero history. And along with Grant Morrison’s X-Men it’s easily the best writing these characters have ever seen.
I’ve since read the final volume and can say that, although it falters slightly on the promises of brilliance throughout those first three volumes it’s a very satisfying end to a great run. I think my enjoyment of Astonishing X-Men is at least partly down to early teen years spent in adoration of the X-men through the classic Claremont / Paul Smith era. These formative comic experiences tend to stay with you and I have a suspicion that the X-men will always hold a fondness for me, no matter how old I am. But until Astonishing came along I had no real desire to go back into the main X-Men books, with their impossible continuity and wildly variable quality.
Which brings us to the difficulty of where Marvel can possibly go now that Whedon and Cassaday have said goodbye to the book. In a move that came as a pleasant surprise they handed the book over to Warren Ellis, who is assuming the position at Marvel of being the go to guy for solid superhero entertainment with books like Iron Man: Extremis, newuniversal, Nextwave, Ultimate Galactus, Ultimate FF and Ultimate Human amongst his more recent work for them.
As such, issue 25, the first Warren Ellis issue is very much a quick reset, rolecall and setup issue. To say that nothing really happens kind of misses the point. It’s more a comic of many little moments, perfectly captured by Ellis on the page. In this he manages to follow on seamlessly from Whedon’s run, keeping the emphasis on characterisation and dialogue over action that made for the best bits of the previous run. It’s full of typically Ellis dialogue, all snappy patter and discussions of exotic coffee and gene sequencing. But Ellis does it so well that it just flows easily and effectively.
Take the sequence with Emma Frost and Storm talking of Storm’s return to the group to have a little time away from her marriage to The Black Panther:
Storm: I never knew that guilt-free shopping and constant lovemaking could get so boring
Emma: I don’t want to start some tedious argument , Ororo, but let’s be clear. .. I am sick and tired of old team members denouncing me as an evil witch five minutes after they walk in the door.
Storm: Do you know how far I have to go in Wakanda to find someone who’ll dare have an arguament with me these days? I will drink champagne with you and let you insult me until the sun goes dark, I promise…
Emma: Oh, for God’s sake. Drink your tea and shut up woman.
Storm: Oh, thank you.
Ellis seems to enjoy writing Emma Frost, who’s long been my favourite amongst the lot of them. I was deeply fearful in Whedon’s final book that he’d do the obvious and reveal Emma to have been evil all along, much preferring to see Emma as amazingly normal in her motivations and emotional baggage. And Ellis seems to be continuing a long tradition from Morrison, through Whedon, of writing her well, with a streak of sarcasm disguising a flawed but passionate nature. And as you’d expect, he handles the others equally well, with Beast as a playfulscientist clown, Wolverine recast yet again as the grumpy old man and Cyclops as a reborn leader, finally comfortable in his love for Emma. There’s even a new team member to give us a reader’s eye level view of the team.
Simone Bianchi’s artwork is either gorgeous, lush and makes inventive use of page layouts or a bit of a messy assault on the eye, depending on my mood when I open the comic. Compared to the elegance of Cassaday it’s certainly a change and there are times when it looks a little too Mark Texeira at times for my liking, although Bianchi’s concept of anatomy is certainly a damn sight better. But I’m more than willing to keep looking at it and certainly more than willing to keep reading it.
I’ll be sticking around to see what Ellis can do now that he’s been given Marvel’s flagship characters to play around with. It doesn’t look (after only one issue) like he’ll manage anything as revolutionary as Grant Morrison’s incendiary run on New X-Men but who knows?