ASTONISHING X-MEN #2
Writer: Charles Soule
Penciller/Inker: Mike Deodato Jr.
Colorist: Frank Martin
Letterer: VC’s Clayton Cowles
Release Date: 8/16/17
After entering the astral plan, the X-Men realize they are pawns in a much larger game. An unexpected player also arrives to shake things up.
Plot: The X-Men team must fight off Farouk’s first form of mind control in order to help Charles “win” the game in the astral plane. Meanwhile, back in reality, the British army threatens to attack the team in the wake of Psylocke’s destruction before they can complete their mission.
Story: When you’re dealing with a villain who controls minds, it’s somewhat expected that that plot is going to get complicated. This is 100% true in Astonishing X-Men #2, where the plot must address what’s going on with the X-Men on the astral plane, the X-Men back in reality and Charles and Farouk in the astral plane. For the most part, Charles Soule balances these elements, but most of this issue still feels like exposition to a story we’re waiting to start.
The X-Men must “fight” their way out of Farouk’s first trap, but there isn’t actually much action going on. Instead, we just see Farouk and Charles talking and explaining the game they’ve constructed. Seeing two of the greatest minds battle it out is interesting for a little while, but I spent most of the issue wishing Soule would spend more time with other characters who have such good on-page chemistry.
The portion of the book set back in London also drags a little though the army presenting a meta-narrative about whether the X-Men are actually the good guys speaks to readers and adds an extra layer of thought to the book.
When Soule does focus on the X-Men team, there are many great moments showing off what makes this team interesting. A scene where Rogue and Gambit watch themselves as a star-crossed Romeo and Juliet and one where Old Man Logan reunites with Jean show how Farouk is already feeding on their deepest desires and how much complexity there is left for him to toy with. These scenes resonated the most, and I’m interested to see how Farouk continues to manipulate them in the battle for their souls.
Art: The book has a fairly large team plus a lot of secondary characters so Mike Deodato Jr. has his plate full in trying to draw all of them. On top of that, the theater scenes bring in even more characters. Since there’s so much to fit in, the art focuses more on the actions than the emotions of the characters in the group scenes (we even get a zombie fight scene at one point). While I do wish there was more focus on the individual characters, the dialogue helps balance out the art to make sure you get a sense of the characters emotions.
Deodato and colorist Frank Martin team up well in creating the astral plane, giving it just the right sense of eeriness. Of course, the zombie X-Men are a more direct form of this, but the use of silhouettes on a black backdrop adds dimension and the feeling that you’re in there with them.
I like that the use of a nontraditional panel layout on a turquoise background adds to the retro feel of the comic but can also make the pages feel too busy.
As the “game” progresses” I hope we get more spotlights on the individual characters for the art team to show off their chops.
Verdict: Despite some flaws, Astonishing X-Men #2 is a solid continuation in what is shaping up to be a very interesting story. The X-Men team has great chemistry, and adding in Mystique to the mix will certainly add to that. In many ways, #2 was more of a second prologue than a chapter so I expect future issues will run much more smoothly.