I did not have a big problem with Ellis' first Astonishing X-Men arc (besides the way he handled Forge, which was pretty silly at times, my only complaints about Ellis' first arc were with Simone Bianchi's art - both the actual art and the fact that we had to wait so long for art that ended up not being all that great), but his second arc opens up even stronger than his first, with an action-packed first issue with strong artwork from Phil Jimenez.
Ellis sets out to basically achieve three things in this issue...
1. Give us a glimpse at the work that the good folks at SWORD (including their leader, Abigail Brand) do
2. Show the X-Men showing off their skills in action
3. Give us an intriguing cliffhanger which sets up the overall storyline
For #1, we actually have preview pages for that aspect of the story...
Jimenez seems to almost be saving up a little extra "oomph" for this first issue, and inker Andy Lanning and colorist Frank D'Armata do a nice job backing him up.
It's a nice explosive introduction to the basic plot of the issue (Brand is in a spaceship hurtling towards Earth - can the X-men save her?) and the action really does not stop over the next 15 or so pages, as Ellis gives us a cool introduction to the X-Men (US Space Command calling Cyclops on the special "Code X" protocol? That's awesome) and then he and Jimenez just ratchet the action up more and more as the issue progresses.
Each member of the team gets their little "spotlight" moment, and it is all handled quite well.
It all leads to a finale that is bizarre, twisted and all sorts of awesome (I love the notion that Emma Frost would instantly reconginze any of her former students - that is so Emma).
I think this issue goes a long ways toward getting folks to forget about the problems of the first arc (which, as I noted above, were almost entirely art-related - including the annoying delays and fill-in mini) as Jimenez does a great job with this issue - my only "fear" is that I have no idea what kind of deadline he produced this issue on - if he had more time to work on this one than future issues, well, that could be an issue. I hope not.