"Astonishing X-Men Annual" #1 is the sort of issue that doesn't do justice for its $4.99 price point. The main story by Christos Gage with David Baldeon and Jordi Tarragona on art is actually sweet in a telegraphed but heartfelt way -- but the price gouging isn't as pleasant. The headline act is a nice enough tale, though it feels more like a back up in nature and tone, whereas the rest of the book being an old "Alpha Flight" back issue raises concerns about where your money goes. The issue might be historically important but that doesn't stop it being quite badly executed.
The concept of mutants being hunted is not a new one. The specific theme of mutants ruining the lives of those around them is also not a breakthrough. However, it's not the theme for this story but rather the execution that matters. Gage does a very good job of making us care about Kyle, Northstar's newlywed husband. He interacts with the other teammates while his love races around the world to save certain family members. Again, the premise is a little hokey, but the conversations it yields are filled with interesting thoughts and character moments.
This story, a deconstruction of the love of two X-family members and a portrait of what it means to become part of the X-family, feels like a holiday special. As such, it's going to make you smile and feel warm and fuzzy. It is also only going to offer a limited depth to the narrative.
The art from David Baldeon and Jordi Tarragona has a cartoony line that reminds of generic '90s superhero comics, but not necessarily in any of the negative ways you might imagine. Every character has a broad face and the pages are composed in an effective and simple manner. Veronica Gandini brings depth and nuance to characters as well as the backgrounds.
The back up issue reprinted here, and thus filling out the page count, is "Alpha Flight" #106. This landmark issue from Scott Lobdell, Mark Pacella, and Dan Panosian takes the concept of a holiday special to another level by having Northstar rescue and care for a baby suffering from AIDS. From here, a villain and his mouthy diatribes lay out a tale of homosexuality and disease which leads to Northstar finally proclaiming his sexual orientation aloud. The issue is extremely dated and excessively heavy handed in its delivery and approach. Visualising all of those words and arguments coming out within a fight is flat out laughable.
"Astonishing X-Men Annual" #1 is a fun and light issue where characters take center stage and the current status quo can openly be defined and discussed. The plot isn't the point so much as the interaction. While this is done well, it's not enough to carry the $4.99 price tag. The reprint is an intriguing time capsule of an issue but also not exactly stellar in style. In all, this issue fails hardest on the price and doesn't do enough to ever make you forget it.