Although it started off looking like yet another Alternate Universe X-Men story (of which the world already has more than enough), Greg Pak’s “Exalted” arc on “Astonishing X-Men” draws to a close with a convincing, if not entirely successful attempt to prove that this was a story worth telling — albeit one about the X-Men’s fearless leader rather than the X-Men themselves.
As a vehicle for a Cyclops story, this arc ends with a good idea at its core: “our” Cyclops has changed so much he might not even be a recognizable interpretation of Cyclops anymore. That’s certainly a point worth addressing, but this book muddies those waters by doubling-back on itself at the end and having the character change his mind. Maybe that’s the point, and it’s supposed to illustrate that underneath his bravado he’s still the same guy, but it instead comes across more self-defeating.
The best material in the book actually sees our world’s X-Men briefly meeting their own counterparts, providing some eyebrow-raising moments for character and reader alike. Sadly, it’s over too soon, and the plot resolution — such that it is — overshadows any character moments that may have arisen from such meetings. Only Cyclops gets any time to reflect with doubt and uncertainty and doesn’t even tie into his wider arc — instead, he falls to thoughts of those left behind.
If the writing doesn’t quite match its own standards, at least McKone’s artwork is decent. Storytelling and body language is clear throughout, while the redesigned X-Men are different enough that they aren’t obviously influenced by any existing version, but still manage to feel like valid versions of the characters. However, none of them are really an improvement on the current team. Fun, but not strong enough to leave a lasting impression.
As arcs go, it’s certainly not terrible and the call-back to Ellis’ run makes this an “Astonishing X-Men” story as far as one can be — but again, it’s not really clear what the book is doing with itself. It’s nice to see Cyclops getting an effectively solo adventure — but is that the kind of story this title is for?