“Astonishing X-Men”’s position in the Marvel publishing line is rather strange at this point, having just come out of a period where two unconnected storylines interweaved issues and the team, such that it is, has lost principal members, first to “Secret Avengers” and now to “Wolverine and the X-Men.” As if to further muddy the waters, this issue is a one-shot fill-in featuring Emma Frost, Danger, and Beast. A perfectly fine fill-in, admittedly, but the book’s alleged remit of large scale, self-contained X-adventures arguably seems like the wrong place for a character-exploring one-off.
Still, gripes aside, it’s actually quite enjoyable -- and I’m not just talking about the Arthur Adams cover (although you can imagine that alone attracted a fair few readers). The issue sees Emma and Danger attempting to rescue a trapped AI, who turns out to be the digital “ghost” of obscure villain, Machinesmith. Because the AI is stored in an Avengers facility, Beast also turns up to represent their interests and justify his place in an X-Men book despite having “left” the team.
But that’s just the plot. The story itself is about Danger learning to be more human through the lens of a pseudo-romantic betrayal. I’m not sure the idea is developed enough that we can call this a story about Danger’s first love, but it’s certainly a story about her first, disastrous date. Throughout the story, she’s convinced that the AI she’s attempting to rescue is genuinely benevolent, and the discovery that she’s been fooled is one which takes the character to new areas without feeling inappropriate or forced. It’s less clear why Emma and Emma alone can help her with the mission, but she makes a nice foil for Danger if only because the two have a lot in common.
The art duties on the title are divided up between two pencillers, and while that usually screams “rush job,” in this case it’s quite successful. Yardin illustrates the bulk of the story in his solid super-hero style, while Walta is credited as a “digital plane” artist, which means he illustrates a fair portion of the book himself. The two art styles are nothing alike, but having a different look to the virtual sequences really works, particularly since they go against type. Rather than being glossy and polished, there’s a touch of Bill Sienkiewicz abstraction to the digital world which is really nice to see.
In a way, it’s a shame this story was put in “Astonishing X-Men,” as it’s exactly the kind of material that would feel at home in “X-Men Legacy.” If you’re a huge fan of Danger, or you like done-in-one X-Men stories with a narrower focus that most of the books offer, this issue is worth picking up. It’s perhaps not hugely important in the long run, but then not every story has to be. It’s entertaining, that's enough.