The opening issue of Warren Ellis’ second arc on "Astonishing X-Men" goes off with a bang. Literally, that is, as the X-Men struggle to rescue Agent Brand from a shuttle as it crashes to Earth.
Issues like this demonstrate just how talented Ellis is, as a writer -- there’s an understanding of the medium on display that only the best have. Although the issue is entirely taken up by an extended action scene, every character gets a look in and has their moment in the spotlight. Even as he fills the pages with punchy dialogue, Ellis is telling a visual story, inventing new iconic images that incoming artist Phil Jimenez renders brilliantly. The collected format might be the way this issue gets read most, but nothing can really beat the frenetic, urgent feeling of the chapter as delivered in single format.
However. As much fun as it is, as much mastery as there is on display, it’s not quite perfect. And just as all that makes it work is Warren Ellis, so is most of what that makes it fail.
The moments where it truly fails to gel are often related to Ellis’ desire to cram his future-technology obsessions into the comics that he writes. Undeniably, it entertains him to do so, but even in the context of the X-Men, it becomes distracting. The previous arc suffered heavily under the weight of technobabble, and this one looks like it’ll fare no better.
"Astonishing X-Men," then, is an odd animal. It’s more Ellis-Men than X-Men, but the enjoyment the story evokes makes you feel like he’s earned his excesses in that area.
If the writing is down to taste, Phil Jimenez’ artwork is one part of the book that can’t be criticized. Although a requirement to stick to Simone Bianchi’s overly-flamboyant designs doesn’t make it easy, Jimenez makes the series look as technologically advanced and action-filled as Ellis’ dialogue and plotting. For me, "Astonishing X-Men" has never looked this good.
The issue’s final page involves a strangely un-telegraphed reveal, and is certainly one that could only have come from the mind of Ellis. Quite how it relates to the rest of the issue remains to be seen, but it’s hard to pretend you don’t want to find out.