Something is happening in the tiny African city of Mbangwi–something that requires immediate investigation. A newborn infant has sprouts metal electrodes and then explodes–destroying an entire hospital. Is this incident the first wave of mutant rebirth that the X-Men have been praying for or it something different, something sinister?
When Astonishing X-Men debuted, it was a brilliant love letter to the X-Men written by a long time fan. It also was arguably the premiere X-Men title at the time that truly depicted the team in the most honest of fashions. However the book was continuously plagued by delays and this caused problems with continuity amongst the other X-Men titles. Even after Whedon departed and Ellis took over that has been a major factor that has been detrimental to the title.
Xenogenesis, for some reason a limited series instead of part of the mainstream book, is a baffling read. While some of the elements are very engaging others tend to be a distraction and the bad often offsets the good. I did find some of the dialogue very well written such as Logan’s historical knowledge that he passes on to Armor and the banter between the heroes pertaining to opinions on each other. The main storyline detailing a series of possible mutant births definitely is a decent one that could certainly add a new wrinkle to the fold.
The art by Kaare Andrews is some of the worst art I have ever had the displeasure of digesting in an X-Men comic book. Andrews Achilles heel is drawing the ladies of the X-Men as Ororo, Emma, and even armor suffer atrocities at the artist’s hands. There are panels where Ororo looks like an anorexic waif who wouldn’t last a minute in a fight. Emma is the victim of lopsided head syndrome and her sole purpose is thrusting her enormous breasts at the reader’s direction. Even poor Armor has to contend with Kitty Pryde envy as half the times she looks more like the newly returned X-Men than herself. Fortunately Andrews has no problem drawing their male counterparts.
Final Thoughts: In the end I just could not get behind this story. The art was one of the leading contributors to this as I found it to distracting for my liking. Ultimately though my main problem is that to me this is NOT an X-Men book no matter who they put on the cover or within its pages. Astonishing is now merely an Ultimate, Forever, or What-If offering from Marvel with the sole intention of milking the mutant faithful of their almighty dollar. And this is coming from a die-hard Marvel and X-Men fan.
Warren Ellis is well known for his predisposition toward science fiction storytelling, a genre in which the X-Men have long been comfortable. When he was announced as Joss Whedon’s successor on Astonishing X-Men – once the flagship title of the X-Men line – many felt that Ellis was perhaps the only writer capable of ably maintaining the delicate formula that warranted the book’s commercial success. Unfortunately a number of issues kept Astonishing X-Men from meeting its self-established standard of quality and prominence, not the least of which was Ellis’ tangible discomfort at having to operate within the volatile landscape that is modern X-Men continuity. With Xenogenesis Marvel has clearly offered Ellis the chance to begin anew, and, if this first issue is any indication, the opportunity is far from squandered: Astonishing X-Men once again reads like an X-fan’s dream come true.
The book wastes no time in capturing the reader’s attention and, as should any opening installment of a serialized narrative regardless of the medium, quickly introduces a number of compelling plot threads that beg for future attention. In 22 pages we are introduced to a mysterious group of militants chasing an individual through an equally mysterious (alien?) environment, the activation of mutant powers at infancy rather than the accepted norm of puberty and, in a particularly unexpected twist, the development of an increasingly flirtatious dynamic to the generally platonic Cyclops-Storm relationship.
Even should Scott and Ororo’s suggestive dialogue and actions amount to very little outside of the context of Xenogenesis, longtime readers of the X-Men can thoroughly enjoy Ellis’ fun inversion of the typical franchise love triangle that places Scott in a role historically occupied by his longtime love Jean Grey. The concept of newborn children exercising mutant abilities, meanwhile, seems an equally fresh spin on the property’s mythology. What makes this book truly work, however, is its relatively encapsulated nature; herein one won’t find a single reference to M-Day nor a single sighting of the so-called “mutant messiah.” Refreshing.
Kaare Andrews is the artist for this series, and his distinctly modern and angular style is a solid fit. Immediately upon readers’ first glimpse of the team it is apparent that Andrews seeks to depict each of the X-Men’s defining characteristics in a very extreme manner; this style works quite well for the most part, but occasionally represents an unnecessary distraction that may draws reader out of the narrative.
The good: Wolverine and Cyclops both perfectly embody their respective physical traits. Storm wears her stunning 80s Mohawk with a poise and grace befitting the literal queen that her character represents.
The neutral: The similarities of Andrews’ Beast to Skottie Young’s Cowardly Lion (from Marvel’s own Wizard of Oz comics) are undeniable and somewhat off-putting.
The bad: Emma Frost’s proportions, somehow worse even than normal, are unabashedly absurd and absolutely insulting to the audience – female and male alike (Marvel, seriously, when are you going to exercise some editorial control over this issue? ). Hisako appears to hail from the halls of Xavier’s School for Gifted Third Graders.
The good manages to outweigh the bad, however, and Andrews ultimately manages to portray detailed environments (particularly in the prologue pages), convincing emotion, and a general level of polish that exudes quality. One should also mention the handful of stunningly gorgeous scene-setting splash pages included; of particular note, Andrews at one point employs a double-spread of the team boarding the X-jet which brilliantly evokes the sense of excitement generated by the (arguably classic) reference image that kicked off the Whedon/Cassaday run in earnest.
Finally, it would be a crime to conclude this review without making mention of Frank D’Armata’s remarkable colors. D’Armata has rightfully earned his position as one of Marvel’s top colorists, and his work on this issue raises the artwork from being “good” to genuinely “great” – somet
hing easily evidenced by comparing the final art to the handful of unfinished pages included in the backmatter alongside Ellis’ original script. Electricity crackles, fire seems to spring from the page, and characters never become muddled with the backgrounds – a particularly impressive feat when examining sequences set aboard the team’s plane.
Mixed feelings about the birth of yet another Marvel “brand” aside, this debut issue of Astonishing X-Men: Xenogenesis – which conveniently avoids any acknowledgement of the still-not-published conclusion to the title’s previous volume – is a very good comic. Warren Ellis is in top form with an intriguing plot and snappy dialogue worthy of the book’s pedigree, and Kaare Andrews makes an excellent showing that, apart from a few blatant instances of self-indulgent excess, perfectly complements both the script and characters.
Plot: Something weird is happening in Africa. Wolverine doesn’t care. Storm and Cyclops do.
Comments: Well, that’s odd. Rather than picking up where the last issue of Ellis’s run left off (Agent Brand had tried and failed to save the team from dealing with a vague extraterrestrial threat; two other issues of that title were solicited but have yet to be released), this issue finds the team heading off to Africa to investigate a bizarre occurrence: not only is the birth-rate up in Mbangawi (somewhere near Uganda), but the babies are manifesting powers. Deadly patricidal and matricidal (and hospital-cidal) ones. Rather than being psyched about the shock of possible mutant births occurring after Decimation, Hank is skeptical. No one seems enthused about making this visit, save for Storm (enjoying some time away from her husband at the moment) and Cyclops (who just wants to help).
On the jet flight over, Wolverine gives Hisako a lesson on African politics which is incredibly detailed, and meant to prepare everyone for things going really far south as soon as they arrive. Which they do, as predicted. Along the way we get more odd character moments between Cyclops and Storm (who just can’t bring herself to take his relationship with Emma seriously), Cyclops and Wolverine (apparently “there’s beer on the plane, Logan” is a universal pacifier), Emma and everyone (though how anyone hears her talk around her breasts I have no idea), and Hank and no one (he’s mostly sulking in silence). Weird, why is this group even together anymore? Their banter sounds more like outright disgust.
I mean, the idea seems like such a win-win on the page. Ellis and the X-men. A science-fiction expert and a team whose existence depends on some pretty wacky science, and who’ve always enjoyed a bout of space opera as much as the next droid. But Ellis has been struggling to find his feet on this title since he began, and he’s still struggling. Parallel (but always worse) universes didn’t do much for the first arc, and the Agent Brand story read like a toneless take on Brubaker’s Uncanny run, without any of the swashbuckling action. Using bits of dead mutants to make new sentinels was just a gross idea.
None of it has seemed at all like the Whedon/Cassaday classic, which featured a team hand-picked of Whedon’s favorites. And which had one thing running through it all (more than logic, more than pacing); lots of heart-tugging, character-based emotion.
Maybe that can’t be captured without Whedon’s brand of passion. Now Ellis is trying the mutant birth/genetic angle, but so far the issue is all talk, most of it witty, some of it strained. Kaare Andrews’ art is also an odd fit. There’s a little bit of a Frank Quitely stylization (and Logan looks spot-on), but the wraparound cover where Storm wears a long-sleeve sweater that doesn’t fit over her boobs, and Emma’s trapped in something form-fitting and lumpy as she spreads her legs is, well, extreme. Storm looks a little like Pris from Blade Runner, I guess, but have we all been longing for Daryl Hannah to play her?
Giving us the script in the back of the book just shows how far Andrews went astray from Ellis’s plans, unfortunately. He frequently draws something other than described. Overall, despite showing moments of promise, this fresh start is a bit of a mess. An interesting but frustrating one.