“Astonishing X-Men” #36 might mark the start of a new storyline, but it also marks three years’ worth of issues. Of course, it was launched in 2004, but let’s not try to worry about that too much right now.
Indeed, the actual problem with “Astonishing X-Men” right now – far from its chronic lateness - is that it’s gone from being a prestige book for big-name creators to the fourth X-Men ongoing. Aside from a small, fixed cast (although one that’s just lost Beast) there’s nothing here to differentiate it from the adjectiveless “X-Men,” which was already surplus to requirements. Just how many X-Men team books can there be? And more to the point, how many can feature Wolverine when so many brilliant X-Men characters are going unused? It really is getting hard to swallow.
On the plus side, new writer Daniel Way has come up with a story along similar lines to those that Ellis was doing, retaining the book’s sense of scale, at least. In it, the X-Men make their way to Japan to visit Armor’s family, and end up on a collision course with Mentallo. He’s a rather left-field choice of villain, but an interesting one for that very reason, particularly in a world where the X-Men are in short supply of decent antagonists.
It’s also interesting to see the team get into Armor’s backstory, as the character hasn’t really had a moment in the spotlight since her introduction many years ago. It’s still not entirely clear to me why she’s the one kid allowed to hang out with the “real” team, though, so it’d be nice to get some elaboration on that aspect of her status quo if the story is indeed going to focus on her.
Art-wise, Pearson continues the series’ tradition of interesting artwork that you won’t find elsewhere in the Marvel stable of titles. While his Wolverine is bound to be a little too blocky for somet in a world where we’re more accustomed to seeing Hugh Jackman rather than Wolverine, it’s hard for me to hate it. Beyond that, the images are memorable and the storytelling is strong, and although the character work might not endear itself to everyone from the outset, for me, it works.
When all is said and done, there’s nothing openly awful about this book, but as with many of the X-titles, I can’t figure out what its identity is supposed to be. Way and Pearson are good, but they’re not on the level of Ellis, Whedon, Cassaday et al by any stretch. If this is just another X-Men team book, then it’s really got to be much better than “okay” – and frankly, I’m not sure this is.