“You’re the Warren Ellis fan” said James & Seb. “You do the Planetary review”. It seemed like a sound plan, and I was half-way through deciding whether to take an overview of the series or focus on the contents of this week’s conclusion when I finally got round to plucking Astonishing from this week’s pile of purchases. And promptly rejigged the review running order. After a three year gap before his final adventure, Elijah Snow can surely wait a couple of days for the Wednesday slot- the sheer excellent of the first part of eXogenetic immediately commands the attention.
With the book’s stable supporting character Abigail Brand in trouble after an off-world combat mission, Cyclops deploys his latest toy to astonish the world’s intelligence agencies once again. There’s a sharp change in storytelling approach here, with the writer using a breakneck rescue mission to reintroduce his characters. Speaking of changes of approach, Phil Jimenez delivers art shockingly at odds with his work with the mutants fro Grant Morrison, delivering pencilling which almost appears to belong in an Image book. His usually tight linework is only present in a minority of panels, with a sketchier approach and increased number of close-ups giving a drastically different feel to the art. It’s not that it’s an unsuccessful approach, with only one likeness a little off (Emma Frost seems to look rather more like Polaris here). It is however, a drastic change which requires some extremely skilful colouring from Frank D’Armata to avoid the frequently-present flames from overpowering the action.
Compared to the high-concepts of Global Frequently, this is a far more traditional riff on the Thunderbirds concept, and highlights the high-tech side of the X-Men set-up frequently ignored since Operation Zero Tolerance removed the team’s extraterrestrial gizmos in the last nineties. Ellis plainly feels that there’s still fun to be had here, however, and the entertainment is compounded by his use of the Brood, Marvel’s Aliens rip-off, in a retread of his own Stormwatch/Aliens epic Final Orbit. The array of influences is frankly joyous, making good on the writer’s threat to be the “blood enemy” of the prevailing ethos of the X-books. The main character moment comes in the closing pages of the issue, with an unexpected reference to events several years ago in a dead second-tier title betraying the fact that the writer pays much closer attention to the rest of the line than he likes to let on. Exhilarating and memorable, Astonishing manages to navigate the departure of its previous artists without a hitch.