One of the things that punctuated Joss Whedon and John Cassaday's "Astonishing X-Men" run was that it always felt "important." It had taken the flagship book of the X-Men line position, one that was previously held by Grant Morrison's "New X-Men" series. Part of it was certainly the big names attached to the title, but it was also a sense that when it, as a comic, did things, the others in the line reacted accordingly. Reading Warren Ellis' run on "Astonishing X-Men," it's becoming more and more clear that while Ellis' scripts seem to try and position the comic in the same place, the book's earlier lateness has messed that plan up entirely.
Had this story shown up six months ago, with Sentinels made of flesh that fire alien Brood at its victims, I suspect readers might have sat up and taken more notice. It's not a bad idea, and it holds potential as a particularly gruesome image to come to life in a comic. Now, though, it's scrambling to catch up with the other books. We've been seeing both dead and alive mutants being used as weapons over in "X-Force" for a while now, and there's even an entire crossover currently running between "X-Men: Legacy," "X-Force," and "New Mutants" around that basic concept. That's also ignoring that this story now takes place in the past, with the "Utopia" storyline's change of scenery for the X-Men not yet kicking in.
There are some fun bits to tide readers over, though. Ellis has nailed Emma Frost's voice; out of all of the cast, she's the one that sounds the most true to form. If Ellis decided to turn "Astonishing X-Men" into "The Emma Frost Hour" I'd be all in favor of that. The other characters hit varying success; Cyclops is certainly easy to nail, while Armor sounds nothing like herself (but has the same voice of so many of Ellis' creations). And as I said before, the basic ideas here are good, as well as some of the smaller details, like why one would put a secret base on the asteroid Cruithne. But there still isn't that oomph present that should make "Astonishing X-Men" a must-read comic.
Phil Jimenez and Andy Lanning turn out, as always, beautiful art. Jimenez and Lanning create such delicate, fine lines that it's nice to just gaze at their finished pages for a while. They're good with body language, too, from Brand's crushed expression as she explains what she's been keeping from the X-Men, to the shocked face of the Beast. It's good stuff, and it's actually a relief to know that "Astonishing X-Men" can look good and ship on time simultaneously.
I feel bad for Ellis and Jimenez, because what could have been a "big" story is now yesterday's news. If the two stick around after this story is over, hopefully the book will be back in sync with the rest of the X-books. For now, though, it feels like little more than a harmless diversion. Fun, sure, but three steps behind everyone else.