Do you remember when “Astonishing X-Men” was the cornerstone of the X-Men line? I do too, so it’s all the more strange to realize that a year later it seems to have fallen into a comic that’s quietly being ignored. The problem isn’t so much that it fails to fit with the other books; after all, Joss Whedon and John Cassaday often seemed to be off in their own little world and everyone else scrambled to keep up. Here, though, we’re getting a book that I think is getting ignored because it’s starting to feel pointless.
Part of the problem is the lackluster ending to this first story. The first few issues of “Astonishing X-Men” with Ellis’ scripts had big crazy ideas that grabbed the reader’s attention, made you want to see what happened next. With this conclusion, though, it feels like it’s fallen flat. It’s such an unimaginative moment, complete with Ellis’ notorious fascination with cell phones and mad scientists, that it almost seems like it’s a joke. There isn’t anything particularly neat or different or fun about this issue; instead it’s a bunch of dour characters making faces at each other and trying to lecture each other to death.
Simone Bianchi’s art at least looks nice here, although he’s still proving himself to be better at static images than anything requiring action or movement. There’s an early portrait of Forge in this issue that just looks sharp as a tack, and is a good reminder of just how good Bianchi can be when he’s on form. Of course, behind him are headshots of Emma Frost and Storm, and Emma in particular looks like a Barbie doll that was left out in the hot summer sun to slowly melt. When Bianchi is drawing to his strengths, though, it’s beautiful. The reveal of Forge’s team of New Mutants is just perfect in all of its creepy nature. On the other hand, the New Mutants fighting the X-Men comes across almost incomprehensible.
It’s hard to not also note, of course, that “Astonishing X-Men” is feeling behind the times. Matt Fraction and Mike Carey are each doing their own things with “Uncanny X-Men” and “X-Men: Legacy” but the two titles still feel current and like they’re in synch with each other. “Astonishing X-Men” feels almost like an artifact dug up from a few years ago, published without remembering things like Forge having just recently appeared in other titles as well.
Maybe with Phil Jimenez on board for the next story, we’ll see a more regular release schedule for “Astonishing X-Men” and that will help matters out. While I don’t mind waiting extra for something that’s really good, when the title feels below average the long publishing gaps make the comic feel a bit more of a letdown. And in the end, letdown is exactly how I’d describe “Astonishing X-Men” #30, after all that promise earlier on.