Until I went to write this review, I didn't realize that the previous issue of this series came out more than six months ago. I knew there had been a delay, and I knew Ellis was scripting an "Astonishing X-Men" spin-off drawn by Kaare Andrews to fill the schedule gaps in the release of this series. But six months? Wow. And it's in the middle of a story arc, too.
So it's no wonder that I had forgotten most of what had happened to the X-Men in the last issue. I remembered the Brood were involved and something bad was going on in space.
But within the first few pages, Warren Ellis, Phil Jimenez, and Andy Lanning immediately reoriented me, and it felt like those six months had been mere weeks. "Astonishing X-Men" is back, and it's quite good.
On this issue, Jimenez is credited with breakdowns and Lanning is listed as doing the finishes, but this still looks distinctively like Phil Jimenez artwork, and yet its tighter than ever. Lanning has carved the Jimenez linework into the best version of itself. Frank D'Armata provides the as-always too metallic coloring, as if the entire team were made of bronze and the spaces around them were filled with spotlights covered with various colored gels. His characters may look pretty terrible, but D'Armata does a nice job coloring the machinery (appropriate enough, with his penchant for metallic sheens), and the way he gives each scene a strong color key does add to emotional impact. It's a consistent ugliness, at least.
So the Jimenez/Lanning work is excellent, even if the coloring isn't.
How's the story? Strong.
Ellis does what he's been doing since he took over "Astonishing X-Men." He gives big, blockbuster moments -- in this issue, it's a gigantic Sauron/Brood monstrosity attacking the X-ship -- and he gets right to the core of the characters with their incisive dialogue. For a guy who claims not to like superheroes, Ellis gets the essence of the X-Men better than almost any other writer in recent history. Ellis' Beast verbally nails Cyclops to the wall, and it feels exactly right. He's equally good with Emma Frost and Agent Brand and Storm and young Hisako. Issue #34 isn't a talking-heads comic, but it's basically an "under siege" story, and in the presence of great forces from the outside, the individuals in the group define themselves quite clearly.
Next issue promises to conclude the mega-Brood story arc, and with the cliffhanger at the end of this issue, it looks to be an eagerly-awaited one. Six months is a long time to wait between issues, but I'll take quality over quantity any day. And as piece of superhero entertainment, the Ellis/Jimenez/Lanning "Astonishing X-Men" is quality.