When Warren Ellis took over this series from Joss Whedon, the big attraction was the Ellis-ian “big ideas” mixed with the unorthodox and thrilling Simone Bianchi artwork. Ellis’ first arc suffered from delays, but the story was strong and imaginative, and superhero comics rarely look as interesting as they do when Bianchi’s doing his design-oriented, style-is-substance rendering.
So now we’re in the midst of Ellis’ “Astonishing X-Men” phase II, with Phil Jimenez and Andy Lanning providing the art. It’s more traditional, more superhero-ey, and faster paced. When you have that, plus Ellis’ cynical savagery and Jimenez’s beautiful people who look a little bit creepy, well, you get some good comics.
“Astonishing X-Men” #33 is certainly one of them.
In this issue we get, believe it or not, another superhero-zombie tale, as the Brood have returned, and someone is playing around with dead mutants and the X-gene. It’s the fault of Hank McCoy, we learn here, who looked to dead mutants as one possible avenue of finding a cure for the “No More Mutants” plague. But, like many great scientific minds, the Beast had no idea what his experiments accidentally unleashed.
A being the X-Men have never met is behind this zombie/Brood/bad stuff outbreak, so it’s a race against the clock to stop the forces of evil and destruction before they lay waste to mutant-kind and the world at large.
Sounds like a typical heroic action plot, and it is, but Jimenez makes it look good (even if Frank D’Armata’s garish colors don’t help) and Ellis keeps the dialogue razor sharp: “Got a plan, Cyke?” Wolverine asks as they rush into the fray against a giant fleshy monster. “‘Not die,'” quotes Cyclops. And later, we get the Beast’s explanation of what’s been happening: “Wirelessly cracked and hacked by a dead boy’s superbrain from twenty miles up.” That’s the rhythm of superhero poetry right there. Crazy, nonsensical, full of life.
There’s nothing ambitious about “Astonishing X-Men” #33, but Ellis and Jimenez show how easy it is to make engaging superhero comics, and to make comics that don’t feel bogged down, clunky, or overly chatty. Well, I suppose it is easy. If you’re Warren Ellis and Phil Jimenez.