Uncanny may have pulled out the big guns for this week’s crossover one-shot, but Warren Ellis’s more trade-paperback orientated sci-fi X-Men resolutely refuse to back down, in what’s easily the strongest issue of the present team’s run. After a series of extremely focussed issues, the writer finally combines action, character development and an unexpectedly conclusive resolution to the plotline in one satisfying package.
Cyclops and his first-choice team may have tracked down the source of the extra-dimensional mutant incursions plaguing the earth, but the culprit isn’t giving up any ground. Finding themselves being forced to play their chosen roles in the scheme, the team end up deploying a distinctly authoritarian trump card to save the day. Beast’s reflections on the outcome are familiar from the end of the ‘Shiftships’ arc of Ellis’s genre-defining superhero title, but there’s a memorable bit of commentary on the evolution of this franchise to allow such a dénouement- it’s a far more subtle than normal example of Scott Summers’ new philosophy affecting his entire team. The book’s guest star is well-handled, with a fitting resolution for a character that had become an unwelcome loose end in the broader tapestry of the X-verse. Interestingly, it took the X-Men’s most hard sci-fi approach in a long time to show the flaws of its resident engineer.
With the exception of a cover that appears to be demonstrating Cyclops’s new ‘laser sneeze’ secondary mutation, this is Simone Bianchi’s strongest work on the book. His departure from the title after this arc is understandable, given that Astonishing has effectively been operating on a bimonthly schedule, but he’s given us a more than memorable parting shot. I’ve been one of the artists defenders, but sadly some of the criticism has been proved right, as the simpler layouts imposed by time restrictions have resulted in more appealing art overall. There’s no loss of the lavishness that has characterised the creator’s work, but adopting a more squared-off panels shape during the second half of the issue really improves the storytelling, with events far more clear. Phil Jimenez is being drafted in for Ellis’s second arc, just as he once replaced Frank Quietly on the franchise, but Bianchi will certainly leave a lasting impression.
With the story smartly polished off, and no clumsy foreshadowing for the next arc, Astonishing is clearly targeted at the collected editions market. The sheer quality, however, is more than enough to make the serialized incarnation an essential purchase.