Not content with just two X-Men series for ResurrXion (three if you count Weapon X), Marvel’s putting out a brand new edition of Astonishing X-Men, the series that achieved instant classic status thanks to Joss Whedon and John Cassaday, only to then be watered down by Marvel trying everything and anything to make that magic work again. This time though, they’ve tasked Charles Soule, the writer of about 15 other comics (give or take) with coming up with new adventures for the team of mutants, and are pairing Soule with a different artist each issue, which is kind of brilliant when you think about how inconsistent Marvel is with keeping artists on a series. With Jim Cheung as the first artist on deck, there’s a lot of hype around this new version of Astonishing, and while it doesn’t live up to it, there’s still great potential for this series.
While walking around London, Psylocke is attacked by the Shadow King. Desperate for help, she sends out a psychic distress call to members of the X-Men that she’s worked with in the past, which conveniently gives us the team you see on the cover. After helping Psylocke subdue the carnage around her and regain her control, she realizes that Shadow King has not only grown in power, but is attempting to create a “web” of psychics that he can use to completely overtake the planet. With this new team assembled, the X-Men prepare to jump into the Astral Plane to take on Shadow King.
While Charles Soule’s script is a lot of set up, the one thing where Astonishing shines is characterization. Often times writers have trouble writing the X-Men simply because it’s such a large team. With so many characters, there’s bound to be some that either don’t sound like they should or are completely written out of the series. But with Astonishing’s opening issue, every character gets a moment to shine in some pretty great introductory pages. Soule is able to give succinct back stories for the characters on this team, and even teases at adventures that are going on just prior to this series that I really want to see (especially Gambit and Fantomex).
If you’re going to open a series with an excellent artist, you could do no better than Jim Cheung. Cheung’s style is expertly utilized here, and he sets the bar extremely high for the next artist. The devastation in London is drawn incredibly, and Cheung’s even able to nail some pretty intricate emotions and facial ticks on the characters. There’s a few odd panels here and there (Fantomex’s arms look a little thin at times), but I pity the artist who has to jump in on issue two. These are quite the shoes to fill.
Astonishing X-Men may not leave the same impression as the Whedon and Cassaday run that came before it, but it’s still a solid set up issue that actually serves as a pretty good jumping on point for new and lapsed X-fans. Soule has crafted a really interesting team filled with dynamic personalities. Really the only thing that has me worried is the different artists for each issue gimmick that Marvel is putting out on this series. If done poorly, it could give the series an identity crisis. But for now, this issue was pretty damn great, and worth a read for X-Men fans.